I just spoke to them – and am befuddled! “What are your plans for tonight?” my daughter asked. “Nothing – dinner and watching the news,” she replied matter of factly. “Really? And, you aren’t mad?” “Why would I be mad?” Now she was confused. “What presents did you give each other?” my son interrupted. “Poha for breakfast,” they responded in unison.
So that’s the secret to a long lasting happy marriage? Poha for breakfast, watching the news together, and discussing each story before falling asleep? Small talk, some laughter, kindness, an argument or two? As I hung up the phone, I began thinking – what is the secret to my parents’ 50- year marriage? Have I learned anything from their marriage? And, are there any rules that I’ve brought into my own marriage? Any rules I haven’t that I should? Anything I want to pass on to my almost grown up kids? I begin writing…
My parents were married on June 6, 1968. I came along July, 1969. The overwhelming memory I have of my childhood is contentment. We weren’t rich. We weren’t poor either. I didn't have a lot of material possessions my friends had. But, I wasn't deprived. I just didn’t question it. We were content. With each other. Sure, there must have been ups and downs, sorrows and joys, fights and making up, teenage angst (mine) – but I just seem to remember being content. So, they were doing something right! Today, as I sit down to analyse my parents’ marriage, here’s some of what I learned from them and their approach to their relationship in particular, and life in general -
- Hard Work: How did they do it? Both of them. Work all day, come home, full meal on the table, time to play and do more work at home. We didn’t even have a car. Public transport. All of us travelled by bus, train and taxi (rarely and only if late). Today we have cars, home delivery, online groceries, and all kinds of help, yet at the end of the day the thought of cooking an entire meal from scratch leads to much complaining and palpitations!
- Love isn’t about courting. It isn’t about how he proposed. It isn’t about her perfect wedding. It’s about the marriage . My parents’ wedding didn’t cost much at all. It was a civil ceremony with a dinner party on the terrace of my grandparents’ apartment building. They had a friend take wedding pictures – and he made them an album – which we all loved looking through on each anniversary. Black and white pictures. All the same size. Such a treasure trove of memories! Today, I know just how much hard work a marriage is. I know from my parents’ marriage that life isn’t meant to be a bed of roses – you also experience thorns - through scarcity and plenty, good times and bad, in sickness and in health, with youth and later with age, a full house, then an empty one – it’s never easy, and not always romantic. It’s very hard work. Every single day. And yet, somehow, it’s worth it. And that’s what will keep me working at my marriage, my relationship. Every single day…
- The Art of Conversation: My love of conversation began even before I learned to speak. So much so that teaching the Art of Communicating is now my career! Both my parents enjoy and excel in the gift of conversation. I remember many wonderful evenings spent in the living room talking about life, gossiping about relatives, listening to them relieve their childhoods, learning songs and poems from their school days. And, all without the internet, social media, smart phones, and whatsapp! A phone call to a grandparent to confirm a memory was all the google we needed!
- Be Social. Help others. Take care of your neighbours. Invite others to family outings. Don’t isolate the older generation. Our tiny apartment was never empty. Ever. My entire life I’ve seen neighbours coming to my parents for advice and help. They were never turned away. Lifetime relationships were formed. Some of the children (in their 30’s now!) still call my mother “mamma”. Weddings, birthdays, of the next generation are still celebrated. Memories still recounted with nostalgia when we meet. Another beautiful trait my parents had was not being afraid of sharing what little we had. Some of my closest friends growing up were kids that my parents just asked, “would you like to join us?” when we were headed out for a family dinner or a movie. What a wonderful unselfish way to live life. At the other end of the spectrum, longevity is a boon in our family – and I’ve never heard either one complain while taking care of an elderly relative. In some of my most impatient, stressed-out-mom moments, I stop and pray that it’s not too late and I can still develop this patience. Givers. We need more of them in this world.
- Play with your kids. My parents worked hard. Most nights, dad came home late. Most evenings mum came home and went straight into the kitchen. But the odd early evening and weekends were always for family. Board games, getting on the floor with art projects, helping me with homework or an overdue project, reading aloud (something that I too do with my teenagers!), simple outings like going for a coconut water on the beach or the Independence day celebration at Shivaji Park are memories that I cherish the most today.
- Compromise. Some disagreements are just not worth the heartache. Move on. Tomorrow’s another day. Lesson learned. Enough said.
- But, don’t lose yourself or your identity. My mother always had an opinion. And, she wasn’t afraid to voice it. Thankfully, she taught me that and it has held me in good stead over the years. No – she wasn’t “dominating”, or the one “who wore the pants” or any of the other stereotypes. She lost as many arguments as she won – but she wasn’t a doormat either. And, neither am I. Conversely, I also learned that it’s not always going to be 50/50 – there will be one who does more housework, someone who’s a bigger spender, someone will be the primary earner. The responsibilities of home, work, family are not always going to be equal and yet that’s what keeps it interesting.
- Money. They talked about it. A lot. In my presence. Especially when my expensive private school fees had to be paid, daycare and other expenses budgeted. And, yet it never made nor broke their relationship. Their mantra “Never a lender nor a borrower be.” Priceless advice! In the quarter of a century that I’ve spent away from them – I’ve lived by that mantra. Never borrowed a penny. But, they also taught me that you can’t cheap out on the important stuff – education, and good, healthy food, for example, but, sure, you can live without frills. I hope I’m passing that on to my children, despite providing them with far more “frills” than I ever had.
- Life is precious and each life deserves dignity. This I learned from my mother who wouldn’t let us squish a bug or swat a fly. She’d pick it up and set it outside the door. Sometimes, it frustrated both dad and me greatly, and today I know it "bugs" my children – but I think we all secretly respect her beliefs.
- Be Humble. Love unconditionally. If I live the rest of my life by just these two lessons, one’s that I’ve seen my parents live their entire lives by, I think it’ll be a life well lived.
Happy Anniversary, Mummy and Daddy! Here’s to many more. Thanks for being the best role models a child could ever hope for.