She didn’t know it back then, but more than 20 years ago, I tapped Susan Alexander Yates to be my mentor. I read her books, attended her speaking engagements, even booked her to come give a parenting talk at our church. Slowly (and perhaps because she sensed that I wasn’t going away, and she figured she’d rather have a buddy than a stalker), we became friends. And today, with a heart that is bursting with gratitude for Susan’s writing as well as her friendship, I am thrilled to welcome her to the blog.
First, though (and with a nod to Ricky Ricardo), I’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.
It’s about this picture:
Not too long ago, Susan and her friend, Barbara Rainey, came out with a book called Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest. Since I’d read all of Susan’s books (my personal favorite being And then I had Kids, which details what happens when a woman looks askance at other people’s snotty children running around with no underpants…and then has five kids of her own in seven years), I quickly snapped up this one when it came out. Robbie was about six months away from his college launch when he saw it lying on our kitchen counter. Certain that I was already measuring his bedroom for drapes and filing cabinets for my new office, he sent me a snap with this caption:
“I’m not gone yet mom.”
True. But I was a girl scout for about five months before my mom decided she didn’t want to sell cookies, and I still live by the motto: Be prepared.
And I must say, Susan and Barbara got me ready! In the book, they tackle the sorts of questions that every new empty-nester grapples with: Who am I now? How will my marriage be affected? Does anyone need me? How do I relate to my children? Is it okay to feel sad? Or thrilled?
These gals write with wisdom and candor, and if you or someone you know is about to jump into this new adventure, their advice will certainly ease the transition. (Robbie’s snapchat doesn’t do the Empty Nest cover justice; to see a better image, or to order the book, click here.)
Anyhow, Susan is a wealth of good family intel, regardless of the season you find yourself in. When she heard I was looking at two weddings in four months, she weighed in with some advice, which led to this blog that I will share with you now.
(Finally, I know.)
And just so you know how cute Susan is, here’s her pic:
Here she is, in her own words:
“And then we had Weddings!”
We had five kids in 7 years, including a set of twins. In those early years I simply staggered through each day, waiting for someone to fall asleep or for my husband’s car to pull in the drive so I could run away or at least hide for a few minutes. Physical exhaustion was my constant companion. I didn’t spend much time thinking about the teen years and the emotional exhaustion that would hit all of us during that season.
And weddings? They were way off my radar screen.
However Allison, our eldest, ushered in this new season for us when she and Will decided to get married one week after college graduation.
It was uncharted territory for me and I desperately wanted to “do it” right.
“Allison, you are our first and Dad and I don’t know what we are doing,” I said. “We want this wedding planning to go well but we are most likely to blow it so if I get too bossy or say the wrong thing please tell me.”
And I did – and she told me. It was a time of learning together, of my letting go, and of granting grace to one another for the mistakes we made.
A few years later we had 4 weddings in three summers. Our twins got married the same summer – just six weeks apart. Since these were to be our 4th and 5th weddings, I hoped I’d learned a few things. But the sheer complexity of two large weddings so close together was mind-boggling. I felt like I should have been a pro by then, but it seemed that every time I turned around there was another decision to be made, another contract to sign, another detail to cover.
One morning as I was praying over plans these words came to me:
Susan, remember you are not merely planning an event. You are building a family and relationships are more important than details.
I wrote this message out and taped it to my refrigerator. As things got crazy, these words helped me to remember what really mattered.
When our kids get married, our priorities radically change. No longer is my relationship with my child the priority. Instead, the relationship my child has with his or her spouse becomes the priority. And that means I have a new role. Now I have to take a step back. Now my job is to encourage their marriage to flourish and to pray for them. And now, when a child calls and asks for advice, I need to remember that I am no longer the “first responder.” Now, my first question should be, “What does your spouse think?”
Change is awkward. It takes time to negotiate new relationships. As you work to establish what your relationship with your married child “now” looks like, here’s a little encouragement to see you through: Lower your expectations, assume the best of each other, choose laughter over irritation, and always be willing to ask for forgiveness.
The best is yet to come!
(Jodie’s note: Can you see why I find Susan so encouraging? Even if you’re not in a wedding season, you can tap into Susan’s wisdom for families via her blog, or check out her “One Word” tweets – nifty posts that detail an attribute or character trait of God – which you can find @susanayates.)
(And in the interest of social media fairness, if the links don’t work and the Twitter address turns out to be bogus, don’t shoot me. Remember, I am a techno-moron. Just post a comment on this blog and I will find a way to hook you up with Susan. You can’t steal her as your mentor, but you can still benefit from her wonderful insights for living!)