My hot tub is full of holy water. At least that’s the joke. Some of the most profound discussions and hardest decisions have been made just sitting in the hot tub with my husband. We have laughed and cried, dreamed and mourned surrounded by the warmth and comfort of the water. Hot tub time is sacred; it is the place we stop and connect and plan our life. It is where we are continually asking each other and asking ourselves what is our end game? If we could pick the ending right now, what would success look like? And that inevitably is a far of goal so the important question becomes, “if that is our end goal, what do we need to do today to make that a reality?” Nothing is free from this type of scrutiny; our marriage, the way we parent, how we manage our money, they all get examined through this lens and it happened quite by accident.
As engaged love birds we dreamt of our future together and anticipated what the days that stretched before us would bring. We had a conversation that would end up shaping our entire marriage. We had no idea at the time just how foundational it would be. Jeff was talking about how he hoped to be able to eat meals with his family every night, unlike his father who had been an entrepreneur and away from home often trying to build a business and feed his family. I looked at him like he was insane. Of course we would eat meals together. Isn’t that what everyone does? It was in that moment I realized that what I grew up with as ‘normal’ wasn’t the same ‘normal’ as other people. So we came up with a list of things that we wanted to be ‘normal’ in our house. They were a combination of things we each loved about our childhood and things we wanted to be different. Here is a look at our premarital bliss list!
- Family dinners together with no tv on – music was a compromise
- A home that was welcoming to our children’s friends – a place they wanted to come
- To be a single income family when our children were young – as long as I wanted to be home
- For Jeff to be a very active part of raising our children and to have close relationships with them
- To be in close proximity to family and to encourage and foster grandparent/children relationships
This has become our “measuring stick” for major family decisions. If the things we want to do are in opposition with these objectives, we know we need to scrap the idea because it doesn’t line up with what we actually want; even if the ideas are enticing. I remember one day Jeff and I went for a long walk. We were not feeling very satisfied with our life. In essence we wanted more stuff. We had friends that seemed to have endless supplies of money; new toys, vacations, homes, vehicles, clothing, the list went on. As ridiculous as it sounds today, this left us feeling like we were always missing out or somehow lesser than. So as we walked we discussed how we could make more money. One option was for us to move to Calgary where Jeff’s job skills could be transferred to the oil and gas sector which would be more lucrative than his job in Edmonton. The idea of moving didn’t scare me, in fact it sort of exhilarated me. I began dreaming of all the things the additional income would afford. I have a deep love for Louis Vuitton, Prada and all things designer and this new job would surely provide endless retail opportunities, not to mention the thrill of shopping for a new home! What’s not to love?
Reality set in when we began going down our measuring stick list. A job in oil and gas would mean more travel, so nightly family dinners were off the table and how would Jeff’s travelling schedule impact the building of relationships with our children? Both of our mothers and my grandmothers live in the Edmonton area and it would be harder to foster close relationships with them 3 hours away. All of a sudden the answer was clear, even though it was not the answer we were hoping for. The measuring stick list had been made when there was nothing at stake, emotions were not high and when evaluating the important things in our life, none of them had been about how many things we could purchase or places we could see. So we mourned the excitement we felt, and moved on, this time with a clearer focus on what was foundational and what was not. 8 years later I can tell you we have not regretted the decision to stay put and be more satisfied with the relationships that we have built instead. We have seen Mickey Mouse less but we have seen our children’s friends more. There has been lots of grandparent time, nightly dinners are a main stay, and Jeff has poured endlessly into the lives of our children each and every day. The evidence speaks for itself, he has two sons and a daughter who adores him, trusts him, and relies on him. He really is the most amazing father I have ever seen, right up there beside my beloved Grandpa Ron. And it all began with a list.
Our measuring stick method has taught us many lessons and some of them have been painful. But we always want to know where we are trying to go. What values do we want our children to have? If we want them to be compassionate and caring adults, we have to do more than just hope that’s how they turn out. If we want to go on a yearly vacation, we have to do more than just hope we won’t spend all our money on other things.
Being thoughtful about where we want to end up, compels us to examine our actions for today and makes the goal feel attainable. Rome wasn’t build in a day and either is a good marriage or compassionate children. Based on our experiences, we greatly increase our chances of success if we decide our end goal in advance and just do the next right thing to move us in that direction.
Start at the end and work your way back to today. That is intentionality.