Volume 2 Number 4
My Mug of Tea
01 April 1989

As we've worked through many experiences, I've jotted down for myself some rules of thumb.
As we've worked through many experiences, I've jotted down for myself some rules of thumb.

  • No shoulder-shrugging

  • Never give up with a shrug, saying `That's men (or the British) for you.' Always expect to be learning, forgiving, making mistakes, breaking new ground.

  • Don't be afraid of change

  • It's no good saying my husband is a chauvinist pig while I hug my own pet quirks. Marriage brings character traits to a head. Children show up every crack in a relationship. I can cut and run when it gets tough, or try to change the things that make me difficult to live with. We have both had to reprogramme all kinds of thought patterns and habits.

  • No blame-binges

  • When our three-year-old spilt tea on the landlord's furniture, I let fly. Later it dawned on me that I had blamed everyone except myself - and it had been my mug of tea!

  • Listen for creative help

  • Others see things we don't. Recently a friend pointed out that my seven-year-old clams up when I talk too much. I had not realized.

    We have discovered that God is an objective and compassionate source of creative ideas. Before the children wake up we pray, talk things over and listen for God's direction. This time of reflection is the well-spring which keeps our spirits lively. We get fresh ideas on office and domestic problems and conflicts over time and priorities.

    Recently John felt a sense of prompting to go and see his father in Scotland and arrived there just before his father's death. But every day there are smaller issues to be worked out, like the row we had just as dinner guests were due. I was rushing through preparations, the girls were fighting and John decided to clean out the birdcage. I yelled at everyone. We stopped and asked God to help us. I saw I was being a houseproud fusspot and apologized, John apologized and pitched in and the girls calmed down.

  • Work out your aim

  • If all you are doing is trying to make a cosy nest with your husband, he will drive you mad! You need a goal which you both share. We aim to build a more caring society, where family life is not the hell we often make it. That may seem like reaching for the stars, and it's easily lost among the pressures of life.

    That's why we need that time in quiet each day when we can take a star-bearing. It's an effort, but worth it, to use your home to build a sense of community. It doesn't work if you give your family less than you give someone else. But doing what we can for other people is fun and always makes us more united.

    An equally important aim is to give our girls and their generation the backbone and inspiration they will need to cope with life.So I teach Religious Education in local schools.

  • Conflict is not the end of the world
  • Conflict is not in itself wrong; it's no good being spineless. Neither are feelings; you can learn a lot from them. The point is how you deal with them. You have to learn to be an authentic individual and still have the maturity to shelve your own ideas in order to work in tandem.

    When our girls see us listening without quick judgments, discussing opinions, negotiating, they learn something precious for life.

  • Don't just talk - communicate

  • We have found that straight-down-the-line honesty is the only thing that brings the trust needed in a marriage. There are obvious things, like how much I spent and the message I forgot. But there is underlying murkiness to clear up too like saying I've been hurt or disappointed, or admitting unspoken demands on my partner's affection or skills. Little grudges pile up. Steady openness keeps love sparkling and trust fresh-flowing.

    When I was attracted to someone else, and told John, smouldering criticisms of each other came out. As we faced them, respect and love grew again. The other attraction faded.

  • An attitude of gratitude

  • Like most of our friends, we are miles from our families, and are bringing up our children without much support. It is a struggle. Yet if you look you see that others are far worse off.

    John has a busy job and our youngest is still a handful. I am not a Supermum or cool-as-acucumber cook. But people seem to enjoy our family meals, and many end in a frank, relaxed talk when the children are in bed.

    You have to work at interchange with others. People hesitate to come out of their self-sufficient worlds and yet enjoy enlarging their horizons. Several times recently we brought together people who move in different orbits a manager and a drug addict, a teacher and left-wing activists, businessmen, students and refugees.

    With others we organized an informal `family seminar' where we all shared our experience of marriage, step-parenting, teenagers' needs, cultural chasms and much else. Many of our friends came, and said it was a help. One speaker was Mrs Judith Ward, professional marriage guidance teacher, who spelt out the depth of communication needed for an effective partnership.

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