Susan came for her second visit last week. She’s required to do three home visits to check Ellie’s development and our adjustment before making her final recommendation to the court on Ellie’s sixth-month birthday that we get to be her parents as recognized by the law.
I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of these visits.
Don’t get me wrong. Our social worker, Susan, is a polite, warm, and friendly individual. However, any person who has the legal power to take away your child becomes…threatening. After numerous home-study visits, you’d think I’d be used to her coming to evaluate us by now, but I still feel the need to look under the coffee table for dog hair clumps and scrub the toilets. Because everyone knows that toilet rings and dog hair equal a lack of parenting ability.
I was especially anxious about Susan’s second visit, mainly because on Wednesday, I felt like total crap. Primordial, aching, sleepy, ooze. My head had been hurting for days, and all I wanted was to climb into bed, ignore the world, and sleep. (Very responsible and motherly, I know.) To make matters even more interesting, Charlie and I spent much of the day before Susan’s visit arguing. I can’t even remember now what we were arguing about now, but I remember feeling angry and frustrated with him and basically wanting to squish him like a bug.
But alas, no husband squishing for me. We had the home-visit, and it was time to be the happy, shiny family. So we sat on the couch and said, “Yes, having a baby adds some stress, but we’re fine. Just fine. (Smile, nod, hold hands.) Yes, we share responsibilities. Concerns? No, no. We’re great, just great! (Smile bigger, nod, hold hands).”
We did not tell Susan that we recently started going back to couple’s counseling.
Whoa! you are now saying. What?! Likely, you are bothered by this news, eh? If you know Charlie and me, maybe you’re concerned that we’re having “problems” and you think our marriage is in “trouble.” If you don’t know us, maybe you’re upset that people with such an obviously problematic marriage have been allowed to adopt a child. Maybe you’re disappointed that we seem to misrepresent ourselves to our social worker, and you’re worried about Ellie’s well-being.
Of course, if you think there’s such a thing as a perfect marriage, you are probably taking too much Valium. And if you think marriage counseling is only for troubled marriages, then you are perhaps mired within a marital status quo.
In our view, marriage counseling is like hiring a personal trainer at the gym. Trainers help you examine your weak areas, break bad habits, and push to the next level of fitness. Trainers also keep track of your progress so you can see how far you’ve come. Some people are excellent self-motivators and can hold themselves accountable to the disciplines leading to improved “fitness,” but others need outside monitoring and guidance. We happen to work better with a trainer.
Charlie and I did experience some marriage “troubles” during our second year when I started teaching. I went from a graduate student who was often home to cook dinner and who was free on weekends to a teacher working 12-14 hour days who spent weekends grading illegible five-paragraph essays. I became lost in a maze of difficult students, a horrific administrator, ridiculous and uneducated parents, and a perpetual lack of resources. My focus became professional survival, and in that chaos, my marriage suffered. While neither of us ever reached the point of truly wanting to bail, we both knew we wanted something better, and we were willing to fight for it.
After only a few months of counseling, we learned better communication techniques, and we were able to move forward with a stronger marriage.
So, while the fact that we’re back in counseling might be worrisome to some, I actually believe it’s a positive indicator of the improved strength of our relationship. In the past, we waited until our marriage had weathered several tempestuous storms before seeking help. Now, with the first few clouds, we’ve found it easier to acknowledge conflicts and to seek guidance in resolving them.
I think many people who could have amazing marriages (not saying mine is amazing quite yet, although it has its moments), settle for a relationship characterized by constant miscommunication, nitpicking, boredom, or a lack of genuine affection. In my observations, it seems many people would rather go for years maintaining the appearance of a perfect marriage rather than admitting there are weak areas and seeking help.
I remember the shame I felt the first time we went to counseling. I thought, “Gee, two years in, and we’re already falling apart. I’m a loser at nuptial bliss. My parents never went to counseling. What’s wrong with us? “ I didn’t tell anyone for a long time. Normal people don’t go to counseling, right?
WHY are there such negative associations with marriage counseling? Taking your car to the mechanic doesn’t always mean impending doom for its future journeys. A marriage has various parts that must work cohesively, and occasionally, they need a tune-up. There should never be any shame in seeking to make a marriage better. No shame in admitting that we’re human and that sometimes, we need help.
Yes, a baby does add stress….especially if she is added with only a few days’ notice. Yes, it was difficult to abruptly leave my career and become a stay-at-home mother. And as life is generally a complicated heap, there are issues with new business ventures, plans for the future, family members, etc.
But despite all this, I feel that we were completely honest with Susan. We are fine. Better than fine, actually.
Yes, I am crazy in love with my husband. Both of us are insanely in love with our daughter and entirely committed to making sure she has the most protected, most joyful, most loved existence that any baby has ever known. No, we’re not perfect, but we’re becoming better at admitting our imperfections and working to make them better day by day.
It’s just a little complicated to explain all this in a home visit.