Marriage and kids
With marriage comes a couple of beneficial life changes. The first is a mindset, and the second is an emotional state.
There a very few things in life where we get to think long-term and, till death do us part, is probably the first time most people encounter a truly long-term initiative. Not only is marriage often the first, but it is one of the genuinely long-term endeavors anyone can do, even for the most interesting and complete individuals. Of course, marriage, like all long-term plans, can be nothing more than an initiative because plans and efforts never guarantee results.
Many changes come when you start thinking genuinely long-term, but the most profound thing to me is that you start wondering less about how people around you can change and more about how you can change. The reason is that there is only genuine partnership with change. If someone adapts fully to you and you stay the same, you are not in a partnership. If you hold your partner’s life equally, anything other than a true partnership will break, or you will have to endure it with much pain.
To be clear, I don’t believe this necessarily means an equal partnership is required, but most partnerships depend on a great degree of complementarity.
The second change is in the emotional range. If you have a supporting life partner, you end up with less painful emotional downs.
Having someone betting on you “forever” may not initially make the best moment better, but it will immediately make the worst moments less painful. To have someone alongside “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health” drastically raises the lowest you can fall.
Life is like a circle, and kids make it bigger.
Think of a circle with lines from the center to different points in circumference. Some of these lines represent happiness others represent sadness, pain, despair, pride, hilarity, etc. A kid gives you more of all of it. I have experienced this as “having more life”.
Some people disagree that having an expansive life is good and that having kids is good, and they may even argue we should live smaller lives and reverse humanity’s growth rate. I won’t try to argue at length here for expansive lives, having kids, and growing humankind. I will limit myself here by saying that life is good and worth living, and increasing humanity is good.
How to make the best of marriage and kids
In my experience, marriage is predicated on the idea that we can learn infinite things from one person, that the process can give boundless gratification, and that our relationship with them can be infinitely interesting and intimate. In my experience, the essential condition for a happy family is to find your spouse and kids infinitely interesting.
For this, it helps a lot if you generally find people interesting. If so, your family is privileged because your shared intimacy provides a degree of fidelity and detail that is hard to find anywhere else. As a general observation, people who are generally curious about others and see their partners and kids as having equal value to them are usually in happy relationships.
After curiosity, the next emotion that drives a great degree of family happiness is admiration. The first member to admire is your spouse. If you have a good partnership, this comes naturally. If you value how they use their time and attention, deal with adversity and take in the gifts of life, then admiration naturally follows. People you admire are fascinating to pay attention to, reinforcing this essential driver of happy partnerships.
Kids have some advantages and some disadvantages in being subject to curiosity and admiration. First, they have a leg up because, in most cases, parents have some sort of hormonal or evolutionary conditioning that makes them care deeply for their kids. But also, if you find humans interesting, kids are like reality tv from national geographic, being broadcast in real-time from your house!
As for admiring your kids, this can come easily if their struggles and aspirations resonate with yours, and it might be harder if they don’t. But, again, human curiosity and their equal standing as humans is the best path to admiration.
Cupcakes and rainbows
Marriage and kids can be a lot of work. We don’t always know what we want, and we don’t always express ourselves clearly. We can be petty, shortsighted, temperamental, and unfair. So often, curiosity turns into confusion. And, like in all things of value, there is a lot of grinding. At times, clean-cut incompatibilities can make any of this relationship distant or outright unviable. But overall, the one thing one can count on in marriage and with kids is the commitment to a long-term relationship with someone we believe has as much value and worth as ourselves.