So May was the month my husband and I reached that significant milestone of watching the youngest of our children receive her college degree. It is a moment we had planned for and anticipated even before we had her. An education, after all, was always the most precious gift we believed we could ever give our child.
But this statement, you see, is something I have slowly began to question. Of course, an education is important but there are so many more things involved in being a parent. These last few weeks, amidst the discussions about Sam’s future career choices and the preparations for Tinka’s wedding, I think about the journey they are about to embark on. I ponder the forks and twists and turns ahead of them and wonder what it is we have given each of them that has helped prepare them for the rest of their lives. The English term does not carry the same clarity that the Tagalog word does. I think of it as “baon” - literally, the stuff in your lunch box or brown bag. What is it that I hope my children take away and keep with them as they embark on their own adult journeys?
Career choices have become more and more difficult in an era where entire categories of jobs are both created and eliminated by technology. In today’s world, managing a career is not so much about choosing a career or profession as it is about choosing a direction and general set of competencies to acquire and develop.
There are some easy tips, of course. Resist the lure of money or position, especially early on. The name of the game for nurturing a career is the development of skills and contacts. Too often, early offers of large amounts of money or position hide nasty things such as bad hours, repetitive work or a dead-end career.
Make three circles. Fill one with the things that you enjoy. Fill the other with the things that you believe are meaningful. Look at the intersection of those two. Now figure out which of these things you can see yourself becoming deeply involved in consistently and over the long-term. This means there is one last circle to be filled. What are you good at? The trick to finding happiness in a job is to engage in something both pleasurable and meaningful. Finding and holding that job requires that you be good at it.
The other question - that of finding a life partner - is even more difficult. Yet, it is a critically important decision. Marriage means committing to running a household together, raising children together, pooling assets and liabilities. It means expanding your circle of family and friends.
Research shows that happily married people are healthier and live longer. Research also shows that, for health and life expectancy, it is better to be single than unhappily married.
There are tips, of course. Relationship expert Jon Gottman explains that the happiest couples are those who show their appreciation for each other. In 2016, Gottman released the result of a study of 130 couples when he explained that emotional intelligence, the ability to deal with conflict in a positive manner and to avoid escalating negativity is a critical skill in maintaining a healthy relationship. Another relationship expert, Jane Greer espouses working out or taking walks together.
Now, all of this seems easy until you realize there are things that cannot be addressed simply by better communication skills or exercising together. A deep misalignment in values, for example, is often a deal-breaker.
When conversations turn to marriage, I always ask whether the engaged couple has had “the talk.” The talk is when you discuss your goals and your values; it is when you set agreements and procedures.
The reality is that expecting your partner to change simply because you have gotten married is an expectation that is doomed to failure. You will end up frustrated and your partner beleaguered.
What should the talk include? Talk about money. Talk about in-laws, and especially in-laws and money. Talk about your expectations and definition of fidelity. You do not want the nasty surprise of finding out your husband expects you to give up going out with your male friends simply because you have become a wife. Now that I am older and a teeny bit wiser, I also add the conversation about children. How many you want to have, how you plan to raise them. How you feel about discipline.
All of this, of course, is the cerebral stuff. The really important things? The things I hope I have managed to instill in my children? The lessons I want them to take with them? They are both easier and more difficult.
Whatever the path, whatever the choice, choose happiness. Avoid despair. If you do not look forward to waking up most mornings, there is something wrong, fix it. For the most part, neither a martyr nor a hero be. Never stop yourself from doing something because you fear what others may think. It is far better to regret doing than not doing. Run toward, not from. Choose your battles but hold fast to the essentials. Embrace your wonder. Never lose your curiosity. Laugh often. Choose kindness. Dance. Move. Embrace life.
As to marriage? Love is important but it is not sufficient. Think of your roles and responsibilities. Find someone who can be both your refuge and your inspiration. Choose someone who will challenge you and who will lend you strength. Find someone who makes you want to be a better person. Consider practicalities. Beauty fades. Conversation lasts. Money is not everything but too much of it or too little of it is often at the root of arguments.
You need to find a way to communicate often and well. Do things together. It is especially important to learn how to fight constructively. Look not just outward or inward but through your partner’s eyes. Accept love. Express love. Recognize fear. Recognize rage. Do not feed anger. Engage. Connect. Find common ground.
Most of all, find your own center. Marriage is not about losing yourself in the couple. It is about becoming a stronger, better you with the other. It is about a journey forward together. Love yourself. Be kind to yourself. Love comes from love. Respect comes from respect.
Move forward with courage and hope. Engage. Commit. Connect. Live!
Congratulations, Sam! Best wishes, Tinka and Ade! We love you!
Readers can email Maya at [email protected] Or visit her site at http://integrations.tumblr.com. For academic publications, Maya uses her full name, Maria Elena Baltazar Herrera.