Every so often, someone emails me to ask what I think the secret to marriage is. Chris and I usually have a good chuckle at how we have fooled everyone into thinking we're "experts" in this area; but then we finally sit in somber silence and stare into space as we realize our marriage is built on what appears to be a pretty crappy philosophy. Seldomly do I give our real answer when I respond because I'm embarrassed Chris and I have adopted the following as a foundational pillar of our marriage. But, it works.

Our secret to a happy marriage?

Lower your expectations.

That's right, friends. Lower your expectations. I think most of the time people go into marriage expecting fairy tales, romance, and sunsets. That may sum up about the first month. But afterward, the sparkle begins to dim, the wedding dust settles, and you're left standing next to this incredibly flawed and incredibly HUMAN person. I was shocked to discover that Chris would not serve me breakfast in bed every Sunday morning. What kind of animal had I married?!

Around our one year anniversary, I realized if I took all expectations out of our marriage, I was actually pretty happy. I no longer expected him to bring home flowers, to sit next to me and tell me how beautiful I was while I did laundry, or yearn to go grocery shopping with me on a Saturday morning. Once I let go of those expectations, Chris became a stellar husband because when you marry a good person, they are going to exceed your expectations-whether you set them or not.

So, when he randomly shows up with flowers on a Tuesday night, I am always blown away because...FLOWERS! So unexpected. Or, when he offers to cook dinner so I can write or read or wrestle the kids into the bathtub, I am always taken aback because...THOUGHTFUL! And so unexpected.

Now, many people will hear this philosophy and immediately think something like, "What a terrible way to live a marriage." But to these nay-sayers, I say, "Give it a whirl." Lower your expectations and see what happens in your marriage.

Not long ago, there was this amazing article on parenting that went around Facebook. It was about how we need to be parenting more like our parents parented us, which was basically to push us outside and tell us to, "Go play!" As the author wrote, my entire childhood flashed before my eyes. I remember my mom and dad kicking my siblings and me of the house on Saturday mornings, only allowing us back inside for mealtimes.

If I fell down, my mom didn't know about it until I wandered home around dinner time. So, I learned to pick myself up and dust myself off. If a friend and I got into a squabble, my mom wasn't there to help us work it out with "kind words" or "listening ears." We just learned that no one would play with us if we weren't nice. If a bike chain broke, my dad wasn't standing there next to me to fix the bike and get it moving again. I learned instead how to flip that bike over and fix the darn chain myself.

The Facebook article reminded me that some of the best experiences of my childhood happened because my parents weren't involved.

That's why Chris and I are taking our marriage philosophy and making it our parenting philosophy, too.

It's time we lowered our expectations as parents

I cannot attend four birthday parties, six play dates, five family dinners, baseball practice, baseball games, swimming lessons, ballet, and Sunday church all in one weekend. I just can't do it. It's expensive, time consuming, and at the end of the day, our kids may go to bed worn-out and satisfied; but Chris and I are left sitting exhausted on the couch, staring at the TV because we have no energy left to give to anything we would actually like to do.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love having an active family. I love having a place to go, something to do, an activity, or an outing. I will drag my family to theme parks and playgrounds and splash pads 9 times out of 10 because I want to get out of the house, even more than they do.

But here is what I've started doing: I've stopped entertaining my children at home when I don't want to or when I'm busy. If Gracie comes up to me and wants me to stop what I'm doing to fix her toy so it can play "Let It Go" for the 481st time that day, I let myself say no. Or, if we're out somewhere they don't want to be-like Ikea or Home Depot-and the kids are complaining and whining, I tell them to pipe down and deal. Actually, I say, "then drive yourself home!" and they laugh.

And I laugh.

And they laugh nervously.

And I keep shopping.

And they stop laughing.

And, you know what?

We're all okay.

Today is a very different world to raise children in than when I was little. I can't kick my kids outside all day because the world just isn't the same anymore. But, I can start remembering the importance of independence and self-sufficiency. I can take steps to bring those attributes into my kids' lives by lowering my expectations of parenthood.

So, yes. I am lowering my expectations of motherhood. Will some call me a slacker? I'm sure. But, here's the thing"

Sometimes, kids need to feel a little uncertain. Sometimes, they need to solve a problem for themselves. Sometimes, they need to not get their way. Sometimes, they need to wait. Sometimes, they need to do things that are not necessarily "kid-friendly" because do I want to raise fragile, rare flowers that only blossom and grow when the sunlight, water, and temperature are exactly perfect?

No! I want to raise WILDFLOWERS. I want to raise a kid who can grow anywhere. Who can bloom when nothing else around them does. I want to raise a kid who can rise up in between the cracks of the sidewalks.

I don't want to raise children in a world that revolves around them because when they are not children anymore, the world most definitely will not revolve around them. And what kind of cruelty is that for me to push them out into that world without any preparation? So, I'm prepping them now:

Go play.

Read that book yourself.

Fix that toy on your own.

Find something to do.

Work it out between the two of you.

Be happy about it, or go do something else.

And, you know what? I feel really good about it.

Editor's note: This article has been previously published on Marriage Confessions. It has been modified and republished here with permission.

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