“When I get married,” says the little girl with the pigtails, “I’m going to have a big house with a pool and a slide and a huge jungle gym, and my husband will be handsome, and he’ll come home from work every day and kiss me and do anything I tell him because he loves me.”

Ah, the blissful ignorance of youth.  I’d like to know why no one – not even my own mother – thought to school me on the down side of the house and the pool and the kids and the husband.  Like so many others my age, I got my life lessons from television.  I couldn’t wait to grow up and have a family of my own because it all looked so charming and delightful.  Once I got there, though, I learned that there were days when I felt like shoving the white picket fence up my husband’s Home Depot-loving ass.  Maybe if Mr. Brady had tossed a kid or two down his architecturally appealing staircase we would have gotten a more practical view of parenthood.  And imagine how well-rounded we could have been if June had told Ward to “fuck off!” just once.

It’s no wonder the divorce rate in the U.S. is so high, because those of us who grew up with the Huxtables and the Partridges really got screwed in the reality department.  We have completely unrealistic expectations of our spouses, our children, and ourselves.  Neither marriage nor parenting is a picnic, but there is a sense of accomplishment when things go smoothly.  We can’t simply skate through life and expect bliss and solitude, though, we have to work at good relationships and hold ourselves accountable for the bullshit we inevitably experience.  To really do that, there are a few things we need to work on.

Oprah’s tried like hell through the years to get women to have a better self-image and a higher level of self-respect, but some of it seems to have backfired.  Our culture is now full of whiners who think they’re entitled to being pampered, and the aromatherapy gadgets on the shelves at Target and Wal-Mart are indicative of this misguided trend.  For the sake of your family, get over yourself.  It’s great to be pampered now and then, but we elected a while back to take on the responsibilities of marriage and parenting, and success in either arena doesn’t come without sacrifice.  When the family’s not right or in trouble, the bathtub is not where we belong.

We’ve also spent too much time over the past several years blaming others – parents, teachers, siblings, spouses – for our own misfortunes, and I’m admittedly not an exception.  My eye-opening day came after about ten years of marriage and two children.  I was feeling overwhelmed with the household chores and the clutter and the errands, and I thought to myself, “some adult ought to be in charge of all this.”  That adult, as it turned out, was me.  At some point in my life, I switched from being a child to being a grownup.  Like it or not, we are responsible for our own happiness, and it’s high time we, as women, accepted the responsibility.

Now, as a wife and mother, and the chief manager of our household, I have enough going on to keep two Fortune 500 CEOs busy.  With this workload, I’m bound to make a mistake or two now and then.  So, with that said, who am I to expect perfection out of every other member of my house if I, myself, am not perfect?  I don’t always enjoy my husband’s company, and there are moments when my children make me so angry I wish I had the lack of ethics required to give both of them away.  (These days aren’t common, but they most certainly do come ‘round.)  After several years of dodging remote controls, picking up broken glass, and locking myself in my room for fear of going to jail, I finally learned that the stupid shit isn’t worth fighting for.

You’re going to disagree sometimes, but, if you’re at all interested in “for better or worse,” you’ll get past it.  Instead of dwelling on what’s wrong with everyone in your house, why not get over it: work it out, and let it go.  If you’re convinced your husband is an idiot, just remind yourself that no one held a gun to your head to say “I do,” so there must have been something you liked about him once.  Look at him for a minute with the same eyes you had when you were dating and I’ll bet you’ll discover he’s the same guy you married after all.

And have you ever considered that the problems in your relationships might be YOU?  Life is neither a daytime/nighttime drama nor a sitcom, nor is it the evening news.  Shit happens, but most routine shit isn’t anything like the life-altering drama we sometimes make it out to be.  Since most of us will encounter few extremely devastating events in our lives, some people will exaggerate their ordinary lives and pass the paranoia on down to their kids to make up for the lack of excitement.  These people – and I’m sure you know at least one – need to knock it the hell off!

There are without question bad things that go on in the world, but the chances of Tom Brokaw saying your name are, in actuality, very slim.  How many children stay indoors because their parents are afraid they’ll be abducted?  How many people stay out of the ocean because they’re afraid of sharks?  How much violent crime is there, really, and what will it take to stop so many of us from buying into the media hype and babble?  Did you know that in 2001, dubbed the “Year of the Shark” by the media, the number of shark attacks across the world actually decreased from the previous year?  The news reports of shark attacks, however, increased, which is why it seemed like an epidemic.  Take a real look at the world around you - surf the internet for the facts, call the Library of Congress, or do whatever else it takes to pull your head out of your ass – and start thinking for yourself instead of blindly accepting the headlines.

As a parent, it’s even more important that you get a grip on reality.  Our children will step into an uncertain future just as we did, but we should at least attempt to pass along some realism.  There are bound to be Disney Channel moments, but we sometimes have to struggle through ESPN and CSPAN to get to them ... and that’s okay.  That’s life.  We owe it to our kids – and ourselves – to be able to make the connection between self-accountability and happiness.  We’re not entitled to good fortune, we earn it through hard work and perseverance, and even then things sometimes don’t work out the way we want them to.  Those who’ve accepted and mastered the responsibilities of womanhood without cries of martyrdom should be applauded and valued.  Those who are still looking around for the adult in charge would do well to find a mirror.

May 18, 2003

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