Dear Mom and Dad,
I am 19 now. Looking back, I am confident in my current claim that you are amazing parents, dare I say two of the best. You have greatly influenced the way I see the world and I’m so glad you were chosen to be my parents. While there are many, many things I would not change about my childhood, there is one that I would. The one thing I think you could’ve done better was your relationship with each other. While you guys were excellent parents, I think you were subpar spouses, to say the least.
I’m sure 19 years ago your plans and expectations for me were very different than the way that I turned out. In the same way, I’m sure your plans and expectations for your own lives were very different than the lives you’re living now. Although 19 years of your life with me have passed, some things remain the same. When I was little, you guys would fight over the silliest little things. Arguments from long ago would come into the picture because were never resolved. Many small things led to big blow-ups. Unfortunately, this has not changed. Arguments concerning whose fault it is the Internet isn’t working anymore or whether the dishwasher is loaded correctly happen multiple times a day. And oftentimes general statements are thrown in there, such as, “you never listen to me,” “you always nag me,” or, my personal favorite, “you’re always like this.” And just as these disputes would occasionally send me to my room in tears, 19 years later the same thing happens. You didn’t know this then, and you don’t know it now. I’ve been home on break from school for less than a week and more than once I’ve felt the warm sting of tears welling up in my eyes as you raise your voices at each other. I want you to know that this hurts me. It hurts me more than I am brave enough to tell you in person. Because it hurts me more than I understand, I want to include you in my thoughts on this.
1. Your marriage is the biggest influence on my perception of what marriage is supposed to look like. Parents are their children’s first and oftentimes most important role models. We see how our parents act toward us, toward their friends, and toward strangers. But we also see how our parents act towards each other. We see the nitty gritty of marriage through our parents. And if our parents don’t handle the tough stuff well, we don’t know what it is supposed to look like when healthy couples do life together. I’ve talked to some people who say they want their marriage to look like their parents’ marriage; I’ve never once thought this. In fact, I’ve often felt the opposite way. But not being close with a couple whose marriage I admire, I’ve questioned whether a happy marriage is possible. Not only does the way you treat each other affect me, but it affects all of my relationships, especially romantic ones.
2. I love and respect both of you, so it breaks my heart when you don’t love and respect each other. This doesn’t really need much of an explanation. Just as seeing a friend being bullied hurts you just as much as it hurts your friend, seeing a parent bullied by their spouse is a big deal for kids.
3. Like all kids, I was (and am) very perceptive. I remember being able to tell when my parents were not happy with each other, even when they tried to hide it. I also remember hearing them argue in their bedroom. You think you can keep your relationship between the two of you, but that’s not how families work. Not a lot can be kept private. This leads to the next point.
4. Fight in front of us. That’s right. Fight in front of your kids. As I said before, kids are perceptive and will know when something is up, regardless of whether the dispute happens in front of them or behind closed doors. However, you must fight fairly and you must fight only about things of importance. Fighting fairly means not bringing things into the discussion that are not directly relevant. An argument about whose side of the family to spend Christmas with? Not ok to bring up the fact that you think your spouse is always nagging you about helping around the house. Fighting fairly also means that the discussions are resolved and it’s not always the same one of you “winning” all the time. Fighting about important matters is good and healthy for relationships because it shows that you both are invested in each other. Fighting about minute things, though, make it seems like you are tearing each other down whatever chance you get. It is hurtful for your relationship and for the entire family.
5. I blame both of you equally. Yes, it seems like Dad yells more at Mom than she does at him, but she occasionally ridicules him in front of their mutual friends. In your relationship as in all relationships, both acts of commission and acts of omission play a role. A spouse may be doing something wrong while the other one may not be doing something he or she should be. It can seem like one parent is the cause of these problems, but that is rarely the case. It takes two to make a marriage work. It also takes two to let it fall apart. You cannot blame this on your partner. You both must take responsibility for it and decide to do better.
I write this letter to you because I am at a loss for words when I think about telling you this in person. I have no idea how you will react or if this will even change anything. It could be that you both are very happy in your marriage and this is normal. Because I do not think that is the case, I wish to see you consider more carefully the effect your actions and words to each other have on your relationship with each other and with the rest of the family.
Even though my brother and I would pretend to be grossed out in the rare occasion that you would share a kiss in front of us, I would do anything to see such a sight again. I think that you two could be so happy with each other if you decide to be once again. It may seem like no one cares about your relationship anymore, but I’m here telling you that the opposite is true.
I love you both so much,
Your concerned daughter.