The Advice I Will Give My Kids in 2034

I don’t enjoy imagining my kids 15 years older. Heck, I don’t enjoy imagining my kids 15 days older. If I was in possession of the magical remote control that Adam Sandler had in that movie from a while ago, I would rip off the fast-forward button and pour sulfuric acid on the sensors underneath. In a million years, I would not want that superpower.

I also don’t enjoy imagining my kids on their own someday, out in the world, not needing me anymore. Greyson will forever enjoy holding my hand, right? And Violet will always light up when I walk into a room? I actively choose not to ruminate on the answers to such questions. Don’t be silly, Jeremy. Of course they will.

But the more relationships I see crumble around me, and the more I think about what makes Danielle and me tick after all these years together — 10 next month! — the more I begin to ponder what I will tell our kids about dating and marriage in a decade and a half. It’s never too early to sketch out the broad strokes of a philosophical parenting approach to these subjects, and to begin preparing yourself to navigate tricky teenage conversations.

Even if my kids are both still in diapers.

Despite my own unusually stable family — Danielle’s parents have been together for well over 40 years, and my parents will reach their golden anniversary in August — I’ve witnessed my fair share of imploding relationships at close range. I’ve seen bad marriages steal 5 or even 10 years from someone’s life, torpedoing their peace of mind, their self-confidence, and in some cases their finances too. With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve found there a few things that link most of these relationships. And as I will begin to explain to my teenage kids in the (hopefully very distant) 2030s, it all comes down to one thing:

Un-shared values.

Shared values are the foundational building blocks of a sustainable marriage. Un-shared values are the crumbling blocks that erode the foundation of an unsustainable one. So what are some of the blocks in question?

One of the most undervalued values that help determine a marriage’s success is a shared budgeting ethos. Put simply, some people have wired themselves to spend, and other people have wired themselves to save. Over the years, I have heard it reported from multiple sources that money problems are second only to infidelity as a root cause of divorce. When no deliberate attempt is made to reach alignment on financial matters before tying the knot, a marriage is essentially a roll of the dice.

I will do everything in my power to teach my kids how to save money, just like my dad gave me that same invaluable gift. But in terms of marriage, knowing how to budget is only half the battle. You also have to join forces with someone else who shares that same nest-egg-preserving instinct. I have multiple friends who are mired in varying degrees of debt because they and their former spouse had dissonant — and in some cases diametrically opposite — views on money. It can’t be overstated how corrosive it is to a marriage when one person carefully saves money, and the other person spends money without much (or any) restraint.

Another area where it is crucial to verify alignment with your partner before committing the rest of your earthly existence to each other is the love of the outdoors and the value of travel. Are you a hopeless wanderer, but you’re dating a dyed-in-the-wool homebody? Or are you someone who could happily watch TV every night for the rest of your life, but you’re thinking about marrying someone who craves as much fresh air as much as possible?

These priorities substantively don’t align, and it’s only a matter of time before the disparity in perspective reaches a breaking point in the day-in-day-out crush of married life. Especially once kids enter the picture. After all, I don’t know any nature lovers (or travel lovers) who are nonchalant about whether or not those particular values should be imparted to their own children.

This applies to any philosophical difference, really. If two people view the world in fundamentally divergent ways, it becomes tricky — or maybe even traumatic — to bridge the gap.

But let me be clear: I’m not talking about personality differences here. Danielle and I could not possibly have more distinct temperaments. In fact, our Myers-Briggs types are opposite each other in all 4 categories (a fact about which I’m quite proud). I’m an ENFP; she’s an ISTJ. But we align on all the values I’m listing.

Values, not personalities, are the operative thing.

A final value discrepancy that can destabilize a marriage — and this one is huge — is the way we approach parenting. When un-shared, this value makes a marriage (at least one aiming at starting a family) a supremely untenable alliance. I’ve known a few long-term relationships that have lacked this alignment to an ominous degree. And the results were not pretty for anyone involved.

Take, for instance, the importance you place on protecting your children’s innocence for as long as possible. Let’s say you believe you should preserve it at all costs, but your husband thinks it’s futile to even try doing so in the digital age: “Might as well let ‘em find out about the world sooner rather than later!” Is it practical to just “agree to disagree” about such a thing?

Or think about the value you ascribe to traditional gender roles. What if you want to raise both your son and daughter to be sensitive and nurturing, and to play with whatever toys they want, and to get dirty playing outside… but your more traditional wife is convinced that boys should be tough and play only with “boy stuff,” and girls should be pretty and glamour-conscious and enamored of princesses. How realistic is it for two parents to try to split the difference in that area?

Or consider the method you will utilize to teach and punish your children. What if you favor a gentle, nurturing approach, but your husband is a rigid authoritarian who is convinced of the efficacy of corporal punishment. Is that a difference you are able to live with, day in and day out, for 2 decades as your children grow up? And even if you somehow can live with it — should you?

These are the topics that vitally need to be discussed during the dating process, but they often fall by the wayside in favor of whispered sweet nothings. Affection and romance are wonderful, but they can easily take the place of doing your due diligence so that you can, thoughtfully and deliberately, decide your own destiny. And this significant dating oversight often leads to marriages between two people who are hopelessly in love for the time being, but also hopelessly incompatible for the long haul.

So let’s take Adam Sandler’s magical remote and fast-forward to 2034. Greyson is 17, and Violet is 15. They’re a solid decade away from marriage territory — heck, their parents fell in love within shouting distance of their 30s! — but have entered the realm where they’re dating and falling in love (and falling out of love) and all of the thrilling and impetuous things I did at the exact same age.

At that point, they will need a foundational understanding of the kind of enduring relationship that could await them down the road, if they choose to embark on a quest to find it. Picturing this will mold all of their dating decisions in the interim, and it will also help to crystallize their view of themselves.

And that’s where their lovestruck parents come in. Danielle and I will need to be able to give them a vision of what has made — and is still making — our lifelong love affair a success. And that vision will not be built on physical attraction or breathless feelings (although we surely have those as well), but on the cornerstone of shared values.

Explaining those shared values to my teenage kids, with the conversation hopefully extending into their 20s, will be one of the most crucial things I ever convey to them. I can only hope that as a result, they will develop a realistic and robust view of romantic relationships.

But for the time being, my sweet Greyson and my sweet Violet, just stay footloose and fancy-free. And watch your mama and me. Then you will know, in the pure and wordless way that perhaps only toddlers and babies can know, that true love truly does exist outside of fairy tales. And when you get a little older, that will morph into the realization that you never need to settle for less than the real thing.

And not only that — you deserve the real thing.


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