Thursday, July 7, 2011

Advice I Wish My Mother Gave Me Before I Got Married

my mom and me on my wedding day
A month after I wed my husband, my parents celebrated their 30th anniversary. Throughout my childhood, they were a wonderful example of a loving married relationship, and much of what I brought into my own marriage was based on their example. However, my mom never sat down with me and explicitly taught me what I would need to know as a wife, something that I know was much more common in past generations. As we quickly approach our first anniversary, I’d like to put to paper some of the things I’d wish my mother had told me so I can refer back to it if I someday need to advise a daughter of my own (or any engaged or newlywed women looking for advice).
In addition to advice about the marital relationship, I was desperately in need of some advice on maintaining a household. Although I lived “on my own” for five years before getting married, it was always with roommates, so the burden (and joy!) of keeping house was spread among many people. College living, at least in my experience, was also very different from family living, so some of the elements of keeping house weren’t present or were ignored (I’m especially thinking about decorating the house and thoroughly cleaning it on a regular basis!). Many women now live alone and even own their own houses before marriage and already had it figured out (though I imagine that a husband - and then children - must change some of the dynamics), but for me, learning to be a wife was inextricably bound with learning to keep house.

I. The first few months of marriage can be awkward, frustrating, and/or difficult: Getting married is a big change for everyone, and it was especially so for me since it also was the first time I moved far from my family and friends. My husband and I had to learn one another’s schedules (he’s a morning person, I certainly am not), who does what housework and what is the proper way to do it (I am very particular about how things are folded), and the other day to day matters of running a household and a life together. I also missed my mom terribly and felt uncomfortable in a new place where I only knew how to get to the grocery store. It was hard. And when it wasn’t the “marital bliss” I thought I was supposed to be experiencing, I thought that we must be doing something wrong. After a few months, we adjusted to life together and the rest of our first year together has been incredibly joyous. I just wish that my mom had prepared me for those first few months, so I would have known that everything was normal and would quickly pass (I’m sure she just didn’t remember her own awkward first months of marriage 30 years ago).

II. The price of groceries: My mom is amazing at saving money and finding deals. From her, I learned to use coupons and look for the best prices. The only problem was, I didn’t know how much groceries should cost, so I didn’t know when I was getting a good deal. Yes, I grocery shopped for myself before I got married, but I tended to only buy certain items, and I didn’t eat meat or diary. I wish my mom had taken me grocery shopping repeatedly and pointed out the average price for a gallon of milk, a carton of eggs, peanut butter, etc. I’m still getting my bearing as to what good price are for common grocery items, but had I known in the first place, I would have saved so much money by noticing that some stores had higher than average prices on everything (and steering clear of those places) and not buy things when their “sale” prices weren’t really a deal.

III. How to support your husband in his career: My husband is still a student, at the very beginning of his career, just as my father was when my parents married (they married at 19!), but I think this is no different for a woman that marries a man already well-established in his career. It is essential that we support our husbands in their jobs, especially since work is still a major way that a man’s value is defined. Our plan is for me to stay at home while my husband is the main breadwinner for the family, but this is just as important (maybe even more so) in households where the woman works or is the main breadwinner. When we first married, I had no idea how important my husband’s work was to his overall happiness, and even now that I realize it, I don’t understand fully how to support him (especially since his field is very specialized and I have trouble understanding the research he does). Just last week, I read a great post by the Modern Mrs. Darcy on how to encourage your man at work - I’m excited to try her suggestions.

IV. Don’t take too much stuff into your marriage: I'm not talking emotional baggage, I'm talking real baggage.  Perhaps my mother didn’t tell me this because she married young and lived with her parents until her wedding day, so she didn’t have the opportunity to accumulate many belongings. I lived on my own (with roommates) for five years before my wedding, giving me plenty of time to accumulate stuff. When I got married, I brought almost all of them with me. I’m grateful for the functional items - furniture, kitchen items, office supplies. But I’ve ended up giving away boxes full of knickknacks and decorations. Although I thought I’d want them to decorate my future home, once I got married, my ideas of what my home would look like changed drastically. I wanted things in our house that represented both of us individually and as a couple. Most of the items I had before didn’t meat that criteria, especially since my husband had very little that could represent him. Of course, there were some pictures and other lovely, sentimental items that were mine that worked wonderfully in our apartment, but the majority of decorations in our apartment we’ve bought together (or received as wedding gifts). Building a life together includes making your home together, not carrying over everything from your former single life.

V. Never assume what your husband knows: When we married, I knew that my husband was raised in a family much different than mine, but I didn’t think about how that would affect his knowledge base. Many of the things I learned in my upbringing, I assumed that he would know too. So I often made the mistake of assuming that my husband had knowledge of things that he didn’t, which never ended up well. This manifested in a variety of ways - I couldn’t fathom that he had never eaten tostadas (a staple in my house growing up) or eggplant. My father is handy and his isn’t, and I’ve embarrassed him by getting upset when he didn’t know how to do something I considered “manly” (how to change the oil, for example). He didn’t have any sisters, so he didn’t understand much about the “lady time” of month, and it frustrated me that he didn’t understand what I was experiencing. Obviously this works both ways, and it’s been much better since we’ve learned not to assume that the other knows what we consider to be “common knowledge”. It’s led to more understanding between us and we’ve enjoyed teaching each other new things (I taught him how to change the oil and now he’s a pro - and very proud!).

These are all that I can think of right now, but I’m sure that there were many other things that I had to teach myself, especially in the first few months of marriage. Can you think of any advice you wish you received before you tied the knot? (Or perhaps any notoriously bad advice you wish you'd never received?)


  1. Hi
    In all honesty I think much of this stuff a woman simply has to learn on her own because it depends upon the family income and situation. I am in my early 50's and the time my parents lived through when they were young (the late 1940's and 1950's) was much different than the 1980's when I married. Expectations were also different. Women of my generation would NEVER invite someone over to their home unless the house was entirely spotless. Today, that's just not the case because many women work until they have children. My mother quit her job when she got married.
    Unfortunately, marriage IS on the job training in every way possible. I think mothers (and I have THREE daughters) should definitely tell their daughters to learn to budget, and support their husbands in everything they do - searching for work, in their careers and even encouraging them to learn how to be handy (saves a ton of money!).
    In the end though, really the couple has to develop their own strategy for budgeting, cleaning the house, supporting each other emotionally etc.

  2. Patricia, I do agree that some things must be learned in the "battlefield", but I do think that some things can be explicitly taught (or at least mentioned) that will make early marriage easier. I didn't list anything that I thought I couldn't have been told beforehand - believe me, if I just wrote a list of things I've learned since I've been married, it would be so long no one could read it all! But I think that certain things - like telling newlyweds that it is ok for the first few months to be awkward or difficult - can make a huge difference. From what people told me, I thought that the first few months should be bliss and that something was very amiss (perhaps I married the wrong man?) when they didn't go so smoothly.

  3. Mandi, I would think that would be intuitive that it would be difficult to merge two lives together. I don't believe parents should hand hold their adult children. I believe the lessons you learned here by yourself are probably much better than any wisdom your mother could have imparted. I am glad that you discovered how important it is to support your husband but I hope that he will return that support for you when he walks in the door at 5pm and you hand over a crying baby and three toddlers.

    I don't plan to take my daughters to the grocery store and help them seek out the best prices. My 19 year old daughter who is living with her brother while studying at university in another city has learned quite a lot about grocery shopping, the cost of living and quality of food per price.

    I do note that you married after a long distance relationship to a man you met online. I believe this is probably the source of some of the discomfort you experienced. For example, if you lived nearby, you might have been aware that your husband was a morning person because you might have had more opportunities to be with him. Many other things might also have been worked out or discovered beforehand but I think in a long distance relationship this isn't always possible. (I'm not against long distance relationships by any means - I just believe that they have their own set of problems)

    Do you believe having had a long distance courtship might make things more difficult for young couples to settle in?

  4. Yes, I did meet my husband online (although we lived in the same vicinity for the first several months we were dating) and we had a long distance relationship for nearly two years before we married, but I don't think that caused any particular problems for us settling in together. Although I may have learned some things about my husband that I perhaps would have learned had we lived closer (although I'm not altogether sure about that), none of them would have prevented us from marrying and I don't think that they could have been "solved" prior to us living together.

    For example, even had I known that he was a morning person and I was a night person before we were married (and I did know it to some extent, I just didn't realize how much of a morning person he is and how much of a night person I am - it's quite extreme), there is really no way that we could have predicted how it would affect our day to day lives until we lived together and we couldn't have found ways for it to work until then.

    The long distance made our early marriage more difficult only to the extent that I moved far from my family and was quite homesick, but I don't think that this is the case for many people in long distance relationships because they already live far away from their families at the point they marry (I went to school only 40 minutes from mine, so I saw them on a weekly basis).

    I didn't mean to insinuate that adult children should be hand held by their parents. Although I saw my parents frequently, I was very much on my own the past five years, however, I was just pointing out some areas where advice would have been helpful. I tried to seek out advice before my marriage but it seems that many people were reluctant to give it. I feel like there is a certain generational gap that makes my parents' generation much less willing to give advice to younger people for fear that they are interfering, but some advice would have been helpful. Obviously, I've been able to figure it out on my own, but I strongly believe that young people have a lot to learn from older generations and I lament that I haven't been able to benefit from their advice.

  5. Yes Mandi I do agree with you on many points you've made in your above comment.
    I remember that I too (many years ago) lived at home while I did my undergraduate degree. For one thing it was cheaper and this meant that I could do the degree debt-free (back in the days when tuition was $500 per year!).
    I moved across the continent alone to a new job when I graduated and it was hard. I too was very homesick. :(
    I think you are probably quite right about the generational gap affecting what gets passed on - especially from mothers to daughters.
    I'm betting the advice most young women today get from their moms is about taking the pill and not getting pregnant. :(
    But the actual "household management" stuff likely

  6. I love this post!! :) Btw, my Dh and I dated locally for two years, and we still had adjustments to make when we got married. I love your point about feeling like things weren't "right" for a few months. We experienced that too and are now settled in and figuring things out.

    I did live on my own for a long time before getting married so grocery shopping and stuff wasn't so bad. But I wish I too had a better understanding of making "our home" earlier... I really fought my Dh on his idea to get an apartment together instead of him moving into my old place. Now I am glad he "won" that argument.

  7. I think anytime you go from dating to married/living together theres going to be adjustments. You could know he's a morning person but until he tries to wake you up at 6am your not really going to understand. (That is just my assumption I've never lived with a man). My sister was just talking about this last night. She wanted to know why my grandpa married an Italian when he hated Italian Food! My moms like you shouldn't base your marriage on the kinds of food you do/don't like you just need to learn to compromise!

    I agree parents need to learn to "let go" I know parents that still pay their married children's CELL PHONE BILL!! Along with other things. That makes me so mad I live at home still and I pay all my own bills.

    I agree Grocery Shopping can be difficult. The hardest thing is the prices vary from region to region. When I lived in Dallas I could get a gallon of milk for $3 or less. Here in Florida I can't find a gallon of milk for less than $3.50 (it's usually closer to $4!). If you need some guidance on prices I have a price list on my blog.

    It won't be exact but it's a good starting point. I've taken it and altered it as I've found better/worse prices. Another thing with the prices is that the prices vary by season. So some things are cheaper in summer than in fall. But I'm still learning so that when I do get married I'm a little bit ahead of the learning curve :)


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