3) In marriage, you chose to make your husband your primary family.
I miss my family. I am one of nine, wild children, all of whom still live close to my parents’ home in Iowa. There are times that I see the pictures of Jr. High graduations or gymnastics meet award ceremonies and I ache to be closer. I can easily feel like I am missing out on all the shared experiences my family is having.
Austin and I have had hard and long conversations about moving to Iowa. Some days, it seems incredibly ideal; other days, I feel the cringing messiness of living in the town where I grew up. Most importantly, every time we pray about it, the Lord does not seem to be moving us in that direction. My gut reaction to this reality is one of despair: what will anchor me? how can I miss out on so many dear relationships? While these questions will always haunt my mind in some way, this year has taught me that in marriage, you chose to make your spouse your primary family.
Austin and I moved to Colorado without knowing many people. We’ve been as much on our own as either of us had ever been. And it was so good for us. I cannot emphasize enough how much physically leaving both of our families and cleaving to one another has shaped our marriage. Without the influence of either family immediately present, it was the first time we really saw each other as our own primary family unit. When making financial decisions or ministry commitments, we started referring to the two of us as “our family.” It was a subtle change, but it carried the weight of transition that is appropriate in marriage. We were starting to see ourselves as our own unit; more than that, as our primary unit. My siblings will grow and move away from home as well, but Austin will always be my family.
Austin and I we were raised differently in many aspects. In the early days of our marriage, we quickly learned to pause in the midst of a disagreement and ask each other, “How did your family do this?” More of ten than not, each of us were contending for a position in the disagreement that had deep roots in our respective family traditions. These family influences can fly under the radar, often unknown and unseen, but they carry a strong current of habit that influence the way we approach big-picture decisions and mundane tasks alike. Because Austin and I believe we are each other’s primary family, we have had to chose to make decisions about how we are going to approach all kinds of things. By noticing and acknowledging that we naturally approach things form the perspective of our family, we had to reorient ourselves to thinking about how we will do things as a family. This means we don’t think about money the way his family thought about it, we don’t think about money the way my family thought about it, but we chart a third course. In some things, we have decided to lean on the traditions one of us were raised with: we shop for clothing like the Gannetts, we grocery shop like the Gilbaughs. But in most things, we have considered both traditions and found it best for us to chart a third way, to create a way of doing things that is neither he nor I, but us.
As each other’s primary family unit, we have to lean into one another, we have to make decisions together, we have to chose and start traditions together. We both have had to break our thought patterns of considering ourselves primarily as a member of the Gilbaugh or Gannett family, and train ourself to consider ourselves primarily a member of our small family. This can be a poignant place of pain. I wince to think of losing some of my family traditions: the way we only hang ornaments on our Christmas tree that have a bear on them (yes, really), or how my mom always make 70 dinner rolls for Thanksgiving dinner, and we basically eat all of them. It sincerely feels like a death to loose some of those family traditions. But even in the pain of it, we have started our own traditions: we have animal ornaments on our Christmas tree, and we always set our Thanksgiving table with the china Austin’s mother gifted us.
Perhaps the more tangible way we have solidified our own family identity is the weekly “liturgies” we have established for ourselves. We decided pretty early on that we wanted to intentionally chose formative habits that lead us through the week. These habits not only ground us, but give us space to rejoice and anticipate peace. We make homemade pizza every Friday night, we have a cheese board and wine every Sunday night for dinner, we make a big Saturday morning breakfast each week, and we hold hands and pray every night before dinner. These liturgies have been the most formative way of becoming our own family. The more we practice them, the more we consider them the “thing we do” or “how we do things.”
Austin and I both love and miss our families something terrible. We think of them often, and we long to be with them regularly. But this year has taught us the necessity and blessing of leaving our families and cleaving to one another. As my family, Austin will always be my home. Where he goes, I will go. Where he stays, I will stay. He is my family. And I will choose, carefully and intentionally, to reorient myself to him, to let myself grow in being a Gannett, and to embrace the grace of being a new family – our family.