“It’s too bad they don’t come with a manual!” People would joke after I gave birth to my first newborn. He was a remarkably content baby most of the time, but in the evenings he would fuss for hours, leaving me completely baffled. I heard the above remark time after time, and always nodded my hearty agreement. Because it’s true: every baby is so uniquely different that the only way to know exactly why they’re crying and how to fix it would be for them each to come out with individually crafted manuals.
But the more I thought about it, the more I decided that this concept was a lot more widespread than strictly regarding newborns. Life sure would be simpler if my husband had presented me with a manual to himself on our wedding day; or if I had one for all of my family members and friends. Wouldn’t it all go so much more smoothly if we knew exactly what each other needed, and how to meet those needs, all of the time?
Obviously, this isn’t the case and can never be. There are no pat answers for our relational difficulties, as though we were all a math equation for each other to solve. Relationships take work, and lots of it.
My oldest son is in Kindergarten, and lately he’s been coming home telling me about the social skills he and his classmates are learning about; things like empathy and self-control. I am thrilled that this is covered in his curriculum, and it makes me wonder why we stop at Kindergarten. Why are we not teaching these skills in junior high, high school, and college? How different might our country be if every individual had been well taught on conflict resolution and interpersonal communication?
I’m not trying to complain about our school system, but rather pointing out that these relational skills are critically important to having a happy, healthy life- yet many of us are never guided in them because it’s not something we have to do. So really, the responsibility is up to us. If we want to have the best relationships possible (with our friends, family, spouse, and/or children), we have to put in the work. Just as with anything else: if we want to get better at something: we learn more about it, practice implementing what we learn, and commit to continued growth. Relationships are no different.
The first few months of my newborn son’s life were a learning experience. When I was trying desperately to figure out how to soothe him, I sought out help in different ways. I read two or three different books recommended by people I respected, I had several appointments with a lactation consultant, and my husband and I had taken a class beforehand to help us prepare for world-shift that comes with having a newborn. Similarly, I have found it beneficial in my other relationships to continually seek to grow by reading books, taking classes, and working on important skills like respectful communication and conflict resolution. Many of these opportunities have been free or inexpensive through the library or other programs in town.
In time, my newborn and I learned the rhythm of life together and our own personal way of communicating with each other, even without a manual. I’m inspired to give the other relationships in my life the time and attention required to nurture those as well, so that we can enjoy a mutually satisfying relationship too.