On the marriage you inherit—and the one you choose

For better or for worse, your upbringing shapes the way you love. 

On the marriage you inherit—and the one you choose

I once wrote a magazine story about seven women—a grandmother, her five daughters, and her eldest granddaughter—who all wore the same wedding dress.

It had been taken in and let out, stained and cleaned and tenderly passed from woman to woman.

I learned a great deal from this family of smart, strong, stubborn women. I learned about the importance of tradition, the comfort and constraints of family, and our ability to love one another through the best and worst of life . . . 

Mostly I learned that you put your broom where your mother put her broom.

Lambie, the eldest of the five sisters who all had animal nicknames (Bunny, Kitten, Robyn, and Dove), was speaking literally when she said this, but she might as well have been explaining the secret truth of all human behavior.


Lambie kept her broom in the pantry—“where it belongs.” When she was newly married, a sister-in-law visited and was appalled to find that the broom wasn’t next to the refrigerator—“where it belongs.” Lambie mused,

“Whether they tell you or not, you know what people expect of marriage. They expect what they saw in their own household.”

If your mom always put onions in her potato salad, chances are good that you put onions in yours. If your husband’s father refused to leave for a road trip without checking the oil in the engine, you might as well pop the hood for your spouse before loading up the car.

It’s almost unbelievable how much childhood imprints itself on each of us—whether we want it to or not.

Lambie and her sisters shared an industriousness that was a near-perfect reflection of what they saw from their mother, who’d raised seven children and helped her husband build a booming business from scratch.

Lambie deeply admired her mother’s incredible work ethic and devotion to her children; she also resented the times when that devotion felt controlling. And once she had kids of her own, she couldn’t help but want to hold sway over certain aspects of their lives, even when it caused friction between them.

I don’t believe that we all turn into our parents—that seems too simplistic—but we certainly carry them with us...

and shouldn’t be surprised if we occasionally channel them, in ways both good and bad.

And it seems like a pretty crucial premise to bear in mind when trying to understand—and coexist with—our partners. Is she tight with money? Instead of judging her for only leaving the waiter a 10 percent tip, it might be worth talking about her parents’ attitudes toward finances.

Perhaps cash was sometimes scarce, so she’d been taught to save at every turn. You don’t have to be okay with leaving bad tips, but at least you’ll get where she’s coming from.

The same applies to just about everything:

Cleanliness, exercise habits, comfort with physical affection, ideas about gender roles, and toilet paper preference. I, for example, buy whatever brand is on sale. If that happens to be “SandPaper Ultra Thin,” so be it. My husband, Aaron, on the other hand, only likes the fluffy two-ply printed with a giggly cartoon mascot. Negotiations continue.

Psychologists have written about how important it is for couples to allow themselves to be influenced by each other, both in thought and behavior. That happens naturally whenever any two people spend a great deal of time together. You begin to use the same phrases and share similar worldviews.

But it will take years to match the influence held by one’s family. This can be frustrating at the outset, but it’s also an opportunity. You both will get to see another way of doing things and can then decide together what really works best for the two of you. Do you even like onions in your potato salad?

When I sat down with Lambie’s sister Bunny, she told me that one of the secrets of her more than twenty-year marriage was that she and her husband consciously adopted the best of each of their upbringings for their life together.

They keep regular date nights, like his parents always did, but are tremendously focused on their children, just as her parents were. “It’s the balance,” she told me. “We really are a blend.”

The trick is being open to the possibility that your partner’s family traditions could have some advantages—at least occasionally.

I didn’t ask Bunny where she kept her broom, but I’d bet it’s in the pantry. Exactly where it belongs.

This excerpt was republished with permission from The Washington Post’s Ellen McCarthy’s new book, “The Real Thing: Lessons on love and life from a wedding reporter’s notebook.

I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.

And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3


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What you need to know about President Trump's Supreme Court pick

The President has reportedly selected his third SCOTUS nominee.

President Donald Trump has chosen his third pick for the Supreme Court—and he picked a mom.

The New York Times reports President Trump is choosing Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee. An official statement is scheduled for Saturday.

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