Good Families Don't Just Happen: What We Learned from Raising Our 10 Sons and How it Can Work for Youby Catherine Musco Garcia-Prats, Joseph A. Garcia-Prats, MD, Claire Cassidy
Based on the knowledge gained from raising their own family, the authors detail principles and real-world experiences that any familyno matter the size, economic status, or cultural backgroundcan use to develop a respectful, compassionate family. Single or new parents, and even those with experience, benefit from topics that include teaching values
Based on the knowledge gained from raising their own family, the authors detail principles and real-world experiences that any familyno matter the size, economic status, or cultural backgroundcan use to develop a respectful, compassionate family. Single or new parents, and even those with experience, benefit from topics that include teaching values through example, instilling a love of learning, raising respectful and responsible children, and learning to celebrate the uniqueness of each family memberhelping them understand the challenges, demands, constancy, and joyful benefits of parenting.
- Bosco Publishing
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.75(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)
- Age Range:
- 5 - 17 Years
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Good Families Don't Just Happen
What We Learned from Raising Our 10 Sons and How It Can Work for You
By Catherine Musco Garcia-Prats, Joseph A. Garcia-Prats
Bosco PublishingCopyright © 2005 Catherine Musco Garcia-Prats and Joseph A. Garcia-Prats, M.D.
All rights reserved.
In the Beginning: Strong Relationships Build Strong Families
Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs, it is not snobbish. Love is never rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not prone to anger; neither does it brood over injuries. Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth. There is no limit to love's forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure. ... There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.
— 1 Corinthians 13:4–7, 13
In the beginning, there were just the two of us, although that's hard to imagine now. Joe was the young, eager, pediatric intern and Cathy was the new college grad, the ink still wet on her diploma. Cathy graduated from Loyola University on Monday, we had rehearsal dinner on Tuesday, and we were married in New Orleans on Wednesday. What a whirlwind week. Often, we joke that we started off on fast forward and we're still looking for the pause button.
When we took our marriage vows twenty-three years ago, we committed our lives to each other. The words, "For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part," were spoken sincerely and with conviction. That commitment, or covenant — a permanent and unconditional relationship — meant we would work with each other, solve our problems and make changes when necessary to strengthen our marriage and make each other better individuals. We were not unlike most recently wedded couples who also held the same ideals and felt the same confidence about their own marriages. We told ourselves, like the Mission Control commander brainstorming methods to rescue Apollo 13, "Failure is not an option."
Since then, we have come so far. We maintain the same ideals today that we did then, but we better understand how to make those ideals a reality. Good marriages don't just happen. We need love, respect, trust, compromise, and good communication skills along with shared goals and values, forgiveness, laughter, and acceptance of each other and of change. Building a loving, lasting, joy-filled relationship entails constant effort and a strong commitment by both spouses. Although we knew twenty-three years ago that we loved and respected each other, and that we shared similar goals, values, and commitments, it's what we didn't know that created our stumbling blocks.
Making the Necessary Adjustments, Choices, and Compromises to Strengthen the Relationship
We thought, for example, that our communication skills were wonderful since we could talk comfortably about almost anything. Yet, we hadn't had a major disagreement during the time we dated or were engaged. However, once we were married, we learned that many of our communication skills were weak and ineffective, as was evident when the conflicts that weren't supposed to happen became a reality. We were unaware of the significant influence our past family experiences had on how we approached and reacted to situations. Our families had handled such issues as responsibilities, traditions, and conflict in their own ways. One wasn't necessarily better than the other, but they were different.
We also thought that because we shared similar goals and values we were in for smooth sailing. We erroneously assumed that since our goals and values were similar, our expectations about our marital roles — who would do what, when, how, and where — would also be the same. Many of these expectations were based on our parents' marriages, and were unrealistic for the kind of marriage we wanted. So we had to make adjustments, choices, and compromises — and this was before we had children.
(Joe): In retrospect I didn't have a very realistic idea of what the joys or demands of a marriage relationship would be. I knew I expected to share my life with someone very special, who shared my ideals, who would be my friend and make me a better person. That was a good beginning. However, I didn't know what was needed to nurture and develop that relationship. I had a few examples on which to base my ideal: my parents, the parents of close friends, and my colleagues who were married while I was in medical school. So when Cathy and I were married, I thought our relationship should be the sum of these marriages plus the characteristics that I understood would make our marriage loving, strong, and healthy. I thought our marriage would be marked by mutual love that flowed from mutual respect and admiration, as well as by the friendship we had developed. I knew we were both committed to this ideal.
I expected my life to change once we were married; I would now have a loving companion to share my days and eliminate my loneliness. I expected to continue my pediatric training while Cathy would follow her professional pathway in education. We would be lovers and friends and everything would be wonderful. We hadn't experienced any true conflicts thus far in our relationship, and that was fine by me. I didn't handle conflict well. That is probably why I was such an easy person to deal with — I avoided conflict. So our married life began as two very happy people in Houston, although I was probably happier than Cathy since we were living where I had already established a niche.
In the year prior to our marriage, my life in Houston revolved around my training at the various Baylor College of Medicine teaching hospitals. I had so much time on my hands (nothing was waiting for me at my empty apartment) that I spent ten to twelve hours a day at the hospital taking care of patients. More important for me, I received such positive reinforcement from the faculty, my fellow residents, nurses, and patients. I was considered a very knowledgeable, dedicated young physician who was always available and ready to help. Most of my colleagues were married with responsibilities at home. They tried to get home as soon as they completed their hospital duties. In retrospect, the hospital served as a source of professional acceptance and praise, as well as providing much personal gratification. When I did go home, there was very little to keep me occupied other than catching up on much needed sleep (our night-call schedule was very rigorous).
Marriage changed my life. I now shared my life with an individual I truly loved and for whom I wanted to be a good spouse. However, I expected to continue to function as I always had at the hospital. I did want to come home and be with Cathy after my long hours and assumed that she would be understanding of my time demands. How could anyone complain about a doctor spending time taking care of his patients? I also thought Cathy would stay busy pursuing her own interests — we would travel parallel professional paths and just meet at home for mutual support and sharing. I expected to have the best of "both" worlds. It doesn't work that way.
Cathy was alone for long periods of time waiting for me to complete my daily hospital duties. (How quickly I had forgotten the loneliness of an empty apartment.) She had started teaching and wanted to share those experiences with me, but I was usually at the hospital or asleep. Our relationship had flourished in a special way before we were married because of our sharing. I realized this way of life was not going to work if we were going to have a marriage that would be as healthy and loving as we both knew it could be. This marked the beginning of my "maturing" as a spouse and a physician. I had to rethink the expectations that I had of my role as a physician. What really makes a physician a good physician? Long hours in the hospital? Availability to the hospital even when I wasn't on-call? Dedication to research and academic advancement at the expense of our relationship? Did my patients' medical needs dictate this time commitment or did I need to spend those long hours at the hospital? It became increasingly evident to me that my long hours were driven by my need to be accepted and lauded. When I realized my patients would do well after my shift was over and under the management of my colleagues, I concentrated on working hard during my required rotations and nights in the hospital. Cathy supported these choices, even though it still meant extra work for her and time alone. Cathy's support and my confidence in my skills as a physician supplanted my drive to please. I matured as an individual and as a physician.
(Cathy): The first year of our marriage was a huge adjustment for me: I began my life with Joe, I moved to a new city where I knew few people, and I started my career as a first-grade teacher. Joe's hours as a pediatric intern were horrendous, on-call in the hospital every third night and getting home the other nights after nine o'clock. I was more alone during this time than I'd ever been in my life, yet, I had never thought loneliness would be a major part of my day-to-day life when I was married. I'd always had a lot of people around, whether it was my four sisters or a dorm full of friends. Spending hours and hours alone was hard for me, not only during the week but especially on weekends. I wanted and needed to share time with Joe, to talk about what was happening at school and at the hospital. I wanted to go places and do things together. Every time there was a school social activity Joe seemed to be on- call. I often wondered if my colleagues thought my husband was simply a figment of my imagination.
Teaching and related activities filled most of my time. As a first-year teacher, preparation for class consumed many long, late hours. I was amazed at the after-school hours needed to organize for the next day. Spending my days with a classroom of first graders, although challenging, was a joy; I loved what I was doing. (I owe a debt of gratitude to those students for enriching my days as much as they did.) But as we all know, you can't build a marriage by fulfilling most of your needs outside of the relationship. Time together allows the relationship to develop and mature. Yet, with two more years of residency (and unbeknownst to me at the time, two years of a neonatal fellowship), I didn't see much hope for better hours. I began to understand what a priest had tried to tell me during a couples retreat we had attended before we got married. He said it takes a person with a lot of love and determination to be married to a doctor, because of the unique demands and pulls of the profession. I wish I'd had enough insight at the time to have pursued his comment further. I was totally unprepared for the experience and the demands — and I considered myself a strong, independent person.
Other factors, too, entered into my frustrations. We owned only one car during our first four years of marriage. I dropped Joe off at the hospital in the morning and picked him up in the evening at whatever ungodly hour he finished. The morning routine wasn't a problem, but my evenings revolved around his hours. Since beepers and cellular phones were not readily available in the mid '70s, I needed to be where Joe could easily contact me when he finished his work — which usually meant home. The lack of freedom to come and go or just relax at the end of my day was difficult after the independence of my college years. The inconvenience grew even worse after Tony was born. Money was extremely tight during Joe's residency and fellowship, but if I had to change anything about those early years, I would have bought any running jalopy.
Another area of frustration involved Joe and the television. Before we were married, Joe would come home from the hospital and with no one else there, vegetate in front of the TV. Now when he came home and sat in front of the TV, I resented it. I wasn't a big television watcher, and since we had so little time together I didn't want to share it with the television. Although I "tolerated" the priority of medicine in his life, I was determined not to play second fiddle to the TV or other activities. Expressing my frustrations, though, was difficult. Conflict wasn't supposed to happen, especially this early in the marriage. I also had to deal with the pent-up anger I was beginning to feel about the television, Joe's long hours, and the lack of freedom to come and go.
Joe sensed I was upset, but didn't understand why. We fell into the trap of not expressing our feelings, either because we assumed the other knew how we were feeling or because we were afraid of the reaction. In addition, we are both very sensitive people and neither of us wanted to hurt the other. Joe took the lead in resolving our communication stalemate. He encouraged me to open up so he could better understand what I was thinking and feeling. I realized if I wanted anything to change I needed to tell Joe what was on my mind, for good or for bad.
Sharing my feelings and needs with Joe was an important step in strengthening our relationship. We learned that what may have worked for us individually before we were married and what may have worked for our parents wasn't always conducive to our growth as a couple. Joe respected my need to share my day with him and dramatically changed the amount of time he watched television. Initially, he didn't have much control over his hours at work. When he finally did have more control over his hours, I didn't experience any shift in his time commitments. Ultimately, I pressed for a more reasonable balance between his commitment to medicine and family.
In The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm states, "To love somebody is not just a strong feeling — it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise." Joe's decision to be an integral part of my life, and eventually the boys' lives, while continuing to practice good medicine, demonstrated his commitment to our relationship. I worked hard, and still do, at understanding the demanding hours and pressure that Joe is under. That doesn't mean it became easy for me to be alone or to go places alone, but since our time together became so much more rewarding, I more willingly accepted Joe's need to spend time with his patients and their families.
Joe and I laugh at our early stabs at dealing with conflict and developing effective communication skills. Joe often teases he wasn't prepared for my eventual forthrightness; he will tell you, I "express" myself very well today. He sometimes wonders if he didn't open Pandora's box. It's important to remember, too, that once we had the conflict in the open, we had to face the problem and resolve it. We learned to compromise and find solutions we were both comfortable with.
Developing Effective, Respectful Communication Skills
A marriage must have effective communication in order to thrive. The communication skills we bring into a marriage are those we developed over the years and learned from our own families. Many of these skills, regretfully, are poor and actually hinder the growth of a relationship: avoiding or ignoring a problem, pouting, withdrawing, giving in, ranting and raving, manipulating, or fighting. If you disliked the way your family communicated or dealt with conflict, be determined to change that pattern for your spouse and children. We suggest examining your communication skills and developing new ones where necessary.
Respect is at the core of effective communication. The way we speak to and treat our spouse is a sign of respect: It's not only the words that matter. Learn to honestly share your thoughts and feelings with your spouse and in return listen to his or hers. Listening, truly listening, is so very important. Be accepting of what your spouse has to share — it may not necessarily reflect your own feelings — and do so with a loving heart. Even though Joe and I know what the skills are, we still fall into old patterns: Joe may avoid the conflict and I may withdraw. Be realistic and acknowledge that good communication requires practice, constant effort, a determined spirit, understanding, and trust. We've noticed that the way a couple communicates with each other is often the way they communicate with their children. Thus the benefits of effective communication between spouses are many.
Accepting and Adapting to Changes in Your Life
After we strengthened our communication skills, did all our problems evaporate? We don't think so. Marriage is continuously changing. Change weaves its way through a marriage and family, whether it's a new job, a lost job, new responsibilities, children, an illness, or death. All our experiences haven't been rosy. We've dealt with a sick child, Cathy's detached retina and the fear of losing her eyesight, as well as changes in personal and professional responsibilities and demands. We can't avoid life's uncertainties, but we can learn to adapt and grow with them to gain positive results.
Dealing effectively with change is imperative to a relationship. When we face a new situation, we determine how it will affect each of us as individuals and also as a couple and a family. Our willingness to compromise, adapt, and accept change enables us to grow from the experience. We've learned to temper individual goals with couple and family goals. Our strength as a couple has evolved from all our experiences — "for better or for worse." With each transition, we learn a little more about each other — and realize how working together strengthens and enriches our love. In his book Unconditional Love, John Powell, S.J., says, "Weathering the storms of the love process is the only way to find the rainbows of life."
Excerpted from Good Families Don't Just Happen by Catherine Musco Garcia-Prats, Joseph A. Garcia-Prats. Copyright © 2005 Catherine Musco Garcia-Prats and Joseph A. Garcia-Prats, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of Bosco Publishing.
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Meet the Author
Catherine Musco Garcia-Prats and Joseph A. Garcia-Prats, MD, are the parents of 10 sons and coauthors of Good Marriages Don't Just Happen. They live in Houston, Texas. Claire Cassidy is a freelance journalist. She lives in Houston, Texas.
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