Kindergarten – Where You Start Learning About Relationships

By Tonya Graser Smith

My son, my first-born, started kindergarten a few weeks ago. This milestone made me reflect on Robert Fulghum’s classic essay, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” from the book by the same name. The author calls it his “Credo,” and you can (and should) read it in its entirety here.

I want to point out some lessons that hit home for me as a mom of two young children and a family law attorney who sees the real-life consequences of adults straying too far from some of Fulghum’s guidance.

The essay begins:

“All I really needed to now I learned in kindergarten. ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. … These are the things I learned: …

Share everything.

Play fair.”

Isn’t it telling these pearls of wisdom top the list? We start out learning to share books and toys with our friends and siblings. As adults, we must share – houses, cars and money, yes. But so much more. Our wishes, values and dreams. Our time and our talents, too.

Here’s a pragmatic idea for following these directives when it comes to adult relationships and marriage. If you are engaged or married, consider how each and every day you can share everything and every bit of yourself with your significant other – this isn’t just your “stuff,” but most importantly your feelings and hopes.

Play fair – this doesn’t mean there won’t be fights, but you must also fight fair. Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute devotes his research to the study of marriage and relationships. His “Four Horsemen” research warns couples to fight fair and steer clear of criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. Check out his tools to implement playing fair.

You have to be intentional and plan ahead to share and play fair. If you are engaged or married, also consider a prenuptial agreement or postnuptial agreement. It’s easier to play fair and do the right thing when you start out from a place of love. (You can read more about prenups and postnups and my views in this recent story published by Fatherly and in this earlier story by Marketwatch, in which I also was quoted.)

Further down, but still near the top:

“Clean up your own mess.”

Goodness, how many marital squabbles are about household chores?

When you’re married, your house might not be as tidy or as lived in as you’d prefer – depending on where you fall on the cleanliness-messiness scale. Guess what? You don’t live alone anymore. Pick up your stuff, but also pick your battles. Hiring a cleaning service might also be as effective as going to a marriage counselor – and certainly a better alternative to hiring someone like me.

“Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.”

Always. And not sorry you felt that way. But sorry I made you feel that way. Don’t say sorry until you really mean it. “I’m sorry” is not an immediate fix, but a later reflection that means “I will do it differently next time and I get why I hurt you.”

“When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.”

Yes, holding hands is always a good idea and a good reminder that you’re on the same team. Plus, we need human touch. When I hear couples say they just gradually shifted apart, I wonder when was the last time they just held hands.

I’ll add a few to Fulghum’s list:

Hug often.

Know that sometimes listening is better than fixing.

Count to 5 —– before you say something you shouldn’t.

Always say “I love you.”