I was four years old when my father became disabled and my mother became the breadwinner of our family of five. Whereas my dad was MIA during my two older brothers’ childhoods due to 70-hour workweeks, he was the stay-at-home parent for me while my mom worked full-time as a freelance court reporter (which was once ranked the third-most stressful job in the world after air traffic controller and neurosurgeon). Growing up watching her grind and supplement that income with jewelry and clothing commissioned sales gigs to keep us afloat while my dad cleaned, cooked, and did the dishes and laundry gave me a unique view of “traditional” parental and relationship roles and how my family challenged them.

My upbringing definitely wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I’ve witnessed my fair share of emotional hardships and power struggles, but I’ve also learned valuable lessons (that’s what hardship is supposed to give you, right?). Now I carry a special perspective throughout my dating journey of what it means to overcome relationship issues and care for my partner in ways I never would’ve had I grown up with “normal” parents. 

Relationships are only disposable if you perceive them to be.

“Through sickness and in health is a promise” was the first thing my dad said to me when I told him I was writing a story about what I’ve learned from him and my mom. “You didn’t ask my permission to write about me” was my mom’s response, but that’s beside the point. (Don’t worry, she’s totally cool with it and will be reading this. Hi, mom.) 

When you enter a serious relationship, part of what you commit to is supporting your partner in the best, worst, and most unexpected of times. That’s what my parents willingly signed up for. But when they exchanged their wedding vows in 1975, my workaholic dad never expected to withdraw from a successful career in his early 40s to manage chronic pain the rest of his life. My mom didn’t know she’d never be able to afford to retire. 

The complaint that relationships are now disposable is a bunch of bullshit: My parents are proof. It’s all a matter of mindset and how you treat others. Your partner always deserves respect and honesty about where you stand with them, regardless if it’s a one-time hookup or a long-term situation. And when we find a good thing, rather than throwing in the towel so quickly, we need to fight like hell to make things work — to a point, of course.

A lack of communication is a recipe for disaster.

There are moments when my mom is spiteful because she’s stuck at work while my dad plays with their grandkids. There are other days when he gets pissed that he’s the only one doing chores around the house while she relaxes on the couch. Growing up, I watched countless passive-aggressive arguments where all I wanted to do was scream, “JUST TELL ’EM HOW YOU REALLY FEEL.” I could only imagine that some of these issues might not exist had my parents played traditional gender roles, but who knows? What is proven, though, is that when they do tell each other how they really feel rather than sit in silence, problems solve and change finally happens.

Without open and honest communication where it counts (no one is going to stop being passive aggressive once in a while), relationship issues will persist and animosity toward each other will only grow. Although our body language can be pretty telling, no one can read minds. If you feel a certain way about something, speak up. Traditionally, women have been expected to keep quiet and go with the flow rather than stand up for themselves, but that’s not how the women in my family roll. Over the years, my mom’s confidence and strength have proven to me that it’s not just OK but good for me to be confident and strong, too. You best believe I’m opinionated AF and going to tell you exactly how I feel even if it hurts to say or hear it, because I’ve witnessed firsthand the damage that’s done when you bottle everything up.

There are no fixed roles in relationships. 

As if I really need to say this: You don’t need to earn the most money because you’re the “man of the household,” and women don’t have to cook and clean or have dinner prepared every night. We don’t live in 1959. 

It doesn’t matter how you identify — we can all wear the pants in our relationships. Everybody can play an equal part in ensuring shit gets taken care of. After all, that’s what a partnership is about: independent people who link up to make a badass team and conquer the world as one. We live in an increasingly nonbinary world where for many, relationship equality has, thankfully, become non-negotiable. Yes, we still have a long way to go in terms of establishing equal rights and removing harmful misperceptions, but I’ve been fortunate to see my cis heteronormative parents actively work against those stigmas since I was a child. 

Although it happened unfortunately and against their will, I’m proud that my parents smashed those outdated, stereotypical relationship roles. And I may be a single woman right now, but with major thanks to them, I’m ready and willing to take on whatever relationship and relationship role works for me — stereotypes and expectations be damned.