Saturday, February 18, 2017

Addendum: For Divorced Parents

I had one additional thought (for now, of course) after I posted my on my Plea for Divorcing and Divorced Parents and this I feel can't wait.

I know that, upon the devastation of divorce, one or both parents can be emotionally obliterated. As one friend said, divorce is like an abortion, it damages, dismembers and takes away life. So of course those experiencing divorce may be facing an emotional ground zero, where everything is laid to waste. Of course.

Again I make a plea. This plea. Please do not ever, ever, ever look to your children to meet your emotional needs. Sure, things will change. Household duties will change. Someone besides Dad will be taking out the trash now or cutting the grass. Kids might have to get after school jobs or learn to make supper because Mom is working late to make ends meet. It is expected that kids will have to show some flexibility with life's new circumstances. But please, never, ever, ever look to your children to be a substitute for what you lost, or perhaps what you never had, in your spouse. 

Seeking to have your child meet your needs is not love, it is an exploitation of a relationship for your own ends. To be blunt, it is abuse. I know it sounds harsh. But it is.

If you find yourself tempted to do so, get help.. Find friends. Find a support group. Get counseling. Something. No child, no matter what age, can bear that burden.

A Plea to Divorcing and Divorced Parents

Last week I wrote these words on Facebook:
39 years ago today my parents marriage was declared dead by the courts and buried. Even though it had died months, perhaps years earlier, that was the official end. February 10, 1978. It was one month, exactly, short of their 32nd anniversary.It is disconcerting that a marriage that old can up and die and I find myself eager to make it to the 32 year mark with my own marriage as if some family curse may hunt me down and doom me to a similar tortured fate. And yet I still have 3 years and 3 months to go before I hit that mark.I have to remind myself that a marriage that dies at 32 years probably wasn't super healthy at 29 years. That most marriages don't die out of the blue. Yet I have to be honest. Even though I am married to the one person I trust the most on the entire planet, I fear. Perhaps that is the legacy of divorce.I sometimes wonder if anybody else has a similar fear. If your parents' marriage failed, do you ever fear yours will, too?

This was a hard post for me to write. More vulnerable than even what is normal for me, Ginny the Transparent. My hands got sweaty and my heart raced as I posted it and I felt heaping blobs of shame fall upon my shoulders. But I did it anyway because I wanted other people who may share my story to not feel so alone. Because this is how we connect.

Perhaps that is the legacy of divorce.

I fear that some of you, upon reading that line, if you read it and are divorced, may have felt the evil finger of accusation and the branding iron of guilt searing your soul. That was not my intention. It was so not my intention.

My mother was the one that filed for divorce. She did not do it lightly. She did so after decades of infidelity on the part of my father. She did so with evidence. She did so in spite of the fact that it was the last thing she wanted. If nothing else, divorce was a downright embarrassment for her. This was the upper middle-class South in the 1970s. But most of all, she did so in spite of the fact that she loved him because it was obvious that he no longer loved her and had moved on.

Divorce happens. It happens a lot. We all know it. Sometimes it happens flippantly because "we fell out of love." Not so cool. Other times it happens because one party forsook their marriage vows to love, honor, cherish....whether by means of adultery, abuse, or desertion. At these times divorce is a legitimate option for the non-offending party. (This isn't meant to be a treatise on the theological aspects of divorce and remarriage.)

But back to what I said. My parents' divorce impacted me in a way I didn't even comprehend at the time. The actual time frame, from when my mother told me of their impending divorce, to the time it was final, was perhaps less than 3 months. My father moved out about 2 weeks after I was told of the divorce. (From then on out I saw him about once, maybe twice, a year, even though he lived in the same town.)

For my mother, the trauma of losing her husband of almost 32 years absolutely devastated my mother. I can remember her on the floor, sobbing, screaming, yelling, crying. I had no idea what to do. I was 14.

My mother never really recovered. Not anytime soon. She was terribly depressed. She would disappear for hours. She quit speaking to me altogether for a few months. Now I know. Now I know that sometimes trauma is so great that it totally overwhelms your ability to cope. (I know what it is like. I have been there with my own children. I have had my coping skills overwhelmed. Surviving seems too lofty a goal.)

What I am trying to say is that I, in effect, lost both my parents that day. At least for a time. There were many professionals over the years who told my mother that she needed antidepressants but she declined. I don't know, for the life of me, why she didn't seek counseling and as much support as she could. It just wasn't done back then. Not in her eyes.

What I am trying to say is that if you are a divorced or a divorcing parent, I plead with you to reach out for support and to get your emotional needs met in a healthy way so that you can be emotionally available for your children. They need you. They won't care (much?) if you are living in a dumpy apartment or somebody's basement or don't have the cool shoes like their friends. They will care that you are emotionally available to them.

There is no shame in doing what you need to do in order to be a healthier person for your kids. You are of great worth. To others. To them. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Switching Battlegrounds

Before all the immigrant hoopla hit the fan, we were served an endless buffet of news about the Women's March and the marches around the world. Suddenly the pro-life/pro-choice beast reared its ugly head and Facebook became a battleground over the reproductive rights of women and the lives of unborn babies. Even posts criticizing Trump for some non-abortion related behavior brought out accusations of "you want to kill babies." It got crazy. I got mad. And sick of it all.

The problem is that I do think that we all can agree on much more than we disagree on. At least we should be able to. The other problem is that both sides are so intent on protecting and defending their cause that they can't hear the concerns of the other, creating an Iron Curtain of communication and understanding.

My pro-choice friends often are so protective of the right to an abortion that they don't want to hear that so many women are forced into having abortions by family members or boyfriends. They don't want to hear that women can feel guilt and grief for years, decades. Somehow acknowledging this threatens their position. But it makes them appear heartless. A woman I know told me of taking her daughter to get an abortion in the early years after Roe vs. Wade. She said a curious thing. "I didn't have any other choice." Somehow, now that abortion was an option, the other options weren't considered viable. An ironic statement for someone who chose the pro-choice option.

My pro-life friends are so protective of the life of the unborn that they don't want to hear how very hard a decision this is. That choosing life isn't as easy as Nike's "just do it."

A woman's body is created to bond with her baby. So the process of continuing a pregnancy and birthing a baby, only to hand that baby over to someone else, goes against everything a woman was created to do. Yes, perhaps it is the best choice for all concerned. But we cannot ever minimize how very traumatic this is for the mother. Or for the baby. I grew up with a front row seat to the trauma of adoption. I saw firsthand the toll that being adopted takes on the very core of a person. Again, some children can adapt quite well, but others cannot. Adoption can be a wonderful thing but it a hard, hard thing and is not something to be thrown at a confused young woman flippantly.

The other option is to keep the baby. Until recently that just wasn't an option. A single woman raising a baby on her own was unheard of and an embarrassment to all concerned. Now it is ok. In some circles, at least. Being a single mom is the hardest job in the world. You work your butt off to provide for you child and come home to no rest whatsoever because you have a child, all the while all your friends are out having fun and not inviting you to anything because you have a child and they don't "get" you any more, and you worry how you are going to make it and you might cry yourself to sleep and hope and pray that one day some man will be able to love you with your baggage and love this child that isn't his.

Sometimes keeping the child means having a constant connection to the child's father, which can be particularly hard if that man was controlling or abusive. Keeping the child may mean that you will be forever hogtied to a man who brought you nothing but pain.

So unless pro-life people are willing to step up and acknowledge and step in and help with the long, long term needs of women who choose to not have an abortion, they are going to lose any credibility.

But here is the thing. Please notice who I have been talking about. The woman. Because all of this is happening to the woman and her body. She is dealing with the consequences. But she didn't get pregnant by herself.

That is what I don't get. Why does it all have to fall on the woman? Even birth control? The pill, the IUD, the diaphragm, the foam (yeah, that one is weird....kind of effervescent). Even most forms of birth control fall on the woman, with their own risks. Except the condom.

Why don't men wear condoms? Because they don't like them. That just seems really selfish to me. Because condoms are awesome. The prevent pregnancy. They prevent disease for both partners. And they are free at your local health department, so I am told (we don't need them any more...haven't for I have no need to go check it out). So why don't men wear condoms? From what I have heard, they don't think they feel things as intensely with that little raincoat on their member. That just really stinks. Because men want a more exhilarating experience, women have to deal with choosing between the three options listed above, all which are hard as hell. 

Where I am going with this? I don't really know except that I think the pro-life/pro-choice people have been fighting the wrong battle. We need to look at the deeper issues, such as the objectification of women (the topic for another post) and start to hold men accountable for their role in the painful decisions that run and sometimes ruin women's lives. We need to change the battleground altogether.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Wrong Question

Yesterday I was looking through the past 5 years of photos on my iPad with my granddaughter which is always a rollicking good time. As I listen to her giggle at seeing herself as an infant and toddler, I find myself wondering how much I have changed in that time. Ever the one seeking self-improvement, I begin to wonder have I improved? At all? In any aspect of life? I start going down the checklist. Do I know more? Am I smarter? Have better people skills? Am I wiser? Have more understanding? Compassion? Am I a better wife? Parent? Sister? Friend? Realtor? Am I healthier? More physically fit? And then I start to panic. What has this past 5 years gotten me. Nothing? Was it all for nothing?

Then I was in the shower this morning and, as per the usual, I do my best thinking in the shower, either that or while walking the dog. Either way I do my best thinking when in a place where I can't write it down and I have usually forgotten it by the time I get home to write it down which is why I never write blog posts any more. Well, one of the many reasons. So I write this while dripping wet, wrapped in a towel, lest I forget this important less.

So there I was in the shower and I realized that I was asking the wrong question. It shouldn't be "what have I gained?" but "what have I given away?" What point is gaining wisdom and compassion and knowledge and skill and understanding if I don't share those with others? Even John the Baptist said, "He must become greater, I must become less."

The whole point of being on this planet is to love God and to love other people. If there is not love, there is nothing. Don't believe me then read it for yourself in I Corinthians 13.

The past 5 years have seen a whole lot of ups and downs in my personal and professional life and it would be really hard to look at the current product of who I am now and say that I am a new and improved Ginny. I'm afraid that I am not. But have I loved? Have I cared for people? Have I crawled into the pit with them? Sat on the mourning bench with them? Brought them a cup of cold water? Lifted their spirits with some self-deprecating humor? Showed them that God is not far away but very, very close?

If so, it doesn't matter about the rest. Any improvement I may make is not to be stockpiled, it is to be given away.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

On History and Powder Kegs

It has happened again. Twice in the past week or so black men have been shot dead by police officers. One in Tulsa and one in Charlotte. Charlotte has been turned into a State of Emergency with the National Guard called in to deal with the protests and rioting. It is confusing. It is heartbreaking.

I have friends who are black. I have friends who are police officers. I am no specialist on race relations. I don't know what went on in these situations. I don't know what the intentions were with the men who were killed. I don't know what was going on in their head. Or the heads of the police officers who killed them. As a white, middle-class American there is no way I can get it.

Last night I watched the video "The Pruitt Igoe Myth" about the rise and fall (quite literally) of the famous public housing project in St. Louis. The place lasted barely 20 years. It was doomed from the start.

Most fascinating were the stories of the people who lived there. The memories, both good and bad, comforting and horrifying, spilled out for viewers like me to lap up. At first the project provided shelter, community. But as time went on, conditions deteriorated. Crime, danger, fear set in. And Pruitt-Igoe became the poster child for public housing gone bad.

I found this video particularly fascinating and enlightening against the backdrop of the recent racial conflicts in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charlotte. Because the protests and the rioting are never just about the incident at hand. That incident is only the spark to set off a powder keg. And how do decades and centuries of oppression and abuse, much of it institutionalized, systemic, very legal oppression, not lead to a build up of fear, anger, hopelessness.

Take an entire race of people. Throw them in a pit. Stomp on their fingers every time they attempt to pull themselves out of the pit. Blame them for not pulling themselves out of the pit. Complain about the conditions in the pit. And then scratch your head in confusion when the pit erupts?

I am not an expert on black history but I am a realtor. I have read deeds on properties and seen entire neighborhoods that prohibited the sale of the property to blacks. I know that for years the Federal Housing Authority would not back loans to blacks. I know that in 1973 my entire neighborhood was up in arms when word got out that a black couple had looked at a house on our street. These are but tiny nuggets in an entire system of oppression. At some point I would think that you would just flat out give up.

A lot of destruction went on in Charlotte this past week. Can we look at what is behind it?

A couple of years ago a friend of mine was teaching a training class on childhood sexual abuse. The instructional video included a section where victims talked about how the abuse played itself out in their behavior and, indeed, much of that behavior was unpleasant and destructive. During the discussion time my friend mentioned this and asked, "What do we call these kids? We call them bad kids." The point being that bad behavior is often more than just bad behavior. It is sign of something going on much deeper in the human soul.

My heart breaks for everybody. My heart breaks for the police officers who are often caught between a rock and a hard place. Protect or don't protect? Arrest or don't arrest? Shoot or don't shoot? And all the while bear the brunt of pain, hopelessness, anger, and fear. My heart breaks for an entire race of people who, after centuries of oppression, can't help but find their anger welling up and spilling over.

I have never been a Pollyanna. I know that there are no easy answers. But my prayer is that we can all stop and listen to the pain behind the eruption. It makes sense. Where do we go from here?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Story, Part 13

To start at the beginning, click here.
For Part 12, click here.

1994 found me thirty and pregnant with our third child. I distinctly remember one night lying on my bed, watching the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer as my varicose veins throbbed and my belly wobbled and heard myself say "I'll never do that." I don't know what part of me had been so delusional that I thought I ever actually could do that (as in be in the Olympics or even be an athlete of any stripe) but there I was. Pregnant, thirty, and all washed up. My entire life I had looked ahead to the "some day" part of life and now, out of nowhere, I had passed that and was looking back with longing and regret for missed opportunities.

Fast forward a few months and I became the mother of a bouncing baby boy. I had heard a number of moms say "If you can handle three kids, you can handle any number above that." I am not so sure what I did counted as "handling" three kids. I cried. I despaired. I daydreamed about running off to Montana with my baby. I daydreamed about the OB that delivered my baby. Seriously. I got a freakin' crush on the doctor that delivered my baby. Who does that?

Postpartum with Baby #3 was just plain hard. Matt was working long, long hours and I wasn't so much depressed as resigned and hopeless. It was all too much and I really wanted to start over with a new and different life. Or at least a new and different husband. (Sorry, honey.)

To add insult to injury, enter The Ezzo Reign of Terror. As if I wasn't overwhelmed enough, Gary Ezzo's "Growing Kids God's Way" and "Preparation for Parenting/Babywise" parenting programs took hold in our church and in the Christian community at large. If you don't know about this, please read the link. It will help you understand the atmosphere I lived in.

Always up close and personal with insecurity, guilt, and crippling self-doubt, the emphasis that there was one way to Do It Right when it came to parenting was just disastrous for me. My thinking self read the material and recoiled at the ludicrous claims and cruel and even dangerous directives yet my emotional self hated being the odd man out and the one who didn't Do It Right.

Behind all of this stuff was a really distorted view of God. Even though at I had been a Christian for 13 years at this point, I still struggled terribly with my image of God as the stern taskmaster who was never, ever satisfied with my performance. So there I was. Convinced that God hated me because of my failure as a mother and convicted and horrified over my lack of love for my husband.

I was pretty much at the end of myself. Turns out that that is exactly where God wanted me.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Why I Hate Awards Ceremonies

I have seen so many articles lately bemoaning the fact that kids now get "participation trophies" and blame that for the sense of entitlement and woes of an entire generation, I understand that getting a trophy just for being on the team seems a little odd, but I understand the problem it is trying to address.

At the end of every school year are awards ceremonies. These things take hours. I endured them as a student. I endured them as a parent. Every year it seemed the same kids got the awards. It became predictable. For the students and the parents.

There were the academic awards. The athletic awards. The character awards. Some of the awards were objective by grades and GPA. Others were voted on by teachers. Some were voted on by fellow students. The smart and the talented got the awards. The popular got the awards. And everybody else sat there.

As a student you learn to deal with it. To expect it. To know that nothing you can do will really change it. As a parent it is more heartbreaking. You hope your child takes it in stride. Learns from it. Develops resiliency and peace with who they are.

As much as awards may be there to encourage students to compete and push themselves to be the best they can be, the reality is that for many students, their best will never, ever be good enough.

Life is not an even playing field. So many factors play into a child's achievements. Some kids are born with intellectual gifts or natural abilities. Some are born into families that are driven and push for accomplishment. Some kids are born into families that have the resources to provide the opportunities that spark interest and hone skills. Some are born with an ear for music or athletic zest dripping from their muscles. Some are born with a bubbly personality and a chatty disposition.

On the converse, some kids are born with challenges. Learning disabilities and ADD and autism spectrum disorders can prove to be hurdles that require much effort to manage. Some kids struggle with anxiety or depression or other mental health challenges that may force academic performance to take a back seat. Some kids are born into homes where there is violence or negligence or addiction or poverty. Survival is the goal.

The fact of the matter is that Average Joe will never be able to compete academically with Mr. Gifted High IQ. The kid raised by a single mom who works the night shift will likely never have the same opportunities to hone his skills as the kid whose parents have traveled with him every weekend, year round, to play in state soccer leagues. The quiet, shy introvert will never catch the attention of the teachers the way Miss Congeniality will. The popular kids stay popular and the not-popular ones rarely have a chance to break into that exclusive club.

Even though I am saying all this, I am not advocating for a trophy for everybody. It is really a pain to store those things and nobody really cares about them anyway. I just want to make the point that all these awards can be frustrating and discouraging and downright painful. Some will try their hardest and never make the grade. Some will give up. Some won't care and never try at all.

I don't know the answer. I am just pondering. I do wonder if the whole awards thing is necessary at all.