Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Monday, November 8, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
|And you may ask yourself, "How did I get here?"|
- Less money
- More stress/worry
- Less free/"me" time
- Less couple time (and a decline in marital satisfaction for many)
- Less sleep/rest/relaxation
Anyway, in our marriage and family life courses, when we talk about things to keep in mind when considering having children, we should probably also mention the routinization of family life. Just a thought.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Last night was our date night. My husband and I have been married 13 years and we know more than ever just how important it is to get away from the drudgery of the house and kids and just spend time together having fun. We had the sitter all lined up, the kids knew the drill—we even had the movie and restaurant picked out. After the weekend of cleaning the yard, planting flowers, trimming trees, and assembling a hammock, my husband lovingly looked into my eyes and said “if you are too tired, we can just rent a movie and eat doughnuts”. He knows me. I love that he knows me.
We schlepped into the car, I in my sweat pants and he with our 6 year-old in hand, and off we went to find a lazy alternative to our date night. We chose Date Night--the movie with Steve Carell and Tina Fey playing Mr. and Mrs. Foster. Did we see the irony in that choice? Of course we did! Did that add to the insane amount of laughter that we enjoyed for the remainder of that evening? In deed.
Once the kids were in bed, we settled into our reclining couch chairs where we each reached across the non-reclining center seat in order to hold hands. As the movie started, we eagerly anticipated a great comedic escape. Instead, however, we saw ourselves. The movie starts with small children jumping into the bed of two overly tired parents. Been there, done that. In fact, I started my morning much that very same way—the only difference was that my daughter had actually been in bed with me for the entire night, so she didn’t get the running start.
The next scene, and this is where we knew we had to scoot even closer, was when the babysitter showed up at their house. Both parents had forgotten that this was “date night”, and both were so tired, they pretty much wanted to stay home. Unlike the Allen’s that took the lazy night, the Fosters practiced a heck of a lot of positive self talk and headed into the city for an amazing night on the town.
From there, our night, as well as the Foster's night, turned into an amazing range of events--some that look and feel exactly like our normal life mixed with exaggerated events that would simply never happen in real life…to anyone, not even the Fosters. It did, however, give us the chance to laugh really, really hard. We almost even felt bad for waking up the kids with our laughter. Two times.
I study relationships. That’s my job. I know statistically just how important it is to spend time rekindling those old flames and making new memories that support relationship goals. I know that it is very important to simply have fun with my partner. What I know and what I do at home, however, are not always the same. Sometimes life is just really hectic and hard, and I don't always take the time to just relax and have fun. This time it worked out. I was reminded in the nicest way that date night can be anything from a simple movie in sweat pants on a reclining couch that results in laughing so loud and hard that every child in the house wakes up to come and check on their mom, only to discover tears of joy streaming down her face. Spending fun time together makes us happier, helps us feel better connected to our partner, and is good our relationships.
As they say--the cost of the rental movie and Krispy Crème doughnuts--$10. Cost of a night of extreme laughter, rekindled love and a lazy date night with my best friend—priceless
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
At first, I began to chuckle when I heard her answer and I thought, we’ll how clever that she knows her class system. Then I thought… how sad that she knows her own class system. The more I thought about it, the more I realized just how middle class this whole situation was.
Annette Lareau talks about children and class and the difference in parenting styles and class in her new book, Unequal Childhoods. In that book, Laureau explains that in middle class, parents cultivate their children whereas in working class and poor families, parents allow for natural growth.
In middle class families, children have a voice and parents encourage discussion and input in the decision making process. It is common for these parents to engage in regular discussions and decision-making patters with their kids. Moreover, middle class families believe that in order for children to be successful in their careers, they need to train their children in how to be successful in industry. So they sign their kids up for camps, sports, arts, and a variety of other educational activities and all the while talking with their children, inquiring “what did you learn at camp today” and “what activities were most enjoyable to you?” Children from middle class families have the advantage of exposure to child-friendly (ie camp & school) systems that mirror the work systems in which they will engage as adults.
Lareau points out that parents from working classes and poverty love their children the same, care for them physically is much the same way, but these families tend to see development as a natural process and do not see it as a parent’s job to intervene in that natural process. Children from these families are commonly sent outside to play with their kin and neighbors, and have much less adult intervention in their activities. Parents also tend to ask fewer questions and they expect their children to be responsible for their own sense of adventure and happiness. This is in part due to a lack of resources, but for the most part, it is the parenting philosophy that children do better when they are free to grow naturally. These children have the advantage of knowing their neighbors and having the ability to be creative and self-reliant.
In Lareau’s view, this creates a disadvantage for children of lower economic status as these children do not have the exposure and practice in formalized, institutional settings that are full of practice interactions for the working world. The school system is set up for the children of middle class to succeed—teachers engage with the students much like middle class parents interact with their kids. There are questions about activities, opinions and events that children from the lower economic levels are just not used to.
This isn’t to say that one parenting style is better than the other. Lareau is clear to point out the flip side is that children from lower classes are typically happier, less tired and have fewer conflict with their siblings. However, in terms of preparation for a successful career in the current US work force, cultivating parenting has the advantage.
As a parent, this makes me torn. I want my kids to have the experience I did—I want them to be outside with the neighborhood kids creating something out of nothing and truly enjoying life. But I also want them to be prepared for success in adulthood. Moreover, I don’t think it healthy for me to spend all of my mental and physical free time scheduling, transporting and making my universe revolve around their activities. As with most things in life, I think there is room for balance. Art camp was good—I needed to be at work and my daughter needed that cultivation. However, when camp was over, I told her to go outside, find a neighbor and to be home by dinner.
By Kim Allen, PhD
Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist
North Carolina State University
Lareau, A. (2003). Unequal childhoods: Class, race and family life. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Academic prowess has become the goal of most parents. Parents do everything they can to give their child an “edge.” Parents put children in tutoring so they can get ahead and maintain their advantage. In an effort to secure a Harvard acceptance letter, parents invest thousands of dollars a year buying workbooks, software, educational toys and games, music lessons and enrichment camps and classes. Few parents devote as much time, thought or energy focused on their child’s psychosocial development.
I value traditional academics, but when I think about educating my children I do not think about factual knowledge. I want my children to think, reason, and analyze, but I also want them to think globally; to understand their place in the world and the impact they can make. I want them to be compassionate, empathetic, and altruistic. I want my children exposed to as many different people, environments, and beliefs as possible. I have toured the many private schools over the years, many of which have superior educational programs, but consistently there is one thing missing: Diversity!
As a parent of a minority child, lack of diversity was a deal breaker. Despite my mounting concerns with the academic deficiencies of my neighborhood school, I could not enroll my daughter in a school where she might be the only minority in her class, and in some cases, the only child of color in her grade level.
Minority status aside, lack of diversity should be a deal breaker for parents of ALL children. All children benefit from spending time with people who are different from them. Children as young as 3 and 4 years old have already begun developing biases and beliefs about people who are similar to them and people who are different from them – and these early beliefs persist throughout middle childhood, and often last a lifetime. Children who live, play, and learn in diverse settings have a more nuanced understanding of themselves and others. When parents give children the opportunity to cross boundaries (e.g., racial, cultural, economic, etc.) they minimize bias, prejudice, and discrimination and increase self-awareness, cross-cultural understanding and acceptance.
My child’s school is not the most diverse, but the diversity in our neighborhood school is at least 75% greater than any private school I have visited over the years. During open house I observed different races, cultures, and varying levels of socioeconomic status. Additionally, I expect there are varying levels of academic preparedness, intention, and ability. So, despite my nagging concerns about whether my daughter is maximizing her academic potential I get satisfaction in knowing that when she looks around her classroom she sees people who look like her and those who do not, when she attends birthday parties she will see people who live like her and those who do not, and when she is grouped with other students there will be students who are academically superior and those who need a little extra help. My hope is that her experiences will minimize her biases, help her identify the similarities among us, and teach her an appreciation for that which makes us unique.
Friday, August 6, 2010
It is an honor to have been invited to contribute to this new CFR site and even more so because it is in the Southeastern United States. I was born here, I live and work here, (even though I was out of it for about 20 years, I did return) and I am pleased that we can finally say that there are Southeastern representatives of NCFR. My sincere congratulations to all of you pioneers who have worked so hard to make this happen and the quality of the organizaion and materials is most impressive. I have been a columnist for a regional specialty newspaper in Northeastern Coastal South Carolina for 15 years and am now sorting through the monthly offerings that are being gathered into a book, hoping to find some pieces that might be appropriate for posting on this site. I will try to choose carefully since I know that you readers and members are highly educated and highly knowledgeable about this field and I don’t want to embarrass myself! I have been primarily working in the Parenting Education world for 19 years with Family Life being added as a CFLE 11 years ago. We have a lot of work to do, don’t we?
ParentsCare is the name of the column I write in Parnet News, www.parentnewsmagazine.com and I work for still learning, inc. www.stilllearning.org where you'll find some details on the ParentsCare curriculum developed for parenting workshops and for facilitator training. You will also find more details about my long life than you would ever want to know. ParentsCare, the columns to-be book, is a collection of personal opinions and suggestions intended to be heart-felt, experiential and educationally-written observations of our most important choice in life...parenthood. The offerings are taken from over 15 years of columns. It is my hope that this future book will become a “bedside” fixture for parents who will read at least one offering per week as they face the hourly challenges and joys of raising children. These ideas are meant to affirm, encourage, support and guide. If you find them helpful, I will smile.
A collection of personal essays
compiled through and offered by
Putting Parents And Children First
Through Family Enrichment Programs
As the new school year begins
By Jim R. Rogers
SCHOOL SUCCESS BEGINS AT HOME!
All of us were at one time children and the paths that we have traveled to adulthood have been as varied as our fingerprints. Our homes are where we start life from, and when the start is solid and nurturing our chances of being solid later on are better, much better, and we will be more likely to do a better job raising our own children and sending them off into the world well prepared to handle whatever comes their way.
Departments of education, nationally and in state and many districts and schools are now finally emphasizing “parent involvement”, better called “parent engagement” programs which is a really great decision. But almost all of the programs are designed and conducted to help parents help their children achieve academically. Sometimes the parents respond well as then do the children, but often times the parents and therefore the children do not respond well and are unfortunately left by the wayside of learning. There are unfortunately only a few parenting education and family management programs to help parents understand their roles of raising healthy and responsible children. But, there should be. Here’s why.
Effectively parented children are the most likely to succeed at school, be cooperative and helpful in the community, and become productive and healthy adults and parents. Modern parenting education programs, classes and seminars are the most direct way of helping more parents to be effective and sensitive in raising children.
We will have better schools if we have better students. We will have better students if we have better parents. And what I mean by “better” is “effective”. Effective parents should be partners with the schools as team members in helping achieve the students’ success. How effective the parent is at home will better prepare the child to be open and receptive to the wondrous opportunities to learn that the schools and the teachers provide. What a loss in life it is when a child does not receive the educational foundation that is available in many forms in our schools. Many dedicated people work very hard to provide the best education they can deliver. Parents and other caregivers, have to be equally dedicated and caring about doing their part to prepare the child to be a willing learner. That’s why it’s important for parents to start the learning process early, and continue it throughout the formal education years for the children.
Children learn better when their lives are better. When children feel loved, cared for, respected, listened to, included and considered, they feel better. And when children feel better, they do better. So do adults. When children are surrounded with order, structure, safety nets, routines, clear expectations, and lots of warm attention then they feel loved, they feel able and they feel capable. Their desire for learning increases as they feel better about who they are and become more confident in their abilities to achieve.
At the root of a learning attitude is liking to read, and what happens in the home in the early years sets the standard for learning. Reading possibilities are all around us and the internet and your school’s media department are chocked full with ideas and materials. As the parent, our interest in learning is critical as a model for our children. Make sure learning and education are important values in our home. Give support to and cooperation with your schools and teachers. Let our children know that education is at the top of our importance list with reading, learning, studying, having a positive attitude and exhibiting self motivation getting our attention before most other things like, computers, games, TV, playmates, toys, extracurricular activities and wasting time. It’s all important for well-balanced growing, but too often, the lists are reversed and the pieces that are not the most valuable out-weigh the pieces that will give the best future.
Parents and caregivers play the most critical role in the success of our children. Helping them be successful in school is giving them perhaps the best achievement for being successful in life. And success in school does not mean academically successful exclusively. There are many other parts of a successful school life that contribute greatly to our total education. It’s important that parents and caregivers and educators understand that intelligence, top grades, rigid schedules, and narrow focus can also limit positive and successful growth toward adulthood.
There are social, psychological, physical, and emotional growth needs as well. Proper attention has to be given to all of the parts that make us the human beings that we are and will become. Growing up is hard to do. Helping others grow up well is, too. But, it’s our job. We have to know how to do it effectively. Good luck with this new school year and let’s plan to be the best supporter of our child’s education there could be and know that it starts in our home.
Next time, who knows. Until then,
Don’t lose heart!
Jim R. Rogers, M.Ed., CFLE
Parent and Family Life Educator
still learning, inc.
Register now to take advantage of the early bird rates of $99 for professionals and $25 for students and receive a 1-year complimentary membership in SECFR!
Friday, July 30, 2010
Anyway, as I was preparing the unit on teen pregnancy and parenthood, I was surfing the internet for supplemental readings and web resources to augment the textbook. Initially, I looked at lots of research-based fact sheets, policy statements, etc. These were materials that didn't present pregnant teens and teen parents as humans, but rather as data.
As I continued my online search for materials and resources, I started coming across sites that had nothing to do with data and everything to do with helping and supporting pregnant teens and teen moms. These sites really impressed upon me the human aspect of teen pregnancy and parenthood. I was especially moved by the fact that MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) sponsors a group called Teen MOPS. My wife has been involved with our local MOPS group, and until today, I had never heard of Teen MOPS.
Most of the sites I looked at were designed to provide teens with tips and information about resources, services, and parent education. I looked through plenty of those sites and linked them to my class. Besides those sorts of sites, however, I also came across numerous online message boards for pregnant teens and teen moms. These are sites where teen moms and teens who are pregnant can post questions, provide support and information to each other, and receive encouragement, support, information from older women.
Then the unexpected happened. The dad in me came out, and I actually started crying in my office. As I was reading their questions and comments to one another, it dawned on me with crystal clarity, "These aren't bad people who've committed crimes or unpardonable sins who deserve to be looked down upon, shunned, and treated badly. They're scared girls."
As the title of this post says, it was a real eye opening experience for me. I don't think I'll ever view teen pregnancy or teen parenthood the same way again. I still think that where teen pregnancy is concerned, prevention should be our first goal. However, once they're pregnant or have had children, that can't be changed, and at that point it becomes incumbent upon us to provide them with the acceptance, support, and help they need to be good parents and provide good lives for their children."
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
The winning entry was submitted by Dr. Charles R. Figley of Tulane University who has won complimentary registration to our 2011 conference at the Doubletree Hotel in Birmingham.
Many thanks to our panel of judges -- Margaret Machara, Andrew Behnke, and Julie Sims.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Although identity issues are indeed the major focus of adolescence, there is no reason to suspect that identity work is limited to the adolescent years. In fact, it is now apparent that identity issues remain relevant and may be addressed or revisited over the course of adulthood. Conceivably, identity work can continue until the day a person dies. I'm in agreement with Erikson in believing that individuals never lose the capacity for growth and change. Just because one has moved from adolescence into adulthood does not mean that identity or any other aspect of who one is becomes static.
"No matter what I have been, I can choose as I will and thus become something quite different."
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Not a member of SECFR yet? Register at www.secfr.net!
In addition to a full slate of outstanding speakers, the latest research and current thinking being generated by professionals around the Southeast will be presented and there will be multiple opportunities for socializing, networking, and earning CEUs. Professionals of all varieties – not just academics – are invited to participate.
For more details about the conference, submissions, registration, as well as all the great things to do and see around the Magic City, please visit our website www.secfr.net or contact the conference/program chair Kim Allen at email@example.com.
We hope to see you in Birmingham!
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Yesterday afternoon, I learned through first-hand experience that even family scientists with Ph.D.s can goof up and make a mess of things. Let me explain.
I was standing in our driveway, when our teenaged son opened the back door. He kept the door open for what I perceived to be an unreasonably long period of time. The thrifty (my wife would probably use the words "tightwad" or "cheapskate") side of me immediately started thinking about the air conditioner being on, the cold air escaping, and the electricity bill, so I asked him to close the door. He delayed complying with my request and started saying something, but I tuned out what he was trying to tell me as my mind screamed, "Defiance! Rebellion! Disobedience!" And then I did it. I shouted as loudly as I could, "CLOSE THE DOOR!"
Our son slammed the backdoor and retreated into his bedroom (slamming that door also) where he could be heard fussing, fuming, and banging his head on the wall out of anger and hurt. It wasn't long before my wife came outside and asked, "What was that all about?" And then I did it again. I yelled at my wife, basically accusing her of coming to our son's rescue when he was clearly (in my mind) in the wrong. As you might imagine, without going into details, my wife didn't respond favorably.
Anyway, there you have it. I had acted like an idiot, flown off the handle, and upset my wife and son. The learned scholar and purported expert on all things relationship and family had made a mess of things. For 15-20 minutes, I stewed in my own anger, ticked off at what I perceived as my son's defiance and my wife's taking his side against me. Gradually, as things cooled down, I learned that our son was holding the door open so that our dog could come outside with us. That's what he was trying to say before I began my episode of idiocy. I also learned that my wife was not attacking me or taking our son's side against me. She was just trying to figure out what had upset him. Guess who felt like a fool?
In the end, I had to acknowledge that I was in the wrong and apologized profusely to both my wife and son.
If there's any good to be taken from what transpired yesterday, it's that I was reminded of lots of simple little lessons in a short amount of time. For instance, I learned the importance of: (1) listening and letting people finish what they're saying before responding, (2)not making assumptions about people's intentions, (3) thinking before speaking, (4) taking time-outs when stressed or upset, or at the very least, biting your tongue and keeping your mouth shut when angry, (5)admitting when you're wrong and asking for forgiveness, (6) recognizing that having a Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies does not render one immune to making mistakes with regard to one's relationships and family.
(And just so you know, I talked with my wife about writing this piece, and she was okay with it.)
Monday, June 7, 2010
Recently, I was talking with someone about the 2011 SECFR conference. While the conference will definitely be in Birmingham, the specific site hasn't been nailed down yet, as our conference/program committee is still researching prices, facilities, etc. When I mentioned that Samford University was a candidate for hosting the conference, the point was made that Samford was a religious institution and that some people might be discouraged from attending the conference given this fact. I was thinking, "Why would the fact that Samford is affiliated with the Baptist church be an issue? Samford is a fine university (ranked in the top tier of national doctoral research universities by U.S. News & World Report and more academically rigorous than many public institutions) with a beautiful campus located in a very nice, accessible, and scenic part of Birmingham." Anway, this discussion really got me wondering about the divide between family science and religion. Why is there such a gulf between the two? There are exceptions, but it seems that many family scientists consider religion to be a taboo topic and/or a non-factor in the realm of human development and family relations. Others are openly hostile toward anything that remotely smacks of religion, and when they do discuss religion, it's invariably in a negative sense.
When I was a graduate student, religion never came up in any of the classes I took nor did we ever read anything that described research on the relationship between religiosity, religious activity and attendance and human development and family relations. Whenever we discussed factors involved in healthy child development, healthy parent-child relationships, healthy family functioning, and healthy marriages, every conceivable factor under the sun was mentioned save one -- religion. It was made to appear that religion didn't matter whatsoever when it comes to human development and family relations, although later with Ph.D. in hand, I discovered some solid empirical literature documenting that religion does, in fact, matter and is associated with a wide variety of benefits for children and youth, marriages, and families. Interestingly, contrary to some people's biases, you won't find much empirical research out there that indicates that religion has negative effects or causes harm to children, relationships, and families.
I feel myself starting to ramble (or babble), so I'll close, However, it does appear to me that an unfortunate chasm exists between family science and religion, and in the interest of having an accurate family science, we have to start acknowledging the positive influence that religion can and does have on individuals, marriages, and families.
Friday, June 4, 2010
This morning on the way to try a divorce case, I was listening to NPR’s Morning Edition discuss the Gore situation. The conclusion of the article is that, basically, the Gores have “grown apart” (what I call “drift”), and that this is a common evolution of a relationship.
The narrator indicated that the Gores fit in the category she refers to as “the second wave of divorce,” referring to couples who have lasted in a marriage more than twenty years and their increased risk of divorce. Her take? “Let’s not call it a ‘tragedy,’ but celebrate it as a part of life…” So, marriage-for-life seems kaput, too.
Why do people divorce? Well, if you’re talking the “root” causation, I’d have to say things like rank selfishness and unrealistic expectations, as discussed in Dr. Phillips’ recent post here , play a part. But this post concerns immediate causes—the events or characteristics that people claim as the reason for their divorce.
As a divorce attorney I do have a window into this. In my state, we still require grounds for divorce unless the parties have been continuously separated for a period of 18 months. Therefore, in most cases it is necessary for a party seeking a divorce to declare what his/her grounds for divorce are—the other party must be found at fault. Furthermore, if the divorce is contested, the grounds must be proven by third-party corroboration. Likewise, an “innocent” party who is sued for divorce can stall the divorce for at least 18 months in absence of proof of grounds.
The wisdom of requiring grounds over a no-fault statue is a whole ‘nother post, but I feel it brewing…
My staff and I discussed this topic and arbitrarily decided that we would inventory the last 75 divorce files we have opened. Here are the stats as we found them—real life in action—from least numerous to most numerous reason for divorce in these cases (can you hear the drum roll?):
Primary Cause for Divorce
|Family Interference (parents hated daughter-in-law and won)|| |
Finances. Sole stated reason for divorce. I believe financial strain plays a role in other divorces.
Mental Illness. Whew! No doubt on this one…mental illness was THE cause.
Pornography addiction named as sole reason (pornography also played a stated part in approximately 6 other divorces, maybe more. We are seeing internet and “Craig’s list sex” type of involvement more and more)
Incest (grandfather/ granddaughter). Caused divorce of grandparents (Thank God! You have no idea how often I see spouses of perps take up for them).
Drug Addiction (drugs played a part in several other divorces, too). In these three cases, drug addiction was the stated ground for divorce. Financial devastation reigned in all three…lost savings, foreclosure in one case, etc.
Domestic Violence (one was wife battering husband, repeatedly and undeniably)
Alcoholism (this were stated primary reasons—alcohol played a part in others)
Wife committed adultery
“Drift.” This is the term I use when client says “We grew apart” or some such and there is no other visible cause. To be truthful, rarely do I really believe this is the cause…”drift” often is a euphemism for something they don’t want to discuss, as I sometimes unhappily find out in trial.
NO. 1 REASON FOR DIVORCE: Husband committed adultery
And, now, Survey Says: the No. 1 stated reason for divorce in my files is Cheatin’ Husbands! I knew that would be the case before this tabulation, but even I was surprised by the margin.
And, yes, I represent cheaters, too.
Just an observation that came to me as I wrote this: Rarely do I see divorce after initial discovery of an affair if the cheater repents. I cannot think of a case right now where someone “knee-jerked” a divorce action over a one-time fling and maintained it until final hearing. It has been my experience that people are fairly forgiving of adultery if there is change and repentance.
On the other hand, my experience has been (and it may just be my sample) that people who cheat once during a marriage will usually do so again. But, this may be a function of the fact that people who come to me because of cheating spouses are already fed up—I may just not get to see those who change their ways!
And, so you know, I do tend to represent more women than men. Only 25% of these files were men, which did surprise me…didn’t realize my caseload was that woman-heavy! Guess more women want a woman lawyer. Again, this may skew my figures from the “norm,” but I am confident that the order of the causes would remain the same of any such list in our jurisdiction.
Back to Tipper and Al: they’re claiming “drift,” aren’t they? Well, my cynicism and practiced eye tells me that’s not the whole story. I’m going out on a limb here and predicting (on the worldwide web, no less) that because of the public’s eye on this couple, we’ll soon find out that their divorce will fall in that No. 1 category (you know, that 1999 “Al’s an Alpha male” comment and all)…time will tell.
And, really, I must say to Morning Edition that never—not in 31 years of family law practice—have I seen a case where the divorcing couple viewed it as a “celebration of life.” Sheesh!
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
I guess this post is a bit of a confession about my relationship with my wife and children mixed with some introspection about how I was socialized by significant male figures in my life during my formative years. This just popped into my head last night, so it may come across as disorganized and perhaps even pointless.
Last night, I was watching the new Jillian Michaels show on NBC. There was a very moving segment in which a mother described the grief surrounding the loss of one of her children shortly after he was born. She described how the only time she ever got to hold her baby without him being connected to lots of tubes was on the day he died. She also talked about how the only time he opened his eyes was to look at her right before he drew his last breath. Her story really resonated with the parent in me. The family that was the focus of the show was crying, Jillian Michaels was crying, and before I knew it, I was all choked up and had tears in my eyes. Not wanting my wife to see my tears, I kept going back and forth between our living-room and kitchen to dry my eyes. After I had “composed” myself, I started wondering, “How in the world did I come to be a man who is afraid or reluctant to let his own wife and children see him with tears in his eyes?”
Anyway, one thought led to another, and it wasn’t long before I was really thinking about my father, my uncles, and the men who were my father’s friends when I was growing up and the things they taught me (or maybe didn’t teach me) about being a man. These were “men’s men” whose favorite actors included John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Charles Bronson. Like the characters portrayed by the actors they admired, the men most significant in my life had a tendency to keep their feelings bottled up inside themselves, face challenges and stressors alone rather than reaching out to others for support and help, and rarely display what we might think of as tender emotions. Tears, crying, and overt displays of fear were viewed as signs of softness or weakness. At the same time, these men were not huggers, although they were very liberal with their handshakes. Finally, they made every effort to protect their families from any sort of bad news, thinking it was their duty to shoulder the burden alone.
Don’t get me wrong. These were good men. They were honest, down-to-earth men who worked hard to take care of their families as best they could. I learned enough positive lessons and values from them to keep this blog going for years. However, they never really taught me how to: (1) accept and express emotions and vulnerability, (2) let my guard down to let others see when I’m scared or when I don’t know what to do, and (3) admit to myself and others when I need help and support.
I’ve gotten a little better in these areas on my own over the years, but I still struggle sometimes (as was the case last night when I didn’t want my wife to see me teary-eyed). Be sure to note that, even now, I haven’t really described what I was doing as crying. I also have to recognize those situations when I’m replicating or about to replicate some of the perhaps less desirable practices of my father and uncles with my own children. A week or two ago, one of my little boys fell. It wasn’t a bad fall, and he wasn’t hurt, but he got up with tears in his eyes and looked to me for comfort, and I really had to fight the urge to say what my father or one of my uncles would have said –“You’re a big boy. You can take it. Brush it off.”
Anyway, that’s it. I would appreciate hearing comments from others regarding their own socialization experiences, especially those experiences related to gender socialization.
Friday, May 28, 2010
I had an uplifting encounter today that made me think about episodes in our lives that prove to be formative. I had an appointment with a man who is a witness in a case. We were preparing him for the questions I will be asking him next month when he takes the stand.
Now let me say first that outside of close relatives, most folks hate the thought of being a witness in a lawsuit. They really don’t want to be involved in things that are “other people’s business.” I hear this all the time, and usually make do with a telephone conversation to determine what the witness might say on the stand, often followed by a subpoena which is, in essence, enforced attendance at trial.
But what concerns me many times is the apathy shown by third parties who could contribute much to the Court’s understanding and to a good decision by the Judge. Most people just don’t want to be bothered by someone else’s troubles. So, I have to resort to costly depositions or subpoenas. Sigh.
This guy is different. He came at an appointed time and offered good information that will help my client and will educate the Judge as to the truth of the matters presented.
Without going into detail that might violate confidence, he also had done an extremely altruistic act—gone out of his way to do a kindness that he did not have to do for someone who was “no one” to him. And landed himself in court as a witness for it!
I was grateful on behalf of my client and told him so, saying, “You have been so helpful and giving of your time in this matter, and I am so amazed at the kindness your actions have shown.”
He responded, saying that many decades ago someone had done a kindness to him, and he had made up his mind at an early age that his life would be governed by the principle he learned as a result. Here is the story this distinguished African-American man told:
I am going to make reference to “Caucasian,” not because I need to for identification—there were no African-Americans playing that course. I refer to race because at the time it was an important factor in my perception of this event.
Now, I knew a little about golf but did not really know what was expected of me. I was nervous as a cat, standing there, not knowing what on earth to do and being afraid to ask anybody anything. A Caucasian man chose me as his caddy and plopped down his golf bag beside me.
Another Caucasian man who was playing with him said “You can’t expect that child to carry that bag! Why it’s almost as tall as he is, and probably outweighs him! I’m not going to watch that happen!”
I wasn’t much help to my employer, I’m sure, but I pulled that cart all around the golf course that day, at the end of which my golfer paid me $2. The other man was standing there, smiling. I expected him to ask for his money back, but he never did. He just gave me a friendly “goodbye” and went on his way.
I never saw my benefactor again, but I sure thought a lot about him. I realized that he had recognized a confused, scared kid with no parents on hand to guide or speak up for him. This stranger had stood in the gap for my parents in their absence, helping me as they would have done had they been there. I was so grateful.
As I aged, I would often think about that day and what it had meant to me to have a stranger care enough to do that for me. I told myself that I needed to be on the lookout for other people for whom I could, in turn, stand in the gap. It’s just common decency.
And, so, that long-ago (56 years!) act of random kindness by a man who never crossed this kid’s path again played a crucial hand in my client’s case. I believe it must have had a part in forming the life of this distinguished, kind man. It is an amazing thought at what a “little” act can do, especially in the life of a child.
In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Compensation.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
All too often, when we find ourselves feeling dissatisfied or experiencing problems in our relationships, we point fingers, place blame, and really start focusing on our partners and what we perceive to be their faults or shortcomings. We think to ourselves that if our partners were somehow different, if they would just change, if they would stop doing what they're doing, or start doing what they're not doing, our relationships would be better and we would be happier.
However, when we engage in such thinking, we disregard the role that we ourselves play in our relationships and the level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction that we experience in our relationships. To use a worn-out cliché, it takes two to tango. Relationship problems seldom result from the actions of one partner alone. Sometimes they do, but frequently, they don't.
Instead of focusing on what's wrong with our partners, and expecting and demanding that they change, maybe we should focus a bit less on our partners' faults, whether real or imagined, and focus a bit more on ourselves and our contributions to our relationships. We should ask ourselves questions such as, "How can I be a better partner in this relationship?" "What can I do to improve this relationship?" "How am I contributing to this problem?" A final suggestion is to keep our expectations regarding our partners and our relationships realistic. Real people and real relationships seldom match up to the ideals presented in romance novels, Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movies, and fairy tales.
Monday, May 24, 2010
I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and Cynthia's post got me thinking about this. Anyway, I guess this post sort of piggybacks onto the story that Cynthia posted the other day.
Sometimes, when we find themselves dissatisfied in relationships, we assume that the problem is with our partners, and we think that all of our relationship problems would magically disappear and everything would be hunky-dory if we were just with the right person. That's known as the myth of the right partner (aka "the grass is always greener on the other side" delusion).
We need to keep in mind, however, that the other person isn't always the problem. Sometimes the problem is with the couple's relationship skills (or lack thereof). Sometimes we're the problem, as reluctant as we may be to admit that to ourselves.
The problem with subscribing to the myth of the right partner is that it can lead us to bounce from one relationship to another, always in search of that evasive "right" partner who we imagine will complete us, help us to have and enjoy the perfect, conflict-free relationship, and so on. It can also lead us to abandon relationships that may be salvageable without making very much of an effort to work on those relationships.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
They were, by all accounts a successful couple—not rich success, but happy, church-going and well-employed. They had all they needed and some to save for old age. Except for one thing. They had no children
BB was the leader of a home fellowship group for his church. He and SS opened their home each week to worship, pray and counsel with fellow church members. BB was an elder, in leadership and close communion with others in his church’s leadership. Everyone around them was praying for a child for this wonderful couple.
Then BB was hit with a revelation from God: He had no children because there were so many of God’s children without homes! He went to SS and told her. Reluctantly she agreed to take the several-month program of instruction and counseling in order to become eligible to adopt from child protective services. As they went through the program, SS still had her doubts, but she wanted a child and BB said “Think of all we can offer a child from this situation. He or she would have a stable home, and we could show the love of God to children who otherwise have no love at all.” She capitulated and they moved from discussions of “whether or not” to “boy or girl?”
The social worker knew of their discussions and hit them with a new idea: one of the hardest placements was for siblings in one home. Why not adopt a brother and sister? That way, they could have one of each. They viewed profile after profile and finally agreed on a group of three siblings, two boys and a girl, ranging in age from 2 years to 6. These children had only recently been taken from their mother and were the subjects of terrible neglect and abuse. The new parents’ hearts broke thinking of all these children had been through and of the relief and love they could offer. They formally adopted all three children and moved them into their newly-decorated bedrooms.
A year went by, and it became very apparent that these children were damaged beyond all prior estimation. Even the youngest, who was assumed to have little memory of her former life, had all kinds of issues and seemed to take up the bizarre behaviors of her elder siblings. BB traveled with his work, so often it was SS who had to deal alone with school expulsions, teacher conferences over playground fights, children who had very abnormal toilet habits both at home and at school and bizarre nighttime behaviors marked by hysterical outbursts and middle-of-the-night threats.
In their second year of adoption, a miracle occurred. SS was pregnant! Even the stress of dealing with her damaged brood did not dampen her enthusiasm, and the baby arrived healthy and to great fanfare. To everyone except the older siblings who worried and threatened and pouted. The stress began to compound.
As time went on, the problems with the children only increased. They each had psychiatric treatment regularly. It was nip-and-tuck that all children could stay in school. There was constant danger that one or all of them would be permanently expelled, creating a crisis of where to put them next. Worst of all, resentment against the youngest member of the household grew. The elder children began turning their self-destructive behaviors outward, toward their mother and her youngest child.
Learning the system, the older children began to report abuse by their mother. Time after time SS had to meet with child protective services to fend off charges against her that she was cruel to these children. There were dozens of reports. Not a single one of them was substantiated. All understood that these children were not truthful but were acting out of their hurt and wounds. Still, having child protective services knock at your door repeatedly and being on the defensive all the time takes its toll. SS soon found herself basically held hostage, afraid to discipline these children in any meaningful way for fear that it would be turned into an abuse charge.
This family toiled through the mayhem, taking each day and challenge one at a time. Although BB’s job required him to travel, it also allowed for some flexibility and off days put together so he could be involved in his children’s lives. He could spell his wife, so she could get her breath before he had to be gone again, and he willingly did so. They were making it.
But, then, the unthinkable happened.
BB came home from four days on the road. He strode through the house wordlessly and grabbed another suitcase to augment the one he had left in the car. He began to pack it with more clothing and a few personal items. Upon her demand, he turned and spoke the first words to his wife since he had entered their home:
“I’m leaving. I am not happy here. I have not been happy for a long, long time, and my life is marching by me. This life is doing me no good and in the long run it won’t do you any good either. I’m leaving so that we both can get on with our lives.”
SS was stunned beyond belief. She had no idea this was coming. Dealing with her life with a loving husband at her back was one thing, but doing it alone and through a veil of tears of hurt and loss was another. Fear gripped her. She begged her husband not to do this to her, to their children. He went on out the door. He did not answer her calls to his cell phone; he did not return her desperate voice messages.
It took her over a week to come to see me because of shock. Over a week without any word from the father of their household.
I told her there was another woman involved. Fact of Life: Men rarely abandon one nest without having another one prepared. She disputed. “He says there is no one else,” she still defended him.“He says it’s just that he’s ‘unhappy.' Besides, infidelity flies in the face of all that BB believes. It’s the stress with the kids causing this, I know.”
Right.Whatever you need to think to get you through…
Because BB traveled, getting him served with papers was a super challenge. It took us weeks. We tried everything. We called his employer, who was no help. BB”s mother either did not know where he was or would not tell. Finally, my resourceful client located him in a motel by sheer perseverance. We got him served. A month had gone by with no support from the major breadwinner in the home. Another month would go by before our court date.
And the stress in the household ratcheted up; it was reaching crescendo levels.
Even the most well-adjusted children feel the strain when one of their parents depart. Having Dad absent, having Mom heartbroken, having shoe-string budget with nothing extra for diversion was more than these little ones could take. The acting-out grew out of control. The eldest child was permanently expelled from school. The next two were on their way. Two of the children began talking about what they could do to Mom and her youngest in the middle of the night. Mom’s life turned into siege mode. I thought she would break. She had only her own devoted parents to help her. Who else would want to take these children off her hands, even for an afternoon?
And, don’t forget, Mom had to work each and every day. After all, she was now the sole breadwinner for her family. BB did not care even so much as to call and inquire or answer her calls, let alone send money their way.
Then SS did what would have been unimaginable to her in the past. She phoned the state agency and told them that she must return her adopted children. She did this without counsel from me because she had already spent her last nickel to hire me for her divorce. I stepped into the mix to find that she had made up her mind: she was going into survival mode, and she felt that the only one she could save was her youngest.
The three adopted children were returned to foster care. According to their therapists, they suffered unbelievable pain over this; really, I cannot begin to imagine. In most divorce cases, the children are damaged by fights over who gets to keep them. These children were tossed to the side: by one parent who felt she had no choice, by another to whom they mattered no longer.
I am at a loss for words at this.
SS had to face the judge in this case alone—BB was nowhere to be found in these legal proceedings. He let her take the anger of the Court and the shame alone. The judge railed at her that you cannot reject children “just because there are problems—families struggle through…” He was furious with her. She agreed with all he said--she just could not do it.
Later we found that BB was, indeed, involved with another woman. We found them holed up together in a motel room—with the other woman’s two children.
I cannot believe the devastation that this man’s lustful selfishness has caused. These poor children: abused and rejected by their birth mother; now rejected again by their adoptive family. What, on earth, will happen to them?
For what? So that BB can be “happy?” To the extreme unhappiness of every single person for whom he is responsible? What gives???
SS gave me permission to print this, although I have disguised her somewhat. The facts are true, sad to say. The drama is not yet over.
SS wanted me to use this story. She wanted at least one slim silver lining to the cloud her life has become. She wants others to hear and, perhaps, learn.
Learn what? Maybe this, in the wise words of none other than Jon Bon Jovi:
Map out your life;
but do it in pencil.
Friday, May 21, 2010
So I thought I would share about some of the projects that our team here in NC are doing to work with Latino families. We have developed lots of resources to better serve Latino families check out our website: www.latinofamilies.net Besides all the publications, videos, and games. We have worked on a dropout prevention curriculum called Juntos that works with entire families to help families believe that college is actually a possibility! We use this program to set up Hispanic clubs in the schools and develop a Latino parent group that meets regularly in each community.
We also have developed a domestic violence prevention program called Illuminando el Camino that helps educate Latino health providers (promatoras) and faith leaders on how to work on prevention in their communities.
We have a series of newsletters for parents that follow the childs age (prenatal to age 5 so far) called Just In Time Parenting (www.parentinginfo.org).
Just a few of the many things we are having fun doing. We would love to hear from those of you who are interested in these types of topics!
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
The expectations we have for our partners and our relationships play an important part in the level of satisfaction we experience in our relationships, as well as the success or failure of our relationships. If we set our expectations too high, the result can be disappointment, dissatisfaction, and even the dissolution of the relationship as our partners and relationships fail to live up to our excessively high and unrealistic expectations.
Much has been written in the literature about how people's expectations for marriage today are much higher than they were in the past. Many people today expect so much from their marriages and their spouses that there's simply no way a real person or a real relationship can ever meet their naïve and inflated expectations. This is actually a major, but little discussed, factor in our nation's high divorce rate. It's actually quite common for people to expect their spouses to be their soul-mates…it's not sufficient to be a mere husband or wife…you also need to be a soul-mate who fulfills your spouse's every emotional need and who knows what your spouse is thinking without him or her needing to say a word, and that's asking a heck of a lot from a real person. The concept of a soul-mate makes for good romantic fiction, but I think that most family scientists would agree that, in real life, it's not realistic or fair to expect our spouses to be our soul-mates.
The message I want to impart here is not to have low expectations for one's romantic partners and relationships, but rather to have realistic expectations.