Before she reached her 12th birthday, Theresa Chidester found herself pulled in two directions.
Trapped in a messy custody battle surrounding her parents’ divorce, Chidester had to choose between living with her father and moving in with her mother. So instead of listening to her parents, Chidester decided to rely mostly on her lawyer.
“She was more of a parent to me than my parents were,” Chidester, 19, says of Justine Rakich-Kelly, a lawyer who is also the executive director of the Children’s Law Center of Connecticut.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Rapper Snoop Dogg decided against divorcing his wife because he could not bear the thought of another man raising his children.
The hip-hop star - real name Cordozar Calvin Broadus - filed for divorce from wife Shante in 2004 after seven years together.But the star quickly changed his mind after realising he had too much to lose.
"I was going to split up with my wife - my wife wasn't going to split up with me," he said.
"You know, I was caught up with Hollywood, and the girls and the night life. I thought I was the man and I was willing to give up what I had at home for that, until I realized that what I had at home was irreplaceable, so I gave that up to go back home.
"I just don't want another man raising my kids. That was the main goal. I had kids with my wife because I wanted to be with my wife. And those three babies are all wanted, and I wanted to be with them."
The holidays are synonymous with travel for many people. For me, a child of divorce, add international relations to the Christmas-New Year’s maelstrom. When my parents split in the 1970s, my father moved to Montreal with Susan, the woman who would become his wife and my stepmother. Since I was 6, I’ve gone across the border and back at least 100 times.
I know how it must feel to be a global peace negotiator: needing to be in two places at once, my allegiances split.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
So, the library did have a copy of Kramer vs. Kramer, which I had never seen, until last night. The story line is vastly different from most of the movies that deal with children of divorce today, because it reflects a different era. Some early reviewers of my book questioned a comment I made about most of us living with our mothers. Back in the 70s, that was the reality. The court system was skewed toward mothers getting custody of children. Kramer vs. Kramer shows that reality.
If you haven't seen the movie, Meryl Streep plays the role of Joanna Kramer who leaves her husband (played by Dustin Hoffman) and young son to "find herself." After stumbling upon herself in California, she returns to seek custody of Billy. Although he's been the sole caretaker of their son for a year and a half, Ted Kramer finds himself in a desperate fight to retain custody.
I won't spoil the outcome for you. This was a good movie though. The parents were portrayed as flawed individuals who were both, at one time or another, good parents and lousy parents. Little Billy, caught in the middle of all this, is written believably, as a normal boy who wonders what has happened to his family, who misses his mom, and who bonds with his dad in a new way after mom leaves. If you haven't seen it, it's a good addition to the children of divorce movie library.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
My father once told me, “You can be a mama’s boy or a daddy’s boy. But you can’t be both.”
So I was a daddy’s boy. I mimicked his walk. I mimicked his deep, smoky laugh. I carried a baseball glove because he loved baseball, and I took every hardball he threw, even the ones that stung my hands so badly I thought I would scream.
...I was a daddy’s boy, and I remained a daddy’s boy right up to a hot, cloudless Saturday morning in the spring of my fifth grade year. We had a doubleheader scheduled that day against the Cardinals, who wore red wool uniforms and were sponsored by Connor’s Plumbing Supply.
The sun was already warming the kitchen when I entered in my long socks, carrying my glove, and saw my mother at the table smoking a cigarette. My mother was a beautiful woman, but she didn’t look beautiful that morning. She bit her lip and looked away from me. I remember the smell of burnt toast and I thought she was upset because she messed up breakfast.
“I’ll eat cereal,” I said.
I took a bowl from the cupboard.
She cleared her throat. “What time is your game, honey?”
“Do you have a cold?” I asked.
She shook her head and put a hand to her cheek. “What time is your game?”
“I dunno.” I shrugged. This was before I wore a watch.
I got the glass bottle of milk and the big box of corn puffs. I poured the corn puffs too fast and some bounced out of the bowl and onto the table. My mother picked them up, one at a time, and put them in her palm.
“I’ll take you,” she whispered. “Whenever it is.”
“Why can’t Daddy take me?” I asked.
“Daddy’s not here.”
“Where is he?”
She didn’t answer.
“When’s he coming back?”
She squeezed the corn puffs and they crumbled into floury dust.
I was a mama’s boy from that day on . . .
Robert Hawkins' parents divorced when he was three. According to an article in the Washington Post, he had substance abuse issues and mental health problems. His family had given up on him, and he became a ward of the state at the age of 14. The article says he "had been a ward of the state from 2002 to 2006" but if you do the math, you realize that this kid simply aged out of the system. If he was 19 now in 2007, he turned 18 in 2006. And if you read the article closely, you realize that Hawkins was not in foster care, but in a mental health facility.
When he left the mental health facility, it wasn't because he was cured or that his mental health issues were under control. It was because he failed to complete community service that was required by the program. There's a shocker -- someone with a mental illness failing to follow the rules. Instead of realizing that this kid had more serious issues, the courts declared him "nonamenable to further services." In other words, we wash our hands of him.
Appallingly, a spokesman for the health department stated that "all appropriate services were provided when needed for as long as needed." Well, clearly that wasn't the case.
What happened in Omaha is eerily similar to what happened at Virginia Tech last year. A kid who was widely recognized to have mental health problems failed to get the proper treatment or be in the proper setting and, as a result, lives were lost.
I've seen traditional mental hospitals and understand why a lot of people are turned off by the idea. I've volunteered at more residential, kinder, gentler, homes for people with mental illnesses and appreciate their ability to care for nonviolent individuals who cannot live on their own in society. Perhaps what we need is a thoughtful combination of the two. As it is, we let most of the violent, mentally ill individuals in our society live behind prison bars, which can't be better than the old-time mental wards, or we make them live in the world, tempting fate that they won't, like Hawkins, find a cache of weapons or other means of hurting others and themselves.
As a society, we are failing these weaker members, these citizens whose brains war against them. If any good can come of these horrible tragedies, perhaps it is that we will wake up and find some solutions to offer real help and protection for the mentally ill.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Rising divorce rates mean that fewer people are living in each household, causing them to take up more space and consume more energy and water, a new study suggests. "People talk about divorce hurting the children. Divorce also has an impact on the environment," said Jianguo "Jack" Liu, senior author of the study and the Rachel Carson chair in sustainability at Michigan State University. "Nobody knew about it."
Pandas are naturally solitary creatures, living separately from each other. Humans, on the other hand, tend to be more social. But when the social bond falls apart and people start living more like pandas, the drain on the environment is greater, Liu said.
Thanks for the tip, Brad. I had seen announcements of the Hogan divorce, but hadn't taken the time to cover it yet. Sadly, the news of this divorce comes on the heels of their son's arrest in connection with a street racing accident that left a friend in a coma. Tragedies like this put a tremendous strain on families; some emerge stronger and closer, but others fall apart.
The really sad thing is that this is a completely unnecessary tragedy, and one that the family appears to have courted. This post includes an embedded YouTube video that shows the family, and especially mom Linda, to have a history with street racing. We've all done stupid things as teenagers (I once went around a corner on two wheels with my mom and two small brothers in the car--which the boys thought was totally cool, but Mom wasn't so happy about it; it was completely unintentional, by the way), but we're supposed to grow up and learn from our mistakes, not keep at them and teach them to our kids.
Still, a divorce is one additional tragedy this family didn't need.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Turns out, Jill is a stepmom and one of her blogs is a joint effort with the mother of her stepchildren. I have about ten different things on my 'to do' list today, so I haven't spent much time perusing the blog, but one of the first things that popped up was a post about email. Jill and her husband and his ex-wife have set up a joint email account that they give out as the contact information for their children. So when teachers, coaches, or friends' parents need to get in touch with the parents, all the parents get the message.
What a terrific idea! All the parents know what's going on, the kid doesn't have to squirm with embarrassment at having to give out a gajillion different email addresses, and the teachers etc only have one email address that they need to send everything to.
Kudos to the Doughties for such a great idea that I'm sure makes their lives and their kids lives much simpler!
Thursday, November 29, 2007
The writing is, indeed, charming. Dineson's descriptions of the African plain that she called home for many years are stunning and beautiful.
The following passage, however, struck me for an entirely different reason. In a section titled 'Kamante and Lulu,' Dineson tells of a conversation she had with one of the boys who lived on her farm about the book she was writing. He was having difficulty imagining how her piles of papers were going to be transformed into a solid book.
One night as I looked up I met these profound attentive eyes and after a moment he spoke. "Msabu," he said, "do you believe yourself that you can write a book?"
I answered that I did not know.
...Kamante...then said, "I do not believe it."
I had nobody else to discuss my book with; I laid down my paper and asked him why not. I now found that he had been thinking the conversation over before, and prepared himself for it; he stood with the Odyssey itself behind his back, and here he laid it on the table.
"Look, Msabu," he said, "this is a good book. It hangs together from one end to the other. Even if you hold it up and shake it strongly, it does not come to pieces. The man who has written it is very clever. But what you write," he went on, both with scorn and with a sort of friendly compassion, "is some here and some there. When the people forget to close the door it blows about, even down on the floor and you are angry. It will not be a good book."
Dineson went on to explain about bookbinding and publishing.
A few days later, I heard Kamante explain to the other houseboys that in Europe the book which I was writing could be made to stick together, and that with terrible expense it could even be made as hard as the Odyssey, which was again displayed. He himself, however, did not believe that it could be made blue.
My book will have a soft cover and I do not know yet what color the cover will be, blue or otherwise. However, the first round of edits has been turned in, and I have great hopes that my editor will indeed make it all "hang together from one end to the other" so that it will not come to pieces even when shaken. You, the reader, will have to judge, and I can only hope that you have more faith in me than Kamante did in poor Dineson.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
- A job I love and that (mostly) pays the bills.
- The birth of my new puppy last Friday.
- Friends who are a joy, challenge, and comfort to me (especially K, J, L, & C).
- My family, and the fact that we'll all be together for the holidays.
- Book edits being done!!
- A church that feels like home.
- A roof over my head and food in my belly.
- God's persistent pursuit of my heart.
- Good magazines and a steady supply of crossword puzzles.
- The love of God, so rich and free!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Also, here are several additional resources that were not listed at The Point:
Also, see the sidebar for recommended books. I will continue to add to that list as I come across new ones that are especially helpful.
Monday, November 12, 2007
While I understand where they are coming from, what this advice misses is the effect of this message on the kids. (And, again, we're talking about adult kids here.)
One of the individuals I interviewed for my book didn't learn the real reason for his parents' divorce--his mother's ongoing affair with another man--until well into his 30s. Without knowing the truth about the breakdown of their marriage, he always thought their small bickerings caused the rift; so, whenever he and a girlfriend would begin to argue over small things, he saw doom ahead and broke things off. When he finally learned the truth about his mother's infidelity, his perspective on his father radically changed, and he began to see a new way to approach his own relationships with women.
There are appropriate times and ways to tell kids about things like this. What About the Kids? has some great guidance for parents on this issue. Do kids need or even want to know all the grimy details? No, but this is one instance when the truth really can set us free.
He and his wife, Juanita, married in 1989 and had three children, Jeff, Marcus and Jasmine. They filed for divorce in 2002, reconciled, then finally dissolved the union last December. He’s never talked about it until now.
“It was hard,” Jeff Jordan said. “I could see it coming a little bit more than my younger brother and my younger sister, but it was hard for all of us.”
“But he was very mature about it,” his father added. “His mom and I were on the same page when it came to that — our kids came first. We still communicate each and every day. Nothing's being done with the kids that we don't communicate. And we're very good friends actually. And they can sense that.”
Monday, November 05, 2007
From Associated Content:
"Interestingly enough the divorce comes just as the couple's youngest child approaches adulthood. The Santanas, who live near San Francisco, have three children ages 17, 22 and 23."
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
My son describes his life immediately prior to and after the divorce as walking on a narrow bridge across the sea. The tides -- his parents' moods, needs, and desires, and the tensions and conflicts between them -- threatened to pull him down and drown him on either side. My daughter describes it as being put on trial in a foreign country where she knew neither the laws nor the language. Both children needed to become exquisitely aware of what each of their parents was feeling, how each of us would react to things said or done, in order to protect themselves from feeling emotionally swamped or from being barred from a desired activity, such as guitar lessons or a trip to the beach. As a result, they became highly intuitive observers of others' emotions and superb diplomats, able to soothe the most fraught situations.
...In 1988, Joseph Guttmann conducted a study demonstrating that when teachers and counselors are told that the child they are watching on videotape is from a divorced family, they see the child as having significant problems. If they are told that the child comes from a traditional home, they find the same behavior by the same child unproblematic. Children on the receiving end of this bias end up being treated by parents, teachers, and others as "problem children," when in fact they are perfectly normal. If we believe that children are damaged, we force them to respond -- often in negative ways -- to this depiction of themselves.
...When businessmen travel, they receive guides to the basic rules of behavior in each culture they visit. Children do not. They must figure it out themselves, and frequently the adults in their lives deny that such a problem even exists.
...Many post–divorce families have been paralyzed by parents' negative assumptions about divorce and their feelings of guilt. It is not that they are wrong to believe that divorce has been a painful experience: Divorce is difficult for most, if not all, children. The problem is that these parents sometimes forget what their children need. For in many ways, children in divorced families need the same things as children in every other kind of family: love, structure, consistent and reasonable boundaries, and for their parents to believe that they are not damaged individuals.
Earlier this week, I left a comment at Boundless urging a remembrance that we serve a God of redemption. There are two sides to this coin. On the one side, we need people who approach divorce cavalierly to understand that this is going to affect any children involved, that there is no way to divorce "right" so that children escape unscathed. On the other side, we need people who see us as hopeless because of our parents' divorce to realize that we are in fact not hopeless, that we are individuals who have experienced a difficult situation. Some of us will flounder, some of us will triumph. Yes, there is a hurdle, but it is not insurmountable.
I'm reminded of Paul's words in the Bible: "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (2 Cor 4:8-9)
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
In the first book, Cosmos starts out living with a Mom and Dad who spend a lot of time yelling (possibly about the fact that Dad wears sunglasses indoors and wears flip-flops with everything, including turtleneck sweaters and suits). When Cosmos hears that his parents are divorcing, he thinks maybe he is to blame and is reassured that he is not. He is told that whatever feelings he has are fine. At school, he talks to his classmates, with mixed reactions; some kids understand, but some make fun of him, a nice touch of realism. By the end of the book, Cosmos has settled into a new routine of weekdays at Dad's house and weekends at Mom's.
Some of the conversations in the book are a little contrived, like when a playmate tells Cosmos, "I feel special that you shared something so important with me." Perhaps the playmate in the story is a budding Dr. Phil. (The second book does a better job of creating realistic conversation.)
Reading about Cosmos taking clothes and toys to his Mom's new apartment so he will feel comfortable there highlighted for me that many children, in essence, lose their home--home now becomes "Dad's house" and "Mom's house" without being "my house," because of course it is now "my houses" or "the two places I go between, neither one of which is really fully mine." But the view of Cosmos' two bedrooms, different but equally messy and strewn with similar toys that show his interests, and Mom and Dad both standing over him, scowling at the mess, showed that Cosmos has a place in each of their homes.
In the sequel, Cosmos' Blended Family, Cosmos has a lot of special times with his Dad until Dad starts bringing his new friend Ellen and her kids home. Once they get married, Cosmos has to share a bedroom, to share his time with Dad, and to give up some of the special things they did together before. (The picture on the front cover, of Cosmos standing alone and apart is telling--and rather heartbreaking.) He tells his Mom that he is unhappy about all of this and she encourages him to talk to his Dad. When he does, Dad agrees to spend special time just with Cosmos, and Cosmos learns to get along with Ellen's kids and to appreciate his new blended family.
One of the nice features about these books is the first page. Before jumping into the story, there is a quick overview by Cosmos letting us know who the main characters are and what the story is about. These stories are rather obviously written to address a specific topic and to provide a non-threatening way to talk with young children about some of the issues surrounding divorce and remarriage. So while an overview might spoil a story written purely for the pleasure of story, in this case I felt that it set the tone. I also appreciate that the overview means kids won't suddenly have Cosmos' situation sprung on them mid-story. They'll know up front what's coming.
At the end of each book, there is a list of 10 "things to remember" directed at the child and a list of 3 "super cool" activities. These items reinforce the material in the story and could provide helpful talking points for parents or other adults in the child's life, particularly the first time the story is read. And Cosmos is such a fun little boy, I suspect children are going to want to hear his story read again and again for its own sake, not just once as a form of therapy.
I loved the fun illustrations in these books and while some of the advice being given to Cosmos was a little contrived, I thought these were really well done on the whole.
There is no faith element to these stories, which makes them accessible to a wide audience, but of course I would love to see a book like this that includes faith. DC4K (DivorceCare for Kids) has a storybook available (without pictures) that can be purchased through Parable, and I know they had a specific reason (which they explain in the forward) for not using pictures. I would love, however, to see a book as engaging and stylishly illustrated as these Playdate Kids books for the Christian market.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
You see, since my own parents' marriage had ended when I was a young child, and there had been around 15 divorces in my immediate family after that, I feared my trip to the altar was going to be very much a triumph of hope over experience.
Today, however, I am still married, with two daughters - Ottilie, 16, and Lydia, seven - and have more wedding anniversaries to my name than anyone I know in my parents' generation.
It hasn't always been easy, but I am so grateful that I've managed to hold onto something that my mother's generation seemed to throw away so readily. And I'm not the only one.
This is a great article in the London Daily Mail. Read the whole thing here.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Over the next few months, I met with the boys weekly and was deeply impacted by their grief. I talked briefly with their mom and dad separately (depending on who had brought them to the session), and could tell that both parents were really good people who were suffering from some really bad decisions. Their mom told me that her husband was a great man, but said that she didn't want to work on the marriage because she had simply fallen in love with someone else. She said that she didn't want to have to choose between her own happiness and her children's happiness. She wanted to make sure that her boys would be o.k. so that she could marry her lover without guilt. I listened compassionately, but couldn't relieve her guilt. Nor was it my desire to do so. I could see that even if the boys would eventually recover from the trauma they were experiencing, they clearly would have been happier if their mom and dad had decided to work things out.
...If the question is simply, "Can children recover from their parent's divorce?" the answer is typically "yes." But before they arrive at a state of recovery, there is usually a lot of heartache along the way. And sometimes it lasts a lifetime.
If you are wavering in your decision to divorce or not to divorce, and believe that there is even a thread of hope to have a good marriage, please consider giving your marriage a shot.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
The Jacksons were teenage sweethearts and married young. After eighteen years of marriage, however, Alan had an affair and moved out. During their separation, Denise sought God and learned how to become her own person outside the shadow of her famous husband.
After several months apart, Alan asked Denise on a date. At dinner, he asked his wife how their three girls were handling the separation. Denise angrily responded:
"Their whole world has been torn apart, and you ask how they're doing? Why don't you ask them how it feels to suddenly have your daddy move out, and see what they say? Why don't you tell them all the things that are wrong with me so maybe they'll understand that your leaving us was not my idea? Why don't you tell them why I've been crying for the last three months?"
After that rocky start, the Jacksons eventually reconciled and Alan moved back home. Denise writes:
Tears welled up in my eyes as he told the children that he was here to stay.
"Girls, I want you to know something," he said. "Fifty years from now, when you are grown and have families of your own, your mama and I will still be together. You don't need to worry. We'll be right here, sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch together."
Included in the book (at least in the copy I got from my local library) is a CD with two songs by Alan Jackson. The first shares its title with the book, It's All About Him, and the second is a song that he sang to his wife on their wedding day and again nearly twenty years later when they renewed their vows.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
The show opened with a mom of four girls whose heart had been touched by little Kris in the earlier episode, the young boy featured in the first segment. (Of course, the mom whose heart I really hoped would be touched by Kris's tears was his own; hopefully she saw the show and felt the weight of her little one's broken heart.) After viewing a video of Mom and then watching Gary Neuman interviewing the girls, almost the first question posed back in the studio was "OK, so what is Mom doing wrong?"
Can Mom improve? Sure. But I don't think that was the point. I think, once again, that the implication was that the girls would not be feeling so much pain over the divorce if Mom weren't making such a mess of things. And yet, once again, in this situation it was the noncustodial parent's rejection and indifference that was breaking the children's hearts.
You can read about the episode here. If you click through all the way to the end, you can even watch a Q&A session that Neuman held with the studio audience. In that session, he stated unequivocally that he does not believe divorce itself is traumatic to children, but that the isolation children feel afterward (because they are not allowed to express their emotions) is what causes the trauma.
And yet, the stories heard during these two episodes of how children react to the news of divorce would state otherwise. If the divorce itself were not traumatic, why would children cry, run to their rooms, and put up emotional walls at the news if this were not a traumatic event in the life of their family? It simply doesn't make sense. If the trauma correlated to how things were handled later, then these telling reactions shouldn't happen until later. Certainly the family dynamics post-divorce and the relationship between parent and child can soften and soothe this pain or exacerbate it, as the case may be; but let's not confuse that with the root issue.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
In many cases, divorce is indefensible, bringing serious consequences to adults and children. It should not be taken lightly. Yet to deny someone full forgiveness and the right to live life to the fullest in Jesus Christ denies the healing power of the Cross. God brings light out of darkness. His redemptive work in the lives of imperfect people restores the hearts of men and women and turns them back toward him. His grace forgives and transforms.
This tension is at the heart of the gospel: Sinners really can receive forgiveness and acceptance, despite their pasts. When it comes to most other sins, the church has long realized that it can be pro-hospital without being pro-illness. We just haven't given ourselves permission to do so with remarriage. Remarriage ministry does not diminish God's intent for the home any more than a ministry to alcoholics encourages drinking.
How churches handle remarried couples matters not just to the husband and wife, but also to any children involved. I'm glad for the perspective this article brings to the issue -- acknowledging the sin that accompanies a broken marriage, and recognizing that, like other sins, this one can be forgiven.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
The cell-phone calls would start a couple hours after she left. “Mom, it’s 10 o’clock, when are you coming home?” And later, “Mom, where are you now, Mom?”
When Anita Garvey started dating a couple years after her divorce, her teen daughters said they were happy for her, but even so, it wasn’t easy on the kids – or Garvey.
“It was almost like I was a teenager. It was like a role reversal,” said Garvey, who was divorced four years ago. It was perhaps made harder, she said, because she had been an at-home mom for most of her children’s lives, leaving the house to work only six years ago.
“They were used to having me 24/7,” said Garvey, of South Windsor, Conn. “Working was a little hard for them to digest, and then divorce was hard for them, and then when I started dating, I could sense they felt me pulling away.”
Read the whole story here.
As a 6-year-old, Steve McIntire was not a typical hitchhiker.
Trapped in a custody battle after his parents’ bitter divorce, he was out to escape. But an older brother found him holding his thumb out on the roadside and took him back home.
The family’s trouble boiled over into court the next year, with a judge weighing whether McIntire’s future would be with Mom or with Dad.
“I begged to talk to the judge, but nobody would hear of it,” says McIntire, 41.
Not until years later would McIntire fully realize the importance of what happened next, how close he’d been to calamity, how one person — his school principal — changed his life.
“I was not going in a positive direction,” McIntire recalls.
The principal, Trevor Russell, testified that it would take the boy days to settle down after visiting his mother. The judge sent McIntire home with his dad.
“I think it was because that principal stepped up and testified on my behalf. That was the swing. That was a voice for me,” says McIntire. “That’s what I see in CASA, being willing to step up and be a voice for a child.”
Read the whole story here. [Update: It seems the paper has taken this article off their web site already. You may still find the full text in Google's cache by searching on the first sentence I quoted above.]
Friday, October 05, 2007
The children from the three families involved had heartbreaking stories. The first segment featured an 11 year old girl and her 7 year old brother. Mom had run off with a boyfriend when the kids were 7 and 3, and she had not seen her beautiful children in two years. The kids were both angry and very sad. The daughter wrote a letter to her mom that ended by saying "Sometimes I love you so much I can't hide it" and the son talked about saving his allowance to buy a ring for his mom, hoping it would induce her to stay, but then she didn't even want it. These two siblings had tried desperately hard to get their mom to stay, but felt like failures because mom had chosen to leave anyway. They wanted to hate her, but instead desperately longed for her love.
The second segment featured two brothers whose parents had a tumultuous and possibly violent marriage. Only one of the brothers talked, and he told of being hidden in the bathroom during fights, of the police showing up at their house, and eventually of the day when the "dream died," referring to his parents' marriage. Despite the fighting and disruption, the boys nodded enthusiastically when Oprah suggested that they had still wanted their parents to stay together.
The final segment told the story of a teenage girl who felt guilty for her parents' marriage breaking up. She had caught her mother kissing another man and had told her father about it. Faced with her mother's hypocrisy, this young girl began acting out, smoking cigarettes, and then weed, and finally becoming sexually promiscuous. She was obviously ashamed of the lifestyle she had chosen, but had enough personal insight to realize that she had gone down this path in an attempt to get her mother to care. In other words, "if she doesn't care about me when I'm good, maybe she'll care if I'm really bad." We've all seen this -- the kids who are so desperate for attention that even negative attention seems good. Sadly, in this case, not only was the negative attention not working, mom sat in judgment of her daughter instead of realizing that her own promiscuity had set her daughter on this path.
There are lots of things I could say about this episode of Oprah. The stories were difficult to watch and some of the principles that came out of it were good. Two things stood out to me, though, that I want to comment on.
First, in the segment with the little boy and girl at the beginning, M. Gary Neuman (the expert voice on the show for this episode) noted that the kids felt like failures and were blaming themselves for Mom not coming back to the family. He said this was a scenario in which you should break the rule about not speaking negatively about the other parent.
I think there's a difference between denigrating the other parent and speaking honestly to kids about a situation. I don't think Dad has to denigrate Mom in this case. All he has to say is, "This is not your fault, and unfortunately there is nothing you can do to make Mom come back to us. She has chosen to leave us, and it's very sad. I wish she would make a different choice, but she's made up her mind. I'm so very, very sorry and I love you very much." Saying it this way does not put Mom down, nor does it sugarcoat the horrible reality of the situation. What it does do is to tell the kids the truth, acknowledge the rightness of their sorrow, and assure them that they are very loved.
I don't think Neuman meant that Dad has to denigrate Mom, but I think there is a misperception that not saying anything negative means hiding the truth. When we refuse to acknowledge the truth with kids, we imply that their sorrow has no good cause. I think what parents want to avoid is displaying any bitterness or anger toward the other parent and casting aspersions on the other parent's character. Simply stating the facts in a loving and gentle tone lets the kids know that, yes, something terrible has happened and it's right to feel sad or angry or whatever the emotion is.
The other big thing that stood out to me in this episode was the underlying presumption that if the parents in these three families had only handled things correctly, the children would not be experiencing this heartache. Listen, the kids aren't heartbroken because Mom and Dad muffed up the way they broke the news to the kids. They're heartbroken because their family is gone, because Mom and Dad are no longer married.
This presumption is a pernicious one. If we buy into it, we can convince ourselves that if we just do things the right way, no one will get hurt by divorce and we can all go our merry ways without guilt. If we buy into it, we can pass judgment on these families who have unnecessarily damaged their children by not telling them the right things about the divorce. If we buy into it, we can assume that well-behaved children of divorce are doing just fine.
Trouble is, it's all a myth. There is no right way to tell kids about divorce so their hearts won't be broken. Divorce is a terrible and terribly sad thing, and it will make children terribly sad. If that bothers you as a parent, well, you should take that into consideration as you make the decision to divorce or stay together. There's also no judgment on families who have done this "wrong." Take the first example above. Those two little ones aren't so angry and sad because Dad hasn't done a good enough job of talking to them about the divorce. They're angry and sad because Mom abandoned them all. If we're going to blame anyone here, it should be Mom, not Dad. Finally, Elizabeth Marquardt has exploded the myth that the well-adjusted child of divorce is doing just fine. That one's not even on the table for discussion anymore.
Oprah is doing a follow up show next week. If I can find a gracious friend who will let me watch at her house (I don't have a TV anymore), I'll do another post after the follow up show.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
[Leigh speaking] "...this was always my childhood idea of what a marriage would be."
...she relaxes as she describes her notion of connubial bliss. It's a familiar fantasy, one that animated Joan Didion's memoir of her life with John Gregory Dunne, an ideal I remember picking up like a virus in high school, when I read about Woody Allen's relationship with Mia Farrow, back in those sweet and innocent days, before the fall. There's another model, of course, in which love is poisoned by competition: Baumbach himself portrayed it with acid specificity in his memoir of his parents' Park Slope divorce, The Squid and the Whale. But Leigh and Baumbach are clearly aiming for something different from their parents' lives (she's the child of artists who split up as well): marriage as an idyllic, never-ending brainstorm among supportive equals.
[Later in the article]
Much of Leigh's own personality, she acknowledges, was shaped in response to her older sister, a wild child who was the muse not only for Georgia but for her mother's earlier TV film Freedom, and who is currently a drug-addiction counselor in California.
"She was a very--" Leigh begins, then pauses, struggling to describe their childhood dynamic. "I mean, who knows why, exactly, because I could point to my parents' divorce, I don't know, I was 2 at the time, she was 5! But she had a very, very difficult time, and she was a very emotional kid. A lot of acting out. And so I was a very good kid."
Leigh remembers "literally going off to clean my room" when her sister freaked out. She can recall her own inner dialogue: "I don't want to be that. I don't want that attention. That's scary."
Other than the celebritology factor of a movie actress married to a filmmaker, who just happened to make a critically acclaimed and very personal (although rather disturbing) film about children of divorce, this article struck two separate chords with me.
First, I was a little taken aback by the cynicism of the author. I know, I know, this is New York magazine, the magazine for a town that defines cynicism. Maybe I've been out of the NYC aura for too long and have started to adopt the sunny optimism of the South. It's true that my wardrobe this summer contained a lot of pink and almost no black; but then isn't pink the new black?? Still Nussbaum's denigration of a happy marriage as "fantasy" and something picked up "like a virus" seems a tad mean. Why can't two people be happy, especially two people who have already seen the mean side of marriage? Can we just let these lovebirds enjoy wedded bliss, and perhaps even wish them a lifetime of happiness together? Is that too much to ask?
The other thing that struck me in this article was Leigh's comments about how she and her sister reacted differently to their parents' divorce, one child acting out and the other trying very hard to keep it together and be the good child. Same family, same divorce, different kids, different reactions.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Although he found inspiration for helping the divorced in his parents' split, Stillwell has found inspiration in the workshops for keeping his own marriage healthy. And he's proof that children of divorced couples can have meaningful relationships as adults.
Stillwell and his wife, Vivian, will celebrate their 28th wedding anniversary in December. Stillwell also will lead the church's marriage retreat in October.
"The most significant anniversary to me personally was when we reached our 23rd anniversary," he said. "I breathed a big sigh of relief when I realized it was possible to stay married longer than did my parents, who divorced after 23 years. I reminded myself that we have a lot of strength, a lot of resources, that my parents did not have."
He admits that his own marriage has had "some tough times" and that they turned to others for support.
"There really are two kinds of people in relationships -- those who admit that they go through cycles of tough times and people who are not telling the truth," he said. "We hope we can model for others the truthfulness of making marriage work by applying the principles I teach with others."
I was listening to the latest Harry Potter book on CD on my drive to Ohio,and it hit me -- there's more than one way in which Harry Potter's world is magical. There's no divorce. In the wizarding world, there's death and evil, but no divorce, at least that I can remember. Interesting, huh?
Very interesting, indeed. Can we wave a wand and make it disappear in our world now?
Monday, September 17, 2007
"I was trying to think of a way to introduce the idea of a deep division in the country, and realized that I could use divorce as a metaphor to reflect [in Julie's own family] what was happening on a larger scale in the country. By portraying Julie as being from a divorced family, the division in her family reflects the division in the country and Julie becomes central as the character who is trying to heal her family from the pain and struggle of divorce." [emphasis mine]
That's a tall order for a 9 year old, even if she is an American doll fictional character.
In one house we drank coffee, went to bed at eight sharp and always had clean socks; at the other we drank tea, put ourselves to bed when we felt like it and had bare feet. In one house the bed was always made, in the other it was a mass of rumpled sheets with sand at the bottom. Capital radio was forbidden in one house, Elvis was compulsory in the other....and how it has affected her:
The circumstances of my childhood have made me adaptable, resourceful and emotionally intelligent, true, but I am also needy, insecure and unable to set boundaries. I have been clinically depressed.She goes on to state that the biggest drop in divorce rates in the U.K. is in the generation that grew up as children of divorce.
However, the one thing I am not is divorced, because I know what divorce means. And the latest statistics suggest that I am not alone in this awareness.
Having been through one divorce, the children of broken homes have no desire to go through another. They realise, because their parents didn’t, that in Margaret Atwood’s words, “a divorce is like an amputation, you survive but there’s less of you”.
I predict a little media buzz over Julie the child of divorce doll. I also predict some tasteless jokes. (Does Julie come with two sets of accessories, one for dad’s house and one for mom’s? Does she have a miniature housekey slung around her neck? If you buy Julie does she stay at your house only half the time?...)
Here are some other great ideas for toymakers:
1. Remember playing "store" as a kid, especially if you had the little cash register? Well, now you can play "Wal-Mart comes to town and all the local businesses go bye-bye!"
2. Instead of "office," why not play a rousing game of "layoffs"?
And while we're at it, let's just pretend everything will be okay if you give little Suzy a doll who understands exactly what she's going through.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Children of Divorce (Skilsmissens Børn)Wednesday, November 7, 6:30 pm & Saturday, November 10, 3 pmDirected by Benjamin Christensen (1939). Marking director Benjamin Christensen’s career comeback (after an unsuccessful stint in Hollywood) and his first venture into sound film, Skilsmissens børn depicts the changing relationships between parents and their children in modern society. Wildly popular at the time of its release in 1939, this melodrama makes use of the bold lighting and unorthodox camera angles that distinguished Christensen’s earlier hits like Hemmelighedsfulde X (The Mysterious X) and Häxan (The Witches) as the work of an adventurous visual stylist.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
As "For Better or For Worse" moved into "hybrid" mode this week with a look back at how Elly and John Patterson met, few readers of Lynn Johnston's partly autobiographical comic knew that her real-life husband left her this April.
I had noticed the change in the comic strip and wasn't a fan, to be honest. Actually, I've never been a huge fan of this strip. It's too often preachy or soap-operish, like Johnston is trying to write for the op-ed pages or publish a novel instead of entertain us for 5 seconds while we scan our way to the crossword puzzle. Isn't the whole point of the comics page that we need to laugh for a couple of minutes after reading all the morbid and depressing stuff in the rest of the paper? But Elly and John are one of the classic cartoon couples, like Dagwood and Blondie or Hagar and Helga, so I'm glad to hear that the break-up of Johnston's marriage will not mean the demise of John and Elly's cartoon marriage.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
THE breakup of the marriage brought Ina Chadwick heartache, guilt and financial hardship. The divorce, she said, tore away from her everything in her “Cinderella dream.”
But the divorce she so ruefully speaks about was her daughter’s, not her own.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
"Author Paula Egner recalls one horrible day when she and her ex-husband, who had joint custody of their young son, got their wires crossed and neither was there to pick up the 6-year-old after school. The boy stayed with his teacher till 9 that night...Blackstone-Ford tells a story about a young boy whose divorced parents were feuding bitterly. The boy was in a baseball game, and both sets of parents came to watch but sat as far apart from each other as possible. The child hit a home run, and in his excitement turned and looked into the stands for congratulations from his parents. He looked one way, then turned and looked in the other direction. Then, confused and not knowing which parent to look at, he sat down on the field and cried."
"I wouldn't change anything about my childhood. It made me who I am. I grew up in a very loving family but came from divorce. It wasn't always easy as a child and I had plenty of struggles along the way. My past and what I have been through enables me to write my lyrics, because it’s what I have lived and experienced."
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Monday, August 20, 2007
State Supreme Court Justice Janice Rosa listened to the combative couple before her in matrimonial court, then delivered her message: Grow up.
After all, they chose to get married and have children, she said, admonishing them to take responsibility for their problems.
“These are just immature people,” Rosa said after the couple left. “They chose each other. They didn’t just have some car accident where they ran into each other and decided to sue each other.”
The rest of the article describes the "Children Come First" program being used in Judge Rosa's court and includes some excellent examples of the positive ways our courts can help divorcing families.
Monday, August 13, 2007
"Still, it says something about our culture that people understand the need for discipline and guidance when it comes to their dogs but are afraid of 'repressing' their kids. They see the connection between their absence and the dog's acting out, but they deny that divorce hurts our kids."
Funny though, I was just thinking the other day how some folks would like to reduce our court systems to a computer program. Input data, hit enter, out pops the judgment. The whole reason we have judges is so that someone who is impartial and who has been deemed to be wise and knowledgeable can listen to all the facts of a case and make a fair decision. Cases brought before a judge are nuanced and require wisdom, not a rubber stamp. (Rent the movie "12 Angry Men" for a good example of this.) If we are unhappy with the job our judges are doing, we should get rid of the bad judges, not toss out the system.
"The numbers show that 45 percent of 18 to 29 years olds believe divorce should be avoided except under extreme circumstances – 15 points higher than the 30 percent of 50 to 64 years olds who felt the same."
Friday, August 03, 2007
Actual Unretouched Photo
Bluebonnet in the Snow
Good Word Editing
Ripples and Reflections
So Many Books...So Little Time
Toni V. Lee
Monday, July 30, 2007
Mary: Completely different. Absolute truth is questioned. Community is applauded over individualism. Conquest and war are appalling to this next generation. We don’t fully know what postmodernism is as much as it is a reaction to the modern era most of us parents grew up in. Today’s kids want reality, authenticity. They’re skeptical. What reaches them? Our authenticity. Our connectedness to God in such a way that invites fellowship.
COD/COG: What can the church be doing to help parents who want to raise a Godly generation now?
Mary: One thing our church is doing is rather unique: some of us who are parenting teenagers come together monthly, along with our kids, to eat a meal together and then break into groups and discuss worldview, movies, Christianity, sharing Jesus, etc. It’s been amazing to stay with our teens through these discussions. I think there needs to be more cross-generational ministries, where parents/grandparents/friends of teens discuss things together, or do ministry alongside each other. The days of segregated ministries (children’s ministry, youth group, college and career, etc.) is waning.
COD/COG: A lot of my readers are children of divorce who are now raising families of their own, and for many of them, having children brings to the surface some of the hidden or un-dealt with issues in their families of origin. What words of encouragement or advice can you offer these parents who are still in the middle of healing from their own childhood wounds?
Mary: Talk about it. Find a good friend who prays. Have him/her pray you through your wounds. Find a mentor—someone whose parenting you admire—and ask lots of questions. Don’t be afraid to go to Jesus for healing, even though doing that may be frightening. It’s never easy to relive pain from the past, but it must be done. We parent from the inside out. If our inside isn’t healed, our outward parenting, no matter how hard we try, will suffer. The best gift you can give your child is not perfecting a parenting method. It’s loving them enough to work on your own issues at the foot of the cross.