Friday, December 28, 2007

Port in a storm

From an article in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette:

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.

Dogg is no dog

The three children of rapper Snoop Dogg and his wife Shante can thank their dad for staying out of divorce court:

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."

Border-crossing divorce

An essay in the Travel section of the New York Times talks about the journeys that children of divorce make, physically and emotionally:

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.

New splits for the new year

Two fairly long (as Hollywood goes) celebrity marriages are on the way out. Former Princess Bride Robin Wright Penn and actor Sean Penn announced their split after 11 years of marriage, while Brendan Fraser of George of the Jungle and The Mummy fame announced a split with Afton, his wife of 9 years. The Frasers have three children, while the Penns have two.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Movie review: Kramer vs. Kramer

Although my TV is gone, I can still watch plenty of movies on my laptop (and kudos to my brother for ordering me a widescreen, giving me the full viewing experience). My public library offers oodles of movies, with no late fees and two week check-out intervals, so I've been strategically building my Netflix and library lists. Whenever I run across a movie I want to see, I check the library first. Only if the library doesn't have it do I add it to my Netflix list.

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

Switching sides

From Mitch Albom's One More Day:

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 . . .

Child killer of divorce

Last week, the Christmas season was brutally shattered for at least eight families when a troubled teen chose to end his life and the lives of others in a shooting rampage at an Omaha mall.

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

Marriage is green

Want another reason to stay married?

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.

One for the boys

Reader Brad Carlson emailed me to ask: "I was curious if you are going to opine on the Hulk Hogan divorce. Given that I was a fan of Hulk back in the 80s and have seen his family up close on their VH1 reality show, it saddens me somewhat. They seemed like a solid family unit despite the potential pitfalls of fame and fortune."

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

Email ease

One of the joys of the blogosphere is getting to know delightful people whose path might otherwise never cross my own. Over the last couple of days, Jill Davis Doughtie has left a couple of comments on my blog here, so like any curious blogger, I clicked on her profile to see who she is. She is one busy lady, that's who she is! Jill has about 80 different blogs (okay, five). Go check them out, cause they're all cool.

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

Good books

I am reading Out of Africa, partly because I have a fascination with Africa these days, and partly because of a wonderful quote that has stuck in my head for several years, from Martha Gellhorn's Travels with Myself and Another. Gellhorn wrote, "The power of 'Out of Africa' is her self-possession. The charm of the writing is an archaic and quaint elegance--the idiom not quite right. But she worries me on God; as if she knew that He and she were both well born."

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.

Over the river and through the woods to...where??

Boundless has a post up about children of divorce at the holidays. While the post is mildly interesting, the comments are what drew me in. Scroll down, and you'll read a number of stories of children of divorce who are realizing that becoming an adult doesn't mean they get to leave behind the duo-family dynamic of pre-adult custody arrangements, especially around the holidays.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

We thank thee, O God

A few days ago, over some pizza lovingly made by Papa John, I asked my brilliant writer friends what they were thankful for this year. Yes, I'm that goofy person who wants to know at Thanksgiving time what we're giving thanks for, the one who makes the family pause before the turkey to hear the story of the Pilgrim's first Thanksgiving or Lincoln's Thanksgiving proclamation read. Here are a few of the things for which I am especially grateful this year:

  1. A job I love and that (mostly) pays the bills.

  2. The birth of my new puppy last Friday.

  3. Friends who are a joy, challenge, and comfort to me (especially K, J, L, & C).

  4. My family, and the fact that we'll all be together for the holidays.

  5. Book edits being done!!

  6. A church that feels like home.

  7. A roof over my head and food in my belly.

  8. God's persistent pursuit of my heart.

  9. Good magazines and a steady supply of crossword puzzles.

  10. The love of God, so rich and free!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Getting to the point

Today's "The Point" radio broadcast with Mark Earley is on Julie, the American Girl child of divorce doll. I did two postings earlier on Julie. You can read them here and here.

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

To tell the truth?

The Ex-Etiquette divorce columnists answer a question about what to tell kids about divorce. Go read the full Q&A, but the gist of their advice is, don't tell even adult kids why a divorce happened. Their reasoning is that a parent can use the "it's never one person's fault" line to teach the kids a good lesson about the hard work that marriage requires.

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.

Michael Jordan, divorced dad

MSNBC on Michael Jordan:

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

No silver lining

From the London Times Online:

When Jackie Warren’s three younger grandchildren were christened last year, her son found himself caught between his parents, who had divorced six years earlier after 36 years of marriage. Warren, 62, recalls: “I couldn’t face going because my son had invited my exhusband’s new partner. My son thought it was reasonable since they had been together for a couple of years, and he also invited my new partner. It tore me apart. But looking back I can see that my son was trying to do the right thing for his father. He was in an impossible position.”

Denise Knowles, of Relate, says: “One of the myths about divorce is that, if the children are older, they cope better. But it’s a double whammy for the middle generation of adult children who have to manage their own loss, grief and anger as well as dealing with their children’s emotions and anxieties about their grandparents splitting up. “Even if the divorce is seen as a positive step after years of unhappiness, the adult children still have to explain the situation to their own children, who may be thinking: If it can happen to Grandma and Grandpa, when is it going to happen to Mum and Dad? So they need huge amounts of reassurance.”

Santana divorce

Another long-time show biz marriage is coming to an end, with the announcement that Debbie Santana has filed for divorce from Carlos Santana, her husband of 34 years.

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

Not destroyed

From an article in Greater Good, a magazine published at UC Berkeley:

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

Playdate with Cosmos

Recently, I was asked to review some new children's books about divorce, Cosmos' Mom and Dad Are Moving Apart and Cosmos' Blended Family. Written by Dr. Annie Thiel, a child psychologist, mother, and grandmother, these books are delightfully illustrated by W. M. Edwards and are part of a series that features four children who deal with different life issues.

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

A new generational legacy

More from Daisy Goodwin:

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

No free pass

A Christian News Wire article, written by a counselor, tells of a family torn apart by a wife's decision to have an affair and leave her husband and two young sons.

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

Sitting on the front porch together

I just finished reading the best-selling memoir by Denise Jackson, wife of country music star Alan Jackson, It's All About Him. This book has flown off shelves, and woven through every chapter of this story is the thread of Scripture and God's love. I couldn't help but think about all the people who bought this book for the celebrity story and instead found a story about someone much more famous.

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

More Oprah on divorce

Last Thursday's Oprah was a follow-up to the show from a week earlier on children of divorce.

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 the shadow of the cross

From Christianity Today:

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.

Musical wonder

As I'm sitting here working this morning, I have Pandora on in the background, as usual. The lyrics to "I Wonder," by Kelly Pickler caught my ear. It's a touching song about a girl whose mother has left and gone to California. You can read the lyrics here and watch the music video here. This is one that Jen Abbas deJong should add to her child of divorce playlist.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Family TV

Remember those "choose-an-ending" books you read when you were a kid? Well, my book will not be one of those, but I do need a little assistance. I'm trying to figure out if there is a TV family that best epitomized what we all dreamed of as the "ideal" family. So, I've set up a very short survey that is designed to find out from you, my readers, who that is. You won't be added to a mailing list, I don't care about your income level or hobbies, and I don't even ask your age (although that's because I would have had to upgrade to a paid account to add an 11th question to my survey).

So, if you're game, click through here and take the survey!

It's 10pm. Do you know where your mom is?

From an article for parents on dating after divorce:

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.

Redeeming the pain

Here's a great story about a child of divorce who used his experience as a catalyst to help other children.

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

Divorce on Oprah

Thanks to two dear friends, I caught a heart-wrenching episode of Oprah on children of divorce that aired last week. I was traveling last week when my friend Karen emailed to tell me that she had seen on the scrollbar running at the bottom of the Today show that Oprah was doing a show on children of divorce that afternoon. Then my friend Lori TIVO'd the show for me and let me watch at her house last night.

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

Apropos of nothing

Random thing #1:

I really, REALLY hate mosquitoes. Their existence is enough to make me wonder sometimes if God really knows what He's doing -- or at least His wisdom at letting them onto the Ark. I have to believe they only appeared after the Fall, one of those nasty results of sin that didn't exist in the original perfect Eden. I just spent a measly twenty minutes in the back yard mowing the grass, watering my newly-planted and already wilting pansies, and spreading sand over a former flower bed in preparation for a fab new patio I'm envisioning. Now, sitting back inside I can count at least five huge mosquito welts, despite having only my arms exposed and spraying Off liberally over them before I went out. (Next time, I'm grabbing the MaxiDeet instead.) I've always been a tasty treat for mosquitoes and have always been more than ordinarily allergic to them -- hence, the welts, not tame little bites. Darn the little buggers! If I could DDT my back yard, I would gladly do it and kiss organic gardening goodbye.

Random Thing #2:

This one is much happier. My dear friend Lori's new book A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love, and Faith is now available for pre-orders on and will be in a bookstore near you on October 16. Lori is getting many fabulous reviews, which doesn't surprise me one bit because I've been reading drafts of this book for more than a year and have loved it from the very beginning. If you pre-order on Amazon now, you get an additional discount, so go order yours now!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Marriage and a movie

New York magazine, in an article on the marriage and movie partnership of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Noah Baumbach:

[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

Still together

From an article in the Lexington Herald-Reader on DivorceCare and Divorce Recovery workshops:

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."

Magical worlds

I read the first Harry Potter book and decided I wasn't a Potter fan. But my friend Lori is one. Having just returned from a trip to Ohio where she picked up a beautiful young Lab, Bess, from the same place my baby dog will hopefully be coming from later this year, Lori sent me this email today:

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?

Focus on home

Jim Daly, who is taking over the reins of Focus on the Family from Jim Dobson, has an excerpt from his autobiographical book Finding Home in this month's newsletter. Daly tells a heart-wrenching story of growing up amid divorce, alcoholism, death, and abandonment. While Jim and Shirley Dobson have been a wonderful Ozzie and Harriet kind of example of marriage and family, it's rather nice and fitting that his successor is someone who has experienced a more difficult journey and found God's peace and joy despite a less-than-storybook upbringing.

(Hat tip to Karen.)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Coming soon

Child of Divorce, Child of God: A Journey of Hope and Healing

My publisher (InterVarsity Press) finalized the title today. Look for it in 2008 in a bookstore near you!

More on the American Girl doll

Well, poor Julie certainly has a lot on her plate. An article in the New York Daily News quotes the author of Julie's back story:
"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.

Generation gap

Writing in the London Times Online, Daisy Goodwin recalls her childhood...
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.

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.

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.
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”.

Reality bites

Oh, the sad, sad cynical world we live in where we have to give children realistic toys. Whatever happened to the Sunshine Family, I ask you? From Family Scholars blog comes the news that the American Girl doll company is releasing a divorced kid doll. Says Elizabeth Marquardt:

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

The good divorce on TV

From Reuters comes news of a new comedy series for NBC about a 30-something divorcing couple with kids who continue to live in the same home.

"In the untitled project, which has received a script commitment from the network, the divorcing couple -- a college professor moonlighting as a controversial political blogger, and his wife, who works at a private school and volunteers at a juvenile prison -- don't have enough money to separate right away, so the husband continues to live under the same roof with his wife and their two children, ages 14 and 8."

When parents date

Do you have a story (good or bad) about one of your parents dating either after a divorce or after being widowed? If so, I'd like to hear from you. Use the email link under "View my complete profile" in the "About Me" section of the sidebar to share your story. I'm looking for stories as well as your advice for parents who are dating again.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Children of Danish Divorce

If you're in the NYC area in early November, you can catch a 1939 Danish film on children of divorce at Scandinavia House. Yes, those crazy Scandinavians and their penchant for being on the leading edge of social developments were 40 years ahead of Kramer vs. Kramer. I haven't seen this film, but if you have, or if you stop in to see it, let me know what you think. Here's a summary, courtesy of Life Is Carbon blog:

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

The Worst News

From Editor & Publisher:

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.

Never Forget

April 1991: View of Manhattan from the Empire State Building.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sign of the times

I had to stay up late last night to watch Fred Thompson announce his candidacy for President. Frankly, I'm relieved. Fred seems the most electable Republican out there and has been giving Rudy a run for his money even before last night's announcement. (Rudy is great, but too liberal for many conservatives and too New Yawk for the South; McCain is like a lovable, crazy old grandpa who says nutty stuff from time to time and makes us giggle, but I don't think enough people take him seriously; and Mitt has the whole Mormon thing, which continues to be an issue.) On the other side of the political aisle, Obama doesn't inspire confidence in me, I didn't like Edwards the last time around, and we've had enough of HillBilly in the White House even if her election would give Bill the chance to be a prettier Eleanor Roosevelt. Despite the ludicrously early start to this election cycle, there is still a lot of time for misstep, scandal, and whatnot, but for now at least I'm with Fred.

That said, I do find it a bit ironic that the top three Democratic candidates (Obama, HillBilly, and Edwards) are all on their first marriages, while three of the Republican frontrunners (Rudy, Fred, and McCain) are all on a 2nd or 3rd marriage, with only Mitt Romney, the resident Mormon, marrying just one wife.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

More on Parents of Divorce

From the New York Times:

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.

For Parents of Divorce

An article on a new book out for people whose children are going through a divorce describes the book as one that "gives parents a five-stage guide through a child's divorce, from how to accept the news to how to refocus and rebuild, especially if the child eventually remarries."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Truth in advertising

Can someone--anyone--explain to me why more than half the clothing items in the Ann Taylor Petites flyer I got in the mail this week are NOT AVAILABLE IN PETITE SIZES?? Were the tall, skinny fashion mavens smugly sitting around in their NYC offices overlooking Central Park one day and cruelly laughing, "Ha, we'll taunt all the short ones by showing them cute clothes they cannot wear! 'Look, a catalog marked just for you...oh, but so sorry, these don't come in your size.' Hahahaha!" Seriously, is it so hard to make a flyer for petites that actually shows petite sized clothing???

[Divorce] Nightmare Before Christmas

"Seth Gordon the director of the hit documentary King of Kong is set to make Four Christmases with Vince Vaughan and Reese Witherspoon. The plot concerns a married couple who are both children of divorce and have to make the rounds and visit everyone in the space of a day."

Heartbreak school

This article has some good back-to-school tips for divorced parents, but it also has some absolutely heartbreaking stories:

"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."

Kim Kline, child of divorce

Christian musician Kim Kline talks with Lifted magazine about her music and her life as a child of divorce:

"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

Left to my own devices

I'm throwing down the gauntlet to evolution. In the computer age, we have a perfect opportunity to see whether, in fact, we develop genetic mutations to better adapt to our environment. Yesterday, I visited a site (in the physical world, not the cyberworld) where I can access a subscription-only database for free, doing a little research for my consulting clients. As I sat there, madly clicking and scrolling through the screens with my right hand and jotting notes for myself with my left hand, it occured to me that evolution should (finally!) show the superiority of left-handedness. We lefties have long known our strength. We're only too happy to remind you that we're the only ones in our right minds. Now, in a click and drag world, we should finally come into our own. Instead of school teachers trying to force little lefties to hold the pencil in their other hand (the 'wrong" hand, I call it, although that's usually in the context of someone asking about grandma's ring that I wear: "No, it's not an engagement ring; it's on the right hand, or the "wrong" hand, as I like to call it"), we should start seeing teachers forcing kids to hold their pencils in their left hands, the better to jot notes down without interrupting the click and scroll action of the other hand. Then, it's only a matter of time before left-handedness goes from a genetic advantage to a genetic normalcy. That is, if evolution is true. And if we can resist Gates and Jobs and their darn ambitexterous touch screens.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

He weighs the same as a duck

An ad campaign in Virginia is making some waves. Aimed at preventing child sexual abuse, the ads instead imply that affectionate fathers are predators. The print ad campaign shows a little girl holding hands with a man, and the words "It doesn't feel right when I see them together." The radio campaign is more direct. One radio spot features a woman who is worried because she sometimes works late and her husband then gives their daughter a bath and puts her to bed.

I wish I could find the video online of the news report I saw this on last night. The reporter quoted a spokesperson for the campaign who said it was effective because calls to the abuse hotline were up. Using that line of reasoning, the Salem witch trials were effective because dozens of women were accused of witchcraft. Oh, never mind the pesky fact that most, if not all, of them were innocent.

Preventing child sexual abuse is a very, very good thing. Too many children (and one would be too many) have suffered unspeakable things at the hands of predatory adults. But genuine, appropriate affection between fathers and their daughters is also a very, very good thing. The Virginia ad campaign goes too far and ends up confusing the issue. Seeing a predator behind every affectionate dad is akin to being the little boy who cried "wolf!"

On a related note, I was watching a rerun of Oprah last week that included the story of a football player who has gone public with the sexual abuse he endured as a child at the hands of his stepfather. When Oprah asked the man's mother if, looking back, she could see the warning signs, the mother responded that her husband had not wanted to have sex with her before they married. He was a man of faith and she thought it was noble that he wanted to wait for sex until marriage, but now, in hindsight, she saw this as a sign of his warped sexual nature. Oprah nodded and cut to commercial. Um, what? So now we should be afraid and suspicious of every chaste single Christian out there? The mother clarified, for the record, that she and her husband had normal and regular sexual relations after their marriage. So the clear implication here was that she now thinks their chasteness before marriage was a sign of his twisted sexuality.

So, it occurs to me that we have become so sexually warped as a society that we can no longer tell the difference between good and bad, between normal and twisted. There is nothing twisted about people who want to wait until marriage for sex. There is nothing twisted about a daddy holding the hand of his little girl or doing any of the other routine daily parenting tasks that women have been clamoring since the 70s for dads to share equally in. There is something horribly twisted in an individual who sexually abuses a child.

Perhaps it would be nice if all sexual predators had warts on their hooked noses, or green faces like the meanie in The Wizard of Oz, or weighed the same as a duck. Life is not that simple and most predators are too clever to be that obvious. Identifying the real bad guys takes keen judgment, not hysterical accusation.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Judge for yourself

From The Buffalo News:

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

Who's a good boy?

My former boss, Chuck Colson, notes the irony that we all love The Dog Whisperer's advice, but can't seem to correlate his lessons to the ways we interact with our children:

"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."

No substitute for good judgment

While this may be a cool toy, I have my doubts about how effective software can be at parceling out property during a divorce. Oops, due to a glitch, she got his mother's china. How did that happen?

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.

Divorce? No thanks.

From Houston Home Journal:

"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."

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Mary DeMuth Blog Tour Comes to Town

Eons ago, I stumbled on a great little blog by Mary DeMuth, who has since published several wonderful novels and several wonderful nonfiction titles. This week, she kindly shares with us some insights from her new book, Authentic Parenting.

COD/COG: Can you talk a little about your background? What was your family situation growing up?

Mary: I come from a home of three divorces, my father’s death, sexual abuse outside the home, neglect, and drug abuse. I didn’t want to duplicate that type of home when I started having kids, but I was terrified I would.

COD/COG: How did your experience as a child color your thoughts about raising a Christian family?

Mary: That’s the subject of my book Building the Christian Family You Never Had. In it, I share in detail the story of my upbringing in order to highlight the great work God did in my heart. He healed me of so much. And through that healing, I’ve been able to parent differently.

COD/COG: You talk in Authentic Parenting about raising kids in a postmodern world. How are today’s children approaching life differently than those of us in Generation X or Y?

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.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Divorce research

Two new studies have come out recently that are worth mentioning.

The first is a study showing that we don't inherit divorce like blue eyes or freckles. So at least we're not genetically flawed. What Brian D'Onofrio's study does show, however, is that the divorce of one's parents is a traumatic event that carries over into later life. In other words, we need healing. (If anyone needs a recommendation to a Physician, I know a Great one.)

In other breaking news, it appears one can legislate morality after all. Or at least one can legislate it away. A study released by Douglas Allen and Maggie Gallagher looked at the effect of no-fault divorce law on overall divorce rates by reviewing the literature on this topic over a ten year period. They found that, indeed, the introduction of no-fault divorce does increase the divorce rate, although it is not by any means the biggest cause of divorce (which, as we've maintained before, remains "people choosing to divorce"). Still the Allen-Gallagher study is interesting because it shows that we can have an effect on divorce rates by changing the ways divorce is administered in the legal system.