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.

A personal story of autism and divorce

From a heartbreaking blog post by the mother of an autistic child:

Out of the blue the other day in the car, Liam told me that it made him sad not to have two parents in the same house like Timmy Turner does on the Fairly Odd Parents. He explained that he remembers when we all lived in the same house, what that house looked like and described events that happened there that I had long forgotten. To hammer his point home, as soon as we got in the house, he ran upstairs and dug through my photo albums in my closet. He found a picture of his dad and me when we were seniors in college - smiley, happy, just engaged. He thrust it into my hand and said, "See! You and daddy loved each other." For the first time, I sat him down and explained that we weren't able to work things out. Sometimes mommies and daddies cannot pull it together no matter how hard they try and they get a divorce. His lip quivered. He said, "But I am getting better so you and daddy can get married again."

Sick of the cycle

From an excellent article on teens and divorce:
For Jacob, his parents’ divorce made him all the more determined to someday have a happy marriage. He says, “All of my grandparents have had a divorce, and so have my parents. I plan on ending this sick cycle once and for all. That’s the positive outcome.”

Monday, July 23, 2007

Constant companion

* "Fred Stays With Me," written by Nancy Coffelt, illustrated by Tricia Tusa (June, 2007).
The heroine of this sweetly illustrated picture book copes with the challenge of shuttling between the homes of her divorced parents. The only constant is Fred, the girl's loyal dog... (source)

I'm all for dogs, love them (as long as they're real dogs, not little yippy things), can't wait for the baby dog. But isn't it kind of sad that the only constant in this little fictional girl's life is her dog? The image I get is of a foster child, bounced from home to home, clinging to the one familiar object he or she totes along to every house. Why oh why should a child with parents who are not abusive or on drugs or otherwise unfit to parent have to live under the same conditions? Ironically, we know this kind of instability is bad for foster kids and the system works hard to either reunite them with their families or to sever parental rights and place them permanently with an adoptive family. Too bad we can't work hard to achieve the same kind of stable environment for children of divorce.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Thursday, July 19, 2007

We used to look at still pictures on pages made of paper

I've read two posts and several articles lately (see here, here, and here) about the dearth of readers, a thing too awful to be imagined really. I love reading, I'm forever outgrowing my bookcases, and books are strewn haphazardly and in little neat piles all over my house. My friend Catherine talks about imagining her death as happening when her book collection topples over onto her in her apartment and buries her alive.

My love of books and reading started early. My mom is one of the most voracious readers I've ever known. She reads mysteries for sheer pleasure, but I know whenever I go home there will be a pile of library books next to her chair in the living room, and I know it will usually include books on cooking, decorating/remodeling, business, politics, history, or any of another half-dozen topics. The variety of her reading inspires me to break out of my fiction world and read biographies and memoirs and nonfiction titles.

Every time we moved to a new town, one of the first things we did was get our library cards. Going to the library was a weekly ritual for us growing up. Each week, we would get amused smiles from other library patrons (or annoyed looks from those behind us in line) as mom, me, and my two brothers each stood there with our library cards and our stacks of books for the week. The two little guys were active with a capital A, but they would sit quietly for an hour or more, snuggled under an arm, while we read to them. Ah, the magic of books!

And really, I think, why don't more parents figure out this secret to sane parenting? Who wouldn't want to spend an hour snuggled up with a warm, quiet toddler, reading about mice who drive cars or lions who get scammed by rabbits or elephant kings who speak French? As inspiration, here's a picture of my mom reading one of my favorite books to me.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Good grief

I was supposed to turn in a resume?? Why didn't anyone tell me?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Love, Peanut

Ben and Jon are my brothers. They were 1 and 4 when this letter was written:
Jon is so adorable. He had such beautiful hair. Then one day Ben decided Jon’s hair was too long so he cut it. He did it so short that to make it look better Ken had to give Jon a crew cut. He is still adorable though.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Shalom and divorce

The grandparent of a child of divorce emailed me recently to let me know she reads the blog. Her son was in a very bad marriage that he tried valiantly to save, but to no avail. This grieving mother and grandmother wrote that she wanted to "speak out about the hurt and pain for a whole extended family."

The other night, a friend recommended a book to me on shalom. It's a term with which I am very familiar from my many years at Prison Fellowship. Chuck Colson often uses that term to talk about the broader effect of crime. We often think of -- and our criminal justice system often focuses on -- crime as a matter simply between the criminal and the victim. But when a crime occurs, the peace of an entire community is broken.

I experienced this recently. Sitting at my computer working one afternoon, I began to hear an argument taking place somewhere nearby, between a man and woman. It continued long enough that I began to get concerned, so I wandered downstairs and looked down the street to see the couple. He was holding onto the front of her shirt and she kept asking to just be let go. I dialed the police non-emergency number to ask if they could have an officer just drive by to check on things and cool the argument down, but as the phone was ringing, I saw the man begin dragging the woman toward the house while she screamed and tried to get away. Shaking, I hung up and dialed 911. I love my local police because they are always so responsive. Within minutes, two police cars pulled up and were at the house. By that time, however, the man had forced the woman into the house so all was quiet from the outside. She must have convinced the police that everything was okay, because they stayed for a few minutes and then left.

Since then, everything has been quiet in the neighborhood. But the shalom is broken for me. The peace of my neighborhood is not the same now that I have witnessed an assault. I am more anxious for the baby dog to arrive so I can have a barking alarm. I was neither the assailant nor the victim, but the crime has affected me.

In the same way, divorce breaks the shalom of a much larger group than just the couple and even their children. As several of my extended family members have gone through painful divorces, our whole family aches for them. When my parents divorced, I know some of their friends were hurt and felt torn between their friendship for each of my parents. When Christian couples divorce, the body of Christ suffers (or should; we are all members of one body).

At Prison Fellowship, our focus on shalom was about more than theory. It was about finding better ways of administering justice that incorporated restitution and restoration of shalom into the process. You will see a powerful representation of that concept here. In the trailer for this film, you will see men building, stacking bricks, smoothing them. These men are building homes for people whose families they murdered, people who they mutilated and raped. They are doing something practical to restore the peace of the community, a peace they brutally shattered.

So how can the concept of shalom be incorporated into divorce? I don't have an answer, just a question. It seems clear that divorce breaks the shalom of a larger group of people. Are there practical ways that it can be restored? What do you think?

Hope for families with Down syndrome

The American Journal on Mental Retardation released a study showing that divorce rates among families with a Down syndrome child were actually lower than among a control group without disabled children and lower than families with other identified disablities. Of those families with Down syndrome children who did divorce, most of the divorces occured within two years of the child's birth.

Taken together, the results of this study have important practical and theoretical implications. Practically, parents of newborns can be counseled about the risks and timing of possible marital discord. For many families, especially those steeped in the still commonly heard notion that "divorce is rampant" among families of children with disabilities, it may be comforting to know that divorce is neither a necessary nor a common outcome of having a child with Down syndrome.

Via disabled Christianity.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Thursday Funny

I saw this sign across from Notre Dame in Paris last May and it cracked me up. Everything is so glitzy in Paris! In case you're wondering, I checked the sign for another "c" -- it really is a misprint, not a weird font issue.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Divorce and faith

In Between Two Worlds, Elizabeth Marquardt talked about the effects of divorce on the faith of the kids involved. While children of divorce were less likely to embrace faith than their peers, those that did were more likely to wind up as evangelicals for a variety of reasons. This article in USA Today profiles several individuals who are taking their faith more seriously than their parents. Two of them are from divorced families.

Brooke Havarty, 21, says her parents struggled when she transferred from Arizona State to Liberty University in Virginia, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

"I had a great childhood in a great family," she says. "We went to church on Sundays, but it was just what you did. I was never shown the value of the Bible, the role God had in my life. I saw the consistency and joy in the lives of faithful Christians, and I wanted that in my life."

Havarty, whose parents are divorced, adds that her dad "is an amazing father, but he doesn't want to give every area of his life to Christ the way I do. It's hard for him to understand why I'm so black and white about things."

...Nolan says she felt a deep connection to Catholicism as a teen when her family had just moved cross-country for the second time. She insisted her parents, nominal Catholics, send her for religious studies and drive her to Mass.

"At first I was a little obnoxious. There were a few conversations like, 'You need to calm down,' " she recalls. And when she chose Franciscan, known for its traditionalist fervor, "I know my dad was leery."

Her father, Tom Nolan, 53, of Atlanta, says the demands of a divorce, a move and travel in his sales job have left him "disconnected from church." Yet he supported her, as he does now that she's going to do social work in the Andes instead of going straight to graduate school.

Love, Peanut

From letter to my grandparents at age 15:

"The typewriter from Dad arrived today! What a perfect gift. I can’t wait to try it out….The best present I got however was from myself! I started reading my Bible daily. It has really been a blessing and I have gained a lot of happiness and insight."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Love, Peanut

From a letter I sent to my grandparents after my twin cousins were born. Grandma Smyers was my great-grandma and was 80 when the twins were born.

The twins are really cute and both of them like me! Grandma Smyers did not want to hold Paul because he wiggles and jumps a lot! So she held Rachel. Rachel just giggles and cries.

Paul took me to lunch almost a year ago when I was in North Carolina and stopped to visit him at Duke where he was getting his MBA. He doesn't wiggle and jump as much anymore. Rachel still giggles though.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Broken toy home

This is the kind of toy that belongs in a therapist's office, not the playroom in your house. I'm sure it was well-intentioned, but come on. While we're at it, let's make sure that Barbie's Tawny Horse comes with a shotgun so you can shoot him when he breaks his leg.