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Monthly Archives: December 2011
And here it is, part three of “What is Love to Children?” Some people have asked me what prompted me to run this three part series. If you have been following So Very Clever for the past two years, you know it is normal for me to run parenting posts. I am a fierce advocate of children and their emotional health is primary to me. I also see disturbing trends- most notably the lack of emotional literacy in adults. If we do not create emotionally literate children, we can’t become adults who are open, vulnerable and in touch with their feelings. They will not have productive relationships with others and possibly will repeat our mistakes- the same ones we are repeating. It’s a cycle. Do you care enough to break it?
If you have never listened to “Precious” by Depeche Mode- it puts to music my feelings regarding how fragile and precious our children are. This song doesn’t necessarily apply just to children- it applies to all relationships. Those you hold dearest are So Very precious- resolve not to be careless.
Love- Look them in the eye and tell them often. Look your spouse or SO in the eye and tell them in front of the children. Try, “Hey kids, do you know why I love (insert name) so much?” Let them try to guess. “Because she is a fantastic mother to you all.”
Laughter- Teach them not to take life too seriously by graciously allowing your spouse or SO to tease you gently. This shows them not every “teasing” is a bad teasing and they needn’t be so sensitive or take each seemingly negative word
Openness- When children see their parents sharing time talking, they realize how important it is to relationships. Encourage them to share their feelings with you no matter how frustrated YOU are. Ask if they are mad, sad, glad or scared and that can usually generate a dialogue.
Protection- When your children see you being protective of your spouse or SO, they will not resent it as much when you tell them you are only trying to keep them safe. Make sure they know your family is your epicenter and you will guard it well.
Patience and Understanding- We grow and mature at different rates and we mustn’t compare siblings or even compare children to their overachiever parents. It’s easy to wonder why nine plus seven is so freaking hard to remember- but they are only 5 and they can barely remember where the bathroom is- and NO it isn’t in the bed!
Playfulness- When children see parents play it makes their hearts light. I know a Dad who grabs his kids’ arms and wraps them around themselves and tells them he’s got them “all tangled up.” They shriek with laughter and try to unbind themselves from the “stolen” hug. Makes me wonder what the children would think if he tangled his SO up in front of the kids. Laughter, no doubt.
Respect- This is a critical aspect of a significant relationship. As a matter of fact, if you don’t have respect for one another, you shouldn’t likely be together. Eventually, your children will realize that while you tell them to “respect your mother,” they don’t know what it means because you are so disrespectful of her and she to you.
Stability- Stability is critical in a child’s life- whether they find it in the home of their biological parents, or the homes their divorced parents live in alone or with a new spouse or SO, if there is love and attention for them- they thrive.
Sympathy- Sympathy and empathy are two words that are often confused. To be sympathetic is to feel for someone else’s misfortune. If a child reports their feelings have been hurt in school- “toughen up” is likely not a great first response. Welcoming them for a hug and letting them know how sorry you are they were hurt by someone and then discussing what hurt and why will help them on the path to emotionally literacy. So often as parents we want to jump in and start pointing fingers and accusing others when, frankly, it’s not unlikely our own child had a hand in whatever transpired. Talking through it and getting to the nuts and bolts of the issue can bring about some awareness of compassion and sympathy for the other person who might have been hurt as well.
Time- Love is time. When parents devote time to one another, independent of the children, and are vocal about how important that time is to the foundation of the family, the children learn the marital relationship is the backbone of the family. It is something for them to aspire to. Equal time needs to be offered to the children as a family and individually with the parents.
Love to a child is laughter between parents or significant others; it is playfulness. Demonstrate love in your marriage and, if you can’t, don’t stay together for the children. It’s not fair. They deserve to see love in all forms between adults so they can learn and use it as guidance for how they will conduct themselves when they start looking for a mate.
This is just my opinion, but here is more of what I think children need and want to see in the home. Again, I am not talking about the relationships of biological parents, married to each other, bur rather any subsequent marriage or significant relationship to which children are exposed. A-C was yesterday in Part 1, so check it out if you missed it.
Deference- When our children see our deference to our spouse or SO, they learn it is an important aspect of how we treat those special to us. I remember when I was young and I was setting the table. Without thinking, I gave my stepfather a chipped plate. My mother walked over and traded it with hers. I asked why and she said, “He is the head of this household. He is the reason we live such a comfortable lifestyle and why you have braces and snowmobiles and will go to college.” I was humbled and it was a critical lesson for me. We should always show deference to those we love.
Devotion- Show your children family comes first, but don’t let them think they always come first. There is work, adult playtime, spousal time and times when we can devote ourselves exclusively to them. Children who feel they rule the roost usually do.
Empathy- Empathy is the ability to truly understand the other person’s feelings. Do you recall having your feelings hurt in third grade? Maybe, but more likely it’s happened recentl. Maybe your spouse was hateful toward you over something and it left you feeling hurt and angry. When your child comes to you with something that seems trivial because of their age, tap into your own font of emotion and ferret something out that will help them cope with their emotions.
Emotional Literacy- The gift of emotional literacy is hard won. It is a lifelong process, but the earlier we start, the less likely we are to end up raising hateful, entitled, emotionally barren, bitter, resentful, angry, children who are unable to love or be loved.
Faith- While it is knee jerk to attribute this word to religion- it simply means complete trust and confidence. Being there for your children will inspire the type of trust and confidence in you and your responses that will keep them close to you their entire lives.
Fighting- We all do it, but we need to do it constructively. If you do not fight in a productive manner- if you can not stay on issue but instead catalogue every wrongdoing your spouse or SO has ever committed- you need help. Consult a professional to teach you how to interact with yours SO in a positive and healthy manner so you are able to disagree about how high to pre-heat the oven without ending up slamming doors after discussing a minor flirtation five years prior. Children have to see this or they won’t learn how to do it.
Happiness- If you are not happy, your children know it. If you are unfulfilled with your career, consult your spouse and see if there is a way to alter it. If you are unfulfilled with your marriage and want to stay married, seek counseling. If you are unfulfilled with your marriage and you don’t want to stay married, the best possible thing you can do for your child is to end the marriage if it will make you happier. Two separate happy parents are more productive for a child than two miserable people sniping at one another constantly and teaching their children that anger and bitterness are hallmarks of marriage.
Intimacy- This is not the same as affection. Show your children you know your spouse or SO by doing things for them in advance of being asked. This teaches children the value of getting to know someone and the joy of being known. It’s easy to come home with a candy bar your child loves and shows them you were thinking of them- but it’s just as easy to bring your wife a cup of jasmine green tea as she is stepping out of the shower. Emotional intimacy is critical as is physical. Let your children see you hold hands and stand close, hug and kiss. Keep it clean- they do learn by example. Lay your head on his shoulder, kiss her on the cheek. Show children what it takes to run a successful marriage and they are more likely to have one.
Kindness- This is not reserved for children alone. I know a man who is so kind and sweet to his children, you’d think he would have plenty to spare. Not the case. He reserves it for his children. I asked him why and he said “because they haven’t hurt me.” I told him to lace up his boots because NO ONE is more capable of hurting you or breaking your heart than your children. If I were him, I’d learn how to spread some kindness, so when his kids turn on him (inevitable for a time), he has someone to fall back on- especially to share that hurt.
Again, I must preface this with the fact this is not an advice column. There are at least two people out there, both of whom are blocked from my Facebook, who still like to read this blog and bitch and complain that I am giving marital advice.
I talked yesterday about what LOVE looks like to a child in the home. Well, qualified by the fact that I was a child, I have a home and I am the product of several divorces, it’s just my opinion.
This is almost the ABC’s of what a child needs to and wants to see in a productive home. I think I missed only a few letters of the alphabet. I’m breaking this up into three different posts because it got LONG.
Affection- Children revel in affection- not only toward them but between others. As they get older, they roll their eyes and say gross, but that is only when they are concerned you might be thinking they are considering doing a little hugging and kissing. Throwing you off the scent, so to speak.
Attention- Everyone wants it and needs it. By giving our spouse or SO attention, we are teaching children they are not the center of the universe. When we turn that spotlight on our children, they feel the value of it because they know it isn’t exclusively theirs to have.
Attentiveness- When our children see spouses are attentive to the needs and wants of one another- they learn that other people have needs and wants and theirs aren’t the only that exist in the household. Saying things like, “I’ll get you another cup of juice after I get Daddy another cup of coffee, love,” teaches them they have a place in the family and it isn’t always FIRST.
Busyness- An active home is healthy for children to witness. Parents who lay around and watch television during their off time instead of sharing a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, chatting with their spouse or SO, relays to the children they are supposed to lay around in their off time as well- that disconnecting is better than connecting.
Compassion- Compassion is one of the loveliest characteristics we can pass on to our children and they learn it when they feel it around them. When someone, anyone in the home, is hurt (emotionally or physically, to stop and listen, or attend to them makes them feel heard and understood. The more compassion they experience, the more the children will have to offer others. It should be encouraged outside the home and reminders abound. When they ask why someone is in a wheelchair, undoubtedly too loud and at the WRONG time, it’s OK to say you don’t know but remember to add that you sure hope it’s nothing too serious and they will be feeling better soon.
Chivalry- Children are sponges and they learn through demonstration. When the elders in their lives are respectful and kind, they learn how to treat others- not just their peers but everyone. Chivalry needn’t be antiquated. If parents still go out of their way to serve one another, children will see it. Another lesson learned.
Crying- We are all afraid to shed tears in front of our children (and for some, in front of anyone, and for some others, to cry at all). We don’t want to frighten our children or make them feel unstable- but if we don’t cry and we don’t allow them to cry- they might stop. Crying is a healthy and natural (and necessary) method by which we unburden our hearts, minds and souls. Let them know it’s OK to be hurt, to cry because you are angry or frustrated, but ask them why they are crying and if there is anything you can do to help them feel better.
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend: filing for divorce to get the attention of your spouse. My favorite is filing, then telling the spouse’s family members and friends you have done so but putting nothing in place to have them served. Some don’t just file; they serve their spouses with no intention of getting a divorce. I’ve seen it go even further.
In two cases, the wife drained the corporate account of earmarked funds and hired the top-gun attorneys in Dallas to put their husbands through a three-ring circus. Here it is, years later, and they have not signed the papers. The husbands live in their own homes “because they want to be in their children’s lives daily,” and the wife goes about her already entitled life knowing she holds the hammer. For the first time, the men realize their children are leverage instead of simply offspring.
How do I feel about this? It seems a bit extreme, but, not to beat a metaphor to death, if that is the way you hammer it into your spouse’s head they need to “change” or get out … Are they going to change? Were they the same person when you married them? Then change is probably not likely. I find it so interesting, and I’ve mentioned it before, if you marry someone with the intention of “changing” them, you are marrying the wrong person. Find someone who fits the bill. I know, you are bored, tired and just WANT to get married already. He looks good on paper, maybe a little heavy but you can get him to go to Zumba with you, right? Or, he is still looking for the right “career” but damn he looks good in a pair of jeans, long and lean. Your guidance (read nagging in three years) will make a career choice easy breezy.
I once read a comic strip that said the aspects of a person that originally enamored us are the ones that eventually repel us. Think about it. Did he make you laugh all of the time? Well, maybe at some point you figured out humor was his way of deflecting any type of tense situation or serious discussion or a defense mechanism for something deeper. Time will tell, in most cases.
I was talking to a friend of mine who told his wife the day after Thanksgiving that he wanted a divorce. They’d spent the holiday separate, as they do most due to in-law tension, and she was devastated. He was shocked she hadn’t seen it coming. He told me they fight constantly about her negativity and he ends each fight with, “I can’t do this anymore.” I’m thinking she should have seen it coming like a lighthouse on the shore.
Either way, this is what has happened. We’ve threatened too much. The unhappy spouse has cried wolf to get attention. This has led to the filing for divorce, whether there is any intention of pursuing it. It’s the electroshock therapy that is supposed to jolt the other person to the realization you are the best thing that ever happened to them.
In the case of my friend, he now lives with his wife and daughter more peaceably than the past few years and he said, “I could get used to this.” My jaw dropped and then I shut it quickly. ”What?” he said. ”It’s just easier. We manage our son and live separate lives. No disruption to the finances or having to sell the house …” he continued to talk, but I stopped listening.
I sat down and considered the relationships my male friends are in. At least five of them are living with women they don’t want to be married to but want to wait for their children to graduate from college before making changes. Some of them are having affairs, some are having actual love affairs, some hire women, some have casual dalliances. They then go home and do what they are told in order to keep the tension to a minimum.
I have another friend with boys who are 21, 20 and 15. The elder boys are out of the house and college and the younger keeps telling his dad to leave his mom. He can’t stand the tension. How ironic people think they are staying together “for the kids,” when what they really mean is “for themselves” so they can be with their children. In this scenario, everyone is miserable, mom, dad and children.
I understand it’s different for women because they get to have custody of their children (99 of 100), which automatically puts the man in a standard visitation situation (dinner once a week and every other weekend, a month in the summer), and this can be a tremendous shock to a highly involved father. Regardless of what lead to the dissolution of the marriage, he is likely to knee jerk and do whatever is necessary to make his wife happy so he can put his children to bed and wake them. It’s understandable.
I’m thankful for the amicable fifty-fifty custody being favored and put in place more often. Literally, the children split the week between parents. The only way for this to work is to have two parents who truly put their children’s needs before their own feelings. Putting aside you want to run your husband over with a monster truck, you want your children to love and be loved by their father. Sad is the child who has to deal with the endless sniping, bickering and instability of selfish parents. Your becoming estranged as parents is no reason your children must suffer unduly.
If putting your children before your spouse got you into this “divorce” to begin with, keep it in mind moving forward in your next relationship. If you meet a woman whom you feel could be a significant partner, remind yourself she is to be second (behind God – again, I almost NEVER mention religion) and the children are third. This does necessitate you partner with a woman who loves your children as her own. If she doesn’t, she is not a good partner for you. Remember, you get them for a very short period of time in your life and then they go on to live their own lives, fruitful and full due to your fearless guidance. You want them to see either in a marriage or in a significant relationship what LOVE is.
What is LOVE? We will have to save that for another day. In the meantime, what does LOVE mean to you? How do you give it and to whom? How do you recognize it when it is given to you? By whom? All of our loving relationships are different.
On a side note, Alisa has ordered me to stand still and evaluate some of the bitterness I have toward people and speak it out of me. I told her I just ENJOY jabbing at Jim Harbaugh, but she said it’s time to just let go, along with a great many other acrimonious and troublesome imbroglios. Advice taken. Alisa has been my guide since we were children; she is usually right when it comes to what I’m doing wrong and NEVER right when it comes to how she handles her own issues. Which is why I am there to administer corrective action for her. We are symbiotic. Essential.
In my life, getting ready for the Christmas portion of the holidays was the easy part. Cooking, cleaning, preparing guest rooms- waiting ever-so-patiently for my parents to arrive and hilarity to ensue. This year was So Very different for me- for a variety of reasons. The important thing is I’m still standing two days after the blessed day. However, now I’m left with five days to ponder what the New Year means to me.
I was told once, by whom, I am not certain, that one’s life cycle restarts every seven years- renewal, if you will. So, that has given me great hope that January 14, 2012, will represent “All Things New.” Yes, this is a clear indication I’m likely old, which is true, but even as we age there are still things to be done, to look forward to and those that inspire hope.
Last year, I resolved to be resolute. On some levels, this worked out- I published our first psychological thriller, completed manuscripts for three children’s books and was able to complete novel number two. I put some key relationships into perspective. Unfortunately, in some cases, that meant moving on, but life is dynamic and, for me, learning to embrace chance is crucial.
As I sit here, typing ponderously, I’m ruminating on the aspects of the future that will require resolution. Embracing change as part of the life cycle, accepting that heartbreak comes in myriad forms, experience is what we get when we don’t get what we want, disappointment is a potential undercurrent of hope, but should not stop you from hoping, and finally that I have a purpose here, one no one else is qualified to fulfill.
So, I shall restlessly pursue those dreams that are mine and mine alone- those borne when I was a child and those of that have been unearthed through emotional excavation. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails once wrote to me, “Introspection is a painful process.” (This, of course, was before he became a COMPLETE sellout and new bitch of Hollywood). The statement itself is pure and simple, yet introspection is rarely pure and rarely simple. Painful- yet critical to becoming an emotionally literate human being.
So, to 2012- all things new. Love holds no records of past hurts or past indiscretions. If there is someone you love, and issues are unresolved due to hurt and fear and anger, try literally breaking the records- go get some if you have to. Think about what each one says before you break it over your knee and reach out. Tell them you are prepared to move forward- without ever looking back.
I was in Costco yesterday, because I freaking love Costco and often go for no good reason- which does not mean I don’t buy anything. It’s part of the charm of this cavernous place to have revolving inventory so your need to acquire is never quenched. My inability to pass up a good bargain at Costco aside- I had a moving experience- and wanted to share.
In my rabid enthusiasm as I headed toward the wine section, I failed to yield and connected squarely with another cart. At the helm of the other was one of my neighbors I’m rather well acquainted with. He is dashingly handsome, happily married, father of two delightful children and enormously successful. He’s THE guy, THE husband, the one everyone either wants to be or wishes they were married to. At get-togethers he lingers with his wife and blushes as compliments abound- it’s shocking we have gotten to know one another at all as I am NEVER lingering near the women.
The conversation is always vastly more interesting male side (like ring side, unless you are invited into the conversation). This particular man, let’s name him Jared, shares a nearly maniacal zeal for hockey- I can relate. It’s where we initially came together and then I got to know his family members- all of whom are lovely.
At any rate, I was shocked his cart was filled to capacity with clothing, electronics, books, movies, and toys. I quickly surveyed his bounty and found it an eclectic mixture, considering his children were three-year-old twin girls.
“Are you setting the girls up for college?”
“Oh, this? Nah. This is to take to the church.”
“I do it every year.”
I couldn’t help noticing it was the middle of the day and I’d never known him to make it home from the office prior to seven p.m. after putting in an eleven-hour day in the world of high finance.
“Is something wrong?”
“What? No. I just, it’s the middle of the day. Can’t your assistant take care of this?”
“Oh, sure. I just like to do it myself. Therapeutic.”
“Right, doing something for others.”
“Mmm. It goes a little deeper than that for me.”
I looked at him for a long moment- wondering if this was an invitation to inquire further or a random statement. I wanted to know the answer so I prodded gently.
I waited patiently, happy I was blocking his cart full of easily over one thousand dollars in merchandise- all of which was practical. When he paused, I raised an eyebrow as an additional prompt.
“Well, I guess I must have been six or so. I remember it was so cold in our trailer my brother and I were sitting as close to the dryer as we could. As soon as it was done we’d actually fight over who got to fold the clothes- because they were so warm.”
Trailer? I silently begged myself not react. I was under the impression he came from family money- so well polished and refined he was. Perfectly dressed at all times, courteous, etiquette flawless, manners impeccable, his wife not inclined toward work …
“It was looking to be a rather grim Christmas so we were pretending it wasn’t Christmas day. There was a knock on the door and we thought it was Mom’s new boyfriend, but it wasn’t. Two women I knew vaguely from the church wedged themselves into our home- they had a few bags with them. I could see wrapping paper and I remember being so excited. It wouldn’t have mattered what was under the paper.”
My throat grew tight and suddenly I felt guilty for prying. Then I realized he wasn’t reluctant to share, more so, he seemed to fear burdening me. Oversharing.
“I could smell food and I wasn’t sure what I was more excited about. A Christmas dinner or a present. All said and done, I got a fire truck and we had ham for dinner. It was perfect.”
“I, I, didn’t realize.”
“What? Oh, that I grew up poor? Exceedingly poor. I love that memory. It was the day I decided I wanted to be the Church. I wanted to provide for others. I wanted to work hard so I could help. Those ladies made my year.”
“You and Kate are very generous in your donations and charitable efforts. She’s always acknowledged for it.”
“We try. There’s something about Christmas, though. Children. So much is made of this magical day. The thought of one child going without recognition makes me sick- so this is therapy. I start stock piling when the toys come to Costco in October.”
“So that’s where they went!” I joked though I didn’t feel like joking at all. I felt like bursting into tears. I’d have never imagined a man who was so invested in his work, career and family would take so much time to serve others. “I had no idea.”
“Why would you?”
“I’m sorry? I mean you’ve never mentioned this therapeutic effort.”
“I guess it’s private. I drop this stuff off at the church in brown bags and that is that.”
“You must purchase thousands of dollars in gifts- it would seem that deserves recognition.”
“Mmm. I don’t act in hope of recognition. Kate doesn’t even know I do this. Don’t get me wrong- it’s not altruistic. I get a great deal of personal satisfaction out of serving others. It’s just not something which needs to be shared.”
“Thank you for sharing it with me.”
“I didn’t want you to think I had another family stashed somewhere.” He flashed me a dazzling smile with a wink and unhinged his cart from mine.
I walked away feeling I’d received a gift. I’d learned something meaningful and magical about someone I already cared for and admired.
This week, we will continue our wedding planning series. We need to talk about budget- grab a paper bag, valium, or a bottle of wine- discussions of the budget will be among the most stressful. If you need a paper bag, valium and a bottle of wine …
I had a friend tell me the other day- “If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have married someone stupid.” I gave over to paroxysms of laughter until I realized he was totally serious. I apologized- said it sounded a little- harsh. He went on to tell me the decision to marry came at an age when he didn’t realize the role of intellectual compatibility would be so critical. They were young, having fun, she was pretty, she wanted children, came from a nice family- all of the ingredients were in place. Until he realized what ingredients he needed to sustain a lifelong marriage.
As it turned out- and this is just his opinion- she isn’t fun anymore (she’s a mom- never wants to do anything without the kids), she resents how much he works (though she covets their lifestyle), hates the fact she raised three kids alone (she didn’t really support his efforts building the lifestyle to which she has become addicted and has never worked a single day in her life), they don’t know each other, have no shared experiences in life other than their family. He has been in the workplace for three decades and she has been at home. They grew apart 20 years ago and have been married “for the kids.”
Exposing the children to an emotionally barren marriage is more damaging than divorce. Children have to see love. They have to witness affection- it’s not enough to dote on them separately. They need to view the marriage as the solid foundation of a family- so they can build one themselves someday. It is my theory (while not advocating marriage or divorce) that children thrive in a loving home- whether that’s the home of Dad and his third wife who adores his children and they spend every single moment together as a unit or whether it’s a biological family. You need love. You need to give it, receive it and share it- openly and freely.
As a result of our conversation, I woke up thinking about Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. They have refused to give in to societal expectations they should wed. I recall an article featuring Kurt I read more than a decade ago in which he talked about the beauty of a completely elective relationship. They are together because they WANT to be. Not because they are bound by law- not because they VOWED to be, not because their family members and friends have placed an expectation on them- but because they wake each day and CHOOSE to be together.
Now, it is my theory they re-evaluate the relationship often. Perhaps they didn’t grow apart because they continuously invest in one another and the relationship. Marriage can cause you to take one another for granted. So- when I woke this morning- I saw Goldie’s gorgeous smile radiating at Kurt and knew in my heart if they were bound by law- that smile might have faded over the years. The relationship might have become a product of habit instead of what they both likely consider a privilege.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if love was enough? Being in love could be enough of a commitment? Serving one another because you love them? Loving wholly and honestly because you WANT to? Having to earn that person’s love daily by being kind, compassionate, interested, engaged, authentic, willing, desirable, staying healthy, looking your best, staying in shape, providing for one another?
What if we actually cast off the “obligation” of marriage and had to worry the other person might find someone more attractive or interesting or a better fit? Would we try harder? Would be take more care? Would we devote more time? We would. Especially if we desired the relationship. Fights would not be so volatile- because we’d have to worry the other person might not come back when they stormed out of the house. We might actually be gentler, less condescending and cruel. If we knew our harsh treatment might result in loss- immediate and final- my gosh, imagine how the landscape would change …
Goldie and Kurt keep doing this every single day and have for decades. So, I was thinking, as we head into a new year, what about rearticulating marriage. Live it like you were dating in the respect you are married because you want to be. Serve the person you are with. Make them feel loved daily. Prove your affection- and earn theirs. Think about the aspects of the marriage where you feel you have failed and look deep inside for ways to restore, repair and renew. If you are feeling your marriage is dying- give it one last chance.
You have taken your wife for granted- woken up each day, rolled out of bed, showered and left for work without so much as an acknowledgment. “She doesn’t like to chat in the morning.” How about instead you slip out of bed and make some coffee- bring her a robe and ask her to talk to you while you shower so you can find out what her day is like- maybe you can meet for lunch.
Maybe you have forgotten to tell your husband how much you appreciate the fact you have not had to work for 10 years and been able to stay home with the kids until they all were in school. You’ve treated him with resentment for being “gone” so much and not as involved as you’d like. He has been simmering with resentment as well because you alternately castigate him for working too much and wanting more for your children and yourself. Maybe get a sitter, send him a sexy text asking him to meet you for drinks. Discuss your plans for the coming year- maybe you’d like to go back to work or are thinking of starting a business and would like his opinion.
Have you let yourself fall completely out of shape? This isn’t fair to anyone. Being unhealthy could lead to premature death- what better way to say- “I don’t care if I live or die.” Hit the gym, invest in your appearance- your spouse deserves it. Let the other person know you want them to find you desirable and not just for who you are (because of course you are endlessly Clever and appealing). Maintaining our fitness is an obligation to ourselves and our spouses. I am not saying it’s easy to get back in shape after children or to get in shape ever- but it can and should be done. Being lazy and out of shape is a message to your spouse and it says this- “You are stuck with me- we are married and you are bound by law to love me and not cheat on me just because you want to have sex with someone who is hot.” Hmmm. Taking a lot for granted.
Have you let your children come between you? Hiding behind them to avoid dealing with problems lurking in your marriage? Did you realize after you were married you have entirely different parenting philosophies and it has become a raging battle in your home nearly destroying your marriage and family with it? Sit down with your spouse and determine if the marriage is important enough to come to terms with your parenting opposition.
We are different when we are dating. Try dating your spouse for a while. See what happens.
It’s come of my attention most relationships that lack balance have a “victim,” a martyr, if you will. In an unhealthy union, the martyrdom becomes almost the identity of the person as opposed to a situational response to certain stimuli.
For example, in a case where blame can be shared, as it often isn’t, the martyr puts on the cloak of suffering to garner sympathy, immediately absolving themselves of blame. In an affair, nine of 10 affairs are a symptom something has gone wrong in the union. A union, by definition, is the coming together for a purpose. So, let’s say that union is marriage and something has gone wrong. It would fall to reason, likely, there are reasons for the infidelity.
Usually, the person who has been “cheated on” is the one likely to take the role of martyr anyway, and they do so with such aplomb, who is not going to offer a shoulder to cry on, a place to vent? Sadly, the person who has been unfaithful is shunned and no one seems to wonder what drove them to commit adultery.
By way of explanation, I use a friend of mine from college. He and his wife had a relatively satisfying sexual relationship until they had children. He was then ousted as the primary relationship, the children taking his place. Keeping in mind, this is a devout Christian woman who takes her faith seriously. How did she miss the request God made to put him at the center of your marriage, your spouse second and your children third? I know the Bible is interpreted more than the recipe for chili but, it isn’t fair to take it part and parcel and follow the directives you like and leave the rest. I should note he has not been unfaithful but the absolute limits of his resolve have been tested.
While we all want to believe we live our lives consistent to a moral code, further introspection would indicate we all have our own moral code and it is one of our own devising. We, with the help of our parents, educators, friends and sources of cultural literacy, form our own moral code. It may work for others or it may not.
Either way, all that to say, I’m realizing more often than not as my life is surrounded by divorcing couples only one person seems to be at fault.
This is virtually impossible. There are two people in a marriage or significant relationship, and when it falters, there are two people responsible, no matter the transgression.
If your husband has been unfaithful – you need to ask why? If your wife has left you, there might be a good reason – what is it? If you seem to have irreconcilable differences – what are they, from whence did they come and are they truly irreconcilable? Are there existing circumstances that will prevent you from repairing your marriage?
I’ve always said every relationship has a tripwire and for some it is honed by previous relationships, perhaps one’s own or the ones to which they were exposed as children. For some men, it’s fidelity – UNFORGIVABLE for any reason. For some women, it’s lying and dishonesty. Abandonment might be in there as well. Either way, knowing these tripwires going into the relationship might help avoid what will likely become roadside bombs later.
If you know your wife will leave you if you are unfaithful, yet she hasn’t had sex with you or been intimate with you in any way, emotional or otherwise, are you required to remain faithful and, if so, how long? When are you absolved of being faithful within the confines of a marriage? Do you avoid disrupting your family and meet your sexual needs on the sly – or get a divorce because your needs aren’t being met?
What if you have both grown apart, so involved in career and children you’ve ceased to have any real emotional connection for so long you’ve started to crave it with someone else? Who is at fault? Why must there be fault?
Can’t there just be a movement away from one another? Must it be so bitter – resources better saved and used to ensure the future and even immediate health and happiness of your children spent fighting over hurt feelings?
Adultery happens. WAY more often than you think and for WAY more reasons than you think. The one absolute in this case is that there are two people responsible. If the martyr would stop wallowing in self-pity long enough to inquire as to why they were cheated on, the marriage might be repaired.
I had drinks the other night with a So Very Clever woman who told me she’d “tried EVERYTHING to meet a man,” and in our discussions I realized the articulation of Clever has become much broader than I had originally intended. I believe this to be a good thing and have very much enjoyed the readers driving the content- HOWEVER, there is still a concept here, and it is VAST at the same time as it is SIMPLE.
Those who are So Very Clever are willing to learn, to grow, to experience, to stretch, expand and broaden their interest base to enrich the flavor and texture of who they are. In doing so, several amazing things tend to happen. Suddenly, you have new and exciting topics to discuss with others- not just on dates, but with your parents, your business associates and those you meet in social situations. You find you have interesting hobbies that put you square in the path of others who share them, you gain confidence in how you approach others and find you converse more skillfully. Best of all- you learn the value of making an effort. Being So Very Clever is about making an effort.
If you want to meet men- get off your ass and start going to places men go, do things men like to do, learn about the aspects of life men find interesting and worthwhile, become conversant in their leisure pursuits. But don’t be false. If you try something and you don’t like it- don’t do it or pretend to like it. Internalize the experience and respect the fact others might enjoy it and like discussing it.
If you want be a better father- get off your ass and start talking to people, asking questions and looking your children in the eye when you engage with them. When they tell you they are bored, because they are, instead of saying- “Go …” say, “Let’s …” All they really want is your time- vote with TIME and you will BE a great father.
If you want to deepen the relationship with your father- get to KNOW him. One of the greatest honors in this life is to be known- so KNOW. Ask him questions- find out how the life he has lived shaped him- don’t forget, it also shaped you- literally. Do some research ahead of time. If he was in the Korean War, do some reading. Ask poignant questions, not- “What was being in the war like?” That is the same as saying “How are you?” It is a platitude and it lets the other person know you don’t really want to hear the REAL answer. Because let’s be honest- isn’t the answer to “What was being in the war like?” “It freaking sucked” -?
If you want to meet some new people- DO something. I will continue to caution myself against telling you to STOP doing things (unless it’s STOP being a spoiled, indulged, selfish, self-centered, egotistical, hateful, abusive person), because So Very Clever is about starting to DO.
Strike up conversations- ask questions of others- do not prattle endlessly about yourself. It’s called a conversation because there are logical turns lots. I say something and then you say something relevant in some way to what I said- until an obvious segue (which should NOT be in the form of interrupting the other person or redirecting the focus to yourself ) presents itself to switch topics.
As we enter the holiday season- we will all be confronted with endless social opportunities- so let’s get talking! Let’s do a little research and put ourselves in the right place at the right time to ask that shamelessly handsome guy from PR whether Tyrann Mathieu has a chance at the Heisman (the answer is no)- because you overheard him say he went to LSU.
Be So Very Clever. Today and Every. Single. Day.
Have an important interview or evaluation coming up at the end of the year? Find out every single thing you can about the person conducting it and get busy. Oh, they attended Virginia Tech? Ask what a Hokie is. It’s their mascot- which isn’t really an answer to the question- but the term was used in a spirit chant written in 1896 by O.M. Stull and, after having been slightly modified since, now goes like this- FYI (more information than nine of 10 need):
Hokie, Hokie, Hokie, Hy!
Techs, Techs, V.P.I.
Polytechs – Vir-gin-ia.
Rae, Ri, V.P.I.
Team! Team! Team!
So, it’s not really a bird as the physical representation would suggest- but a word.
The point is- be active. Begin any situation knowing what you want to achieve. If you attend a Scotch tasting, a goal might be to learn enough to talk to your brother and share his favorite drink, which might lead to more conversations.
Brushing up on hockey might spur a desire to learn more, to attend a game, to buy a couple of tickets and invite the impossibly dashing friend of a friend whom you overheard expressing close-to-rabid interest in the New York Rangers.
If your mother likes to cook and never ventures out to enjoy the meal- take a cooking class and ask her to teach you a few of her recipes. KNOW and it might lead to being KNOWN.
Can you imagine going on a second date with a man. You text him you are pulling into the valet and when you arrive there is a perfectly chilled dirty martini with three blue cheese-stuffed olives because he REMEMBERED you telling him it was your favorite drink? Granted, he is probably trying to get you hammered- totally kidding. He listened to you. Isn’t that lovely? He invested time in your happiness and comfort. So much more romantic than a glass of Champagne because he can’t remember what you drank last time and doesn’t every girl LOVE Champagne? The answer is no, and prosecco is not Champagne just because there are bubbles- bubbles do not a Champagne make. We will get into the difference between Champagne and methode champenoise at another time.
This holiday season, recognize the true gifts are being listened to, being heard, being loved, being known, being appreciated, being recognized, being championed, being supported, having your hand held, having someone walk through something with you, being admired, being respected, being adored, being cherished, being held, being kissed, being complimented and just BEING.
If any of the above sound like gifts you would like to receive, then make a list of those to whom you plan to give them.
I heard a shocking and ugly statistic today- Americans spend an average of $450 billion dollars a year on Christmas and it would only take $10 billion to provide clean potable water to everyone in the world. Is this the new death by consumption?
As we enter the holiday season, there are a number of pitfalls we need to navigate. Among the greatest challenge during this over-scheduled month is managing guilt. It seems to be the most vivid between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, which means one solid month of being harangued, even if it is by yourself.
How can we keep ourselves from succumbing to such pressures? I think the biggest mistake we make is having hope. HOPE it will be different this year. Well, it isn’t. So, it is time to be So Very Clever and instead of hoping for change- pursue change.
I have an idea and it might be a bit simplistic. Validation is an antidote for guilt (legitimate or false). Spend some time proving (or disproving) the situations or people who make you feel guilty. Now, it does require some time, space, effort and objectivity- but can you imagine a holiday season with LESS GUILT? What a gift it would be.
Let me give you an example of legitimate guilt. In my adult life (beyond college), I would enter the holiday season feeling guilt regarding the relationship I have with my sister-in-law. In order to avoid those feelings of guilt or discomfort, I ignored her- knowing she didn’t like me anyway. By ignoring or running away from my guilt, I was simply perpetuating it- so I sat down with myself and thought about where the feelings were coming from. My goal was to either prove or disprove my guilt.
Turns out, I had legitimate reason to feel guilty. I had treated her poorly since the day I’d met her. Further thought revealed my treatment of her was deeply rooted in jealousy. Once I had identified I was indeed at fault and the fact she didn’t like me was my own fault- I set about rectifying the relationship- after all, I didn’t dislike her- I WAS ENVIOUS of her.
So, I put effort into getting to know her. She is resistant to me, which is exactly what I deserve- but I no longer feel guilty. I validated my guilt and focused on repairing the relationship. Having gotten to know her during the last two decades, I realize she is worthy of admiration and not envy or jealousy. She continues to prove her genuineness in our family and I regret (though no longer feel guilty) the time I lost being petty. Now as much as I abhor revealing my less Clever moments- as we’ve discussed before- being Clever requires effort and I will ask that all members of the Clever Tribe spend some time with validation before leaping into a highly charged emotional season.
False guilt is an entirely different situation. Single, newly married or even long-married couples with or without children are overwhelmed with meeting everyone’s needs. How to fit every one in over the holidays is a source of great angst. So, you know your mother is going to be furious you’re spending Christmas Day with your wife’s family this year- even though you were with your own family the year before. Add a divorce on the part of your parents to the equation and the guilt factor escalates exponentially. Now your mother is jacked because you are spending Christmas Eve with your father and his new wife (bimbo) and Christmas Day with your wife’s family (you married down)- why does she not matter to you? How did this happen? Why do you hate her?
Here’s a thought. Call your mother (or whomever is the reigning pain in the ass) today and tell them how frustrated you are the holidays are so hectic- it seems no one’s needs are met. You really want to devote more time to her (him)- would it be possible for you to visit this weekend for two days instead of having to duck out early to fit in someone else?
I know you are busy- but reducing or eliminating guilt requires effort. Attempting to avoid or outrun it creates more problems. I know in this instance being Clever seems a bit like manipulation- but one of the definitions of Clever is artful and cunning. So- if the President of Guilt smirks through the holiday season because you spent a weekend with them and offered everyone only a few hours here and there- so be it! Likely, the other members of the various families are not so labor intensive- Win Win.
Manage your expectations and know going into all of this- nothing you do or say will mitigate the attempted guilt trip. This is what I recognize as false guilt, in that you have NOTHING to feel guilty about. So, recognize it for what it is- and make a choice as to whether you are going to allow it to define your holiday season or NOT.
No matter how much time you spend and when, someone will always feel slighted- so spend some time validating everyone (and especially THAT person) prior to the holidays and they might feel less offended going in.
Call your mom- send her an unexpected letter or gift. Ask your sister for dinner with the family. See if your mother-in-law might help you prepare some holiday meals in advance (I KNOW you’d rather eat glass). Give the gift of time and validation before the holiday season and you might find everyone less jacked out of shape going in. Translation- YOU feel less guilt. YOU enjoy the holiday season. YOU begin the process of validating or disproving guilt. After all, isn’t the New Year defined by resolution? How about the resolution of GUILT- once and for all.