Category Archives: decisions

The Women Upon Whose Shoulders I Stand – Part Two

 

In a recent post, I acknowledged three women who influenced and inspired me: Mary Tyler Moore, Gloria Steinem and Melody Beattie. Here I celebrate two more who shaped how I approach my world.

In my family, anger was a subject only to be glanced at from the corner of our eyes. My father would verbally explode or keep his anger inside, only to sit up at night weeping in the wee hours. My mother was somewhat more direct and might say, “I’m cross with you!”  I don’t remember ever expressing my anger openly—it felt safer to retreat to my room and eat until the feelings faded. No one ever thought of sitting and talking about how to handle anger. In my twenties, Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Anger opened new possibilities, both for understanding my own scary feelings, and how to survive others’ anger without total annihilation. It still sits on my bookshelf.

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As a divorced mother in my forties, I struggled with how to co-parent my two young sons with their father. Was I doing it right? Would they be okay? No one I knew was co-parenting, and I felt more alone than ever in my life. Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s writing in The Dance  touched and nourished me. “What if the task is simply to unfold, to become who you already are in your essential nature—gentle, compassionate, and capable of living fully and passionately present?” Then I reached a few pages where she described her experience of helping her eighteen- and twenty-year old sons prepare to take part in their father’s remarriage.  Her words felt like sweet rain in the desert.  I was not alone! Others shared these bittersweet, mixed-up feelings.

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These women, by speaking and writing about their experience and perspectives, expanded my view of what my world could be.

Upon whose shoulders do you stand? Who has opened paths of possibility for you? If we share torchbearers’ names, others can find them and by their light, see a wider future.

 

The Women Upon Whose Shoulders I Stand

My years as a young working mother passed in a blur of seemingly endless tasks and challenges. I often wondered if I was doing things right, or enough, or how to measure up to so many expectations. I looked forward to Wednesday nights, when “You’re Going to Make it After All”, the theme song for Mary Tyler Moore’s sitcom, signaled thirty minutes of respite and encouragement. Mary’s joyful smile as she flung her hat into the air helped me grind through tough weeks. I watched her on The Dick Van Dyke Show and then on her own sitcom in rapt appreciation of her confidence, beauty and zest for life. The episode of Chuckles the Clown’s funeral still makes me laugh, watching Mary try to keep a straight face.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, she was a role model for me.  A woman striking out on her own path, who achieved success without flaunting huge boobs or fretting about her lack of a male partner.

Remembering her brought to mind the many women from whom I have drawn strength.  At key points in my life, their actions or writing appeared which I watched or read, mulled over, and took solace from. Each unfolded a view of the world I hadn’t yet grasped.

Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by [Steinem, Gloria]

Gloria Steinem spoke at my university when I was eighteen. Here was a woman taking on the world on her own terms! Intelligent, confident, and unafraid of stirring up trouble, she was the first woman I encountered who intellectually and politically challenged the status quo. I read many of her books over the years, strengthened by her ability to frame powerful arguments and boldly express them. In Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions she declared, “Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself.” I took sips of her courage each time I opened her books.

One day in my thirties, distraught and overwhelmed, I wandered into a bookstore.  Picking up Co-dependent No More, my eye was grabbed by the question, “Is your life Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by [Beattie, Melody]unmanageable?”  Melody Beattie’s matter-of-fact voice was my constant companion for several years as I came to terms with choices I had made. I rested my bruised spirit and read, “It doesn’t matter if…. It doesn’t matter… IT DOESN’T MATTER.”  Subtlety was not what I needed. Melody gave me straight facts and insights that found their way in through the cracks in my ego and wounded pride.

 

These three women expanded my view of what I, and my world, could be. My next post will talk about two more women.  I hope that this sampling will stimulate your own thinking.

On whose shoulders do you stand? Whose words and actions have brought you to who you are today? Of course, for me and most of us there have also been male pathfinders; but for women, it is particularly important to identify and celebrate our pioneering female leaders.

 

 

7 Steps to Wise Decisions in Co-Parenting

Your marriage is ending, and you are a parent. In the midst of upheaval and strong feelings, you have to make complex and critically important choices. Where to live? How to keep finances manageable? If and how to use lawyers? How to divide parenting time and responsibilities?

making wise decisions while divorcingNo matter how frantic or devastated you feel, take the time you need to make good decisions now. Fairly or not, if disputes arise later, judges may look at the choices you make in the first year post-separation as a basis for the future. So you’d better be making wise decisions!

Here are 7 steps, illustrated by my own example from when my then-husband John and I were separating.

1. Recognize when a big decision presents itself. Flag it in your mind.

John and I decided to co-parent our 5- and 8-year-old sons. That was the only given; we had to figure out everything else. I knew that I had to decide where to live, but didn’t think about it as one distinct question—it was just part of the stressful blizzard swirling in my head.

2. State it in a sentence; write it down and look at it.

I didn’t do that; it never occurred to me. If I had, I would have written:
Should one of us stay in the house, or sell it and both move?

3. Consider what you know about the decision and your options. What are some facts?

Some of my thoughts were:
Our house, while a comfortable size, had a substantial mortgage and high taxes.
Selling this house and buying smaller homes in a nearby area would be much easier financially for both me and John.
The boys had no memory of living anywhere else.

4. What feelings do you have about it?

The house was full of my painful memories of our strained marriage. I couldn’t wait to escape it. A different neighborhood, while unknown, felt like the chance for a fresh start.
I liked the neighborhood and would be sorry to leave it; the boys liked it, too.

5. What assumptions are you making?

People kept telling me that kids are resilient. The boys would make new friends in a new school.

6. How may your family history be influencing you?

I never considered this question. Later, I remembered that my parents had moved five times over my growing-up period. My siblings and I didn’t like it, but we survived.

7. Talk it over with at least one person with a detached view.

Go over each point, and ask them to test what you may be missing, or overstating. If you are lacking information, get it before finalizing your decision.

I didn’t discuss the decision of where to live with anyone except John; I simply figured out that I wanted us to sell the house and move to a less expensive area.

What happened in the end? John was determined that one of us would stay in the house. I was appalled at the prospect of keeping it, but he wasn’t to be budged. He stayed in the house and I rented a nearby apartment for several years until I found a house a block away.

How wise was my decision? I am very glad, now, that John’s choice prevailed.

It turned out that keeping our family house worked very well for the boys. I underestimated the value to them of the social stability during family upheaval; my assumption of their resilience was true, but not the complete picture. I also didn’t foresee the financial support my parents offered me.

Because my own family had moved periodically, relocating seemed to me a normal choice, but that didn’t mean it was best for our sons right then. I was a smart, responsible, loving mother, making the best choices I could, yet my assumptions and painful feelings drove my decision-making. I couldn’t see the whole picture clearly.

You can do better.

Please understand: the choice of retaining the family home may not be best for anyone else. This is simply an example of an important decision. Each of us has a different set of circumstances. What I am saying is that following these generic steps will strengthen your decision-making.

Here they are again. To make wise decisions:

  1. Recognize when a big decision presents itself. Flag it in your mind.
  2. State it in a sentence; write it down and look at it.
  3. Consider what you know about the decision and your options. What are some facts?
  4. What feelings do you have about it?
  5. What assumptions are you making?
  6. How may your family history be influencing you?
  7. Talk it over with at least one person with a detached view. Go over each point, and ask them to test what you may be missing, or overstating. If you are lacking information, get it before finalizing your decision.

Don’t be rushed. Taking time to make wise decisions will ease the transitions for your children and lay the foundations for a better future.

Resources:

Co-Parenting 101 by Philyaw and Thomas

The Co-Parents’ Handbook: Raising Well-Adjusted, Resilient, and Resourceful Kids in a Two-Home Family by Bonnell and Little

Mom’s House, Dad’s House by Ricci

What Hindsight Says

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I wasn’t always sure that I wanted kids. My feminist self feared that motherhood would shuffle me off to the sidelines of life.  Early in my career, professional success gleamed like a silver bauble on the Christmas tree, and I had no way to comprehend how it might tarnish.

Nor had I any idea, really, what being a mother meant.  So when my then-husband and I took the plunge and I gave birth to two sons in my early thirties, I learned.  I learned that parenting is unrelenting, giving back only slivers of reward in the first blur of little sleep. That you don’t know if you’re doing it right. That there often isn’t enough of you to go around.

Yes, there were sweet cuddles, flashes of joy, and feeling like a hero when I stepped inside the door to my toddlers’ welcome. For me, the greatest rewards emerged when my children started to become themselves, and I could be in a relationship with those precious and unique boys.

Now I get it. I know why my parents would light up in the presence of my sister, brother, and me. Those years of intensity and challenge forged a bond that is tethered in my core.

My sons’ father was part of the same journey. We divorced when the boys were five and eight.  Right then, through hurt, I might have sought to care for them full-time myself.  I didn’t, because I knew their dad was important to them— they would suffer without his presence in their lives.  And I would be a better mother with time to breathe.

Looking back, I am deeply thankful that we co-parented them to adulthood. The biggest reasons are, of course, the men they have become. Having two loving parents seems to have outweighed the hassles of navigating two homes.

Another reason is their father.  Knowing the meaning they bring to my life, I cannot fail to recognize that they do the same for him.