Tag Archives: Children

Do You Love Your Spouse Enough?: The Uncomfortable Truth About Who Should Rank #1 Among Our Spouses, Children & Parents

Who's #1?

(Image/The Bullvine)

Where does your spouse or romantic partner rank in your life?

Take all the time you need to think before answering. Just don’t be a lying doucheface when you make your list.

Ever have your wife ask you to fold a basket of laundry or clean up after dinner, and you said you would but really you just ended up playing video games all night? Unless it was a legit one-time incident, don’t rank your spouse ahead of video games on your list.

Ever have your husband ask you to not complain about him to your mother or discuss intimate details of your private sex life with your friends? Unless you did so as part of consulting those you trust for marital wisdom, don’t rank your spouse ahead of gossiping with your friends, mom, or whoever.

I think many—perhaps most—people have other things and people ranked ahead of their spouses. They won’t say it. But they don’t have to. You can see what people do.

Ranking anything ahead of your spouse is the most surefire way I know to create mistrust and instability in a marriage which often leads to divorce and almost always unhappiness for everyone involved.

Here’s how I think many married guys would publically rank their Life Things (I’m intentionally leaving Faith out of the conversation as it often proves to be an unproductive and distracting argument starter – though I think it’s fair to note that I’ve never heard of a divorce resulting from two people putting their God and faith first in their marriage):

  1. Marital Family
  2. Family of Origin
  3. Job
  4. Friends
  5. Favorite Hobby or Lifestyle Activity

But here’s how I think many married guys actually prioritize their Life Things, according to their actions:

  1. Favorite Hobby or Lifestyle Activity
  2. Job
  3. Friends
  4. Family of Origin
  5. Marital Family

I work hard at not blaming my ex-wife for our divorce. I get more blog comments and private messages encouraging me to start putting more blame on her than I’d prefer. Each and every message like that tends to signify that someone doesn’t understand what it means to accept personal responsibility, which means they’re going to feel like a victim every time something bad happens for their rest of their lives until they learn how to flip that around.

But there are thousands of wives reading here too, and several have asked for help understanding what kinds of wifely behavior can destroy a marriage.

And for me, it was THIS.

I feel like my wife prioritized her family of origin over our marriage. Later, she doubled-down by giving 95% of herself to our son when it was just the three of us. I thought I was being noble by not calling that one out. ALSO, I’d already screwed up so badly at being a husband by that point, that there’s no intellectually honest or fair way to predict how she might have been after childbirth had I been a kick-ass husband leading up to becoming parents.

What About the Kids? Shouldn’t They Come First?

Nope. They shouldn’t. And, as a father who loves his little boy more than anything else on this planet, I struggle writing that.

It twists my insides a little. That’s usually how I know something is true — when it feels uncomfortable and inconvenient.

Prioritizing anyone or anything over your wife or husband is the most surefire way I know to destroy your family.

In marriage, either your spouse is #1, or you’re doing it wrong.

I say that without judgment. I’m divorced largely because I prioritized all kinds of bullshit ahead of my wife and our relationship.

I offer it only as a thought exercise, because I think MOST married people put at least something ahead of their marriage.

And yes, that includes our children. And yes, that includes our parents and families of origin. And yes, that idea makes me uncomfortable.

But it’s still true.

“WAIT. Matt. Are you seriously saying we should choose our husbands and wives over our children? I can ALMOST understand the parents thing. But the kids? My kids come first no matter what!”

Do they really?

When we teach our children that they are the most important things in life, and that if they want our attention they’re going to get it, and that if they need something it is magically done for them, and that the marriage between mom and dad isn’t the top priority, what happens?

Bad news: You end up getting someone like me. (Sorry mom.)

You raise kids who grow up believing they’re uniquely special even though they’re not.

You raise kids who lack self-sufficiency and grow up expecting their partners to do things for them that their parents used to.

You raise kids who have no idea what a loving, high-functioning, healthy, mutually respectful marriage looks like. A marriage between two people who truly cherish one another and maintain their romantic and sexual spark through MINDFUL INTENTION and channeling energy into the human being they promised to love, honor and serve for the rest of their lives.

The Adam and Eve bible story famously depicts the first marriage. In the story, you’ll find the word “cleave” which describes what we’re supposed to do to our spouse.

The word “cleave” means “to adhere to, stick to, or join with.” I think it’s reasonable to assume the spiritual text is promoting a metaphorical bond of unity between them beyond promoting the literal act of inserting a penis into a vagina, but surely we can celebrate both the figurative and literal in this particular instance.

Don’t Marry Until You’re Ready to Make Her/Him #1

You’ll be doing your girlfriend or boyfriend, their family and friends, and any children or pets you may one day share a HUGE favor by doing this.

Please remember: You don’t have to get married, and maybe you shouldn’t.

If your parents or siblings mean more to you than your partner, and you feel inside as if you’d choose them over the person you’re considering marrying, then DO NOT get married.

If your job or your friends or the fun things you like to do mean more to you than your partner, DO NOT get married.

And *big swallow*, if your children mean more to you than your partner, and you believe catering to their needs at the expense of your partner’s is the right thing to do, then I think your marriage is a ticking time bomb. (NOTE: I’m writing specifically about married moms and dads who made babies together. I think it’s both fair and proper for divorced or otherwise single parents to prioritize their children over people they’re dating when there’s still uncertainty about whether marriage is in the future.)

Physician Danielle Teller, in “How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage,” wrote, “Children who are raised to believe that they are the center of the universe have a tough time when their special status erodes as they approach adulthood. Most troubling of all, couples who live entirely child-centric lives can lose touch with one another to the point where they have nothing left to say to one another when the kids leave home… Is it surprising that divorce rates are rising fastest for new empty nesters?”

You’re born to your parents. They and any siblings are all you know and love.

Family by birth. Love tends to be part of the package.

When you’re older, and your offspring are born, you are all they know and love. You’re their everything. And the intense love we feel for our children is something beyond description.

But still. Family by birth. And again, the love is easy. We tend to not need reminders to feel love for our kids.

But our spouse. THAT is a particularly unique and special relationship. That’s not inherited. Love is not some pre-packaged thing that comes along with dating or marriage like it does with being born into a family or having kids of your own.

Your spouse is someone you CHOOSE. Out of every human being—billions of them—you choose that person.

It is a love as rich and powerful as we have for our parents and children, but it’s one that is grown. Something purely voluntary.

Love is a choice we must make every day.

More and more, people are coming to understand this, but often when their marriage is in shambles and their trying to figure out why, or in the aftermath of a painful divorce.

I didn’t know what marriage REALLY was when I asked her to marry me, or when I said “I do.” The proof was in the pudding.

If more people entered marriage committed to this idea of putting their spouse first, and why it’s such an important mindset, I think a lot more marriages would go the distance because they’d never deteriorate to begin with.

You honor your parents when you put your spouse first. You comfort them because they know you’re safe and secure, and that their grandchildren are well cared for.

You honor your children when you put your spouse first. You teach them that they are, in fact, NOT the center of the universe and that the best way to live is to be aware of other people’s needs. You teach them what marriage is supposed to look like. You provide a safe and unbreakable home. You provide a lifelong foundation from which to build their futures.

You honor yourself when you put your spouse first. Because you are living for something greater than yourself and are less likely to die alone with herpes on your mouth.

Your parents will pass one day. It will be hard. You’ll carry on because your spouse is always first and he or she will carry you through the grief and transition. You will provide the same support for her or him.

Your children will move out one day. It will be hard. You’ll carry on because your spouse is always first and he or she will carry you through the major life adjustment. You will provide the same support for her or him.

And there you’ll be. In the future. Waking up every day seeking purpose and adventure.

And when we have spent the years putting our spouse first, we won’t have to look very hard to find either.

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The Thing Divorced Parents Fear Most

lost child

After divorce, you’re not always there to hold their hand. (Image/The Coverage)

When people experience divorce, several life changes happen at once, often compounding an already-excruciating time for those involved.

First, your partner is gone. Maybe you feel rejected. Maybe you feel guilt.

The entire ebb and flow of your life turns upside down. Everything feels different. You either live in the place you shared with them which now feels lifeless and empty, or you live in a brand-new place which can be a difficult adjustment under the best circumstances.

Some percentage of life tasks once performed by your partner aren’t getting done. You—literally—have more to do every day, even if you were the one doing most of the heavy lifting. Since I wasn’t, everything from vacuuming, dusting, laundry and bathroom cleaning to kitchen cleaning, opening mail, bill paying and keeping track of Life things on the calendar were added to the These Things Need Done pile. Life got harder.

You often lose in-law family members and friends overnight. Maybe they miss you. Maybe they don’t. Maybe you’ll never know.

Your money situation can be affected. Sometimes majorly. Sometimes it scares you.

Sometimes single adulthood produces life and social challenges in the dating and partnership arenas.

If you’re a parent, the situation with your children tends to emerge as the most-difficult component. It’s hard to lose your time with them. Kids grow so fast anyway. My son was in preschool when my time with him reduced by half.

It didn’t take me long to realize: if he’s a kid for another 14 years, that means I just lost SEVEN years with my son.

What would you trade for seven more years with ANYONE you love? Maybe everything.

There’s a long list of things negatively affected by divorce. But what I perceive to be the worst thing is something I rarely see discussed: The loss of any and all control of what happens to your children—the very people for which you live and breathe—when they’re not with you.

When Life Beats You Into Submission

When James Bond gets captured, we always know he’s going to pull off some rad-007 super-spy escape to get out of whatever situation he’s in.

In more tragic fiction stories, the bad guys sometimes catch up to and overpower our heroes. In some stories, those heroes may die or suffer enormous loss.

It’s often hard to watch or read. When the hero gets taken down from a fight he or she couldn’t have possibly won. Somewhere along the way, the characters realize, as we do: there’s no escape.

I like to say I don’t believe in unsolvable problems. That there’s ALWAYS a solution, or at least a way to make something or a situation substantially better.

But with kids after divorce? [*massive exhale noise*]

It can feel like there’s no escape. Not that you want to. But the reality of divorce and custody law and, I imagine, most of our moral compasses, gives us no obvious solutions.

That’s what makes it hard.

Some people are crappy spouses, but amazing parents. They “deserve” to be divorced because of their substandard efforts or behavior in marriage. And without going too far down the semantics and “Yeah, but” rabbit hole, it can be argued that amazing parents NEVER “deserve” to lose their children, even just sometimes. Certainly, children don’t deserve to lose parents.

As an advocate of personal responsibility, I think married parents should be intellectually capable of understanding that what’s best for their children is to always love the other parent in mind, heart, word and action, but I also know how murky the waters get and how gray the areas get when emotionally damaged humans start doing what emotionally damaged humans do.

Under the very best of divorced circumstances—where two adults communicate frequently, never undermine one another or use their children as pawns to inflict pain, and who truly demonstrate a commitment to putting children first—(which I’m insanely blessed to experience in my life) it’s STILL super-hard.

And there are so many levels to that. You worry about their physical health and safety. You worry about whatever undeserved emotional and psychological baggage they’re taking on from your past or present failings.

Mothers’ hearts break while driving away from screaming, outstretched-armed infants too young to verbally communicate or understand why mommy is leaving them. Mothers who stress over their children eating unhealthy meals, not brushing their teeth before bed, or being left unattended for long periods of time by partying, video-game-playing, or otherwise inattentive, fathers.

Fathers’ hearts break while looking at vacation photos of their children posted on social media while a bunch of people who used to be inner-circle friends and family Like and Favorite and Comment on Facebook and Instagram: “Everyone looks so happy! Love this!” Fathers who stress over their children’s unknown neighbors, or trying to match the level of domestic care their kids might experience at mom’s, or seeing another man experience father-child moments with their kids while attending baseball games or riding bikes and probably other things we’ll never hear about.

That’s when things are optimal.

When they’re not?

The other parent’s girlfriend or boyfriend might present some kind of threat to your child’s wellbeing. Perhaps in some obvious and specifically terrifying ways, or perhaps in more subtle mind- and heart-damaging ways you can only imagine.

I know of one 10-year-old girl and 7-year-old brother who text their dad (a guy I believe to be a decent man and fiercely loving father) every time a strange man emerges from mommy’s bedroom. The last number I heard was 6.

Maybe those new boyfriends or girlfriends are criminals. Abusers. Addicts. Maybe they’re psychotic. Moronic. Cruel.

Maybe they’ll teach your kids that what they’ve been taught about faith, or politics, or personal interests are “wrong” or “stupid” or not as good as some other thing.

Maybe they’ll tell your kids about things you do and spin them in ugly ways in an effort to make them think less of you.

Maybe they’ll make up lies to make them afraid of you or not want to see you at all.

In the United States, we have a legal system that mostly—but not always—helps people navigate these situations, but even then, they’re brutally expensive, emotionally exhausting, and even when things go your way, you STILL end up facing the tragic reality of your child’s other parent being someone you (and maybe even your children) can’t trust to take care of them in ways you perceive to be best for them.

Right or wrong, if your heart’s in the right place, it’s all a bit more than human beings are equipped to handle.

The Thing About Control

Maybe there’s a really wise approach to feeling out of control. Maybe there are obvious choices to make, and when we do, everything gets to be okay afterward.

Even though I feel truly blessed to share parenting with someone who I perceive to do virtually everything “right,” and who loves our son with the same passion and fierce loyalty any parent could want, I STILL experience this loss of control we’d all ideally like to have over the things that mean most to us, and affect us most deeply.

One of my friends texted me about a month ago: “May I request a future post about HOW TO COPE WITH A DOUCHEBAG dating your ex-wife and constantly hanging with your kid?”

My friend is solid people. But while I’m inclined to trust his judgment that his ex-wife’s boyfriend demonstrates legitimate douchebaggery, I can’t be 100-percent sure his feelings aren’t comprised the same as most of us are when we talk and think about our exes.

Regardless, this is an important thing.

It’s profoundly important when children are truly at risk.

It’s pretty damn important when children are being damaged in some ways, even if only accidentally.

And as part of the Macro Divorce Conversation, this needs acknowledgement and its day in the sun.

It’s hard to lose control of anything that impacts our lives.

It’s CRUSHING to lose control of things that directly impact our children’s wellbeing.

Maybe We’re Never Actually In Control

I wish I had an answer for how to cope, JBD.

But I don’t. I just…don’t.

I might die on my drive home today.

We can’t control whether our hearts will beat five seconds from now.

And I think that means we can’t control most things. Some people accept the lack of control as fundamental to the human experience. Others have faith that God’s in control, which helps eliminate fear.

Maybe the best we can do is influence.

We can use brute force and later pay the legal and human consequences.

We can use the legal system and maybe after spending a bunch of money, something gets better somehow.

We can fight back, trying to do things that might affect our exes as much as we feel affected.

Maybe some of that serves the purpose of helping our kids. Probably not.

Or.

Maybe we can accept responsibility for the role we played in creating the situation. Maybe we can accept responsibility for choosing life partnership and/or procreation with someone capable of not putting our child’s welfare above other things.

Or.

Maybe we can work on being the kind of people who make this spinning rock a better place to be. Maybe we can work on being people who light up the darkness.

And.

Maybe we can WANT and actively work for good things to happen to our exes, if for no other reason than to give our children the best lives possible.

Maybe we can pray for their hearts and minds. Maybe we can wish good things for them. Maybe we can say nice things to and about them. Maybe we can support them. Maybe we can help them. Maybe we can work on redeeming ourselves in our shared-parenting relationships by walking a higher path than we did on our marches toward divorce.

And just maybe, when we love that hard, walls come down and connections form.

Just maybe, our children thrive even under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Because life feels extra-difficult when we try to control everything only to discover we’re never really in control.

Maybe when we love hard enough, we won’t feel like we have to.

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Please Help Me Build Something

bald eagle

(Image/Christopher Martin)

NOTE: I try hard to not ask you for things.

That’s not how I want this relationship to work.

But today, I must.

Because someone who matters to me asked for my help. And only you can make it possible.

You can skip the storytelling and contribute to something deserving and meaningful.

Or you can learn why I care. Because context matters.

We’d haul buckets full of water and live fish to the barn where my grandfather had built a fish-cleaning station.

There, I’d watch him club the heads of fish to kill them before I’d help him descale and filet them. Later, we’d have a fish fry.

The meals were delicious. The process was routine if I was fishing with grandpa. I didn’t think or feel much about it at all. It was just the way we did things.

My third-grade son and I recently started fishing together. I’m not sure what took me so long.

I asked him the question: “When we catch fish, do you want to keep and eat them, or release them back into the lake?”

He insta-answered: “I want to put them back.”

I was glad. Because I didn’t want to club fish heads.

I don’t judge people who fish for food. And I promise I’ll fish for food any time a food shortage or survival situation calls for it. But so long as I have access to a nice seafood counter at my local market, I’m cool with not intentionally killing fish myself.

I didn’t think about things like that when I was in third grade.

But my little boy does.

Years ago, so did another boy growing up in Minnesota. When he was in third grade, a representative of a raptor (birds of prey, not dinosaurs!) educational outreach program visited his school.

The speaker invited the boy to approach the live eagle perched on their arm.

It was Scott’s first close encounter with a raptor.

And it changed him forever.

The Subtle Art of Achieving Balance

One of my dearest childhood friends went through divorce about a year after me.

My divorce was the worst thing that ever happened to me.

Her divorce was maybe the fourth- or fifth-worst thing to happen to her, because she has survived Life Things that destroy people, leaving most of us in perpetual states of identity crisis and disrepair.

When we take enough damage, breathing and moving ceases to mean we’re alive.

My friend knew she wasn’t really alive anymore. Sometimes, we just break.

I’ve been broken.

In her search for balance, she enrolled in a program designed to help people achieve the kind of Mind, Body and Spirit balance that allows humans to thrive.

The process has been transformative.

I see and hear the changes in the things she writes and says.

The final step in her journey was to team with others as part of her leadership training to create something meaningful by enlisting the help of at least 100 people.

She joined 16 others to form the team who would choose Children and Environment as focal points for their final project.

Scott, the third grader from Minnesota who turned his eagle encounter into a lifelong passion for learning about and protecting birds of prey into his adulthood, just happened to be part of her team.

It Means: ‘To Seize’

The word Raptor—that is the classification of large birds of prey which includes eagles, falcons, hawks, osprey, owls, etc.—is derived from the Latin word Rapere, which means “to seize” or “to take by force.”

I see my friend taking her life back. Seizing moments. It’s a big deal.

And in Charlotte, N.C., she serendipitously met 16 like-minded souls willing to unite and work for something that mattered.

They’re going to build—with their hands—a large outdoor playground on the grounds of the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville, N.C., just north of Charlotte.

Something lasting. Something for children. Something that serves the big-picture mission of ecological balance most of us rarely pause to think about. (Here’s an entry-level primer on how raptors help balance ecosystems.)

They are raising money to pay for the raw materials, hardware, and tools needed to complete the project.

Maybe you care about raptor conservation. Maybe you care about children. Maybe you’d like to do me a personal favor.

Maybe you just like helping people. I hope so.

I didn’t need a reason other than someone who was fundamental to my character development, who has always been there for me, and who I have NEVER seen on the wrong side of a kindness argument say: “Can I please ask you for a favor?”

I should have known it wouldn’t be about her.

Help My Friend, Children, and Life Flourish

Please show others what’s possible by making the Carolina Raptor Center Playground a reality. No amount is too small.

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Who is Worthy of Your Love?

(Image/loveisrespect.tumblr.com)

(Image/loveisrespect.tumblr.com)

monthemoon asked (read the full comment here): “Hi Matt! I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, just before my partner and I split up. We are still living together due to circumstances, but from summer we will be living separately, and I am kind of looking forward to it. But I am also afraid.

“Apart from developing his empathy, can you think of any other way to make him realize he has to put his son first, specially after separation?”

I might be a bad father.

I don’t know. I don’t know who gets to decide. I don’t think his mom would call me one. I don’t think anyone close to me would call me one. And I’m certain my son wouldn’t call me one.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t so.

The list documenting my failings as a father is long and distinguished. That might not make me “bad.” That might just make me typical. Who can say?

When we fail our families, sentencing our innocent children to lives without both parents at home, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we’ve fallen short as parents.

When we force our spouses to choose between keeping the family together and suffering in masked silence for years, or ending the marriage risking judgment from family and friends, and emotionally damaged children because THAT somehow feels like the better choice, we have failed our children.

There’s nothing inherently gender-specific about this, but I have no qualms about calling out men as the primary culprits here. It’s because — no matter how much we’ll deny it — there are many things men love more than their wives and children.

It’s all psychological, of course. Most husbands and fathers are GOOD MEN. And they think and feel “I love my wife,” and they think and feel “I love my family.” But when it comes time to choose between getting down on the floor to play LEGOs or to cook pretend-dinner in the play kitchen or have a dinosaur battle, and whatever else feels EASIER or MORE CONVENIENT, we often choose the latter.

“Sorry, kid. That sounds like so much fun, but dad is really tired after a long day. You just play alone while I do this thing by myself that I’m prioritizing over you. I’ll engage you in bond-forming one-on-one activities some other time, because I’ll probably have a lot more energy then. We have all the time in the world to build life-long parent-child bonds. We have all the time in the world to make you feel loved and safe.”

If what you do matters more than what you say, then I was divorced for about a year before I actually started putting my son first in my life.

From the moment I learned about the positive pregnancy test, I always said — and actually believed — that I was putting my child first.

I’ll do anything for my family, we think. Because we’re dads and husbands, we take that job seriously. But then we choose other things over dad and husband things because it’s easier or seemingly more fun in the moment. Sacrificing the later for the now. Like the kids whose lives turned out worse after choosing immediate gratification in the Stanford marshmallow experiment.

Sure, we feel blindsided when our wives leave us and file papers.

Sure, we feel surprised when our children question our love for them during future disagreements.

Our brains automatically search for any explanation that will take away our responsibility. We’ll concoct any story that makes something the fault of someone else, and not ours.

Maybe that’s all people. Maybe that’s just mehhhhhhhh fathers who think they’re great parents. Or maybe it’s just me.

But today I know better, and apologize for the finger pointing. We’re NEVER the only one doing, thinking, believing, or feeling anything. There are always others in the boat with you. Knowing that helps me feel better sometimes.

You’re Probably Forgetting About the Hourglass

Don’t be afraid. Everyone is in this global boat large enough to hold every living thing from the beginning of time ‘til the end.

But, it’s true. You have an invisible hourglass attached to your life.

Just like that person standing over there.

Just like your friends and enemies and family and co-workers and the strangers you pass on the street and the people you scream at when they cut you off in traffic.

Just like your children.

We all have an hourglass that is ALWAYS dropping sand from the top to the bottom, and when that last granule falls, we will take our final breath.

Then, gone.

Our hourglasses live in a dimension beyond sight. So we don’t usually know when the sand is going to run out.

As I’m writing this sentence, someone young and who was thought to be healthy is dying unexpectedly. It’s a statistical certainty.

Living fearfully is no way to live. That’s why it helps to be mindful of the boat. How we’re all in it. This isn’t A way. It’s THE way.

But living mindfully of it? I think that might be important.

Two years ago, I learned about a beautiful little girl named Abby with a disease that has no known cure. I was blogging about some personal things with an ungrateful attitude. And then Life saw fit to introduce me to the story of two parents who lose a little bit of their daughter every day.

I called it a Godsmack. That’s what it felt like.

Maybe no matter how long and hard my day was, playing with my son is the best use of my time because of all the parents whose top wish would be to do what I’m taking for granted.

Maybe if I knew the world was about to explode, all I would want is to hold him tight to try and demonstrate my love one last time.

And maybe the things we should spend the most energy on in life are the things we would do during the final countdown. (No. You’re not the only one who just sang the Europe song.)

This is a Parent’s Most Important Job

With the exception of parents with deeply held spiritual beliefs about salvation and an afterlife whose life mission centers around helping their children achieve it, our earthly life-focused parenting has ONE job beyond meeting basic life needs that seems more important than any other.

The thing we must do for our children is help them KNOW they are worthy of love and belonging.

That’s it.

That’s our most important job.

Most of life’s negative experiences are rooted in us doubting our value or worthiness. Because of a million little things that happen to us as children at home and school, and all we observe as others around us succeed, achieve and acquire things we want but don’t have, and all of the rejection and failure we experience in our relationships, and social circles, and academic pursuits, and work lives.

We don’t celebrate failure as the interesting and valuable mistake it really is — another opportunity to grow and change and improve on our pursuit of mastery. We’re terrified of it and what it will make others believe about us. We fall short all the time. And then we assume everyone thinks we’re huge stupid losers because of failures, big or small. And then we tell ourselves stories about those failures and our self-narrative becomes one of failure, and self-doubt.

We’re not good enough to be happy.

We’re not good enough to be accepted.

We’re not good enough to be loved.

Sorry, kid. You’re just not tall enough. And you never will be.

That narrative is believed by a frightening amount of people. The majority, I believe.

Poverty. Crime. Abuse. Infidelity. Addiction. Suicide. Divorce.

These things often happen because someone doesn’t believe they matter. Because they don’t think they are worthy of love. Because they don’t think they belong on any of the boats.

But we are worthy. And we do belong. And that realization eludes many of us for many different reasons.

As parents, we mustn’t let that reason be because we failed our children in a moment that seemed inconsequential to us while not realizing it means the world to them.

She asked: “Can you think of any other way to make him realize he has to put his son first, ‘specially after separation?”

It took me losing my family.

My wife.

And half of my son’s childhood. I estimate AT LEAST seven years, since he was not quite 5 when the marriage ended.

Whatever must happen to ensure he and I stay connected once he leaves the nest? That window is closing fast.

Once this father realizes it, he’ll either care enough to do something about it, or he won’t.

Or maybe he simply doesn’t feel worthy of his son’s love. Maybe he doesn’t feel he deserves that.

Because like so many of us stopped by the Must Be This Tall To Ride gatekeepers, he simply never got the memo: That sign is bullshit.

He’s always been tall enough.

And now his life’s most important work is about teaching his son that too.

Just like you.

Just like me.

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A Failed Marriage, a Beautiful Son, and Tomorrow

father son hands

(Image/ashscrapyard.wordpress.com)

“Fine. I’ll just stay with mom all the time and you won’t see me anymore!” he said about seven years sooner than expected.

I can’t remember why he was upset with me. It’s usually because I denied him something he wanted.

He was 6 when he said that during a father-son fight more than a year ago. An occasionally angry little boy adjusting to a brand-new school and a brand-new life where mom and dad live in different houses. An occasionally angry father adjusting to the same.

I try to remember how I felt at age 5 when my parents split, but everything’s hazy. I remember bits and pieces. The moments. But I can’t remember me then. How I felt. But that’s no surprise. I can’t remember me five years ago.

I haven’t talked to any therapists about it, but my amateur self-evaluation is that my traumatic experience with divorce two and a half years ago is largely due to hypersensitivity related to also going through it as a child. I think some things I’d buried might have clawed their way up to the surface.

I was the only kid I knew whose dad lived hundreds of miles away.

I don’t know what parts of me—good or bad—are byproducts of that upbringing. I wonder whether living near, and coexisting well with his mother, might make his life better than mine.

I cried a lot in the weeks leading up to, and following, my marriage imploding. Everything hurts. And it scares the shit out of you when you figure out you can’t run away from it.

It’s there in your office meetings at work.

It’s there when you’re having drinks with friends.

It’s there when you visit family for the first time without your spouse and you’re totally drenched in failure.

It’s there in the house you shared with her for more than seven years.

It’s there when you look into your child’s eyes. The most beautiful, pure, innocent, precious thing you have ever known. And it’s your job, your mission, your solemn duty to provide him with the safety, resources, education and love required for him to have a chance at a life better than your own.

And you feel like you just helped destroy his family.

You’re afraid of everything and you’re carrying a mountain of shame.

You wonder how you can ever take care of him if you can’t even take care of yourself.

Maybe he deserves a better father than this, you think.

Maybe he does.

I was in his mom’s driveway helping him buckle his seatbelt—something he does now on his own—the last time I remember crying. Every child has a patented little frown that no other kid can make. All parents recognize it because it’s the one that makes your heart bleed. The corners of his mouth turned down. Tears fell.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I said.

“I just want you and mommy to live in the same house again,” he said.

And then you hold your breath and wonder whether your heart will keep beating. I knew he wished for that. He just hadn’t said it until then.

He’d been so strong and brave. Wearing his little mask every day like his parents used to while hiding a marriage on life support from family and friends.

You hold his little face in your hands and apologize harder than you ever have before. You pray your ex isn’t watching you from the window. You mutter silent Why me, God?s before remembering that you brought this on yourself.

When you neglect a garden, the plants stop producing. And the flowers wither and die.

I have a massive capacity for forgiveness. This doesn’t make me a good or virtuous person. I didn’t work hard to grow into a person who forgives easily. It’s a gift I didn’t earn.

It caused a lot of problems in my marriage. Because my wife and I would fight, and it was ALWAYS the same fight. I think maybe every couple has it.

Something I did or didn’t do would upset her, and she’d tell me about it. And instead of acknowledging something I had done hurt my wife’s feelings, I would get defensive and justify it. I didn’t apologize. Since I didn’t do anything intentionally, I didn’t owe it, I reasoned, and I’d go to great lengths to justify that, too.

Why is she always finding something new to complain about?

I think most husbands and boyfriends get annoyed about things their wives or girlfriends do, but because they don’t like to have “talks,” they avoid saying anything. Having a beer, or watching football, or playing video games, or going to work, or literally any other thing in the entire universe including taxes and dental work are less painful than “talks.”

I always viewed it as loving my wife enough to overlook her “shortcomings,” and was always perturbed I didn’t get that same courtesy in return. I didn’t have empathy for my wife’s feelings because I didn’t know she felt things in profoundly different ways than me. I didn’t have perspective because I ignorantly took my marriage for granted and thought winning battles was more important than actionable love.

She didn’t like that after a good night’s sleep I felt good and was ready to move on because she was still pissed about the unresolved thing.

These things piled up with each passing argument, and instead of acknowledging them, I’d stay defensive and complain that she was keeping track of all these supposed crimes and unloading them on me every time she was upset. I would never be so petty as to do that to her, I’d say like a smug prick.

I didn’t know that her way would have saved our marriage, and that my way was why half of all marriages fail, and why many that don’t are broken and miserable.

Maybe my son will get angry all over again when he’s old enough to recognize that. Or maybe because he’s a boy, he’ll empathize with me by default.

His mom is a grudge holder and is still angry with me about how our lives turned out. I sometimes feel it in those (now rare) moments when she gets upset with me about something I did or didn’t do as her co-parenting partner.

I don’t know how to stay angry. It goes away like magic even if I don’t work at it. But I think it’s opposite for other people. I think they don’t know how to not be angry. A burden they didn’t earn or deserve.

Maybe it’s just nine years of feeling unheard and invalidated all piled up into a mountain of shit too heavy and painful to always keep hidden.

Since there’s no such thing as time travel, our son is all that matters now.

Have we infected him somehow?, I wonder.

Is he secretly sad and angry?

Has he forgiven us?

Will he ever?

“Dad,” he says into my ear. “You’re the best dad in the whole world. If I could choose any dad out of every dad there is, I would choose you.”

He tells mom the same thing about her. And we believe him. He really would choose us.

Some combination of love and resilient childhood magic stirs inside him.

My handsome little second grader, rapidly approaching the day when I’ll no longer be able to call him little.

We crafted a small boat for him to race at a Cub Scouts function this past weekend. Win or lose, he showed maturity and graciousness in congratulating opponents. Losses left other kids in tears. My little man shrugged them off, knowing we did all we could.

One year ago, he was desperate for acceptance from the first graders in his new school. His mom and I worried privately about him being a social outcast because we’re not ingrained in the community the way most of the other families are.

Last year, kids didn’t chant our son’s name in support when it was his turn to race. This year, many did.

Last year, we worried about his social life. This year, every Cub Scout in his class came to our table at the event to sit with and talk to him.

We grow together, that boy and I.

Him—socially and academically. Me—emotionally and professionally.

He rifled through a deck of nerd cards during breakfast this morning. “Nerd cards,” being the little role-playing trading cards popular with kids (and some adults), but which I was too “cool” to play with when I was younger. Things like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Gormiti cards. The particular nerd cards this morning were Gormiti cards given to him by an older boy he looks up to. Gormiti, to me, feels like Wyler’s Flavor Aid to Pokemon’s Kool-Aid®.

You know—even lamer than the regular amount of lame.

I started teasing him: “Hi, I’m Tony Romo and I play Pokemon. And I’m arts-and-craftsy Tony Romo, and I play Gormiti.”

He half-smiled because he likes the DirecTV commercial I was spoofing.

And then I made up another Pokemon-is-better-than-Gormiti joke, and I saw his sweet little face do the patented frown thing, and he started to cry.

I felt like a dick.

I walked around the counter scooped him up, sat him on the counter and hugged him tight, because I’m not the guy I used to be.

“I’m so sorry, bud. Did dad just hurt your feelings?”

He nodded, so I hugged him again.

“Kiddo, you are allowed to like whatever you like, and I am so sorry if I made you feel like I thought your Gormiti cards were stupid. I think it’s awesome that your friend gave you those and I want you to have so much fun with them today, okay?”

I meant it.

He nodded that he understood.

Hands on my shoulders, he sort of pushed me back a few inches so we could look each other in the eye.

“I love you, dad,” he said.

He meant it.

Because he has a massive capacity for forgiveness, too. And God-willing, maybe now he has a role model for how to deal with hurt feelings in ways that can heal rather than divide. That soften hearts rather than harden them.

That, at the risk of oversimplifying humanity, might be the keys to making romantic love last.

The keys to the forever kind-of families.

The keys to healing the broken.

So that we can unlock tomorrow without fear of the unknown. Because we’re ready now.

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Divorced Parenting Requires a New Kind of Love

Children with divorced parents spend a lot of time waving from windows. It's sad. Put them first. Always. (Image/Time)

Children with divorced parents spend a lot of time waving from windows. It’s sad. Put them first. Always. (Image/Time)

Oreoanonymous asked:

I have been watching the struggle of my mother’s partner from his point of view, with only small comments on his ex to go on. The struggle is for time with their little girl. From the point of view that I have, the ex seems to be the one being the dickhead. Yet part of me thinks that’s an unfair thing to assume. Just because she stops the lass from visiting some weekends and then shows up unexpectedly because she wants a night off on others, that’s maybe… bad communication? Or misunderstanding? I don’t know.

Do you have experience with the custodial thing? Could you write about it?

Fortunately, it was never up for debate.

When my wife and I divorced two years ago, we agreed that an equal-time shared-parenting agreement made the most sense for us and our son who was just about to enter kindergarten.

Even though your heart is broken in a million pieces because of your relationship ending, the hardest part of divorce for most parents inevitably involves the fallout surrounding their children.

There are hurt feelings. Financial concerns. Scheduling headaches. Extra things to remember (which I’m historically bad about). All kinds of fears and sensitivities surrounding your child’s safety and well being when you’re not around. And maybe the biggest—a complete lack of control regarding who your ex might date or marry, and to what extent that might influence your child’s life.

The Right Way to Parent After Divorce

I’m not saying my judgment is always best. I may be totally screwing up my son because of things I do or don’t do. I’m not saying I know the best way to be a divorced father. I’m saying, logistically and behaviorally, my ex and I have found a way that works for us. Our son seems to benefit from it.

I can say with certainty and pride that if there’s an optimum way for divorced parents to cooperate and work together in the interest of a child’s well being, my son’s mother and I are doing it right.

We communicate constantly. Close to daily. If scheduling conflicts are on the horizon, we discuss it ahead of time and reshuffle our schedules accordingly. We back one another up in case of illness. Change our personal schedules for special occasions. Attend school functions and extracurricular activities together. We are constantly doing favors for one another, which I think breeds goodwill and eliminates any and all stress for our child.

That boy comes first. He never doesn’t.

We never call one another to say: “Hey! I want to go out partying this weekend! Will you please keep him???”

We also never squabble over when he is to be with one of us. If there is a special event of some kind—a wedding, or unique opportunity to attend a family event—we always accommodate the other.

Our individual wants don’t come first. Our son comes first.

When my parents divorced when I was 4 and my mom moved us 500 miles away from my dad, my parents battled in court for full-time custody of me. The judge awarded custody to my mother. So, I lived in Ohio throughout the school year, and would visit my dad for 9-10 weeks over summer breaks and 1-2 weeks over winter breaks.

And that’s just how it was for me growing up. Not optimum.

When my wife and I first separated, I assumed we would trade weeks. One week on, one week off. Brutal. But clean and simple. And infinitely better than how I remember it with my dad.

Everything my ex and I heard and read said young children suffer emotionally and psychologically from being away from a parent for that much time. So we had to figure out a better, albeit more complicated, way.

There are MANY different 50-50 parenting schedules out there that work for people because of geography or work schedules or other circumstances.

Here’s what worked for us:

Monday and Tuesday – Child with one parent.

Wednesday and Thursday – Child with other parent.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday – Child back with other parent.

And on and on it goes, constantly flip-flopping (save for the occasional juggling and makeup days we do to help one another).

The positives are that it keeps the weekends even, and cleanly divides the time even though calendar weeks are an inconvenient odd number of days.

The negatives are that it’s REALLY hard to be part of social groups or organized activities that take place at the same time and day each week, because every other week you are unavailable to participate. And it also requires intense THOUGHTFULNESS AND COOPERATION.

For example, when your child participates in sports or other activities, or has special projects or events for school, BOTH parents must communicate and back one another up regarding having the correct clothes or uniform or shoes a child might need, or for completing work on a project, or even just to notify one another about upcoming stuff on the school calendar.

It means you have to swallow your pride and always be available to answer the phone or a text message. It means you have to soften your heart. It means you sometimes have to drop whatever you’re doing because your ex needs an outfit or school document delivered for your kid.

It seems like a lot of people are incapable of doing, or refuse to do this, because they’re angry, selfish, or something else.

I think children suffer for it.

The Wrong Way to Parent After Divorce

I don’t always know what’s right, but it’s generally easy to spot what’s wrong.

Here are the things I see divorced parents do often that gives me the most heartburn:

Selfishness

Sometimes, parents want to do what they want to do more than they want to spend time with their kids, or help maintain the kids’ routines.

I hear about dads scheduling last-minute golf trips or Vegas trips with buddies and not being available for their scheduled time with children.

I hear about moms wanting to go party all night at the bars so “just keep them an extra night, okay??”

A well-coordinated, equally split schedule yields the flexibility to build in all the selfish time you want for you. It just requires a bit of foresight and planning. If you’re bad at that like me, and your kids are scheduled to be with you during that fun thing that’s coming up? Sorry about your luck, I guess? Love your kids. They deserve it.

Dating

Moms and dads all over the place will sometimes start casually dating, and just have their new boyfriend or girlfriend (sometimes, multiple!) around even when the kids are home, just because they like having sex so much.

MAYBE this has no impact on children. I don’t claim to be a child psychologist. But I have to believe it exposes them to shit they’re just not ready to process maturely. Also, little kids often like everyone, so if they attach to the new boyfriends and girlfriends, they often have to deal with loss again when their mom or dad breaks up a month later. Ugh. I just think it’s a total asshole move.

In two years of being single, I have not introduced my son to, or met a child of, someone I dated (minus the mom of one of his friends/classmates who he already knew. Public Service Announcement: Don’t date parents of your kids’ classmates. Just, don’t.)

Please wait until confidence is REALLY high that you’re in a committed, long-term relationship before involving children. Pretty please.

Revenge

I’ve heard a couple stories about parents who straight-up refuse to share and cooperate. One dad told his son’s mother that he will NEVER exchange weekends under any circumstances, and that the clothes he buys for his kid stay with him, and that mom doesn’t get them, ever. (I don’t know what this looks like on transition days! Nudity?)

It’s not because they’re the dumbest, most-unreasonable people to walk the earth.

It’s because they’re angry at their exes, and they’re going to use their children as pawns in their power plays. They want to feel in control of a situation in which no one can have control.

Sure, maybe your ex will suffer a little bit.

In the end, your child (and your relationship with that child) will suffer more. Those are sad stories.

The Post-Marriage Relationship when Children are Involved

A new kind of love is required.

It is a difficult, emotionally painful, pride-swallowing affair.

If you didn’t have kids, you maybe would have never had to see one another or speak to one another again. But you do have kids. And you’re “stuck” with each other for better or worse until your children are independent adults, and probably for long after.

So, love. Just love.

You didn’t get it right in your marriage. You messed up. Here’s your chance to do something right. A little redemption.

Love.

Be kind.

Be helpful.

Be generous.

Give more than you take.

Always put your children first.

This is one tangible way to show your children what love and class and grace and kindness look like.

A tangible way to light up the darkness.

And that always changes everything.

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Three Years From Now 

three-years

Sarah asked: 

“How would you like to see your relationships evolved in the next three years?”

If form holds, I’ll still be alive in three years.

But form never holds.

I’ll be barreling toward 40. Maybe I’ll like myself more. I hope so. People should like themselves on their 40th birthday.

My son will have just finished fourth grade. Maybe he’ll like a girl and want to hold hands with her but not want to talk to me about it.

I might still be plugging away at my cubicle job. Maybe that will be depressing. Or maybe I’ll be grateful for the security.

I might be a published author. Hopefully more than just once. You always get better at things when you practice.

When I rank all the things that project to matter in my life three years from now, only four things stand out. All four are personal relationships. Only three are with humans.

The One with my Ex

I didn’t see it coming, but my relationship with the woman I married continues to be the most important one I have.

“But what about your son, Matt!?!?”

If you want to get all lawyery about it, my relationship with him (he’ll be seven soon) is the most relevant and meaningful.

But the thing that gives me the best chance for success with that child is for his mother and I to have a civil, healthy, friendly, cooperative relationship, that provides him the best opportunity for a happy, secure, fruitful childhood.

In three years, I have to assume she will be in a serious relationship with another man. A man who will serve as a de facto stepfather to my son. A man who I will inevitably imagine having sex with my wife of nine years and be slightly repulsed. A man who might have children of his own who will prove to be a major influence on my young son.

I will have no say in the matter, nor should I.

You wake up and breathe. You smile. You help. You care. You love. Not romantically. Just… love.

You continue to practice kindness and you build up that muscle.

This is what love looks like, son.

That’s what it must be about now.

The One with my Son

When I was a boy, I loved being with friends because I was an only child. I wanted to go play with them more than I wanted to be home, and I think it might have made my parents sad.

My mom sometimes took it as I didn’t want to be with her.

My dad? I only saw him for a small percentage of the year. Maybe he felt betrayed, too. He usually didn’t say anything. But maybe it hurt. I don’t know.

My young son was invited recently to spend the night with his friends. I texted his mom to let her know I was thinking about letting him.

“Thanks for letting me know,” she said. “But I think there’s a good chance he will wake up crying and want you, so be prepared to go get him in the middle of the night.”

I asked him whether he’d like to stay with his friends. He was visibly excited. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to be there. In that moment, he had everything he wanted.

That was the first time he has ever slept somewhere else when he was “supposed” to be with me. That’s the first time I ever felt like my parents must have felt a thousand times, each.

I know there will be more.

I want him to know he can talk to me about anything. I pray I never make him feel punished for his honesty. He must learn to communicate honestly about things if he hopes to maintain healthy relationships in the future.

It was a lesson I learned too late.

I have never loved nor been more proud of anything than that child. Nothing can stir in me deep, meaningful feelings the way just looking at him sleeping can, or when he does something that demonstrates how much he has learned and grown.

He’s a beautiful child.

I pray I always feel about him as I do right now. Right as I push this button.

The One with the Girl I Haven’t Met 

It fascinates me when I consider it.

Maybe she’s laying in bed with another guy right now. Maybe she’s giving birth to a child. Maybe she’s on the other side of the world building houses in impoverished communities. Maybe she’s out having drinks with her friends. Or walking her dog. Or visiting her grandmother. Or writing something like me.

Maybe she’s sitting somewhere right now wondering who I am and what I’m doing.

Maybe I’ll be single forever. I just don’t think so.

And that means it’s going to happen again. You know. IT. Love. It’s hard to imagine. Only this time, she’s going to get a more raw, real, honest, authentic version of me than my ex-wife did. (I didn’t know then what I know now.)

With all of my insecurities (though I feel pretty good about myself these days) and baggage. With the knowledge I have a son.

That my family is spread all over. That I’m still trying to figure out who I’m going to be when I grow up.

She’s going to be amazing. AMAZING.

I know.

Because I’m picky. Because her capacity for love and patience and forgiveness will be massive. Because I’m TERRIFIED to love again the way I loved my wife because I never again want to feel the horrors of breaking on the inside. And if there IS a someone?

That means she overcame all that. That means I looked at her and she looked at me, and we both said yes.

It means we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow but for now, we want to find out together.

It means I’ll be cooking again. Hugging again. Kissing again.

It means someone will inspire me. Cheer for me. Believe in me.

It means I’ll rarely feel lonely. Just a reach away.

Maybe all of that will come true, or maybe none of it will. We spend a lot of time reflecting on the past and pondering the future.

But really we only have now.

The things that happened before don’t get to determine what happens next.

And what happens next is not something we control.

Just. Right. Now.

Breathe in. Hold it. Then out.

Alive.

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Your Kids Are Going to Get Divorced Unless We Fix This

(Image courtesy of Bridal Banter.)

(Image courtesy of Bridal Banter.)

I’ve written and published more than 400 posts here.

Many of them are about divorce and marriage because divorce was the hardest thing I ever did. I don’t mean “hardest thing” like: Oh man! Running a marathon was really hard! Or. Oh man! Installing that patio was really hard!

I mean: I can’t breathe. I cry and puke and panic all the time. I think I might die. And that doesn’t even scare me anymore because this is so horrible that dying might be better.

Maybe not everyone freaks out like me when they get divorced and they don’t see their kids all the time.

But I know some do. And maybe more importantly? I know some WILL. Because until people figure out how to be better at marriage, the divorce rate is going to continue to wreak havoc on families and society.

Kids are going to get angry and develop emotional and psychological issues.

Money is going to be tighter.

Families and old friendships will fracture. New ones will be formed and then those will fracture, too, because not enough people are learning lessons.

Fewer people smoke than they did in the 1970s because now we know there’s an infinitely greater chance of you getting cancer and dying if you do.

More people exercise and eat healthy than they did in the 1970s because now we know all of these great benefits of healthy living versus unhealthy living.

More people wear seat belts. Fewer people drink and drive.

We do a better job as a society with public safety measures of all stripes.

It’s because we DO get better at things. It’s because we CAN change things.

Why Aren’t People Doing Anything About Divorce?

I feel like so many of us just shrug our shoulders and think: Ehh! Nothing we can do about it! It’s just the way it is!

Because we don’t want to “legislate morality?” Because we don’t want to “tell people what to do?” Because we can’t “force people to be nice to one another?”

Sure. We can’t make ignorant people not hate. But we CAN—slowly but surely—cure ignorance.

We have done it over and over again as a society. With smoking. And STDs. And social issues related to race and sexual orientation and environmental conservation.

We CAN teach kids about common causes of divorce—things we grow up NOT EVEN KNOWING will destroy a marriage.

We CAN teach kids about the extensive research done on gender studies, and how smart cross-gender communication can improve our romantic, social and professional relationships across the board.

We CAN teach kids about the ramifications of divorce, financially and socially and in all of the ways it can damage our lives.

We teach kids all these things they never use when they grow up.

But pretty much EVERYONE is going to end up in a relationship, sooner or later. We can quibble over marriage rates, and gay couples, and those people who are going to co-habitat but never marry. Whatever. Those people STILL need to understand how to co-exist in those intimate relationships, and I would argue these things are infinitely more important to a person’s quality of life than ANYTHING we teach in school.

We may not be able to save already-horrible marriages, but we can damn sure start arming young people with the knowledge they’re ALL already interested in anyway: How to get and keep significant others and get along with friends.

We can save FUTURE marriages. We can.

I want to start sharing some older posts that I really believe in.

Some of these 400 posts have been read tens of thousands of times. Others? Just a few hundred. And I think some of these ideas are too valuable to live in the shadows.

So I’ve decided I want to start re-sharing some of them.

I’m going to start here:

Why should we all care about divorce as much as I do?

BECAUSE IT AFFECTS 95% OF US.

Other than our mutual interest in Earth continuing to spin around the sun without any major catastrophes, can you think of anything that affects so many people?

Exactly.

Maybe you’ll care like me. I sure hope so.

Please read:

The 95 Percent

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Want to Make Magic?

How-the-Grinch-Stole-Christmas-christmas-movies-17366574-1067-800

She’s a mom.

A mom with four kids and a husband doing the best he can to provide for all of them.

She’s a sister.

A sister who lost her 28-year-old brother in an accident last year.

She’s an aunt.

An aunt now raising her 2 ½-year old nephew—a little boy who will never know his father.

The kids don’t ask for much, their mom says. All they wanted last year was a Christmas tree in their living room. But it was impossible. Things were too tight, financially.

This year, the children are asking for a tree for the holidays again. But things are still tight.

Five little kids. Three girls. Two boys. The oldest child is 9.

All of them looking at a second straight year.

No tree.

No Santa.

No Christmas.

Can I help?

We Are Not Assholes

In December 2011, a blogger who authored Martinis or Diaper Genies? was getting trolled by commenters put off by however much money they though she had. She retorted by writing a sarcastic post that encouraged everyone to leave their financial status details in the comments. Many people left joking comments, playing along.

But one didn’t.

A woman named Catherine wrote about how she and her husband were both laid off. About fears regarding how they would pay their bills. About their young child who was unlikely to have gifts to open Christmas morning.

A small movement was born. WANA. An acronym for We Are Not Assholes. The writer’s family helped Catherine’s family that Christmas and turned WANA into a tool for people to help needy families during the holidays.

She is a mother of two.

A mother who recently had to quit her job, because…

She’s also an aunt.

An aunt to her sister’s three children who she is now caring for, too.

“My husband works, but that just gets us by,” she said. “I would like to make all five kids’ Christmas magical, but it’s not looking that way.”

Can I help?

Hope for the Holidays

Fellow blogger Rachel, author of 2crazylittleboys, tried to resurrect WANA for the 2014 holiday season but was unable to track down its founder. Instead, Rachel launched her own WANA-like campaign, which she is calling Hope for the Holidays.

The mission: To put people who need help in touch with people who want to help.

It’s that simple.

What to do if you need help:

1. Visit this post at Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys.

2. Tell your story in the comments.

How to help families:

1. Visit this post at Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys.

2. Read stories about real people in need of real help. If it sets your heart on fire, make the connection and help in whatever way you’re comfortable.

How to help the cause:

1. Share this post from Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys on Facebook or Twitter.

2. Connect with Rachel and help spread the word by writing about her efforts to make a difference.

She is a mother of five.

Three boys. Two girls.

Her 8-year-old daughter has a chronic medical condition. She has been to the hospital 27 times in 2014.

The child’s health is improving. The financial health of the family is not.

Can I help?

If I could magically ask every single person in the United States for a penny and explain why I was doing so, I bet everyone would give me one (I would just steal them from little babies who didn’t understand my question because I’m bigger and stronger).

I bet some people would give much more than a simple penny.

If everyone in the United States (about 323 million people) gave me one penny to help people buy gifts for needy children, I would have $3.2 million, which buys a lot of books and toys.

I like to think about things like that, because sometimes people think they can’t help because they only have $5 or $10 to give.

That’s enough.

I want to give more than I take in all things. Because I think if every person does that, then everyone will always have enough and feel good and life will be magical.

Not everyone will give more than they take.

Not everyone CAN give more than they take.

But maybe I can.

Maybe you can.

I watched my son sleeping last night. His little face looking so handsome and innocent. A face free from the worries and stresses life sometimes throws our way.

My heart breaks almost every time he cries. This child who has all of his needs met and MOST of his wants.

I don’t have to look into the faces of children who do not have their needs met.

But I know they’re real.

And I can’t make them all smile. I can’t make their lives easy and beautiful.

But I can help a child or two smile on one very special morning.

I can help a parent or two avoid the misery of feeling like they failed their children when they spend every day giving all they have to give.

Joy. Because of unexpected treasures to unwrap.

Gratitude. Because we always appreciate blessings more when we don’t expect them.

Magic. Because that’s precisely what we manufacture when our hearts are on fire.

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The Godsmack

I said I wasn't grateful. And then I had a wake-up call.

I said I wasn’t grateful. And then I had a wake-up call.

He gets this look on his face sometimes. My son who is nearly six.

It looks almost like panic.

I have a super-low tolerance for whining. But this wasn’t whining this morning. This was legitimate sadness.

Because he didn’t want to invite a mean kid at school to his upcoming birthday party.

“I’m sorry, man. The rules are that we have to invite everybody in your class.”

He’ll come to my party just to be mean to me.”

“Oh, buddy. I bet he won’t. I bet he won’t come at all. Is anyone else at school mean to you?”

“No. He’s the only one.”

“Is he mean to other kids?”

“No. I’m the only one he’s mean to.”

“What does he do when he’s mean to you?”

“He calls me mean names.”

As we brushed his teeth and combed his hair for school, he explained to me that this boy in school is going to go to the same college as him some day just so he can continue to be mean and call him names.

They say you learn everything you need to know in kindergarten. How silly.

Kindergarten doesn’t teach you that you’re not alone. Other people feel just like you.

Kindergarten doesn’t teach you that life is hard. That tends to happen later.

Kindergarten doesn’t teach you that life isn’t fair and the sense of entitlement we all feel is a byproduct of being particularly lucky right up until we’re not anymore.

That first really hard smack from life tends to leave a mark.

It breaks my heart to see my son sad. He’s way too young to feel sad.

And all I want to do is save him. All I want to do is hug it all away. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. But you try anyway. Because that’s what parents do. We try to fix the unfixable with magic.

Don’t cry. Everything’s going to be okay.

I whined yesterday even though I have a low-tolerance for whining. I’m a hypocrite sometimes because I’m a person.

While writing about how sad I was about only seeing my son half the time because of my ex-wife and I’s shared-parenting agreement, I mentioned that I should probably be grateful I get to see him more often than most divorced fathers typically see their kids.

I believe we should always feel grateful.

But I told you yesterday that I don’t feel grateful. I told you that I feel cheated. Because this life is not what I wanted.

Because the Universe is supposed to acquiesce to my every beck and call. But the Universe never got that memo. Or maybe the Universe thinks I’m an asshole. Or maybe both.

Wake-Up Call

A beautiful nine-year-old girl named Abby Grace Ferguson is not likely to ever get her driver’s license. Or attend prom. Or graduate high school.

Abby is probably going to die a teenager.

Abby’s mom and dad watched their daughter achieve every typical developmental milestone until she was about my son’s age. A kindergartener.

That’s when Abby began to exhibit a learning disability and a developmental slowdown. After a few years of medical testing, the doctors told Abby’s parents that their daughter has a disease with no cure.

Hopeless?

Terminal, the doctors said.

Always?

100-percent of the time.

I try to put myself in that moment as a father. Breathe. In. Then out.

“She was diagnosed with Sanfilippo Syndrome, a rare disease that we passed on to her. How could that be? How could our precious daughter be born healthy and at age 8, we find out she is not healthy at all?” Wendy Ferguson wrote about her daughter.

“Her disease causes progressive brain damage. She will lose her ability to walk, talk and feed herself. She will more than likely lose her hearing and have seizures. Most children diagnosed with Sanfilippo Syndrome do not live past their teenage years. Aside from losing her, our biggest fear is watching her suffer. The thought of watching her lose abilities that she once had, slowly fading away, just makes my heart ache even more.”

And I wrote that I didn’t feel grateful.

Because my biggest problem in life is that I only get to see my son half the time mostly due to the fact that I was a shitty husband who didn’t appreciate how good I had it enough to cherish it when I could have.

I wrote that I didn’t feel grateful.

Because my—near as anyone can tell—perfectly healthy child is sad because of one mean kid at school who might plot to ruin his birthday party and intentionally attend the same college as him in 12 years just to be a dick.

I wrote that I didn’t feel grateful.

And I meant it. I wrote that I felt cheated. And I meant it. Because the world delivered me a shitty hand and now I’m sad when I never really knew sadness, and afraid when I never really knew fear.

After Abby’s diagnosis, we live by the cliché, “enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

It Tastes Like Perspective

Your pains are yours.

The reason divorce is so hard for me is because life had mostly been easy for my first 30 years.

I don’t think people should feel guilty for the pain they feel. For the sadness, or the fear. We only get one set of eyes with which to view the world. We feel what we feel.

Let the truth be the truth.

The reason my little son is worried about this kid at school is because something must have happened recently. He has, literally, never mentioned this kid throughout the entire school year. Not until today. An unkind exchange on the playground likely led him here.

It hurts to see your child upset or suffering. Physically hurts. Helpless. So you hug, because that’s your best move.

Everything’s going to be okay.

Fake magic with a placebo effect.

I think about Abby Ferguson’s parents and it takes my breath away.

In. Then out.

Because I’m so afraid of things in my life now—things that maybe I shouldn’t be afraid of since I see all these other people living so bravely.

Every day, the Fergusons have to say goodbye to their little girl.

Because tomorrow, Abby won’t be like she is today.

“We found strength we never knew we had.”

The Fergusons are literally living like there is no tomorrow. Where clearly drawn lines separate what’s really important from what isn’t.

“Now, I just want to enjoy a smile, a hug, or a laugh from my daughter. I want to sit with her and play. I want to help her brush her teeth, wash her hair, and help her put her shoes on. I can’t take enough pictures of her. We celebrate the smallest accomplishments as if she won an Olympic Medal. I am aware of what the future holds for her but try not to think about future milestones. It is too painful. I just want to live in the moment and enjoy her right now, the way she is.”

I wrote that I wasn’t grateful.

Thank you, God, for the well-timed smack.

I wrote that I wasn’t grateful.

Thank you, Ferguson family, for teaching people how to live courageously.

I wrote that I wasn’t grateful.

Thank you, Abby. You will teach so many lessons in your precious life. All of the things most adults haven’t figured out. About love. About gratitude. About what it means to be alive.

I wrote that I wasn’t grateful.

And I’m so sorry I did.

I’m going to go home tonight and hug my son. I’ll ask him how his day went. If the situation requires, we’ll have a fake-magic hug.

And maybe it will actually help. Mom and dad hugs do that sometimes.

I wrote that I wasn’t grateful.

So, I’ll squeeze him again.

And maybe it will actually help me. Hugs from a child do that sometimes.

Everything’s going to be okay.

Real magic.

Abby Ferguson has a lot to teach us about life.

Abby Ferguson has a lot to teach us about life.

Author’s Note:

A special thanks to Wendy Ferguson for allowing me to share her family’s story. You can follow Wendy’s blog here. Also thanks to her close childhood friend Gretchen at “Drifting Through My Open Mind” for sharing the Fergusons’ story with me.

*Please visit Abby’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CureSanfilippo to learn more about her progress and fight for a CURE.

*To learn more about Sanfilippo Syndrome, please visit www.mpssociety.org or www.teamsanfilippo.org

*There is HOPE for a CURE for Abby and other children like her. Gene Therapy has shown promising results but has not gone to clinical trial yet. We are raising awareness along with other parents of affected children to help start the trials at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio. If you are interested in donating towards a CURE for Abby, please visit her Go Fund Me page at www.gofundme.com/abbygracecure. All donations are tax deductible and 100% go toward research and finding a CURE for Abby.

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