Monday, December 29, 2014

A Ceremony of Gratitude

Since fall, 3 women who were pivotal in my life passed away. Two were in their mid 80s and my mother was 96. Vastly different women, but all gave me gifts that made me who I am today.
Alice passed away first. She was a mother of 5. Loved each child like a rock. Always had a pot of something good on the stove and made room for any extra folks that tagged along come dinner time. When I was in her presence, I felt loved as a part of her family. She was fun and playful, always had a sparkle in her eyes. She and her husband were a team and very much in love. I wanted to have a big heart like her. I wanted my children to know that I loved them like a rock. It was during a 4th of July party at her house that my former husband blew up at me an outed himself as an abuser. It was she who stood up to my spouse and protected me.
My mother passed away a few weeks after Alice did. She’d had a difficult early life and wasn’t a touchy-feely kind of mother. In spite of her pain, she focused on the good things in her life and was always quick to tell one of her funny life stories. I also learned from the sayings she was always quoting: You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. What ever you do— give it 100%. If someone doesn’t like you—kill them with kindness, you’ll either win them over or drive them crazy. She was the one who told me it is never okay for a man to hit a women—never. (That became my touchstone to what I’d put up with when it came to abuse. Now I know that abuse is much more than hitting.) She taught me to be kind to others. When I needed her most, she was there.
Helen was my sister-in-law’s step-mom. When my former husband took me away from my family, we moved to the area where Helen and her husband lived. She was stylish, feminine and strong. She managed a department of a store. Having been raised feeling I was mousy and unattractive and having a spouse who saw me as a millstone around his neck, my self image was in the dumpster. But Helen made me feel intelligent, beautiful and feminine. She saw things in me that no one else had ever recognized. Characteristics that I hoped I’d developed. She made me feel worthy.
Distance and timing of notification prevented me from attending the funerals of my dear friends. My mother, who had outlived her peers, had insisted that she didn’t want anything more than a graveside service. Thinking about these three women I needed more than a phone call or lowering of the casket into the ground. I needed a recognition ceremony, one that acknowledged their cherished place in my life. 
I gathered three candles together and set them on my prayer/meditation table. As I lit one for each of these unique women, I thanked God for them, for the lessons they’d taught me and especially for their love and encouragement at my most difficult times. I looked at pictures, remembering their gestures, smiles, laughs. Gratitude filled me. It was a holy moment.
It wasn’t much of a ceremony but it was enough to ease my heartache, acknowledge them and say goodbye. We often think ceremonies have to be overseen by a faith leader. They don’t. We can create our own.
Here on the cusp of a new year, I'm thinking a ceremony that celebrates the joys from 2014 and releases the sorrows. Maybe you'd like to join me in spending a quiet moment reflecting on all the blessings received this past year. Then spend time unpacking the painful stuff so we don't carry it into 2015.
I count you all among my cherished blessings. Wishing you a joy-filled 2015.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In the Children's Best Interest

We all know that divorce doesn’t end the struggle with controlling spouses. (I hear your collective, “No, duh.”) The power struggle and control continues after divorce and the pawns most often used to needle one another are the children. In many cases an ex is trying to control his former partner through the children. It’s the most tender area an abuser can attack a mom. Many victims stay with the abuser so that he doesn’t have the children alone, she’s there to protect them. While I understand this (did it myself,) I would not recommend staying with a violent partner.
Children are wounded when they live with abuse. I know that it feels like the court system’s understanding of family violence is moving ahead at the speed of a snail. Laws need to be honed or established in many states to protect kids. My hope is that we will come to a time when courts listen to qualified people who assess every situation and recommend what is in the best interest of the child when it comes to custody and visitation.  
Many Mom’s have mentioned that they feel the continuous custody issues are a game their ex is playing with them. As a controlling person, he’s trying to rack up wins for himself and losses for her.  Power struggles like this are at the expense of the children’s well being. I suggest mom’s change the way they view the situation to prevent them from getting sucked into his game. 
If you’re dealing with this problem, consider thinking differently. The next time you get a request/demand for adapting or adjusting your child's time or activities, instead of feeling it’s another opportunity for your ex to “score one” against you, ask yourself: Is this opportunity in the best interest of my son/daughter? Let your answer to this question be your bottom line. The controlling person can think what they want. You have no control over that. What’s different is that you know in your heart you are making the right decision for you child. (However, if the request is to take your child out of the country and your gut says that he may not return, trust your instincts and block the request.)
Be gracious where you can. If your ex has signed your child up to play a sport, musical instrument or other activity that may infringe on some of your time with you child or be inconvenient for you, cooperate for your child’s sake. Take your child to practice. Go to the games or events and cheer the loudest. Varied activities are important for a well rounded education. Anything that feeds you child’s spirit is a win for him or her.
Your ex may never reciprocate and agree to your requests for adjustments to visitation, but you will have done the right thing. Your child will notice. I’m not suggesting that you give on every issue. Work through the courts where needed, ease up where you can. Kids should not have to deal with adult problems. Let them be kids. It takes a lot of pressure off them to know that you are handling and protecting their wellbeing. 
If you are making decisions and judgements on behalf of you children’s best interest, you will no longer see requests as a power struggle between you and your ex. Your focus is where it belongs, on your children. You are refusing to play your ex’s game. It will take the emotional charge out of it for you, and the winners are your kids.
There is another power struggle to avoid. During this season it's worth mentioning. Often the ex is in a financial position to give more “stuff” to the children. Remember, kids don’t care about stuff. Granted, in their teen years having the same stuff their friends have does seems important to them. However, kids won’t remember who gave them what -- they will remember how you made them feel. Give your kids your time, attention and love. That is the most valuable gift you have to offer. The only one that matters.

I wish you peace and joy this holiday season. May the coming year be filled with happy surprises.