Sunday, April 29, 2012

Life Partner

This morning I was out on a 12 mile run.  It was actually a beautiful day to run.  It was chilly, but the sun was out and the wind was calm.  For those of you who read my other blog (Running With My Son) you'll remember that last year at this time, Christian and I were gearing up for the first ever Kalamazoo Marathon.  At about mile 10 this morning, I reflected on how much easier it was training last year, when I had a partner to run with me. I actually enjoy running alone most of the time; I like to think I solve all the worlds' problems on my runs.  Running alone gives me time to think, unwind, reflect and pray, but at some point I need some help.  I don't mean physically, but mentally, to finish the race.

I think that marriage and family is a lot like this too.  I mean, God didn't make it possible for a child to be born without the donation of components from both a mother and a father.  Now, for those of you who are or have been single parents, don't get in an uproar, because I am not condemning you.  I was a single parent for many years, and so was Roger.  Just like running alone, there were many aspects of being a single parent that I enjoyed.  As a single parent, you make all the decisions, no one tells you that you can't eat popcorn for dinner, if you want to splurge on your child you can, and so on.  Looking back, there was a lot of exhaustion with it as well, and I would go so far as to say both physical and mental exhaustion.  It would have been so nice to have someone share the day to day chores with or to have someone take a turn tucking in, so I could just finish this one thing.  It would be nice to have someone else to be around, so maybe I could just have some girlfriend time or even just a couple of hours rest. 

Then my partner came along.  At first it wasn't much different, because I had to learn to lean on my partner.  In the beginning, I still did things alone and had to learn how to step in stride with this guy.  I'm glad I figured it out, because now when I am tired or need to mentally take a break, he's there to take over or at least help me along to the other side. 

When we are in a marriage, it is so easy to get caught up in the day to day stuff.  The little things, the minutia, to a point that we forget the big picture.  When things get rough, we think why did we sign up for this and we forget that this person is our partner.  We're in this together.  Think back to the beginning. Remember all the things you and your spouse used to do together.  Maybe you have new things you enjoy now.  Choose one of those memories and enjoy it again with them this week or next.  Maybe its going for a bike ride, or a walk after dinner.  Maybe its a trip to the movies or getting milkshakes. Whatever it is, rekindle the memory and enjoy it again. 

Remember, your partner is there to help you through, and you them.  Just like in running, they are there to help you finish the race.  Sure, you can do it alone, but if you have someone by your side, it makes the ride a whole lot more fun.

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's a Matter of Opinion: A Q&A session

A while back I offered to provide my feedback and thoughts on any questions you might have.  That offer still remains.  Always feel free to post questions in the comment section or email me questions you would like thoughts on:

One question I received was:  

Q:  Do you think a child should be required to visit the non-custodial parent if they don't want to?

Here are my thoughts on this:

First, I think the requirement to visit depends on the child's age, however, I feel that it is important for the child to have a continued relationship with the non-custodial parent (a.k.a "other parent"), regardless of age.  If the child is young, then I definitely feel they need to spend that time with the non-custodial parent, even if they don't want to.  It is important for that child to know their other parent, and continue to build that relationship.  As the child becomes older, and I am speaking older teenager, in later high school years, I think that decision should fall more on the child's preference.  However, if for some reason the child doesn't want to visit any longer, I think it is important to find out why.  It might be something as simple as wanting to spend time with friends (which is perfectly normal at that age) in which case, you or the child need to communicate that with the other parent and perhaps make other arrangements for them to get together.

In our family, our children have always been encouraged to spend the time with their other parent.  When Christian was little, he would often call me during his weekends at his dads, or ask me to come get him. I always made sure that when we departed, it was a positive good-bye, saying things like:  "Have Fun!"  "Enjoy your time with your Dad!", and so forth.  If I was excited for him, he would know it was OK and be excited too.  Kids can feel when you are upset or apprehensive.  The situation is hard enough for them, don't make it worse by telling them how much you will miss them and how lonely you will be without them. 

Roger has always been a great advocate of Alex and Adam spending time with their mom.  He has always encouraged overnight visits on her days off, weekends, and her vacations.  He wants to make sure that they know it is OK to see her at any opportunity that they would like. 

As our children have gotten older, we have allowed them to take these decisions into their own hands.  We do however, make them stick to their word.  If they have told the other parent they are coming over, then they need to do what they've said - no being wishy-washy.  On the other hand, when they turn 18, these will be decisions they need to know how to make themselves.  Under our guidance now, if they wish to make plans other than their regular visit time with the other parent, we make sure they have communicated this with the other parent, and make sure everyone is OK and on the same page with the decision.  We want to equip them with the skills, and make sure all parties are in agreement at the same time.

With this being said, if your child doesn't want to go to see the other parent and you suspect abuse, whether, physical or mental, that is an entirely different story altogether.  If this is the case, then I urge you to talk with the other parent, talk with an attorney, or friend of the court advocate, or contact the authorities.  No child should be forced into an abusive situation.

I hope this gives you a helpful point of view.  Let me know what other questions you would like addressed!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Jumping to Conclusions

A colleague told me a story this week about a recent trip to the doctor's office.  She mentioned how when she checked in, the receptionist was quite cold and unpleasant.  My colleague even commented to her that "somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed."  As she sat down and waited to be called in for her appointment, she overheard another office worker ask the receptionist how she was doing.  "I'm managing," the receptionist answered.  Come to find out, the receptionist had just returned after some time off due to the sudden illness and death of her husband.  That day was her first day back to work.  She hadn't just woken up on the wrong side of the bed - the whole bed was wrong.

It made me think about how often I tend to jump to wrong conclusion when an interaction doesn't go quite as expected.  I don't often think about the circumstances that surround that other person, and what could be influencing their mood or actions at that moment.  I think this is particularly true when it comes to my children.  I have to admit that there are times that their attitudes are less than stellar.  They get grumpy, give one word answers, and sometimes are less than pleasant to be around.  I try as hard as possible to keep my cool, but I often jump to a conclusion that they are just being stubborn for no good reason at all.  Sure some of it is probably teenage obstinacy, and other times its just natural grumpiness, but there are times too that I think they are just dealing with step family junk.

Roger reminds me that we have no idea what it is like to be a child of divorced parents.  He's right, of course, both of us came from two parent, traditional family homes.  We don't know what it is like to have to go see the other parent, or not have that other parent around on a daily basis.  In our family, I have to wonder if some of the attitudes might arise when there is frustration with the child's other parent.  Possibly a favor was asked and the other parent said no, or maybe that household is just a more stressful place to be.  Perhaps a call or text was placed and nothing came back to the child in return.  Maybe the other parent made a derogatory comment about us and the child was offended.  Or, chances are, they might just miss the other parent.  I think it is hard for kids to verbalize some of these feelings and it just becomes easier to be grumpy with the people you know you can trust.  They know we can take it and that we aren't going to let them down. 

It seems important to look at someone else's point of view before we jump to conclusions.  I think my colleague's experience was a good realization that we don't always know the full spectrum of what is going on with someone.  I need to remember this when I get frustrated with the occasional attitudes that float around our house.  Things might not always be what they appear and it is quite possible that my children are dealing with issues that I have never experienced.  I suppose it is true, that until we have walked a mile in someone else's shoes, we just don't know how our feet will feel at the end of the journey.