Friday, May 31, 2013

You Just Never Know

Earlier this week I found out that a colleague's husband died.  She's not someone that I interact with on a regular basis. She works in an office over a thousand miles away, and we have only met in person once.  We interact via email and conference calls on occasion.  She is very knowledgeable and there are a lot of things I respect about this colleague.  She has a lot of information in her head and she is always willing to share it.  She is pretty light hearted and seems to let things roll off her back.  I appreciate her point of view on many things and she is a good go-to person.  I have to admit however, that sometimes she rubs me the wrong way, maybe even irritates me.  In fact, when I finally met this colleague in person last Fall, I decided she wouldn't be someone I would want to spend a lot of time with.  I guess if I were to really dissect the reasons why, the things that irk me about her, are probably things that are most like me (irony at its best).

When I found out that this colleague's husband had died, I felt an immediate pain for her.  Her husband wasn't that old...early 50's, and died from cancer.  I read the obituary and looked at all the pictures posted on the funeral home's website. She and her husband had obviously been together for a long time.  They have two children ages 15 and 17 and my heart just broke for their family.  I can't imagine losing Roger or having my children experience the death of one of their parents and as I thought about how she must be feeling, combined with my easily irked attitude towards her, it made me realize that you just don't know that is going on in a person's life.  I mean, the cancer didn't happen overnight, and was, most likely, a black cloud over their family for some time.

In society, we try to give off our best, and let people think that our lives are always 100% perfect.  As an example, look at Facebook.  How often do you seen a picture of someone crying on Facebook?  Everyone is happy - all the time.  I think I lead a pretty happy and positive life, but I have to admit that I have days I am grumpy and I cry.  I don't post those on Facebook, however, because I don't want anyone to really know.

One time when I was going through my divorce, I actually yelled at a manager in our office.  OK, maybe I didn't yell, but I definitely wasn't nice.  At that time, the floor I worked on had employees from my company, along with employees from the parent company.  The manager for the parent company came to ask me some simple questions.  I don't even remember what prompted it, but I didn't have the best attitude and questioned why, as a manager, he didn't know this himself.  I wasn't nice about it.  He immediately gathered me to my boss's office.  I broke down.  Full of tears and regret, I apologized and then b-lined it for the ladies' room, where I proceeded to take a lengthy hiatus until I could gather myself.  I wasn't a bad person, or a bad employee, I was just having a bad day.  I had been up all night arguing with my ex and worrying about my life.  That manager didn't know what I was going through, he just assumed I was being a bad employee  My boss explained my situation to him, and although that didn't excuse my behavior, at least he understood.

We often make hasty decisions and judgements about people.  Someone speaks to us in a way we don't approve, we assume they aren't a nice person.  The cashier at Wal Mart has a bad attitude - we say that she should be thankful she has a job.  If the receptionist at the office doesn't smile, we assume she must just hate her job.  What if in reality, the person who speaks to us rudely was just left by their spouse.  Maybe the cashier at Wal Mart has a bad attitude because her child was diagnosed with an illness that she doesn't have the money or insurance to pay for the treatments.  And the receptionist....maybe she has an illness that affects her everyday, and she doesn't smile because its a constant reminder that her days are numbered.  You just never know.

My heart really goes out to my colleague.  Her life just got turned upside down as she is entering a new, unwanted reality. I wish her and her family only the best.  My realization has encouraged me to work on always thinking the best about people I encounter and maybe even try to brighten an otherwise cloudy day.  Will you join me?  The fact is, you just never know when you might be the one having the bad day.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Stop....Look...and...Listen

When my neighbor sits on her back deck at night in the Spring and Summer, and we have our bedroom windows open (which face her deck) I am able to hear every word of her conversations, as though she was sitting right beside me.  It must have something to do with the way the sound waves travel at night.  She's not intentionally being loud or disruptive, in fact, I am 100% sure that she has no idea that we can hear anything, and certainly not everything.

I don't really want to hear everything; it just happens.  I'm trying to sleep and she's not.  Last night in particular, was a night I didn't care to hear all the things she was saying. Her conversation turned to include some incredibly colorful language.  Not only was it uncomfortable to hear all the profanities, but I soon figured out who she was talking about....her daughter....and my heart sank.

My neighbor recently went through a divorce, and I do not know all the details, but based on what I know about the couple, I am guessing it wasn't an amicable parting.  In last night's conversation, my neighbor was so upset about how her daughter was acting and she didn't know what to do.  It sounded as though the daughter was being disrespectful, irresponsible, and rebelling by not going to school.   My neighbor was beside herself.

Here's the story I heard:  The daughter has been extremely disrespectful to the mom. She has been using profanity, and not doing what she was told or going to school all the time.  The mom has responded to the daughter using the same language.  I heard the mom express frustration with not knowing what to do, and fear that if she puts her foot down, the daughter will want to leave to go live with her dad.

My take:  The daughter is mad and hurt that her parents have gone through this divorce.  Although the parents may be through with their grieving, the daughter (and other children) most likely are not and it still stings as though it happened yesterday.  If the profanity usage is new, she's using it as a way to get her mom's attention.  The mom is scared. As frustrated as she was with her daughter and as much as she seemed to vocalize her anger with her daughter, deep down she is expressing fear. She is worried that her daughter would leave, worried for her daughter's well being and worried that as the mom, she has screwed everything up.

My suggestions: Stop. Look. Listen.

Stop the yelling and the profanities. If your child is yelling at you, you need to stop the cycle by remaining calm, talking to them in a calm voice and absolutely NOT using profanities towards them. If you don't like to hear it from them, why would they like to hear it from you? In addition, you are just reinforcing that it is OK, and it's not. A child needs to speak to their parents with respect, but if we as parents cannot demonstrate this to our children, how can we expect them to reciprocate?

Look at the situation from your child's point of view. They have had absolutely no control over what has been going on in their lives since you announced your upcoming divorce from their other parent. They feel hopeless, forgotten, unloved and guilty. They are wondering what could they have done differently to prevent this, and was this their fault. By rebelling, they are trying to take back control of their lives. It feels like that is all they have right now. As hard as it may be, now is a good time for you to talk with the other parent and be a united front for your child. If going to school is the issue, then both mom and dad need to reinforce that school and good grades are enforced and expected regardless of the child's residence.

Most importantly...Listen. Listen, Listen, Listen. Your child needs to be heard. There have been so many changes going on in their lives and I would bet they feel forgotten and unheard. They start to talk but you interrupt them and interject with what you want to say, and so they remain unheard. Let them talk and express themselves. Let them tell you how they are feeling. Maybe there are new significant others in the parents' lives and this is hard for the child to see and understand. If you don't let them speak and verbalize what is truly bothering them, you won't know how to resolve the issues and help them through it. By allowing them to speak, you will open their ears to hear what you have to say too. Some of that might be expressing to them your fears about them going to live with the other parent, or what happens if they don't finish school. It is OK to be vulnerable to your kids. It shows them that you care, that this wasn't easy for you, and that you are human too.

I've learned many of these things the hard way. I have often had to stop what I am doing and step back to look at the situation from my child or step-child's point of view. I have been frustrated because the other parent was late picking up for their weekend. I've been mad because the kids got dropped off a day early which completely changed our plans. What I needed to do was step back and think about how that made our children feel...forgotten, sad, unwanted?

Listening is one of the biggest challenges I have. That's right...still have. I have to consciously remind myself to zip it and let the kids (or Roger) speak. I really do want to hear what they have to say, just sometimes, I am so excited to share my wisdom, I forget to listen first. I know there have been many times that I have told them all it is OK to tell me to shush (in a nice way) that they are not finished speaking, and I will stop and listen.

I haven't done everything right as a parent or step-parent (read all previous posts as proof), but I do try to learn from my mistakes. I try to do better the next time and I definitely try to right the wrongs. None of us are perfect, but if we take a moment to remember that the child didn't ask for this and they are just really hurting....maybe it will put everything in perspective.

What has worked for you? Leave a comment and share your wisdom.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Slightly Devastated with a Little Grieving

Christian recently broke up with his girlfriend. They had been dating for about a year and really made a very cute couple. It wasn't that he didn't care for her anymore, or didn't still feel the same way, it just wasn't the right time. I have to admit that I am a bit devastated. She was a really nice girl and I thought they made a good pair. I know, they're young, and if it is meant to work out it will, right? That is the typical grown up response we all live by.

I think my devastation runs deeper than just because I really liked this girl. I think it is because it brought up a lot of feelings I forgot about. Like a typical son, Christian didn't come talk to me ahead of time or ask me my opinion. That's fine, it's his life, not mine. So, when he finally told me, it was out of the blue. I didn't know it was coming. I was quite shocked. I mean two months ago he was telling me how much he likes this girl and now.....

It felt a lot like when his father told me he wanted a divorce. It came out of no where and I was in shock. I mean sure we were having problems, but I didn't think they were that bad or to that degree. So, when Christian told me about his decision, I immediately put myself in the shoes of his friend. I could see how her whole life just changed in an instant. Her whole summer had been planned out spending time together, and now...nothing. Her life had been turned upside down and she was caught by surprise and not sure what to do. That is how I felt the day I knew my marriage was over. What I once thought was certainty, was now completely unknown. How would I go on? What would people think? Will I survive?

I don't want to make Christian out to be the bad guy here, because he really is a wonderful, young man. I have just mostly been on the receiving end of the break-up rather than the delivering side, and so I can relate better to his friend. In the big scheme of things, divorce is much more severe than two young love birds parting ways, but it doesn't make it hurt any less. In any case, there is still a grieving process to go through. It is OK to feel bad, and as hard as it is you should work through your feelings. If you are going through a divorce or separation, there are a lot of great resources out there to help you through your grieving process. I found a great site: www.helpguide.org that is a non-profit site that helps you and helps you help others. If you have a friend going through a divorce find a way to help them. They may not ask, so you may need to just do it. Some of the best help I had was not when I asked for it.

I'm feeling better since the break up. I think I'll make it through OK. I'm told time heals all wounds. I also know that I can't take these things so personally. My divorce is over and has been for many years, and just because there are similarities, doesn't make it the same. Christian is a fine young man and if he and his friend work it out great, and if not, then I know God has something even better for the both of them. My marriage to Christian's dad didn't work out and it is OK. God had it all planned out and already had something better lined up for me.