Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

I’ve shared in earlier posts about Nan deciding to take a trip to the beach instead of being here for Cindy’s graduation.  The kids were at Nan’s this weekend for the normal visitation.  Based on past history, this being the week before Mother’s Day I assumed I’d be getting some communication from Nan or perhaps from Cindy or Greg about this Sunday given that this year Mother’s Day weekend falls on our visitation.  I was speaking with my wife about this a couple times over the weekend and the time came and went without a peep on the topic.  The kids came home Tuesday night as always and with busyness and all everyone was in bed before the thought “It’s odd that nothing has been mentioned about Mother’s Day” crossed my mind.  Last night talking with Cindy she asked if she could have friends come over after prom this Saturday and spend the night.  That was fine and it led naturally into the question of if they were heading over to Nan’s for Mother’s Day.  Cindy informed me Nan said she did not want them to come over.  Bam.

We moved on from that statement and just continued the conversation, but inside me their was a sadness along with a rage of the callousness of Nan.  This is not a new feeling for me, and sadly whatever feelings Cindy, Greg and Marcia have are also not knew, but it never ceases to amaze me how Nan can find ways to one up herself in the emptiness inside.  For you to fully appreciate the agony that must be occurring for Cindy, I need to fill you in on a development related to the graduation fiasco.

The weekend before this Cindy has come home and through general conversation she raised the point of the mess that Nan is creating with grandma, for clarity Nan’s mom.  I asked what that meant and out poured the most sadly amazing story I have heard.   It seems that that weekend while Nan and Cindy had gone shopping with her grandmother she continued to have mobility issues that have been part of her life for a while and had difficulty making it from the handicapped space into the store, due to her COPD breathing issues.  Nan then decided that her mom was in no way capable of attending Cindy’s graduation but she decided that her mom is so depressed about all she can no longer do that she needed to come up with some other way to get her to not go.  So she concocted a yarn that was that we have now decided to take all the kids to visit my parents down in Florida and the Cindy will not be attending her graduation.  Cindy then proceeded to explain how a couple occasions had come up where she almost gave away the lie because at one point she almost walked downstairs in her cap and gown and another time almost made a mistake and said something that would have given up the lie.  It was evident in her telling me this whole story that it was stressful to her.  I was furious.  Because Nan already made the decision to not be present for Cindy’s graduation now she was making Cindy partake in a lie about it, not be able to share the event with her grandmother, and further stressing out a kid who is on medication for anxiety?!!

After explained the unfairness to place her in that spot and how sorry I was she had to deal with this, we arrived at the point that she would rather I speak with Nan about clearing this up.  After a long discussion with my wife, I decided to contact Nan.  I made a few mistakes in the heat of the moment with including my own personal indignation about being included as the basis for the lie and how I would not be a party to that, but in the end I cut everything out but the heart of the matter.  Cindy should not be made to carry around a lie for the remainder of her grandmother’s life about her graduation.  I also wanted to make sure this was not Cindy’s burden to resolve, because that would just be more stress, so I let Nan know that we would be sending the announcement for the open house we were having the day after the graduation to celebrate to her Mom but would wait a couple weeks.  Nan ended up calling me up and claiming that her mom was suicidal and to please not put Nan in the spot of having to tell her mom something else she could not do.  I asked for counsel from several people to make sure my clouded perspective with being furious with Nan was not making me make a poor decision on how to handle it, but everyone agreed this burden needs to be removed from Cindy and Nan needs to have an adult conversation with her mom.  After several days Nan decided to talk to her mom and it turned out to make no big deal according to what she said.  Cindy was at least free from the burden of Nan’s lie.

So when I add up the graduation skip, the stress of these several days of fabricating a lie about it and keeping her own mother from being allowed to make her own decision about her granddaughter’s graduation, now we throw in the latest slap; don’t come over on Mother’s Day because we’re too busy packing for our trip that we are leaving for in a few days.  Does my ex just have a hole in her chest where her heart should be?  What can I do as a parent on the other side of this train wreck to protect my children’s hearts?  As I have been operating for some time the answers are yes, and I wish I knew.  I am sure I am not alone in feeling that I am always amazed that my ex can somehow find a way to do something more appalling than ever before.  I’m sure she feels that way about me on things, though I am not sure what (and I’m sure she’s amazed I find her behavior so poor).  In the end I keep reminding myself that my focus needs to be on supporting the kids and I offer someone to listen, to offer advice when wanted and in general just to help them as they want.  My concern, however, is that are they becoming unable to understand what is normal?  In much the same way that we worry about Bert’s effect on Jan, Bobbi and Peter’s ability to process certain things normally, I worry about what having a mom who “loves” in such a strange and bizarre way does to their expectations, how they will develop as people and parents themselves.  Will their romantic relationships be dysfunctional?  How will they view their own kids?  As disposable and easily ignored as Nan views them, or will this drive them to do better, or go too far the other way and be smothering and too attached to compensate for what they felt they were deprived of?  I already have discussions with Cindy where she says all these things are OK.  I suggest they are not OK and that I am sorry, but still try to respect the boundary of not bad-mouthing Nan, but the longer this goes on the more difficult that becomes.  When they were younger I always felt that when they got older they would find their own voice, and perhaps they still will, but I get more and more concerned that they are stunted forever in these spaces and did I miss opportunities to have changed that?  I have no idea where, but that does not make the voices in my head any less vocal.

I’m also not the most empathetic person in the world, so I tend to press too hard into the realm of “suck it up buttercup”.  My wife calls me on it from time to time, and I and so grateful for that, because it certainly helps to avoid further unintended damage from my directness.  This topic is an area that haunts me.  Just as I could not love enough and want to stay together hard enough for both of us with their mom, I can also not do anything to replace the emptiness that must come from knowing that your mom only kind of loves you or however they perceive it.  A child should never have to feel that their parent views them as nothing more than another person.  I get that there are many parents like that, for which sacrificing for their children is not in their worldview, I just feel guilty that that is who I provided my children with on the other side.  I understand the pointlessness and the incorrectness in that viewpoint and I work hard to not get sucked into it too often, and it certainly happens less and less as the years go on, but when one of my kids is in the midst of another vortex of uncaring from Nan, it still surfaces.

We’ve both got exes that cause some form of this feeling of failure in us.  Bert is a terrible role model in many areas of his children’s lives and to some degree I believe my wife has those same feelings that I do about how her choice to have kids with that particular individual will cause them harm and pain for the rest of their lives.  It’s a burden I know not every divorced parent has, but it is certainly one that we have and on days like this it’s really, really heavy.  Writing this blog helps me air those thoughts out in the open and maybe get some comments to help me process, it’s cathartic.  As I try to be open I believe I keep these bad thoughts far enough away to not drag me into a depression of some sort, but does it make me somehow callous as well, as what I am worried my kids are experiencing?  Does having to figure out how to parent kids with a mom who is not a prototypical mom in any way effect me as much or more than it does them?  Is that healthy?  Is there anything I can do about it?  Lots of questions with no right answers.  They can all be seen from two sides of the same coin.  I do the best I can every day, and that’s all we can do as divorced parents.  One day at a time.

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Proverbs 14 is a wonderful text that most Christians are familiar with.  As a book written mainly by the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, any chapter is a great trove of what it means to be wise, but chapter 14 stands out as one of the simplest ways to determine your standing in this era of quick quizzes.  You can read through Proverbs 14 like a Cosmo quiz; am I this or am I that and then add up the score at the end of the 35 verses and see on a score of 0-35 how wise (or conversely how foolish) you are.

Today I wanted to focus on two specific verses, verse 14 and verse 29 as I find myself assessing how we are doing as parents all the time using these two measures that God has so wonderfully provided.  For those not familiar with them, let me reprint them here.

Verse 14 says “The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways, But a good man will be satisfied with his.” Verse 29 reads “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.”  I’m going to talk about each of these individually and how I feel they should impact our lives as parents.

One of the things anyone who knows me understands pretty quickly is that I love personal finance and helping others with it.  I’ve been contemplating ways to start financial coaching as a side hustle because I think my combination of financial simplicity joined with a humble Christian spirit of wanting to help can benefit a lot of people.  I’m not looking to write books or be on TV, just to help people and as a bonus maybe make a little extra money to help my family.  One of the first concepts that anyone needs to grasp as a motivation for not spending (which leads to saving, which is the goal) is compound interest.  You may have even heard the statement attributed to Albert Einstein (most likely falsely but done so nonetheless to add some weight to the importance of it) that goes something along the lines of compound interest being the most powerful force in the universe, the eighth wonder of the world.  That he who understands it, earns it and he who does not, pays it.

Again, if you are unfamiliar with the concept, compound interest is what happens when you let money just sit in some instrument that provides a return.  What happens is that you earn a little interest that first period, and then in the second period you earn interest on the whole balance including the interest you earned before and ad infinitum until some point in time.  If you make a sound investment in a stock of a great company such as GE (less great this week after its last announcements), a very small amount of money invested when the company started would be worth millions today.  And this is just over a little more than 100 years.  This is an example of the power of compounding and we can see it at work all over the place in the financial world.

I believe we can take this same principle and looking at Proverbs 14:14 as our base and, understanding that God’s promises are eternal, apply this same concept to the power of influence we have through our connections.  As with any of the statements in Proverbs 14, you can be on the wicked/foolish side or the wise/godly side.  As the Einstein quote explains, if you are a fool you pay the interest, so it can drain your savings just as quickly as it can add to it, if you make the wrong choices on where to let compound interest work in your life.  With our kids we also are making an investment by showing them how to live with what we say and do every day.  We can live for the world and it’s ephemeral, short-term “rewards” or we can live for God and His eternal purposes and rewards.  Verse 14 tells us we can be guided and satisfied by what we do in following God, or we can have our fill, reap the cost, of backsliding to the world’s way of thinking about anything.  Every “investment” we make in our children can have eternal consequences.  Every word we say, every action we model they take in and it impacts them from that day forward.  What we then have the ability to do is change what happens in the world to a greater and greater degree the more time that passes.  How our children develop and how they treat others including their children continues to ripple outward and grow and the number of connections and generations grows.  We can radiate good out into eternity by making the right investment today.  Imagine what the impact you have today will have on this world 10,000 years from now, 100,000 years from now.  It is just hard to wrap our heads around that but if we return to the financial analogy, the impact we see in just 25 or 100 years is impressive, but if we calculated that out for 10,000 years it would be mind-blowing.  This is what God offers all of us to understand in life, and as a parent I think about that a lot.  Our decisions echo in eternity.  This is why God fights for every soul to be saved, because he understands the impact the compound interest of our actions has.  What we do today does not only impact today, it effects and changes everything that happens into eternity.  Can you even begin to think about what that means?  Does the awesomeness of that weigh on you as much as it does me?  That, and nothing less, is what God has given us a chance to impact.  What will you do with that awesome power?  I try to make it impact my thinking as often as I can and it helps me understand the importance of standing for what is right, asking What Would Jesus Do, and driving in the positive direction as much as I can.  Will you let this sink in and reassess your thinking?  What verse 14 challenges us to do is realize we cannot always change our position, but we can always change our disposition.  And that is the lesson of compound interest when applied to parenting.

Moving on, let’s look at verse 29.  I’m sure we all have heard this many times but do we really get what it means? Let’s walk through a scenario we all face many times as parents.

I ask my kids to do things, such as clean up around the house.  After I asked the first time, in a few minutes I heard raised voices.  When I approached I found they were arguing about who had done the most, complaining to each other that one or the other was not pulling their weight.  I asked them kindly to stop and keep working.

After a few more minutes, I returned to find them bickering about who was going to do what.  Who would vacuum, who would pick up the socks.  I stepped in again, got them to be quiet and told them to finish the job.

Finally, the third time, I checked out the results after they said they were done.  What I saw was very lackluster and not the result I expected, and they explained they did not understand what a clean basement looks like.  At this point I lost it and yelled at them about how they never help around the house, how they make no effort, how they never listen, how they never show any respect and I stormed upstairs as they started flinging their feelings at me.

I stood there thinking two things. Why am I having this discussion?  I should just tell them what to do and if they don’t I should just bring the hammer down and remove all their privileges! but the second thought pierced me to my soul, deeper than any basement could ever be, I let my anger get the best of me and I am acting like a foolish child.

I do not remember exactly what I said when I calmed down and laid out my expectations clearly along with consequences of not being able to use the space later if it was not clean in the future to help the lesson sink in but most importantly in these time I need to understand If I am going to help these kids grow up emotionally and teach them to appropriately express their anger, than I need to grow up myself. 

God never says to not get angry but he does give us example like verse 29 and Ecclesiastes 7:9 “Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools” that are meant to clearly explain the consequences of improper anger.  We look and act like fools.  God never said we should not be angry, but he did warn us to not let anger turn into sin.  The easy way out is to think that losing our cool is human and natural and happens from time to time, but we are called to be better than that.  Let’s not take the easy way out, let’s help our kids learn how to behave like caring, rational adults and not like raving fools.

With a lot of kids, there is always a lot going on in our house.  It takes effort to not get angry, and we can say it is worse with more people, but those are just excuses.  God does not give us criteria for when it is OK to be a fool because we just can’t handle life.  His criteria, like him, are absolute.  Unrighteous anger is always a sin and as such we should avoid it.  Like any habit, this takes conscious effort.  It takes having a plan on how things will be addressed.  I have a plan, and even though that plan is when I feel my emotions getting the best of me to step away and regroup, I sometimes fail to execute the plan.  I need to then ask God and those I was inappropriately angry with for forgiveness.  However if we circle around to the earlier discussion, these actions have eternal compounding interest built into them.  Do I want people around me to learn that what we should be compounding is anger, or should we be compounding love?  Christ makes that answer very clear for us and we need to get better at laying the troubles we cannot handle, those that make us angry and irate like exes we cannot control, at His feet and try to emulate Christlikeness and show that we trust God.

So, can we be more like Solomon and less like ourselves?  I believe we can, but I know it will be hard.  Every sinner is on a road to improvement right up till they leave this world and then I am not sure if it continues in heaven or not.  I won’t be able to update this blog once I find out, but I do thank God for the fact that he gave us a Cosmo quiz right there in the Bible in Proverbs 14 to go down and assess ourselves and the ability to reach out to the Holy Spirit for strength and guidance to fix the warts we find.

So, we’ve got high school graduation coming up for Jan and Cindy.  It’s a rite of passage that most people are familiar with and really until the last few weeks have shown us differently, I figured was a pretty exciting and desired time for the graduate and their family.  That’s how it was looked at by my wife’s cousin’s husband.  He was diagnosed with terminal cancer several months back and just wanted to make it to his son’s graduation and share in the milestone and support his son before he was gone.  One last big thing and he looked toward that goal through all his treatments and all the feelings and life in between.  A week ago, he lost that battle and will not make it to see his son walk across the stage.  It’s a perspective I clearly understand and so I can empathize with what the family must be going through without dad or a husband there for that milestone.  I have no idea how his son felt about graduation, but I have heard nothing to make me think it did not align with my perspective of expectation, excitement and a little fear of what the next chapter in my life had in store for me.

Then we have Jan and Cindy.  Jan, last we got a chance to talk with her, could have cared less about graduation.  It was just another day in her book, and at this point under the influence of Bert, we’re not even sure she’ll show up.  We’re pretty sure she will actually graduate, just likely will choose not to attend the ceremony.  Cindy is not quite as cynical about it, but if not for my wife and I pushing our perspective, I am pretty sure she’d not be far from the shrug of the shoulders and the “Eh, what’s the big deal” that Jan has.  She’s having a party even though she really does not want one.  We’ve explained to her that it is a chance for family and friends to celebrate with her.  She gets it, but yet seems not to.  My wife and I look at this perspective and just shake our heads in confusion.  It’s a big deal to us, but not the same level of bigness to her.  It’s all about the perspective, I guess.

Finally, we have Nan.  In a long conversation with Cindy about everything that had gone poorly at Nan’s the last weekend they were there (a future post), she included the fact that Nan has forgotten about her graduation.  Yes, you read that right.  Cindy’s mom forgot she was graduating high school and scheduled a trip out of state instead.  That she can’t move.  Or it would cost her lots of money.  Cindy claimed it was no big deal, but we talked a lot about if that was really true or not.

So same event, three (or four) different perspectives.  My wife and I have the “normal” (don’t we all think our perspective is the right one?) perspective of it is a big deal, you should be proud and it should be celebrated.  My wife’s cousin’s husband had much the same perspective but with the added gravitas of knowing this would have been the last big event he got to see before he died so the bigness was probably even larger than our perspective.  The girls actually graduating could kind of not care less and Nan felt it was so important that she forgot about it.  One parent was hoping to live long enough to see it and will not, while another parent had the opportunity to see it and decided a trip to the beach was better.  It’s all about your perspective, I guess.

“just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” – 2 Peter 2:1b-3 (NASB)

We have recently been talking about this section of the Bible in our Sunday school class.  Our sermon this week was about Psalm 73, that most scholars describe as contrasting the end of the wicked and the righteous.  As we left church one of the pastors commented “You guys live this every day”, and he was right, though we are certainly not alone.  For those who question my Christian faith and how I can feel so strongly about it, it is times in my life like these where what is weighing on our hearts aligns with outside support that those without faith would simply label “coincidence”.  Our current season of life is one of those times, for not only did a sermon and a Sunday school lesson align, but so did the timing of a move “Paul: Apostle of Christ” happen to hit me with questions and lessons that fit the problem at hand.  You see, what the pastor was referring to and that we continue to wrestle with in our children’s lives, are the influence of our exes from a position of authority similar to what Peter was speaking of within the church.  Parents who secretly introduce destructive heresies into the lives of our children, who lead them down a path of wickedness with seemingly little conflict (Psalm 73) and inspire in them fascination with flawed gods gone by (similar to Maritius’s unrewarded belief in “Paul”) that goes beyond just being interested in mythology.

A brief comment by my wife after the comment from the pastor kindled in me the seed for this post, for in blended families we have the added challenge of being exposed to attacks from within, from the other parent.  For some people trying to blend, those attacks also can come in their new household with disagreements between each other as they try to meld different upbringings, food choices and lifestyles.  I have heard recollections from multiple people about how things that really are not normally a part of life for an intact family because everyone in the household grew up with the same rules, traditions and experiences, can become a litany of challenges for a blended family.  This is another one of that endless stream of things that are just difficult to grasp and fully appreciate unless you have lived it or walked very closely with those who do.  It is important to formulate how you will navigate those obstacles early and often within a new blended family and I feel we’ve done a great job in that area.  I also feel in other but the worst circumstances that these are not really attacks, because in a loving couple there is not poor intent.  That’s why I will focus exclusively on the other parent.  It helps hearing from outsiders from time to time about how well all our kids appear to get along, because as with anyone, the self-doubt constantly creeps in and outside affirmation helps, especially when it comes with godly counsel.

So while we have done well to work with our helpmate within our own four walls to craft a new family dynamic, let me return to the other possible source of attack from within a blended family, that of the other parents involved.  I have mentioned before of Bert’s total lack of God in his life as well as Nan’s at best luke warm, convenient and superficial belief.  Bert tends to replace God with other mythology which created a high fascination with Greek and Roman gods, in Jan in particular, and open the door to other things like witchcraft and other pagan idolatry.  It is hard enough to guard our children’s souls against this in normal circumstances but when a parent, who is in their lives with positional authority simply from being a parent, shares what can be seductive and intriguing information, it is exponentially more difficult to combat, most often to the point where we find ourselves having to turn it over to God and trust that He can hopefully establish enough of a foothold to turn them away from falsehood.

These attacks occur on many fronts and conspire to erode our ability to influence and at times leads us to situations where it seems, and likely often is, best to withdrawal and allow the children to make up their own minds, for shortly they will all be aged out of the mandatory presence in our sphere of influence and able to decide for themselves what is right or wrong, what is fact and what is fiction.  I have this argument often with my parents where they get upset that I am not “making” Marcia, or Greg or another do the “right” thing.  I calmly (OK, many times not so calmly) repeat what it feels like I have covered dozens of times, that making someone do something is not a sustainable goal as someone who is coerced or bullied into a behavior will simply drop that behavior the moment they are free from the means of coercion or pain, a point all our children are fast approaching.  It is this ongoing onslaught of the world coupled with the exes that has led us to lay the problems at God’s feet and pray while still trying to ascertain when to get involved.

It is on this front that we find ourselves with Peter and Bobbi and that my wife has been wrestling with for months.  Peter fought so hard to embrace the false teaching of Bert that his diabetes is not really that big of a deal and therefore he could play with it and manipulate it to get what he wants in life that he endangered his health and his life by overdosing on insulin to make himself ill perhaps because he did not want to attend school and certainly because he wanted to spend more time with Bert after visitation was curtailed due to Bert’s lack of responsibility in Peter’s care.  Basic parenting skills are missing, such as actually knowing what kids are doing within his house or if they are taking medications needed, so that Peter created a poor outcome.  Further false teaching about how things were not important, doctors are all dumb and therefore their input can be ignored at will and other such drivel also contribute to Peter’s belief that our household stance of following your medication regimen and believing doctors in major medical systems is important to good health, especially with a chronic medical issue.  Fighting this never-ending battle has caused my lovely wife to have to vacillate between fighting against the noise or just letting it go and trusting God.

A similar path has been embarked on by Bobbi, where my wife finds herself as being the only adult that Bobbi might want to listen to (she has zero desire to listen to me over Bert) that is advocating for Bobbi to finally get her drivers license.  The paradigm my wife and I operate in is one similar to parents our age that assumes that children will not be able to wait until they are sixteen to get that document and be able to move about the world less dependent on someone else to get them places.  As we have been finding out for a few years now, since Bobbi is driver number four in our brood, this paradigm has shifted, as kids have less desire to take on the responsibility and see much less benefit in driving than we did.  So Bobbi is supported by a general peer group paradigm shift, a counselor who has expressed Bobbi’s input on being “terrified” and other such alarming (at least to the counselor who does not understand the Bert led teaching of exaggeration of negative feelings to alarm adults) words of driving and Bert’s support of her not driving because it lets him control her more by being the only driver she has reasonable access to (where he uses another false teaching to reinforce the fact that working at a normal job the way my wife and I do that does not allow you to be available throughout the work day to drive kids around is showing a lack of love and caring for your kids).  This led my wife to once again feel she needs to concede, as she is the only one “forcing” Bobbi to get her license and now Bobbi is alienating my wife because she feels uncared for.  Bobbi has amplified childhood feelings about being worried about others not wearing seatbelts in cars to the point she would burst into tears for fear of their safety, to now perhaps creating psychosomatic symptoms of legs that go numb when she drives because she is too terrified.  Never mind that she recently drove a total of about three hours round trip for the Easter holiday without any indication or complaint of this paralyzing numbness that she mentioned to the counselor.  We feel this again is her taking the teaching of Bert to use those people in her sphere (counselors) to get results she wants rather than having real conversations with her mom about how she feels and how to get past it like most people do.  After all, even in the new paradigm of her generation, kids are not foregoing getting their license because of numb legs that did not impact prior generations but suddenly are because of the secret design changes in car seats that only impact teenage drivers lower body blood flow but leave older drivers unimpacted.  Trying to have any sort of discussion with any of Bert’s kids that borders on the rational, preparing-them-for-responsible-adulthood kind is nearly impossible (Jan with accident and liability responsibility, Bobbi with a driver’s license or real concerns of a food allergy and Peter with his diabetes) and places us in a very unhappy situation.  We feel forced to approach these conversations with kid gloves or alienate the kids to the point of having them run head long to Bert because he supports, coddles and encourages them to be irresponsible and crafty.  Both of these approaches are less than optimal, we are forced to be half-way parents.  They have a parent, a false teacher, who models poor living and social responsibility (not conning people to live versus getting a job and making money as is socially acceptable).  He not only teaches them poorly, he lives poorly and so they see this as a normal situation.  Bert’s way appears easier to an uninformed child who cannot rationalize all the unseen impacts yet (and may never be able to if not free of Bert’s orbit long enough to learn there are better ways) and so it is easy to ridicule our “stupid” ways.  It is this type of way that basic teaching in the Bible aligns with clear lessons in everyday life to support my faith that if in doubt on how to address a topic, the Bible is the owner’s manual for life.

I do not want to imply that Nan comes off scot free in false teaching, i.e. difficult to combat, influence; she simply is not as egregious as Bert.  Nan certainly does not encourage living within a budget, thinking things through clearly to avoid unintended consequences, or teaching responsibility.  She brushes off the importance of missing lessons for Greg, of giving solid financial advice to Cindy, or helping Marcia figure out how not to live in a perpetual financial hole.  Some of this is a result of Nan just not understanding how the world works (during our divorce she once called me in a panic from the cellular carrier store on New Year’s Eve because she was convinced all cellular contracts renewed on January 1st and wanted to make sure she had her own phone for the coming year, when we would be divorced, and felt if she missed this window she’d be stuck until January 1st the next year).  Nan also does not seem to argue too vehemently against my input, as Bert does against my wife’s, but that viewpoint may just be wishful thinking on my part.  Nan is also usually aligned to, at least to what might be considered a normal degree of difference between adults, most critical issues like health care, need to get a job in life and other things that we are at odds with Bert on.

The further challenge that my wife struggles with in relation to Bert is what is the pain of the writer of Psalm 73.  How does Bert continue to live wickedly with seemingly no consequences and yet winning the hearts of his children?  Bert could not do this without the benefit of false teaching, for if he did align with society or the teachings of Jesus, then his teaching would also by definition align.  By presenting a more enticing worldview, Bert seduces his children just as the snake hypnotized Eve, but just as we learned about hypnotism, one cannot be hypnotized without at some level wanting to be hypnotized, to be convinced.  The unfair position Bert takes here is that he has the love of his children, so they are therefore already open to his influence far more than say, to mine, and then he offers a tempting and seemingly rewarding option.  After all, why take responsibly for anything when you can apologize for the impacts to others, blame other things or people, or claim ignorance?  The danger is that the kids do not understand that as one gets older the consequences get larger and they are not able to see the path they are being led down as one with a large cliff at the end labeled failure that does not have a trampoline at the end to bounce them back up on the road.  The danger now is that the kids are old enough to get a bit of Bert’s manipulation of others and not see any real consequences, so it seems like Bert might have pulled a fast one on the world.  We are not sure what to do with this.  Our advisers in our pastors, our parents, our sibling and friends have assured us that eventually Bert’s ways would catch up with him.  After all how long can it go on?  This is our Psalm 73 moment (a moment which for my wife is stretching into decades) and why our pastor said we live this every day, because we do.  But it does not make us feel better.  Because while the end of Psalm 73 says that in the end God will give Bert his, that’s all well and good for Bert.  Our concern is that he may drag his kids along with him into the fiery pit of doom and therein lies the real anguish for a divorced parent facing an attacker from the inside.

This philosophy was a short synopsis for my parenting style that I heard at one point, and recent events as I’ve watched other parents around me over the last year just made this rise to the top of things I wanted to share on this blog.

The most recent example of “preparing the road for the child” is helicopter parenting, but it existed in other forms before that in coddling etc.  Some people, my wife included, feel I’m too harsh in my goal to never have our kids come home after they finish with college, for example, but this stance is bred directly out of the desire to prepare the child for the road.  I’m having to live in the same world they if they were to come rushing home.  My preparing them to understand that one of the key tenets of not having to do that is not spending above your income they should have no reason to need this proverbial “safety net” that has become all the rage lately and for some reason seems to have brainwashed otherwise rational adults into thinking that somehow “now is different”.  It’s not.

There have always been challenges.  In the 70s when inflation was over 10% and interest rates were even higher, there was not talk of kids moving back home.  When unemployment soared during the Great Depression people were struggling and such but there has not been anything I could find of this mass movement back in with parents.  Why?  Because the parents were in the same world they were in and this shift of making it OK to prepare the road for the child was not as prevalent as it seems to be today.

If the situation existed that I am a financially astute and responsible adult and the world is in such a state that I could only survive by dipping into savings each year, then we have a rational argument for a younger adult, not having built up that savings, to be unable to make it on their own.  That however is not anywhere near the situation in the US today, contrary to media hype of the sky falling.  Preparing kids for the realities of life puts them in a much more resilient situation.  There was a recent discussion I was involved in with folks trying to figure out how much they pay for for their high school kids.  One mom was feeling guilty because her daughter wanted to do dance but every week’s competition to team went out for a fancy dinner instead of doing something like a pasta party at a parent’s house, got their hair and nails professionally done for a hundred dollars a week and a bunch of other expenses.  She was uncomfortable telling their daughter this was just not doable in their budget and she’d either have to pick another activity, forgo some of the pre and post activities the other girls did or find a way to cover those expenses herself (like a job).  Some other parents were trying to convince her of all the reasons she just needed to find a way to suck it up and go into debt for her daughter to have this high school experience.  I knew my viewpoint was in the minority so I caught up with this person later and shared my perspective and it led to a really good conversation and she was relieved to hear someone who was not just buying into the spend, spend hype because it would somehow damage out kids if we did not make this happen.  It was another example where people were just killing themselves preparing the road for the child and the wondering why they hit to the rock or the pothole in the road later on because mom and/or dad was not there to pave it over or push the rock on to the shoulder.

The learned helplessness this creates in children is often overlooked.  A slight hiccup occurs and the child cannot figure a way forward without immediately calling the parent.  Somehow then people are surprised when this behavior continues for decades after their kids are “adults”.  I feel we do a disservice to our children when we do not prepare them to be independent, autonomously functional human beings.  There are fewer and fewer guardrails in the world these days.  More institutions lack customer service on any level and unless you understand how what you are asking for is to be delivered you will struggle your entire life ending up on the short end of the stick.  Everyone would like the easy way out, but not having that grit or resilience comes with a cost that is many times not understood until the emotional and relational damage is far too great.  I’d much rather coach my kids through the bumps and bruises and have them excited when the achieve something through hard work of their own than clear the obstacles entirely and then when I’m not there they stumble and fall and are clueless why.

I may not be the most popular parent in the room, but I know that if I focus on giving them the tools that is far more valuable.  We seem to have forgotten as a society that if you give a person a fish you feed them for a day, but if you teach them to fish you feed them for a lifetime.  In the same way if you make your guide “prepare your child for the road and not the road for the child” you give them what they need to handle the eight-lane highway, the treacherous mountain road, or the unpaved cow path all on their own.  It gives them more sources of pride and gives you a lot more energy back to handle all the roads in life you have to deal with yourself.

My heart hurts. It hurts because I know that with my strong faith in God, if my heart hurts, I can only imagine what others without that hope are feeling.  For weeks, actually months, I have been feeling this way but unable to put it into words.  I have been paralyzed into inaction, slow decisions, lack of enthusiasm for doing something.  It’s been there and I know I did not enjoy the feeling but it had become common even normal, but the Spirit inside me has kept fighting against the oppressive weight that I could not name.  God, as He always does, pulled together a few things into my small sliver of the universe and made things a little clearer and resulted in this post.  With the confluence of national events, an ailing woman who verbalized her feelings and a baseball team I have adored my whole life, my frustration and this weight have become clearer.  I am paralyzed by fear and loathing.

That’s still not truly correct in naming what I feel, it is not fear that I myself am feeling, it is frustration for the cult of fear I see stifling many around me. It is that initial thought that save for the grace of God within me, I could be like them.  And that makes my heart hurt for my nation and my fellow people in it.

I have spent the last few months mainly interacting with people I directly know, trying to exercise some influence over something I hope I can influence rather than coming here to a medium that reaches many people that I do not know directly, and therefore feel that I have less influence over. Yet a big part of the reason I started and continue this blog is the share my thoughts on what is effecting our and our children’s lives, and it helps me to get those thoughts on paper (or screen, as it were).  So like the ailing woman I referenced above who finally returned to her video blog after months of absence and explained that the reason she had not posted any videos was that they all felt irrelevant, I felt this morning that I just need to get my thoughts out there and let God do what he wills with them, in the hope that perhaps we can all move past this paralysis I see.

We have a national election here in the US that is so detestable that it has sucked the life out of our nation, and I feel what I am seeing is a national version of something described during the NLCS Game 3 last night. The announcer indicated that hitting and executing on a baseball team is contagious.  As one or two batters enter a slump it seems to drag the whole team with it.  But the hope is that one hit can be the first step to turning that energy around and suddenly having a whole team executing again and doing no wrong.  That last little nugget of information was the key to connecting all that I had been mulling over for the last couple weeks of what has been occurring for the last several months or year with our national spirit.  I see a nation stagnant, might I say paralyzed, by fear.

I am not that old, but am old enough to remember a time when all around me there was a buzz in the air of the possibility and promise of America and of being an American. Even leading up to and after horrific events like 9/11 that buzz was firmly present and palpable.  Only in the last decade or so has it been fading to a dull roar, then a small short circuit and now on the brink of being snuffed out, I fear, forever.  For you see, much like a small group of nine men can “catch” negative thoughts and actions and struggle mightily and fail to extricate themselves from that, a whole nation infected by the fearmongering drivel of media and a candidate can take those final steps into the abyss, perhaps never to return.

I am angered by the fact that when I was in high school and college, my outlook and my nation’s outlook was one of extreme, maybe even delusional hope. It was fueled by a leader, Ronald Reagan, who while perhaps a showman like Donald Trump, was a showman with an entirely different core.  Reagan was a master at using poetry, artful delivery, and wonderful turn of phrase to inspire hope and desire for every person living in America to look for the best in themselves.  Yes, he was an actor who turned into a President, but even as a young adult I could see the goodness emanating from the man like the bright shining hope he told us America was to the world.  And the nation gladly followed.  We were still under the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union and had just emerged from gas lines in the 70s and staggering inflation that made mortgage rates so high that today while we complain about the horror of 2-3% were laughable and should have been stifling.  But the mood of the nation, and most importantly of the leader, made us all look past those things that were patently worse than anything we face now, while we have a buffoon posturing to “Make America Great Again”.  So today, I have children who do not truly look forward to the future, who talk down about themselves and their abilities and who are more and more infected by the spirit of sadness that has become the national mood.  Just like the Cubs in these last two weeks of October, our national mood is contagious, and it is making us all sick.  This makes me angry to the core.

Our entire focus has been moved from nation to self, and the vile nature of that, of what God clearly tells us in Scripture will eat away at the soul of a man, is on display for all the world to see. In my own circle I have a father who became a citizen in 1995 yet has never seen the point in registering to vote because the hope he saw in America when he immigrated here in the 60s is gone.  I have a mother who wants to vote but feels it is pointless because she cannot see a path forward.  I have a brother and a sister-in-law who excuse Trump’s behavior and core character as things to look past for possible good.  I have a smaller and smaller circle of family and friends I can even speak to about current events, including my wife, because this entire cycle has turned so heart wrenchingly sad that people would rather angrily say they no longer want to talk about it than do something about it.  It is a paralysis driven by hopelessness and perhaps fear and anger.  It is why I am sharing here to hopefully provide that last piece of the puzzle for someone to make positive change in their home, their neighborhood, their community.  This is done in the hope that with those small “hits” we can turn the mood of the nation around to one of hope and excitement rather than continue to be dragged down by an irrational fear of what is not.

My brother, normally an intelligent and very well spoken person, regularly spouts off that Hilary Clinton is personally responsible for six million deaths. He seems to believe that Putin is the nicest guy we’ve ever had in charge of Russia and that the only reason he is acting this way, invading Ukraine and trampling on human rights, is because Hillary and Obama have single handedly backed him into a corner and made him do it.  If not for our leadership we would be vacationing together in the Urals with Putin sipping champagne and converting Russia to a democracy and their citizens would enjoy unparalleled riches.  I heard some women at work excusing the sexual talk of a presidential candidate as “stupid things guys say” because they were not sure what to do.

God teaches us that He is in control. The fear I have with this election is that too many feel that they are in control and that with their vote and their rationalization of their vote, that they can see all the interactions like what Supreme Court nominees someone will name, what legislation they will get enacted and what the world situation will become because of it.  Nine men who sit together in a dugout, dine together and live together in hotels on the road, and know each other and have the same common goal cannot see clearly what their actions will accomplish in the world, but individual voters are making decisions about how thousands of people totally unattached to them will act based on which box they check and are delusional enough to feel they have the omniscient power to foresee what only God can see.  Scripture is full of verses that teach us that as long as we try to influence events rather than leaving them to God, our efforts are due to fail and only destruction is the result.

So how is one to decide? Again, we only need to look to God for the answer.  Seek the fruit of a person’s life to decide on their intentions, for God uses everyone to execute his will.  He can use Hilary, and yes, he can even use Donald Trump, but when we overthink things and look past the simple truths that He tells us to use, we try to wrest control from God and that path leads only to destruction.

This brings me to the other word in my title that I have not explained yet, loathing. I have never in my life used this term to describe my feelings towards anyone.  The simplest definition is “feel intense dislike or disgust for”.  Other examples are, “feel repugnance toward, not be able to bear/stand, be repelled by”.  The only person I have ever truly felt this way about is Donald Trump.  The book of Ezekiel uses the word loathe multiple times to describe how the nation of Israel will look upon themselves for their practices.  One of the key themes of Ezekiel is the need for individual responsibility and national accountability before God.  When the media states that this election is for the national soul of America they are not being hyperbolic.  Again, it is between God and them if they are saved, but even if they are not, God uses everyone for his purposes, and these views are very truthful.  Electing someone who is as far from servant leadership as you can be and who has not a shred of public good will as fruit of his life is a mistake.  For all we can say about all the other candidates, while their motives may be misguided, and may be self-serving to a degree, they are not anywhere near the entire lack of national good that we see from Trump.  For getting us to this point, for being a candidate for President, for keeping the national mood on fear and hate I loathe Donald Trump and have since he stepped on the national stage and announced his candidacy for the Presidency by lying about Mexican immigrants.

We are down to three weeks until the election. God is in control and our nation will be used for the purposes He chooses to fulfill His plan, but we can make it much worse for ourselves by denying that omnipotence.  My plea to those who feel that Hilary will pull this nation apart or destroy it is to know that she is not in control.  We are however in control of who will be in charge of our national mood.  I have hope for my beloved Cubbies because they have Joe Maddon at the helm and he exudes hope and positivity.  The Cubs players have rallied around their manager, even waking him up on the plane heading to Los Angeles in the middle of the night so he could talk to the team and lift their spirts.  As a young adult, even with all the challenges in our nation at the time, every time Reagan got on TV to address the nation, even though I knew it was about something sad or sinister or dangerous, I waited with hope KNOWING that at the end of whatever he had to say, I would feel better than how I felt before he started.  When we have a national crisis can any of us truly say we want to go to the front of the plane and wake up Donald Trump to give us inspirational words of hope and solid plans of action that will make us feel better at the end of what he had to say than when he started?  God has placed the answer in your heart to that question, if only you have the courage to listen to it and stop listening to the excuses we all make about why a despot is “not so bad” and things will work out OK if we put him in power.

It has now been five months since Marcia decided she could no longer live under our roof on a regular basis (and as we have seen over the last five months what she really meant was “at all” since she has not been back at all except for two hours on Christmas Eve, then sleep and then waking up at 7 AM as asking if she could be taken back to Nan’s because she was sick).  Over the last couple weeks I’ve had some time to sit an ponder the situation.

The sad realization, and it has been said a few times in passing in our home, but as I sat around and applied some hindsight to the situation, it is very true, is that it has been so incredibly different in the house without Marcia here.  For reasons that I am either not professionally equipped to determine because I am not a psychologist, and/or because it has not been revealed to me any other way, Marcia just has always had a tendency to get upset at just about anything.  I’ve thought about the nature versus nurture aspect most certainly, because if I somehow caused this strange behavior that is so contrary to my nature, I would like to understand how and if I could fix it.  The latter piece of the puzzle I am sure simply comes from me being male.  Perhaps if I was female I would simply be content to analyze the former part of the statement.  In any event, both Cindy and Greg, Marcia’s biological siblings and therefore the relevant subjects in this thought experiment having been in the same environment for the longest time possible, do not have this predilection, which seems to point against the nurture aspect.   I suppose one could make the case that something we did in raising Marcia for the first 2 ½ years of her existence was so different that it took hold and yet did not impact the other two but an honest assessment of parenting style is that nothing changed at that time.

The big change in the environment was something I had written about four years ago (My darkest day) but that happened when all three of the kids were around so that more toxic environment that existed before should certainly have impacted all of them if that was the cause of Marcia’s demeanor, so I still find it hard to find any evidence that points to nurture and determines that nature is not a reasonable cause.  In fact, I think any reasonable person would determine that since 66% of the sample in our experiment is not behaving this way that would be a strong indicator against nurture so I lean towards nature.  In the end, the topic of this post is not about the cause of Marcia’s behavior but is about the result of what has happened in our home, what I have come to call the calm after the storm.

These last five months have been amongst the most peaceful and serene times in our home that I can ever remember.  Certainly the latter years I was married to Nan were chaotic because of the lack of marital harmony and all the subsequent mess that caused and is covered very thoroughly here in the earlier posts in the blog for those who would like to learn more.  The blended years had challenges as well, and I think in the throes of them it was easy to assume that a lot of them were related to the blending, and to be fair I would be foolish to say none of the tension in the house was related to that, but looking back the added catalyst of Marcia’s presence sadly seems to have been a significant contributor because it is much more peaceful.

Certainly with a house full of three teenage girls and two pre-teen boys there are still times when it is not peaceful, but the discipline is metted out, the discussions are had and things get back to an even keel quite quickly.  In fact, compared to the protracted, sometimes, multi-day storms clouds that lingered in the house while Marcia was upset about something, it seems almost as if the current times are gone in a matter of seconds, though I know that is not the case.  It just is amazing to see how much impact one child can have on the tone of an entire household.  To be clear, I am not sitting here happy to come to this realization, in fact I am quite sad to determine how much more positive our home is without Marcia’s presence.  This is because as a father I would like to fix this because this will only continue to make Marcia’s life more difficult than it needs to be.  I certainly tried to work with her on her temper and way of handling things when she was present here, but the results were never very good.  This root of the issue as far as I can diagnose it is that Marcia is just not at all happy when things do not go her way and feels it is her mission and duty in life that everyone know she is not happy and why she is not happy.  Some of this is because she still has not matured to understand that this behavior is not pleasant for others around her and that people therefore do not want to be around her.  She attributes this however to the fact that people are not accepting of her sexuality versus that they are not accepting of her tantrums and unwillingness to accept other viewpoints.

The new normal in our home has fostered a lot more dialogue with the other kids and it is sad again to think that perhaps this was being stifled with the storms of Marcia versus the fact that the dialogue just was not needed.  Again, with multiple teenagers in the house, I would be naïve to think it was the latter.  Certainly there is nothing we can do to turn back time, and frankly, if I could have stopped or lessened the Marciacanes I would have, so going back in time would have had little chance of having better results.  This realization was what led me to very seriously explore the nature versus nurture aspect when trying to determine where Marcia’s behavior comes from.  After all, if it was nurture then maybe I could see how different actions would have mattered, but as I stated above, I would need to make some very significant mental leaps and turn a blind eye to much contrarian evidence to land anywhere other than this is just Marcia’s personality and then to pray that God will help her with it so she can have a less chaotic life.  Another piece of evidence is that even though she has not been here for five months the information I get back from Nan seems to indicate that Marcia is the same there as she was here and just uses a different reason for being upset since Nan does not provide the excuse I do since Nan is not a believer.  The scapegoat Marcia used was my Christianity but that scapegoat is not present with Nan, but it seems the tantrums and the guilt trips and everything else are still coming forth from Marcia.

I am certainly open to Marcia mending fences, however now that she has entered legal adulthood she needs to make those first steps as anything I do is seen as nagging.  I’m here if she needs me and I have let her know that as much as possible.  In the meantime, we are certainly using the calm after the storm to impact the remaining children who are still engaged with us for good.   I pray for Marcia every day.  Life is hard enough on its own.  When you create your own storms around you however, it just gets harder.  I pray she learns that with some simpler lessons rather than massive life-changing ones, but she keeps writing off lost job opportunities or financial costs as other things rather than self-induced failures.  As a father whose job it is to prepare children for adulthood, this is hard to leave in her lap, but at this point I have no choice.  She has not been interested in my input since forever, so this is nothing new.  What is new is that she is not here to let me make sure she gets some parental wisdom regardless of her desire to hear it.  This is my new struggle to accept, and I have come a long way in the last five months with the somewhat unexpected total severing of ties.  I’ve been forced to go cold turkey on parental input and that is not at all what I expected as a father.  We are prepared for the expectation that our children will grow up and slowly move away from that, but usually they still remain connected and ask for advice here and there.  We are even aware of the shift that happens when a child gets married and their biggest source of advice becomes their spouse and not their parents.  We are even aware of situations where children are intentionally destructive or disobedient to the point that you must throw them out of the house, but this is none of those.   This is a willful immediate separation that has caused a strange calm in the household as a result and it is a confusing set of emotions because I am happy for something sad, and then sad that I am happy about it.  I think it is because God does not mean for it to play out this way, but it has.  One day at a time He gives me the mercy I need.