Monday, August 31, 2009

The Debate Continues...

The debate about male circumcision is in the media - yet again. Around 10 per cent of baby boys are circumcised in Australia with many families making their decision based on health or religious reasons. Many don't circumcise any of their sons, likewise, often because of health or religious reasons. Some parents find themselves having to circumcise their older sons due to harmful patterns of urine retract infections. People come from all corners in the male circumcision debate.

Paul Mason, the Tasmanian children's commissioner, wants to outlaw infant male circumcision and take away yet another decision from parents who, from where I'm standing, have the ability to make well-informed decisions according to their family's beliefs and health. Yesterday's Sun Herald reported that Mr Mason is unhappy with the fact that even though the law protect girls from female circumcision, parents are free to "go around willy-nilly chopping up bits of their sons."
Many believe that there are no medical reasons for or against male circumcision (although I have heard reports siting scientific proof that the wife of an uncircumcised husband is at greater risk of cervical cancer). The way I see it is this. If there's no proven reason why we should circumcise our sons and there's no proven reason why we shouldn't circumcise them (the law currently states that male circumcision does not constitute unlawful wounding, ill treatment or child abuse) then why should parents not be left with the right to choose?

As parents, we've had countless choices taken away from us and many more on the way. If we follow along the path of many other countries, including New Zealand, smacking our own children will become a punishable offence, taking away yet another personal decision, which is for parents only to make.

If this country is a democracy, it's doing a great job of pretending not to be. We shouldn't have to shroud the fact that we did or did not circumcise our sons with secrecy. There should be no shame surrounding each family's approach to discipline (obviously as long the children aren't being abused).

Each of us are individuals, therefore we parent differently. Here's a thought; what about if the extremists stopped crying wolf about the private, personal decisions we're each 'allowed' to make. I hate using the word discrimate but it's pretty applicable here. How fantastic if they stopped discriminating against those who make their own choices and have healthy, happy families for doing so.

I think our government has let the fight for a 'happy' life go too far. We've got to stop taking the right to make decisions based on personal preference away from people. Otherwise, where will it stop?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What if we translated pain as opportunity?

Laura Munson's response to confusion surrounding her decision to let her husband have some space and 'duck and weave' until things settled down (as blogged yesterday, August 30, 2009).

August 28, 2009

Today, I’d like to offer this:A Different Response to Crises:We’ve been trained in our society to respond to crises with state-of-emergency moxie. To immediately react. To meet fire with fire. Or to run away.

When we’re meeting fire with fire, we’re in control mode. When we’re running away, we’re in sedation mode. I’ve done all of the above. And after many years living in these modes, I decided I was sick of it. I was suffering and I decided to get really clear with myself about where the suffering was in my life. It took awhile. But I trained my senses and began to live with a commitment to ending my suffering. I’m not always good at it. But when it works, it’s such a powerful way to live. There’s so much relief there.

I got to practice this in spades the summer my husband went through his marital dis-affection. I like that word, “dis-affection.” It’s easier not to take personally. It’s easier to process and to land in a place of non-suffering.

I want to be perfectly clear about something that keeps coming up in the comments on my blog, other people’s blogs, the comments in the “New York Times” and the many that have come into my email box:
If my marriage had ended after that rough season…I would still have considered that season a personal success. The reason why it was such a powerful time for me, and the reason why I’ve written about it, has everything to do with what it was like, especially in such a hard time, to live and not suffer. To not translate crises into state-of-emergency. To not control and sedate. To simply, deliberately, day by day, moment by moment, breath by breath…detach from outcome. This was my journey. It was one of the soul.

That’s my message, and why I am willing to share my personal story. While I wrote about this way of living in the context of marriage, it’s not really about marriage or my husband or my family. Of course, if my being responsible for my own well-being rubbed off on them somehow, then that only makes it more of a success story.

Many people have made the assumption that I practiced living like that “to save my marriage.” That is not the case. I lived like that because it was my commitment to live outside suffering. If my marriage was “saved,” then I can only see that as a possible bi-product, but still not one that is necessary to try to prove or define.
There is so much pain in the world. All of us feel pain every day. Sometimes many many times a day. What if we started to translate pain as opportunity? Opportunity to practice not suffering. Where would that have us land? Who would we be then? Would we be victims? Would we be somehow…dare I say it: free?

Thank you for reading. Yrs. Laura

Marriage Meltdown vs Waiting Wife

It's not very often that an article in the Sunday paper makes me stop in my tracks and alters something deep inside. Laura Munson's article in today's Sun Herald did that for me and I wanted to share it with you.

For all those married (or for that matter, unmarried) people out there - this is such an interesting and empowering take on marital woes. For once, we're not being told to stand our ground, lay blame in our spouse's lap and get the hell out of there before our hearts are broken or irrepairably damaged. Laura Munson obviously places a lot of value on the relationship she has with her husband and, as a young wife, her story is an inspiration to me. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.
PS. If you feel like it, drop into Laura's site and let her know what you think - everyone needs feedback every now and then!

Boxing Clever/Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear
Published: August 30, 2009 Sun Herald/July 31, 2009 NY Times

LET’S say you have what you believe to be a healthy marriage. You’re still friends and lovers after spending more than half of your lives together. The dreams you set out to achieve in your 20s — gazing into each other’s eyes in candlelit city bistros when you were single and skinny — have for the most part come true.

Two decades later you have the 20 acres of land, the farmhouse, the children, the dogs and horses. You’re the parents you said you would be, full of love and guidance. You’ve done it all: Disneyland, camping, Hawaii, Mexico, city living, stargazing.

Sure, you have your marital issues, but on the whole you feel so self-satisfied about how things have worked out that you would never, in your wildest nightmares, think you would hear these words from your husband one fine summer day: “I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did. I’m moving out. The kids will understand. They’ll want me to be happy.”

But wait. This isn’t the divorce story you think it is. Neither is it a begging-him-to-stay story. It’s a story about hearing your husband say “I don’t love you anymore” and deciding not to believe him. And what can happen as a result.

Here’s a visual: Child throws a temper tantrum. Tries to hit his mother. But the mother doesn’t hit back, lecture or punish. Instead, she ducks. Then she tries to go about her business as if the tantrum isn’t happening. She doesn’t “reward” the tantrum. She simply doesn’t take the tantrum personally because, after all, it’s not about her.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying my husband was throwing a child’s tantrum. No. He was in the grip of something else — a profound and far more troubling meltdown that comes not in childhood but in midlife, when we perceive that our personal trajectory is no longer arcing reliably upward as it once did. But I decided to respond the same way I’d responded to my children’s tantrums. And I kept responding to it that way. For four months.

“I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did.”

His words came at me like a speeding fist, like a sucker punch, yet somehow in that moment I was able to duck. And once I recovered and composed myself, I managed to say, “I don’t buy it.” Because I didn’t.

He drew back in surprise. Apparently he’d expected me to burst into tears, to rage at him, to threaten him with a custody battle. Or beg him to change his mind.

So he turned mean. “I don’t like what you’ve become.”

Gut-wrenching pause. How could he say such a thing? That’s when I really wanted to fight. To rage. To cry. But I didn’t.

Instead, a shroud of calm enveloped me, and I repeated those words: “I don’t buy it.”

You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “The End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

My husband hadn’t yet come to this understanding with himself. He had enjoyed many years of hard work, and its rewards had supported our family of four all along. But his new endeavor hadn’t been going so well, and his ability to be the breadwinner was in rapid decline. He’d been miserable about this, felt useless, was losing himself emotionally and letting himself go physically. And now he wanted out of our marriage; to be done with our family.

But I wasn’t buying it.

I said: “It’s not age-appropriate to expect children to be concerned with their parents’ happiness. Not unless you want to create co-dependents who’ll spend their lives in bad relationships and therapy. There are times in every relationship when the parties involved need a break. What can we do to give you the distance you need, without hurting the family?”

“Huh?” he said.

“Go trekking in Nepal. Build a yurt in the back meadow. Turn the garage studio into a man-cave. Get that drum set you’ve always wanted. Anything but hurting the children and me with a reckless move like the one you’re talking about.”

Then I repeated my line, “What can we do to give you the distance you need, without hurting the family?”


“How can we have a responsible distance?”

“I don’t want distance,” he said. “I want to move out.”

My mind raced. Was it another woman? Drugs? Unconscionable secrets? But I stopped myself. I would not suffer.

Instead, I went to my desk, Googled “responsible separation” and came up with a list. It included things like: Who’s allowed to use what credit cards? Who are the children allowed to see you with in town? Who’s allowed keys to what?

I looked through the list and passed it on to him.

His response: “Keys? We don’t even have keys to our house.”

I remained stoic. I could see pain in his eyes. Pain I recognized.

“Oh, I see what you’re doing,” he said. “You’re going to make me go into therapy. You’re not going to let me move out. You’re going to use the kids against me.”

“I never said that. I just asked: What can we do to give you the distance you need ... ”

“Stop saying that!”

Well, he didn’t move out.

Instead, he spent the summer being unreliable. He stopped coming home at his usual six o’clock. He would stay out late and not call. He blew off our entire Fourth of July — the parade, the barbecue, the fireworks — to go to someone else’s party. When he was at home, he was distant. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. He didn’t even wish me “Happy Birthday.”

But I didn’t play into it. I walked my line. I told the kids: “Daddy’s having a hard time as adults often do. But we’re a family, no matter what.” I was not going to suffer. And neither were they.

My trusted friends were irate on my behalf. “How can you just stand by and accept this behavior? Kick him out! Get a lawyer!”

I walked my line with them, too. This man was hurting, yet his problem wasn’t mine to solve. In fact, I needed to get out of his way so he could solve it.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m a pushover. I’m weak and scared and would put up with anything to keep the family together. I’m probably one of those women who would endure physical abuse. But I can assure you, I’m not. I load 1,500-pound horses into trailers and gallop through the high country of Montana all summer. I went through Pitocin-induced natural childbirth. And a Caesarean section without follow-up drugs. I am handy with a chain saw.

I simply had come to understand that I was not at the root of my husband’s problem. He was. If he could turn his problem into a marital fight, he could make it about us. I needed to get out of the way so that wouldn’t happen.

Privately, I decided to give him time. Six months.

I had good days, and I had bad days. On the good days, I took the high road. I ignored his lashing out, his merciless jabs. On bad days, I would fester in the August sun while the kids ran through sprinklers, raging at him in my mind. But I never wavered. Although it may sound ridiculous to say “Don’t take it personally” when your husband tells you he no longer loves you, sometimes that’s exactly what you have to do.

Instead of issuing ultimatums, yelling, crying or begging, I presented him with options. I created a summer of fun for our family and welcomed him to share in it, or not — it was up to him. If he chose not to come along, we would miss him, but we would be just fine, thank you very much. And we were.

And, yeah, you can bet I wanted to sit him down and persuade him to stay. To love me. To fight for what we’ve created. You can bet I wanted to.

But I didn’t.

I barbecued. Made lemonade. Set the table for four. Loved him from afar.

And one day, there he was, home from work early, mowing the lawn. A man doesn’t mow his lawn if he’s going to leave it. Not this man. Then he fixed a door that had been broken for eight years. He made a comment about our front porch needing paint. Our front porch. He mentioned needing wood for next winter. The future. Little by little, he started talking about the future.

It was Thanksgiving dinner that sealed it. My husband bowed his head humbly and said, “I’m thankful for my family.”

He was back.

And I saw what had been missing: pride. He’d lost pride in himself. Maybe that’s what happens when our egos take a hit in midlife and we realize we’re not as young and golden anymore.

When life’s knocked us around. And our childhood myths reveal themselves to be just that. The truth feels like the biggest sucker-punch of them all: it’s not a spouse or land or a job or money that brings us happiness. Those achievements, those relationships, can enhance our happiness, yes, but happiness has to start from within. Relying on any other equation can be lethal.

My husband had become lost in the myth. But he found his way out. We’ve since had the hard conversations. In fact, he encouraged me to write about our ordeal. To help other couples who arrive at this juncture in life. People who feel scared and stuck. Who believe their temporary feelings are permanent. Who see an easy out, and think they can escape.

My husband tried to strike a deal. Blame me for his pain. Unload his feelings of personal disgrace onto me.

But I ducked. And I waited. And it worked.

Friday, August 28, 2009

10 Things I Love About Having A Son

1. The fact that he forgot how to walk about two hours after learning and hasn't stopped running since.

2. He's more likely to find another way around a problem than have to use his manners and ask for help.

3. I might not get many hugs from him during the day but at bedtime, there are no warmer, more heartfelt hugs to be had.

4. Having a sore hand or foot shoved in my face for a kiss-better and seeing his cries of pain subside almost immediately when he's received his quota of kisses and sympathy.

5. The smell of dirty hands that have been digging in the dirt and the fine spray of dust that seems to settle on his scalp quicker than I can keep him bathed.

6. The curve in the nape of his neck after a fresh haircut.

7. His big, round tummy that never seems to be satisfied.

8. The looks of glee he wears as I serve his dinner. Never before have I felt like such a great cook!

9. Watching him clopping around in dress-up heels and carrying pretty pink handbags, knowing that oneday he'll be a big tough man and deny he ever did that.

10. I've got this to look forward to! (click to watch the clip below)

I can't get the embed to work so the link will have to do for now :o)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Refrigerator Mothers?

I've been thinking about mother-guilt a lot lately and it's had a lot of coverage in the media. With organic baby food ranges claiming to give children a better start to life and constant scientific studies pointing out exactly what we're doing wrong with our children, it's easy to see why these days, us mums (and sometimes dads) struggle to have confidence in our child rearing abilities.

I have a theory about mother-guilt - I don't think we're alone. Throughout the centuries, I think it's always ridden on the backs of mothers, with every maternal generation having some area where they feel they're just not doing enough.

I'd never heard the term 'Refrigerator mother' until today, but apparently it was used in the 50's, 60's and 70's to describe mothers who's children had been diagnosed with autism or schizophrenia. The occurance of these illnesses in children was blamed on their mothers who were assumed to be emotionally cold and hard, thus coining the slogan, 'Refrigerator mother'. The amount of guilt and shame heaped on these mothers would have been unsurmountable.

Having said this, is mother-guilt heaped on us by society or do we heap it on ourselves? Are we tough on ourselves as mothers because we have low opinions of ourselves or is it entrenched in every mother, no matter what her level of confidence?

I love reading profiles and interviews of successful people. People who have achieved their dreams and then some. These people are often highly motivated and always busy. One common thread that has me intrigued though, are the personal battles these people often endure, their entire life. They often admit to having low self esteem and or anxiety problems and many of these people attribute their success to the driving powers of their weaknesses.

Perhaps mother-guilt isn't something we should try and eradicate from our lives, rather something we can harness the power of and use to our advantage. I'm not saying that being eaten up by guilt is helpful and I certainly don't want to live my life that way but what if, instead of fighting our need to perfect the art of motherhood, we used it for our own advantage by harnessing its power and going with the flow?