Archive for January, 2006

January 31, 2006

The Open Hand – a metaphor for love, community and healing

by Rod Smith

I will listen to you, and make time for you if you'd like to talk.

I will listen to you, and make time for you if you'd like to talk.

Open your hand using all your strength. Stretch your fingers. Allow the lines on your palm to feel as though they might tear apart. Study the contours, colors, ridges and valleys, joints, dents and spaces. Push, pull, and rub. Move your fingers through their paces: together, apart, back, forward, curved, strained and relaxed, cooperative yet unique. Feel the texture and every curve. Touch the crevices. Spread your hand further, turn it at the wrist, examine and compare patterns from every angle. Here are pieces of yourself you might never have studied.

Your hands are your constant companions. They have met the needs of others, pioneered romantic moments and worn rings of commitment. They are the way your heart leaves fingerprints, the eyes at the end of your arms. Hands reflect a person’s being and are the front line agents of your life. If eyes are said to be the windows of a soul, hands express the soul.

Hold other people with your hand thoroughly open. Allow them to know the warmth and welcome of your hand, investigate its curves and benefit from its scars. Invite others to follow the lines into the fabric of your life and see the risks you have taken and the adventures that are yours. Allow them to wrestle and rest, search, see and speak. Let them stay; let them go, but let them find your hand always open.

The Open Hand of friendship, at its widest span, is most rewarding, most challenging and most painful for it enduringly acknowledges the freedom of other people while choosing not to close upon, turn on, coerce or manipulate others. In such friendships, expectations and disappointments become minimal and the reward is freedom. As others determine a unique pace within your open hand, they will see freedom and possibly embrace their own with excitement and pleasure.

Openhanded people do not attempt to “fix” others, change or control them even for their own “good.” Rather each person is given freedom to learn about life in his own way. Openhanded people, instead, express kindly and truthfully what they think and feel, when asked, knowing even in the asking, others might not be interested or willing to learn from their mistakes, successes or life stories.

The Open Hand is not naive. It is willing to trust, while understanding and accepting that no person is all good or all bad, and that all behavior has meaning. The Open Hand is convinced it cannot change others; it cannot see or think or feel or believe or love or see for others, but trusts people to know what is good themselves. It will not strong-arm, pursue or even attempt to convince another because it has little investment in being right, winning or competing. Here is offered a core-freedom of the deepest and most profound nature: allowing others to live without guilt, shame and expectation.

Further, the Open Hand offers oneself freedom that extends to one’s memories, ambitions, failures and successes. This allows for growth of enduring intimacy, greater personal responsibility, authentic autonomy and the possibility of meaningful relationships with others.

In the discovery of a closed hand, even at the end of your own arm, do not try to pry it open. Be gentle. Allow it to test the risky waters of freedom. As it is accustomed to being closed and fist-like, it will not be easily or forcefully opened. So let the closed-handed do their own releasing and trusting, little by little, and in their own time and manner. When openhanded people meet, lives connect in trust, freedom and communion. Community is set in motion. Creativity is encouraged. Mutual support is freely given. Risks are shared. Lives are wrapped in the safety of shared adventure and individual endeavor all at the same time.

© Copyright 1998, Rod. E. Smith, MSMFT

January 30, 2006

A meditation for “recovering” child-focused, child-obsessed parents…

by Rod Smith

Loving my children will be a priority, but not the central or only priority of my life.

Parenting, and loving my children will not consume me becuase I will not allow it to.

If loving my children has an all-consuming effect upon me, the parent, it will certainly also consume the children!

Undiluted, laser-like love, and focused attention, directed at any child will bother him, will unsettle him, more than empower him. Rather than helping him feel loved and secure he will feel unduly responsible for my emotional well being, and that will feel like a mountain too big for any child to climb.

Children deserve freedom from the intense, even loving gaze, of a parent.

Oh, of course, children want a parent’s undistracted focus, and of course they want their parents’ loving interest, but when a parent has too much love, and too much interest in their child (to the exclusion of the parent’s other interests and loves) then this “love” becomes a burden for the child.

Children want our love, not the sacrifice of our lives on their behalf.

Children do not need parents to be martyrs.

Children want parents to be parents.

January 29, 2006

Is this the person you should marry?

by Rod Smith

If you are in love and feel you have met the person you want to marry, it would be wise to ask a few questions:

Does your relationship have the necessary ingredients required for permanence?

Are you courageous enough to ask if you will become a divorce statistic?

It takes courage to look at these kinds of issues when you are planning marriage. It seems disloyal or negative and most engaged couples avoid asking such questions. If your relationship cannot withstand the pressure of asking several penetrating questions it is unlikely it will survive the rigors of marriage, of childrearing, the long-term management of assets and finances and all else that is entailed in establishing and enduring stable family.

When you have gone to the expense of wedding preparations, it is very difficult to face family, friends and the future, and also express any doubts about your decision to marry. It is easier to get carried away by the love and the excitement that escalates around weddings, to believe that love will be enough to carry the day and be sufficient to make possible, a lifetime of shared happiness. Keep in mind that love really is blind.

Please consider some of the following:

1. Unless there is a very unusual agenda, like immigration possibilities, every couple thinks and feels “in love” when planning a wedding. Couples that have endured bitter divorces, at one time, said they were “in love.” Love, alone, will not sustain a marriage.

2. If, within this relationship, you have had ever to engage in sex, or a sexual activity you did not want, then this is not a good sign at all. No person should ever be expected, at any time, to engage in any sexual activities that they, themselves, do not welcome and want. If you ever have sex you do not want for the sake of the other person it is a signal that all is not well within the relationship.

3. Family history (for both families) over the last three or four generations will wield a more a powerful influence over your marriage than you might be willing to admit. Family history seldom remains silent. If your prospective spouse has gaps in his or her history with a “keep out” sign warning you from trying to better know his or her history better, these are matters for deep concern. Like it or not, sharing a future will involve sharing the past.

4. What you do know about each other is helpful and useful. What you do not know is probably more powerful, likely to have a greater impact upon your marriage. It is not what we do tell each other but rather what we do not tell each other that can powerfully to modify people’s futures. What we keep secret fashions our lives more than what we make known. This said, it is also important to understand that not everything has to be told.

5. While love, and feelings of love are very important, the skills of negotiation, the ability to be kind and honest, the capacity to stand on one’s own two feet, are probably more useful in maintaining a successful marriage.

6. Planning for marriage and designing a wedding is enough to make people “not themselves.”

7. It takes many years to fall (I love that word – giving the suggestion that meeting someone and finding love is something that happens to a person and is totally beyond their power to control) in love, and the love you feel for your spouse-to-be will be very different from what you will feel in the future.

8. Count the number of marriages and remarriages on both sides of each family (include aunts, uncles, step, half and every combination). Total the number of divorces within the same group of people. If the number of divorces total one third of the marriages, this is a red flag worthy of note.

9. If it is difficult to engage your prospective wife or husband in an adult manner about any one of the following: finances, sex, children, time apart, time with friends, extended family, alcohol, faith, further education, issues of race and politics, then you might find marriage to each other difficult.

10. If it feels as if one person is doing all the work (in any area of your relationship) you have cause for concern.

11. If you have felt pushed (against you will) by your prospective spouse into saying things you do not believe, doing things you’d rather not do and siding with him or her when you’d rather not, then it is likely that you have agreed to a degree of control that will not always sit well with you. Such control will only increase after the wedding. Many prospective brides and grooms think a partner is controlling before the wedding because they do not yet have the “security” of the marriage. If she is controlling before the wedding it will only increase over time. A marriage certificate will not remove anyone’s feelings of insecurity.

12. If the wedding preparations had not gone as far as they have you’d call the wedding off. If getting married (the wedding day) has gotten more attention than being married (the next 50 years), this is cause for concern.

13. One or both of you has had a previous marriage and one or both of you cannot be civil to the former spouse.

14. If your future spouse is not paying child support or behaving in an honorable manner toward his or her children this is cause for deep concern. If a person doesn’t care for the children he or she already has he or she is as unlikely to be honorable to children yet born.

15. People whom you know well, and who have loved you well for many years, have tried to talk you out of getting married to this person.

January 27, 2006

Reader expresses deep gratitude for advice given over a year ago

by Rod Smith

Dear Sir,

Towards the end of 2004/ beginning of 2005 I wrote to ask your opinion and advice on my decision to leave my son with my parents to travel to London from Durban and work there for the duration of last year.

You encouraged me to go, stating that if I did not do so I would regret it and that, as long as I knew my son was in a safe environment, I should not allow my life to stand still for him. You even called me from your home to speak to me in this regard.

I wanted to say a HUGE HUGE THANK YOU for all your encouragement. I did work in London for the duration of last year, recently arrived back and am intending on returning again towards the end of March. My son was indeed no worse off by my decision, in fact my working there allowed me to pay for him to fly to London to visit me, a fantastic and exciting event for a child of 12! I have realised by my decision that I am no longer afraid to travel, that the world may be a huge place, but that I have many many more options available to me now, that I am not afraid to apply to work in other countries, that I would like to try and live abroad (with my son) and work and enjoy another country and their cultures.

I cannot begin to express how grateful I am for your advice and encouragement in this regard. I am overwhelmed.

I wish you and your family all the best. Take care, and once again many many thanks!

Kind regards,


January 26, 2006

Daughter uses your column to call me controlling…

by Rod Smith

Q: My daughter (15) has read your columns in the newspaper and on the Internet. She says you’d call my behavior toward her controlling. If I suggest she do homework or tell her she cannot go out whenever she wants or that she can’t stay at a friend’s house then I am accused of being controlling. I tell her I am being a good mother. Please address this.

Response: Telling a teenager when to be home, expecting homework to be done or monitoring teenage activities is not controlling behavior on behalf of a parent. Parents are uniquely anointed for the task of guiding and disciplining their children. It is essential that parents express clear expectations and demands upon their children.

Your daughter has correctly observed that I regularly address the problem of controlling behavior, parading as love, among adults. I believe it remains true that love and control cannot coexist within the same relationship.

But if making clear demands on your daughter is something the child considers controlling, it is not you, the mother, who is displaying controlling behavior. Your daughter, through rather unsophisticated and naive means, is attempting to control you. Do not let her succeed. Such success will not serve any young person’s highest interest.

see also:

January 24, 2006

Preparing for Valentine’s Day by Offering Authentic Love

by Rod Smith

‘There are two potential tragedies in life and dying isn’t one of them,” wrote Ronald Rolheiser, the Catholic theologian. “What’s tragic is to go through life without loving and without expressing love and affection toward those whom we do love.”

What great thoughts to ponder and then motivate us to action beyond romance on, and before, Valentine’s Day.

Let’s not fall victim to either of the tragedies — not today, tomorrow, not forever.

One of the great things about life for most of us is that we get more than a few chances at most things, even things we fouled up in the past. Failing at love yesterday doesn’t mean we have to fail again.

While the holiday is Hallmark-driven and its history buried in 5th century Rome, it’s up to us to push love to the limits, to go beyond Valentine, beyond Hallmark, beyond Cupid, beyond Eros, red balloons and red sweaters and candy. It’s up to us to take Rolheiser’s caution to heart.

Let’s express love in tangible ways to all those whom we love.

Loving is more than breakfast in bed. Say what you want to say without leaving it to another day. Don’t wait, don’t avoid it, and don’t run from it. Act upon the love you feel in measurable ways, express it in ways that are new and unique for you.

Love your family by encouraging the expression of the unique voice of every person. Enlarge their freedom; oust jealousy.

Listen, and wait to speak. Try to hear even the things you’d rather not hear. Learn things about members of your family even if it has been so long that it is hard to remember a time when you did not share life.

Loving people celebrate strength, encourage freedom and admire the talent of others.

Then, in loving and being loved, compromise yourself, your talents and skills for no one.

True love will never steal your voice, your brain, your heart or your body.

Minimizing who you are in the name of love will not make you more lovable or make your family a happier or healthier place. It is never worth it. It is never loving. It is those with dark motives, who seek for you to be less, minimized, diminished or silenced. Reject such small-mindedness, such evil, even if doing so is very costly.

In your loving, deal a deadly blow to love’s bitter enemies of resentment, anger and bitterness. These close cousins, if permitted, will hold hands within your psychology and dance a woeful dance. They will make you blind to all things beautiful. Angry, bitter and resentful people, no matter what their justification, become increasingly unreasonable and difficult to live with.

Bitterness will have a soul for breakfast. It’ll chew you up, spit you out, and then get you some more. That’s its nature. It has no regard for you, except in your destruction.

Make the most powerful decision a person can make and forgive everyone, everything. Forgiving others completely for everything real or imagined done against you, will give you a degree of personal liberation heretofore unknown. Such forgiveness, offered from and within our human frailty, releases the spirit beyond comprehension.

When people forgive each other, they wear divine clothing, and the prison doors of their own hearts become unlocked and the miserable trio of anger, bitterness and resentment are set free to do their work elsewhere.

January 22, 2006

The myth of love at first sight

by Rod Smith

Love requires knowledge and experience

Love at first sight is impossible. Love requires knowledge, time, maturity, conflict, fun, experience, mutual struggles, and a lot more together before authentic love can develop. People can know “at first sight” that love might develop. Such knowledge, in itself, is not love. Every “in love” couple knows they are still learning what love is and means. They know it requires a growth period of twenty, thirty, or even fifty years. Sadly, many couples give up on each other, and on love, before it has the time to mature into something exceptional. When they see it is very hard work, having hoped for something easier, sights are lowered and something approximating love develops, then boredom peaks, and even the divorce court can beckon. Sometimes an affair stands in the wings or a grave brings relief.

Authentic love is about effort, decisions, actions, attitudes, and commitment spread over many years.

Loving someone is about seeking his or her highest interests while, at the same time, not ignoring your own highest interests. It is impossible to love someone more than you love yourself. It is impossible to know someone more deeply and more intensely than you know yourself. Pseudo-love can masquerade as authentic love and, at first, feel very good. In its early stages, manipulation can be confused with caring, intimidation with a “watchful eye” and domination with “strong commitment.” These are the love’s poisons and distorted love follows. True love’s hallmark is freedom for both and a respected, acknowledged voice for each. Anything less is not love.

When a couple, say Anne and Bob, are both healthy people who develop a lasting and loving relationship, she is able to focus on him without losing or compromising herself. They don’t become each other nor are they glued together. Being apart does not mean falling apart or the undermining of the relationship; being together does not deny individuality. She’s decided to love him. Bob has decided to love Anne. It has nothing to do with the performance of either. The love lives inside each one for the other.

Anne and Bob focus on what they can give to each other without giving up themselves. They know a mature loving relationship is about total equality. They desire mutuality in every respect and both work very hard toward it. There is a palpable freedom between them and a team attitude even when they are involved in unrelated or separate activities. They inspire each other toward separate and shared goals. Neither is threatened by the other’s willingness to grow and achieve and both heartily applaud and encourage the success of the other.

They are willing to hear things from each other they would prefer not to hear. Neither changes what they think, feel, experience or believe to accommodate what they believe the other might prefer to hear. Truth is told with kindness. Anne and Bob share a sacred trust. Questions are born out of a desire to participate in each other’s lives and not from suspicion about each other’s activities. They know and often experience that love casts out fear.

Ann and Bob are faithful to each other because faithfulness builds healthy, sound friendships with all people. Ann is faithful to Bob because even if she did not know Bob, she’d be a faithful person. He is faithful to her because he already is a faithful man. In a sense, their faithfulness has nothing to do with each other.

An absolutely private world, holy territory, lies between them. They go to places together in this world that each has never been before. Here, they touch the heart of God through commitment, mutuality, freedom and respect. In this private place of communion, the depth they know in this sacred intimacy is never equaled with another or devalued or soiled through compromise with another. It is highly valued, a protected place for them both, and, like very expensive art, is defended, enjoyed and treasured by each of them.

January 21, 2006

Loving very young children in our families…

by Rod Smith

1. As parents, don’t fall for the myth that moms are more important than are dads, or that moms are somehow better equipped or “more natural” with babies and small children than are fathers. Such thinking robs all the participants in the family of fully enriching each other. Fathers are as equipped as mothers to care for newborn babies and small children. If dad is not, or does not feel as if he is, I’d suggest mom get out of the way so he can learn! This, by the way, is not something the mother ought to try and teach the father. He has to learn it himself with the baby being the only teacher!

2. Teach your child to handle reasonable tasks as soon as possible. Getting shoes, placing laundry in a laundry basket, taking dishes to the sink, are tasks even the very young can learn. Applaud accomplishments with gusto! The more autonomous (self-reliant) a young child can see she is capable of being, the more of a self-starter she is likely to become. Don’t do for children (or for adults for that matter) what they are able to do for themselves.

3. Talk to children, even babies, using real words, real sentences, employing a “normal” voice. While I am sure “baby talk” serves a purpose, I’d suggest it is easier for a child to learn to speak a legitimate language, in the first place, than to have to make a transition from mom and dad’s goo-goo-gibberish to the language of the general population.

4. Throw off the “third person” act: “Mommy wants Biggie-Boo to take a tubby-tubbby-bubby-bubby!” says a mother as if she is talking for someone other than herself in an unidentifiable language. “I want you in the bathtub” is a lot less confusing. Children need parents who understand what it means to be, and have, a strong sense of “I”. Use it.

5. Tell your children, even babies, what’s going on. It is a good habit to develop even if the child is very young. Including your child in matters pertaining to his life develops within you the habit of creating an environment of cooperation and respect. Treat your toddler with the quality of respect you’d like him to offer you when he is fourteen, sixteen, twenty and thirty.

6. Play with your young child as much as possible. Include lots of physical contact. Young children need to able to totally “let go” in a parent’s arms, climb over your body; dangle upside down while totally comfortable trusting in your strength. A daily routine of physical contact enhances a young child’s ability to trust and enjoy people and the world around her. Remember children measure wealth in time enjoyed with mom and dad, in walks, in shared sunsets, shared games and in time spent wrestling with mom and dad on the carpet.

7. Dump your TV, DVD player, games and all other forms time-wasting nonsense! Your young child doesn’t need a parent on an electronic leash, whose life revolves around what’s on TV and who is unable to enjoy life without a remote in his hand or a movie blaring throughout the house, Remember, you are the kind of adult your child is most likely to become. I am astounded at the number of parents I meet who never, or seldom, read a book, and who then blame the school because their child doesn’t read. It is you, the parent, and not the teacher, who is the primary influence upon who and what your child will become. Do you really want your son or daughter to grow up unable to enjoy life without mind-numbing TV and the paralyzing power of electronic games?

January 19, 2006

Are you living in “relationship hell”?

by Rod Smith

You walk on eggshells. You fear fallout yet wish for it. You say something then wish you hadn’t. You know that no matter how innocent or insignificant the conflict, whatever occurs will get magnified out of all proportion. Innocent statements will be misinterpreted, misquoted and repeated incorrectly forever. You feel trapped by what is supposed to be love but have second thoughts (actually a million thoughts!) about how love is supposed to feel.

You are usually wrong and you are told you are stupid. When you admit fault, even stupidity, you are at fault for admitting it. When you are right you are wrong for saying so, or you think you are perfect and trying to show others up. If you are silent you are avoiding conflict. If you speak out you are “looking for trouble.”

In your intimate whirlpool white is black, black is white and the water is very murky. Innocence is guilt. Pointing out obvious error is entrapment. You are exhausted with the load of meeting the emotional needs of someone who cannot or will not take responsibility for their own needs. You “share” life with an emotional piranha and yet, for some unfathomable reason, you stay, feeling unable to escape.

January 19, 2006

Ex husband is inconsiderate about time…

by Rod Smith

Reader: “My ex-husband never comes to pick up the children (4 and 7) on time or bring them back to me on time. Being on time has been a problem for him even when we were married! This is very annoying for me but I try to hide my frustrations from the children and so he never sees how it really upsets me. My children love their dad and so I don’t really want to cause a big issue over this but it very inconvenient when I have made plans and he does whatever he wants and then it makes me late.” (Harsh language deleted)

Rod’s Response: What do you expect? He had a time issue when you were married. He has a time issue when you are divorced. I suggest he had a problem being on time when you were dating (and then you probably accomodated it or even thought it was cute!)

Tell him what you’d prefer and he might hear you (some people do grow up!) but don’t count on it! Your children’s visits with their father are very important and so you might have to live with it. Build your plans around this priority.

When the children are older things might change. They will probably not tolerate his poor manners and, by then, he just might have learned that his selfish, inconsiderate behavior has lasting consequences.