Archive for June, 2009

June 30, 2009

Just Nuisance

by Rod Smith

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My childhood is peppered with my father’s stories of Just Nuisance, a beloved dog in the navy in and around Cape Town during the Second World War. This morning, on reaching for a seldom-read reference book on my book self, a Christmas card fell to the floor. The frayed card, bearing a roughly cut picture of the dog lounging on a leather couch reads:

“The navy’s famous mascot takes the last train home. Able Seaman Just Nuisance joins Able Seaman E. W. G. Smith (my father) in wishing you the most hopeful of war-time Christmasses and a victorious return to peace in the New Year, Christmas 1941, New Year 1942.”

I would enjoy readers’ insights and stories of this beloved dog even if you are passing them on second or third hand. I look forward to your emails.

June 30, 2009

Family therapy and the adulterous woman…

by Rod Smith

What we can learn about FAMILY THERAPY from Jesus and the woman caught in adultery….

(Longer post than usual – it is summer!)

When Jesus, the teachers of the law, the Pharisees and the “woman caught in adultery” are forced together for the well-known encounter recorded in John 8, the interaction illustrates some fundamental concepts of Family Therapy. More than this, the altercation shows a healthy leader’s response – A Non-Anxious Presence – to an evil, toxic, and yet quite common set-up.

The attempts to trap leaders in theological minefields, in “moral” dilemmas, and the pitfalls faced in religious and family hierarchies, the flawed expressions of human “righteousness” are with us, whether it was something faced by Jesus thousands of years ago or if it the local pastor trying to lead a church in the suburbs. The EMOTIONAL PROCESS remains the same.

Anywhere good leadership is occurring, the woman’s experience in John 8 will be replayed in its own way and the leader will face similar stresses as the trap the “moral” tried to set for Jesus.

Like many events recorded in the Bible, this one illustrates critical building blocks of Family Therapy. Particularly, this scenario shows (1) Triangles, (2) Fusion or Enmeshment, while most profoundly offering a view or a “window” into the concept Murray Bowen, one founder of Family Therapy, named (3) Self- Differentiation.

“But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.” 5”In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

This is the consummate triangle. The ferocious and determined Pharisees are fired up, fused with each other, and on the warpath, propelled by their sureness, the certainty of their righteousness. Their object lesson is a woman (Keep your distance!), and she is wrong (Unclean, unclean!) caught in a sin punishable by death. Jesus is pushed, accosted might be a better word, for an opinion by a herding pack of righteous men coming his way.

In response, Jesus demonstrates clear, well-defined boundaries, acute self-awareness and a tenacious understanding of humanity, the very hallmarks of self-differentiation, and the essentials of a healthy personality. (The Pharisees demonstrate the polar opposite.)

Jesus is taken by surprise with the arrival of the group of men who bring with them the adulterous woman. He has just sat down to teach. He is not expecting to be thrust into a theological or moral trap. The Pharisees are theological and social bullies. They barge in on Jesus and expect a hearing.

The men must have scouted the territory and gone out of their way to find her. They must have bullied and humiliated her into Jesus presence. To the Pharisees she is little more than a trump card, a means of exposing Jesus as theologically flawed. The camaraderie, their “blood-sport-togetherness” or locker-room-bravado is further fired by their “rightness” which blinds them to any possible surprises from Jesus and of course, blinds them to love.

The Pharisees focus on the woman’s sin, not because they want to bring her to correction. They have no care for her whatsoever. They use her to “win” something over on Jesus. The have no interest in her salvation or in her wellbeing. Their interest in her begins and ends with their attempts at trapping Jesus. Methinks the Pharisees sound much like the man who got her into this predicament in the first place! What is the difference between using a woman for sex or using a woman as bait? Both show no interest in her welfare and neither party respects her as a person.

This behavior demonstrates their poor boundaries, their fusion, and lack of differentiation. The sin of the woman is the focus of the Pharisees, not because they ache for her redemption, not because they want to fight for righteousness, not because adultery alienates spouses from each other and ruins, wounds, and challenges the social order.

People with sound boundaries, self-defined people, do not need the weaknesses or wrongness of others to underscore their goodness. Rather, they are sensitive to the vulnerable, compassionate with the weak, and can love and care without losing themselves to the object of their love, and without drowning in empathy or sorrow.

They went looking for her in order to trap her in her immorality. Now, with similar energy, they come looking for Jesus to lay for him a theological trap. Boundary violators have no way to self-govern and they are on a roll to show they are good and that she and Jesus are bad. There is no stopping the tirade at this point by anyone with equally poor boundaries. Confused people cannot “un-confuse” confused people. It takes solid, healthy boundaries to stop the invasive power of righteous confusion. Persons attempting such an intervention, from an equally unhealthy state, will merely escalate the conflict into greater polarity, avoidance, or estrangement.

The Pharisees lack self-definition and insight (if they had either this situation would not have arisen). Remember, they travel and attack in packs, hurt the weak and try to fuse with the strong. They need her (they cannot vouch for themselves) to validate who they are, to swing their claims. Ill-defined people cannot vouch for themselves or be their own object lesson because within each there is no healthy “I”. They have to triangle (recruit) someone or something in order to prove their position or display their worth. One-on-one confrontations are not attractive for ill-defined people, they simply do not have the self (the “I”) for it, thus their tendency to triangle others in order meet their goals.

7But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.

Notice that like all well-defined people, Jesus gets to decide how he behaves. He knows he makes the rules for his own behavior. The seriousness of the hour, the gravity of her sin, the rightness of the Pharisees and the pressure of all who are watching to see what he will do and how he will respond, are not adequately motivating forces for him to decide something in the heat of the moment. The pressure of the moment, or even any sense of compassion or feelings of pity for the woman, do not drive him or dictate his behavior. He is sufficiently self-defined, grounded, integrated, to know what he believes, and to demonstrate what he believes before he falls prey to their evil trap.

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Jesus agrees with the Pharisees regarding her condition. He does not defend her. He is sufficiently self-assured and self-aware, and insightful, not to take sides even at a time it might appear necessary. He suggests that the very people who have found her guilty dish out the lawful punishment. He asks those doing the punishing be morally positioned to do so.

Notice that in his magnificent expression of differentiation he gets them each to “think alone” and not as a group. By suggesting that they respond to her sin according to their degree of individual perfection, each has to begin some degree of reflection or self-contemplation. They arrive together (“unified”) but he talks to them as individuals. They depart as individuals (they become unglued). He strips them of the glue and the group falls apart. His capacity to differentiate (His integrity) un-fuses the fusion.

If he had been anxious and pressured and said, “Do whatever you all think is the right thing to do,” he’d have played into their zealous pack mentality and they might have immediately stoned her. After all, they are right. She is wrong. But being only right does not always resonate with compassion, empathy, acceptance and challenge. Being right, being kind, and being moral are not always the same thing. Some people are so “right” that the zeal, the power, the attitude behind their rightness makes them dead wrong.

8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11″No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Many writers have conjectured about why Jesus stooped down and about what he wrote. I believe such details are irrelevant. The point is that Jesus took the time to “steel” himself for the moment. He takes the time to be present for himself, to allow himself room to think. He gives Himself room to shift gears, to get perspective not distorted by their invasive zeal.

These are the marks of a non-anxious presence. He is not delaying or avoiding, nor is he confused. He is not “conflict-avoidant” or “conflict-averse.” Remember there’s a cross in his future!

He is enduring and embracing the emotionally charged moment, and, with his own “non-anxious-presence” he is discharging the charge, he is deflating the emotional balloon, bringing it all “down to size” without becoming infected by the surrounding anxieties. Jesus is allowing everyone an opportunity to face each other as humans rather than endorsing the necessary polarity as law-breaker and law-keepers. Notice how easy it is to judge when the criminal is faceless, nameless and how putting a person in the dock can change the attitude of the jury.

Jesus sees her face. Their intent was to embarrass her and to trap him but Jesus gives her a face and an identity. He demands they look at her as a woman, a person, for the first time.

He does what all great leaders do when faced with manipulators, with toxic triangles and evil people parading as righteous: he brings a calm by being calm, he acts as a thermostat to the volcanic emotions surrounding him, but, does not himself become “emotional” or reactive. He does not lash out at them in the manner that they have lashed out at the woman or at Him. He does not return evil for evil or try to combat intensity with equal display of intensity, He doesn’t not try to use reason with unreasonable people. Jesus talks to a woman. He talks with an unclean woman! This would be considered scandalous for a man, a religious man, and even more scandalous for a Rabbi. Jesus knows who he is and therefore is able to engage the woman with the full understanding of what the conversation “looks like” to others. If he were a person with blurred boundaries or one who was lacking in self-awareness, he’d have removed himself from her and either hidden himself among the Pharisees or gotten himself away from the Pharisees and the woman all together. When people are “triangled” (trapped, cornered) they have few options other than to be a victim – or run, attack or rescue. Jesus does none of these and he stays.

He remains non-anxious and present (a non-anxious presence) in the light of the confronting, attacking behavior of the Pharisees. He remains present for the woman in her humiliation. If he were a poorly defined man, an anxious man, he might have wanted to impress the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, or impress the onlookers with his “love” and compassion by running to the rescue of the woman. His behavior comes from within; it is internally processed, not externally dictated.

A less defined Jesus might have said, “You are most certainly correct,” in response to the Pharisees, if he’d wanted to side with them. “Not only do you accurately assess that I am one who knows the law, you know the law well enough to assess that she is breaking it.”

In this manner his response would have blurred the lines between who he was, and who they were. He would have removed any differences between them, fused with them. He’d have given up his beliefs and his behavior for theirs. This would have gotten the Pharisees “off his case” and they would certainly have made him their poster rabbi.

It is important to note that Jesus and the Pharisees agree the woman is a sinner but are polarized in the way they see her. They see Law. He sees a person. The Pharisees dehumanize and use her while Jesus responds to a troubled woman.

If he had been unsure of himself, seeking his identity in the acceptance of others, then siding with the Pharisees would not only have been right (according to the law) it would have given him “love” and “acceptance” enough to compensate for whatever he felt he was lacking at the time. When people need to use of the “badness” of others to show their goodness, something is usually awry.

On the other hand, if Jesus had expressed a lack of differentiation by siding with the woman, the interaction might have gone something like this:

“Yes. She is in the wrong, but where is your compassion?” he says, standing between the woman and the Pharisees, inviting her to hide behind him.

“Where is the man with whom she has sinned?” (He might have attempted to further triangle the woman by bringing in her fellow adulterer). “She is more sinned against than sinning,” he might have said, “Get lost you evil men who want to trap a woman in her sin.”

If this had been his approach he would not only have demonstrated a lack of understanding of the law, he would have incurred their further wrath. Such a move might have managed to get a lot of sinners on his side and he might even have felt quite messianic in doing so, but still he would have been reacting (giving away his power) to the emotional environment, as opposed to responding and keeping the power.

By taking sides with no one in this unfortunate scenario, by remaining within, yet apart from it, and by not rescuing the woman, she gets to face herself and not hide behind Jesus. Because he does not attack the Pharisees they, unexpectedly, get to examine themselves. He masterfully steps out of the fray, clears the ground between them and “forces” them into self-examination, and, into seeing the woman in ways they had heretofore not had the eyes to see.

His response is good for everyone. It encourages her self-respect and it takes the Pharisees sufficiently by surprise. They have no option but to consider their own moral condition. His response shifts the focus off the woman and onto their own behavior and they take the only option they can, which is to leave the messy scene of their own creation with their self-righteous tails tucked between their legs.

To hide behind Jesus (in our sin) does none of us any good (this is an attempt to “fuse” with Jesus). As each of us must do, she faces herself. She faces Jesus and she faces her accusers. The Pharisees are compelled to see her, not as a thing, as a sinner, as a means to their malevolent ends, but as a woman and an equal. They have to see her for themselves, rather than as men who somehow managed to get God on their side against her. Perhaps you have noticed that when people think they have God on their side it is easy to avoid seeing people as real people?

Jesus lets no one off the hook, including himself. He could legitimately judge her and his judgments would be accurate. He could condemn her. He’d be correct if he did. Instead of these options he speaks the truth without allowing anyone else, or any emotional pressure, to define the truth for him. He is able to offer her grace because it is an expression of who and what he is, and not because the teachers of the law or the Pharisees are pressuring him to do so.

Jesus is, in this exchange and in every encounter, himself. He demonstrates integrity to his very essence and, subsequently, everyone, the Pharisees and the woman, get to self-examine afresh. Potentially everyone is better situated for growth, for greater authenticity, deeper Godliness, and the same is likely to be true when anyone learns the wisdom of growing less Pharisaical (legalistic) and becoming more self-differentiated.

Everyone in this noisy and aggressive encounter has the potential to be freer than they were prior to it, which remains, to this day, a hallmark of encountering Jesus. To the woman, Jesus says, “Go and sin no more,” or “Go and TAKE UP YOUR LIFE.” To the Pharisees and teachers of the law he effectively says, “Go and stone no more.”

June 29, 2009

Four simple steps, one wonderful book….

by Rod Smith

Occasionally I like to recommend a book I have found inspiring. Anyone in any form of leadership will benefit from Rabbi Edwin Friedman’s Failure of Nerve, Leadership in the age of the quick fix. While no light reading, it is so very good it ought to be banned!

That said, here’s Tuesday’s MERCURY column:

You want greater emotional health?

1. No blaming. Take full responsibility for you life. It’s impossible to create the future you want while you are convinced you are a victim.
2. Try to separate feeling and thinking. Lead with your head, not with your heart. Thinking (deliberating, discussing) yourself into your future, rather than “feeling” your way, will at least gives you some opportunity for objectivity. “Feelings” will make you feel as if you only have extreme choices – usually all or nothing, fight or flight. Thinking will show you there are more options than you feel.
3. So-called “burnout” is not from working too hard but from living a meddling lifestyle. Remove yourself from the middle. Get out of the way of issues that are none of your business and you will be surprised at how much of a load will be lifted from your shoulders and how much more energy you will have.
4. Forgive everyone, everything, always. (I am not sure commas are necessary – what do you think?)

June 28, 2009

Sex education, puberty, and your children….

by Rod Smith / 317  694 8669 (USA) / 317 694 8669 (USA)

1. Get over all your own issues about sex and talking about sex. In other words, get out from under your own childhood or adolescent embarrassments and move boldly into this arena as the adult you are. Your child will ferry MUCH of who you are into the future. Be sure it is worth ferrying.

2. Be the first to talk to your child about sex. Do not leave this large facet of your child’s life in the hands of the school, Hollywood, television, church, or other children. Your avoidance of this topic, when it is so prevalent in the culture, sends your child a confusing message. And, get over blaming Hollywood and current culture for the mess out there! This is a cop out. Be your child’s parent.

3. Rather than wait for some “big talk,” have many “small talks” about all manner of human matters. This will make a “big talk” unnecessary. I like to have on-going conversations about all sorts of things with sex being one of those many topics.

4. Don’t assume your child is a “blank slate” when it comes to matters of sex and relationships. Try to access what he or she already knows by allowing the conversation to take on a life of its own. Adults who “steer” conversations usually end up where the adult desires rather than where the child wants or needs to be.

5. Don’t trick or trap children into conversations. Parents trick or trap children and then wonder why children cease trusting parents.

6. Parents ought not to rely on “Spot had puppies” or “we visited a farm” to avoid warm and pointed talk about sex with their child. Animals have nothing to teach humans about human sexuality.

7. Parents who are guilt-ridden about sex and sexuality ought to work through their own hang-ups if they want their children to be less complicated than themselves. Married adults who cannot engage in meaningful conversations about sex are unlikely to be capable of helpful conversations about sex with their children. Talk with each other about this beautiful human gift without embarrassment, without trivializing its importance, or regarding it as taboo.

8. While it is often believed men should talk with sons and women with daughters about puberty and sexuality, both parents can do equally well in talking with both boys and girls.

9. Physical changes accompanying puberty ought not surprise children. Ideally many positive conversations will predate these changes for your child and therefore will be changes he or she knowledgeably expects and welcomes.

10. While physical changes might be “old hat” to other family members, the changes are likely to usher in a heightened sensitivity for the child. This journey ought not become a source of humor, teasing or belittling. Don’t announce Johnny’s “broken” voice or the hair on his upper lip. If you want a child to be willing to speak with you about important, private matters, respect the child long before such conversations become necessary.

11. Don’t be surprised when your carefree preadolescent, who has hardly closed a door in his life, wakes up one day and becomes Mr. Private, double locking doors everywhere he goes! The innocent child, who once gave no thought to running naked from the shower to his room, will probably stop this completely. He or she may also want you and other family members out of the room when he or she is dressing. Respect this without drawing attention to it.

12. Respect closed doors. The child who says he or she would rather not talk about matters of human sexuality ought to receive a secret gift of an age-appropriate book on the topic. Wrap it. Leave it for your child to find. Don’t pry.

13. Your child’s transition into adulthood, along the often-troubled road of adolescents, ought to be as guilt-free as possible. Almost all teenagers engage in regular, lone, sexual self-gratification. The heavy layers of guilt so frequently associated with such activity are, in my opinion, more damaging than the act could ever be. As a parent, do your part in alleviating potential for guilt.

14. Times have changed (or have they?): many young people think it is cool to be sexually active from a very young age, that oral sex is not sex, that everyone is bi-sexual to some degree,… that …. and on it goes. Read up. Hold your head up and parent your child to face confusing issues with confidence.

June 28, 2009

Former sister-in-law has everything…

by Rod Smith

“My ex-wife and I were divorced after a long, bitter fight. After the divorce, my ex claimed all the contents of the house: furniture, appliances, curtains, curtain-rails, everything accumulated over ten years. Recently, I picked up my children from my former sister-in-law’s. To my disgust I discovered that half my furniture now decorates her living room. For ten years I opened my house to her. She had keys to come and go as she pleased. I thought perhaps she should use better judgment when accepting gifts.”

Take up your life

Take up your life

Don’t enter the house if you don’t want to see your old curtains. The real material lies unclaimed between you and your former wife. For your sake, and for the sake of your children, get your understandable residue resentments taken care of. This action, on your part, will not necessitate even one conversation with your former wife. It is not about her. It is thoroughly and completely about your response to all that has occurred. Divorce is war. Killing a marriage is violent business, and you are its hostage. Your former sister-in-law may have poor taste and your old curtains, but it is peace you are missing. Regarding the living room, I get it. But I am not sure your former family will.

June 27, 2009

Deuling desires

by Rod Smith

Desires for Autonomy and Intimacy live within the deepest recess of self, where soul, spirit, body, intellect collide, connect, and have their enduring party

Desires for Autonomy and Intimacy live within the deepest recess of self, where soul, spirit, body, intellect collide, connect, and have their enduring party

The Healthy Person continually allows himself / herself to honor and respect the deepest inclinations of self while accommodating (and celebrating and making “space”) also for the deepest desires to be honored and respected within others.

Room to be free....

Room to be free....

AUTONOMY: This is a powerful instinctual longing within you. It is the desire to be self-directed and separate from others. It is the “you” who wants to be free of all ties, all responsibilities. It is the “you” that fears absorption by others; the “you” who wants to let your hair blow in the wind, feel the sun on your back and live a carefree life without things that tie you down. This is the spirit of the Wild West in you, the lone-ranger, and pioneer “get-me-out-of here” spirit within you. This desire, I believe, is God-breathed, God-inspired, and a necessary part of your survival and growth.

Connected to others....

Connected to others....

INTIMACY: This is a powerful instinctual longing within you. It is the desire to be close and connected with others. It is the “you” that wants to belong, be known and be part of a family, a team. It is the “you” that fears abandonment and desertion; the you who longs for a unified journey with others, the you that wakes up at night and wonders with horror, what it would be like to be totally alone. This is the nest-making part of you, the part who longs for the sounds, symbols and reality of a shared life. This desire, I believe, is God-breathed, God-inspired and a necessary part of your survival and growth.

It is important to understand and acknowledge that BOTH these dueling desires are alive and well within you AND they are alive and well within everyone you know. Think, rather than the urges being fixed, demanding and insatiable, of these core desires as being fluid states, urges that flow at differing strengths and intensities within each of us. “A” is larger than “I” in some people, in some cultures, in some churches and, of course, the opposite is also true. “I” is markedly stronger than “A” in some cultures and subcultures.

One aspect of maturity is an understanding and an acceptance that the desires described live within each of us. Also, maturity is living with the knowledge that these very strong desires do not have to always be filled. They can be “overridden.” They can be overridden in the desire to demonstrate love, to be kind or show patience. Always subjecting these desires to “override,” never acknowledging them, is likely to create emotional havoc within individuals and communities. Always submitting to them, as if they are uncontrollable forces, will sow seeds of similar havoc.

June 25, 2009

Voice lessons

by Rod Smith

Let your voice be heard!

Let your voice be heard!

Every person has a voice that is designed for full expression. Some have allowed their voice to be stolen or silenced and might find it necessary to take time to find or re-establish the voice they have chosen to deny or ignore. Thankfully, suppressing a voice seldom kills it. It can usually be found even after years of denial.

Any person who will not hear what you have to say, or who tries to silence you, does not love you even if he or she proclaims otherwise. It is never a loving act, except in very unusual circumstances, to stop someone from expressing who he or she is. Likewise, it is never a loving act to withhold your contribution to the world by maintaining your silence.

You were not created to be silent or to silence others. The world will benefit for hearing who you are and what you have to say. Part of having a voice, and using it, involves the process of discovering how best to package and express your voice so others can hear what you have to say.

Compromise yourself, your talents and skills for no one. Be silenced or made “smaller,” rendered voiceless for no one. It is never worth it. There is no cause, no relationship, worthy of your silence. There is no person of any rank, no spouse, boss, or spiritual leader deserving of your downplaying who you are. Only those with dark motives will seek for you to be less, minimized, diminished, or silenced. Walk away from such small-mindedness, even if it is costly to do so.

Find your voice; use your power!

Find your voice; use your power!

Loving, good people, will celebrate your strength, encourage your freedom, and admire your talent. Stick with such people. Stay with those who enlarge your world, not restrict, shrink, or contain it. Live fully, love fully, and speak fully.

I am weary of men and women, irrespective of who they are, who hold others captive, especially in the name of love.

I am weary of spiritual “leaders” who are afraid of gifted people; of bosses who silence talented people lest their own inadequacies be revealed. If you live above, and beyond, the damaging jealousies that surround you, you will stimulate the dreams of everyone in your circle of influence, and make your dreams come true before your very eyes – and the world will hear your voice.

June 25, 2009

Before marrying with children….!

by Rod Smith

1. Plan several sessions of “hard” talking with your potential spouse. It is essential that you temporarily forget the romantic elements of your relationship (I know this is next to impossible) to talk business. Blending families is one of life’s most difficult challenges, which is further compounded when both parties have children.
2. Don’t try to be the stepparent before you legally occupy the role. Prematurely playing a role will create problems once you legitimately occupy it. It is essential you do not assume roles you don’t occupy. If a child (or future spouse) treats you as a parent, it doesn’t mean you are one. Troubles brew when people push themselves, or are pushed by others, into roles they do not occupy. (This is true even beyond families!)
3. Bridges are best built before they are needed. It is essential that you insist on multiple meetings with both parents of ALL the children before you consider marriage (yes, you did indeed read what you just read). These meetings will focus on methods of co-parenting in order to secure everyone’s best advantage. If implementing such meetings seems overwhelming to you, you are probably heading for a minefield of countless unexpected, unwelcome complications – that will seem (believe it or not) even too large for love to overcome! What is avoided (denied, glossed over, minimized) pre-wedding will rise like a rabid monster quite soon (a month, a year, or even ten years!) after the wedding.
4. Financial integrity is as important as sexual fidelity! It is essential that you look into every detail of all financial records of your spouse-to-be and offer your own finances for similar scrutiny — before you plan a wedding. Persons who cannot responsibly handle money are unlikely to be able to handle the pressures of thriving within a blended family. If a would-be spouse suggests information of his or her finances are off-limits to you, wipe the dust off your feet and depart, no matter how much love you may feel. Authentic love, apart from having many other facets, is also measured in the degree of financial partnering established between lovers. Resilient love seeks the wise, open use of combined resources. Because blending families also often involves complex financial arrangements (child support and so forth, divorce costs, education bills for children of a former marriage) hiding the details from a would-be spouse is exceedingly unfair to all involved. I DID NOT say you have to SHARE all the money — I said you have to KNOW about it and plan about it.
5. Flee blamers. An adult who blames his/her former spouse (or parents, or childhood, the new political order) for everything will also, before long, blame you for everything.
6. Avoid people who cannot engage in civil conversations with an ex, with their parents, or their children.
7. Getting Johnny (or Mary) a stepparent will not ease his dissatisfaction with the divorce, school, or his craving for a “real family.” It is essential to understand that getting married will not solve any but the most superficial current family issues. Blending families is likely to unveil and exacerbate more problems than it solves.

All this said, and so much of it sounds negative, blended families hold the potential to enrich and empower all the people involved. Some of the healthiest, happiest families I have met in many years of meeting with families (in all manner of circumstances) have been blended families! Go for it, work through all 7 points above, and you will be all set to go!

June 25, 2009

His behavior degrades me…

by Rod Smith

“My partner would constantly question me about my feelings for my coworkers. He would accuse me of smiling, of trying to get attention of another man. He would check my emails and text messages. When he called me at work and I could not answer he got angry and would tell me that I’m talking to someone else and purposely not answering his phone calls. Once he sent me email in someone’s name saying he had feelings for me. I still love him very much but I cannot take it any more because it degrades me. He will never change and will never trust me no mater how much I tell him that I love him.” (Edited)

Love makes you free...

Love makes you free...

Love makes people free, it empowers, encourages, and is not jealous, petty, or cruel. The man does not love you no matter what he says. Be aware – once you try to free yourself of his virus, it will come after you. He will try every manipulative ploy to keep you. Then, as quickly, once he sees you have escaped his toxic web, he will completely reject you. These are ALL or NOTHING people, and the journey is long and hard unless the virus is continually fed, appeased, and in control. Move on as quickly as possible. You deserve better.

June 24, 2009

[Over]-parenting Karl

by Rod Smith

A little space goes a long way...

A little space goes a long way...

Over-protection had so overwhelmed Karl (15) that he had perfected the ability to escape from behind his own eyes. His vacant stare allowed him to see and note nothing most of the time. His head did turn slightly and very slowly in the general direction of his parents when they talked, but nothing about his demeanor allowed even a hint of interest. This did not inhibit the determined twosome in their attempts to correct this disconnection. Their every approach to Karl included rapid movements as they tried to prance into his line of vision, which was as difficult to discern, as it was to enter. His only response, which his parents found most encouraging, was a mild trace of disgust that appeared in the very minimal and effortless contortion of his lower lip. The boy had perfected the art of unspoken disdain that served only to have his animated parents increase their efforts to engage him even further. Disdain was something they found unthinkable, and it was quickly, positively, reinterpreted as they reassured each other of the widespread inability of teenagers to be demonstrative with love. They’d made a pact that they’d never believe anything negative from their son and encouraged each other with humor saying, “The Teen Monster abducted Karl.”

“Karl,” said his dad leaning elbows on his knees, “Look at me! Look at your mother. Look at anything.”

“Honey,” his mother said mirroring her husband’s pose, “you know we love you.”

The onslaught of words and emotion struck Karl’s shield, ricocheted off the ceiling and caused a shift in Karl’s posture. This encouraged his parents and they moved nearer to their son. Now his dad’s elbows were on Karl’s knees and his face was but inches from Karl’s nose. His mother had left her chair and hung earnestly over Karl’s shoulder while he pushed himself further into the furniture.

“Look at this Karl,” said father noticing their closeness, “what more could you want?”

“You have caring parents,” she said.

“You are such a popular boy,” he affirmed.

“You are so good looking,” she chimed.

“You have such a nice voice,” said one of them.

They shot their practiced affirmations at him because it was their nature to do so and because they well knew that teens are said to want acceptance and encouragement. Karl’s lower lip registered discomfort. Brief intense shudders raced the length of his face as if he was in shock treatment. He pulled his legs up onto the chair and placed his head between his knees which they saw as a covert invitation to move closer. Dad eased his own legs under the chair in the space Karl’s legs had vacated. Mother reached across the boy so that her arms were enfolding him as she placed her ear onto the exposed crown of his head.

“Karl we are not like other parents,” his dad said.

“We are here for you, Honey,” she interjected.

“You are everything to us!” they blurted.

Karl had an entirely new sensation. Somehow he was able to see into his own eyes which turned into a far-off clear inviting ocean. His meek movements toward the ocean became a strong walk which broke into a steady and powerful run. By the time he’d reached the rolling surf, he’d shed his clothes and plunged into the breaking surf. He tore through the waves as they beat upon his torso throwing him briefly into a panic until he surfaced finally in the calm of the open sea. In some dark corner of another world and over some musty chair, his parents were locked, speechless and uncomfortable in a rigid embrace, darting tentative stares into each others eyes looking for boy named Karl.