Archive for ‘Difficult Relationships’

April 23, 2017

Over-mothering

by Rod Smith

I see a lot of over-mothering – mothers who willingly, sometimes compulsively, offer their lives for babies and children. Mothering so overcomes them that there is no room for anyone or anything else.

Themselves included.

And, it’s fully understandable. The much anticipated (or unanticipated) baby arrives and changes everything.

Babies are very powerful. They deliver many a parent into a promised land of new meaning and purpose.

The power, I have often thought, is inversely proportional to their size – the gravitational pull of Earth on a mother, at a time she is so honestly and purely vulnerable. And, of course, if her life is already subject to pain (and who’s life is not?) she is all the more vulnerable to “solving” her incompleteness in the baby.

Sadly, while the baby restores meaning, purpose, and hope, the child was never deigned to BE (to embody) Purpose, Meaning, and Hope (that’s reserved for Another Baby).

As inviting, seductive, and honorable as it may appear, losing our lives for our children serves no one anything worth having, especially, and with glaring irony, the very children whom we love.

Children were never capable of handling worship and they don’t respond to it very well.

I am, I believe, uniquely (but not singularly) positioned to see this. I am not, of course, a mother, but I come pretty close. I have had the joy of the solo adoption of two babies from birth.

I know, I know, before you fire off angry letters, it is not the same.

My first son’s mother approached me to adopt her unborn son, and my second son came to me in an equally unusual manner. Remarkable women, in my book, women who both carefully calculated that their sons would have something from me that neither could see themselves offering.

My sons are now 19 and 14 and have been with me from hour 1 (I was at his birth as the labor coach) and day eight respectively. Being a solo dad in a bi-racial family in the Mid-west of the USA has held more than a few surprises.

At the news I would adopt, people warned me about the dumbest things: nappies (diapers), three-hour feeding routines, and sleepless nights. They warned me about how my life would change as if children are only an inconvenience. I was informed, on more than a few occasions that my sons are black – as if it were something of which I was thoroughly unaware.

But, no one, absolutely no one warned me that the babies would enter my life and take it, yes, take it from me.

No one warned me about the power of love.

No one warned me that I’d rush to protect my sons when protecting them was, in that instance, not in their highest interest.

No one said that if I was not intentional about maintaining a life of my own I’d dissolve into my sons’ lives.

Yes, Over-Mother. I think I do understand. I think I do understand that you love your child more than your own life. That’s clear. It is my impulse, too. I struggle with this day in and day out.

But, if we really want to empower our sons and daughters, we’d better ourselves live and love as fully now as we hope they will fully love and fully live one day. How else will they learn?

April 22, 2017

Monday meditation / Nine simple truths

by Rod Smith

Nine simple truths –

May they be your first thoughts every morning and may they infiltrate your every move and every relationship:

I am….

  • To be respected and treasured and able to respect and treasure all other people.
  • Capable of expressing my opinions and will do so with growing and greater confidence.
  • Uniquely gifted and my gifts are useful to my immediate and broader community.
  • As unique as the proverbial snowflake and yet part of the human family, tainted with its vulnerabilities, failures, and frailties.
  • Capable of forgiving the worst of offenses I have endured, and capable of seeking forgiveness for the worst offenses I have committed.
  • Able to encourage the discouraged and offer hope to the hopeless.
  • Unafraid of the talents of others and able and willing to help others find their greatness.
  • Capable of becoming the most generous person I know.
  • My own best friend so that I may be a friend to others.
April 22, 2017

Cellphone rules 

by Rod Smith

1. Turn the phone off when you are in meetings, at the theater, or while you are paying for your groceries.2. The person present (in front of you) gets your attention over the person absent (at the other end of the phone).

3. Don’t text, read text messages, make or receive calls, play electronic games, when you are in a conversation with someone or having a meal with someone.

4. If you expect an “important call” that will warrant taking a call while you are engaged in another conversation, have the decency to announce your intentions ahead of time.

5. If you must use the phone in a public area, talk quietly.

6. If you happen to call a “wrong number” have the decency to apologize.

7. Turn your phone (and computer) off for the entire weekend — give your family your undivided and un-distracted attention.

April 18, 2017

Gifts for our elderly parents: 

by Rod Smith

Four gifts for our elderly parents when we ourselves are adults: 

• Regular phone calls and frequent visits. Everyone likes to be in the loop with the people we love. If you’re too busy as an adult to make regular contact with your parents, you are too busy. Something about your life probably needs re-assessment.

• Room for your parent to think and to speak and to tell stories you, the adult son or daughter, may well have heard a thousand times. Stories are obviously a powerful link to past and serve to re-ignite the soul. Your parents’ repeated telling of the same stories is providing a valuable service.

• Opportunities to be with your children. While a grandchild is not a commodity to be passed around, he or she is the promise of hope to a grandparent. As much contact as possible should be encouraged. Of course there are exceptions. If your parents are relatively sane and sober (when your child is present) then there is much to be gained from encouraging contact.

• Hearty celebrations of milestones. Ignoring or forgetting a parent’s birthday is the same for some as ignoring the parent. If your parents’ birthdays are something you regularly forget there’s something deeper going on with you that may need your attention.

April 17, 2017

No matter how highly functional or not, here are some family challenges worthy of pursuit:

by Rod Smith

Talk about what you would like to do more as a family and what would we prefer to do less as a family. The list may include monumental challenges that take years to address. The list may include things that can be changed in an instant.

Talk about what you would each like to do more, and less, as individuals in the family. As above, some may be really easy and some may take seemingly forever.

Plan something meaningful and unusual (“off the charts”) that the family agrees to work toward. This may be a trip, a building project, or entering as a family into a race.

Discuss (according to age, ability, and appropriateness) topics that are usually taboo like death, sex, finances, and family secrets. Discuss why they are taboo in the first place. When and why and how did the secret become a secret. Who decides what is and what is not a secret?

Consult a professional who is able to construct a Genogram with your family. Request that it span three generations. This will (potentially) alert family members to troublesome trends and urges that pre-exist within the family system and therefore (potentially) equip members to face them if and when they emerge again. Nothing in families is new!

April 16, 2017

My son leads the pack….

by Rod Smith

April 15, 2017

Jesus followers hit the wall….

by Rod Smith

Easter Saturday, a little more than two thousands years ago, the first followers of Jesus hit the wall. His execution was complete. His corpse secure in a tomb. The courageous teacher was gone. He, who had done no harm, who’d loved so intimately, lived so passionately, challenged everything so profoundly and, like none before or since, practiced what he preached, was finished. Kaput.

There’s little doubt that depression and dejection hung heavily in the air for his followers.

They had traded all they’d had and known only to be abandoned by one who could walk on water, still storms, raise the dead, yet not appear to be able to avoid his own death on a criminal’s cross.

Then, somewhere between midnight tonight (two thousand years ago) and early the following morning, Christians believe that Jesus, if you’ll excuse the cumbersome phase, stopped being dead.

He shed death, walked from the tomb, embraced life in an eat-fish-and-walk-through-walls body.

Believe it or not, you’ve got to give it to Christians. A rebound of this nature from anyone, let alone their beloved leader, would stimulate more than mere celebration. This pivotal weekend, Easter weekend, rekindles so much for Christians: grief, loss and grief, then exuberance.

Believers, of every background and representing every cultural extreme and every ethnic diversity in every country on earth will flock to church to worship their risen Lord and proclaim death defeated.

On Sunday morning they will greet each other with, “The Lord is Risen,” to hear in response, “He is Risen indeed.” What they are really saying is, “On Friday I was horrified at what was done to my Lord. Yesterday I grieved his loss. Today he’s alive and there’s hope for us all, so let’s have a party.”

Great things can be learned from Easter: deep reflection, acknowledgment of grief, fresh beginnings, unreasonable generosity, and partying with abandon.

Let’s all do it, Christian or not. Let’s grieve deceased family members, relationships strained or severed, our possible role in the atrocities of greed, prejudice and plundering committed across the globe.

Let’s acknowledge opportunities missed and misused. Let’s consider the impact we have on others.

Let’s evaluate where and how we are a part of the world’s problem rather than the solution.

The uncanny thing about Jesus is that even if you don’t, as Christians do, believe he is the Son of God, doing the things he said is still good for people. Making a fresh start with someone you haven’t seen in a long time, like a brother, sister, and an in-law who gets your goat or an estranged business partner is good for the soul, rejuvenates communities. Reconnecting with people, offering grace, space to others, forgiving your harshest foes, your bitterest enemies, is movement in the opposite spirit of what is expected. It disarms explosive, stressed or polarized relationships and empties our tombs of unbelief.

Call your debtors with, “I’m canceling your debt. I cannot afford to have you owe me anything.” They might not deserve your generosity but Easter is not a do-or-do-not-deserve time. It never was, never will be. Besides, who among us can want what they deserve without experiencing feelings of fear and trembling? It’s about getting what you do not deserve. It’s about not getting what you do. It’s about grace, about being unreasonably forgiving, wildly extravagant with kindness.

Finally, celebrate your humanity. Dance with delight at the human capacity to reflect, repent and be revived. I’ll peek into my tomb today and do what it takes to clear it of resentments, self-pity, unrighteous anger and all else that keeps me from dancing. I trust you will peek into yours, find it wonderfully empty and join me in a rich and loud celebration.

April 13, 2017

What some children I think are trying to say….

by Rod Smith

Dear Parent,

Please. Relax. Let go. Open your hand so I can grow.

I want the freedom all children deserve.

Please, emancipate me from the expectation of meeting your adult, ginormous needs.

Your need-to-succeed as a person, a parent, all centered on me, is a burden far too heavy for me to carry.

I am a child.

I cannot deliver you from the pain of the unfulfilled expectations of your own childhood. 

My childhood is not a recovery act for yours.

When you regard me as proof that you, the adult, have made it, we get entangled in ways that trip both of us up, and confounds us both.

Such covert expectations kills the joy that can unite us.

We are separate people.
It’s been that way from the very beginning. I know it and I’ve known it almost from the very beginning.

How come you don’t?

Why is this so much more difficult for you than it is for me?

While you regard me as an attachment, an extension of yourself, a banner announcing your success or declaring your failure, things get rough for both of us.

I am your child. I am not a trophy. I am not a ticket to greater happiness – although I do want you to be happy. I am a child. I am not endowed with special powers to make your life meaningful.

Of course I am special, and I am special to you, uniquely gifted, endowed with a God-given calling – but I am also, in many ways, just like millions of other children.

We both must remember this. Please don’t make me into something I am not and cannot become.

I am as unique as a proverbial fingerprint, AND, as common as any child ever born — ALL AT THE SAME TIME. I am a unique painting, a loving product of the Divine Hand – and yet, and yet, I am baptized into human condition, and as much like all humans as any – ALL AT THE SAME TIME. 

While you expect more than I am designed to deliver – we both feel the pressure and miss out on the real miracle we can know as parent and child.

With deep, appropriate love,

Your Child

April 13, 2017

Gifts money can’t buy

by Rod Smith

Unhindered attention: you have my ears, my eyes, my brain and my heart for this time, this hour, this meal, or this weekend.

Unilateral forgiveness: you have a fresh, completely new start with me even though we have a rich history. This means that, as much as it is possible, at least from my side, our pasts will not disrupt the present or impede the future.

Absolute freedom: you have God-given freedom that mine to honor, and so I will allow nothing in my behavior or attitudes to get in the way of your full enjoyment of the freedom that is divinely yours.

Room to discover: limited only by how much courage you have within you, you have the freedom to explore your talents, develop your skills, and pursue your dreams, and I will applaud you as you do so at every turn.

A safe zone: you may rest with me, be off duty with me, decompress with me. You may succeed. You may fail. You may talk about your worries or be as carefree as you need. I want to be a safe person for you and to learn how to be when I am not.

April 12, 2017

It’s not “outside” – it’s “inside”….

by Rod Smith

There is a woman I know who dates very widely. She seems to be in constant search of a man. Her online searches are almost always successful and result in a relationship that involves moving homes, changing her daughter’s school, and sometimes changing cities.

Three times, at least, I have heard “this is the one” and she has been fully invested in the new relationship. Her zeal is faultless. Her research is extensive. She is very aware of the impact that her relationships have on her young child and waits months before introducing a new man into her life.

The child is happy; she loves his mother. She is a trooper when it comes to moving and re-settling.

Four to five months into the relationship the woman’s control mechanisms kick in. She begins faultfinding and she begins to want to re-arrange the man into someone he is not. As each of the men has stood up to her, she reads resistance as rejection – and from there things plummet.

She knows she visits her unresolved family issues on the men who are close to her.

She is aware that in every case the men were honorable.

The outward search continues when solutions are only to be found is within.