Silver Linings Blog Relaunch

IMG_0258It has been almost 3 years since my last Silver Linings post, which ended a 4 year run that included approximately 400 blogs.  It’s time to relaunch the blog since we need it now more than ever.

The blog was created in November 2012 as I was beginning my exploration of creating a good life through intentional practices and the science of wellbeing, ie, positive psychology after my 20 year marriage ended. I was so surprised back then to discover this field after spending a lifetime experiencing challenges and struggling to create a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

The blog was really a way to translate my reflection into learning and sharing.  Those lessons were hard-earned, often involving sleepless nights, many tears, and sometimes at the expense of relationships, my personal self-esteem, or even the self-esteem of others.  I don’t regret having to learn any of those lessons.  We all have to learn them sometime, somewhere.  What I regret are the lessons I failed to learn at the time and the people I hurt despite my good intentions.

What has transpired since my last blog has been an incredible, wonderful, yet tragic span of my life.  About that time, I had just started a job at the University of Georgia supporting faculty success and wellbeing using all the precious life lessons and training I had cultivated over the many previous years.  I felt I was doing the work I was meant to do, and sharing my lessons so that individuals and the organization as a whole could benefit from every tear I shed and heartbreak I endured.  But it was not meant to last because I lost my beloved sister, Sabina, and husband, Christopher, to cancer in 2018, just 7 months apart.

What followed was another crash course in survival, perspective-finding, transformation, and inspiration that led me to eventually quit my job and start a new nonprofit called the Foundation for Family and Community Healing.  Because relationships have been so important to Sabina, Chris, and me, combined with what feels like a crisis in our ability to hold our families and communities together in a healthy way, the focus of FFCH is on helping others to learn to create healthy and rewarding relationships with themselves and others.

Also, as I sat with the forest in my backyard, day after day, holding vigil for my sick husband or my own grief, I realized that it is not just our relationships with ourselves and each other that are in crisis, but also our relationship with Earth.  Thus, FFCH is also helping all of us to restore our healthy and balanced relationship with Earth, not just on the physical level, but also emotionally and spiritually.

We are leading a social media campaign to discuss this more emotional and spiritual side of our relationship with Earth and asking people to become more aware and intentional about their relationship practices and habits with Earth and our natural world.  Please join us as we explore humanity’s opportunity to heal this relationship and provide support for Earth as she heals, as a novel (and also ancient) climate change solution.

I am relaunching the Silver Linings blog here as well because I am in a place of acute transformation and generativity that is above and beyond where I left you in October 2016.  Just as I shared my journey, reflections, and lessons with you after my divorce during the first phase of the Silver Lining’s blog, I wish to again include you in this new phase which is so full of inspiration and hope, despite my personally tragic year 2018, since to do otherwise would feel irresponsible and selfish on my part.

I invite you to join me, anew if you were a previous reader, as I continue to learn and reflect upon the many lessons of hope, transformation, mortality, connection, spirit, our natural world, our relationships, and our purpose.

Despite much effort and attention in the self-help world, I continue to hear that people do not have time to consider such subjects.  They are busy with their goals and responsibilities, many of which are absolutely real and often important, if not critical.  However, I also encourage you to take a step back and look at your life from the 30,000 foot view, and ask yourself what really matters right now given the challenges we are facing as communities, families, and individually? When will you prioritize your own, your family’s, or your community’s wellbeing and peace of mind?  Are all the things on your list really more important than that?

At some point we have to put our proverbial feet down and refuse to continue to buy into the notion that all of our ‘shoulds’, ‘have tos’, and ‘musts’ are real, and to instead, consider and commit to those things that really matter.  Peace.  Hope. Compassion.  Kindness. Connection.  Care. Love.  Is your entire list of priorities really more important than cultivating these things in your life, family, community, and world?

If the answer is No, be bold, get a big, fat Sharpie, and cross things off your To Do list, remove yourself from obligations that no longer hold meaning and purpose for yourself, and commit to taking the time you need to reflect on your values and priorities given what’s going on in your life and world.  Then reallocate your time to pursue the things that are most important and urgent. Perhaps your new To Do list will include sharing your journey with us through this or our other communities.  If so, I appreciate your willingness to learn and share with me and others in this space.

As a seasoned coach, I know that we have the individual and collective wisdom to accomplish anything and solve any problem, if only we will stop running around and take a reflective and experimental approach to identifying problems and solutions.  So stop.  Now.  Tune in.  Engage.  Take action.  With us, and/or elsewhere.

I look forward to seeing you in this space going forward.  May you have peace and hope as you take action to create the world in which you wish to live in.

Same Problem, Different Relationship

It’s always a surprise, but it shouldn’t be.  Our friends and family, though, can see it coming a mile away.  In the meantime, you’re kicking yourself for falling for the same type of person who just broke your heart.

See, it’s tempting to think by kicking your Ex to the curb that you’ve learned your lesson and you’re going to do better the next time around.  Your new love just seems so perfect.  So different.  What you don’t remember is how your Ex also seemed so perfect when you first fell in love.

“You complete me” – Jerry Maguire

There are two parts to this equation.  First, according to relationship experts like Harville Hendricks, we fall in love with people who replicate our childhood wounds.   Since I have discussed this previously in What Every Couple Should Know Before Getting Married and Blessings of a Dysfunctional Marriage, I will just summarize to say that we fall in love because, on some level, we feel that we’ve met the person who will heal our childhood wounds.  When we realize they won’t is when the trouble, conflict and discontent occur.

The second part of this equation is your choice.  You can either blame your partner and get all your friends to agree what a horrible person she is (see A Random Act of War, Part 2), or you can heal your own childhood wounds.  By healing your wounds, you also help your partner heal hers, and thus strengthen and reinforce your relationship (see Do I Stay or Do I Go?).

“You bet on me like I bet on you” – Rod Tidwell, from Jerry Maguire

If you choose blame and denial about your role in your troubled or failed relationship – guess what? – you’ll go and repeat the cycle with your next partner.

If you don’t believe me, go out and try it.  Or maybe you have already.

“How’d I get myself into this?” – Jerry Maguire

If you’ve gone from failed relationship to failed relationship, ask yourself:  what is the common denominator?

If you’re now launching into a 20 minute answer, then maybe you’re fooling yourself.

You don’t know what it’s like to be me” – Jerry Maguire

If your answer is “me”, then you know what to do.

“Show me the money!” – Jerry Maguire

How to do it is another story, and is a major theme of this and many other blogs, books and therapy sessions.  Know that it is a life-long journey that is filled with wonderful discoveries, beauty, joy, and forgiveness.   Remember:

It’s about the journey, not the destination” – Dad

(If you need a Jerry Maguire quote the only thing I could find that works is, “If you fuck this up I’ll kill you.”  It just seemed wrong.)

What Every Couple Should Know Before Having a Baby

out of control

out of control

Like marriage, I had heard nightmare stories about raising kids and how much work, how difficult, and what an expensive, exasperating experience it is.   No one ever told me it would be the best thing I have ever done, a joyful experience pretty much every day.

I’m not saying it’s easy or always fun.  There is much thankless work to be done raising children – you can imagine or recall – but the rewards can exceed the effort manifold.   But I believe this to be somewhat conditional upon whether the parents are proactive, patient, and realistic about their children. If not, it might end up being huge relief when they leave home.

There are two main types of mistakes that I see (this is your first clue that I’m going to generalize like crazy).  First are the parents that are too controlling.  They expect their kids to be perfect, even when it is developmentally impossible.  (I will just say for the record that perfection is a counterproductive goal in any circumstance.)  So requiring a two-year old or even a teenager to control their emotions is pretty much impossible.  Expecting it is crazily unrealistic.  To insist upon it creates stress for the parent and potentially emotional scars in the child.  The latter creates all kinds of problems, not limited to rebellious behavior.  Being too controlling also impairs a child’s ability to learn to be independent – how to take care of, think, and make decisions for themselves.  Controlling parents may create controlling kids who may eventually want to control the parents when they get old.

“Your children will become what you are so be what you want them to be” – the Happy Place, Facebook.

Second are the parents that are too permissive, indulgent, and/or trying to be the child’s friend, not parent.  They do not want to upset the child, fight with the child, in any way blunt their natural development, make them feel unloved, and so on.  The problem with this approach is, depending on how the child is indulged, the child may not learn self-discipline, delayed gratification, moderation, empathy, humility, self-control, money management and/or basic social skills.  Here is where I think parents can invest in their long term peace-of-mind by modeling self-discipline early on.  For example, I think it was much easier to teach our kids manners and the rules and expectations of the house starting when they were toddlers.  By “easier”, I mean that it only took 5-8 years of repetition, reinforcement, appropriate consequences and rewards to get them to use their manners, behave in a civilized manner, or pick up after themselves.

Hard to believe there’s a “harder” alternative.  Paradoxically, it feels easier in the beginning to give in to and spoil the child.  Then, after failing to teach discipline, age-appropriate independence and self-control, we may experience the consequences of indulgence such as acting up and failing to meet their responsibilities at home or school (add hormones and freedom to the mix when they’re teenagers), poor social skills, or being demanding (for money or acting out for attention).  The bad behavior would start with the Terrible Twos and continue until they leave home, so indeed, this would be the harder path in the long run.   These children may grow up to be demanding, entitled, ungrateful adults who ignore their parents when they are old, or continue to expect them to provide for them when it should be their turn to care for their parents.

These are huge generalizations and most parents are not operating in the extremes.  We may even be too permissive in some areas and too controlling in others simultaneously.  Additionally, every child is different, and what works for one child may not work for another, so a parent has to be able to adapt and experiment for each situation.  No matter what you read or people tell you, parenting is an art.  In the end, it’s just one great big experiment, and you don’t get the report card until the kid goes into therapy when they’re 30 and you find out how you screwed them up.

In the meantime, since that report card is still more than a decade away, I try to apply a daily antidote to my parental screw-ups and blind spots.  Our philosophy has been to spoil our kids with love, not stuff.  As such, I hug and kiss and tell my boys I love them every day (they’re 19 and 17 and they still let me, but not in front of their friends),  tell them frequently that I love them unconditionally no matter what happens, what they do, or who they become.  I compliment them sincerely as often as I can about something they’ve done or just who they are. I try to sit down and have a conversation with them regularly about what’s going on in their lives, and really listen.  I try to provide at least one meal or activity per week that they get to choose for themselves or the family.

The stuff – they must largely earn these things on their own, either by saving their allowance or working.  They can lose any of that stuff or other privileges if they fail to follow the rules.  In other words, there are pretty clear boundaries about what is required of them and the consequences if they break the rules.  If rules are fair and have been applied consistently and the consequences proportional to the infraction, then they will know and follow the rules.  If not, they will find ways to break the rules, possibly using escalating behavior.  My opinion  is it’s just as bad to have inconsistent discipline as no discipline at all.

No one told me that being a Mom is the best job in the world.  It truly is.  The joy my boys have brought me has been beyond my wildest dreams, and every bit of effort, patience, investment in time/energy early on payed off 100-fold in the end.   I have loved every age, including the Terrible Twos and the teenage years.  No, it’s not perfect but we learn from our mistakes.  We forgive ourselves and our children for just being imperfect humans who are trying our best.   If I forgive and love my children unconditionally, then maybe if I’m lucky, they will forgive and love me unconditionally for just trying to be a good Mom.

An Unusual Thanksgiving Gratitude

There’s a good reason that depression skyrockets around the holiday, and I have to surmise that for a large number of people it’s because of difficult family relationships and dynamics.

I would say our family dynamic is more… unconventional.  Thanksgiving this year will mean a potluck dinner at my house with my kids, my sweetheart Chris, his daughter and her boyfriend, my ex-husband Dave and his parents and sweetheart.

If we can only add in the parents of our sweethearts, this blended family stew (powderkeg?) would be like some sadistic Brady family gathering.

The family reunion has been happening for special events and holidays for over two years, since Dave and my separation.  This arrangement was suggested by our co-parenting mediator, that we do the holidays as a family, for at least a year.  Dave and I happily did so, because we were acting on the belief that the kids’ needs came first in the divorce.   After the year ended, it seemed to make sense to keep up the tradition.  After all, it was nice to get together; Dave and I have very little animosity towards each other, and much good will after our 20 year marriage.   I think it’s safe to say we both still enjoy each other’s company, at least the majority of the time, and that there is still much mutual respect and admiration, especially as to how it relates to each others’ role as parents.

Last year it was a little different.  Dave and I had both been in long-term relationships, and it felt wrong to exclude our new significant others from the table.  How can we be properly thankful when we are leaving some of our dearest behind, like some kind of dirty secret?  I can’t say it was the most relaxing, laid-back holiday we’ve ever head.  I can’t say either that both Dave and I were on our best behavior the entire meal.  My Chinese horoscope is the dragon, after all.  But at least we broke the traditional social expectations of going to our separate corners/tables and tried, for the most part successfully, to keep our divided family united.

Therefore, this Thanksgiving, I am extraordinarily grateful to those that love us enough to share in our crazy effort to stay together.  I’m not sure if it’s hardest for our sweethearts or the in-laws, but it’s obvious they love us enough to support our efforts and idealism.  Most of all, I’m enormously thankful for my family who is demonstrating with their actions that love is unconditional and a divorce decree does not mean you have to break your vows of loving someone forever.