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Category Archives: mental wellness

Your Loss Is Your Gain

Thought I’d stop and check in on you. How’s your holiday been so far? It can be a tough time for a lot of people and divorced parents are no exception. There’s something about the season that can make us focus on what we’ve lost rather than what we may have gained. Whether or not you have a good relationship with your ex, the
griefholidays have a way of reminding you of the un-whole aspect of your family and then unceremoniously throwing it in your face. It may be because you’re not with your kids during the holiday. It may be because you are. It may be because you’re all together but in a very different dynamic than you were a few years ago. It may even be a very positive and happy time. But it’s still a reminder of what used to be and that things may be patched, but in some ways they’re still broken.

Believe me I get it. The hard part is that there really is no “fix.” As with the loss of a loved one, all you can do is that which fate allows, which is to acknowledge and move on. Be strong. Lick your wounds, stand up straight and use your experience to your advantage. In many ways the hurt strengthens us. There’s a grit to it that allows us to know we’ve been there and made it through. It doesn’t erase the negative or fill the emptiness, but there’s something about having lived through adversity that humbles us and reminds us that we’re human.

Look, I could sit here and do my best to pump you up with words of encouragement; telling you not to focus on the pain. But honestly, I think sometimes we need to morn our losses. We need to give our souls a chance to heal. To ignore the pain is no more healthy than it is to dwell on it. If you’re sad, that’s OK. Give yourself an opportunity to grieve. It’s a part of who you are and to ignore it would be to ignore an important element of the whole “you.” So embrace it. Accept it. Carry it with you. Hold it dear rather than bury it deep where it can do
the-only-cure-for-grief-is-actionmore damage. I believe that in each of our defeats there is a victory. In every mistake a lesson to be learned. The new year represents a new dawn and an opportunity to take the sum of our experiences and build on them. To create new goals and new aspirations. To find renewed determination to make it better. And in order to do that we need to remember the hurt as much as the pleasure. Let it inspire you. Let it motivate you.

Recognize that life is a mixed bag. Too much sugar isn’t healthy for the body. We need a proper balance of emotions to feel complete. So shed a tear for the losses, share a smile for the gains and look to tomorrow for new opportunities to sore higher than you’ve ever flown. And use these moments of emptiness to remind you of where you’ve been and how amazing it will feel to be full again. Then when you’ve given yourself a chance to take it all in and come to terms with it, it’ll be time to take action and put it all behind you.

Take advantage of this time to reflect on the past year, both good and bad. A new year is right around the corner and anxious to take you on new adventures. Let’s be ready to go and see where we end up!

 

 

 

 

 

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If You Only Knew What Your Kids Think

I recently discovered a growing number of kids who are reading and sharing LAADD and I’ve gotta tell you, it’s mind blowing. In most cases they are children whose parents are divorced or split, and as I read their own blogs, at times, quite frankly, I’m brought to tears. Their stories, their perspectives, their lives are, in some cases, rocked to the core by what they are witnessing. Their views of their parents and how they perceive the reasoning behind the choices their parents have made are at times down right chilling.

As a divorced parent, you need to know your children are watching. EVERYTHING. And they understand more than you often give them credit for. At the same time, they see things through the eyes of someone who’s never dealt with the pain that you’ve encountered. All they see is selfishness on the part of their parents. Theyimages don’t know the hurt you or your ex are experiencing. Nor could they comprehend it. They’ve never been married. They’ve never experienced some of the things you or I have. They can only judge what they see by what they can relate to and because of that their views can be somewhat skewed. But it is still their perception and it is their reality. What I’ve gathered from reading their own blog entries is that in many cases, they’re not impressed. And more often than not, they are hurting.

Their hurt is deep and shaping the way they view the world and the people around them. Whether or not they see themselves as a reason for the divorce, they still feel abandoned and unimportant. They consider themselves an afterthought. They view themselves as very much on their own. My guess is that part of the reason for this perception is that as single parents we have to be everywhere at once and often turn them away when they are trying to connect. Part of it may be because they see us worried more about our own emotional needs than theirs. In being passed back and forth they likely feel like a hot potato. Even if it isn’t true, in their heads they likely interpret us as saying, “OK, it’s your turn to deal with them.” They feel less like part of the team and more like the ball being tossed back and forth. Regardless of the why, what I’m reading in many cases is an internal emptiness. A dark void that has surrounded them. This void has made them cynical, cold and lost.

I share this with you as a reminder that we need to constantly renew our focus on the emotional and psychological needs of our kids. They didn’t ask to be brought into this scenario. We thrust it upon them. Regardless of who walked out, cheated, abused or initiated the separation, on some level our own choices in life are now directly affecting them. Even if one or both parents are a huge positive, any negative is going to be taken personally. No matter how many times we tell them we love them or want them around, in many cases they see regret in our eyes and ask themselves if bigstock_depression_184004181part of that regret is having had them. They ask themselves if they are your baggage first and your kid second.

I am so thankful for what I have learned through this journey. Some of it has been gratifying and other parts difficult to swallow. All of it has shaken me to the core. There is so much hurt to go around. So much pain, much of which bubbles under the surface, hidden from public view. It’s all the more reason to do everything we can to stay focused on the positive. To balance the negative and hurt with compassion and understanding. To view ourselves as part of the solution not part of the problem. To put our egos aside and take the high road. To hold our tongues and be aware of the big picture. We choose every day how to react to those around us. Our ex’s, our friends, neighbors, family and yes, our kids. And we have the power to set the tone. It’s not always easy and there is always the potential for misinterpretation, misinformed assumptions, and overreactions. Just stop when you’re at your limit or feel yourself on the verge of completely losing it. Do yourself a favor and remind yourself every day that you are the foundation your kids so desperately need. Know that they need to have a strong sense of belonging to a family. You have so much power to establish the energy of the room and build a healthy, encouraging, environment for their fragile, still developing egos. They want you to be there for them regardless of what they may say. And if you’re not, they will find somewhere else to turn. And often that place can be dark and and incredibly destructive.

There is so much our kids don’t share with us. Perhaps sometimes we purposefully turn a blind eye to it simply because we don’t want to hear it. Maybe we prefer to live in ignorant bliss. But it’s important for us to be aware of their reality. Ignoring it is not the answer. Get it out and address it head on. Some of the conversations are going to be difficult. Some of the things you hear are going to hurt. But remember, you’re the adult. Teach your kid to face the negative head on by constantly being there for them. As a parent, by definition, you’re often the enforcer of rules and bearer of bad news. But let them know you can also provide them with an open forum free from judgement. There are things they’ll want to keep to themselves, but there are things they want to and need to share. But they’ll only do it if you’ll let them and they feel safe in doing it. Do your best to let them know that when needed they can come to you to discuss things. And above all let them know they are the single most important thing in the world to you. They need to know that fact down to their very core.

 

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The Society That Cried Bully

Were you bullied as a kid? Before you answer, stop and really think about it and then consider how your kids will answer the same question thirty years from now.

The word is being thrown around a lot lately and in the process its definition is becoming diluted, which personally I think is an insult to those kids who are truly being tortured to the point of suicide. It’s also a danger to our own kids who are being taught to label those around them as bullies when in fact they may be nothing
more than an ignorant kid who simply called your child a poopy head.

I myself was teased as a youngster. I was the short kid in school. At one point I strongly considered legally changing my name to Half-Pint. Kidding aside, it had a profound affect on me. It wasn’t just kids calling me names and labeling me, it was teachers, parents, coaches, friends, family, you name it. They all had their
shutterstock_87771445“affectionate” little names for me and were always quick to point out that I was too little to do things. My self image throughout life was that of being small and scrawny. Even after I’d become an adult and, for the most part, caught up, I still considered myself puny.

Would I consider it bullying? No. Teasing maybe, but not bullying. Did it hurt? Yes. Did I react to it? Certainly. I remember one day getting so angry I actually found myself shoving the tallest kid in the class into the chalkboard and punching him. But that was pretty much the extent of it. It led to a trip to the principle’s office for both of us and a lesson on choosing how we react to people.

Then I discovered Ernie DiGregorio, a point guard for the Buffalo Braves of the NBA. Listed as 6′ 0″, he was closer to 5′ 10″ and seemed dwarfed by the other players on the court. Yet he held his own. He had poise and exuded inner strength. I thought he was the coolest guy on the planet and he was my idol. To a kid like me, he represented that the size of my body didn’t matter as much as the size of my heart. He gave me a positive to grab hold on to and carry with me.

I still hated being short and looking back can see how the names, always being at the head of the line in school, the names, having short sisters who were bigger than me, the names, and frankly just being short, all had a profound affect on my self image; both as a child and as an adult. Still I wouldn’t consider it bullying.
Would it have helped if people would have been a little more sensitive? Sure, but the question is at what point does teasing become bullying or something more criminal? And do we at times put too much of the responsibility on the teaser, and not enough on the teased?

WHAT? Blame the teased? No, I’m not suggesting we blame the teased. But I do believe we are on a path of making everyone out to be a victim, which is dangerous. Yes, it is without question important to teach our children (and adults for that matter) to be sensitive to those around us. To be compassionate, supportive and understanding. To lift each other up rather than knock them down. But we also need to be giving our kids the tools to deal with jerks. To recognize that they exist and how to look past them and keep moving forward. To learn the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who appreciate us and ignore the noise emitted by those who would put us down in an effort to build themselves up. To understand why people are mean and learn how to blow it off.

The reality is, no matter what we do as a society, there are going to be assholes. Hell, as a dear friend and mentor once taught me, on any given day we have the potential to be that asshole. There are going to be jealous, insecure idiots who will do whatever they can to push down the strong willed and those different than images-6them. When they attack we need to know how to handle it and brush it off. To recognize that typically these people need bigger hugs than we do and buying into their ignorance is giving them too much credit.

That takes practice and it takes a support system teaching us that the actions of the mean are irrelavent and nothing more than a cry for help from someone much weaker than ourselves. They are actually a sign that the potential strength they see in us is a threat, one they don’t know how to deal with so they choose to spew hatred. I honestly believe bullying has more to do with fear than it does hatred. We fear those who pose a threat and tend to become defensive. Some take it to extremes with relentless taunts, facebook posts, threats, verbal torture and worse.

My point to this post is simple. I’m concerned that too much focus is on teaching kids not to bully and not enough on giving kids the tools to deal with being bullied. As much as we need to let kids know how important it is to accept each other and respect each other for our differences, we also need to teach our kids the value of having a tough skin. To learn to deal with adversity and defeat. To pick themselves back up when they fail or someone hurts them. This doesn’t mean giving everyone a trophy to build up their self esteem. Quite the contrary. It means recognizing those teaching opportunities. The strikeout, the D-, not making the team, being called fat or skinny; singled out because of race or sexual orientation or for wearing the wrong shirt to school. These are all precursors to the struggles that await them as adults. Their childhood is a pre-season of sorts. And it’s our job to coach them through it to prepare for the big game. From pre-school to middle school to high school, each instance is a chance to learn how to deal with struggles and find the inner strength to over come them. (Please don’t wait until high school to start.)

YES! We need to help kids understand the impact of their teasing, and bullying. But there are always going to be those who bully because they already KNOW the affects of their actions. It’s why they do it! They want to inflict pain. They want to knock you down. That’s their goal. The more you point out to them that their actions hurt, the more you’re going to encourage them because they WANT to hurt.

My hope is that we as a society not only teach our youth the power of their words and actions, but that we also strive to raise a generation of emotionally strong, self confident young people who recognize that people who hate are afraid. Afraid of your strength. That sometimes the only way they know how to build themselves up is to take you down a notch. We need to raise a generation of kids who know how amazing they are to the point that even the harshest attacks will leave nothing more than a scratch. When I shoved the kid into the chalk board, we were BOTH sent to the principle’s office. I was told that while the other kid’s actions were unacceptable, how I responded to them was as bad if 314239679x356not worse. That violence isn’t the answer. When I got back to the classroom my teacher told me the same thing and told me that I was “bigger” than that. And she was right.

Your kids are going to be told throughout their lives that they aren’t good enough, that their thoughts are wrong and will feel at times like they don’t belong. They’re not going to gel with everyone they meet. We need to teach them that just because someone thinks they can’t sing doesn’t mean they should stop singing. In fact, we should teach them to sing louder so that more people hear them. Because I promise you, there is someone out there who will think they sing like an angel. Teach them to just walk past the ones who don’t and keep looking for those that do.

So what can we do? For starters let kids know they’re not alone. Show them that they have someone else they can talk to who may be going through the same thing. The Our Place Network is a great example. Young kids talking to young kids, monitored by an adult. There’s even a weekly podcast that goes along with it where kids can call in with questions or stories and get input from other kids their age as well as non-judging adults.

Yes, teach your kids to be sensitive. Yes, coach them to be supportive when someone stumbles. But at the same time educate them to know how to pick themselves back up when they themselves stumble and there isn’t anyone around to help them. Because it will happen. They will be picked on, they will be teased, they may even be bullied and feel like the world is against them. Give them the tools and the inner strength to battle through those moments, brush themselves off and be there to help the next guy.

 

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Bad Taste In Your Mouth

We all talk a lot about being around people who “get” you. And what a drag it can be when you’re around people who don’t “get” you. Even when talking about your divorce, you’re more than likely to say at some point, “we just didn’t get each other.” I did that. I put the onus on the fact that we just didn’t “get” each other. But then I Unknownstarted to look at the bigger picture and recognized that there were a lot of people in my life who just didn’t “get” me. And so I turned to the mirror.

The truth is that we likely have traits that create the same outcome in many aspects of our lives and a broken marriage is a great opportunity to take a closer look at ourselves. The problem is, life and societal interaction is a bit more complex than that. To believe that we alone are the soul contributor to the outcome of any relationship is ignoring the fact that, for lack of a better term, “it takes two to tango.” Perhaps the reason for our discontent isn’t always in how we interact with the world, but more, what world we choose to interact WITH.

Consider for a second that the world is your local grocery store and personalities are ingredients to a recipe. Pick any two ingredients and you’re going to get a different outcome. Some will compliment each other very well; such as peanut butter and jelly. While others, like the same peanut butter with pickles, will for most anyway, leave you with a bad taste in their mouth. So it stands to reason that if peanut butter only hangs out with different pickles I would imagine he’d start to think he didn’t taste very good. But what if peanut butter started hanging out with jellies more often?

Perhaps for some reason we keep hanging out in the wrong aisle, constantly trying to team up with the wrong ingredients. In turn we constantly find ourselves trying to blend with other personalities that clash with, more than compliment our own flavor. We’re then left with the feeling that no one likes peanut butter, I mean, us. Let’s face it, pickles just don’t “get” peanut butter. But jelly sure as hell does.

As I enter my third year of divorce and forty-seventh on this earth, I’ve come to realize that as much as we 24PEANUT-articleLargeneed to take a good hard look at ourselves and who we are as individuals, we also need to take an equal if not deeper look at the recipes we keep trying to get mixed into. In essence we need to figure out what kind of ingredient we are and then look for a. other ingredients we’ll compliment and then b. make sure we’re served to people who have a stomach for the dish we become a part of. If you’re like me, you spent a good part of your life constantly hanging out with ingredients who were anything but the pork chop to your apple sauce.

True enough, sometimes wild combinations can work. For example, I recently had some ghost pepper jelly that was mind blowing. And there are pickles who create some serious magic with peanut butter. But for the most part, if you’re a vegetarian, there’s nothing anyone can do to a ribeye steak that will make it appealing to you. Nothing. So if you’re the steak, you’ll probably find yourself feeling more appreciated if you start hanging out with steak lovers instead of vegans.

I truly do believe we need to know who we are as ingredients. We also need to recognize that not everyone is going to have a taste for what we bring to the table. And that’s OK. Just know who you are. Be happy with who you are and then find other ingredients who “get” you and appreciate you. Hopefully in doing so, you’ll have a better chance of people asking for seconds rather than throwing you in the garbage.

 

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Love the Mud

So, I drive a Jeep. This particular Jeep is my fourth. My first Jeep was a CJ 5 I’d purchased from my brother-in-law when I was in high school. Loved that thing. It had over 200,000 miles on it. The dashboard instrument panel routinely went black from time to time during a rain storm. Sometimes the windshield wipers didn’t work. The heater failed on a regular basis. And a good splash from underneath that hit the distributer cap would have me on the side of the road calling my dad to come get me. And yet, it was my 154_0807_07_z_jeeping_mounds_off_road_park_sinking_jeep_1988_jeep_yjdream car. I always wondered what it was that drew me to Jeeps. For the most part I was anything but rugged as a kid. I was athletic, but small and not very “macho.”

Then it dawned on me as I was living one of those days where life was doing its best to throw everything at me but the kitchen sink. As I sat down at the end of the craziness and popped open a cold Yuengling, I realized that what I’d come to enjoy about my life was what I loved about owning a Jeep.

Like anyone, for the most part I enjoy the smooth ride of a well paved highway. But there are times when I crave to pull away from the masses, go off road and feel the bumps and bangs of an unbeaten path. That feeling of driving head on into a huge puddle not really knowing just how deep it is. Of going full force into a huge area of mud and feeling the engine pull its way through it. I’ve also been known from time to time to drive head on into a storm with the top down getting caught in a downpour. And I love it.

There was a time when I hated when life got bumpy. Anything that disrupted the smooth ride of life’s highway 131_0711_01_z+jeep_cherokee+mudand forced me off road really threw me. It caused frustration and anxiety. But somehow living through the divorce and having to learn to juggle three kids, two dogs, two or three jobs, a home; all of it, has helped me embrace the rough terrain and recognize the power that comes from making it through the muck. Of revving the engine a little from time to time to get through those long patches of mud that hold you back. Of treating the bumps and bangs like you would a ride at the carnival. Equating it to going off road helped me recognize that it can be fun if you let it.

Let’s face it, a smooth ride can be nice, but it can also get monotonous after a while. Sometimes it’s good to shake things up a bit and go off road. It’s good for the kids too. We work so hard to get them into routines. To maintain nap schedules, eating schedules, being on time for everything, rushing here, rushing there. We do everything in our power to give them a strong foundation that helps them stay on track. Which is obviously254873603_XC9PN-L important don’t get me wrong. But it’s so easy to fall into the trap of maintaining that foundation at all costs that we often fail to prepare them for the reality that life doesn’t always go according to the structure we’ve worked so hard to create. Teaching them to roll with the punches and take what life throws at them in stride, and even enjoy it, is as important a lesson as any.

Does it suck when life forces you off road when you’re not really ready? Abso-freakin-lutely. And it’s easy to get shaken when you’re forced to go a direction you weren’t planning to. That’s when you figure out how to throw it into four-wheel-drive on the fly. Meet the challenge head on. Let the kids see you take on the challenges life throws at you the way you would any washed out, mud laden, dirt road. Teach them that it can be fun to get muddy once in a while. Especially when you’re wearing your sunday best. Life has a way of getting messy and that’s OK. In fact it can help us learn to take life a little less seriously and enjoy the muck as much as the sun.

So the next time you find yourself driving into an unexpected swamp … smile, strap in, shift down and give it some gas.

 

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