Category Archives: Healthy Relationships

Connection, preemies, and African violets

I’ve been thinking about African violets today. When I was little and just starting to learn about plants, my grandmother told me that African violets thrive best when the leaves of different plants touch one another. I am like an African violet. Touch and connection are critical if I am to thrive.

I’m thinking about connection because of an experience I had this morning. Andrew has a cool brain wave machine to help you relax, sleep, concentrate, or whatever you need to do. It has alpha, gamma, delta, and beta waves depending upon what program you choose. I haven’t been sleeping very well (jet lag) so I was going for relaxation, alpha waves. I’ve only tried the machine three times and each time I’ve had some really interesting insights. I write about today’s insights below.

There are a lot of amazing and wonderful things going on in my life, but I’ve also been feeling a level of angst and distress that I couldn’t explain.

I realized during the session this morning that my distress is about connection. I view connection as the most basic and fundamental of human needs.

I was born two months prematurely and spent the first month of my life in an incubator. I was born in my grandmother‘s home and the doctor, who arrived shortly after my birth, immediately took me away from my mother and rushed me to the hospital. He put my mother to bed for two weeks to recover, because apparently that’s what you did at that time. My aunt, who became my godmother, came to visit my mother shortly after my birth. She came to the hospital to see me as well, once. Because I was in an incubator for the first month of my life, I was not held. I was touched minimally. The belief was that I needed all of my energy and attention to be focused on growth. During that month, I largely grew alone.

My father and his parents met the doctor at the hospital almost immediately upon my arrival there. They could only see me in the incubator across the room.

This reality of separation has led me on a lifelong journey seeking connection. I have not been very successful at achieving that. I am estranged from my biological family for reasons I will not get into here. I do not communicate with my mother or any of my siblings. I thought I had found enduring connection with my husband. I felt that we were soul mates. While we were wonderful together for a long time, that ended as well. We have two children, a son and a daughter. I felt so connected to and needed by these amazing beings. I was their center, I grounded them as they grew. When they were born I wished for both of them to be strong, loving, and independent. They are both exactly that, in their own unique ways, and so much more. I wished for them to be close to one another always, to be able to rely on one another. After all our siblings are often the longest relationships of our lives. My siblings and I were not raised that way. Closeness with my siblings was what I desired, and so, what I wished for my children.

With Covid, and the trajectories of our lives, I have felt my connections with my children weakening. Not our love for one another, but our willingness to reach out to one another both for casual everyday connection, and in time of need. Maybe that’s just a natural part of the growth process. My children are adults with their own lives.

Our weakening connections have been especially hard for me as I view connection as the most fundamental and basic human need. I view our connections as part of what makes us strong and able to manage anything that we’re faced with in life. I do not believe that any one person can ever meet all of the needs of another person. I believe that all of our important relationships offer something unique and of value that is irreplaceable. I have often said that the reason I am able to go out big in the world is because I have my people to come home to, figuratively if not literally.

Being locked down through Covid and physically separated from my son and daughter for longer than ever before has been extremely hard on me. I haven’t seen my son in two years. I’ve been fortunate to have seen my daughter several times during this time, but far less than usual. The physical distance is hard.

I am blessed with a wonderful partner, also a preemie, who loves me, understands me, and supports me more fully than anyone ever has. He truly sees me and his desire for connection matches mine. I am fortunate that I have found my home with him. He is my person. He is my heart.

In many cultures around the world the bonds within families, the bonds between parents and children endure and are strong for a lifetime. I wonder why in our culture we push so hard for independence and doing things on your own. That seems unnecessarily difficult to me. I wish that we could recognize the importance and significance of the basic human need for connection. I wish we cherished and nurtured those connections that make life so much fuller and richer.

Maybe I feel this need for connection more strongly than others do because of that first month of going it alone in an incubator. Maybe that’s why I understand the African violet’s need to touch in order to thrive.

Forgiveness and Anticipatory Hope

“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.” – Oprah Winfrey https://chopracentermeditation.com/ *

I don’t hold grudges. I don’t harbor resentments. For much of my life I simply forgave and forgot any transgressions against me – to the point that one night, over dinner, my best friend and my ex-husband recounted all the negative things that had happened to me since they’d known me. When they recounted the events, I knew they had happened, of course. I just didn’t value them enough to remember them. I might not even have been able to recount them without their prompting.

What I do hold onto is what I call anticipatory hope. Anticipatory hope is my belief that the bad, the negative, the hurtful, the lack in my past could have been different, if people had made different choices. Because I believe these alternative choices were possible then, I believe they remain possible in the present and in the future.  

In a recent conversation with my daughter about an upcoming event we were both dreading, she was lamenting all the negative things she expected. I was trying to lift her spirits talking about how this time things might be different. Alyssa paused, looked me full in the eyes and said, “That’s your problem, Mom. You always look on the bright side. You always believe people can be better, that they will be better. When they don’t, when they act like they always act, you feel let down and hurt. That’s the downside to you always having this anticipatory hope thing. It’s exhausting. You’re not realistic.”

Alyssa in her blunt, no-nonsense way had really hit on something. I’ve always viewed my anticipatory hope as a strength. It helps me be optimistic, remain positive in difficult moments, see possibilities.

Because I believe that anything is possible, that anyone is capable of making a different choice at any moment, it is hard for me to release those in my life who repeatedly choose to be other than who they have the capacity to be – to be honest, those who are damaging to me. More importantly, I hope they will treat me differently than they chose to treat me in the past.

When I first heard the meditation at the opening of this post, it was as if I had been punched in the stomach. Sometimes truths are so profound that when confronted with them, they change something immediately and fundamentally. Sometimes they are the catalyst for a more gradual transformation. For me, this truth was both.

I listen to these meditations to help me sleep. After hearing this statement, I knew there would be no sleep that night.

I turned to my journals for insight and realized I had been writing about the same issues for 1, 5, 10, even 20 years! My anticipatory hope made it impossible for me to let go, to move on.

I believed I had forgiven. But in the same way that holding grudges, harboring resentments, not forgiving, keeps us from releasing the past and moving forward, anticipatory hope does the same. Because I held onto anticipatory hope, I had not released those I needed to release.

I am still a work in progress. Releasing the “what could be” is hard. It’s a desired future we hope for. It holds us bound to the past, hauling the weight of the past into the present and the future. Releasing that burden. Releasing those who are not who we wish they were (which, to be honest, is not their job in the first place) is true forgiveness. And, in the long term, a gift to them and to me.

* 21 Days of Meditation – Finding Hope in Uncertain Times

Reflections on Remembering and Forgiveness: Part 1

My approach to life has always been to accept that people do their best, to forgive and forget. I don’t hold grudges. I am incredibly optimistic and positive. I live my life in joy. I also try to see different perspectives, to understand standpoints, constraints, limitations others face, points of view. I don’t generally take things personally (even when they are).  I have taken this philosophy so far as to mindfully forget painful events in my life. Most recently, I forgot the face of the man who robbed my son and me at gunpoint because in that moment I realized that I was a threat to him if I could identify him. I forgot because it was safer to do so. I have approached many events in my life this way. If it is not safe to remember, I forget. I had no idea how strong this ability had become.

My best friend and my ex-husband used to marvel at my ability to forget. They said they held my hurts for me, remembered for me. I remember one evening,  after the three of us had enjoyed dinner together, we sat in the living room and they recounted all the wrongs people had done me in the time they’d known me. I was awed that they remembered. I was surprised that they cared about these things. None of the events they recounted were strange to me. I knew they had happened. I had simply chosen not to remember them, not to let them impact my life, at least not consciously.

My strategy has been to try to keep the lessons, but leave behind the emotion, especially the pain, to forget the details. In my work over the last year on healthy relationships, a culmination of over 20 years of work, I have learned that my strategy has at times crippled me. When I forget the details, the lesson is weaker. I am now working to embrace the details, keep the lessons, and forgive.

Here is my problem: When I forget, I remain positive. I remain optimistic about possibilities. I seek to understand the other. When I forget, it is easy to forgive. But, when I remember, the lessons have more weight behind them, are easier to sustain, have a stronger foundation. When I remember, it is sometimes harder to remain positive, optimistic, to forgive.

I am struggling with forgiveness in this. I don’t want to hold grudges, but I do need to keep appropriate boundaries. Forgiveness, to me, implies understanding, that “it’s ok”; forgiveness opens the possibility of a reconnection later, for second, third, maybe fourth chances.

In some cases, that simply cannot be.

As I try to embrace mindful remembrance without emotion so that lessons will have strength, I struggle also with forgiveness and separation. We all make mistakes. We all learn. We all grow. No one is perfect. But at times, doors do need to be closed and bridges do need to be burned.

I am trying to find the balance.

Conscious Uncoupling and Coparenting: Why Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin Have it Right!

Full disclosure

I am a child of divorce. It was not pretty. It was not healthy. It was not done with grace. I felt I had to choose a parent. I couldn’t have both of them. My siblings and I were too little (6 years, 5 years, 4 years) to do more than go where we were told to go, when we were told to go there, but it was clear to me, early on, that being close to our noncustodial parent was a disloyalty to our custodial parent. My noncustodial parent was ostensibly out of my life by the time I was 8 years old.

I swore I would NEVER get divorced!

My husband was a child of divorce. It was not pretty. It was not healthy. It was not done with grace. The hurt lingered. I will not tell his story.

He swore he would NEVER get divorced.

We swore WE would NEVER get divorced.

We GOT divorced.

Our Conscious Uncoupling

In July, 1998, I broke my promise to myself, to my children, to my husband. When together my husband and I told our 9 year old son we were planning to divorce, he said “wow, I never saw that coming”. His words broke my heart. Our 4 year old daughter didn’t understand. She just wanted to be sure we would both still be her mommy and daddy. We reassured her as best we could.

I knew that I didn’t want the model of divorce I’d inherited to be my children’s experience. My husband and I decided our most important responsibility was to continue to parent our children and that they needed this separation to be as painless and smooth as possible.

We decided to forego attorneys and to do the divorce ourselves. We didn’t want an adversarial break. We wanted to collaborate, decide together what was best for our family. We read Nevada law, child support guidelines, reviewed model divorce decrees, got the Nevada do-it-yourself divorce guide, and set to work. Together my husband and I negotiated everything. We both wanted what was best for one another and for our children. After our divorce, we continued to live in the same house for over a year. For many years, we continued to celebrate holiday together.

So, what is my point?

No couple’s conscious uncoupling will be the same as ours. Each couple needs to find their own way. However, far too many couples do not “uncouple consciously”. Out of social norms that tell us that divorce is wrong, that we have been wronged if a marriage ends, out of anger, loss, fear, hurt, frustration, couples lose sight of the fact that they once loved one another, respected one another,  cared for one another for a period of time. Many still do as they divorce. They lose sight of the fact that their children NEED them to separate as smoothly and painlessly as possible. They lose sight of the fact that they are the role models for their children and how they uncouple will resonate throughout their children’s lives, in their relationships, in their beliefs about commitment.

The dominant cultural narrative has it that divorce means failure, that the marriage was a mistake. We need to change that. Marriages are our commitment to our best selves, the selves we want to share with another. This desire for connection is a basic human drive. For many reasons, this commitment may not last a lifetime, but how we choose to end it, and make no mistake, it is a choice, matters.

Divorce doesn’t make a marriage a mistake!

It was not a mistake to marry my husband. We loved one another dearly. We were wonderful together for a long time. However, we started to grow apart. We started to desire different things. Being together quit nurturing us. To have the lives we wanted and needed to live, to have the lives we desired for one another, we could no longer do it together. It was as right for us to divorce as it was for us to marry in the first place. To divorce consciously was a gift to ourselves and our children. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t disagreements, animosities, frustrations. It means we worked through them with the knowledge that we would be co-parents for our lifetimes, that we had made that commitment to our children.

On Chris and Gwyneth

While tabloids speculate on the sins Chris and Gwyneth’s conscious uncoupling is designed to hide, the point is that it is the right way to separate, the good way to separate, the healthy way to separate. I hope they will be able to maintain this commitment in the face of social pressure that prescribes that divorces be ugly, petty, painful. I hope they refrain from airing any dirty laundry, and none of us is perfect, for the amusement of others. Divorces do not need to be that way. We are better than that. For our children, we NEED to be better than that!