The holidays are fast approaching. For many of us, this means interacting with family members that are difficult to be around. So this week on my blogtalk radio show, Relationships Matter, I spoke with Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, author of Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2008) and Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2012). She has some tips to help us diffuse the holiday tension, and maybe even build some new, meaningful relationships.
My first question was: What is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to holiday time with family? Dr. Nemzoff explained that family members tend to “freeze” one another. One way we do that is by placing expectations on our family members based on how they were last time we saw them. But a lot happens in a year. A family member who was content last year may be feeling down this year, and we need to respect that change. Another way we tend to “freeze” our family members is by placing them in the roles they used to play way back when. And while this can be very comforting—we all like to be loved in familiar ways—it can also be toxic and stifling.
Then of course there are the new romantic partners, the “quasi-family” members. They contribute to a new family composition, and accepting that composition is equivalent to honoring the growth of your family members. This is why Dr. Nemzoff warns people not to roll their eyes: it signifies that you are discounting someone. Try being curious about newcomers and forgiving of your differences. Not only will this provide you with a more peaceful holiday, but it is also an opportunity to learn about yourself. If someone rubs you the wrong way, notice it. Why does that trigger you?
Dr. Nemzoff gave some great tips about how to connect in situations like this. First off, find some common ground. If you want to ban all guns and your in-law owns a gun shop, open the conversation by asking if he supports any restrictions on guns. If he’s a hunter, he probably does. The bottom line, says Dr. Nemzoff, is that people are not stupid. There’s a reason that they think what they think. If you are open to learning from them, you are likely to have a pleasant interaction. The issue is when people value being right over making a connection. Standing on moral ground never works, and there’s rarely a “right” or a “wrong” answer anyway!
But what about extremely hurtful divisions? Say, for example, your in-laws are unhappy about your marriage. According to Dr. Nemzoff, politeness is key. Remember that this is not against you personally, but against what your in-laws have been taught their whole lives. This situation is extremely hurtful for you, but remember that they are hurting too. Don’t change yourself, but be open, and be patient. Families do change, but it takes a lot of time and a lot of shared experience. In the meantime, be the best version of you that you can be.
And what about the kids? Say your in-laws or your siblings raise kids very differently than you do. Dr. Nemzoff encourages us to remember that this a learning opportunity. It’s healthy for kids to experience different ways of doing things, and your being open teaches them to have open minds as well. Once they reach kindergarten, they understand that rules depend on place: they act differently at school than at home. Explain to them that Grandma’s house has different rules. At the same time, make sure that those rules are feasible. If your in-laws refuse to move their crystal china and instead demand that your two-year-old not touch it, well then, you may not want to spend time there for a few years.
The bottom line is that it takes two to tango, so you have some real power. Be in the moment, control your emotions, and don’t give up hope! Little acts of kindness can go a long way. That is, after all, what this season is all about.Posted in Blog Talk Radio | Tagged Difficult Relationships, Dr. Annie Abram, Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, Family, Holidays, Relationships, Relationships Matter | Leave a comment
In continuing observance of October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I spoke with Professor Lisa C. Smith, who is on the faculty of Brooklyn Law School. Among her many accomplishments in the field of domestic violence policy and law, Professor Smith founded the Domestic Violence Clinic at Brooklyn Law School, which allows third year law students to assist in the prosecution of domestic violence cases under her supervision.
Until the late 1990′s, domestic violence prosecution was practically non-existent. Now, Professor Smith wagers that every single police precinct across the country has domestic violence training, and many have positions devoted solely to handling those cases. Most judges and prosecutors are also trained. Law schools across the country have programs that involve their students with domestic violence cases in both the criminal and civil systems, and therefore, law students today are more aware of the magnitude of this very personal and public health problem which involves not only the victim but children and the community at large.
As a therapist, however, I have seen firsthand how women are marginalized by the judicial system. As I’ve discussed before on this blog, women have a disturbingly difficult time winning sole custody in a battle with a spouse who also wants custody, even if he is abusive. Another huge problem is the guardian ad litem, the person appointed by the civil court to serve in the best interest of the child in custody battles. The only requirements in some states (i.e. CT), is that this person be warm and compassionate, and agree to participate in a 15 hour training; no professional license (i.e., law, mental health) is needed to qualify. In addition, the guardian ad litem fees are paid by the divorcing couple. One can only imagine how conflicts of interests play into the equation. This is an unacceptable injustice which must be addressed if we are truly interested in protecting the best interests of the child.
Professor Smith emphasized a huge change in the system: police are now legally required to document every time a victim calls, even if charges are not pressed. One should be advised however that on the second or third call, the police could decide to prosecute regardless of the victim’s wishes. Abuse comes in many forms, some of which are hard to recognize. A shove is physical abuse. So is a threat. Emotional abuse is much more difficult to identify and certainly just as damaging and painful as visible injury.
If you feel in danger, do not hesitate to call the national hotline: 1 800 799 SAFE where you can find resources in your community. You can rest assured that the call can not be traced.
Professor Smith also encourages any readers who want to contact her directly to go on the Brooklyn Law School website (http://www.brooklaw.edu/) and find the contact info for Lisa Smith.
We’ve come a long way, but with 1 in 3 women experiencing domestic abuse globally, we’ve got a long way to go.Posted in Blog Talk Radio | Tagged Ask Dr. Annie Abram, Blog Talk Radio, Domestic Violence | Leave a comment
In continued observance of National Bullying Prevention Month, I welcomed Dr. William Copeland, clinical psychologist, epidemiologist, and an Associate Professor at Duke University Medical Center to my radio show. He and his colleagues have recently published a research article on the long-term effects of bullying, which has garnered quite a bit of national attention (published online February 20, 2013 in JAMA Psychiatry).
Dr. Copeland was surprised to find that peer relations trumped other factors, like home life, and were therefore more likely to adversely affect kids over the long-term, even into adulthood. The results were so compelling that his perspective on bullying and the influence of peer relationships began to shift. The notion that home life is the most important variable in predicting overall functioning was turned on its head. Bullying should not be seen as a typical right of passage. It is deviant and damaging behavior. Like sexual, physical abuse or neglect it can affect all areas of a person’s life and functioning decades after it occurs. Those individuals who were bulliers and victims were at the highest risk for dysfunctional behavior, suicidality, poor relationships, unemployment, etc.
Dr. Copeland has been involved in numerous studies, both in the U.S. and Europe, which tracks thousands of kids over multiple decades. Using this data, Dr. Copeland and his colleagues are able to isolate bullying from other risk factors and trace its impact through childhood and into adulthood. He’s found that kids who are bullied have a higher risk of depression, anxiety, suicidality, impoverishment, failure to graduate from high school, even physical health! Its effects can be devastating and lifelong.
You may be thinking: now wait a minute. The experts that have been featured on this very blog the past few weeks have told us that there is no causal relationship between bullying and suicide. Ann Haas, of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, and Dr. Matthew Wintersteen, Assistant Professor and Director of Research in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Thomas Jefferson University / Jefferson Medical College, both emphasized that there is no empirical evidence indicating that bullying is a direct cause of suicide among young people. The media exaggerates this connection, to the detriment of public understanding. Dr. Copeland absolutely agrees that we cannot say that bullying leads kids to killing themselves; direct causation is extremely difficult to prove. What Dr. Copeland is saying is that his data demonstrates that those of us bullied as children have an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors as adults.
Okay, so what can we do? The good news, says Dr. Copeland, is that we have preventative programs that are proven to work well. The best way to prevent bullying is through a school-district-wide initiative in which everyone—administrators, teachers, and parents—are on board and working together to prevent bullying. Unfortunately, many school administrations do not understand that bullying directly affects educational outcomes. So, many parents of bullied children cannot get the support they need from their schools. If you are one of these parents, Dr. Copeland advises that you even consider changing schools. What if your kid is a victim of bullying and doesn’t want you to step in, fearing you will make it worse? Dr. Copeland says that in this case, you need to step up and take your authority as a parent. You can report anonymously, but you have to take action. The issue is simply too important to ignore. It can put a whole community at risk for negative long-term consequences.Posted in Blog Talk Radio | Tagged Bullying, Depression, October as National Bullying Prevention Month, Suicide | Leave a comment
In continual recognition of National Suicide Prevention Month, I interviewed Dr. Ann Haas, who directs the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention’s education and suicide prevention programs. Dr. Haas and her colleagues have developed one tool particularly worth noting, which has spread to 80 college and university campuses nationwide, as well as the US military, veterans, and certain workplaces like police stations and firehouses. It is called the Interactive Screening Program, (ISP), and it anonymously connects local counselors with individuals battling with untreated mental health problems.
(Though the program is run through local institutions that provide the personnel, and therefore cannot be accessed by ordinary citizens, Dr. Haas encourages anyone wishing to learn more about this program to find out more at AFSP.org, or to contact her directly at email@example.com).
I started off by asking Dr. Haas about a statistic that I’d read recently: Baby Boomers are the population with the highest rate of suicide. Dr. Haas confirmed this as true! For the past several years, studies have shown an uptick in suicides in the population between forty-five and sixty-four years of age. There’s no socio-economic correlation: the upswing includes all backgrounds and income brackets. I speculated a bit as to the factors that might be contributing to this. First off, many in that generation are experiencing a rather new form of stress: caring for ailing parents, raising children, and juggling a career all at the same time. This is indeed likely, according to Dr. Haas, since this surge in suicide has touched women more than men, an especially compelling statistic in light of the fact that women rarely take their own lives.
I was extremely surprised to learn that 80% of suicides, across all age brackets, are men. In a cultural context, this makes sense. Men are not encouraged to share their emotions or to seek support from their peers or professionals, and are therefore more prone to feeling the extreme isolation that can lead to suicidal behavior. Moreover—as Dr. Haas pointed out—firearms are disproportionately used by men, and guns are a much more effective means of suicide than those that women are more likely to use, like poisoning. This brought us to another important point. The AFSP is a large advocate of gun safety regulations. Where gun ownership is high, studies show a large upswing in suicides and accidental deaths.
I also made a point to ask Dr. Haas if bullying causes suicide. No! It’s a myth! Dr. Haas was very adamant in her assertion that bullying is absolutely not a major cause of suicide. In fact, studies show that reported cases of bullying are decreasing. What’s actually increasing is media attention. When a young person takes his own life, the media seeks out a narrative involving bullying, but in reality, kids with the highest risk of suicide are the ones that bully others. Dr. Haas encourages us to actively dispel this myth by being vocal parents and grandparents. Suicide—we should tell our kids—is certainly not a normal reaction to bullying. We must correct this misconception, stop the zero-tolerance policy rhetoric, and see “bullies” for who they truly are: at-risk youth that need the guidance and support of their communities.Posted in Blog Talk Radio | Tagged Ask Dr. Annie Abram, Baby boomers, Bullying, Dr. Annie Abram, Sandwitch Generation, Suicide | Leave a comment
What do I do if my child is suicidal? This is a terrifying question that we hope to never ask. Unfortunately, suicide is the second leading cause of death in this country for high school aged youth. I didn’t know this until I interviewed Dr. Matthew Wintersteen on the “Ask Dr. Annie Abram” show this past Monday, in recognition of Suicide Prevention Month. Dr. Wintersteen is an Assistant Professor and Director of Research in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Thomas Jefferson University/Jefferson Medical College, as well as the principal investigator of a campus suicide prevention project. He had some very helpful information to share.
Why do kids commit suicide? Well, there is no simple answer, but Dr. Wintersteen says that a sense of connection is crucial. Adolescents who feel isolated from their peers and their families are at a higher risk of suicide than those who feel connected. This means many kids who have suicidal thoughts suffer in silence: they aren’t sharing their feelings with anyone. This is a huge problem—and it is one that we, as parents, can address and help solve.
Dr. Wintersteen had some great advice for parents whose children may be contemplating suicide. First of all, talk to your child. Share with them that you’ve noticed a change in their behavior, and open the conversation by asking if they are okay. Then—and this is the most difficult but most crucial step— listen. Our primary responsibility as a parent is always to keep our child alive, so of course it is awfully difficult not to launch into “fix it” mode when we realize that our child’s life is at stake. However, sharing suicidal feelings with an adult, especially a parent, is a huge risk for an adolescent. If you as the parent react in a way that—from your child’s perspective—worsens the situation, then your child may withdraw further. That’s why it is so crucial that you give your child the space to speak openly. It is extraordinary what a little listening can accomplish. Dr. Wintersteen encourages that you ask your child “Is there anything I can do to help?” If they say no, you can suggest that, together, you find someone who can. Of course, there will often be more resistance, and all we can do as parents is continue to listen intently and then push gently in the direction of professional help. We as parents need to understand that talking about any feelings lessens the risk of self-destructive behavior. Please do not shy away from talking about suicide, feeling that if you just don’t mention the word it will go away.
Dr. Wintersteen shared an extremely valuable resource that I hadn’t known about: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 800 273 8255. Any concerned party can call and receive confidential, professional counsel. If the problem is serious, the hotline can send help immediately. This is a great resource for young people who want to help a friend that has expressed suicidal thoughts, because confidentiality is so often of utmost importance to them.
I also asked Dr. Wintersteen if bullying causes suicide. Over the past 15 years, bullying has changed dramatically. Never before in history have children had the power to humiliate each other in a way that can be viewed by thousands of people in a few short minutes. The humiliation this can cause is almost incomprehensible and may contribute to a sense of disconnect from a peer group. However, to date there is no empirical evidence suggesting a direct correlation between bullying and suicide. But the data do show that youth who are both bullies and victims have a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Whether they are the perpetrators or victims of bullying, our kids are, in fact, kids. Dr. Wintersteen sees youth suicide as a public health issue, to be handled within the community, not solely in the mental health sector. So as community members, let’s keep an eye out. As parents, let’s remember to listen.Posted in Blog Talk Radio, Children and Transitions, Uncategorized | Tagged Ask Dr. Annie Abram, Bullying, Depression, Dr. Annie Abram, Peer Group, Suicide, Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Young People | Leave a comment
My guest on the “Ask Dr. Annie Abram” radio show this week was Diane E. Levin, Ph.D, Professor of Education at Wheelock College in Boston. She is worried about our kids. They don’t know how to play!
Sound strange? Well, Dr. Levin says that active play is the foundation of healthy learning, and she is not alone in thinking so. In Scandinavian countries, where children perform better than anywhere else in the world, universal preschool focuses on play. Finland, ranked #1, and the country doesn’t begin formal education until age 7.
Through active play, children learn to problem-solve. They learn basic rules of cause and effect. They learn about their own capacity to create, develop a sense of self and interact with others. It is through play that children learn the foundation for healthy cognitive and emotional development.
About twenty-five years ago, teachers began noticing that children were no longer playing. Instead, they were imitating the actions figures seen on TV.
Boys were more aggressive than ever before, and the girls focused on being pretty and sweet. That’s when Dr. Levin discovered that the Federal Communications Commission had de-regulated children’s T.V. The year before, the film Star Wars had come out, complete with a line of toys that replicated what the audience saw on the screen. It was so successful that the commission decided to allow television shows to market lines of toys. Suddenly, 9 out of 10 of the most popular toys in the country were from television shows. And they were one-dimensional. They had a single purpose, and once a child discovered this purpose, they’d become bored and move on, looking for the next toy. Hence the toy epidemic, which has become the status quo: “My kid has more toys than they know what to do with!” The irony is that as our children continue to accumulate more toys, more games, and more technology, their quality of play continues to diminish. Being mesmerized by the zap-zap of the iPad is not play—not even if the game is educational. Unless the child is coming up with the content of play his or herself, they are simply being programmed to play through imitation, and that’s not play. And according to Dr. Levin, this has the potential to severely damage our children’s development. She spoke of problem-solving deficit disorder—which occurs when children lack the capacity to create and solve problems. She spoke of empathy disorders, which may be linked to the increasing intensity of bullying, both on and offline, stemming from the violence children see on TV deemed suitable for kids.
Many of us parents feel overwhelmed. How can I possibly defeat corporate America? How can I shut out the media that bombards my children both at school and at home? How can I help them engage in active play if they constantly complain of being bored?
We can’t defeat corporate America. We certainly can’t block the stream of media. And yes, when we hand our children blocks instead of iPads, they will very likely feel bored.
But Dr. Levin has a hopeful message for us. She told me about a video she shows her classes, in which preschoolers are presented with home made playdough. They stare at it and ask: “What does it do?” Where is the button to make it work? But then, the teacher sits down and engages with them. “Who can stick their finger all the way through the playdough?” she asks. “Who can make a circle?” Soon, kids have began a game in which their “big circles” and “small circles” are interacting. After that, playdough becomes an integral part of the classroom. Our kids can learn how to re-engage; we just need to guide them.
The other thing Dr. Levin advises is that we model and explain our values to our children—why do we prefer that they not wear a certain sexualized outfit or play with a violent toy. Then, get ready to compromise! Our children are heavily influenced by their peers. They also live in a world of screens; whether we like it or not, many kids have seen internet porn by age 10. So let’s pay close attention to both the process and content of our kids’ play, and then, let’s level with them. We can’t block out the world, but we can empower our kids within it.
The most important way we can counteract what our children learn from the media and their peers is to remain connected with them on a meaningful level. Dr Levin encourages open, non-judgemental communication. Rather than say “no” to the short skirt that hits just below the butt, engage your daughter in a conversation about what it means to her to make that choice. Have a discussion with your son about why it’s important to him to have the Power Ranger figure in his backpack. Recently, a mother told me that her seven year old son didn’t want to leave home without the protection of a Power Ranger in his pocket.
Dr. Levin has written a number of books which should be required reading for parents and teachers as we navigate through the digital age: Beyond Remote-Controlled Childhood: Teaching Young Children in the Media Age; So Sexy So Soon; The War Play Dilemma: Teaching Young Children in Violent Times; and Danger; Danger Everywhere: Growing Up in a Culture of Fear.
This week on the “Ask Dr. Annie Abram” radio show, I had an incredible, eye-opening conversation with Dr. George Yancy, co-editor (along with Janine Jones) of Pursuing Trayvon Martin: Historical Contexts and Contemporary Manifestations of Racial Dynamics. Dr. Yancy is a professor of Philosophy at Duquesne University, where he specializes in Critical Whiteness Studies, Critical Philosophy of Race, and African American Philosophy. In our discussion of the Trayvon Martin case, we spoke at length about the insidious racism in American society.
Particularly for white people who consider themselves non-racists, it is painful to confront our cultural legacy. Immanuel Kant equated blackness with stupidity. Thomas Jefferson proclaimed the black body to be incapable of creativity. Hegel insisted that blacks do not have souls—an assertion entertained in Europe and America for hundreds of years. Black bodies were, in a not so distant past, considered part of the landscape, property to be handled.
This racism, embedded in our cultural and psychological DNA, is largely invisible to the white population that continues to perpetuate it. As the title of one of Yancy’s books–Look! A White!–underscores, to be white is to be normalized, to enjoy automatic legitimacy. Yancy argues that the very state of American Whiteness is inherently racist because, as whites, we occupy a space of inarguable privilege which is sustained by our unconscious bias against the black body. Yancy calls this psychological state the white gaze.
The remedy for this, says Yancy, is mixed communities that engage in critical dialogue, where blacks can teach their white neighbors the meaning of whiteness, which is quite visible from the black perspective: racism that is invisible to whites is the daily experience of the black community. W.E.B. DuBois called this ability of blacks to see whiteness “the second sight.” Yancy called it a gift. If we, as whites, want to confront the inherited racism we unknowingly enact, we must accept this gift. We must listen—fearlessly.
In the Trayvon Martin tragedy, Yancy pinpointed 2 separate acts of violence—the first more invisible, yet more alarming: Zimmerman’s language in his call to the police, during which he defined Trayvon, who was walking with skittles and iced tea, as suspicious. Why, Dr. Yancy asks, didn’t Zimmerman see Trayvon as a potential neighbor in need? As someone young and vulnerable, who possibly needed help? The answer is that Zimmerman, as a product of American Whiteness, was out patrolling a criminal that he saw very clearly in his mind long before he laid eyes on Trayvon Martin. And that criminal was black.
Let’s all speak to our children openly and honestly about racism. Let us teach black children, lovingly, about the way the world views them. As white parents, let’s be clear about our cultural legacy, and let us recruit our children in an effort to become more aware of the racism we have inherited and that we will hopefully, someday, overcome.Posted in Blog Talk Radio | Tagged Ask Dr. Annie Abram, black, Blog Talk Radio, George Zimmerman, racism, Trayvon Martin, white | Leave a comment
When the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, it was a major victory for the LGBT community, and it will go down in the history books as an important civil rights case. But how, exactly, will the ruling affect gay couples and the families they are raising across America?
This week on my Blog Talk Radio show, I had the pleasure of posing this question to David M. McFarlane, President-Elect of the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, who is a father of four as well as an LBGT rights activist. He was once married to a woman, with whom he had four kids. Now, he is married to a man, and they share custody of his kids with his ex-wife. He also deals with healthcare and employee benefits in his practice as an attorney, so, both personally and professionally, he knew quite a bit about the topic at hand!
We started off with a quick overview of the Defense Of Marriage Act, which came into effect during the Clinton administration and excluded same sex couples from receiving federal benefits. On June 26th 2013, with a 5-4 majority, the Supreme Court struck down section 3 of DOMA. The federal government no longer defines marriage as between a man and a woman; however, it still protects the rights of states to not accept gay marriages performed in other states. While this is a clear win for the LGBT community, the ruling raises a lot of important questions about what rights will apply to whom, since federal agencies have different ways of tracking marriage. Some use where you were married; others, where you live; still others have their own “significant interest test.” It is going to take a long time for these agencies to get their acts together, and in the meantime, gay marriages are still clearly second-class ones, and this isn’t lost on our kids.
But Mr. McFarlane has a lot of hope that a bill called “The Respect for Marriage Act” will pass, which will completely repeal DOMA. It has significant bipartisan support, which reflects just how rapidly public opinion is evolving. That’s not to say there isn’t hardship, but as Mr. McFarlane pointed out, a little hardship can be a good thing. In a way, DOMA was an important event for the LGBT movement: it caused the community to organize and to fight. Mr. McFarlane also talked a lot about his own kids’ experiences of having gay dads. As he put it, he only had to come out once—and that’s the hardest thing he’s ever had to do– but his kids come out for him every time they encounter a new social situation. Sometimes it is difficult and painful; but, Mr. McFarlane said, these experiences build character. His kids are stronger and more tolerant, and so are their peers. As his eldest son put it, in reference to his high school football team, which came over for dinner, “They don’t care, Dad. They’re just hungry.”Posted in Blog Talk Radio | Tagged Ask Dr. Annie Abram, Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, LGBT, Supreme Court | Leave a comment
I would like to talk about a burning issue in women’s rights. It inflicts extreme suffering upon mothers of every class, in our country and all over the world. It also causes many children significant harm. I see it all the time in my own practice, yet it is barely talked about. Even the most educated and well-meaning of us may not know it exists at all. I am talking about discrimination in the justice system, which is heavily biased against “good enough” mothers. In a custody battle, even violent, incestuous, and sociopathic fathers are favored. Sound crazy? I’m sorry to say that it is, indisputably, true.Last week on my radio show, I discussed this issue with Dr. Phyllis Chesler, author of “Mothers on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody.” Dr. Chesler has been researching and writing about this issue for decades. We talked about the false assumption that the men are the ones being discriminated against in these custody battles. Well, when dads aren’t interested, sole custody is given to moms by default. But when a dad wants to fight, he will win 70% of the time. Why? One reason is that judges favor joint custody: it appeases both sides and keeps the case out of the courtroom. But joint custody means no child support. And, for many women, it means a lifetime affiliation with a dangerous man.
The sad fact is that a father who fights for custody is automatically assumed to be a good guy, while a mother is expected to fight. Just imagine this ordeal. You have been hauled into court for a bloody war that can last up to fifteen years and cost up to half a million dollars. Not only are you in dire financial straights and terrified at the prospect of losing your kids, but you see them suffering at the hands of an abusive father. If you turn to a counselor or to medication to help you navigate this hell, it counts against you: you are mentally unstable. If you cry, you are over-emotional. If you do not cry, you are cold and aloof. If you are a high-powered professional, you are not nurturing. If you are a stay-at-home mother, you are not a good provider. The experience can feel like a witch trial.
To be clear: there are certainly good fathers out there, and sometimes they are discriminated against. But the sad fact is that the really good dads are not the kind that wage huge, vindictive custody wars. And they aren’t the kind of fathers that ex-wives are trying protect their children from. So what we have is an epidemic of women who have been through hell and back to keep their children. And they often don’t succeed.
If these judicial atrocities are so prevalent, why have feminists and mothers not organized sooner? Well, women who’ve been through this are often so destroyed that it takes them years to recover, and once they do, can we blame them for not wanting to re-enter that hell? But the hell is real. So let’s all speak up! This issue deserves our attention!
If you would like to join me to discuss how we can change this inequity in the justice system, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.orgPosted in Blog Talk Radio, Divorce | Tagged divorce, Mothers on Trial, Phyllis Chesler | 1 Comment
Reflections on Interview with Andrew Solomon, author of “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity”
What if your child had a severe disability? What if he or she were a prodigy, or grew up to be a violent criminal? Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing an activist for humanity, Andrew Solomon, whose newest book, “Far From the Tree,” documents the experiences of families with exceptional children. The stories cover a wide range of circumstances, but Solomon was surprised to find how much the families he interviewed had in common with each other. As a gay child raised by straight parents, he was also surprised at how often their stories overlapped with his own. Dealing wth difference, Solomon found, is a profoundly uniting experience. His work shows us just how healing the power of love can be, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in their own personal growth.
All parents know what it is like to deal with difference to some degree. We have all, at one point or another, looked over at our child and thought: “Where did you come from?” But most of us derive a large portion of our identity from the parents who raised us. He has a term for this: vertical identity. Vertical identity is inherited. Ethnicity, for example, is a vertical identity, as is language. Horizontal identity, on the other hand, is something that we don’t share with our parents, but with a peer group that we seek out. Since vertical identities are historically valued while horizontal ones have been subject to “curing,” those of us with strong horizontal identities often experience immense relief when we discover our community. Homosexuality can be a horizontal identity. Deaf people born to hearing parents and dwarfs born to parents of average height also have significantly horizontal identities.
In our discussion, Solomon argued that criminally violent children may also have largely horizontal identities. He compared the assumption that these children are the products of traumatic upbringings to historical assertions that homosexuality is a product of weak mothers, or that dwarfism is the product if a mother’s liscentious thoughts. He spent thousands of hours with the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters, and told me he would be glad to have them as his own parents. Sometimes, Solomon pointed out, children keep secrets. He himself kept his sexuality from his parents for years. Sometimes, we have no access to our child’s private world.
This thought is a bit horrifying. Indeed, many of the parents that Solomon interviewed were initially horrified at their circumstance. But most of them eventually found great joy and meaning in the act of accepting, loving, and celebrating an exceptional child. This process is, after all, extremely powerful. It allows us to heal and transform not only our children, but ourselves and our communities at large.