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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"It's That Time of the Year Again": Recognizing Emotionally Important Seasons

Every fall, I'm like "Oh, I LOVE FALL!!" I love the leaf mess, the last bonfire wisps, and the hint of chill that allows me to sleep with the window open. But, every spring, I'm like "I love Spring SO MUCH!" I can never quite wait to get into the garden or to will the perennials to poke their heads through some dirty snow. Summer and winter...sorry, I'm not so in love with you, although I definitely like you a lot.

I've noticed another time of year that gives me feelings, though. It's mid-August to mid-September. In Minnesota, it's that no-person's time between summer and fall, so I don't necessarily have a socially coherent smell or sight to associate with it. Instead, I have the memories of leaving, moving, starting new, changing, comforting, struggling, coping, failing, hoping, and wishing things were different at the same time I was wishing them to be better.

Those memories are tied to a few other things besides time of year, too. There are Daughtry songs that still, eight years later, cause me to tear up or get pissed. There are Evanescence songs that still pour strength into me and remind me of how much emotional landscape I've crossed. There are certain events, like the first day of school, that I had to learn to share differently. Then there's my daughter's birthday, the first one I ever had to navigate as a separated person.

I'm assuming that other people have these times, too. I assume there are times that remind us of when someone was born, when someone else died, or when something amazing or tragic happened in our lives. So I'm wondering, how do you head into those times of the year? Do you dread them? Do you take time to acknowledge what you're experiencing so many years later? Has it even been years or is it still fresh and palpable?

For a few years, I was definitely in the dread camp. I wanted to enjoy that summer-fall conjunction, but just couldn't quite get there. It was fraught with re-experiences of anger and sadness and fear. Inevitably, I'd hear the song September and all the old stuff would wash over me.

Over time, though, I've learned to sit with the feelings when they come. I tell them I see them, that I can honor where they've been. I also try to make new memories that hopefully, over time, can provide a new resonance and perspective.

How do you experience residual feelings that are tied to events in your life? Definitely share the good ones, but also know that it's okay to share the not-as-good-to-downright-awful-ones, too.

www.touchingtrees.com
jennimcmc@touchingtrees.com




Monday, October 2, 2017

Shepherd Fly: How I Found Peace in the Buzzing

This past spring and summer, I was fortunate to be able to do quite a bit of hiking. As an exercise, it's my absolute favorite. It's like getting to dance through a movie; each step is carefully choreographed and the views, smells, sounds, and experiences are new and filling.

Many times this past warm hiking season, like in years past, I found myself with an irritant in the form of a fat black fly who was determined to buzz my head and threaten to bite me. In other times, I would have swatted like crazy at that guy, hoping to scare him off so I could get back to being blissful. "How dare he interrupt my forest bath and my communing with Mother Earth?" I'd think. "How dare he claim any stake in my experience?"

This year, though, I chose a different tactic. Not only didn't I swat, I didn't even try to ignore him. I just listened to the buzz and, when no human was listening, talked. I said things like, "I know. You don't really care for me being here. I'm just gonna keep moving on and I'll be out of your hair soon enough. Thanks for hanging out with me."

I didn't get bitten even once by those guys this year. Instead, each one flew around my head, to the right or left side of my shoulder or behind me. They buzzed like crazy. Then, after about twenty steps, each one reversed course and left me alone.

Every time it was quiet again, I wondered, "What was that about?"

Was he my shepherd fly?

Toward the end of the warm season, I reflected on the role my shepherd fly had. He picked up on my presence, tried to warn me away, expressed his frustration and irritation, and eventually let me go. He joined me for part of my hike, and then he wasn't there anymore. I didn't fight him; he didn't bite me.

What a great metaphor. It's easy and clear. The hikes represented all of life, right? Some are short; some are long. Some are easy; some are quite difficult. Some encourage connection; many have difficulty.

What I learned from my shepherd fly is to be patient. And to be respectful. And to trust that the buzzing will stop sooner if I don't make it into a bigger deal than it is. I learned that the buzzing will bother me less if I understand that it comes from a place of protection and fear.

The shepherd fly is both a reminder and a foil. He can be left alone and left behind. I also can tell you that I'm looking forward to applying the lessons learned from my experience of him in other areas of my life.

How about you? Do you have a shepherd fly (either real of metaphorical)?



Friday, August 4, 2017

Warrior Princess

This poem is dedicated to those who have tried (and often failed) to get the upper hand in controlling relationships. 

Warrior Princess

She stands ready,
Majestic in her resolve.
Drums beat in her ears
And under her silver-chained armor.

Behind a shield
Deployed in the form of a well-crafted smile,
Armament is cocked and fused.
She believes she can survive this onslaught.

Shimmering eyes, hard as river pebbles
Scan for disturbances.
Danger always comes when she appears most confident.

So she waits,
A drop of sweat agitates her scalp
Like a purposeful louse.

The adversary waits also.
He prefers to watch her first from afar --
Assessing her strength,
Inhaling her beauty.

When the time comes
To attack,
He pretends to lose ground
In the face of her surgically-placed accusations and
Strategically-inserted revelations.

She thinks she’s winning.
And it exposes her twin weaknesses of
Compassion and Guilt.

Faced with eliminating him completely,
The Warrior Princess squanders her advantage.
“Are you going to be okay?” she asks.

Finally, the kill.
“No,” he answers. 
In victory, one hand travels to her noble cheek

And the other beckons her waist.

© Jennifer McBride, Cape of Leaves
For more information: www.touchingtrees.com

To order Cape of Leaves, click here.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Smell of Goodbye

The Smell of Goodbye

Calloused feet more used to fleeing than dance
Creep shoeless,
Heel straps laced between fingers.
Breath is scrubbed clean by the half-stick
Twin of the gum snuck in
Before making love
Only hours ago.

Obligation observes
Her final kiss
Placed chastely on the brave, sleeping abandoned.
She aches to feel strong enough
To fend off
Ever-approaching shadows,
But failure has won.

Using her tongue to calm the
Minted mass hiding between chattering teeth
She burrows her naked toes and
Leans in once more before flight,

Inhaling the scent of what might have been.

© Jennifer McBride, Cape of Leaves

Jenni McBride McNamara is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist in Saint Paul, MN. For more information about Jenni and her practice, please visit www.touchingtrees.com.

To order Cape of Leaves, click here.


Friday, July 21, 2017

"Renewed strength...comes alive"

Royalty

Look at the towering aspens
On this frigid December day.
Their frosty tops, like the heads of
A whole colony of ancient royalty,
Are gray and fuzzy like
Self-inflicted permanent waves
Gone mad.

Yet they still seem regal in their
Sameness and their
Solidarity.

But now, the low-skied morning sun
That was causing curly twigs
To glow as if with silver crowns
Has instigated a grand melt.

Even as we watch, the crystals that
Decorated them and
Named them as
Kings and Queens
Have begun to weep
And seep down their limbs.

Eyes made wise by years of reigning
Stare from trunks
Refusing to blink the tears
Out of their lashes.

Instead they let the fresh new water
Run down each wrinkle and crack
Toward its loam-blanketed destination.

Because,
With liquid offering
Poured on throne steps,
Renewed strength to
Rule another season or two

Comes alive.

© Jennifer McBride, Cape of Leaves

For more information: www.touchingtrees.com
To order Cape of Leaves, click here.

Cape of Leaves

A few years ago, I found myself in a period of intense, immense, invigorating, and terrifying growth. During that time, one of my many coping mechanisms was to write...and write...and write. I didn't journal so much as I wrote in metaphor, sometimes turning the metaphor into a chapter and sometimes turning it into a poem.

For the next few Fridays, I'll be posting some of the poems that I think speak most to people who are in relationship transition. They are meant to be starting points for discussion, even if it's just a discussion with yourself.

Now that I'm a therapist, I see clients benefit from writing, journaling, making or participating in music, meditating, exercising, and taking care of themselves by committing to their futures. How are you giving yourself the care you need?

If you're in a tough relationship transition right now, or haven't fully completed one that you experienced before, let me know. In the meantime, take good care of yourself!

To order my book, Cape of Leaves, click here.

For more information: www.touchingtrees.com

Monday, June 19, 2017

Integrity: Why You Should Preserve and Not Spend It (During Your Divorce)

At the risk of starting this post like a middle-school paper, I want to first define integrity...

Integrity is "the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles and moral uprightness". Great. But what is "moral"? Another peek at a dictionary shows that morality is "principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong and good and bad behavior".

Fine. So, integrity is about being honest and maintaining one's principles regarding good and bad behavior. Now that THAT'S solved...

In a divorce (or even post-divorce), it can be really difficult for some people to maintain their integrity. They may be so psychically injured that they resort to name-calling, rumor-spreading, underhanded financial scheming, turning kids against a parent, and any number of other questionable behaviors.

Those partners/ex-partners spend their integrity like they have an unlimited supply of it. They spend their integrity as if it's a currency that can re-grow on trees. The problem is that integrity doesn't grow on trees and can't be reclaimed without a great deal of reparation and humility.

Think about anyone you've known who has had a habit of (or even just one significant period of) lying, manipulating, wiggling out of trouble, disparaging someone else, spreading gossip... Then think about what your impression of that person is. Do you trust them? Do you want to work with them? Or are you wary and not interested in spending much time with them at all?

When one or both partners in a breakup spend their integrity, they lose the chance to work together authentically for the sake of their children (if there are any) or themselves. How can one parent trust the intentions of the other parent when all indications are that his or her integrity has been all used up? The reality is, they can't. That loss of trust then permeates all interactions.

However, preserving your integrity just so you can work with your ex isn't the only reason to hold on to it. You need to preserve your integrity for yourself -- so you can, quite frankly, live with yourself and sleep well at night. You may also want to be a positive role model for your kids or others who will look at how you handled yourself.

When I work with individuals or couples who are in relationship crisis, one of the first things I tell them is that we will work together to help them maintain their integrity through the process. It's critical for one's self-respect to at least try to do that. It's also critical to have a safe place to vent when your ex is spending their own integrity faster than seems possible--mostly so you can process it, but also so you don't spend some of your own trying to defend yourself.

If you'd like more information on how to maintain your integrity (or even get it back!) during a breakup, let me know--I'd be happy to help. Email me at jennimcmc@touchingtrees.com or check out my website at www.touchingtrees.com.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Do I Need an Attorney? Guest Post by Amanda Porter, Porter Law Office


Divorce is an emotional, confusing, and messy process. Not knowing what to expect can be one of the most terrifying aspects for many people. Here are some answers to important, but common, questions: Do you need to have an attorney? If so, what kind of attorney do you want? What’s a collaborative divorce?

First things first...

The first decision someone getting divorced will need to make is whether to hire an attorney or not. The pros of hiring an attorney are pretty obvious – having someone who will handle all the paperwork for you, someone to guide you through the process, someone who knows the law and can explain it to you, etc. The drawbacks to hiring an attorney are also fairly obvious – we’re not cheap! Furthermore, hiring the wrong attorney can make things more awkward and actually further complicate things, while still costing a lot of money.

Do I need an attorney?

So how do you know if you need an attorney? No one is required to have an attorney, but the more complicated a case is, the more helpful it is to have an attorney. A couple that was married for two years, has no children, has no debt and has few assets probably doesn’t need an attorney. A couple that was married for fifteen years, has minor children, has retirement assets, has a house, has debt and has had domestic violence, could probably use an attorney. The more complicating issues there are, the more helpful (and possibly necessary) an attorney is. 

We all like to save money, but many things in a divorce are irreversible once a judge signs and doing it incorrectly can cause more problems and cost more money than hiring an attorney in the first place. If you’re not sure if you need an attorney, talk to one. Ask questions about how complicated your case is. You also may be able to hire an attorney to just review your paperwork and make sure there are no major red flags or to help you draft your paperwork.

What kind of attorney is right for me?

If you’ve decided you need or want an attorney, the next step is finding the right attorney. Price is an important part of the decision, but should not be the only factor. I encourage everyone to meet with multiple attorneys to find the right fit. Keep in mind that you’ll need to share some fairly intimate information (money, kids, possibly sex/drugs/violence depending on the circumstances) with your attorney – if you’re not comfortable doing that, that person is not the right attorney for you. Some attorneys are more blunt, some do more hand-holding. What would you prefer?

Should I look into a "collaborative" divorce?

Also complicating the issue is deciding what kind of attorney you need. Attorneys that handle divorce are generally called “family law attorneys” but there are some specializations within family law. A popular and often effective subset is “collaborative divorce.” The goal of collaborative divorce is for the parties to work collaboratively and reach agreements on all the issues in their dissolution, without having a judge. (This should almost always be the initial goal of any family law attorney absent extenuating circumstances). Collaborative family law attorneys work with the parties to attempt to resolve all the issues. 

The main difference between collaborative law and non-collaborative is that in collaborative law if the parties fail to reach an agreement, the parties have to start over with new (non-collaborative) attorneys. This is done to incentivize parties to reach an agreement (it does often work) but if parties are not able to reach an agreement it can be much more expensive. The collaborative process is a great tool, but may not be appropriate in cases where there has been domestic violence. If you have experienced domestic violence in your relationship but are still interested in the collaborative process, speak to professionals in the process to determine if it’s appropriate.


If you have other questions for Amanda, you can reach her through her website, email, or phone:

http://www.aporterlaw.com/

651.797.0990

amanda@aporterlaw.com

Porter Law Office offers a free one-hour consultation either in-person or by phone, whichever is more convenient for you. Hiring an attorney is a big investment and a free consultation permits you to ask questions about your case, the experience level of the attorney and to make sure it is a good fit for you. Call 651-797-0990 or e-mail amanda@aporterlaw.com today to set up your free one-hour consultation. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Rocks: A New Way of Looking at Change


"Trees cannot deny the effects of a forest fire. Rocks do not try to hide the smoothness that results from the relentless pounding of waves upon them. Icebergs do not feign being untouched by the rising temperatures of our planet." Chani Nicholas



I read this line just days after crashing my knee into a rock that looked very much like the one above, except pointier. At the time I read it, I didn't have much love for rocks, let me tell you.

But, as someone who has done a lot of reflection about trees (TouchingTrees, anyone?), I realized that I've probably spent far too little time reflecting on those things that I've often taken for granted...or even cursed, as in the case of landscape rock or rocks that trip me while hiking.

This was quite the epiphany for me: Rocks gain their shape and their character by endless exposure to wind and water. They get rock-wrinkles from the trauma they endure. They split and they crumble, and yet some remain solid and unmoveable. In so many ways, they are metaphors for the tumbled existence we all have.

The tree metaphor is a great way to describe flexible reactions to change. Trees bend in the wind, they experience seasons, they grow, and they lose limbs. They whisper and they cry. Some scientists even say they communicate with each other through neural pathways connected by their roots.


Rocks, though...rocks provide a different metaphor for change. Rocks endure. Rocks reach with patience, and a gradual acceptance, towards change. In some situations, rocks are the epitome of zen--they are in oneness with all that goes on around them, however it may shape them.

Unless they are smashed, of course. Then they react swiftly and decidedly and serve a different narrative. The rocks that break on impact, that disintegrate into sand...those rocks are proof that trauma can create something new and unique.

When we have troubled relationships, applying a metaphor to our situation can be really helpful. As you are in the middle of upheaval, thinking of yourself as a tree bolsters your trust in the ability to bend without breaking, to recover and grow. After a difficult time that's, perhaps, left scars or lasted for a very long time, it may be helpful to think of your changed essence as the smoothness caused by enduring through trouble or the newness caused by tremendous impact.


We're entering a season that brings us outdoors more than at other times of the year. The next time you have a moment to reflect, see if you can find a rock whose story seems to be like your own. Maybe it's one that's been worn smooth, or one that's grown cracked, or even one that's gained beautiful and sharp edges. 

Feel free to share your rock story in the comments below or email me at jennimcmc@touchingtrees.com. I look forward to hearing from you!





Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Thank You, Anxiety

In recent weeks, I've had the opportunity to talk to quite a few people about thanking or being grateful to the emotions they most wish they didn't feel.

"I hate when I get this way," I've heard. And I understand. We all carry these parts of us around that we wish we could undo or do differently.

Personally, I hate that I get super anxious when other members of my family walk the dog. "You aren't keeping him close enough! He'll lunge at that person walking toward us! He won't learn to walk well for me if everyone else lets him do what he wants!"

I hate that I worry what other people in the Target parking lot will think if I'm parked with my blinker on waiting for a spot. "Am I in their way? Are they going to honk? Do they think I'm selfish?"

See how that goes? That anxiety is annoyingtime-consuming, and often completely unnecessary. I can't stand it when it happens because it makes me want to avoid walking the dog as a family or going to Target during busy times. So much of the time I'm torn between the actual anxiety and my frustration WITH the anxiety.

**Alannis Morrisette's "Thank U" -- an anthem to thanking those things we really don't want to...(click link to play/watch)

When people I work with share parts of themselves that they dislike, or even loathe, I find myself looking for the protective purpose that emotion is serving. Is the over-thinking all night long protecting you from missing something that could throw your whole next day off? Is it protecting you by covering all the bases? Is the nervousness you feel when you're in a room full of people you don't know protecting you from being judged or rejected?

When relationships are in crisis and at risk of breaking, those parts of ourselves that we like the least get activated the most. They do that because they are trying to protect us from further hurt or rejection. But, sometimes their efforts backfire and exacerbate the very situation we were trying to avoid--so we get mad at the part that tried to protect us.

Consider those times when you've been upset about something your partner did, but your worry about conflict caused you to keep it all inside. By trying to protect you from the conflict, your worry has given you a secret you now have to caretake. And, because you have a secret you're keeping from your partner, you're likely to pull away...which can cause more conflict. At the end of all that, you find yourself mad that you're conflict-averse and judge yourself for not being more forthright.

**

What I've begun doing for myself and recommending to others is really simple but counter-intuitive.

Consider how that emotion is trying to protect you. Then thank it for its service.

You'll be amazed at how quickly the tension in your mind and body goes down and how much relief you feel. Thank you, anger. Thank you, depression. Thank you, anxiety. Thank you, conflict-averseness. Thank you, social fear....

If you try this at home (which you CAN!), I'm curious how it turned out for you. Feel free to comment on this post or send me your thoughts at jennimcmc@touchingtrees.com. You can also find me on Facebook.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Four Axes of Connection: Places to Look When You Need Someone On Your Side

If you happen to be in a relationship that is close to breaking apart or has already broken, you may find yourself feeling lonely and worrying about being alone. The loss of our lover, companion, spouse, or friend leaves a hole in our lives. Whether it was our choice or not, we miss at least something about that person we shared language with, that person who knows us best.


It's at this point in the breakup process that it becomes super important to connect with others.

As part of the sequence of recovery from a relationship breakup, connecting to others helps provide grounding and support. It can be the first thing you need and one of the first things you do: you reach out to someone you know to tell them the news. 

If you picture yourself stretching your arms out to the sides, that's the axis of present-time connection. It's connection to peers, family, and support professionals (like a therapist). Many people find a lot of value in present-time connection. You've got people in your life to bring you a meal, text you some words of encouragement, or help with childcare or financial concerns. If you can identify even a person or two right now that you trust, connecting with them is important.

However, you might feel like you don't have a lot of friends or supporters you can lean on; your family might not be nearby or understanding. It could also be that your partner was the one with more present-time connections.

For many reasons, it might not feel possible to make sideways connections. Luckily, there are three more directions you can look in.

When I got divorced, I found that it was important to look inward and connect on the internal axis. In other words, I needed to find out who I was separate from my partner and the roles I played in that relationship and our social/family circles. Internal connection may be easy for some people; they have a strong sense of identity and are confident in their persona. For others, this internal connection can take months or years, or it may never be a priority or a possibility.

The third axis, the re-connection axis, is one I have some very recent experience with. In the last month, three different people that I had three very different relationships with have popped back into my life. One came via LinkedIn and the two others came via Facebook, which reminds me the power of social media. One gave me a chance to see that the person has had a really fulfilling life since I knew them. Another gave me a chance to show them that I've had some really great things happen to me. The third gave me an opportunity to apologize for something and help with something else.

I don't know how far into the future any of those three connections will go, but they might turn into long-term re-connections. One thing I do know is they all provided me with a chance to revisit who I was in the past and compare her to who I am now. They helped me connect with people and a time that was once very important to me.

The last axis of connection involves looking forward. It can seem daunting and difficult to try to cultivate connections in the future when you're so necessarily focused on the past (What went wrong? What could I have done differently? Is this my fault? Did I fail?). Think about the value, though. If somehow you're not connecting well in the present and you don't want to connect with the past, combining a connection with yourself with a connection to future people can be just what you need in order to weather this breakup. Finding new people for your future can include signing up for classes, joining a faith community, moving to a new neighborhood, or increasing your involvement with your children. 

What about you? Who are you connected to?

Think about your situation. Considering all four axes of connection: Which one gives you the most support right now? Which one might give you support you're missing? What strategies can you use in order to increase your level of connection to others and yourself?


If you'd like to talk about connection or feel like you could use some professional support, please don't hesitate to call me at 612-888-2522, contact me through my website www.touchingtrees.com or find a reputable, compassionate professional near you.




Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Toss the Bag of Poop, or...Things You Shouldn't Have to Do When You Break Up

A few weeks ago I noticed a funny thing on the way to work. There was a white plastic bag of poop in the middle of the street. Just sitting there, alone. My thoughts, in order, were: 

** Who drops a bag of poop and doesn't notice?
** How many people have driven by this bag of poop and done nothing?
** How gross would it be to drive over it? And, would it explode like a Taco Bell sauce packet?
** When are the poop-droppers going to get back here and move this lump of turd from the street?



Then I, of course, also drove by it.
And then I drove by it again and again and again, as did all my neighbors and delivery people. No one drove over it. No one moved it. We all just drove by it.

One day, it wasn't in the middle of the street anymore. Someone had taken the time to...well, not throw it away, per se...just move it to the side of the curb. And, they placed it precisely on my property line. 

Was this bag of poop now my responsibility? Was it my next-door neighbor's? Who was playing this game with the poop? WHY DIDN'T THEY JUST THROW IT AWAY??

So, I and all the people on my street drove by it for another week that way--it's thin white plastic handle gently waving in the breeze created by our vehicles scurrying past.

Eventually, I thought: GOOD GOD. Someone has to do something about this bag of poop!!

Then, I realized it could be me. I could be the "someone" who did something about the bag of poop. I didn't want to and I sure didn't think I should have to (it was not MY bag of poop, you know), but I *could* do something about it. So I did.

And then I decided to write about it. 

Why? 

Because I know a lot of people who are dealing with bags of poop in their relationships. Almost every divorcing couple has a bag or two of poop that no one wants to deal with because "it's not fair" and "it's not my fault" and "I didn't make this mess". 

They are right. And, yet...

We often don't make the mess we have to clean up when a relationship goes south. It really can be less our fault than the other person's. It can be incredibly NOT FAIR that we have to deal with it...and it can still be a bag of poop that needs dealt with. 

There's no F for Fairness in a divorce or a breakup. Even if the money and personal property get split fairly and custody is fair and anyone (who isn't actually IN the relationship) can look at the situation, nod, and go "Yeah, that seems fair", it just isn't. It isn't fair that you have to deal with a mess that you may not have contributed equally to. It's not fair that your kids or your friends or your families have to reorganize their lives around your changed relationship.

It isn't fair; it just IS.

Are there any bags of poop lying around in your life that need tending and tossing? Are there any leftover bags of poop from your breakup that *someone* (meaning, probably YOU) just needs to deal with?

If so, knowing full well that it's not fair AT ALL, you may find that it makes sense to plug your nose, squint your eyes, and just dispose of the bag of poop quickly and efficiently because then you won't have that particular bag of poop to deal with any longer.

You'll be one step closer to better.




For more information on how to delicately dispose of or deal with bags of relationship poop, please feel free to call me at 612-888-2522, check out my website at www.touchingtrees.com, or email me at jennimcmc@touchingtrees.com.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Lost Promise of Fatherhood: Post-Divorce Issues Impact Parenting

I've written a lot about the Everlasting Divorce--the situation that occurs when one or both members of a couple can't just "move on" after a breakup. One of the clear losers in particular types of Everlasting Divorces is the parenting relationship. 

In some cases, mothers struggle with financial and emotional repercussions that either overtly or covertly affect their parenting relationship with their children. Fathers can suffer, too, if their parenting relationship is used against them as a way to maintain the Everlasting Divorce and control the father's behaviors. The following is a story about a father and child whose relationship was negatively impacted by the parents' divorce.

This man lost his promise of fatherhood a few years ago. It was in the back of his car, boxes and boxes of toys, video games, books, projects he and his child made together, and the growth chart he painstakingly marked on each year. As if there were a death in the family, the car load meant the relationship with his child may never include graduation, a wedding, grand-children's births, or something as simple as a beer together on the back porch. 

The load of childhood memories was symbolic in ways the son surely didn't understand when he demanded his belongings from his dad's house and that he may not understand at all until he's a father himself. The boxes weren't just stuff. They were symbols of a commitment of a father to his son: a commitment to love him, to invest time and energy into him, and to provide a good life for him.

You might want to know more about this father.

When I first met him, this man saw his son every other weekend and sometimes for a few hours on the off weeks. He was supposed to have more custody than that. He planned his whole work and social life around his limited time with his son, including isolating himself from his friends, denying himself a love life, leaving the office early every other week, and accommodating his ex-wife's (and, ostensibly, his son's) wishes. 

Those wishes included that he NOT attend his son's ball games, concerts, or school functions and that he give in to any schedule change due to a birthday party or sleepover with friends he, as the unwanted father, wasn't allowed to meet. It included rules around where the father could be during weekly phone calls (he had to be at home, alone) and who could be over at the house on his custody weekends. 

The explicit consequence for not agreeing? He potentially wouldn't see his son at all. For many years, it was a risk he wasn't willing to take. Despite his attempts to comply, though, little by little his parenting time shrunk until it was, at best, one weekend a month. Then one weekend every couple of months.

In the world of Everlasting Divorces, this man was completely enveloped by the process. The divorce wasn't "over"; instead, it was in the forefront of his mind nearly all the time. There wasn't an emotional separation--there was emotional manipulation that caused enmeshment in an unhealthy dynamic. 

Eventually, the father entered a romantic relationship that changed the patterns. You may already know that one of the Realms of Change is the emotional realm. In that realm, little changes in self-confidence and connection can have huge repercussions. In this situation, as the father's romantic situation impacted parts of his life positively, his parenting relationship deteriorated even more.

In other words, the emotional enmeshment was about to be over. The Everlasting Divorce had a termination date, which caused stress to the status quo.

Once it became clear to his ex-wife and son that the father was embarking on a long-term relationship, two things happened. First, on the dad's birthday, while the man sat home alone waiting to be allowed to see his son, the son called and said he didn't want to be forced to come over anymore. Secondly, after several weeks of un-returned phone messages from his dad, the son finally called back and said he wanted all his belongings from their new house. He believed his dad was selfish, disrespectful, demanding, controlling, and thoughtless, and he didn't want to come over any more, ever...unless his dad went back to how he used to be. 

But, as those of us who have made tremendous life changes know, going back into a shell of an existence is impossible.

Shortly after that phone call, the father said goodbye to his son for what ended up being a long time. As he drove away from the pile of cardboard boxes that contained most of their life memories together and the son who wouldn't wave, he wondered, not for the first or last time, what he did to deserve such complete rejection. Hadn't he done everything they asked? Hadn't he always given his son what he wanted, including this, even if it meant not seeing him? Like always, he didn't know the answers. 

*****************************

After many, many months of not seeing his son at all and having virtually no communication with him, the father has begun seeing him 3-4 times a year. The relationship remains tentative and its future is uncertain, but both father and son have indicated a desire to become closer at some point. The future isn't lost, but the past opportunities most certainly are.

While the focus of this story is on the father-son relationship, the effects of the Everlasting Divorce are the real issues. Physically, the son and the parenting relationship were always just out of reach. It wasn't a case of too much proximity; it was a case of too little parenting time. Financially, there were a few years when the dad paid extra child support as a way to honor an agreement he made while the family was intact. There were also a few years when he met his child support obligation before paying his own bills. 

Emotionally...emotionally, it was nearly impossible for the dad to see his self-worth through anything but the lens of the Everlasting Divorce. It was a view that caused him to feel limited and powerless. Emotionally, the father and son are nearly as estranged as is possible.

The effects of small changes can be life-changing.

This story serves as a lesson to others who are stuck in an Everlasting Divorce that uses children to manage the adult relationship. In this case, the lesson is that making changes in himself brought confidence and connection to the father, which could someday be a bridge to a relationship with his son. In other cases, the positive effect on the parenting relationship is more quick and clear to appear.

I think early intervention in the Everlasting Divorce could have helped this family tremendously. I also think an understanding of the Everlasting Divorce dynamic will help mitigate problems for them in the future.

If you'd like to share your story of how kids and parenting relationships were affected by an Everlasting Divorce, I'd love to hear them. You can comment on this post or email me at jennimcmc@ymail.com. You can also message me through my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/touchingtrees/.

For more information about Everlasting Divorce, including videos about the causes, effects, Realms of Change, and Inspired Identities, please visit www.touchingtrees.com.

Take good care of yourselves and each other.


#fatherhood #everlastingdivorce #divorce #custody

Monday, March 6, 2017

Two Trees: How We Can Keep Moving Forward After a Breakup

Growing end of the oldest Banyan tree on Maui

For the past I-can't-count-how-many-years, I've enjoyed taking pictures of plants. I like to get super close, hold my breath, and try to capture the most intimate details as possible.

As a therapist, it's clear to me that my process is the same: I like to get close to people, see them at their most vulnerable and beautiful, and then reflect back to them their unique identity.

There's just SO MUCH that can be learned about life by studying the metaphors provided by plants, and nothing teaches us as much about ourselves during times of crisis as our friends, the trees.

Breakups just suck. They hurt and are uncomfortable and they require a re-writing of both history and the future. We lose friends, gain friends, lose family, gain freedom... Despite the possibility of something better--a better sense of self, a better relationship, a better future--breakups mean change and change means growth.

Roots working with rock

The Banyan tree grows remarkably fast and sends roots out from nearly everywhere. For some of us, a breakup means that you can be like the Banyan tree--and immediately start reaching out for something different. You can re-install that online dating app; you can apply to grad school or eat what you want on a Thursday night.

You can use your post-breakup time to start digging deeply into your dreams and re-rooting yourself into your newest identity.


The Tamarack handles change a little differently. During the summer, it appears to be just like every other spruce: It has green needles bunched together in such a way as to look lush and soft. In autumn, however, the Tamarack turns yellow, like its neighboring birches, and the needles fall right off.

If you're not the type of person who leaps into single-hood with energy and vigor after a breakup, you might be the kind of person who has to wait until there's an appropriate time to change. Then, you might have to shed the life you had, along with its hopes and plans, and start over. Emotionally, that means you have to take stock and then build yourself back up from a place of raw bareness. 

Of course, I could probably go on all day about tree metaphors and breakups (I so totally could!), but I'm curious what you think.

If you're in a transition period in your own romantic relationship, which kind of tree better describes your reaction? Neither are better than the other; both serve their purpose of decoupling.



If you're struggling in your relationship right now, it's easy to get help (and super beneficial!). Twin Cities readers, feel free to contact me at www.touchingtrees.com or at jennimcmc@touchingtrees.com.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Politics, Post-Divorce: Which Hat Should Your Kids Wear?

You may have heard about the California woman who walked away from her 21-year marriage because her husband said he wanted to vote for Trump. According to Gayle McCormick, the relationship was already on the rocks, and politics was the very, very last straw. "When things are 51 percent good and 49 percent bad, you just stay," she says. "[But] I was just tired and older and I didn't want to argue and neither of us was going to change." I'm going to go out on a limb and say they don't have to worry about talking politics anymore.

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences - University of Iowa
In intact families of origin or creation, discussion of politics can run the range of nonexistent to polarizing. Who among us didn't dread the holiday get-togethers where there was the inevitably wide difference of opinion? Who didn't wonder which drunk family member was going to bring down the carefully crafted facade of congeniality just as soon as the dessert came out? (And don't lie -- who didn't have a side wager as to which drunk relative it would end up being?) 
https://washingtonpost.com

As more and more attention was being paid to the election this past year, one writer in particular looked at the effects of those political discussions on kids.

In September, Cathy Areu, writer for TODAY looked at the relatively simple issue of how to engage kids in social issues without indoctrinating them into a political ideology. "So, I learned my lesson as a politically charged mom who wanted to raise Democrats: talking politics with kids is a good thing. It’s an important thing. But making them into mini-political-me’s is not a good thing." So...yes to engagement, no to brainwashing.
@pussyhatproject

Let's add in a divorce.

Typically, divorced folks don't spend a lot of time worrying about the politics of their exes, but it can come up in a big way when there are other considerations, such as parents pulling their kids into political camps (as Cathy Areu was referring to) or disparaging the ex for politically-held beliefs.

What to do if you find yourself post-divorce and battling for your side of the aisle? 

Here are four suggestions.

1) If your kids are young, keep quiet or keep it simple. "I think this. But your other parent thinks that. Everyone gets to have an opinion." This can also be an ideal time to reiterate that people don't have to agree in order to work together or love their children.

2) If your older kids are already involved in discussions about social issues, remember to ask them what THEY think and challenge them on any beliefs that are just blatant regurgitations of your own. "I know you don't think people should be deported, but WHY do you think that?" Or, "What would be a good reason to let people from everywhere come live in our country?" You'll need to understand that some of what your kids tell you when you open it up like that might be because they heard it at the other house. And, that needs to be okay.

3) Teenagers might need a different tact. For this bunch, you'll want to both instigate the conversation and learn to sit back and listen. Teenagers and young adults are, by necessity and development, practicing what it's like to be "anything-but-my-parents". So, if you're a die-hard Republican, you'll need to shush up and try to understand why, based on their age and experiences, your kids think it's most definitely right to give all kids free lunch and free college. If you're a Democrat, you'll need to bite your lip while they talk about keeping America safe.

4) Discuss, don't argue. Be curious, but don't judge. Certainly DON'T say, "You only believe that because your FATHER/MOTHER believes it!" Also, don't force them to march, protest, jeer at the media, or make fun of people (that last one really just seems like common sense, though, doesn't it?).
https://archive.nyafuu.org/wsr/thread/98507

Okay, it could be that your kids got MAGA hats for Christmas or that your ex is going to crochet everyone a pussy hat for Easter pictures. One key to remember (and remind yourself over and over again if you can't remember it after one try) is that your kids will change their ideas over time, regardless of which hat they have to wear when Grandma and Grandpa come visiting.
Pinterest

Another key is that this is a long-term growth and learning opportunity.

Mostly what you want for your kids is that they grow up to think critically and carefully about their values and beliefs, right? If so, then they need space to puzzle this stuff out for themselves, free from ultimatums about being red or blue or independent or green. Forcing them to be political mini-mees or judging them for being political mini-mees of your ex isn't going to give them that space.

Neither will parading around in your hat 24/7, so go ahead and do that on your off-weekends. :-)


Jenni McBride McNamara, LAMFT, is a therapist who specializes in post-divorce issues, Discernment Counseling, and decoupling. For more information about her Saint Paul practice, check out www.touchingtrees.com.



Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The 4 Cs of Successfully Surviving Divorce

A short time ago I had coffee with Lisa Byrne CDFA, of Second Saturdays and Divorcing Divas. Lisa has dedicated her professional career to helping people, mostly women, land on their feet financially and emotionally after divorce.

 During our chat, Lisa shared with me that she believes that there are 3 Cs critical to a positive post-divorce situation: Control, Confidence, and Closure. After totally fan-girling her idea, I thought about how true those three Cs were in my own professional experiences with individuals and couples. The people who do the best after divorce are the ones who have (or gain) some control over their own lives, are able to develop confidence because of that control, and are then able to achieve a level of closure from the relationship.

Then I realized there was a fourth C -- one that Lisa and all therapists, financial analysts, mediators, and family law attorneys embody.

That C is Connection.

Over the next couple of months, I'm going to be exploring each of the four Cs: looking at what they mean, how they are impactful, how a lack of them can make post-divorce life really difficult, and how they can be encouraged in the lives of our friends, family, and clients.

I invite you to join me for those posts and make comments, either on the post, my Facebook, or my Twitter. If you or someone you know in the Twin Cities is having difficulty with any of the Cs, feel free to contact me at jennimcmc@touchingtrees.com or at 612-888-2522.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Adventure Connection

This past weekend I had the opportunity to hang out with two smart, funny, engaging women for nine driving hours, five meals, three hours of full-on adventure, and (at least) two bags of salty snacks.

Our particular exploit included a fake run-for-the-Canadian-border (since we were a mere 45 minutes from the actual border and we had access to some empty woods) and a whole lot of documenting photos. We planned the whole adventure, from pre-trip photos setting up the story, to hand-printed signs on the only paper we had available to us (yellow-lined note paper), to post-escape pleas for bail money.

It was imagination and exhilaration...and created a one-moment-in-time connection for the three of us.

And, it all got me thinking about how many opportunities we have for adventure (not very many), but how rewarding the connection can be if we take a chance.

You may have recently received an invitation from a Facebook friend or an email mailing list to participate in something civic-minded. It might have been to support a cause that aligns with your values. It might have been to express your position on current events.

If you're like me, you've considered whether you should participate because...well, there will be strangers there. And you might wonder if your friends or family will think you're weird. And you don't know if you have time because there are so many other obligations.

I would encourage you, though, to stretch and challenge yourself to participate. Think of it as an adventure. (Never ridden public transportation? Never walked in the street when you're not supposed to? Never just gone to a museum or a restaurant to try something new?)

The connections we can make with others who are also out adventuring can be life-changing. The connections we make within ourselves can be invaluable. When's the last time you listened to that part of yourself that wants to just be silly? When's the last time you calmed your anxiety and took a plunge anyway?

You don't need to have a lot of free time to create an adventure. You just have to be willing to step outside your schedule and your roles. And make a run for it...