On June 21, I published my son’s summer reading list for AP Government to a Facebook group asking the question, “Is it just me, or does anyone else have a problem with my son’s AP Government choices for summer reading?”
Within a few hours, I had spoken to the school and the story went viral and then more viral. The list was retracted as an assignment. For the record, I did reach out to the individual teacher. He never responded.
Nine days later, I, and everyone on the Baldwin County Board of Education email list, received an email from the superintendent of the school district. He indicated his lack of concern for the content of the list, opined that he doesn’t care what people in California and Illinois think and even acknowledged he would like to read some of the books on the list in question.
On the evening of July 4, I wrote to Mr. Tyler asking for a meeting to discuss the contents of his email further and to address my concerns as a parent living in Baldwin County. Here is my email:
I am writing in response to your email on Friday regarding the AP Government reading list. I am the parent who originally complained about the list. I would like to request a meeting with you to discuss what I believe is an important issue in this class.
As a parent living in Spanish Fort, not in California as you referenced in your email, who believes this list is inappropriate for any AP class, I do not understand why you did not address my concerns as a part of your response. There are many in Spanish Fort who have concerns and your email seems to assume that is not the case.
I would like to understand why you are unconcerned about the content of this list. To me, the content of any academic class is of utmost importance. The fact the the contents of this list included zero academic or scholarly options is critical to me. This is an AP Government class. It is not a class on politics. There is no opinion about the formation and foundation of our government. There is theory. There is perspective gained from other governments in historical context as well as comparative context.
I would also like to know if you asked Mr. Ponder any questions other than whether or not he had the list approved. Did you ask the context of his using these readings? Did you ask why all of his supplemental resources and presentations consisted of the same type material? Did you ask him or his students if he taught his class from this political perspective? These are important questions. Did you ask if any students ever heard him using derogatory names for liberals after class or in the hallways?
Have you considered how a student who is outside Mr. Ponder's political ideology would feel sitting in his class?
Also, you stated there is a policy for vetting books. I would like to see that policy. I would also like to see your policy regarding LGBT in school and their treatment and rights to protection and inclusion.
Please contact me as soon as possible to arrange a meeting so that I can better understand how to move forward.
By Monday, July 10, six days later, I had not received a response. I sent a follow up email asking if he intended to respond to me and I left a phone message asking for a return call. On July 11, a week after my initial contact and several hours after he received a formal complaint filed with the Mr. Tyler’s office (which I signed) I received the following:
Ms. Denham, the email sent out from my office addressed the failure of the teacher to follow the established procedure for gaining approval for additional reading materials for his students. In the future, I expect this procedure to be followed. In the email, I also stated my position on our students being exposed to as much information as possible from all sources, and for them to be allowed to make up their minds as to their beliefs. The email included my opinion, and it was intended to inform. Likewise, you, and anyone else, are free to form their own opinion. To your comments about communication and transparency, expressing my opinion on the matter and pushing that opinion out to stakeholders is the ultimate form of communication and transparency. I do not intend to meet with you to discuss my email communication. Pursuant to your request, attached is the curriculum procedure for reading selections that are not on the county-approved reading list. In response to your email, you are also welcome to review the Board Policy Manuel, a copy of which is linked to the Board’s website. See specifically policies 105 and 934. Have a nice day.
I find this whole situation incredibly perplexing and bothersome. If Mr. Tyler believes his opinion is relevant in this situation, I fear he does not understand his role as superintendent. His opinion should not be a factor in enforcing policy and equal protection for our students. When students feel marginalized and/or intimidated by the forceful expression of a teacher’s personal ideology, how can they feel protected?
Mr. Tyler also does not understand that he is and should be accountable to his “stakeholders,” students and parents alike. If he refuses to meet with a parent in order to find resolution to an issue that many have expressed outrage and concern over, where is the accountability? Do we, as parents, have no right to question his policy and procedure to ensure our students are not without a voice at school?
I am perplexed that the content of this list did not provide the impetus for further questioning of a teacher who would produce it. It begs so many questions. Was the class taught from that perspective? Was a personal viewpoint advocated by the teacher? Were students intimidated or marginalized by the tone of the class? How much of the supplemental material was used in daily class time? How much of the curriculum was presented in the context of the list and the similar supplemental resources and presentation materials listed on the website? Will there be a review and a corrective plan made so that this teacher understands the problems with this material?
I have spoken to a student who has heard this teacher use the word “libtard” after class when speaking to conservative students. Why on Earth would we support a teacher who influences his students to name-call and perpetuate divisiveness? And how do students with different beliefs feel when they walk by and hear such language from a person in a position of power?
If Mr. Tyler refuses to speak with concerned parents, what is our recourse? Our recourse is to ask for a fair hearing of our concerns and an earnest review of the formal complaint. Our recourse is to ask for a formal review of policy related to this situation and the others listed in the complaint. There are many issues listed in this complaint. I have personal knowledge of a least a few.
I would encourage you to participate in the effort for change and respectfully ask that your concerns be heard. I would have preferred a meeting, but in the alternative, I will continue to express my resolve to effect change in our local culture that diversity of thought and experience not only be accepted, but encouraged.
If you would like to have your voice heard, Mr. Tyler’s email is: email@example.com.
In case you missed Mr. Tyler’s original email to the county, please see it below.
With the 4th of July Independence Day weekend in sight, I find myself reflecting back over the events of last week centered around a 12th grade social studies summer reading list that was posted at one of our schools.
A teacher posted a summer reading list without first presenting the list for approval by the social studies departmental committee at the school. The list was withdrawn, but almost immediately people started complaining and assuming that the reading list was removed because it was comprised of a list of conservative authors.
Responses posted to websites like the Huffington Post and other social media outlets from California and Illinois started complaining that we, the Baldwin County Public School System, were circulating right wing propaganda to our students.
I can honestly say that I am not losing any sleep over what the folks in California think about what we are doing in the Baldwin County Public School System!
As I looked over the list, I recognized several of the authors. In fact, there are a few books on the list which I’d like to read. The content of the list might be of concern to some people, but it wasn’t my concern. The failure of the teacher to follow the process was my concern.
The Baldwin County Public School System has a process for approving books that are not on the approved reading list.
Even if the books were authored by other well-known people such as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi, I would have reacted in the same manner. The problem wasn’t the list, the problem was that the list had not gone through the proper vetting process. After speaking with the teacher, he admitted as much, and I appreciated his honesty.
I encouraged the teacher to read all of the books on the list and if he so chooses recommend the books he feels are important for students to read to the social studies departmental committee for review at the appropriate time next year. If he does not think that the books he submits receive a fair review, I have asked him to contact me to discuss any concerns he may have with the review process. However, I believe that any books placed before the social studies departmental committee will be given a thorough review by those educators.
ALL of our students need a healthy dose of both sides of political arguments and viewpoints, both conservative and liberal. Exposing our students to different thoughts and asking our students to consider differing points of view is what education is all about!
This social studies list does not worry me. What I worry about is exposing students to a book on Jack and Jane showing up in a 2nd grade classroom with inappropriate pictures and talking about a subject that might be offensive to parents. I do not want this to happen. When we don’t adhere to a process for vetting an official reading list we find ourselves in jeopardy of placing inappropriate material in the hands of students. It is my job as superintendent to not allow this to happen at any grade level!
I am very proud of our teachers and the work they do! I want our teachers to push our students to think outside the box and consider many perspectives before arriving at the truth for themselves. I ask that teachers challenge their students and expose them to different ways of thinking! While I encourage this, we have to keep in mind that there is a process in place to allow that exposure to happen. We must ensure that our efforts are appropriate, peer reviewed and approved.
Many complain that public education relies on too much liberal indoctrination. I do not believe that to be the case in Baldwin County Public Schools. I encourage our teachers to balance their teachings of political philosophies so they appropriately reflect the real world we live in today. As superintendent, I want our students to have a balanced education.
As we pause to celebrate our 4th of July Independence Day, please take time to appreciate that we are free to discuss ALL of these ideas. We should be able to celebrate those things on which we agree as well as argue against those on which we disagree.
This is a testament to the awesome country we live in. I am proud of what we teach our students in the Baldwin County Public School System. We want students to be proud of our country’s history and to be able to intelligently engage in discussions on politics.
I am Eddie Tyler, Superintendent of the Baldwin County Public School System and I am BALDWIN PROUD!
I write a lot about not only accepting your reality but embracing it. The good and the bad. The idea is to accept so that you can learn from your life situations and embrace so you can find value even when things feel unbearable. I call it The Gift of the Struggle. It’s what gets me through a lot.
But there are times when you should not accept. Times to stand up and speak out against that which is wrong and unjust. I work hard to teach my five kids to use their voices and stand for their beliefs. This balance between embracing your reality and knowing when it is time to reject it is sometimes a difficult line to walk.
Yesterday, however, the choice was clear. My son, an incoming senior in high school brought me a copy of his AP Government reading list.
“The reading list is pretty bad,” he said. “I think you need to take a look.”
Bad was an understatement. There were FIVE titles from Michael Savage. One from Ann Coulter. One from Sheriff Richard Mack. The list goes on and on – 31 options. They were anti-climate change, anti-liberal, pro-Christian, etc. This is a public school, by the way. Of the 31 choices, there were probably two that I found acceptable and they weren’t ideal. There was not one academic book on the list and zero historical/intellectual options.
Here is my point of view: I encourage my children to read things they disagree with. To listen to those with opposing perspectives. To be open to ideas other than theirs, but to stand up for their beliefs respectfully. This list did not encourage that philosophy. It presented one side. And one side filled with pop culture personalities who spew hate and rhetoric – not intellectual, respected authors who offer well-educated ideas from different points of view. And how is my 17 year-old son, who is the Southeast Regional Director for the State of Alabama for High School Democrats of America supposed to sit in this class and feel he has a voice?
Take a look at the list:
I posted this list in a closed progressive group in which I participate. The reaction was fierce. Outrage. Incredulity. Action. It was intense and it was immediate.
I immediately emailed the teacher and copied the principal on it asking questions. Giving the teacher a chance to offer an explanation. No response. Here is my email:
My son just printed the AP Government and Economics reading list and I have a few questions. The list is predominantly populated with one perspective. A conservative one. I would like to know your reasoning for choosing this list and what perspective you plan to teach these books from. Can you identify the value you hope to offer in terms of choosing this list?
Can you let me know why there are no titles that would offer an alternate perspective or a balance to the list you have provided?
If you had provided both points of view in your selections and had students chose one from each perspective, I would see the value in debating the points of view and showing students the presentation of opposing views. But that is not the case here.
Also, several authors are not those I would expect to see from an academic class. Those chosen are more pop culture type pundits rather than those who would offer academic, intellectual schools of thought on conservative policy.
There are several books on the list written by people I find truly offensive and believe are hateful in rhetoric and philosophy. How will these books/authors be handled in your class?
I welcome your discussion as I was truly shocked at the political slant in your selections.
I believe in giving people the chance to respond before I act. When the teacher did not respond, I called the principal. He said, and I believe he was sincere, that this was the first he had heard of the list and he was retracting the assignment and planned to speak with the teacher. I inquired about what I should do if this teacher taught his class from this perspective, and he told me he wants to know. I believe that.
Here is what I find interesting. As this post went around the internet, there were many who had experienced this teacher. Their children were not surprised about this list. They indicated that he taught class from his right-wing perspective for more than a decade and that this reading list had been used for several years. Many parents were uncomfortable and talked to their children about how to handle his class. But as far as I can tell, no one complained to the school. No one confronted the teacher. If they did, they did it quietly.
I have some thoughts on the reasons for this. I live in Spanish Fort, Alabama. It is a VERY conservative area of the country. I am not conservative at all. When I first moved here from Pensacola, FL five years ago, I did not realize I would not find any like-minded people – because they were all staying under the radar. If you are a liberal here, you tend to just be quiet to avoid conflict with pretty much everyone you know. When you unexpectedly find a fellow liberal, it’s a little private party where you jump up and down…on the inside.
This attitude of hiding has created a culture of a silent minority. Parents seem to hesitate to speak out. I think there is fear of a negative impact on our children if we complain about a list like this. That fear is not unfounded. But is that enough to remain silent?
The silver lining of the hostile political climate we are now enduring is that people are coming together for a cause. Through these closed political social media groups, I have discovered that there are a lot more people like me in lower Alabama than I ever knew. The support and common ground we have found in knowing each other has empowered more and more of us to become active locally and to speak up for our beliefs – even in the face of name calling (which has occurred to my own 19 year-old daughter in the discussion of this list). What has the world come to when a teenager is called names by a middle-aged man for expressing her point of view? Her point of view that the silent minority shared and became the vocal minority for?
I have to say, I am proud of the swift action the community took to right this wrong. And it goes to show that when people come together for a common cause and take action, change can be swift and decisive. Onward.
I wrote this post in 2012, the day after Obama was re-elected. I fear the need for the same sentiment. And this year, I have two children voting for the first time, a 16 year old who is so interested in the political process, he helped found a young political group at school, helped organize a student debate and is having friends over to watch the returns, a 14 year old who has watched all of the debates and a 10 year old who is very impressionable. Please, lets keep our children in mind as we navigate today and the days to follow. Please read and comment with your thoughts...
I voted for President Obama and thought that today I would feel very happy about his re-election. Instead, I woke up to see anger, sarcasm, resentment and disrespect for the president and those who voted for him being expressed all over my Facebook wall. I am very disappointed that many of you choose to be filled with hate, derision and negativity and choose to express those feelings in such a public way. I have five children and many of you are in our "village" influencing and setting examples for them. Some of you are friends with them on Facebook. Decisions like yours cause me inordinate distress because I believe that you are teaching them all of the wrong lessons.
I am raising my children to be be informed, to be open minded, to be tolerant of everyone alike or different, to question authority without disrespecting it. I am teaching them that they have the power to become informed and educated and by listening to others, make decisions on their own. Your decision goes against every single one of my goals.
By showing them hate and a closed mind, you are teaching them that by having an opinion different from yours, they will be greeted with hate thus making it more difficult for them to form their own opinions and express them without fear. Open- mindedness is taught by exposing children to different people, cultures, and viewpoints. By expressing derision of their government, you are reinforcing the idea that it is not okay to be different from each other.
Tolerance is taught by example. By showing them that when your candidate doesn't win, it is okay to attack those who voted differently from you or to attack the president or the government, you are teaching them to turn their backs on those who are or believe differently, rather than encouraging open and respectful discussion.
Our country was founded by our questioning of an authority with which we disagreed. By allowing our children to see disrespectful attacks instead of respectful discussion you are teaching them to disrespect authority instead of giving them the tools to question or change their futures.
Providing children information from every perspective gives them the belief and the tools to change their futures and impact the world. By attacking one group's views and votes, you are teaching them that they have no power to make their own decisions or to change their futures without fear of retribution.
I would like my village to have the goals that I have listed above to produce educated, informed, tolerant, open-minded and powerful children who will grow to be adults with those same qualities. I would like them armed with knowledge as they go through school and go out into the world.
This time, my candidate won. I have experienced the same disappointment in other elections when my choice lost. I did not attack my friends for their votes. I did not, in dramatic fashion, pray to God that he would save us from the "evil" that loomed. I think the president needs prayers for wise and just decisions whether he is my choice or not. I did not believe that the world would end because my choice didn't win. And it won't now.
We live in a country that provides peaceful election and peaceful transfer of power when a new candidate wins. We need to appreciate this and recognize that many risk much more when they vote. We need to teach our children, by example, that we can win or lose gracefully. That we can respect the office of the president and try to support each other and articulate our opinions in ways that teach our children to be the kind of adults we would like them to be..
I want my children to be politically aware. I want them to learn to watch and think for themselves. I do not want to feel compelled to warn them that talking about politics with friends may not be such a good idea for fear they will be attacked. I believe that this culture of hate and fear can turn the young away from wanting to learn about and participate in the process. I believe that those who express hate and vilify others run the risk of denying my children the experiencing of history by making them afraid.
It does not matter for whom you voted or what your political affiliation, children and adults (because every adult is a part of some child's village) should respect the office of President, even if you do not respect the man or the ideology.
I have written my political views on Facebook. I have made every effort to be respectful, find facts and post articles that I find interesting and support my ideas. I have never called someone (either a political figure or friend) a name or attacked anyone personally. Even I began to feel disillusioned with discussion as people are very angry when you disagree with them. That is not the path I want my children to walk.
Change starts with the individual. If we can come together and work together, it will be harder for those in power to remain so polarized. If you do not like the way things are, instead of ranting in anger, why not do something about it using respectful and intelligent discussion. Call your senator, write your congressman, attend meetings. Take you children and teach them how it works. At the very least, before you speak or post, pause to think if what you are about to say is something you would want your children to hear or see.
We live in an area with a great deal of diversity and however you believe, it is important for all children to know that anything is possible and barriers of all kinds can be conquered. Our president is an historical figure by sheer virtue of the fact that he is our first African-American president. We should at the very least respect that. Maybe if we all pulled together for the greater good, he could actually accomplish something, and we could teach our children in the process.
Self-awareness. Simple concept. Challenging accomplishment. As much as it seems like we should all be able to assess our actions, an astonishing number of people go through life and relationships without any idea how their own behavior can impact their decisions, relationships and ultimately, their happiness.
I have written several articles that address those things in life that can hold you back from relationships. From deciding to be or not to be a victim to deciding tosettle or not to settle, I have tried to highlight decisions that we all have control over. After all, we all know that the only behavior we can control is our own. The problem arises when our self-awareness is low. In my book, Sweeten the Deal: How to Spot and Avoid the Big Red Flags in Online Dating, I identify it as “those who fail to embrace their own reality.”
We all know the person who thinks that every bad thing that has happened is someone else’s fault, and, really, someone else’s responsibility. And do you know the person who is willing to date anyone to avoid being alone? Yes, you do. And what about the exhausting friend who continues to participate in old relationships that are supposedly “over” but by the continual communication with these “over” relationship-people and the subsequent regurgitation of the trauma of these “done” relationships, it is obviously not OVER! The ones who have BIG GLARING RED FLAGS in their relationships are the most frustrating... how can you not see what the rest of us see? Help!
But what about ourselves? How often do we take the time to look honestly at our own behavior and decide if we are getting in our own way? Probably not enough. I mean, that’s not fun. And once we become aware that we are getting in our own way, we actually have to change! Ugh! Again, not fun!
So here are some questions to help you start your quest toward self-awareness and your effort to embrace your own reality.
1. Are you unable to spend time alone and feel a need to fill every minute of your time?
2. If you are not dating someone, do you feel inadequate or like a failure?
3. Are you generally angry in your life?
4. Do you find yourself blaming other people when something goes wrong?
5. Do you feel helpless to change your situation in life?
6. Do you continue to communicate with past relationships?
7. Do you find yourself stalking former relationships on social media?
8. Do you overlook flaws in a date/relationship that make you uncomfortable?
9. Do your friends tell you that your date/relationship is unhealthy for you?
10. Do you agonize over your current situation and look back to figure out whose fault it is?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you may need a little self-reflection. When you are aware that you may sabotage your relationships with behavior you can control, it is time to take a break and figure out what is driving your behavior and work on it. If your fear of being alone or willingness to overlook deal breakers is driven by insecurity, that will require some work. Insecurity should not be a driving force in any relationship. If you react to situations in anger, especially misdirected anger, then you need to accept your life as it is now. Take responsibility for your future and release the blame of wrongs past. It only hurts you and your family. Whatever the reason for self-sabotage, until you become aware of it, you can’t stop it. When you acknowledge it and in turn, embrace it, you become empowered to know what you want and make the good choices that will lead you to it! Not easy. But definitely doable!
have learned a lot in my 43 years — more than I really thought I needed to learn. I learned that people are not always who they seem. I learned that people who are supposed to love you can hurt you the most. I learned that when you try to do all of the right things, things still go wrong. I learned that when everything goes wrong at once, you just have to hold on for dear life. I learned that perspective is a beautiful thing. I learned to trust myself. I learned that doing the right thing may not get you what you want, but you will be able to look in the mirror. I learned that I, and only I, am responsible for my happiness. And most of all I have learned who I am and what I am capable of doing.
Many of these lessons came from my divorce and the ensuing hell that followed. I will not go into specifics for the sake of my children, however, I was with the wrong person. I was with someone who was not who he had claimed to be for the entirety of our marriage. After 10 years, the mask came off. About the same time, my youngest son began having seizures. On the hour, every hour for two weeks and then once a month for a year.
That exact period of time during the divorce and the seizures was the single most difficult time I had ever experienced. Life felt like everything was falling apart at once. Looking back, the seizures couldn’t have been predicted, but the years that led up to this moment telegraphed the end of my marriage. I was with someone who tore me down rather than built me up. I was with someone who minimized my goals and dreams while he went to law school and followed his. I was with someone who wore me out needing validation while offering the opposite of that to me.
Finally, I was with someone who was ambivalent about my writing. The response was always, “Eh, it’s okay.” I was told that I couldn’t write a book or make a living writing at all. I was discouraged from following my path. It was generally a subtle blow off, a disregard for what I thought and felt, but over time it seeped in and infiltrated my life.
The fact that I listened to this discouragement is my responsibility, but I think a lot of people, when told over and over how inadequate they are, begin to internalize some of this thinking. It’s almost funny to me because I am generally not someone to suffer a crisis of confidence, but life was busy. We had three kids in four years. He was in law school and studying for the bar exam. I just put my priorities aside and when I received negative feedback, it was easier to keep them aside.
Believe it or not, the thing that woke me up in my life was my son’s seizures. As I said, perspective is a beautiful thing. And with his condition, came an immediate shift from the difficulty of my divorce to getting this 2-year-old child well. And after that, being able to take care of my children. And after that, regaining my confidence and happiness.
The evolution for me occurred over the next eight years. My kids and I had to move in with my parents for a while until my son’s seizures were controlled (he is now, 10 years later, seizure-free and has been released from his neurologist.) I got a job. I healed. It was no easy task. When things settled down I realized that my own path had gotten derailed. With my divorce came freedom to rediscover my dreams and reevaluate what a good relationship should be. I worked on becoming a whole person by myself so that my path would be strong with or without a partner.
When I began online dating, I had one crazy date after the other — married guys, criminal guys, toothless guys — who knew this was in store for me! I learned how to date (especially having kids to think of), what I wanted and how to get it.
My friends began telling me I needed to write these dates down. So, I began a blog. It was originally called You Can’t Make This Shit Up. I chronicled all of my funny and horrifying dates for everyone to read, and began writing again. After about five years, the online quest finally met its demise when I met my now husband. My husband is supportive, caring and encouraging. He met me when I had learned that I could be happy on my own, when I knew what I wanted and when I was ready to go after it.
With his support and encouragement, I turned my blog into a book. I added in all of the dating lessons I learned during some hard and crazy times. I began working as a freelance writer while working to promote my book. I am helping to support my family as a writer, and I am happy and whole. The book will be released on April 1, 2015 and is now called Sweeten the Deal: How to Spot and Avoid the Big Red Flags in Online Dating. My first book signing is scheduled, my family will be there. I am excited and ready for the next adventure! Onward!
“As long as you think that the cause of your problem is “out there”—as long as you think that anyone or anything is responsible for your suffering—the situation is hopeless. It means that you are forever in the role of victim, that you’re suffering in paradise.”
― Byron Katie, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life
I have two scenarios for you to consider. In the first, you see a single mother. Her husband cheated on her for years. She is upbeat, she is happy and she goes through life smiling. She enjoys her children, yet she is able to enjoy the weekends they are with their father when she is able to do some adult things. She encourages her children to have a good relationship with their father and feels glad that they enjoy being with him.
In the second, you see a single mother. Her husband cheated on her for years. She looks haggard, scowls and goes through life just trying to get through the day. Her children are a chore, but when they are with their father she resents that they are gone. When they have fun with him, she sees it as a betrayal of her.
We all know people (women or men) who fit into each of these categories. How is it that some divorced people are able to have a sense of joy and ease about them while others seem to have the weight of the world bearing down on them? I believe that the difference lies in attitude. If you live as a victor, you will be a victor. If you live as a victim, you will be a victim. I believe if you empower yourself with the mindset of a victor and recognize it as a choice rather than a circumstance, the victim will fall off of you life like the chrysalis of a butterfly.
The first action necessary to embrace the victor over victim mentality is to realize that you have control over your future. Whatever has happened in the past was difficult. The nature of divorce is difficulty. Once you accept that you are the only person who controls your destiny, you can let go of any resentment from past trials.
The first step in controlling your own destiny is to relieve yourself from the burden of being invested in your ex. If you are invested in your ex’s behavior whether it relates to whom he dates or how he spends money, then it is difficult not to see a cause and effect relationship between what he does and how you feel. This is a two-fold problem. It leads to wanting to change his behavior (control), and it leads to thinking his behavior affects you (victim).
The fact is, once you are divorced, you have no say in what your ex does, who he dates and how he spends his money. After all, you don’t want your ex to have a say in your decisions, right? To think that you have a say in your ex’s life is to try and maintain some degree of control over him. When you try to maintain control and realize you can’t, it invokes anger, frustration and resentment. These feelings lead to identifying yourself as a victim of your ex’s behavior. Let go of control. The knowledge and acceptance that you can only control yourself and what goes on at your house is liberating and empowering.
The next step into victory is to re-learn how to communicate with your ex, particularly in the beginning. Sometimes old habits are hard to break, so in the first stages of separation and divorce, I recommend that you communicate only by email and only about topics specific to the children. These topics are health, schedules and the academic well-being of the children. This will eliminate the temptation to get into other conversations that may not be related to the children. Anything not related to the children is in opposition to you trying to become un-invested. Eventually things may evolve and communication may flow more easily, but in the beginning, when you are trying to re-learn how to think about yourself and your own goals, it is better not to drift into past habits and hurts.
Next, practice the Golden Rule. If you behave as you would like your ex to behave, you do not create conflict. Conflict leads to negative communication and that keeps you invested in the anger and hurt of the past. If you are the custodial parent, make absolutely certain to provide your ex with schedules, school notices and information about your child necessary for your ex to participate in every way. If you are the non-custodial parent, make every effort to gather information about your child from readily available sources such as school websites, sports team websites, etc. Again, practice the Golden Rule by providing information as you would have it provided to you. Otherwise, you are provoking your ex which keeps you invested.
Keep your focus on you, your kids and the future. When you take responsibility for your own feelings and actions, you are empowered to make changes and be happy. You are divorced from your ex. There are reasons for that. The reasons will probably not change. If you do not expect the reasons to change, and you can accept the way things are, your only option is to recognize that you and only you control your reaction to your circumstances. You and only you control your future. This is your victory. And this is the lesson to teach your kids. Empowering yourself to claim responsibility for your destiny and your happiness empowers your children to know they can choose happiness, too. And they will learn to choose to be victors of their own lives rather than victims. And that is the greatest victory of all.
It was Christmas Day. New just-played-with toys were scattered all over the house, wrapping paper was overflowing the trash cans, and the boys were still riding high from candy-filled stockings and the excitement of Santa’s visit. To keep things “normal,” I had asked my husband to sleep on the couch on Christmas Eve so that he could see the boys on Christmas morning. We had been separated since Halloween.
He was the textbook adult child of alcoholics. He lied when the truth was easier, he was impulsive, self-loathing, non-communicative and more. I began to see these traits in my children and asked him to leave to get help so that we could break this cycle of his family. I knew that with help, and because I believed he was a good person, we would get through it.
As he was leaving, I walked him out through the garage.
“Can we talk?” he asked.
“Hang on,” I said.
The boys were two, four and six years old. I couldn’t leave them unattended for more than a few minutes. I opened the door to peer inside. Through the kitchen and into the living room, I saw the Christmas tree lights shimmering, the stockings flung on the floor, toys and candy strewn about. The smell of the tree hit me as I scanned the kitchen still covered with Christmas morning donuts and cookies. The boys were quietly playing. The middle one was watching a Christmas movie, the youngest was riding his new tractor and the oldest was playing his new video game.
I turned back into the darkness of the garage and closed the door to see my husband sobbing. In ten years, I had never seen him cry. I looked around to see our life in the shadows. Christmas boxes were awaiting pick-up. Bikes, rakes and tools were haphazardly arranged. Boxes of outgrown clothes were awaiting the next boy’s growth spurt.
“Ask me any questions you want,” he said. “I have decided to be completely honest and tell you everything.”
“Have you ever cheated on me?”
We had many problems, but nothing I believed was insurmountable. I always believed he was good person. He kept telling me he was a good person, and I wanted to believe it. I wanted to believe that when he “worked” until 10:00 at night and didn’t answer his phone for hours, that he really had left his phone in the bathroom. I wanted to believe that when he shut off the computer every time I walked into the room, he really had just finished using it. I wanted to believe that the excessive cash withdrawals from ATMs were for lunch. But these doubts prompted me, and the question came out of my mouth without a thought or hesitation.
“Have you ever cheated on me?”
“Um, well, not really,” he said.
Not really? That was not a definitive answer to my question. That question should have a definitive answer, and at that moment, I knew. I felt invisible. Everything I knew to be true was a lie. As I listened to an endless description of what specific acts he believed constituted cheating, I felt as though I had left my body and was watching this scene from above myself.
“Hang on.” I had to come back to myself and needed to check on the kids.
I opened the door to check on the boys. They were getting a bit restless, running around the living room, flinging toys up in the air as they giggled and shrieked. Frosty the Snowman was blaring from the TV.
My mind replayed the last week as I watched them. The Christmas Eve service at church, the Sunday School Christmas party, making cookies with my parents — all of it seemed so normal. I told them to finish the movie and I would give them a bath.
When I turned back to the dimly lit garage, I began to ask questions with surreal calm. He started to sob harder and harder as he related a tale of infidelity spanning five years of our ten-year marriage.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” I could not fathom his answer.
“I don’t know who they are.”
“Too many to count.”
At that moment, my two-year-old came bounding out of the house, all grins and wanting to play. The bright light of the kitchen fell on my husband’s tear-streaked face. I stepped to block my son from seeing him, scooped him up and carried him back inside. I asked my 6 year-old to play with him for a few minutes before their bath and I would be right back.
“I don’t have any more questions,” I said. I turned back into the house filled with lights, music and the sweet faces of innocent, giggling boys and I shut the garage door.
Between the Big Confession and the New Year, I felt a bizarre sense of calm and relief. I had a defining moment of clarity that made my decision to leave my husband definitive. I didn’t flail in the limbo of indecision. I had no doubts and no regrets. With my decision made, I felt a bizarre sense of elation. Elation in spite of the fact that my husband called crying daily, sent flowers regularly (too little too late? I mean, really, the lack of self-awareness boggles the mind), and finding that I was buried under a pile of months of unpaid bills. Telling my children about the divorce and seeing their devastated faces was the hardest thing I have ever done, however, I knew I was doing the right thing. Not everyone knows that and knowing is a gift.
After the meeting with the lawyer on the first day he was available after the holidays, I went home. The Christmas decorations were still up looking haphazard and worn and the lights hadn’t been turned on in days. My children were with my mother. I cried harder than I have ever cried in my life. And then I got up, undecorated my house and went to get my children. I knew that my responsibility was for my children and myself. And I was free.
This is the article I wrote for the Huffington Post that inspired this website. Please comment with your thoughts.
In my book, I talk a good bit about “those who fail to embrace their own reality.” These are the people who struggle with acceptance of their situations whether it is divorce, custody arrangements, employment, dating relationships or any other area of life. I believe that the ability not only to accept your situation, but to embrace it is the only way you can begin to set and follow your own path and to find sustainable happiness.
What does it mean to embrace your reality? It means that you accept what is. It means you know who you are, where you are and what you want. It means you recognize that the only one who can make you happy is you. The only one who can change your life is you. That blame and anger only serve to defeat you, not the person you blame and have anger toward.
Acknowledging your reality equates to having self-awareness. It is a big part of happiness because when you lack it, you are fighting against where you actually are in your life. You have to own your situation, because when you don’t, you cannot make effective change. And then you have to embrace it. The difference is important. Acknowledging your reality allows you to understand, embracing gives you the power to change.
Let’s look at a few situations I have experienced and observed in the world of dating after divorce that taught me this lesson.
1. The guy who repeatedly said, “My wife, I mean ex-wife.” This guy has not accepted (much less embraced) the fact that he is divorced. How can he move forward? He can’t. He is stuck.
2. The guy who kept telling me what he lost in his divorce...his boat, his house, etc. He is still angry. He resents what happened. As long as he holds on to that, he can’t make change. And no one wants to be around someone who is angry and resentful. The power to change is thwarted when you embrace your anger rather than accept your now.
3. The guy whose profile listed his education as “college,” and upon meeting him answered a question about the nature of his degree with “technically, I didn’t finish college.” Why? Why misrepresent? You are who you are and if someone doesn’t like it, it is their problem. You have made it your problem by lying about it.
4. The woman who is so put upon by being a single mother that she feels entitled. “I am a single mother, so I should have...” Where is her power? Does anyone “deserve?” Or do you deserve what you work for when you take responsibility for your own life?
5. The woman who is so angry that she tells anyone who will listen about the wrong she feels was done to her. Where is her power? Is she allowing her perception to control her future relationships rather than being determined to make her own happiness?
6. The men and women who are victims of their own lives. If you believe that everything that happens in your life is “done to you,” you have effectively given your power away. Bad things happen. Often they are not your fault. But no matter whose fault they are, you have power in your reaction and in your determination to change your situation. If you are not happy, you are not choosing to make a change.
I experienced a divorce in which someone else made decisions that changed the course of my entire life without consulting me. So believe me, I get feeling angry and frustrated by that. There is a time when you need to allow yourself to feel that anger and frustration and then heal. At this point, you are not a fully formed person. You are broken and need time to put yourself back together. The problem occurs when this brokenness becomes a way of life. When you cling to the anger and frustration as a crutch and as an excuse not to move forward and get out there and redefine your path. When I decided to embrace the fact that I was divorced, that I was raising three kids as a single mother, that I had to find a path that was very different from the one I had been on, I began to feel empowered. I could decide what was next. I could decide what kind of relationship I wanted. I was in charge. And I embraced that. And when I embraced that, good things began to happen. I love this phrase: If you don’t like where you are, move. You are not a tree. Words to live by.