Should I Stay for the Kids?

When a couple is in a committed relationship, and one of them is contemplating leaving, he or she may ask him or herself questions such as, “Is this bad enough for me to leave or good enough for me to stay?” However, when that same couple is in a committed relationship with children, there is a much more disconcerting thought that may enter his or her mind: “What would leaving do to my children?”

I am 41 years old.  I am divorced.  I am clearly not a psychologist or a relationship expert.  I am not going to furl data or research at you.  However, I have had the privilege of witnessing profound personal growth in people who were willing to dig deeper into the layers of this aforementioned question:  What would leaving my children’s father or mother do to my children?

When I hear people ask this question, I also hear the following underlying/interconnected  questions:

  • What would it do to me to see my children suffer through this pain?
  • What would it mean for my children to come from a broken home?
  • What will happen to me as I explain this to other people?
  • What will people think of me for leaving a marriage or partnership that doesn’t look “that bad?”
  • Shouldn’t I be able to tolerate it, at least until the children get older, so that I can give them a “stable” home life?

These are really hard questions that I am sure many a therapist has heard in their offices. These are questions that have been written into journals and secretly tucked under people’s mattresses where no one else can find them.  These are questions that are whispered in quiet corridors where lovers meet to have affairs that feel more comfortable to them than leaving the status quo.  These are questions that people ask themselves as they drink a bottle of wine every night in order to go to sleep, because numbing out is easier than answering these questions.

While I️ don’t know the answers to these specific underlying questions, what I️ do know is this: OUR CHILDREN NEED US, NOW MORE THAN EVER BEFORE.  And when I say “need us,” I mean need US–the real, most true version of ourselves.  If we are in a relationship that does not offer us the opportunity to be the most REAL and TRUE version of ourselves, then staying in that relationship CANNOT be what’s best for our children.

When a mother walks into her home, and feels like she can’t be herself, that has a negative effect on the little people in her home.  When a girl looks into her daddy’s eyes and sees a person who does not love himself, that actually has a negative impact on that little girl’s mental health. When anyone walks into his or her own home, feeling broken-hearted because love doesn’t live in his or her marriage, his or her children will FEEL the effects of this sadness.

I know kids.  When I come to school to teach, and I seem frazzled for whatever reason, one of these insightful little people will come up to me and say, “Have you had your coffee yet?” BECAUSE THEY KNOW THINGS.  I don’t really wear makeup much anymore to work, but the first day I stopped wearing it, a five year old asked me the minute I stepped into the building, “What happened to you and where did your pretty eyes go?”

These are children–some of the most curiously perceptive people on our planet.  They FEEL things in the air and see between the lines.  They know when we are trying to distract ourselves from our lives in order to avoid living it.  And they definitely know when we don’t love ourselves.

They can also sense when our lives are unfulfilled.  They can feel when there is an emptiness in our hearts.  Our children know when we are pretending, and if we continue to show them that pretending is okay, they will begin to start pretending and stuffing their feelings down, too.

And one of my mantras for this year has been: there is no power in pretending.  We do not want our children to believe it is okay to behave like someone they are not. When we push down who we are and what we want, in order to avoid causing other people to experience pain, we aren’t actually LIVING, and are in fact, BETRAYING our truest, highest selves.

We must start to understand that there is a way of being that is authentic. And in this space of authentic living, we will find that what is good and true and right for us (and I got this line from Glennon Doyle, because she’s a genius) is going to be what is good and true and right for “our people.” And our people include, but are not limited to, our children. Now, this does not mean our children will not suffer pain. Divorce is painful. Painnnnnnnful. Heartbreaking, in fact, for adults, children, and members of the extended family. But–and I️ cannot ask this question enough-is it our job to protect our children from ever experiencing pain and heartbreak? Is that truly what being a parent means? Or, does being a parent mean to hold our child’s hand and show them how to be their truest selves, even when it’s hard and not popular or right?

Could it mean that we are actually doing our best parenting when we teach them that they can walk through pain and come out stronger and more resilient?

I️ don’t know about you, but for as much as I️ hate seeing my daughter in pain, what I️ would hate even more would be for her to never know the lessons that pain can teach. That grief can teach. That heartbreak can teach.

Perhaps if our children can learn to withstand heartbreak and grief and pain, they can learn to sit with others and have empathy for them, too, when they see them walking through the same. And when our children can learn to hold space for each other and practice empathy and compassion, they can change this very world.

Maybe Love Isn’t What I Thought

I bow my head in preparation for Namaste, as I hear my yoga teacher say, “As you go about your day, open your hearts to love.” I cringe. Yuck. I can’t. I don’t want to. When you love, you hurt.

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

I am four years old. I am sitting on the countertop of my parents’ kitchen in Kokomo. My mom picked me up and sat me there because she is about to give me a spoonful of cough syrup. I ask my mom, “What is love?” She looks at me strangely, and cocks her head to the side as she ponders a response.

“Love is…caring for someone. Like, me giving you medicine now. That’s love.”

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

I am 25. I sit in the women’s Bible study at the Baptist Church. I look up at the pastor leading the study. I like her because she tells me what to do and I have been searching all my life for someone to just tell me what to do.

“Love is a choice,” she says. “Pray for your husband. Show him love in your actions. You will not always feel like loving him. But you can make the choice to be loving.”

***********

I am 27. I am lying in bed in my apartment in Lexington, Kentucky. It is 1:00 am. My husband is not responding to my texts. I wonder if he is coming home. I feel crushed because I know in my soul that he simply doesn’t give a damn about how his actions affect me. The words from the Bible study echo through me, “Love is a choice. Make the choice to be loving.”

And so I do. Again and again. If this is love, I hate loving.

***********

I am 34. I look into my boyfriend’s eyes. He tells me, “I more than like you. I think I’m falling in love with you.” I repeat this back to him and believe it, because I feel it. I know it is a feeling, though, and feelings can be fleeting.

When we break up 9 months later, I channel my inner Whitney Houston and tell him, “I will always love you.”

**********

I am 35. I do not speak to my ex boyfriend anymore and barely remember loving him. He is a memory.

**********

I am 33. I see my daughter running at the pool at the YMCA. She slips, falls hard to the ground and has a concussion. I cradle her in my arms and carry her out of the building. I drive her to the doctor. She vomits and then falls asleep as I am driving. When I arrive at the doctor, I run in and tell the office staff through tears, “She has to be seen! Right now!!”

I know she is going to be fine, but I am afraid. I love this baby. She’s all I have. It doesn’t matter what she does. Love isn’t in the doing when it comes to her. It just is.

***********

I am 39. I tell a man I love him. He is not my boyfriend. It is…complicated. I tell him not to say it back because I am afraid he doesn’t love me back. But then I realize I don’t care. I realize I can love without receiving love in return. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It is good, because it causes me to love without expectations. It is bad, because I forget that I am worthy of being loved in the same way.

*********

I sit in hot yoga class. I am 40. My teacher repeats the same mantra at the closing of class. “Open your hearts to love.” I realize that I am not cringing this time though. Maybe that’s progress.

Perhaps love is not simple. Maybe it is layered. Maybe it is light and it is dark; sadness and laughter. Maybe it’s supposed to be scary because it requires courage. I am still terrified to love; but I begin to think that love is a lot like faith. When you have faith, it does not mean things will go as planned; it simply means you show up and are open to what may flow out of you and to receiving what comes back.

*********

Today, a week before my 41st birthday, I lie at home in bed, and take out a book I have been trying to read for some time, Marianne Williamson’s Return to Love.  “As we demonstrate love towards others, we learn that we are lovable and we learn how to love more deeply…We will always learn what we have chosen to teach.”

These words are words I can now understand, but they are still hard to swallow. I want to love but not stop loving myself. Perhaps that is the whole point: what you put out will come back to you. In some way. In some form. No love is wasted.

How to Get Over Someone

A dear friend asked me, “How long does it take you to ‘get over’ a guy?”

And I had to pause and think about it.

Because every break-up or “getting over a guy” experience has been slightly unique for me, and so my instinct was just to answer, “Oh, it depends.”

But then I had a moment where I realized that was a crappy answer. Because I know the real answer to be this:

“I made the decision to stop thinking about him.”

And that’s actually the truth.  And when I mean stop thinking about him, I REALLY MEAN STOP THINKING ABOUT HIM.

This means no analyzing what he may be doing, maintaining no connection whatsoever, no rehashing or thinking about the good or bad times.  It means that whenever one of the aforementioned thoughts begins to creep into my brain, I look at that thought and I say, “Oh, hi there, thought. I know you’re trying to protect me by tricking me into analyzing this and obsessing over this, because for so long, you were a way of survival.  I used to imagine all kinds of scenarios, thinking that I could somehow pick apart a situation and understand and take away any pain I was feeling.  But now I am developing new trails and a new way of thinking.  Soooo, thanks for stopping by, but masochism and anxiety don’t live here anymore.” And then I close the door and say, “See ya.”  Because I know I’ll see them again.  They are still kind of a part of me.  BUT THEY DON’T LIVE IN MY BRAIN anymore.

When I shoo the negative thoughts away, I feel a little fearful for about 2.5 seconds. And then I remind myself I am more powerful than my thoughts.  I remind myself that I deserve to think softer, more compassionate thoughts.  I start to watch a funny tv show or go do my nails or go to the gym.  Or I may allow some tears to come, but I do not let the thought stay, because negative thoughts no longer deserve my attention. I DESERVE MY ATTENTION.

In the last few months, I have become more cutthroat about my relationships with men than I ever have been. When someone exhibits qualities that I do not desire, I show them the door. (On a scale of cutthroatism I’m still probably only a five or six, but that’s an substantial increase from my previous level that was probably between 0.5-1.0.) I have even become a little, dare I say, baller. Maybe even precocious. And most definitely more decisive.

I now know that jacking around with one’s  heart is not for me. And that is because back when I finally decided to put my heart back together, I began to see the need to protect it.

I figured out that THIS IS WHO I’M SUPPOSED TO BE. I’m supposed to be decisive and strong. I’m supposed to be a woman with standards. In fact, I AM a woman with standards. It has taken me 40 years, but hallelujah I am here, and I’m here with standards.

I have blocked phone numbers, unfriended former love interests on social media, blocked former love interests on social media, and avoided going to places at all costs where I believe I may run into a former flame.

Some men have told me that’s “mean” or “harsh.” But if they think that’s mean, that’s just another indicator that they are not for me.

Because the important thing is this:

When I block someone from my life, I may be deleting him, but it is not about him.  It is about me.  It is not about being mean or vindictive in any way shape or form.  It is about protecting my heart and my spirit and my vulnerability.  It is about protecting my brain and my space.  There are people in this world–precious, kind hearted people- who need my attention.  It is very important that I protect my energy and attention for them. I will turn my attention to those who are ready for my love. 

I know this to be true.  There is a plan for me, and there is a plan for you.  And this plan is not between you and others; it is between you and God anyways.  So as long as we listen to the still small voice, it will not lead us astray, it will light our paths; even with the bridges we have burned along the way.

No Love is Wasted

I had the opportunity several days ago to meet someone I deeply admire, Glennon Doyle Melton. And because I am touched so much by what she writes and the actions of her charity, Together Rising, I naturally burst into slobbery tears when I  met her: 

 

Glennon spoke at St.Paul’s Church. She spoke about love, kindness, vulnerability, and pain. While listening to her speak, I laughed and I cried. 

  
Oh, and I got to meet Mary. 

  
Mary was sitting next to me and my friends. She asked me two questions: 

1) Did I find Glennon on the Internet?

Yes, Mary, I did. The Internet is a simultaneously wonderful and scary place.

2) Are you and your friends millennials?

No, Mary. I’m almost 40. But I’m flattered you think I’m that young, so now you’re my best friend. 

Anywho, back to Glennon. Throughout her talk, and in the days that followed, I replayed the following quote of hers in my head: 

“And I do not judge a love’s worth by how it ends. I do not. I believe that NO LOVE IS WASTED…Love is worthy of the time and sweat and tears it takes from us simply because it changes both lovers forever—whether they stay or go.” -Glennon Doyle Melton

I kept pondering that quote, over and over again, because it gave me so much comfort. It’s a comfort, for some reason, for me to know that as I look back at my relationships with the men I loved or showed love to–NO MATTER the outcome of the relationship–that was NOT wasted energy. 

Because it changed them. And it changed me. 

After my divorce, I waited a year to date. Once I started dating, I had two relationships back to back. I was still not healed from the pain of divorce.  I was raw.  I was kinda needy. And I was just wanting to love someone–to give and receive love. Like, I picture myself at that point in my life both as approaching relationships with my arms wide open, but also wanting to not let go of the man who fell into my arms. 

Fast forward to today: now, I understand that there is much more freedom in love, than what I was allowing myself and my partner to experience during that time. I now understand and desire a healthy space from my partner while in a relationship. I know that for any worthwhile relationship to sustain itself, there must be both self love and love of partner present. If I practice self love and compassion, I’m much more equipped to give love away to my partner. 

That’s me now. (Yay!! Yay!!) I prayed and healed and did the work to get to where I presently am. But let’s go back to that other girl, five years ago. 

That Emily didn’t know these truths yet. I gave love away like it was nobody’s business. I baked cookies for my boyfriends and made mixed CDs for them and homemade lasagna and tried to twist myself into a pretzel so that they felt loved. 

And when I wasn’t loved back, I was devastated. 

Over the years, since this time in my life, I have thought to myself, “Geesh, you wasted so much time giving love to men who didn’t even love you. How did that work for you, Emily? HOW DID THAT WORK? Awful, Emily.AWFUL. Don’t ever give like that again to someone who doesn’t appreciate it.”

Now cue some Beyoncé music or something here.  

Because BOTH  of the men that I dated during that time recently reached out to me and told me: 

“I realize now that I’ve never had anyone show love to me in the way that you did. You were just so ready to love me. And I didn’t understand that and wasn’t ready then. But now I am.”

The following emojis describe my reaction to that: 

🤔😳🤓😱

I said to both of them, “I’m not that person anymore. I was needy then. I was giving love away with the intention of getting love back, and that’s not even real love. I’m sorry, but I have no desire to go back to that person I was or to our relationship.”

But they weren’t hearing any of that, and so I just listened. Because they needed to  reflect and remember 34 year old Emily, who was acting like 19 year old Emily, who was also acting like 12 year old Emily. I gave love because I was hungry for it. 

And so I let them have their memories. They reflected on our relationships as very happy times in their lives.  They remember me as someone who truly made them feel loved. And even though I’m not that same person anymore, I find great comfort in knowing I gave love away and touched someone’s life in a somewhat significant manner.

And you know what they gave to me? The gift of self love. The gift of “no.” When they told me they wanted to break up, I finally learned that I needed to take ALL that love I was giving to them, and pour it on myself. Give to myself, nourish myself, love myself. To quote the wise band, Def Leppard, I poured that sugar right on me. 

No love is ever wasted. Ever. ❤️