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My Old Friend Died But She Wasn’t Old

An old college friend died last night from cancer. Except she wasn’t old. She was 51.

Not two years into her second marriage, she succumbed to cancer after fighting a heroic fight. She tried every drug, practiced positivity, sought the best doctors, and even traveled to Brazil to a healer. Name it. She did it. She so wanted to live.

Truth be told, she and I had fallen out of touch as that happens. We lived a hundred miles apart. We were Facebook friends – whatever that means. We exchanged emails and texts: Let’s get together! So much to catch up on! But we never did.

At the risk of sounding trite when speaking of the dead, I’ll just say it: She was beautiful. Yes, inside. And charming as the day is long. But she was also physically stunning. The kind of stunning that folks would stop her on the street to simply say, “Wow. You are gorgeous.” I witnessed this firsthand more than once. Men virtually fell at her feet.

I have many beautiful friends but, for her, the world stopped to take notice.

She was what some call Black Irish. She had dark, wavy hair and blue eyes so piercing and light, they were the color of the sky. That’s the truth. Risk of triteness, once again, aside. One of her sons has those same eyes.

Her first marriage was to a man almost as beautiful as she. A tall, handsome Italian, their wedding photos looked like something out of Bride’s Magazine. A huge wedding I barely remember except for the best man’s speech: “May all your ups and downs be beneath the sheets.” Oh, yes, and the bridegroom drank champagne out of her shoe.

And her charisma? Pure magic. The world just seemed to do her bidding. Her college roommate remembers that once, when they couldn’t pay their phone bill, she called the phone company and tried talking them into forgiving it. And they did.

Hers was a magic of kindness and sweetness. She exuded pure love. The combination of her warmth and beauty were mesmerizing. She also had some zany health scares over the years – always resolved – and now I can’t help but wonder if they were signs worse things were to come.

Did we ever think on that spring break trip to Fort Lauderdale that a mere thirty years later she would be dead? That when her new husband was drinking bubbly out of her white satin shoe that twenty-something years later she’d be divorced, remarried and now, gone? That she would die when her boys were still way too young to lose their mother?

Answers: No, no and no.

Do I dare mention she didn’t live a perfect life? She didn’t. Along with the rest of us, I’m sure there were many things she’d rather forget. Many things she would have liked do-overs for if do-overs were possible in adult life. But they’re not. And like all of us, she lived and died with her demons, mistakes and regrets.

But she died loving and loved. By so many. Obviously, of course, by her children and husband. But her ex-in-laws will mourn her as if she were their own daughter. Her stepchildren are heartbroken. Her ex-husband’s new partner and child will be front-row mourners.

Because that was Lauri. Once you entered her orb, you didn’t leave and you didn’t want to. She challenged the way we assume relationships need to evolve. She pushed the boundaries because she knew that, although the definition of relationships change, love doesn’t. She took the painful ordinariness of broken relationships and families and healed them through sheer willfulness and unrelenting love. And people got on board.

She left behind what most of us would like to: a wake of warmth and healing. And a boatload of people whose lives are now joined in peace rather than rancor. And love. Always love.

(Originally published July 2013)

 

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The Affair Guy: Why He’s Rarely Mr. Right

Please, someone give me a dollar for every time I’ve heard a client or friend describe their Affair Guy this way:

“He’s so interesting. We like all the same things. He wants to dig deep into everything. And did I mention the sex is crazy-good? And, when he does something wrong, he actually apologizes!”

They’re excited, of course, because — attendant guilt aside — affairs are exciting. Getting to feel “those feelings” again is exciting. And people get swept up in them and they want more. They want to feel this way all the time. Even when mature, intelligent people know it’s not possible to feel this way in any relationship all the time, they convince themselves that this — this!is different.

But there’s always more to the story:

“His ex-wife has a restraining order on him,” or “His kids don’t speak to him,” or “He has trouble making ends meet,” or “He’s tried to end his marriage for years, but his wife isn’t having it.”

And sometimes, “I’m not sure if I can see myself with him in the real world.”

Do some affairs end up as long, happy marriages? Of course. But they’re a rare breed. Why? Because an affair means both parties have agreed to do something they know they probably shouldn’t. And both parties have shown they’re capable of lies and deceit. Any relationship built on half-truths and betrayals doesn’t usually have a good prognosis. That, of course, and the lurking insecurity in knowing the other person is open to cheating.

But the red flags don’t stop us. We humans sprint towards what makes us feel good. Against your better judgment, you keep running towards the Affair Guy because he makes you feel so damn good. But is your Affair Guy really someone you can imagine a life with? An affair is a living, breathing fantasy. You see in your lover everything lacking in your current partner, and/or as the perfect partner for you despite the wife and kids waiting for him at home.

An affair is an attempt to address lack. You take a lover you hope will fill in your gaps and provide the intimacy you can’t access in your marriage or elsewhere in your life. But when you’re soul-desperate to color in the blank spaces, it follows that you’ll fill them in the most cartoon-y and reckless of ways. In other words, if you’re going to blow up your life, why bother with caution?

When it’s sex you’re pining for, you’ll naturally be drawn to someone who wears his sex appeal like an overpowering cologne. You’re a homing pigeon for his carnality because that’s what you need and that’s what he’s selling. It’s kind of like cheating on your diet. Does anyone cheat with a cup of cottage cheese? Um, no. But a hot fudge sundae will do the trick. And your Affair Guy is the whipped cream on top.

Affairs fill you with promise of a better everything. But can they go the distance? Listen, when you’re choosing a spouse, you examine the whole picture of that person: Does he love me? Will he be a good father? Will he help provide for our future family? Do we share the same values?

But when you choose a lover, your criteria is far more relaxed because you’re only looking for those couple of puzzle pieces that somehow got lost. A married person who begins an affair doesn’t approach his or her new lover as a potential spouse, right? They’re simply looking for the feel-good stuff: warmth, excitement, friendship, hot sex.

Even in this era of hookups and booty calls, it’s traditionally tough for women to hold our lovers at arm’s length. We’re communicative beings. We connect. So, it makes sense that the wheels start turning when we fall in love or lust. It’s hard not to fantasize about the great life we could have with this one-in-a-million guy who “gets” us.

But who is your Affair Guy, really? The starving artist? The bad boy? The guy who can’t leave his marriage just yet? The one who can’t seem to get his life on track? Yes, the emotions run high and you feel — maybe for the first time in a long time — alive. And alive feels so good. But is it really the best idea to disrupt your whole life (or put it on hold) for someone who’s better suited as a lover than a lifetime partner?

If you want to leave your marriage, leave. If you want an available partner, go find one. But do yourself a solid and don’t look to your Affair Guy as a reliable back up plan. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to give you what you will eventually require — his whole, cohesive self. Because that’s not what he signed on to do.

Your affair is a symptom of your unhappy marriage. Your affair with an unavailable someone is a signal that something in you needs tweaking. Put your affair on hold and take care of those fronts first. If your Affair Guy is Mr. Right, he’ll be waiting right where you left off.

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10 Golden Rules For Moms Raising Sons

Years ago, I struck up a conversation with a woman who was preparing for her son’s upcoming wedding. At the time, my sons were still quite young and I asked her what her relationship was like with her adult son. She told me it was good because she followed the golden rules of raising sons.

Golden rules? This is great, I thought. I’m about to get a good dose of helpful advice.

“Here’s what you do,” she said, “Wear beige, keep your pocketbook open, and your mouth shut.”

In other words, be an invisible, mute ATM if you want to have good relationships with your boys. I was floored. Raised in a sisters-only family, I had little frame of reference. But even with my limited repertoire, I decided then and there that those golden rules were Not. For. Me.

I had to revamp her advice. I wanted to foster loving relationships with my boys while raising men I’d be proud to launch into the world. Now my sons are young adults and not one expects me to remain silent or fade into the wallpaper. (Full disclosure: The “pocketbook open” thing remains open for debate.)

Abby’s Ten Golden Rules For Raising Responsible, Loving, Respectful Sons©

1. Accept that boys are wired differently. They look at and experience things from their own, unique male perspective. Don’t expect they will have the same reactions you do. And don’t be disappointed when they don’t. And, for pity’s sake, allow them to express their emotions openly.

2. Talk about sex. Don’t blame or shame. Porn will likely be their first entree to sex — and from a younger age than you’d like. Much younger. So, talk to them about fantasy versus reality. Talk to them about moderation. Talk to them about romantic love and mutual consent. Talk to them about rape. Repeat.

3. Rudeness and self-absorption? Unacceptable. If I’m entering a building with my sons and they go in ahead of me, I wait outside until they realize I haven’t joined them. (Sometimes this takes longer than I’d like.) One will inevitably come back and hold the door for me. I don’t expect them to do that because I’m a woman, I do that because I expect them to move through life thoughtfully and with a keen awareness of others.

4. Keep pushing God/spirituality if that’s your thing. Turns out younger folks aren’t as interested in religion or spirituality as their predecessors. That hasn’t stopped me. I don’t care what deity they embrace — or none at all — but I want them to know the value and sustenance a spiritual practice provides.

5. Welcome the partners they bring home — with caution. A mom of grown sons once warned me, “Don’t fall in love with their girlfriends. Those early relationships never last.” Turns out, she was right. Embrace the lovely people they bring home, but know you may get your heart broken. Let your sons know you approve of their choices. If you don’t, figure out a respectful way to tell them why.

6. Get emotional.  A male friend was raised by an emotionally distant mother. He says he grew up with little understanding of what made women tick, and he remained intimidated by women’s emotions well into adulthood. So, here’s the deal: Let your sons see you laugh, cry, rage, weep, grieve, rejoice. Holding back does nothing to educate — or prepare — your sons for the beautiful range of emotions women are gifted with expressing.

7. See something, say something. What to say: “It is your duty as men — as human beings — to step in if someone is being assaulted or bullied. If you’re a silent bystander, you’re guilty. Do your best to put a stop to it without physical altercation. If that’s not possible, get help or call authorities. Be part of the solution.”

8. Intimidation factor. Males have it. That’s the reality and they need to be aware of it. Here’s what I tell my sons: If you’re ever on a dark street or in a parking garage at night, be mindful that your mere presence may feel threatening to a woman walking alone. If you’re rushing up behind a woman, casually assure her of her safety. Say, “Don’t mean to alarm you, I’m just in a hurry…” Or, better yet, “If you’d like, I’d be happy to walk with you until you get to a safer area.”

9. Love them unconditionally. Always. Because they need you to do that, even when it’s not obvious or they don’t seem to notice. A man who experiences unconditional love from his mom has a better chance at healthier adult relationships. Don’t hold back. Give them your heart and, in turn, you will have theirs.

10. Kindness matters. My middle son recently went out for a night on the town with my ridiculously amazing niece. Both are young adults. My niece told me how lovely my son was to everyone he met during the evening. She even told him how impressed she was. His response? “I learned that from my mom.”

Mic drop.

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Stepkids Making You Nuts? Talk To Your Partner! *PODCAST*

Stepkids Making You Crazy- Libsyn Podcast cover (4)

The number one reason second marriages fail is because of issues with stepkids. And here’s why: Divorced parents have a very intense mission to have their kids remain connected to them by whatever means possible. Throw in some guilt about the divorce and the destruction of the family unit, and you’ve got a blue-ribbon recipe for parenting — and stepparenting — disaster.

No one said getting remarried or blending families was going to be easy. Sure, there are some who appear to do it seamlessly — but the vast majority struggle with making it work. Don’t despair — and be ready to have some heavy duty conversations about the changes that must be made. Your silence is your enemy — because silence breeds resentment and resentment breeds intolerance. You don’t want to get to the point where your resentment and intolerance cause you to leave the marriage.

So, here are some common issues with stepparenting and what you can do — as a stepparent — to alleviate the tension and reclaim your sanity. The only way to make step parenting work is for you and your partner to be able to discuss what’s going on openly and honestly.

Join me as I offer the script for six crucial conversations you need to have with your partner about stepparenting.

 

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My Run-In With A Rogue Cop: A White Woman’s Tale

Here’s how it went down:

It was July 4th weekend and we were vacationing in a New England town I know quite well. My husband and I were taking another couple on a driving tour around the beautiful, coastal area. Darkness settled and we found ourselves on a long, unlit two-lane straightaway. The car ahead of us was going under ten miles per hour. I assumed they were pulling off to the side of the road or into a driveway, so I cautiously went around them.

Suddenly, the crawling car picked up speed, high beams blazing, and began dangerously tailgating us. Clearly, I had somehow offended the driver. We’ve all heard the most upsetting of road rage stories so I got scared — especially when I realized the car was following me no matter which way I turned. Inches from my back bumper, the driver followed us several miles into the parking lot of the restaurant where we were having dinner.

While my girlfriend and I made for the restaurant door, the two men in our party stayed back to find out what the heck was going on with this driver. Before we even got to the entrance, she pulled up, rolled down her window, and yelled, “My dad’s a cop and he’s coming to get you!” before she roared off. Yeah. Whatever, crazy chick.

I was still shaken as we were seated at a table in front of a large picture window in the packed restaurant. Almost immediately, we watched incredulously as a police cruiser entered the parking lot. Seriously? This is nuts. They can’t possibly be looking for me. My sister, who had met us at the restaurant, had the best angle and gave us the blow-by-blow of what was happening: He’s driving around, he’s stopped at your car and, yes, now he’s coming in.

Moments later, the very harried and sweating owner/chef was rushing from table to table, reading from a scrap of paper and yelling, “Anyone have a white _____ with a _____ plate?”

“That’s my car,” I offered, as he passed our group.

“Well,” the frazzled chef said, “there’s a cop at the front door who wants to talk to you.”

I asked the men at the table to remain seated. This was not the moment to invite a testosterone-fueled face-off. My sister and I decided we’d be the ones to speak with him. As we made our way to the front of the crowded restaurant, hearts pounding, the white, middle-aged cop sized us up as we approached him. The first words out of his mouth: “You two?”

In other words, you two middle-aged, relatively well-dressed, sober ladies are the ones my nutty-assed daughter called me about? As dozens of diners and waitstaff watched — ears perked up and mouths agape — the officer began his lie-laden spiel:

“Another driver called 911 after they saw you weaving all over the road, speeding, and throwing trash out of your windows.”

We calmly assured him this simply wasn’t the case. I offered to take any sobriety test he’d like to administer. My goal, plainly, was to make this ugly incident go away quietly.

As we feigned our surprise that another driver would make a false report like this, he quickly changed his story:

“Well, actually, another cop called this in when he saw you on the road,” he claimed.

Really? So another cop sees me speeding and weaving all over the road and decides not to pull me over but, instead, asks you to come into a restaurant and harass me while I’m having dinner with friends and family? That’s your story, officer? Because it simply doesn’t fly. Because it simply wasn’t true.

It’s hard to say what this small-town cop was after. Some good, old-fashioned hassling of the drunken teenage boys he thought he’d find at the other end of his delirious darling’s report? A little fun-in-the-sun intimidation of out-of-staters who converge on his town with abandon three months out of the year?

The cop didn’t handcuff me or pat me down. He certainly didn’t pull his gun on me. But, in that moment, I felt true powerlessness. I was being accused of something I didn’t do and my only defense was my word. Truth is, without my age and whiteness to shield me, the whole incident could’ve gone quickly sideways.

I’m no expert in police protocol but I do know this cop reacted to a call he got on his personal cell phone from a young woman with many bones to pick with the world. I’m a big fan of law enforcement and the good they do, but when they act without grounds or procedural etiquette, it bodes poorly for all of us. This, all too sadly, we already know.

We trust those in blue to get the bad guys and we’re grateful when they do. But, seems to me, correctly identifying who’s truly a threat to our society and safety is a good place to start.

The ACLU recommends that when questioned by law enforcement, you should never lie. Now more than ever, that seems like sound advice for those on both sides of the badge.

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When It’s Rape: What Moms Must Teach Their Sons About Sex

A male friend tells a story about an incident he witnessed at a frat house party. He and two of his fraternity brothers found themselves in a bedroom with an inebriated, negligibly conscious young woman who was lying on the bed. One of his friends, he recounts, said, “Hey, let’s stick our d*cks in her mouth!”

My friend and the third friend looked at him incredulously. “Are you effing nuts? What the eff is wrong with you?” they responded. They quickly left the room, found the young woman’s friends, and encouraged them to take their drunk friend home right away.

This happened in 1982. Guess not much has changed.

This year, a client shared she saw some NSFW pics of a female classmate on her teenage son’s phone.

“So,” she asked me, “Should I talk to him about it?”

“I’m sorry…WHAAAAT?!” I replied. Okay, that’s not what I said, but it certainly was how I felt. Of course she needed to talk with her son about the pictures; and what it meant to have them, share them, and look at them.

Moms, boys need your input so they can also understand the world from a female perspective. You can’t leave these conversations solely to the men in their lives. They must hear your anger, see your disappointment and concern, and observe your pain. You must teach them how women should be treated. Your voice is a crucial one, even when you think they’re not listening. Because they are. Because you’re their mom.

My now 20-something sons heard a lot from me in their growing up years about sex and conduct — much more than they would have preferred, I’m sure. Oftentimes, the topics were cringe-worthy for all of us. But the recent Brock Turner case makes me wonder if he — and other young men who rape — get these crystal clear messages from their moms.

A starter list of what boys need to hear from their mothers:

1. It’s rape.

How to talk about it: “If a woman says no and you go ahead anyway, it’s rape. If a woman can’t give obvious consent, it’s rape. If a woman is inebriated to the point of incoherence and you have sex with her, it’s rape. No means no. An inkling of no means no. Sketchiness means no. I promise you, no blow job or intercourse with a semi-conscious woman is worth ruining both your lives.”

Brock Turner’s rape victim’s letter was so eloquent and powerful it should be required reading for all incoming college freshmen. I’ve borrowed from her words to drive these points home:

If you are confused about whether a girl can consent, see if she can speak an entire sentence. If a girl falls down, help her get back up. If she is too drunk to even walk and falls down, do not mount her, hump her, take off her underwear, and insert your hand inside her vagina. If she is wearing a cardigan over her dress, don’t take it off so that you can touch her breasts.

2. Zip up. Sexual assault needs to be talked about, especially before they head off to college or wherever life is taking them.

How to talk about it: “Be alert to these situations. Often, they involve heavy partying and a mob mentality. Step in or go get help. Inaction makes you responsible, too.”

3. Protection.

How to talk about it: “Condoms, condoms, condoms. An unwanted pregnancy has lifelong implications, no matter what you choose to do about it. It doesn’t just affect the woman. You’ll also be affected in ways you can’t imagine.” Same goes for STDs.

4. Porn.

How to talk about it: “Like most things in life, it’s okay in moderation. Know that the porn industry is built on fantasy — so don’t expect the women in your life to look and behave sexually like the women you see on the screen. Don’t let porn interfere with building real-life relationships.”

5. First Time.

How to talk about it: “I hope your first sexual experience will be with someone you care about. It will be more meaningful that way.”

6. Racy pics.

How to talk about it: “Don’t share compromising pictures of yourself or your classmates. Once they’re out there, you can’t take them back and you leave everyone involved vulnerable. Never share pictures of people clearly disrespecting themselves, or ones that were shared privately with someone else. This could be a prosecutable crime. Want that on your record?”

7. Be aware of the female experience.

How to talk about it: “Make sure women know they’re safe with you. If you’re rushing up behind a woman on a dark street or in a parking garage, say something to assure her like, ‘I don’t mean to alarm you, I’m just in a hurry.’”

8. Learn how to please a woman.

How to talk about it: “Sex isn’t all about you. Learn what your partner wants and do it. If you’re not interested in pleasing her, maybe you should rethink your choices.”

9. Don’t make false promises to get someone to have sex with you.

How to talk about it: “That’s just plain disgusting, and I raised you better than that.”

And…

10. The all-important Mirror Test. “Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you like the person you see. If not, do something about it. Remember, whatever you do, you have to like yourself in the morning.”

Pretty simple, huh?  Now it’s your turn, moms. You’ve got this.

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Want Happiness? Do This One Thing

I often hear this from clients: “Well, I shouldn’t complain. There are people who have it a lot worse.” And, yes, that’s inarguably true. Just take a peek at the front page of today’s paper for confirmation.

But here’s what I say to them: You’re right. But that doesn’t negate your pain, your heartbreak, your grief. And it doesn’t make you wrong or selfish to focus on navigating your own issues. In fact, not to do so is personally irresponsible.

We all seek happiness. When asked what we want for our kids, we say we just want them to be happy. Happiness is something we universally chase — but I’m not sure we always know when we catch up with it.

I’m not the first to suggest that happiness comes in moments. Those seeking permanent euphoria will always be the most disappointed amongst us. Those who expect a mix of sadness, complacency, and happiness will most surely experience their happiness most acutely. And, perhaps, their sadness and complacency as well.

It’s taken me a lot of years — both in my personal life and in working with clients — to define what keeps us from the elusive happiness we so desire. Yes, there are always extenuating circumstances which create unhappiness; we lose people we love, we’re betrayed, we’re disappointed in who we’ve become or not.

But there’s one trait unhappy people share and that’s their inability or reluctance to make the hard decisions. Simple, right? But so painfully true. When you ignore or run from hard decisions, you freeze yourself into a icy block of unhappiness.

What are hard decisions? They’re crossroads. They’re the times in life when your gut asks you to reevaluate your options, to truly challenge yourself and your awareness by accepting some really difficult shite.

But hard decisions really aren’t all that hard when you think about it. They seem hard because the right choice for you may not be the popular one. The right choice may be one that hurts others, or creates chaos.

So, a hard decision is not really a presentation of two equally attractive (or unattractive) options from which you must choose. A hard decision is one for which you already — on some cellular level — have the answer. The question is, are you willing to heed that answer, or at least acknowledge its veracity?

A friend of mine is contemplating leaving her dreadfully unhappy marriage. “But I don’t want to make the wrong decision,” she says, “What if I regret it?” My answer to her is, “What proof  is there in your marriage to make you think that’s even a possibility?”

My friend knows her right answer. The marriage is beyond broken and there’s no evidence to the contrary. But, in her mind, she’s facing a hard decision. She doesn’t want to hurt her husband. She doesn’t want to move out of their home. But she knows she can’t stay a nanosecond longer and have any chance at what’s so painfully eluding her: a happier life.

It’s easy to get caught up in the concept of the hard decision. You can hem and haw until you unlock life’s mysteries. God knows, I made every excuse not to leave my marriage. And some of them were really good. But all along, I knew the answer: My only shot at happiness was to get out of my own way, and to simply stop making what I deemed a hard decision easier by trusting my gut.

Hard decisions present themselves when you go against your grain or take on something you perhaps shouldn’t. Should I stay in this relationship? Should I have this abortion? Should I let my son have an after-prom rager in my home? Should I buy that bigger, more expensive house? If you’re asking yourself the question — be it big or small — you’re already more than halfway to the right answer for you.

I’m not suggesting you walk through life like a callous boor, crushing the souls of others in the wake of your hard choices. One way to experience happiness in this life is to be at peace with those we love. Self-sacrifice is at the core of many of the relationships we hold dear. But when you so stridently ignore your internal barometer that you’re locked into an emotional version of the Chinese finger trap toy, it’s time to take a listen.

Next time you’re faced with a hard decision, ask yourself: Is it really that hard? Or do I already know the answer? Accepting the true answer — your North Star — whether you act on it or not, will free you from the unhappiness of indecision, and move you toward the moments of happiness that surely await you.

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Is Oversharing The New Black? How Adult Truths Impact Kids

I like to think I’m aging well, but what it means to age well has been dramatically redefined. It used to mean eating healthfully and staying in reasonable shape. Now, it means one thing: looking young. By 31, I was done having kids. For years, I’d bask in the surprise of others when they’d hear I had three sons. Once, when I told a new coworker, she responded, “You must mean you married someone who already had three kids!” Ah, the warm sun of vanity — and how quickly it was eclipsed by the cold cloud of reality.

I’m old. And if you’re post-50, so are you. Pick up an Us Weekly. Go ahead, flip through it. Chances are you won’t recognize half the “celebrities” featured. Who wore it best? Who cares? I don’t know who they are, anyway. And, likely, neither do you.

But I digress.

Maturity, especially of late, seems to come with the irrepressible urge for many to take to the internet roofs and scream their truths. I was one of the stampede and I’ve been blogging a long while now. I loved it at first. My voice, having wandered off in an unhappy marriage, was re-found. I wrote about parenting and relationships, sharing lightly on the personal to keep it real, and more heavily on the professional to keep it informative. But now, the landscape of blogging is changing. And the read-this-and-you’ll-learn-something model has been replaced with the read-this-and-you’ll-know-my-deepest-secrets model. And I’m concerned that oversharing has become the new black.

The voyeur in all of us enjoys reading about your extramarital affairs, relationship and/or substance abuse history, and the wild sexual escapades of your youth. I also know firsthand how cathartic writing can be. But I’m not sure how the younger generations will react when they Google (or whatever it is they’ll be doing) their parents one day to find that Daddy cheated on Mommy with Auntie, and then Mommy drank so much she had to go to rehab.

Should kids really sit in a pile of their parents’ dirty laundry? I say nay and I’m sticking to it.

I knew things about my parents’ marriage I never, ever should have. And that information made it very difficult for me to figure out my own relationships in ways too many to count. For one, I still grapple with trust, and probably always will. And that’s no small thing.

In the tsunami of accolades for Beyoncé’s new album, Lemonade, I can’t help but think about her daughter, Blue Ivy. Beyoncé’s pained response to her husband’s alleged infidelity is now public record. That she was able to turn her heartbreak into art is a testament to her talent. I’m not arguing that. She’s become an infidelity warrior, sage, and survivor. But what happens when her now 4-year-old daughter understands these songs, and the intention in their words? She’s got a good 30 years ahead of her before she can even begin to conceptualize the nuances of marriage and infidelity. In the meantime, she’ll be navigating her own relationships with her dad’s less-than-stellar behaviors as her backdrop.

I’m not suggesting parents attempt Stepford-like perfection. We’d wither trying. And I’m not recommending militaristic secret-keeping as the way to go either. But there’s a healthy balance in there somewhere. And you don’t have to be a published writer or worldwide superstar to find it, you just need to parent thoughtfully. Your kids should be culling wisdom from your fading scars, not from the actual bloody wounds.

The gift of aging is in the knowing. No longer fueled by untethered hormones, our impulses are weighed heavily against consequences. And, even so, we continue to make unhealthy choices, sin mightily, and regret last night. We know better, and we do it anyway. But sharing your missteps with your kids won’t make them smarter, or savvier, or happier. What it will do is require their young brains to process situations they can’t yet begin to understand. What it will also do is create destructive imprints for them that will last a lifetime.

There’s value to maturity, and it needs embracing. The more we deny growing old, the more we feed the collective obsession with youth. The more energy we spend fighting aging, the less time we spend imparting appropriate wisdom to our kids. And that wisdom should include knowing who’s an appropriate audience for our tawdry tales, and who, most certainly, is not.

For writers, our desire to be embraced by the public at large, to be published in well-respected periodicals, to use the written word as self-directed therapy, have blurred our optic. Of course, we should reference our hard-earned lessons to help guide our children toward better decisions and healthier outcomes. Isn’t that, above all, what we want for them? And isn’t imbuing our kids with the ability to love without sentry — and trust without fear —  the only proof we need that we have, in fact, aged well?

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Midlife Wedding Do’s and Don’ts: 10 Things I Wish I’d Known

A few short months ago, I got married for the second time. Planning a midlife wedding wasn’t so different from the one I planned in my early twenties if you take into account that, well, my mother planned my first wedding, and I didn’t have to pay the tab for that one.

Having planned two weddings certainly doesn’t make me a expert. But it gave me perspective on the experience of getting married in two decidedly different phases of life. So, whether you’re 52 or 72 and planning another (or first) trip down the aisle, here’s a list of things I highly recommend:

1) Pre-wedding photo shoot. Ask someone close to you to take no fewer than a gazillion pictures of you in your chosen dress (or attire) from every angle. Have them capture you sitting, standing, walking, and dancing. Believe me, Midlife Brides, this is a non-negotiable. Standing in front of a mirror squinting and sucking in your pooch is not a good barometer for how you will actually look in your wedding day photos.

2) Plan a wedding reception, not a party. My first wedding was a walk-down-the-aisle-with-a-veil, cut-the-cake, champagne-toast affair. And it just felt silly to imagine doing those same things at this stage of life. My husband and I wanted a party, a celebration with family and friends. And we got that. It was truly wonderful. But without some of the traditional wedding staples, the evening lost some momentum. You don’t need to dance the Macarena. But the more people are engaged in the event, the more cohesive and fun it will feel.

3) Share some shots. If you’ve hired someone to snap pics at your wedding, the likelihood is he (or she) is a pretty much a stranger to you. Because of that, he doesn’t know the difference between what you look like when you’re hungover and how you look when you’re runway-ready. To remedy this, give him some sample photos of yourself that you love. That way, he’ll have a reference point for how you’d like your wedding — and you — to be captured. There are no do-overs, so please trust me on this one.

4) Practice mindfulness. A wedding it would typically take a year to plan, I planned in the span of just over two months. By the actual day, my head was spinning with all the logistics. Because of that, I remember very little about it. We wrote and read our own vows (also recommended!) and, luckily, I do remember the ceremony. After that, not so much. I wish I had meditated first. Or found a quiet place to gather my thoughts. The evening was a lovely blur, but I wish I been in a better mind frame so I could have stored more memories of it.

5) Invite them. My vision of a small, intimate gathering (well-laid plans and all that) was quickly eclipsed as our guest list grew to first wedding proportions. As the expenses mounted, I trimmed the number of invitees. I wish I hadn’t. I could have done without those extra floral arrangements and had some people there I truly missed.

6) Stick together. My husband and I grew up together so there were many old, mutual friends in attendance. In our excitement to greet everyone, we didn’t spend enough time together at the reception. Big mistake. I was feeling untethered as it was (see #4), and having him by my side would have helped. Plus, it would be nice to have more shared memories from that day.

7) Include your kids. If you have kids from a prior relationship, find a way to include them in the ceremony. No matter their ages, this day is a big event for them as well. We had our five grown sons flank us during the ceremony and it was powerfully meaningful for all of us.

8) Choose your own officiant. If you’re forgoing a religious wedding, some states will allow you to choose your officiant by granting that person a one-day license. This entails an application process, so plan ahead if this is the route you’d like to take. My sister did the honors at our wedding and wrote a deeply personal and unforgettable service.

9) Video. Who needs it? I didn’t think I did. Giant regret. Not so much for the reception, but it would have been special to have had our vows captured on video. This is an easy one even if you don’t want to go to the expense of hiring a professional. Anyone with a steady hand and a smartphone can get the job done.

10) Enjoy. Soak in the happiness of all of those celebrating with you. Let the love in your partner’s eyes fill your heart. And don’t sweat the small stuff. The grace and gift of midlife is finally knowing what really matters — and accepting and appreciating the journey that led you to this amazing day.

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The 5 Things You Need To Do When Your Spouse Is Talking Divorce…And You’re Freaking Out About It *PODCAST*

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When a partner starts making noises about wanting a divorce, our first reaction is panic! We go into the mode of, “We must, at all costs, save this marriage!”  And knee-jerk reactions like that — in any capacity — are never useful. This is a moment in time when you want to be as honest with yourself as you’ve ever been. And it’s not an easy task.

You probably never imagined you’d be in this place. No one gets married with an eye toward divorce and most folks think it will never happen to them. If you’re the partner who wants to hold the marriage together, it’s likely you’re spending a lot of time trying to convince your spouse that divorce would be a huge mistake.

In case you don’t already know, most failing marriages follow this paradigm: one wants to stay in and one wants to leave. Do folks ever agree that divorce is the best idea? Sure. But it’s pretty rare. If you’re the one trying to save the marriage, this is a lonely and confusing time. 

Join me as I talk about the critical five points you must focus on when your spouse is talking divorce…and you’re freaking out about it.