Category Archives: Commitment

Put Your Kids First, Madonna, Not Yourself

Everybody wants to know what I think about Madonna’s public comments during her  very public and rancorous divorce.  I think they pretty much match her general public image, demeanor, and behavior.  I have always found her incredibly objectionable, offensive and intentionally vulgar – all under the rubric of free-speech and free-spirit.

To start, I’m not convinced that most current celebrity marriages are indeed commitments of mind, body, and soul as they are intended to be (think Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward).  For the most part, very ‘out there’ performers are exceedingly centered on themselves and want someone to adore them, serve them, be a reflection of their perceived wonderfulness or importance, fulfill a fantasy or simply put…the sex was great and the public relations aspect boosts their visibility.

When the so-called object of their affections becomes tiresome, more or less important or successful, demanding, and no longer reflects a narcissistic boost…they are dispensed with.

When a divorcing spouse makes public vulgar, insulting, and humiliating comments about the other spouse, children are devastated and tend to either compulsively go towards the attacked party to protect and defend them, or compulsively go towards the attacking parent so they won’t also be victimized by that parent.  Either way, children become emotionally fragmented, confused, and distrustful – and that will likely be an issue for their whole lives, especially when they are ready to establish relationships.

Celebrities with the usual chaos in their personal lives are the fodder of media sales and ratings.  Celebrities with quality relationships are ignored (Tom Selleck, for example).

These celebrity musical chair relationships are obviously not a great image for our impressionable youth.  Quite frankly, most divorces don’t need to happen at all.  Weathering lousy times is a sign of character and commitment.  Most of the time when folks call me all angry and convinced they need to divorce, they are simplifying the situation because they haven’t taken the responsibility needed to help maintain a quality comradeship.  I tell them short of abuse, addictions, and repetitive affairs, they should treat the one they want so much to leave as though they loved them with their last breath – for a month – and then watch and feel what happens.

If one parent decides to leave for selfish or foolish reasons, the truth of the situation can be spoken to the children without the nasty parts.  For example, “Your mother, sadly, has decided to leave to be with a man she met on the internet.  I’m hoping that she will find that she misses us all so much that she wants her life with us back.  Until then, let’s pray and stay as positive as possible.”

This approach states the truth, which I believe children in this situation need, but opens the possibility for hope.  Children will over time form their own conclusions when mama never calls, visits, or comes home.  That parent will have destroyed the relationship with their children all by themselves.

I try to remind folks considering leaving for less than important reasons to stick around and create the kind of homelife that will best send their children into their adulthood with optimism and an open heart.  I tell them that this is their moral obligation…to put themselves second.

Novelist David Foster Wallace’s Ironic Commencement Speech

Friday, September 19, 2008, I was reading the last page of the “Weekend Journal” in The Wall Street Journal.  It was adapted from a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College.  Mr. Wallace, 46, died recently, an apparent suicide.

I thought it odd that an entire page of The Wall Street Journal was dedicated to the musings of a man who opted out of life after giving advice to young people just beginning their adult foray into the trials and tribulations of existence.

The main focus of his presentation to the students seemed to be on the issue of self-centeredness:  “It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth.  Think about it:  there is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute center of.  The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever.  Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real – you get the idea.  But please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called ‘virtues.’  This is not a matter of virtue – it is a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.”

First, he is “right on” with the hard-wiring of self-centeredness.  I remember my mother telling me once that when, as a teenager, she experienced the death of her mother from breast cancer, and was consumed with grief, that she looked out her window to see people outside driving, walking, talking, and going about their business as though nothing had happened.  She related feeling shocked that, somehow, the whole world did not stand still as did her own heart.

It is obvious that, of course, we are the most absorbed by our immediate environment and experiences….which pretty much means ourselves.  However, Mr. Wallace’s consistent dismissal of virtues is perhaps what was missing from his life. Seeing, acknowledging, and caring about others does not necessarily come naturally.  It is a virtue taught by parents and community as well as by religious teachings.  One of the most central aspects of religious training is to “love thy neighbor.”  Why?  Just because it’s “nice?”  No, although it is nice.  It is because caring for those outside yourself gives you a connectedness that minimized loneliness and a purpose which minimizes despair.

Towards the end of his speech, he points out:  “The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little un-sexy ways, every day.  That is real freedom.”

He then asks the audience to “please don’t dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon.  None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.  It is about making it to 30 or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head.”

So, in attempting to enlighten the young people about a bigger value in life – commitment and obligation to others – he came back to his essential hard-wiring:  it is all about living in a way which makes you not want to kill yourself.  Ironically, his thought process came all the way back to being self-centered.

In eschewing morality, religion, dogma, considerations of eternity – all of which he assembled under “finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon[s],” he disconnected himself from the kind of motivation, identification, support and spiritual reward which may have kept him from committing suicide.  Sad, really.

Marriage 101: Priming the Pump

Putting romance in your marriage contributes to its success.

So many callers tell Dr. Laura that they never have “time” for romance in their marriages.  If you’re a long-time listener, however, or you’ve read some of her books, you know how Dr. Laura feels about the importance of keeping your marriage alive with small day-to-day kindnesses and reminders of the love that brought you together in the first place.

Watch Dr. Laura’s video blog on one of the most basic things you can do to keep your marriage strong.

Or watch other videos at youtube.com/DrLaura.

A Single Woman Weighs in on Stay-At-Home Moms

I’ve been hearing from a lot of stay-at-home moms, and sharing some of their letters with you.  I got this one from a woman who is not a mother, but who has strong feelings about those who stay at home with their kids:

My grandmother was a homemaker.  My mother was divorced, and raised us without our “sperm donor” father, because she chose to leave an abuser.  She worked at a company at night, so that she could walk us to school and help with homework (I didn’t realize the magnitude of this when I was young, but I surely do now).

I’m over 40 now, and don’t have any children, and I work full-time.  However, with every job that I’ve ever taken, I’ve always known in the back of my mind that it would never be a “career,” because I would eventually leave to be a stay-at-home mom.  So, I had to come up with something that I could do to generate income and stay at home:  writing.

I haven’t quite pursued my writing “career” yet.  I watch pregnant women around my office leave, have their babies, and come back.  Some of them are married, and some not.  Either way, I am dumbfounded that they would not rather be at home all day with the baby.

I never wanted to have children as a single woman without a husband.  First, because I didn’t want to have to do everything by myself.  As it is now, I hate taking out my own trash, and wished that I had a husband who didn’t mind taking on that chore!  And second, because each parent’s role is important.  They both matter and make a great contribution.  It’s what all children want:  a mommy and a daddy who are together and care about each other.  So, as I get older and my biological clock “explodes,” I’ve never been tempted to do it alone, i.e., just have a baby because that’s what I want.

Maybe one day, I’ll have a MAN who loves to call me his “girlfriend.”  In the meantime, I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I’ll miss that joy of being able to stay at home with my baby and welcoming my husband home at the end of a hard day at work to provide for us.

Shame, Revisited

After posting a blog last Thursday (9/11/08) about “shame,” I got this response from a reader:

I grew up in a Roman Catholic family.  I attended parochial school, and I also became pregnant at 17.  I was shamed and ostracized for what I had done, but I have to say that the “shaming” I received from my family and community actually led me back onto the right track.

I completed my high school diploma by attending school in the morning, and I began college at night (I was admitted to a local university because I was an honor student in my high school).  I attended college with 30 and 40 year-olds!  Ultimately, I graduated college and became a Certified Public Accountant. 

This was a difficult path, and I recommend it to no one.  I sacrificed much:  my young adulthood.  I did not do the things other kids my age did.  I took care of my baby, I studied, and I cleaned houses.  Although I was ashamed of becoming pregnant so young and out-of-wedlock, I loved my child more than life itself, and I always placed my child’s needs before mine.  I did not “party.”  I did not hang out with friends.  I did not do things just for myself, and most of all, I did not whine.

I don’t think most teens are capable of this, and most babies are probably better off being placed for adoption.  I had my family’s help – I was not tossed onto the streets, but my parents’ expectations were high, and “I” was my child’s caregiver (not my mom).  I was the one up at night with my sick baby.  I was the one who took him to the park and the doctor’s office, and I was the one he came to depend on most.

 I have been happily married now for many years to a man I am so blessed to have as my husband.  I have three beautiful children.  I have chosen to stay home with my younger kids and not work outside of the house.  I ALWAYS hated to leave my oldest child and felt tremendous guilt when I headed off to school for the day or to clean houses.

 It’s an absolute treasure to be a stay-at-home mom.  My job in life now is to provide a warm home environment, and to be there for my hubby and kids.  By the way, the baby boy I had at 17 is now an honor student at [a major university], and quite a wonderful young man.  To this day, I still feel remorse that my oldest did not have the same childhood as my other two kids.  I feel I cheated him, and I suppose I always will.

“Shame” on You

Recently, I came across a newspaper’s Letter to the Editor written by a well-known television personality.  She’d gotten pregnant out-of-wedlock at 17, and had to endure  “…[my] mother’s disappointment, my father’s anger, the priest’s admonishment…[T]he shame and ridicule were more than I could bear.  I was no good.  I had messed up.  I knew it.  My dreams and life were shattered.  Days later, I was married off and sent away.  I said I did not love this man.  I was told: ‘You made your bed; now you must lie in it.’”

She went on to recount the damage to her self-esteem (which she called “life-threatening”) and described being ostracized and condemned as a “bad” girl, “when I had tried hard all my life to do well and make my parents proud.”

While it’s natural to feel compassion for someone who has faced that kind of negative reaction from all the significant adults in her life, it’s important to point out that this situation was not all about her.  And it seems like this author still doesn’t get it.  It is about the innocent, dependent child who finds himself or herself in an unprepared, chaotic, non-committed, immature and fragile situation by being born to a teenager and her male counterpart who are having a sexual relationship and are not prepared for the biological consequences:  a pregnancy.

The concept of “feeling shame” is a very human, emotional/social mechanism.  Its purpose is to deter people from engaging in behaviors that will have negative consequences for them, for others who may be victimized by their behavior, and for the community and society as a whole.   The motivation behind those who rage against “shame” is to dissociate behavior from consequence.  These days, judgment of others is considered a bad thing because it hurts feelings, but having hurt feelings (particularly if they’re the result of actions which cause pain to others) is a good thing; it is part of having a conscience.  Only good people feel guilt.  Only good people suffer from doing ill to others.  It’s human, natural, expected and respected for people to suffer over their wrongdoing.  To complain, however, that wrongdoing should not result in any negative reaction is immature and defensive and contrary to the notion of taking responsibility for how one’s actions impact others.

The author of the letter complains about having to marry the young man – whom she didn’t love – in order to legitimize the baby and take responsibility as a family for the child’s welfare.  Why is that a bad thing?  Why was she having sexual relations with someone for whom she didn’t have the highest regard and wouldn’t have chosen to be the father of her future children?   Is it not in the best interest of the child to have the foundation of a family?

Submitting to responsibility for a dependent child seems like a noble action to me.  Staying mutually committed for the well-being of another human being sounds noble to me.  And many can report that people so inclined grow together and build a strong love and family foundation. These ideals, however, don’t often resonate with people who marry this young.  That is why adoption is often the best solution for the child.

The author of this letter was making the point that the media shouldn’t focus on those young men and women who make this sort of “mistake,” because it hurts their feelings and because these are private issues.  Generally, these are private issues, but when people in the public eye and their families display behaviors which undermine role-modeling obligations or expectations, it should be examined publicly, because impressionable youngsters take their cues from their environment.  When there is no public “shame” for destructive, hurtful or illegal behaviors our children see and emulate, the disasters grow exponentially.

The author writes : “If my pregnancy – my deepest shame – had been broadcast for all to know about, I might have taken my life.”  Clearly, now that the author is a mature woman, she is making her own “shameful” history public and is not suicidal.  Maturity is an important factor in dealing with serious issues, which is precisely why children should not be engaging in activities that endanger the lives of innocent people (as we’ve seen with fetuses being aborted or newborns tossed in dumpsters or toilets).  The young women themselves are at risk when they have a child’s view of how “life is over” just because they’re embarrassed. 

So, instead of railing about how upsetting shame is to a pregnant youngster, it is important to point out to all the other young people out there what dangerous ground they tread when they “walk” as responsible adults, but in reality have the footprints of naïve children.  Taking this story public is a way to warn children away from playing with the “perks” of committed adults when they are in no position to take on the responsibilities of their actions, nor to cope well with the emotional fallout.

We are in an era which judges “judgment” as evil.  It isn’t.  Morals, values, principles and ethics are prophylactics against pain and destruction, and not just somebody’s evil attempt to wrest momentary pleasure from the grip of innocent bystanders.

Respect for Elders, Part 2

I received a ton of mail about the call I described in yesterday’s blog.  The following letter from a listener is representative of the wide range of reactions people had to that call:

Dr. Laura:
While listening to your program with my incredibly sexy husband yesterday, I couldn’t help but feel some sadness and frustration toward the caller who resented her loved one with dementia.

My grandparents, who will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in just over a month, are currently battling dementia, and watching the progression of the disease can be heart-wrenching.  I spent so much time with my “Pop” and “Mi-mommy,” learning important principles like “Can’t never could do anything,” and “pretty is as pretty does.”  They were known by others for their compassion, kindness, and wonderful wit.

They both began experiencing symptoms of dementia about three years ago, with simple forgetfulness turning into frequent short-term memory loss and the loss of the ability to perform simple tasks.  Dementia is a progressive illness, and although they battle it with all their might by taking medications to help slow the disease, we can see the constant decline.  Resentment has not been a feeling anyone has expressed.

When my grandfather tells the same story 5 or 6 times in a 30-minute period, we listen like it is the first time we’ve ever heard it told.  When my grandmother weaves together in her mind multiple stories and comes up with a muddled collage of a past experience, we engage her and help her to recall the old memories.  When they are struggling to remember how to pour water in a glass or operate the TV, we patiently help them recall.  We don’t do it out of obligation or even to keep from feeling guilty.  We do it because, years ago,  THEY taught us to show kindness and love and compassion.

I work in hospice, and on a professional level, I know all too well the course this mean, aggressive disease takes.  I cherish every moment that they can tell me a story, and I will treasure every time I hug them and they know who I am.  I know that one day, I will sit down and hold their hands and they won’t be able to tell a story, and they won’t know who I am.  They won’t be able to hold their heads up or smile, but I will still be there with them, because that’s the person they have helped me to become.  If I sat with them and listened to them and held their hands every day for the rest of my life, there is no way I could repay them for what they have given me.

In October, I’ll be walking in the Alzheimer’s  Association  Memory Walk (http://www.alz.org/memorywalk/) in honor of my grandparents.  I will do everything I can to fight this brutal disease and I beg those in our society to think about the compassion we owe our fellow man.  A wise physician I once worked with said “The measure of a society can be seen in how we treat our young, our old, and our dying.”  I pray that our society does not let me down, and that we treat our elders with the love, respect and dignity they deserve.

Striving to be half as wonderful as my grandparents,

Alison