Children have a voice, so honor it!

Note: Due to the piece in today’s Portland Press Herald, it seems I have more visitors than usual. Glad to have you and hope you come back. Despite the name of this blog which is based on being a black girl in Maine, yes, I talk race but I do talk about more than just race. At present this space is about a girl becoming a woman and heading into middle age and all the musings and observations that happen as part of that process.

I am on deadline for the writing gigs that pay, and as much as I love my little space of cyber-space here, tending to the money folks is a priority. However reading this piece in today’s New York Times made me decide to take a break between assignments and write about something near and dear to my heart.

As parents, we want the best for our kids, but too many times what we perceive as the best is based off our own assumptions and biases with no input from our kiddos. Clearly when our kids are infants and small kids, there is only so much input they can have and truthfully the early years are a time when we do need to provide much of the guidance. Yet as they get older and more mature too many times kids are still left without a voice or opinion in matters that affect their upbringing and nowhere is that more clear than in the case of divorce.

My first marriage crashed and burned in short order, of course running off at 18 to marry because you want to assert yourself as a legal adult rather than marrying strictly for love is a great way you ensure you won’t stay married long. Long time readers know the story but for new readers, basically I ran off at 18 and got married, several months in when I discovered it was a mistake, oops! I was with child and being the daughter of a minister with Southern Baptist roots that pretty much meant my options were have a baby and have a baby. Long story short, after the kiddo turned 13 months old, the marriage exploded into a fiery ball.

However as anyone who has lived through a divorce that involves kids know, just because you divorce doesn’t mean your relationship with the ex-spouse is over. No, it only takes on a new and different form. In our case I am glad that after years of tension, now that our son is an adult, I actually get along with my ex-spouse, hell we are even buddies on Facebook!

No, the heavy lifting really hit around the time my son started to clearly have his own thoughts and while at times it was easy to ignore his wishes, after all the divorce decree says I get X amount of time, I am so thankful that the light bulb went off for me when he was 15. That was the year the former Spouse decided to move back to the Midwest…remember I am in Maine because of him and the kid. Initially the kiddo wanted to stay in Maine but the lure of being closer to what remains of my family and connecting with other people of color was a strong pull. In the end I honored my son’s request to move to the Midwest granted it ripped me up inside and only now that he is 20 do I feel I can put this to words.

In the end though it all worked out, I am convinced that the move is what my son needed, he needed to get away from New England and spend some time back home. It’s actually ironic because after 2 years of college in the Midwest he is now pretty certain that he wants to live back here or close by when he graduates. This year for the first time in a while my son told me he wants to spend the entire summer in Maine. Many people think that once kids turn 18, the sharing of vacations ends but the truth is it doesn’t and really it shouldn’t, after all kids have 2 parents. But this summer college kid feels he needs to spend his whole summer here with me, his baby sister and his step dad aka The Spousal Unit. I know it was a hard choice for him to make but thankfully his dad is supportive.

I wrote all this because as a parent who has pretty much navigated the world of joint custody since my eldest was 13 months old, I have learned along the way, that kids have voices and they need to be honored. It is something that now is part of parenting my youngest and in my work with kids. It took a lot of years to realize that having been raised in a strict patriarchal family that not having a voice can be detrimental. Many times when both my parents were alive, they asked why did I choose to run off at 18 and get married and it took many years to realize I made that choice because I could. No other reason, sure I thought it was love but not ever having had the ability to make a decision over my life when given the chance…well I didn’t know how to make one. I think children need even more autonomy when they are being reared between parents who no longer live under the same roof and yes it’s scary but the end goal is creating connections that last a lifetime not just the first 18 years.

So I say to my fellow parents, your kids are separate beings from you with their own uniqueness and desires, part of parenting well is to honor that voice that your kid has.

Oversharing online? Is it possible?

Tis the season for separations or marital disharmony, everywhere I look it seems once happily partnered couples are calling it quits or taking breaks to reassess their relationships. I suppose it is a sign of growing older especially in my circle, where most of my core folks are in the 35-45 range.

I have actually spent most of my adult life married, while the first marriage fizzled when my son was thirteen months old; it actually took years to have the union legally ended due to our inability to agree on anything. So by the time I was legally free of husband number one, I was actually already planning the upcoming union to the current Mr. BGIM. I imagine that sounds bad to some but life is messy like that.

The thing about marriage or unions is that when we are partnered with someone especially when it was supposed to be a lifetime deal, that relationship is a part of who we are. Sure we strive not to lose ourselves because well it’s not all that happy to do so but the person who shares your life is a huge part of your world. Much like when you become a parent, kids too take over your life.

So when love goes a tad sour like that jug of milk from two weeks ago, it is hard to not discuss it at some point. I mean sure you might be having some issues but when the issues rise to the level that someone needs to leave the house, it becomes hard to not share it with the world and sometimes the ensuing messiness that happens in the aftermath.

Queen of the mom bloggers, Dooce recently revealed that she and her husband have separated and while I have yet to see anyone speak nasty about the split, some have questioned whether or not she gave us more than we (the reading public) needed to know. I have seen many a reference to oversharing, call me crazy but anyone with the guts to share publicly about mental health issues probably is someone who is okay with sharing the general messiness of life. Part of Dooce’s success frankly is because she does share, most of us don’t, so when we read the parts that Dooce is comfortable giving it feels like overkill. Yet is it really overkill?

Now if you have a certain type of job or lifestyle, maybe there is a thing as too much sharing, hell I have been accused of oversharing on this blog. Yet you can trust that for what I do feel comfortable putting out for public consumption, there is more that I know is no one’s business. In the case of bloggers who rise to prominence by sharing their lives with us, not sharing actually is a lot harder to do. The thing is in the case of Dooce, she and her husband built their media empire, so it makes sense based off what they both have publicly shared that they reached the point they needed to tell the world they are taking a break. I imagine that behind the scenes long before they made the announcement that they were separating that there was plenty we will never know. Thus making claims of oversharing seem strange to say the least, yes in the post she wrote informing us they were separating she made reference to possible suicidal ideation but even that doesn’t seem terribly strange for someone who publicly has admitted struggling with mental health issues to the brink of hospitalization. I read her entire post less as a cry for help but more like, here I am.

Sure we live in a time when it appears that everyone is blabbing their business and yes those of us who blog often do share, but I believe in most instances we do know the line between what is fit for public consumption and what is not. The flip side for many of us who do share publicly is that often times we share because it keeps us honest and authentic. Personally the older I get, the more comfortable I get in my skin, the less I care about the judgment of others yet I do know that holding back can be hazardous to me in numerous ways.

 

So the next time you wonder is So and So oversharing, think more deeply….look none of us want to know the details of last night’s orgy yet truthful sharing about real life shit should never be made to feel dirty.

PS: I won’t bug you daily about this, but do consider helping send this blogger to a few conferences this year. Read more here, to date I’ve raised $100 in donations and still have a way to go. Any and all help is greatly appreciated.