01 January 2005

Single...With Children: Parents Marriage A Shining Testament To The Power And Endurance Of Love

Single with Children: Parents' marriage high standard

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 07/25/01

My parents recently celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary. I can't comment on the first 14 years, but I can testify that in the 41 years I have had the privilege of being their daughter, and as unbelievable as this sounds, I have never, ever heard them exchange what would begin to qualify as a cross word. Not one.

I've often thought about what it is that gives a marriage such longevity, and not simply a long life but a happy long life. There is a difference.

In other words, a marriage rich in both quality of life AND quantity of years is one of the most incredible things I can imagine.

Though I didn't have the fortune of living in a marriage that will see that kind of mileage, I have been blessed to be a member of a family that contains one. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that at times I'm just a little envious.

My parents were married in July of 1946.

Dad had just returned from fulfilling his military obligation to "Uncle Sam," and Mother was working in the small southern West Virginia town where they both grew up. Certainly their beginnings were humble, and money was more than a little tight.

Their first addition to the family was my older sister, Becky, followed 10 years later by me.

During the course of their marital life there have been a plethora of changes and no shortage of adjustments.

Some of the events they have weathered included numerous moves - my dad's career in the coal industry necessitated frequent relocation - moving my grandmother in when she could no longer take care of herself and helping each other through the deaths of their respective parents. Not necessarily easy, but certainly expected occurrences over the life of any long union.

A few of the things they have faced together have, I am sure, tested them more than I could begin to realize.

They endured the unexpected death of their 23-year-old firstborn daughter, and faced the challenge of taking care of my elderly grandmother and the very panic disorder-ridden teen-ager I became after my sister died. That could not have been easy and yet, on reflection, I never saw the slightest hint of a crack. Not for one second.

Of course, in time my grandmother passed away, and I grew up and married. After a few years I presented them with two much adored grandchildren.

And, when it became apparent that my own marriage was falling apart, they swooped in and gave me the kindest gift anyone facing a daunting future can receive: the courage to face it head on.

I feel blessed that my kids have the exquisite example of my parents' genuinely happy marriage, a very real testament to love, devotion and commitment.

I'm even more thankful for the example it sets for me. It's such a visual reminder that an institution that is sometimes given a bad rap, and has as great a chance for failure as it does success, really can stand for something and is, in spite of the statistics, very dependable.

In this age of self-help and therapy, my parents have managed to maintain this union without the assistance of relationship gurus.

I'm fairly certain that the only thing they know of Mars and Venus is their approximate location in the solar system. Perhaps the real glue that has kept them together is the element that drew them together in the first place and the fact that they have never forgotten what it was.

Sometimes, when I consider the prospect of eventual remarriage, the mere idea scares me to death. I wish marriage came with some kind of dependable guarantee or warranty but, of course, it requires lots of hard work, impeccable intentions and no small measure of faith.

In reality a guarantee would take away the "magic," and it's the "magic" that makes it worthwhile.

I wish I had been able to give my kids the "up close and personal" example of a successful marriage. Even amicable divorces are not without a certain amount of pain. I am, however, grateful that my kids have a day-to-day example of marriage not only of long life but also of life lived well.

I would like to believe that when it comes time to make their own commitments, they will draw upon the example they saw in their grandparents.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Department, P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Don't Miss The Opportunity To Acknowledge Good Behavior!

Teen-age transformations come about too quickly

Single... with Children


Publication Date: 10/25/00

When people find out that I share a house with two dogs and four cats, they nod amusedly. When they discover my son has a reptile obsession and that, in addition to the above mentioned family friendly pets, I also live in a home that contains a pair of chameleons, a bearded dragon, newts, frogs, a handful of tortoises and a few snakes (all nonpoisonous!), I get puzzled stares accompanied by furrowed brows. Nothing however, is more telling than when they learn that I am also the mother of a teen-age daughter and son. Forget the amused nods, furrowed brows and puzzled faces - the looks I get shoot straight to sympathy.

When Katie and Justin were toddlers - and I felt as if my plate was full trying to keep Justin out of electrical outlets and Katie from climbing to the highest peaks our furniture allowed - I'd dream of the day I could walk into a room without fear of broken bones and electrocution.

Older, wiser, more experienced adults would quickly remind me that this was nothing. I was told that I would someday look back on those danger-filled afternoons with fondness and longing. I was warned that nothing compared to the fears and pitfalls I would face shepherding my two children through the abyss of the dreaded, feared, potentially angst-abundant teen-age years.

I admit it. With each passing birthday my children celebrated, I would experience a little more trepidation, realizing crunch time was mere birthday or two away. I wasn't exactly certain as to what was awaiting me, but I could only surmise that it must be scarier than a thousand Alfred Hitchcock movies. I'd watch my kids and wonder if evil plans were being hatched in wait of the day they turned 13, when I'd find myself hanging on for dear life and turning gray overnight. Even though there were no telltale signs of mischief in the making, as they innocently went about the business of growing up, I couldn't quite discount the fact that the very people who had warned me of the future certainly seemed to know what they were talking about. They'd been through it, after all.

Lo and behold, I find myself right in the thick of it. I'm still the mother of Katie, my 17-year-old daughter and Justin, my 13-year-old son. In the time between their "childhood" years and their present age, a lot has happened. Their father no longer lives in our home. In fact, I've been divorced for more than three years now. I used to be afraid of "co-parenting" two future teen-agers, with two "in house" adults fortifying the home front. With their father living about a thousand miles away, I find I'm now the chief pilot/navigator/ flight attendant/baggage handler. It's fortunate I didn't know this would be the situation 10 years ago because I no doubt would have driven myself clinically insane based on rumor and a few unfortunate case histories.

Judging from the wide assortment of my kids' friends that I find playing video games in my family room, channel surfing in the rec room and/or raiding my refrigerator at any given time, I have to say that, overall, I'm nothing less than impressed with the teen-agers popping in and out of our front door. They have a wide variety of chances to fall off the beaten path, and the reality is that most of them don't. Any parent with a memory and weathered yearbook doesn't have to try too hard to recall that the transition from adolescent to adult is not the easiest of passages.

I've come to realize that I'm not always so forthcoming with a compliment when they do something right. I always tell them when they forget to toss the clothes in the hamper, but I rarely remember to acknowledge when they clean the kitchen without being asked or surprise me with a pitcher of iced tea. A warm hug and a kind word can mean the difference between a good day and a bad day for anyone. Even teen-agers. Especially teen-agers.

A few weeks ago I was reminded of the need of rewards and tangible expressions of trust when my daughter attended an outdoor concert in a huge arena. That part wasn't new. She'd been to concerts before, but, of course, I'd been right there with her. This time, she approached me with the request to attend a Counting Crows/Live concert with her best friend. I knew this would happen, just like I knew she would someday graduate from a Big Wheel to a bicycle and then to a car, but I wasn't quite prepared for the reality until it was staring me in the face.

At that moment, the face staring at me, pleadingly, was Katie's.

After careful consideration, I could find no reason why she couldn't attend the concert. At least these particular rock groups required no parental warnings on their CDs. It was time to loosen the apron strings. Katie and I both took a huge step toward maturity. Katie attended the concert with my permission and came back home the same Katie that I'd held the hand of through tentative first steps, first pedals on a two-wheeler and first miles in a car. Sure, she saw a wide range of frenzied fan behavior, some of which she no doubt knew I would never approve of, but she stayed right on course and returned the same person she was when she left, albeit a little dreamy eyed from hearing her favorite band and of course, with the requisite T-shirt.

Of course, all of this conjures up bittersweet emotions for me. Sometimes I wish we could keep our kids in our own little bubble, somehow protected from all that being an adult entails and in control of who and what they come in contact with, but that's not realistic. As I complimented my daughter on returning home from her concert at the exact time she had promised, I couldn't help but notice her palpable sense of achievement. She had successfully maneuvered a steppingstone into adulthood. She demonstrated responsibility and had proven herself worthy of my trust. She was beaming.

I remembered that look from when she was small and I would ask her to pick up her toys, clean up her plate or wash her hair. It was the same look of satisfied accomplishment. Regardless of how old our children grow, compliments are always welcome, and good behavior should always be acknowledged. Doesn't everyone long for that elusive pat on the back? It's just as important at 17 as it was at seven.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: It's All A Matter Of Perspective

Single With Children: Divorce influences many different perspectives

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 04/28/04

I decided it was finally time to paint the interior of my house. I would have preferred to wait until I could afford it, but I was afraid if I waited that long, the Sheetrock would have disintegrated to the point there would be nothing to paint, so I bit the bullet. This required that I make yet another decision, and I have a long, solid history of indecisiveness.

I had to make a color choice. I scanned color wheels and charts and store displays until I pared it down to a manageable 20. What I was sure looked like a peach or apricot tint screamed pink to the rest of my family in a tone that left no doubt I must be color-challenged. I took the high road and told them it was obviously a matter of perspective.

Perspective is an amazing concept. According to trusty old Webster, it means "The interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed." In less flowery language, it's nothing more than "a point of view" and, being the individuals we are, there's never a shortage of those.

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me an e-mail with a link to something called a "blog."

This was a HUGE mistake, because it wound up costing me several hours of sleep. As it turns out, a "blog" is shorthand for a web log, otherwise known in cyber circles as an online journal. If you can think of a subject, there are probably several thousand blogs discussing it.

As I sifted through these public, but deeply personal journals, I came across vast quantities written by teenagers and young adults discussing what their childhood had been like living through their parents' divorce. Given the topic, you can now understand why I'm still coasting on about four hours of sleep at night. I was amazed. I was intrigued. I was unable to stop reading.

I had made a serious miscalculation and gross oversight. I always knew that there was more than one side to every story involving divorce. I just didn't realize there could be several. For as many people who are directly touched by divorce, there are an equal number of points of view belonging to those whose lives have been forever changed by the fallout.

This was not light reading. Some of the entries were veiled in an almost fragile, dark humor; some of them in deep sorrow with lingering pain and supercharged anger. A smattering were peculiarly absent of any emotion, almost as if the writer hadn't quite decided exactly what she or he felt about the experience. The one constant thread that ran through every blog I've read, is that living through a divorce challenged these writers' preconceived values and feelings toward relationships on just about every level. How could it not?

As I poured over the accounts of these young diarists, I was taken aback by their keen understanding of what was taking place probably long before their parents may have even been aware. Children of all ages always seem to have far more sensitive "emotion detecting" equipment than we care to admit.

Raw emotion, unresolved anger and strong resentment for being placed in the middle, forced to take sides between two people they have loved and trusted most in this world, set the tone of many of the accounts I read.

There was still a lot of pain being processed and dealt with years after Mom and Dad had moved on to new lives and different relationships.

I couldn't help but wonder how my daughter's and son's blogs might read. If I were to have found their thoughts and memories written in the form of a journal, what would surprise me the most? And what details did their dad and I overlook that might have made for an easier passage? I know we tried our best to keep things positive, upbeat and as pain-free as possible, but how far off the mark was our perception of their perspective?

A friend who has not only experienced her own marital breakup, but also is an adult child of divorce, once reminded me there are three sides to divorce: His side, her side and the truth. I would have to agree that's probably accurate. However, when it comes to perspective, each one is different, unique and deserves nothing less than complete respect.

I guess it's a lot like my perception of color. What probably looks like a peach to me, may very well look like a pink to someone else.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Don't Get Your Wires Crossed!

Single With Children: Keep wired with your family

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 03/24/04

Have you noticed lately how it seems as if everything can be found on the Internet?

You can pay your bills, shop for a new house, car or university and then go to a site where you can fill out an application to finance that new car, home or six years of college.

It wasn't so long ago that the first thing we did when we got home was check our answering machines to see if we missed important calls. At least when we replayed our messages, we were listening to live humans on the other end. Now it seems, as soon as we walk through the door, we each retire to our rooms to check our e-mail.

Even my 79-year-old father doesn't do anything in the morning until he's had his coffee and checked his e-mail.

I recently saw a commercial in which a mother prepares dinner and then sends the family an e-mail announcing the meal is ready. Her husband and children all jump up from their respective computers and run to the kitchen. I saw something of my own family in the ad.

Although the Internet's main claim is that it connects you to the world, in many cases it disconnects you from the people you need contact with the most. So many families spend half their time in front of the TV not talking to one another and the other half on the Internet, talking to the wrong people.

Unfortunately a new fact of this high-tech age is that more and more two-parent households become single-parent households after one spouse meets someone online. When talking to some of my single friends about their divorces, I'm shocked to find this scenario more and more common.

When it comes to children, we must be especially vigilant about the Web sites they visit and the people they talk to. We must make sure they connect enough with us and their real-life friends.

It causes me some anxiety to think that if my 17-year-old son has a problem, he might not come to me first. It's enough to make me want to throw the computers, TVs and phones out and get back to nature.

Of course, the Internet is not an entirely bad thing. My children certainly have a much easier time with their school reports than I did.

And without the Internet, my daughter would not have met the wonderful family she had the chance to be an au pair for in Ireland last summer.

As with anything in life, the Internet should be taken in moderation, for both ourselves and our children.

It's great to meet new people from all over the world, but don't forget the people who live in your house. They're just as interesting.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: As The Sun Sets, Worries Rise

Single With Children: Worries creep
up as the sun goes down

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 03/10/04

I was born an insomniac. My mother swears I never quite understood the concept of an established bedtime. My circadian rhythm seems to have been set before I made the scene, and in spite of a few earnest attempts, I just can't seem to change the clock that ticks inside me.

I've tried chamomile tea, warm baths, warm milk (yuck!), yoga, an evening walk, reading, counting sheep, counting ceiling tiles, counting stars, even counting how many things I've tried counting.

Regardless of how hard I try, there are just some nights that I can't seem to find the switch that turns off my brain.

Of course, I don't always count. Sometimes my mind goes places it would be better off avoiding. The worry clouds creep in. If you're a parent, you already know there are a gazillion things a day that make suitable objects of anxiety. It's usually child-related concerns that make me the most alert when I should be sleeping.

Just last night, I found myself wondering if my son's grade-point average will be high enough for admission to a good university and how in the world can I get him to study more diligently? Have I met all the friends he spends time with? Would he open up to me more if I was his Dad rather than his Mom? Will I have enough money in my bank account at the end of the month to buy him some new clothes? Is his emotional growth going to be stunted because I can't tinker under the hood of his car and have long discussions about the function of auto parts?

I try to spend as much time worrying about my daughter, even though she's 20 years old and living in her own apartment. That in no way precludes me from burning a lot of midnight oil worrying over her future.

Is she really happy? Will she settle down and figure out what it is she wants to do with her life? Is she doing OK financially? Would it appear as though I were prying if I made an innocent inquiry? Is she eating properly? It's Saturday night and it's 1 a.m.: Is she safely home, and if she IS home, are her doors locked?

Sound familiar?

Who are these people that swear they can close their eyes the second their heads hit the pillow? Why doesn't my head work that way? I know some of them, and they are fantastic parents, but for some odd reason they will not divulge the secret of their slumber success.

If I allow myself free rein, I could easily waste the time I spend in my bed each night by filling each hour with questions or concerns and forecasting events in the far off future that will probably not come close to occurring.

The only short-term byproduct of this sleeplessness is that some mornings I have to use a little more concealer under my eyes and increase my caffeine intake. I wonder if there's a correlation?

Lately, I find I'm wearing out the Serenity Prayer. Most of the time, it quiets my mind for a while. It reminds me that there will be things I cannot change, things that I can, and if I nurture my faith and keep in touch with God, he's promised to give me courage and the wisdom to know the difference. I just have to remember to ask.

The other day I found the most wonderful quote. I actually copied it on an index card and placed it on my bedside table.

On those nights when my mind begins spinning out of control, I can reach for it and, hopefully, view all of those worries about my parental performance from a more realistic perspective.

Even though it discusses another kind of seemingly monumental endeavor, that of writing a novel, E. L. Doctorow's wisdom lends itself my penchant for projecting too far in the future; "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

Now when my mind starts getting silly and churning out nonsensical forecasts, I must remember that I can only see as far as the present. Period.

As long as my compass is pointed in the right direction, I really don't need to fret too far in advance.

With or without my worry, tomorrow will take care of itself and, as rapidly as time seems to fly these days, it will get here soon enough.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Communication Can Get Lost In The Translation

Single With Children: Choose your communication methods wisely

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 02/25/04

Maybe I'm just slow, but I sure found out my options for sending information aren't! The other day I was at one of those stores that offer a variety of options for getting things to the other side of the world, when it absolutely has to be there tomorrow. It's not necessarily cheap, but it's also not the cost of a plane ticket either.

It's not only mail and packages we're intent on sending with lightning speed. Not so long ago, it would have been almost impossible to conceive of the ability to send a document or letter to someone who might live in China, Australia or even an astronaut on the space station, with lightning speed. It's now routine to send messages to folks living in virtually every locale on the planet in the mere blink of an eye.

Speaking of lightning-fast communication and accessibility, when is the last time you went anywhere without your cell phone? Have you ever stopped at a busy intersection or stood in a checkout line at a store and noticed how many folks are talking on the phone? It wasn't too many years ago that using a cell phone was for emergency use only. Now, it's nearly as essential as car keys and debit cards. You just don't leave home without it. Though my cell phone bill might not always reflect it, talk is basically cheap.

In this age of high-speed information, one antiquated form of communication still is being used with too much frequency, and it comes with a high emotional price tag. Many ex-, or "soon to be ex," spouses, still employ their children to send messages to one another because they just can't stomach the prospect of directly conversing with their child's mom or dad. All too often, our kids are plucked out of their much-preferred neutral territory to be used as personal couriers simply to alleviate parental discomfort, with little thought as to how this will most probably make the "messenger" feel.

It seems inconceivable that folks who shared a marriage and children, can't create and agree upon a means to painlessly exchange information. If you can't quite manage a private "the kids don't need to hear this" phone call, there are other alternatives: e-mail, voice mail, registered mail and, should none of these work, there are attorneys who can act as liaisons. The latter will cost quite a bit more than the price of a stamp, but not nearly as much as the emotional pain sure to visit a child who has assumed the role of "carrier pigeon."

If you are that fond of high functioning, multitalented birds, buy a parrot. I must warn you though, after having had a couple of them, they do tend to pick up the naughty words first, and it's really quite hard to explain that away when the bird spends all of its time in your possession. They're apt to repeat a few phrases you'd much prefer to keep private, but that's a whole other column.

The next time you're remotely tempted to request that your son or daughter tell Mommy or Daddy that this isn't fair or that isn't nice, or that you need cooperation in rearranging the visitation calendar due to a scheduling conflict, consider clearly the uncomfortable position into which this places your child. Remember that your job is to make things easier and more pleasant. It's not your child's place or business to protect you. Please don't make them believe it is.

The legal decree of divorce results in the prefix of an "ex" in front of the words wife and husband. It dissolves a union and drastically alters a spousal relationship and that's expected.

What it shouldn't dissolve or alter any more than necessary is the relationship between a parent and child. Such an alteration is not only unexpected, but unacceptable.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Blended Families Require Sensitivity

Single with Children: Blending a family takes sensitivity

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 07/23/03

The other day I had an interesting conversation with a new friend as she was showing me photos of her recent wedding. To be more accurate, her 11-year-old daughter was proudly showing me the photos.

Kelsey took me through the small stack of wedding pictures and pointed out who each person was. This is when it got a little complicated for me. One snapshot featured two middle-aged men, both of them smiling, proudly standing on either side of Kelsey, who stood in as one of her Mom's bridesmaids.

"That's two of my grandpas!" Kelsey explained. I looked at her mother who said one was her step-grandfather and one was her biological grandfather. The next one featured the bride, groom, Kelsey and two other similarly dressed younger girls who Kelsey announced were her two new stepsisters. She was clearly very pleased to be the older sister.

I was then shown a photograph of even more family members and Kelsey, my ever-patient guide, painstakingly said these were cousins, stepcousins, aunts, uncles, stepaunts, stepuncles and, well, you get the picture! I was quickly losing my way climbing up the family tree, but Kelsey had all the information down pat.

"So, what do you think?" she asked with an adorable smile.

"Beautiful! But how do you keep it all straight?" I asked.

Without missing a beat she said, "It's easy! They're all family." Nice answer.

Now you have to remember that I am the product of parents who just blissfully celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary. The only firsthand knowledge I have of this "step-system" is that both of my children have two stepsisters they see only a couple of times a year. They get along fine, but I always wondered if it was because they interact with each other infrequently. In Kelsey's case, she has known these two new stepsiblings for the two years that her mom and new stepdad have dated.

Lest one think that becoming a stepdaughter is relegated to the younger family members, I had a client in town last week and during the course of the day, I learned more about her family as she was helping her daughter find a home to buy while she attends graduate school.

This warm, engaging woman is also the mother of two stepdaughters. She shared her years of experience in handling the role of stepmother. She told me how she had learned quite a lot and like most things in life, much of it had been through trial and error. "Balance" was a frequently used word.

As our conversation expanded, I learned that this mother/stepmother had recently become a stepdaughter herself when her 79-year-old father remarried a year following the death of her mother. She said that she had fully approved of her Dad's remarriage, but that becoming a stepdaughter, even though she is grown with adult offspring of her own, had given her an interesting perspective of what it might have felt like to the children in her blended family when she and her husband had married a few years ago. She confessed that it was definitely an adjustment for her to see her father with a woman who was not her mother.

The present familial landscape seems to have a lot of steps, and we are raising a whole new generation of kids who are growing up in stepfamilies and accept it as a matter of course. Parents remarry, and whether it's because of divorce or the death of a spouse, there are obviously huge adjustments to be made. From what I can tell, if the parents involved handle the situation with a lot of care, understanding and attention, and they take the time to consider what it might feel like to the children caught up in the middle of the birth of a new family, it can be a happy and secure situation for everyone involved.

Some of us in this single-parenting situation know the terrain from having personally grown up in stepfamilies, but it's a foreign land to me.

I have, however, managed to figure out this much: From talking with many formerly single parents who have successfully managed to create happy, productive and rewarding blended families, this foreign land seems to require a passport that is generously "stamped" with LOVE.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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