EWTN interview: I’m on with Fr. Mitch about The Sexual State

This is the link to my interview with Fr. Mitch Pacwa on EWTN LIve on May 1, 2019.  Fr. Mitch had actually read the book, and did a very good interview with me!

Weaponized Self-Pity, Part I: Divorce

Originally published at the National Catholic Register, February 25, 2019

Recently, I noticed my friend Leila Miller repeating online that she does not insist that people remain living with an abusive spouse. My inclination was to say, “Stop! You don’t need to say it again!”

Around the same time, I noticed that I was about to repeat myself on a seemingly unrelated topic. I started thinking, “What exactly is going on here?” My answer: We are dealing with weaponized self-pity, not a good-faith question.

Miller is the author of Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak.  She gives voice to the adult children whose lives were disrupted by their parents’ divorces. This is the context in which people continually challenge her about abusive marriages. “Why,” Miller asks herself in frustration, “do I have to keep assuring people that no one is required to remain living in abusive situations?”

I’ve had this experience myself. Like Miller, I point out how difficult divorce can be for children. Our focus is on the children, their lifelong suffering and what we can do about it, as individuals and as a society.

Continue reading “Weaponized Self-Pity, Part I: Divorce”

Why I Stopped Talking About Economics When I Started Talking About Family

Originally published at The Stream on January 8, 2019, reprinted here with the exact tagline that appeared with the article. 

Tucker Carlson is right. But his method is wrong. 

Tucker Carlson’s monologue on January 2 set off a firestorm of negative commentary. I want to say for the record: I agree completely with Carlson’s closing statement, “If you want to put America first, you’ve got to put its families first.” I also want to say for the record: I disagree with the wrappings in which Carlson presented his important message.

Talk About the Family, and Only the Family

Here is why he is profoundly correct: Continue reading “Why I Stopped Talking About Economics When I Started Talking About Family”

Invite the Children of Divorce to the Amoris Laetitia Seminars

I see where Cardinal Cupich is planning a series of seminars on Amoris Laetitia. According to a letter obtained by the Catholic News Agency, the “New Momentum Conferences on Amoris Laetitia,” will “provide formative pastoral programs.” As someone who has listened to many victims of the Sexual Revolution, I am eager to learn about the “pastoral practice” these seminars will promote. I wonder if they will feature adult children of divorce or unmarried parents among their presenters.

I can still recall the first time a young person came up to me in tears after one of my talks. “This is the first time I have ever heard an adult say that divorce is hard on children.” She went on to describe her father’s intention of entering yet another civil marriage, this time, to a woman in her twenties.

My young friend was twenty-one.

Since that incident, I have heard from many people of all ages, whose parents divorced and remarried. I can remember sitting down to a post-conference dinner with one of the other speakers and his wife. She confided in me that she had run out of the room in the middle of my talk. She couldn’t bear to hear my description of children’s hurt from divorce. My talk stirred up pain from her parents’ divorce.

She was in her sixties.

I don’t see any mention of Leila Miller or Jennifer Johnson among the proposed speakers on the traveling Amoris Laetitia Road Show. Both Mrs. Miller and Ms. Johnson have written poignant works on the experiences of children of divorce. You may imagine what the adult children of divorce have to say about second “marriages.”

Or perhaps you can’t. So, let me tell you: they feel their parents’ selfishness and excuse-making made their childhoods miserable, and continue to cause problems even in adulthood. One anonymous author titled her essay, “How my parents’ divorce ruined holidays and family life forever.”

Perhaps some of the presenters at the Amoris Laetitia gabfests will offer practical tips for what a child, of any age, ought to do when their parents decide they can’t stand each other anymore. Will Cardinal Cupich “accompany” the children of divorce when they see no photos of themselves with both parents, in either of their parents’ homes? Will any of the presenters help the children of divorce “discern” where to direct their anger when their stepfather brings home gifts for his children and his wife, but nothing for them?

I wonder if Cardinal Cupich and his friends will discuss the inequalities that divorce creates among children, and between children and adults. Jennifer Johnson argues passionately that natural marriage and only natural marriage, can create and preserve equality among children, while divorce creates deep and lasting inequalities. Here is just one example:

I was the only one who had divided Christmases, divided holidays, and divided birthdays. I’ve seen this referred to as “two Christmases” or “two birthdays” in some divorce literature as a way to sugar-coat the vertical inequality. My dad wasn’t welcome on Christmas morning, and my mom wasn’t welcome on Christmas eve. I don’t think either of them would have come, had they been invited. They were too busy with their new families. When I got a little older and my parents lived further apart, I traveled alone during the holidays to see each of them. None of the adults in my life had to do any of those things. It was a requirement placed on me that made their lives easier.

No, I suppose they don’t have room for children of divorce and their lived experiences. After all, the seminars are already full of experts on women’s ordination, contraception, non-binary gender, and God knows what else.

Speaking of God: I have an idea that Jesus (remember him?) knows exactly what these children of divorce are going through. He told the apostles “in the beginning, it was not so,” when he instituted that whole one man, one woman, for life, thing. The apostles were freaked out. They thought it was too hard.

I bet Jesus saw the pain a little girl might feel when her mother asked her to be the flower girl in her second wedding. Even as a preschooler, she knew this ceremony meant that her parents would never get back together. She knew she was supposed to be happy for her mother on her special day. She faked it, but her heart was breaking.

Jesus foresaw every painful little incident, like this one:

When I was six or seven, I woke up from a bad dream in the middle of the night. I went looking for my mom but couldn’t find her. I wandered from room to room crying, disoriented and scared. But Mom wasn’t there because I was at Dad’s place, an apartment I went to once a month. My dad couldn’t understand why I wanted my mom so much. Nothing in the apartment was familiar, not even dad. He was hurt because of my longing for my mom, my house, and my own bed, so I did what a lot of children of divorce do: I bottled up my emotions to try to make one of my parents feel better.

Jesus saw how attempts at re-partnering would create a lifetime of difficulties:

At my biological grandma’s funeral, my siblings and I were left out of the family pictures. We watched our cousins treated differently just because their parents had remained married. We stopped getting invited to family reunions. Today I’m a stranger to most of my relatives on my dad’s side because growing up I saw him so little and them even less.

Maybe this sort of thing is why Jesus made such a stink about the indissolubility of marriage.

Perhaps some adult children of divorce will just show up at one of the meetings at Boston College, the University of Notre Dame, or Santa Clara University. I wonder if anyone will let them have a turn at the microphone.

Maybe not. That might be just a little too much “accompanying” and “synodality,” even for Cardinal Cupich.

Originally published at Crisis on February 28, 2018 

Adult Children of Divorce: Holiday Stress Relief Guide

Become Everybody’s Favorite Relative

I know a young couple who both have divorced parents. They feel obligated to drive from one house to another throughout the holiday season. The wife’s Mom can’t stand to be in the same room with Dad and his new wife. Ditto for the husband and his parents.

Sound familiar?

Los Angeles Traffic Thanksgiving 2016. Lovely, unless you’re sitting in it, with crying babies and in-laws tapping their feet, standing by the door, anxiously awaiting your arrival…

Once they started having children, holidays became an even greater nightmare. Mom and Dad, and Mom-in-law and Dad-in-law all insisted on seeing the grandchildren within the 24-hour period around Christmas Day. The “acceptable” window for visiting got crammed into a smaller and smaller period. Did I mention that this was in Southern California?

Southern California freeways, in the car, during the holidays, with small children: ho, ho, ho.

NOT!

If you or your spouse are the adult children of divorce in this situation, here are some tips.

Try a New Pre-Holiday Thought Process:

  1. Understand that your family is not the only one dealing with this problem. Millions of people have divorced and remarried. Many of them have created this complicated mess in their lives and their children’s lives. You are not alone!
  2. Understand that you are now adults. You do not have to obey your parents.
  3. You may feel strongly that your parents’ love for you is fragile, and dependent on your compliance with their wishes. Realize that this may or may not be true.
  4. Try giving them the benefit of the doubt. Assume they can be generous and mature with you. Try making a plan that works for your family. Offer this plan to your parents. See what they do.
  5. If your parents’ love for you DOES depends on your compliance with all their wishes, or upon getting their own way all the time, I would like to say to you: they are bad parents. Period. Full Stop.
  6. I would also like to say this to you: I am sorry. This should not be happening to you. Everyone deserves loving parents.
  7. You are more obligated to your own children than you are to your parents. Given a choice between the good of your children, and the good of your parents, it should be a no-brainer. Take care of your kids first. Let your parents be adults.
  8. Ask yourself this: will there ever be a better year for you to get a grip on this situation? Each year that goes by, your parents are getting older. One day, they will be frail, and will legitimately need for you to accommodate them. Why not try now, to obtain some peace?

Dealing with your particularly difficult relatives

  1. You are not obligated to include every family member in your holiday celebrations. You are not obligated to spend time with people who routinely make you or your family members miserable. You can send them a card or some other greeting by mail, that does not require you to be in their immediate presence.
  2. If there is someone whose behavior has been so egregious that you do not want to include them, then, don’t include them. But ask yourself this: if this person’s behavior is so bad that you don’t want them in your home, why would you allow them to dictate how you spend your Christmas?
  3. BTW, “bad behavior” or “egregious behavior” includes things like, “molested me and my siblings for years.” It does not include, “my mom is uncomfortable around him for no particular reason at all.”

Make a New Plan

  1. Let yourself dream: what plan would work for you and your family? You and your spouse brainstorm about what would be comfortable for your family, all things considered. Come up with a couple of plans that work for you. Don’t concern yourself with other family members at this point.
  2. Make a pact with your spouse. The pact is this: “We are sticking together with this plan. Once we have made a decision together, we are going to follow through.” If you can’t agree to that, perhaps you need to reconsider the plan itself, until you have a plan you can both live with.
  3. Plan to back each other up. Agree now that you will not call up your relatives and tell them your husband made you agree to this terrible idea. Agree now that if your mom calls you up complaining, you will not let her talk you into undermining your wife and the plan you made with her. (I’ve talked to lots of people about marriage problems. You’d be amazed at how often parents try to sabotage their children’s marriages. Especially if they are divorced themselves.)
  4. Once you and your spouse have a plan that you really want, take some time preparing to break it to your other relatives. Spend time in prayer. Ask God to relieve you of any bitterness. Ask to be filled with love. Remind yourself of endearing and lovable traits of your difficult relatives. Take a deep breath. Only then, pick up the phone.
  5. Propose your plan to your relatives with as little drama as possible. Your purpose here is to convey simple information. Your purpose is NOT to solve every family problem, or relieve a lifetime of hurts and disappointments.
  6. Try something like this, “We are going to have Christmas dinner at our house this year. Everyone is welcome. We will have a turkey on the table at 4 PM. You are welcome to bring a dish to share and a guest. (This allows your dad to bring his current girlfriend.) What would you and your guest like to bring?”
  7. Or, “We are going to have our own Christmas this year, just our little family, on Christmas Day. We will be glad to have visitors on ‘Day X.’ We will be glad to visit you on ‘Day Y.’” (Fill in X and Y with whatever works for you.)
  8. You can add this to your invitation, if you this necessary, “By the way, if you do not behave, we will ask you to leave. Just a reminder.”
  9. Ladies, if you have a husband who really will follow through and expel misbehaving relatives, thank him. And thank God for him. It is not a comfortable thing to have to do. But sometimes, it does have to be done.
  10. While I’m on the subject, gentlemen, if your wife really will put you ahead of her mother, be grateful. Thank her. (See above!)
  11. After the holiday dust has settled, make a point of reaching out to the people you were unable to see in person. Be as pleasant as possible. Tell them you missed them (if it is true.) Tell them you love them.

But what if they get mad at us!!! 

  1. Then they get mad. You can’t control their feelings. You know that you spoke to them calmly, with love, and without bitterness. (See above.)
  2. You know that you did your best to consider the good of your children. That is what good parents do: sacrifice their own comfort for the good of their children. Adults should not be asking children to sacrifice for them.
  3. If you spoke clearly and calmly, you did not “make” anybody feel anything. You made some simple statements. Allow other people to have their feelings and reactions. If they have a melt-down, it is not really your fault. 

You will be everybody’s favorite relative. 

  1. Well, maybe not everybody’s. The kind of person who insists on getting their own way all the time is not really available to be in genuine relationship with others. You won’t be their favorite relative. But that was never a realistic possibility in the first place.
  2. But if you put a stop to some serious nonsense, some of your family members will be grateful to you. And others will be grateful later. You will become a hero to that part of your family!

That’s it! You can become Everybody’s Favorite Relative. Or at least, your spouse’s favorite!