Thursday, June 27, 2013

Emotional Thermometers & Parenting Post 9/11

We all have different strengths-- and luckily one of mine is that I'm a very visual person.  When someone tells me their story, I can start to see it like a movie, and then I can play out different endings in my head.  By hitting rewind, I can work backwards and figure out the best way to get them the ending that they want, well at least as far as their divorce story goes.  But what if they could have used some visuals earlier on, hit pause, and prevented the need to ever see me?  I believe it is possible-- not easy, but not impossible.

A few years ago, my esteemed colleague, Steve Stein, wrote an article for Washington Parent entitled, "Measuring Your Family's Emotional Thermometer."  In it he strongly encourages parents to imagine a thermometer to gauge the level of emotion in a child.  Of course, the same technique could be applied to any member of the family, and the point is that if someone is at a 7-10 range, which means emotions are high, this is probably not the best time to have a difficult conversation.  You need to be at a 1-3 range for calmer heads to prevail when discussing a hot-topic.

Unfortunately, not enough people use this emotional thermometer tool, and when people do not fight well and resolve conflict in a way that brings you closer, then with each additional battle you run the risk of further alienating that other person and completely undermining your relationship.  Visualize this: with each jab you make, with each incident where you shutdown and withhold your affection or each snarky, cynical remark you make, you are literally chiseling away at the foundation of your love.  Before you know it, that bull dozer approach has just destroyed all that trust and respect that you spent so much time building in the beginning, and man it can all come crashing down at once in a nano-second, with one person bailing and the other left standing in the middle of all the rubble wondering what the hell just happened.

As a divorce attorney, I can tell you it is far easier to represent the person who has bailed instead of the person left behind.  It is no secret that the one dumped has a much harder time picking up the pieces and moving forward.  No doubt everyone has emotional scars, but the dumper heals much, much faster-- and this is not just my opinion, but rather studies have repeatedly proven this to be the case.  As Dr. Emery of University of VA once said-- you need to picture 2 people paddling up a river, but now imagine that the one that made the decision to leave got a head start, so no matter how fast the other person tries, the one that left is always going to be a mile ahead.  It is a tough position to be in, and a very precarious one for family law attorneys to be in when they are representing the underdog.

In the end, my legal obligation ends once the adults have either reached an agreement or gotten a court order that resolves custody and child support, but it is well known that I am incredibly passionate about children, and their welfare long after my cases end.  So, the tv segment with Steve Stein is actually focused on parenting, and how as parents we need to talk to our kids about difficult situations, including violent acts that appear in our media on a daily basis.  In a post 9/11 world, parenting has really gotten a lot more complicated, and we need to step up to the challenge if we want to properly prepare our kids for life.  It's not just about academic prowess-- we need to give our children the emotional tools required to address the ups and downs that are a normal part of our human existence.

Here is the link to the segment:



Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Demise of DOMA

The Defense of Marriage Act, which defined a marriage for purposes of federal law, as only the bond between a man and a woman, was finally struck down today by the Supreme Court.  It was with great joy that I learned the news just as I was leaving DC Superior Court, and so I was able to walk over to the courthouse, where the highest judges of our great nation, issued their landmark ruling striking down DOMA as unconstitutional.

Just 20 years ago, no one could have predicted this outcome-- not a single state recognized gay marriages back then, and many were still debating whether this was a sexual preference, a choice, a deviant way of living that should remain hidden.  Many have asked why this issue bothers me so much, and I would ask the reverse-- how could it not bother you?  As President Obama said so eloquently today, "the laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts: when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free."

A dear friend of mine from high school and college was brilliant, beautiful and gay.  He confided in me how afraid he was of rejection and being ostracized.  I kept telling him it would all be okay, and I truly wanted it to be okay for him.  We lost touch after graduation, as I went on and delved myself into my legal textbooks, and I heard a few years later that he committed suicide.  Jeremy, I wish you could be here today to witness what I saw-- gay couples proudly holding hands and kissing in front of the Supreme Court.  Banners and rainbow flags everywhere, as masses celebrated today's decision.  I made the trek to witness this historic moment with my own eyes, and it was beautiful!

Be proud of who you are, and never lose hope.  The Supremes-- you earned your name today.

Momentary Lapses of Reason

It happens to all of us- a momentary lapse of reason that leads to incredibly severe consequences.  We hear about it every day-- someone might have a Woods moment and take a golf club to a car after finding out about an affair; another may get behind the wheel of a car after too many drinks and crash; sports players are notorious for their lapses in judgment-- like Ryan Mattheus, who lost his temper after a game and punched a locker, which caused him to break his own hand.  Not too long ago another Nats player, Bryce Harper swung at the wall and his own bat came flying back at him and injured him.  These flashes of anger last a second, but sometimes their impact can last a lifetime.

When ending a relationship, we all run the risk of saying something or doing something terrible because our emotions are running high.  The sooner you can visualize a line that should not be crossed, the better off you will be.  Consider this is an exercise in impulse control-- it is about learning self-restraint.  The goal you need to envision is exiting with dignity and grace.  With that clear goal in mind, and strategies for remaining calm, hopefully you can extricate yourself from a messy situation without too much regret.

Among the rules of engagement that I think are paramount when un-coupling are the following:

1. Stay focused- as fast as you can, try to unravel whatever ties you have that bind you together.  If you need professional help, don't delay-- get advice right away.

2. No means no-- if someone says "cease and desist from further contact" that really means leave them alone.  Do you really want to wind up with harrassment charges?

3. Refrain from threats- these often backfire anyway, but do you really want the police at your house? No sane person really wants to explain their situation to a judge in an open courtroom.

4. Make requests, not demands- you can only control your own behavior, not anyone else's so choose your words carefully, and be prepared for non-compliant behavior.

5. Try to be civil- please and thank yous go a long way, not just in the beginning, but in the end.  Just because the partnership is ending doesn't mean all modes of civility get tossed out the window.

6. Don't involve the children- No matter what, the cardinal rule should be to minimize the impact to any children involved. 

Every day for 15 years as a family law attorney, I have had to guide couples through this un-coupling process.  For me, this is a clinical procedure-- but I understand that for many the process of untangling your lives together is quite emotional.  You need to tame the beast within you, and the best way to emphasize this point is to remind you of all those stories where incredibly successful, famous people have lashed out in anger, and as we all see in media headlines, the ones they hurt the most are themselves, and their families.

It will not end well if you let rage and thoughts of vengence consume you, and no one can save you from the path of self destruction but yourself.  Try to minimize those lapses in judgment as best you can, and atone for those past sins as best you can.  That old Catholic upbringing still lives in me, and I firmly believe through penance and acts of contrition you can find redemption.   

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Smash Those Sex-Goggles!

We've all heard of beer goggles-- at least I hope I don't need to explain that one.  But I'm not sure everyone is aware of what I lovingly refer to as the sex-goggles.  Let's face it, once you start sleeping with someone, you just don't see things clearly.  Hormones are now raging, and if the sex is pretty good, we've all  had a tendency to cut someone a bit too much slack because, well to put it bluntly they're good in the sack.  But that can only last for so long...

No matter how good someone is, after a while, you just can't ignore their personality or issues in the relationship, and there just comes a point when you need to smash those sex-goggles in order to see things clearly.  For the longest time, we used to joke about guys being p-whipped.  Well, I'm sure it can happen in the reverse too... so should we called that d-whipped?  Who cares--the point is that we all need to remember that no one's privates are made of gold, and there are plenty of skilled lovers out there, so you can't let a good lay keep you trapped in a dysfunctional relationship.

We all know to take our time when finding the right fit with a potential employer, and it is drilled into us early on that we need to do our due diligence before we invest our money.  When we are looking for that perfect job or investment, we research the company's mission, vision and values to make sure they align with our own.  Well, the same approach should be applied to a life partner.

If you care about charitable causes and believe that your work brings you meaning- can you really be with someone long-term that does not share these values?  If you are the type that wants to enjoy life, and you don't care so much about saving-- can you really make it work with someone that is pinching pennies all the time?  If you are assertive and want to confront issues as they arise, can you really respect someone who is passive and avoids difficult conversations?  If you are the type that wants to save the world, can you really make it last with someone who just wants to save his/her own skin?  In my opinion, these opposites are doomed from the beginning, but it may take them awhile to figure it out because they are blinded by those stupid sex goggles.

Good friends don't let friends drive drunk, and I sincerely hope we can adopt this same attitude to when our friends fall in love.  We need to ask our loved ones whether they are truly happy and satisified.  What are they getting out of this relationship?  Have they thought things through carefully?  Do they have a backup plan in case things don't work out?  Are they sacrificing too much of themselves?  Are they moving too quickly?  It's not about creating doubt-- it is about being the voice of reason, until they can view their own reality through a more sober lens. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

MILFs Beware

Since the beginning of time, there has been no image more revered than that of a mother with her child.  Just take a good look around all the famous museums in Europe and churches throughout the world.  The image of the Madonna with her newborn evokes amazing feelings of warmth and unconditional love in most of us.  Men actually bow down in the presence of such beauty.  Why? Because our ability to give birth is a powerful one, and it is one of the few gifts that man will never truly be able to understand or experience.

Sadly, at the same time that we are given such power, we also become the most vulnerable in our lives.  These vulnerabilities are exploited blatantly at times, especially in the workforce, and then more subtlety often times, at home.  We make so many sacrifices for our children and the desire to provide them with a beautiful home, good schools, stimulating activities and a fighting chance at a promising future.  In the pursuit of their best interest, we may even try to suppress our own needs or desires, and this is where we really have to be careful because if we sacrifice too much of ourselves, we expose ourselves to true danger-- sometimes internal, but more often than not external.

There are predators lurking everywhere, and while some are easy to spot, others are not.  Beware of the wolf in sheep's clothing is a mantra all women need to embrace, especially in this day and age.    Always keep your guard up and question people's motives-- not that I want to promote paranoia, but I say this because of everything I have seen and experienced both personally and through the lives of so many others that have needed my help as a divorce attorney over the last 15 years.

Those who know me think of me as the eternal optimist, and indeed I do my best to focus on all the positive things in life.  But let's be real-- I hear heart-breaking stories every day.  It is my job to run damage control on a daily basis when love stories go awry.  While I do my best to surround myself with positive energy, I cannot ignore the fact that there are negative forces out there as well.  We all know that opposites attract-- but only over time will you be able to assess whether this dichotomy provides you with good balance.  If those scales grossly tip to one side, and is obvious that the good does not outweigh the bad, you need to be prepared to bail, and to do it fast.

Positive people are super attractive, and now especially if you are a MILF (not that I'm okay with that term, but I accept it's becoming part of our normal vernacular) the key thing to remember is that you are above all a MOTHER.  You have a young one that needs you to survive, and it is therefore your primary job to protect your own cub, but you can't do that if you don't protect yourself.   Therefore, always maintain your own credit, have your own bank accounts, make sure you know your legal rights, and have an emotional safety net.  Don't ever let yourself become so dependant on someone that you can't fend for yourself.

Being brutally honest, the last eight years as a single mom have definitely been full of difficult challenges, but I've also had a lot of fun.  Navigating the dating world in my post-divorce years has given me great insight into the male mind.  Yet while soaking up some of the best compliments in the world, I've continued to build my fortress of steel to fend off serious dangers- why?  Because it is not just about me anymore, and that is the point I want my fellow single moms to embrace.  I'm not suggesting you swear off all men-- just proceed with caution.

In the end, I will always remain grateful to all my exs that treated me like a queen, and I continue to cherish all the great nicknames, including "MILF, doll, babe, beautiful, sexy," and even "princess."  But, the best compliment of all came from my son the other day.  He reminded me that it is the female lion that hunts and provides food for her family, and then he said, "Mom, you are a great hunter."   Well, I am trying...  Here's hoping all other single moms out there find that female lion that lives within all of us!


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Breaking the Silence

To suffer in silence is a very difficult cross to bear.  When people come to my office to talk about their marital issues, very often they will admit to me that this is the first time they have told anyone there are any problems at home.  Many times, people shed their first public tears, as they recount the series of events that has led them to my door.  Men and women both choke up-- especially when talking about their kids--as they ask with uncertainty about what the future will look like.

It is an incredibly personal part of their lives that people share with me each and every day.  That moment when they first break their silence, especially if there has been significant verbal or physical abuse, is a powerful one.  At first, there is often shame involved-- but I try to nip that in the bud.  The one who should be ashamed is the abuser-- the moron that seeks power through threats.  Luckily, in my legal world power is measured based on intellect and ability to influence-- so, I don't have to be built like a Sumo wrestler to pack a good punch!

After the feelings of shame have subsided, there is a period of time where a person may feel stupid-- because now they are able to look back and piece together the signs.  Hind-sight is 20/20, but no one should be faulted for trying to remain optimistic, for holding out hope that things will get better, for trying to rationalize certain incidents as related to stressful moments in a couples' life.  The key question is when you finally had the a-ha moment, did you stay or did you flee?  If you bailed and managed to survive, then you are NOT stupid.

Once people have established their own safe haven, an amazing transformation begins to occur-- with each day these survivors grow stronger.  There is a beautiful, generous side to most individuals within our community, and as friends and family rally to a person's side, I see them restore one's faith in humanity. 

Since the beginning of time, evil has always lurked around every corner.  If you believe in the Bible, just look at all the examples in there, starting with the Fallen Angel, the Garden of Eden, and of course ending with the crucification of a wise, innocent man, who many consider to be the son of God.  This point is a critical one, for many often feel like God has forsaken them in their time of suffering, but let me ask you this-- he did not even save his own son from death, what is it that you expect God to do?  If you want to survive in life, you have to save yourself.

My role in this whole process is easy-- especially in that initial consult, for my job is simply to (1) explain the law, (2) give clients their options, and (3) issue my recommendation.  The law is after all pretty cut and dry, while we try to be objective and strip legal arrangements of any emotions.  However, throughout the last decade, it has become impossible for me to ignore the sea of emotions that surrounds my lovely little legal island.  My clients are surrounded by shark infested waters, and sadly they cannot stay on dry land forever.  Eventually, they have to get back out there and either sink or swim.  Therefore, the sooner they learn to fight their own battles, the better-- but this I did not learn in law school, this lesson came through 15 years of experience handling some of the worst legal battles imaginable-- the War of the Roses actually seems tame compared to what I've seen.

In the end, the main point I want to make is that breaking the silence is a critical first step to gaining freedom, but be prepared for a battle.  Oppressors will not make the exit that easy, and you may have to involve the authorities.  Thankfully, the criminal laws are being updated to keep up with modern technology, and the definition of harrassment keeps expanding.  Phone carriers and internet providers are also doing their best to protect their customers and preserve the peace.  Attorneys are trained to play the role of gladiators in courtrooms, and meanwhile there are countless mental health professionals trained to assist those in need of emotional support.  I can not emphasize enough the importance of those counselors-- for they are the ones that will help build up the skills you need so you can swim, and not sink, when swimming along those shark infested waters.

Break the silence, and stay strong!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Like Moses, Lost for 40 years

Among women, we always joke that the reason Moses remained lost in the desert for 40 years was because he wouldn't ask for directions.  Well, I feel his pain-- even though I've never had a problem asking for directions!  Sometimes, the path we need to take just isn't very clear, and along the way life has a funny way of making things complicated-- and here is why: because life is really a great stage in which our passions are played out.  People are not always rational, and emotions very often make seemingly simple decisions impossible to implement.

It's taken me a whole lifetime to figure out what on Earth happened between my parents so many years ago.  15 years of research as a family law attorney is what finally helped me piece together this puzzle, and only with my skills as a mediator/Collaborative attorney did I finally solve the stupid riddle of why my birth certificate lacked any mention of my father.  Here is the simple answer: fear.  We all react very badly when we are afraid, and horrible things may be said or done that can't be undone later on.  Often we make the wrong choices because we are not thinking clearly.  This is why in the heat of the moment, you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and try to gain perspective.

40 years ago, my dad wasn't ready to be a dad.  My mom, overwhelmed by the costs and responsibility of raising a child alone, tried to force him to do the "right thing."  Well, there is nothing worse you can do in my world than give me an ultimateum and try to impose your will on me.  I am after all my father's daughter, and so I can totally understand the series of events that transpired soon thereafter.  In a battle of wills, with a zero sum game mentality, he walked away completely, and she then killed him off-- not literally, just in the first part my life.

What could have had all the potential for a Greek tragedy or the makings of a dramatic Shakespeare play with everyone dying in the end, actually has a very happy ending.  Why?  Because this outlier refused to accept the reality of her world and decided to re-open the lines of communication.  It did not happen overnight, and it was probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life, but I suspended all judgment and sought simply to understand both sides.  This is how I came to forgive both my makers, and then go the extra step to right the wrong from 40 years ago.

Today, I am happy to report that I've accomplished my mission.  After all this time, a New York judge just granted the request for my father to be included on my birth certificate.  Who ever saw this ending coming even just a few years ago?  No one.  The morale of this story is that extraordinary things can happen if you let love in, and let the past go.  I was so lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see... we all have within us the power to exit the desert and right the sins of our parents.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

Not many adults can recall with complete accuracy the number of times they were with their fathers, but I can-- we have had 9 visits since we first reconnected in February 2011, and this now marks my third Father's Day with my dad in my life.  The first year, I sent him an album that captured the first seven years of my son's life.  The second year, he came to DC, where I showed him around town and joined him at the Fancy Food convention, where he showed me a part of his life.  This year, I gave him the cover to the children's book I am working on about finding dad after 38 years.  Clearly these are not your normal gifts, but then again, ours is not a normal story. 

Growing up as the Love Boat baby, I always wondered what it would be like to have a dad.  Two years ago, when I finally met up with him at The Source in DC, it was instant recognition.  When he hugged me, it was like pure electricity coursing through my veins.  As I took in the sound of his voice, his movements, his choice in words, there wasn't a single jarring moment-- we just gelled.   After all these years, finally being able to see where certain traits come from has given me an amazing sense of belonging.  There is just so much likeness that I share with my dad and brother, and as a result when I am with them, there is an incredible sense of calm that washes over me, leaving no doubt in my mind that genetic connections have a strength beyond anything we can imagine.  Others may come and go in our lives, but family will always be family.

Tomorrow, a New York judge will finally hear about my parents' fateful meeting on a cruise ship 40 years ago that resulted in my birth.  All this time, my birth certificate has omitted any mention of my father, and at this point, this piece of paper may seem like just a minor formality, and yet it is not.  To put it crassly, that fatherless child no longer exists.  She is all grown up, and by finding the courage to piece together her family life, she's found a profoud sense of connectivity, belonging and love beyond words. 

With my dad, I feel safe and accepted.  I can be authentic and know that he gets me in a way that no other man ever will.  I hope the same is true for so many others out there, for this is how it should be.  Being able to experience this (better late than never I suppose) is the ultimate gift from my dad this Father's Day, and every extra day that we are able to share on this Earth.  Thanks Dad!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sibling Rivalries

Right now, I have to say I feel like I have the best of both worlds-- I grew up as an only child, and was the center of attention until I went away to boarding school, where I quickly learned that the world does not revolve around me.  Then much later in life, at age 38 I discovered that I have a a half brother in London and a step-brother right in my own backyard, here in DC! 

Over the past couple of years, my brothers and I have all made huge efforts to form and maintain a strong connection.  It is quite remarkable how well we get along, and I'm sure it helps that I am 10 years older than both, and not a boy.  So, I finally have the siblings I'd always longed for, without the baggage-- that, however, is incredilbly rare.

Almost everyone else I know has some sort of issues with their brothers or sisters, some have worked through them, others have not.  Last week, I had Dr. Gloria Vanderhorst discuss how these dynamics from the past creep up on families when the parents get sick or pass away.  It is like these siblings get sucked into a time warp and revert back to the days when they were growing up, and past memories that may have been buried for years bubble to the surface.

Here is our episode, where we share tips for handling the emotions that may overwhelm you at times while dealing with the care of an elderly parent, or managing a parent's estate after they have passed away.  We also discuss the option of using a Collaborative Law approach to resolving any disputes rather than having things escalate into a nasty court battle.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Richer Sex- Indeed!

This morning, I had the pleasure of attending a talk hosted by APEX Home Loans, with Liza Mundy as the guest speaker.  Liza is the author of "The Richer Sex," which talks about how the new majority of female breadwinners is transforming sex, love and family.  She is a reporter for the Washington Post, and what I love about her talk is that it is all based on research, data, and NOT just her personal opinion.  Here were some salient points:

- 60% of college students are now women.
-40% of households are run by women.
-71% of women are now working.

She talked about the "independance effect," which is a term coined by economists that basically recognizes that with economic independance, women can leave and do whatever they want.  Fantastic!  To me, this is how it should be-- we stay in relationships because we want to-- not because we have to.

We've heard a lot of talk lately about how this is all affecting children, and of course one very prominent politician just got a lot of slack for suggesting that the decline in education is due to more women being out in the workforce.  The reality is that studies show working moms actually spend more quality time with their children, and the kids will be fine as long as they grow up in a happy environment.

It is not a coincidence that the best relationships I have ever had were with men, who ALL grew up with working moms.  They have this profound respect for women, and never belittled my contributions.  Of course, the best of all was my ex-husband, whose mother was a very successful business woman, and even though our marriage did not last, my ex-husband continues to support my career and non-profit endeavors.  In fact, this morning, he covered child-care issues for me so that I could go attend the lecture and book signing.  As I was leaving, our son said, "I'm so glad you are not a traditional mom-- that would be boring."  He has no idea how proud he made me feel at just that moment.

Now, I may not be rich if you are just measuring this based on the amount of money in someone's bank account, but in terms of experiences, education, relationships and opportunities-- I feel like a lotto winner.  Education paves the way to having more choices in life, and having those options, is PRICELESS.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Boy Scouts of America- thanks for joining the 21st century!

In the last 13 years, we have really come a long way with recognizining that gay marriages is about equal treatment under the law.  We now have over a dozen states that permit gay marriages, and hopefully next month the Supreme Court will knock down DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) which denies most federal benefits to gay couples. 

As many people now realize, until this past month the Boy Scouts of America did not allow for openly gay members.  Finally, they have voted to change this policy-- but not completely.  Leaders of the organization are not allowed to be openly gay.  Now that makes a lot of sense, train these young boys with the purpose of making them good citizens with leadership skills, but then deny them the right to be part of the very organization that trained them?!?

Here is the link to my segment on this issue with a local scout mom, who is continuing to fight the fight for equality: Alert icon  

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Safe-Sexting Guidelines

While generally speaking anything seems to goes these days, it does seem like we are in need of some basic guidlines for our modern dating world.  Some things seem rather basic like (1) maybe you should hold off changing your relationship status on Facebook for the first couple of months after meeting someone; (2) before changing your profile picture to a joint photo or sending someone a relationship request, you should talk about it with the other person; and (3) be polite and get permission before posting a pic with tags.  Sadly, while these may all seem obvious FB protocols, apparently not everyone gets this, and judgment becomes even more questionable once things get a bit more steamy and a pair starts sexting.

What is the big deal about sexting?  Well, single hot brainiacs are a rare breed, and sexting is a great way to engage in witty banter at rapid speed.  It is a game that accelerates that adrenaline rush, and to be good at the play on words is a true skill.  When sexting, you engage the mind while conjuring up some great visuals.  It helps bridge the gap until you can meet up again, and can certainly add a little spice to your day.  I get all of this, but just be careful.  With the help of some friends, here are some suggested guidelines:

1. Don't do this with strangers.  Make sure you have vetted this person first.  This truly is something you engage in with someone you trust, and you should probably have an agreement about privacy, regularly deleting past texts, etc.

2. Try to stick to one person a night.  I get that a lot of people in the game will have multiple people in the mix at one time, but there is no easier way to get busted than to send the text to the wrong person.

3. Avoid sending crass pics.  Seriously, no one needs to see your junk on their phone, and God alone knows where it could end up-- although there are actually some apps that allows you to send a pic that can't be downloaded, and it essentially self destructs in 7 seconds.  Amazing what people will think up!

4. Pick the right time.  During the day, we should really all be focused on work, and if you have kids, try to spend quality time with them and keep your sexting out of it.

5. Fess up fast.  If you suck at it, just say it's not your thing.  It is far better to be honest upfront, than to make a half-hearted attempt and come across as lame.  That is a huge turn off.

I hate to say it, but safe sex is no longer just about a trip to CVS and having a plan with two forms of protection.  Modern technology has truly changed the way we connect, and you cannot just throw caution to the wind when dealing with any form of telecommunication.  Especially those in high profile jobs or anyone interested in running for public office-- you have to cover your butt. 

Whether the days of "clean fun" ever existed, I have no idea, but I'm pretty sure those days are now over.  The fact is that tons of people are testing the limits of how we can connect with others via the internet, our cell phones, etc.  Meanwhile, we all know that Big Brother is watching us more and more.  While there should be no issue with two single, consenting adults having fun, I do think those two should play it safe by adopting some basic sexting guidelines.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Integrating Into a Family- It Takes Time

Most people get a little nervous when they are introducing someone new to their family.  Now multiply that feeling by ten, and imagine that the person you are introducing is yourself...  The last time this happened to me, was almost 20 years ago when I met my former in-laws.  It took several visits over the course of a few years before we were really at ease with each other, but they were so warm and welcoming (which is how it should be) that after a while I had no doubt they loved me like a daughter, which is precisely why the divorce was so hard on all of us.

Who knew that that experience with my in-laws would be the perfect prep for what I would go through in January 2011?  People are amazed when they see how close I am with my dad and his whole side of my family, but I have to emphasize that we all put in a huge effort to make this happen-- and it did not happen overnight.  We took our time getting to know one another- and that is how it should be in any relationship.  Both sides did their part to travel and remain connected-- and again, this two-way dynamic is a key component in any healthy relationship.  Only after a lot of hard work did we get to where we are today, where I am happy to report that our interactions are quite normal ones that everyone can relate to-- well almost.

I may not have any of the baggage that others have with their siblings, so that is nice, but it is still weird when they all talk about the village where dad grew up or other relatives that we have in Vigo, which I have not been to yet.  I'm sure one day soon I will be able to put all of this into better context, but for now I am just grateful that we can all be ourselves around each other.  After nine visits (and weekly phone calls) with my dad, I can finally just leave him alone with my son and  let them bond while I go take care of other things.  We no longer act like guests in each others homes-- everyone now just helps themselves to whatever they need, we own up to our mistakes and can be honest about our likes and dislikes without fear of offending anyone.

Before, I was painfully aware that we were all trying to feel each other out, trying to understand where we developed certain ideas and habits, while also realizing with great shock when things we held in common were clearly just genetic.  By now, we have gotten over all that--we all know where we stand on major issues like religion, politics, and sex, and even though we may not all agree with one another, the fear of being rejected or cast out is completely gone.

Slowly but surely, more of my friends have been meeting my not-so-new family, and it is now with great pride, and zero apprehension, that I introduce loved ones from my past to the loved ones I just found in early 2011.  It may have taken us a while to get to where we are today, but all I care about is that we got here, and so for others that may go through a similar journey, all I can say is give it all some time.  If you believe that time is on your side, everything will fall into place at just the right moment.

Life is really funny.  Growing up, I longed so much to have some inkling of what my dad was like-- how he might smell, what his touch would be like... and then last week, it all just came together.  While walking with my dad, it started to rain.  Luckily, I brought an umbrella, and I opened it so we could share it.  Very gently, he pulled me close to him with such amazing familiarity, and together we walked along side by side, as I took in his smell, all his movements, and my present reality ceased to exist while I seemed to revert back to that little seven year old girl whose wish had just come true.

We may not always think that time is on our side, but it is.  Especially with human relationships, which are so complex and fragile, don't rush things.  It will all work out for the best-- as long as you stop trying to control the outcome.  In other words, don't worry about the end-game, and just savor each precious moment.  Everything will fall into place exactly as it should.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Roadmap for New Beginnings

I love new beginnings-- probably because I view them as an opportunity for change, and creating a new and better reality.  This may be more difficult for some than others, and I admit a major factor is whether you were the driving force behind a break up versus someone who was blind sided and didn't see the end coming.  Either way, after about a month you need to get with a new program, and here are 5 easy steps to follow:

1. New look- go get a new kind of haircut, and if you can treat yourself to a mani/pedi and massage.  Your body will release all that tension, and you will feel like a million bucks.

2. Shopping therapy- It actually does work.  Go invest in a new outfit that you can wear on your next hot date.  Even better, go one step further and use this as an opportunity to throw out some of that old underwear, and go get yourself some new sexy stuff.

3. Take a trip- This doesn't have to be a lavish trip that will break the bank, but go away for the weekend with family or friends.  Get out of your environment and have some fun.  Most importantly, find a way to laugh off whatever happened in the past.  Laughter really is the best form of therapy.

4. Purge- Use that 30 day period, or however long of a break you want, to get rid of all those old photos, cards, emails, etc.  Clean up your phone and delete the past from FB, Twitter, and whatever other online crap you may have posted. 

5. Just Say Yes- Whether it is an old beau that is asking you to be his date at a gala, or a new neighbor that is inviting you out for a drink, even if you are not sure you are ready, just say YES.  You have to get back out there, and it is okay to go in baby steps.  Just don't unload on that person, and have fun.

In the end, I truly want to emphasize that each person will have to go at his/her own pace.  Don't worry about what other people think, as long as you are honest with yourself and the other person.  If you do recycle someone from the past, which is common, you just have to realize that the old issues are probably still there.  I get that it is comfortable and safe, but be realistic-- this is probably just a stepping stone to get you to the next point.

Final bit of advice: Fast as you can, let go of the ending in the last chapter, and go enjoy your new beginning!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Stop Making Excuses for Bad Behavior

We all do it at times-- we make excuses for other people's bad behavior.  For example, "oh he must have had a bad day." Or, "he must have had a rough childhood and doesn't know any better."  Maybe this person is under a lot of stress at work, is not well, or just suffered a major setback, so we try to cut them some slack until things get more stable.  When someone is going through a lot of change-- planning a wedding, moving homes, etc. we may try to chalk up moodiness to a million different factors and try to convince ourselves that this too shall pass.  Yet, if with each new day you find yourself filled with dread of what might happen next, and you feel like you are walking on eggshells or that your stomach is all in knots, then you need to stop, take a deep breath and take a good look at all the red flags you've been ignoring.

When my clients come to me, they often feel so stupid for having allowed things to go on for so long and let things get so bad.  But it is not an intelligence issue-- it is an emotional one.  When you care about someone, the option of last resort is to leave.  Most of us would like to help those we love.  Most of us would like to hope for the best, and stick it out if at all possible until the other person gets to a better place.  But, sometimes you just have to realize that day will never come.

I'm all for being methodical, so I find journaling helps a lot.  By tracking events either with a journal or on a calendar, you can easily pick up on a pattern of behavior.  Has it been escalating?  Is there a predictable cycle to the whole series of events?  What do those in your inner circle think?  Are you afraid to share incidents with them?  If so, what does that tell you in and of itself?  If the world outside seems safer than the home you return to-- there is a major problem there.

True love stories are supposed to be beautiful.  If you find that yours is not, then either you figure out a way to improve things in your partnership or you need to cut your losses and move on.  Life is way too short to be miserable. Your partner should get you and be able to make you feel special.  For those of us that have had this once before it is of course that much easier to realize when something is not right, but all of us can get caught up in the idea of something and with a specific end in mind, we may not pay attention to some obvious signs.

In the end, I just want to reiterate a point I've made many times before: we all make mistakes, and all we can hope to do is learn from them so we don't repeat them.  Some of us are willing and therefore quite capable of change, but we have to accept that not everyone around us is that way.  Some leopards will never change their spots, and so sad as it is, for our own sanity we need to learn to stop making excuses for others.  Bad behavior is a part of life, but it doesn't mean you have to accept it in your home life-- that should be your safe haven, and it is up to you to preserve it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Going Down the Rabbit Hole

Every day I see people dealing with major life changes, and often times this will send people on a soul-searching expedition, where they will question their past, their present, and for sure their future.  Now, some of us may take a lot longer and delve a lot deeper than others on this mission to better understand ourselves and those around us.  Let me be very honest, this is not an exercise for the faint at heart.

In my professional life, as a divorce lawyer, I have to stay focused on getting my clients through the legal process, but quite often they will share with me little glimpses into how this becomes a life altering event for them that impacts various other facets of their lives.  While I've been hearing this for over 15 years now, nothing can do justice to what the experience is like until you go down the rabbit hole yourself.

Over the last 8 years, in my own post-divorce life, there has been an undeniable radical transformation within me.  It is so sad to think that losing my best friend was the catalyst that led me to where I am today-- that without that loss, so much good would never have occurred.  Unfortunately, that de-stabilizing event is probably the only thing that would cause me to face my greatest fears.  Only then, did I dig deep into my past, and that's when I realized that I had to find my dad in order to find peace.  I opened up my greatest wounds, not because I'm a sadist, but because it became quite obvious that I had to reopen old injuries that were never fully processed in order to let myself properly heal.

It is very painful to expose your vulnerabilities-- especially to yourself.  Many of us would like to think that we are perfect, however, the reality is of course that no one is-- but what I needed to understand is that you don't have to be perfect to be worthy of love.  Finding my dad, and then connecting with his whole side of my family over the last two years has brought out a very brave side of me-- and it is not at all a coincidence.  When you no longer care what others think; when you know that your core group will love you no matter what, it becomes an amazing source of strength in life. 

Post-divorce life will not be easy for anyone, and we will all continue to have to face difficult challenges until our final day comes.  The Rabbit Hole journey has completely changed my perspective on many things, and at times, I admit I thought I was going to die from emotional overload, but not only did I not die, I thrived.  I came out ten times stronger, and this is my hope for the rest of you that decide not to just take some stupid happy pill and numb the pain.  Don't numb the pain-- embrace it!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Immigration Reform

Last week, I got to do a show with Anthony Fatemi on immigration law.  I love finding people that are passionate about their work.  This man, who is originally from Iran, came to the US, got his law degree, and over the last 15 years has built a very successful practice helping other immigrants lawfully stay in the U.S.

I liked sharing a bit about my own family history, including the fact that my grandmother came to the U.S. without any intention to stay here permanently, and as a result, she never learned English.  After about 30 years in this country, she finally decided to become a citizen.  Some may disagree with the policies that permit this for certain individuals, and to those people, all I can say is, "get over it."

Most of our ancestors came from other countries, and while we need to protect our borders, we also need to keep in mind that this country was founded on the notion that we would be this great melting pot.  If it were not for this open arms policy, many of us would not be here today.  I hope more people will keep this in mind when we debate our immigration policies.

Here is the link to our show: