I have a child who is raising me as I’m endeavoring to raise her.
Every week there is a new habit or skill learned that leads some revelation that impacts the way I see the world. The most recent realization brought to mind a host of possible implications, but I’m jumping ahead.
My daughter has a pacifier that she has somehow named “doot doot”. “Doot Doot (DD) is something that she has come to cherish. It’s not much but a $2-5 piece of plastic that mimics the very real, life-giving comfort and actions of nursing, but my daughter will often stop crying at the mere mention of DD. She’ll look around, eye’s wide and ask her toddler version of “where” while scanning the room for the promised appearance of DD.
Needless to say, I’ve appreciated the presence of DD on many an occasion. On long car rides, I’ll confess that i’ve handed DD backwards in an effort to quell the cries of a child in distress at the length of transit.
However, the other day, I noticed that the relationship between my daughter and DD had morphed into something a bit more substantial than a source of comfort. Somewhere along the line, my daughter had started to depend on dd as an emotional regulator and as a prerequisite for peace. I didn’t realize it at first, but I found myself disturbed by this, and before I knew it, I was hiding DD from my daughter and making plans for its eventual disappearance.
Somewhere in the midst of this exercise of weaning, I started to wonder if my daughter was the only one in our family who had transformed what started out as comfort into a crutch. It didn’t take me long to start to see the things in my life that I may be forcing to serve a purpose well beyond what perhaps they were intended to. I could see clearly how things like money, job titles, and financial security were trying to usurp the position of something, or better yet, someone, who had the actual power to promise safety in my life.
I marvel at the natural ability of humans to create idols and attach meaning to those things that mimic the truer thing beneath them.
As a father, who is trying to build a strong daughter, it became my goal upon noticing this negative trait to remove DD from this vaunted position and make sure my daughter was able to seek sources of comfort that were legitimate, healthy, and hopefully internal/eternal.
It becomes clear to me that our Father in heaven may have similar feelings when he notices certain things creeping into positions that they were never designed for. They’re removal, although it can feel negative is actually for our own good.
I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to remind myself of this truth if and when God has to prune my life of certain things.
Having a Good family life requires deep emotional connection.
Ok, can I be honest with ya’ll (i.e. My future self) – Leading a family is the hardest thing I think I’ve ever had to do.
What makes marriage and raising a family so difficult?
One of the biggest things is the level of emotional investment it takes. Especially in the context of the secular western society that we are raised.
Society at large values very different things then the things you will need to successfully remain married and raise a family. Society values or glorifies individualism, self-prioritization, machismo, image over substance, microwave level relationships, and external accomplishments. In contrast, at least in my estimation, getting and staying married will require huge levels of self-sacrifice, humility, the ability to wholeheartedly apologize, a jesus-level ability to forgive, and the prioritization of emotionally taxing internal work.
Needless to say when you spend the first quarter of your life practicing short-term relationships, and learning how to guard your heart from true intimacy – it can be very difficult for people to cross the threshold over into true emotional intimacy. Lump in things like emotional abuse from bad childhoods, or even unintended emotional trauma from good childhoods and people have a lot of headwinds that they must come to terms with in order to allow room for a marriage to bloom.
Let’s talk for a moment about pain.
Pain is powerful. Pain is not something we often reference in a positive way but some of my most transformational changes and biggest accomplishments rode the tidal wave created by significantly painful events in my life. I think of pain like fire – there are situations where pain can be useful. The pain of overexertion gives us signals that we should rest, the pain of heartbreak can signal to us that our mate- choosing abilities could use some work, and the pain of muscle fatigue can signal to us our current exertional limit.
Emotional pain can also tear down the walls of ego or pride and help us to connect with the humanity of other in new ways. Significantly painful times can often remind us just how human we are. The loss of a loved one doesn’t stop to ask about socioeconomic status, race, or zip codes. These uniquely painful human experiences bind us together with a shared human experience.
Now, even though pain can be useful and transformational, no one is going out of their way to experience a fresh hot batch of pain.
This is the crossroads where new marriages find themselves.
Marriage can be and feel a lot like pain. Not the useless pain of a random ailment or an sports injury. Marriage can expose its participants to a level of emotional pain that they previously could use evasive maneuvers to avoid.
Let’s take a hypothetical couple of Fran and Bobby. Fran and Bobby met each other at work. They share similar values and after a whirlwind romance they find themselves married and settling into their first months of the oldest institution on earth.
Reality sets in and Bobby finds that Fran isn’t quite as enthusiastic about certain things as she was in the past and finds that after a couple of conversations that strayed into shouting matches finds himself sitting in his car outside their shared abode shocked by how upset, afraid, and angry he is. In the past, when Bobby found himself in uncomfortable situations like this he would invariably find a way to make his slow exit from the relationship. However, this is Marriage. Bobby feels like there is too much to lose by leaving and thus adds feeling trapped to his emotional milieu.
What are bobby’s options at this crossroads? What has he trained himself over the last 20-30 years to do? What is popular media telling him? What are the inputs from his friends and family? What is Bobby’s emotional/spiritual mentors telling him is the right thing to do?
If your like the typical western adult male:
You’ve trained yourself over the last couple of decades to leave when things get difficult
Popular media trumpets that feelings of pain are NOT NORMAL and that when a relationship gets too hard you should consider yourself first and LEAVE
Friends and Family may have a biased view and hate to see family members in pain, constructive or not, and will start to form a viewpoint that paints the partner as a source of friction or frustration. This can eventually lead to situations where advice starts to lean toward negativity
Depending on the relationships that Bobby has cultivated the response from mentors could range the gamut – if he has single older friends or bitter divorced friends/mentors or men who view women as tools to be used and then thrown away the advice can vary from “leave immediately if she wont get her act together” to “find something on the side to ease your pain”.
None of this necessarily will lead Bobby back to himself to examine his assumptions, his behaviors, or his patterns of relating to his partner. Not a lot of the “default” things that surround Bobby will support him in using the pain of this partnership as a pushing off point towards greater self-realization.
I’m going to stop here because it seems good enough for today to just realize the state of affairs when it comes to some of the challenges of pursuing a good family life.
Hopefully the next post will dive into the solution I’ve found for these challenges.
“Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built.”
I’m doing a 30-for-30 challenge this month with some members from my church.
We all are endeavoring to walk/run/jog an additional 30 miles outside of our usual activity in order to jumpstart some physical health related goals.
It has been an interesting experiment so far.
The leader of the pack at the moment is a lady who could be my mother. She logs 4 miles every day as consistently as a german clock tower.
During my walk today, the Nehemiah story in the bible came across my Spotify, and a specific passage struck me as a good example of the type of attitude that I should have consistently.
For background – Nehemiah is the central figure of the Book of Nehemiah, which describes his work in rebuilding Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. He was governor of Persian Judea under Artaxerxes I of Persia.
His big project was the rebuilding of the wall even though there were a LOT of powerful people who were arrayed against him in this task.
So much so that in order to ensure success Nehemiah had to command the workers to not only work but also carry a sword while they worked.
This image of workmen who were busy being productive but who also stood at the ready to pull their sword and defend their work struck me as a great metaphor for how we should approach our daily lives.
I like to think that all of us are in the midst of a great work. We’re building, day by day, a hopefully exciting and meaningful life. Perhaps that structure includes the responsibility of a family, or the pursuit of a great purpose, or even the cultivation of the self-love it takes to take care of yourself.
Regardless of the work that we’re involved in – making sure that we’re engaged in both the work of building and being prepared to defend what we’re building is beyond important.
We must carry both hammer and sword.
While not necessarily literal we must stand ready to defend our great work from internal and external foe.
If you’re building a family – we may have to say no for a season to the distraction of what would otherwise be worthwhile pursuits in order to ensure that our “great work” isn’t given less than what it deserves.
If you are early (or late) in a marriage – you may have to defend your relationship from old habits, old ways of thinking, shifting societal norms, or friend’s and family’s unrequested opinions.
If your learning to love yourself – you might have to delete social media accounts or unfollow the fabulous people who inspire envy, social comparison, or insecurities for a bit until you build the self-confidence and foundation of your self-worth. You may have to avoid celebrity gossip and reality shows that may, in and of themselves, be harmless.
“So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand”
One thing I realized was that if I can maintain this attitude and position of readiness – resistance less often knocks me off my course.
Regardless of the work, we shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter those at our gates who are determined to destroy what we’re building.
It was that way in the 5th Century when Nehemiah was building his wall and it is that way today.
What’s the most difficult conversation that you need to have?
Do you need to save more money? Stop self-sabotaging yourself in relationships? Stop dating people who remind you of painful relationships? Stop dating potential? Start saving for retirement? Go back to school? Be more trustworthy? Be more disciplined? Be less rigid and more relaxed with the people who love you?
Maybe you suspect that some or one of these things may apply to you but you can’t be certain.
Things get a lot more simple when we’re trying to figure out what physical appearance we’re presenting to the world.
We simply find a quality mirror.
How do we do that with the internal blemishes that we aren’t even aware are there?
You have to create room for friend-mirror’s.
You have to invite people into your life that are empowered to give you bad news in a way that’s not malevolent or aimed at creating pain but to inform and encourage change.
I had this conversation recently with my girlfriend when she commented that there are certain truths that I wouldn’t be able to hear from certain family members.
I bristled at that comment at first, protesting that of course any member of my family could give me bad news about myself.
When I stopped to think about it – she was definitely right.
There are certain topics that it would be hard for my younger siblings to talk to me about.
And not so much hard for them to tell me as it would be hard for me to listen.
This is less a post for other people and more of a reminder for my future self.
The last couple of days have been eye-opening.
I’ve been stumbling across example after example of the limits of my reason. Most of these examples have involved watching the run-on sentence of thoughts that elucidate on the risks vs. benefits of a particular decision.
Its also making me realize how many amazing (but risky) things I’ve avoided because my brain has rationalized the opportunity away.
The ability of my brain to explain why I shouldn’t do something is absolutely astonishing. I’m been blown away by how solid, how real, and how rational the explanations I’d been giving myself have seemed. I have also been realizing that if I sit with the emotions and try not to react negatively (and give the fear life) the emotional storms eventually fade away like morning mist in July.
I’m finding out that in certain situations – it might be better to be blind.
Finding out that my brain is capable of such subterfuge has effectively reconfigured the way I need to look at the world. Being that my brain acts as my primary sensory organ, this realization is the equivalent of finding out my eyes have been deceiving me.
If I was blind – at least I wouldn’t be fooled into thinking I was right.
Now I’m trying to figure out the best way to move forward.
How do you move forward when you find out your eyes are lying to you?
I’m thinking the answer may have something to do with Faith (and walking sticks).
I recently had a long talk with a good friend about some of my concerns surrounding commitment.
Something about having to spend everyday with someone for the rest of your life, with no route of escape, makes me shiver a bit inside.
He thought that some of my fear might be related to the pressure that comes with making a lifelong commitment to someone else. He says that pressure is going to produce some stress, and what it squeezes out of me may not always be pretty.
So I’m trying to come to terms with the maelstrom of emotions inside and trying to tease out what is healthy and real, and what is fear.
It. aint. easy.
Also, there is this concept I just ran across – courtesy of this blog that talks about the limits of knowledge and thus the limit of reason. Being that logic operates on the back of our available knowledge – we must not forget how much we don’t know.
The fact that we actually know so little should give us pause as we try to “engineer” our lives.
For me this is super important because my primary sensory organ is my brain. I try to slice the world up into digestible pieces and avoid anything that doesn’t intellectually make sense. Not only that, I tend to be VERY dismissive of things or people who operate from a framework that uses anything other than logic as a basis.
This is perhaps short-sighted. Maybe not in the realm of things like Vaccines or breakfast cereals but perhaps in the wider world of human interactions, love, etc.
In those fields, logic may not reign supreme. You might need to lean on things like faith, hope, and trust.
I’m approaching the mid-point of my thirties this year.
And I have no idea what I’m doing. Still.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve accomplished a good bit. And I have a semi-idea of how to proceed to make sure the lights stay on. To make sure that I can afford to feed and clothe myself.
Went to school. Got the doctorate. Did the training after school. Got the “dream” job.
I look into the horizon and I sometimes feel like the thing that I most need is the exact opposite of what’s in front of me.
The older you get the more that the world tries to imply that you should avoid discomfort and risk. We look down at people who are still figuring it out publicly at an older age. The 40 year old rapper is admired by exactly zero people. And while I can’t comment on the viability of that plan, I can say that I admire people who are willing to swing wildly, enthusiastically and intently at life.
I grew up in a immigrant household, whose whole life was built on decreasing the amount of risk that was inherent in their decision to leave their home country and build stable lives in America.
They tried to decrease any tendency towards risk-taking by encouraging all of us to take “stable” jobs in “stable” industries. As we are all finding out, the future is no respecter of the past. Change is happening so fast, there is no guarantee that the stable jobs of yesteryear will continue into the next decade.
Also, somewhat unrelatedly,
Risk is a part of life.
I think this pressure to avoid risk is what slowly kills men in relationships.
I’m not advocating for unnecessary and unsafe risk. But, I am confident that men die inside if the opportunity for adventure is stolen from them.
And it may not be actively taken, it may be something that we give up because we think the people who surround us are asking us to give up that part of ourselves.
There has to be a way to ensure that adventure remains a part of our lives.
Let me speak for myself.
I know I need to find ways to challenge myself daily, weekly, yearly.
I don’t know what I thought relationships were for.
I thought they were here to make me happy. I thought relationships were a place of ease, of country comfort, and oversize fireplaces.
I used to think that relationships were a breakfast nook.
I’m starting to think that I was wrong.
Relationships are a breakfast nook in a blacksmith’s shop.
If you let them, they’ll reach into the cranny of your soul and try to bring out the ugly, slimy, unseen parts of you.
If the relationship is good, they’ll hold these up to the light and place them before you.
Not judging, not shaming, just letting you know that you can do better.
That you don’t have to hide.
That you can be yourself and still be loved.
If you can stand firm, when the ugliness inside of you is being pulled out, then the relationship can do it’s work. If you can withstand the desire to run. To bail. To pull the ripcord and blame others for the world’s ills that have been deposited inside of you.
If you can stand firm.
It can let the sun into places that haven’t seen light in a while and open windows that have been wallpapered.
There are probably a couple of good reasons for this. #1 being I’m in a place in my life where I am taking advantage of opportunity to think. I feel like I’m in a space where I can observe my thoughts and be more clear about the decisions I’m making and what may be driving them.
While I was visiting the west coast, me and my siblings had a long dinner + great family discussion about our childhood and where we are currently, in some of the different (less discussed areas of life).
From that discussion, one of the things I’ve been digging into recently is attachment theory. (listened to a Podcast, reading articles, re-listening to books)
Attachment theory is a psychological model attempting to describe the dynamics of long-term and short-term interpersonal relationships between humans. “Attachment theory is not formulated as a general theory of relationships; it addresses only a specific facet”: how human beings respond in relationships when hurt, separated from loved ones, or perceiving a threat.
I first stumbled across this theory of relationship when I was reading/listening to the book – Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find- And Keep – Love. The behaviors described in the book and the questions they posed led me to the conclusion that I might have an Avoidant attachment style. I felt so seen and like someone had opened the closet with the monster in it, that I had always known existed but couldn’t put words around.
A quick paragraph about the avoidant frame of reference might read:
I am somewhat uncomfortable being close to others; I find it difficult to trust them completely, difficult to allow myself to depend on them. I am nervous when anyone gets too close, and often, others want me to be more intimate than I feel comfortable being.
This theory (summarized HERE) gave me a framework for understanding the way that I operate in my romantic relationships. In my mid-thirties I’ve been in enough relationships to be able to note the behaviors that pop up periodically in my romantic relationships with others.
One problematic behavior is something that (several) ex’s have called “Hot and Cold-ness / fickleness”. I can go weeks absolutely adoring someone, but a minor disagreement or maybe a push for more commitment (or contemplating more responsibility) may trigger a tendency to emotionally shut down around that person. I usually become slightly passive-aggressive and have lower energy levels around them. I may become muted, or start to think deeply about whether this person “fulfills” the deepest longings of my soul. These thoughts become the bricks that build the case against staying in the relationship.
There are other tendencies I see in myself, such as:
Past relationships or the imaginary “perfect relationship” can get put on a pedestal. It makes it easier to find the shortcomings of the current one, thus avoiding getting too attached.
They’ll seek out faults. Every little thing can add up to create an undesirable picture of their prospective partner (or actual partner). As in the above point, they may think they’re better off with someone else.
Commitment is off the cards. Or at least, it’s a lot trickier to broach. Avoidants often see it as an infringement of personal boundaries and a challenge to their independence.
Especially if the goal is to build a successful long-term relationship.
I’m currently in a long-term relationship, with the hope of making it a super-long-term.
My practiced patterns in past relationships, makes its difficult to ascertain whether the emotions of ennui, unhappiness, or frustration are the result of true, real, problems inside the fabric of the relationship; Or the triggered remains and patterns of behaviors that exist inside of my brain and nowhere else in reality.
I’ve been in my current relationship about a year.
How have I made it this far?
One method I found is to first, distrust negative thought patterns. Whenever I get into a pattern of negative thoughts about my partner or my relationships, I don’t express it or bring it into the world (at least in full form). My partner, (luckily or unluckily) can tell when I get into these emotional tailspins. And usually she tries to keep a brave face while I try to work out these emotional knots. I try not to spew my negative thoughts at my partner as I try to figure out if my grievance is real or imagined.
My next step is usually to Talk to trusted friends. Ideally, friends who are in places I want to be. So I talk with my married friends and share my current emotional speed bump. I share my concerns audibly and sometimes just the act of speaking aloud my concerns helps me to realize that the phantoms I feared were ephemeral.
Usually these discussions help me to also hear what healthy thought patterns around relationships sound like. An added bonus is that I’m training myself to strengthen the friendships and intimate relationships in another sphere of my life. My friends feel closer to me and I feel closer to them as we navigate life and our struggles together.
After these discussions, I usually feel clearer and better able to see my partner without the added baggage of unhealthy emotional reflexes.
For now, that’s been enough. I know there will come a time when I have to be more aggressive in figuring out how to continually build positive regard and positive internal dialogue about my partner in order to not do damage to her and to force her to not have to suffer through my periods of negativity/avoidance. Or figure out ways to better control the passive aggressive display of my fear of intimacy.