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  • My Parents Raised Me To Be Fearless. Then Why Am I So Scared?

    Many in our generation have found that our own Gen X parenting feels and looks a lot different than what they remember from their own childhoods. In today’s essay, Gina Rich reflects on her own struggles with balancing fear and freedom in her parenting. 
    gina rich guest post

    Growing up, I was lucky enough to have a girl my age living right across the street from me. In middle school, we’d hop on our bikes and travel a few blocks down a busy road to a place we nicknamed the Fun House. To the rest of the world, the Fun House was a drab, multi-level parking lot that served an apartment complex. But in our eyes, it was a hallowed and exciting place, our own secret training ground on which to perfect our bicycling skills. We’d spend hours coasting up and down the concrete slopes, dodging columns and parked cars, as our tires traced the sharp angles of each corner.

    Then one afternoon, my friend took a curve too fast, and her handlebars collided with an oncoming vehicle. My friend’s fingers were badly bruised, and she needed a splint for a few days. Our parents were not pleased, and the injury effectively ended our visits to the Fun House.

    I now have two school-aged daughters of my own, and the probability of them biking unsupervised around a parking lot is definitively zero. Such a scenario would be completely alien in my motherhood universe, a place where vigilance governs my decisions, play dates with friends receive advance approval, and I’m much more likely to tell my kids to be careful than to have fun.

    Like many of my Gen-X peers with young children, I’ve noticed that my parenting style stands in stark contrast to the way I was raised. My mother and father were quintessential members of the Dr. Spock era – practical, self-assured, and generally unflappable.

    A popular pediatrician and author, Dr. Benjamin Spock kept his counsel to new parents simple: “Trust yourself,” he advised, and my parents did.

    I never got the sense that they were overwhelmed by the emotional rollercoaster of raising three children.

    My father approached parenting in a rational, thoughtful manner, befitting his academic training as an engineer. “Be logical!” was one of his favorite sayings.

    Every sibling squabble, every commute to school, and every dinnertime conversation was an opportunity to teach us something about life. While we didn’t always listen intently to our dad’s lectures, we did glean that he believed us to be capable and clever enough to solve any problem, if only we applied our skills and persistence to the challenge.

    My mother, warm and vibrant, rolled easily with the chaos of our household, as if the noise and mess of three kids and our collection of furry, feathered, and scaly pets had a soothing effect on her psyche. If one of us was having an emotional meltdown, my mother was sympathetic but avoided indulging our angst for too long, often telling us to “just laugh it off!”

    When I experienced bouts of test anxiety in elementary school, claiming I was too sick to go to class, my mother cheerfully applied a measured dose of tough love and sent me on my way. She even informed the principal that, if should I find my way to the office under the guise of being too ill to continue, I should be told a joke and then be promptly escorted back to the testing room.

    Though my parents made it look effortless, I haven’t been able to replicate their laid-back approach when it comes to raising my own kids. Ironically, multiple studies of data like vehicle crashes and child abductions suggest that kids today are much safer than their 1970s and 1980s counterparts.

    Compared to my parents, I should feel more confident, more secure, and more willing to let my kids navigate the world and all of its beautiful curiosities as they see fit. But I don’t.

    Instead, I feel bombarded and rattled – by an endless stream of social media, by newscasts predicting gloom and doom, by political divisiveness, and expressions of anger and hatred near and far.

    Dr. Spock passed away in 1998, and his guidance has been largely replaced by that of currently popular pediatricians, including Dr. William Sears, who promotes attachment parenting, co-sleeping, and babywearing, and eschews most forms of sleep training.

    In a culture where smart phones are ubiquitous, we no longer page through baby books for advice; we turn to “Dr. Google.” But the information we find on the Internet is often more alarmist than helpful. “7 Bad Coughs to Worry About” reads one well-known parenting web site. “9 Seemingly Harmless Kids’ Products That Can Be Super Dangerous” is the headline for another.

    To be fair, I can’t blame the Internet and our 24/7 news cycle entirely. I’ve always lived on the anxious side of the personality spectrum. Even though I long to be a fun parent, raising so-called free-range kids, my need to maintain some semblance of control has always trumped these ambitions. For a mind that spins and spins, control is a comforting illusion that I’m not ready to part with just yet. It’s far easier for me to choreograph play dates, keep close tabs on my kids when they’re playing outside, and ramp up my involvement in their schools and extracurricular activities than it is to step back, breathe, and trust that things will be okay.

    But my kids are growing up, and lately they have started to chip away at my well-intentioned strategy. Each day, they show me they’re ready and eager to explore their world at greater length, whether it’s learning to swim, practicing cutting their strawberries with (gasp!) real knives, or heading to an overnight camp for the first time. In my kids, I see flashes of the carefree, idyllic childhood I enjoyed. Their enthusiasm reminds me that I cannot allow fear to restrict their opportunities for growth and independence.

    I think again of Dr. Spock, remembering that he advised not only “Trust yourself,” but also “Trust your child.” I may not ever be a fearless parent, but I can trust my kids and show them I believe in them, just as my parents did for me. Perhaps it’s trust, not control, that is the most fitting response to an uncertain world.

     

    Gina RichGina Rich is a writer and mother of two daughters. She has written for Scary Mommy, Ravishly, Mamalode, and Notre Dame Magazine, among other publications. She lives in the Midwest and shares caffeinated ramblings at http://www.lovehopeandcoffee.com.

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  • How To Get Published Online

    If you want to get published online, your work isn’t done when you finish the piece.

    how to get published

    (For more on the qualities of good writing that will impress an editor, read this.)

    I’ve read hundreds of submissions — for our anthologies and for our website — and my best advice is to treat the submission process just as seriously as the writing itself.

    Here are my suggestions and strategies to make you and your writing stand out (in a good way) so that you can get published online:

    Spend time reading the publication before you submit.

    Get a sense of the tone and style of the pieces it typically publishes. Read the site’s most popular pieces and see which types of writing get the most engagement, in comments on the site or on social media. Is the tone of the writing serious, conversational, emotional? Who do you think is the target reader for this publication? At the same time, don’t submit a piece that is too similar to something that was very recently published.

    To get our free guide of publications that are good fit for midlife writers, click here.

    Don’t go over or under the word count.

    If the publication’s submission guidelines state that it publishes 1000-1500 word essays, don’t send a 2500-word or 500-word essay.

    Don’t forget a cover letter.

    Do not just send your piece with an email that says: “Here is my submission.” Cover letters do matter. This is where you succinctly describe your piece and tell the editors a little bit (emphasis on “little”) about you and your background as a writer. Make the editor very interested in reading your piece in a short (2-3 sentence) paragraph.

    Choose relevant clips.

    Many publications ask you to send along links of your publishing credits. Choose writing that is most similar to the style and tone of this particular publication. If you don’t have big name publishing credit, it’s perfectly okay to choose a well-written blog post.

    Use the name of an actual person in your greeting.

    I think you demonstrate professionalism by showing that you’ve taken the extra effort to address your cover to the actual human being who will be reading your submission (instead of writing a generic “Dear Editor”. It’s usually pretty easy to find the name(s) of the editors of any publication on a website.

    Don’t send multiple submissions to the same publication.

    Choose your best piece and wait for a response. If you don’t receive a response — often the publication will give an estimate of how long a response might take — it’s more than okay to follow up in a short, polite email.

    Don’t be afraid to name drop.

    If you have a personal or unique connection to the publication, don’t hesitate to mention this in your cover letter. For instance, maybe you met the editor at a conference. Or maybe a regular columnist for the publication suggested that your piece would be a good fit.

    Follow the directions for how to submit your writing.

    Do the editors want your submission in the body of an email? As an attachment? Or to use a submission manager like Submittable?

    Proofread.

    Read your writing aloud or have someone else read it to catch any missed words, typos, or grammar issues.

    Come up with a rejection strategy.

    If your piece is rejected, have a backup publication prepared in advance. Every writer — and I mean, literally every single one — gets rejected. It’s as much of being a writer as using words. Keep trying to get your piece published. If it’s a strong piece of writing, it will get published somewhere. But if the piece gets rejected again and again and again, maybe put it aside for a while and look at it again in a week or two with fresh eyes. Ask a writer friend if there’s something you can do to improve the piece and make it more compelling.

    What are your tips for other writers who want to get published online?

     

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  • I Stopped Believing In Fairy Tales When Natalie Wood Died

    By Kristina Wright

    Natalie Wood

    I was a fourteen-year-old high school freshman when Natalie Wood drowned under mysterious circumstances.

    High school was a different world than middle school had been, a world where I discovered how to flirt and date and daydreamed about the prince who would be my boyfriend.

    My mother shared her love of Natalie Wood with me—she introduced me to Wood’s films like Rebel Without a Cause and, her favorite, Splendor in the Grass. Mom identified with Natalie Wood, probably because she watched Wood grow up over the course of her film career. They also shared the same long dark hair and high cheekbones, and my mother often commented that my stepfather looked like Robert Wagner, Wood’s husband. My mother and I watched Hart to Hart together, the cheesy detective show that starred an aging Wagner opposite the younger Stephanie Powers. Mom had a school girl-like crush on Wagner and he was a father figure to me–handsome, charming and kind—far from the father I had.

    I never saw my mother read a novel, but every week she would bring home tabloids like The Enquirer and Star and sit at the kitchen table chain smoking while she read bits of gossip to me as I did my homework. Hollywood romances were something my mother seemed to envy, and Wood and Wagner were one of several couples she followed in the rags.

    When news broke of Wood’s death by drowning, I was shocked and saddened in a personal way only a teenage girl can be. I felt like I knew her, this beautiful, ethereal actress who wasn’t much older than my own mother, and I was sad for her handsome husband and the heartbreak he must be experiencing.

    My mother’s reaction shocked me even more than Wood’s death. She said something, offhand and matter-of-factly, with such utter conviction that it changed my attitude toward men and relationships forever.

    She told me she thought Robert Wagner had killed his wife. When I asked her how she could even think that, she simply said, “I just know.”

    My mother felt this way because of her own tumultuous experiences with men, including the only man I ever knew as my father. She was already a mother when she met my stepfather at the bar where she worked, having gotten pregnant with me over the course of an affair with a man who hadn’t bothered to tell her he was married.

    It took me four decades to piece together what little I know about my biological father, because my mother would never tell me and I learned it was best not to ask. But I do know that within months of having me, she met and married the man who would become my stepfather, guaranteeing a financial stability she could never provide on her own. Security came with a steep price: my stepfather was an alcoholic who could be both verbally and physically abusive when he drank. But no one outside our home new the truth. Oh, they knew he drank too much, but they didn’t now about the fighting, the holes in the walls, the broken glasses or name calling.

    I insulated myself from the truth about my parents by telling myself it wasn’t normal—their fighting, the holes in the walls, the way he’d roughly handle her even in front of me, the names he called her—it was all an anomaly as far as my young heart was concerned.

    No one knew what went on behind our closed door. I wouldn’t tell anyone the truth until I was much older. I was embarrassed and ashamed, yes, but I also wanted to believe that stuff only happened in our house. I had nothing to compare it to and it was easier to believe in fairy tale romances like Wood’s and Wagner’s than to believe the reality I lived with every day.

    But then Natalie Wood died and my mother uttered her proclamation that she thought Robert Wagner had killed Natalie Wood, and something broke inside me. I understood—and wholly believed for the first time in my life—that men could, and do, commit horrible crimes against the women they are supposed to love and no one knows what goes on behind those closed doors, either.

    My mother’s instinctive response to Natalie Wood’s death left me jaded about romance long before I ever put on my first prom gown. If my mother believed a seemingly amiable man could kill his wife, then I no longer felt like I could trust the charming boys whose popularity carried more weight than the whispered rumors of the things they did to the girls they dated. I studied the behavior of the boys I knew for signs they weren’t the nice guys they seemed to be. I wanted there to be a way to know who I could trust, since the only man in my life was abusive toward my mother and I’d come to understand he wasn’t an anomaly at all.

    I was the friend who cautioned about going off alone with a boy, the one who saw malicious possibility in any potential romantic gesture. I can’t help but wonder if I saved myself from more than heartache by relinquishing my faith in the fairy tale.

    As women’s voices have become amplified recently, through hashtag movements that didn’t exist in 1981, or even 2001, I haven’t been shocked to read the allegations made against any celebrity, whether I’ve liked their work or not.

    My mother has been gone for over a decade, but I know she’d believe the stories of women who are brave enough to speak them because she had more than her share of #metoo and #yesallmen stories that were never told outside our house, and likely many stories she never even told me.

    When I saw the news recently that Robert Wagner had been named a “person of interest” in the decades’ old case of Natalie Wood’s death, all I could hear was my mother’s voice in my head saying, “I told you so.”

    The twist in the tale is that I found my fairy tale, quite by accident. Like my mother, I married a man I had only known a few months. Unlike my mother’s marriage, however, there was no abuse. No holes in the wall. No drunken rages.

    Was it luck, or all those years of carefully watching men and measuring their actions against their words? I don’t know. Likewise, we may never know what really happened that night in 1981 when Natalie Wood went into the water off the coast of Catalina. But for my mother, who could not name the abuse that was happening to her, it was a validation of sorts. It was one more way in which she felt connected to an actress whose life she had once coveted.

    “No man is safe,” she told me throughout my childhood. It messed me up, my mother’s skewed and bitter view of relationships, even though I understood why she felt the way she did. It took me years to believe there was such a thing as a good guy—a really good guy—and that was only because I had married a man who managed to gain my trust and show me what my mother had taught me was, if not wrong, at least not always right. Some men are safe, some men are good, and sometimes the fairy tale does come true.

     

    Kristina WrightKristina Wright lives in Virginia with her husband, their two sons, a dog, two cats and a parrot. She’s a regular contributor to Mom.me and BookBub and her work has appeared in dozens of other publications including Washington Post, USA Today, Narratively, Cosmopolitan and Mental Floss. She holds a B.A. in Literature, a M.A. in Humanities and loves reading, going to movies, baking bread and planning family trips where everyone has fun and no one complains. Oh, and she really loves coffee. You can find her at the nearest coffee shop or on Twitter @kristinawright.

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  • Midlife and the Death of the Start

    Not all women experience a midlife crisis in their forties, or at least not in the same way. Midlife can also be a time of new starts and new beginnings. Elura Nanos shares how she has come to look at midlife in a new way.

    By Elura Nanos

    Elura Nanos

     

    For a little while now, I’ve begun to feel the slow suffocation of being “in my 40s” – an entire decade reduced to one phrase as proof that until 50, the exact number doesn’t really matter.  The lack of oxygen here was pretty surprising upon my arrival. I’ve never been age-phobic. I don’t get chemical peels or buy anti-aging serum. I don’t get all weird and somber on my birthday.  I don’t have grey hair, and the lighting in my bedroom isn’t nearly good enough for me to obsess over the wrinkles that probably frame my eyes.

    None of that is to say that I haven’t experienced physical signs of aging.  Of course I have. But because I’ve never been the kind of chick who traded on her looks, I can’t say I’ve been shattered by the reality that I no longer turn heads when I walk into a crowded room. I was never that chick.  Same goes for the physical slowing; even in my prime, the extent of my athleticism was completing a Target Trifecta (sprinting through cosmetics, groceries, and accessories) during a 45-minute lunch hour.  That, I can still accomplish with agility, as long as I’m wearing the right bra.

    As a primarily intellectual person, aging has mostly made me better.  As my cache of personal experiences has grown, I have become more knowledgeable, more confident, and more empathetic than the younger me had been.  I’ve honed the skills I have acquired, and I’m more efficient than ever. I heal faster from heartbreak, I forgive faster after betrayal, and I learn sooner after failure.  I give more of everything now — with the exception of fucks; I gave my last of those around age 39, and then promptly let my subscription expire.

    Here’s the problem, though.  By our fifth decade, we are good at things.

    Most of us have at least one great recipe we can pull out of our asses when we need to impress.  We know what to write in thank-you notes, what to wear to funerals, what to ask the doctor, and what to buy the mom-to-be. We are experienced wives, mothers, professionals, and friends. And while new people do come into our lives, we’re fitting those people in to our existing lives, not molding ourselves around theirs. No one is asking us to take Meyers-Briggs tests to figure out what careers might suit us.  No one is setting us up for blind dates. No one is asking us to rush a sorority, try out for a team, or start a band. In middle age, we seem to be in the middle of everything.  As a direct result, we’ve been stripped of those beautifully fragile moments when we are excited and nervous, and where we hope for, but don’t exactly know what’s coming.  While life once seemed to be full of beginnings – new semesters, new relationships, new apartments –starts are scarce.  The landscape of my life became barren of starts right around the time I was first tempted to brag about the multiple rodeos I’d attended – shortly after I stopped rolling my eyes over those who had  “been there, done that.”

    When I first realized that my starts were dwindling, I mourned them.  

    I turned over the memories in my mind – the first kisses and move-in days, the orientations and the baby showers.  I reveled in their beauty and promise, and placed them gingerly onto the mantelpiece of my mind.

    But I knew remembering would never really be enough; hoarding my old starts started to feel like the emotional version of collecting shot-glasses — whimsical at first, but ultimately, pretty lame.  I wanted more starts — new ones — and I was determined to find some. Once I began looking, I was surprised by where they turned up, and gratified to learn that they hadn’t lost their luster.

    When I tried new activities or traveled to new places, I awakened (or perhaps created) new parts of myself.  When I put down the heavy load of always knowing what to expect from myself or others, I found that my hands were free to grab the starts that fell along my path.  Some of those starts were professional, others personal – but they all fed my spirit.

    I consciously focused outward, instead of inward, and channeled my younger self – that girl who wasn’t so fixed in her understanding of her own identity.  I talked less about subjects about which I am an expert, and started listening more to those about which I know nothing. I spent more time around people in their 20s and 30s, and I stopped giving them so much advice; instead, I focused on soaking up their enthusiasm and their uncertainty.  If I could see the world for the endless ocean it is, instead of clinging to my small raft of personal experience, I just might get somewhere.

    I still have quite a bit of life to live, and I think I have learned what to do with it.  

    Be new at stuff. Be bad at stuff.  What matters isn’t the outcome – it’s the deliciousness of the start.

    We do reap what we sow. And there is great satisfaction in the harvest.  But there is great excitement in the planting.  I choose not to live at the finish line.  I choose the start.

    elura nanosNYC Prosecutor-turned-entrepreneur, Elura Nanos is a seasoned TV lawyer. She’s starred in her own reality show (OWN’s Staten Island Law), in several celebrity gossip series, including Celebrity Damage Control (currently airing on Reelz), and many news and talk shows (Fox News, Chasing News, Law & Crime Network, Anderson Cooper Live, and Say Anything WithJoy Behar, just to name a few). She’s currently a columnist with Law and Crime, where she writes political and legal analysis.

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  • When Dual Unemployment Tests a Marriage

    Unemployment is stressful for a family, and for a marriage. When a spouse is unemployed, conflict and resentment can easily find its way into even the strongest marriage. What happens when both spouses are unemployed? Liz Alterman tells the story of the impact of unemployment on her marriage.

     

    dual unemployment

     

    I’ll probably never be able to explain why, when the phone rang in my otherwise-quiet suburban kitchen on a crisp November day in 2013, I experienced a sickening sense of unease. And yet, there it was, along with its accomplices: the galloping heart rate, sleeves of goosebumps, and instant Velcro tongue.

    Working from home as a writer who frequently focuses on food and restaurants, I tell time in relation to meals. It was after breakfast but before lunch when I heard the seemingly-innocuous electronic bleating that signaled my life was about to change. My husband’s cell phone number flickered in the caller ID window.

    “Why isn’t he calling from his desk?” I wondered casually before issuing my standard, “Hey, what’s up?”

    “Hey!” he said, winded yet keyed up like a post-race marathon runner. “I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some bad news.”

    When someone tells you this, typically both pieces of news are pretty lousy. What they should say is: “I’ve got some awful news and some mildly terrible news.” Or they could just come out with it and spare you the suspense.

    “I’ve. Been. Laid. Off.”

    My husband’s words spooled out long and slow and I felt them spread over me hot and itchy like a sudden allergic rash. “Are you there?” he asked.

    “Yes. I’m here,” I managed, my tongue lazy and slow to form this simple sentence.

    “Listen. Everything is going to be fine,” he assured me. “They’ve given me a generous severance package and we’ll have health care coverage for the next year.”

    Ah, the good news: health care coverage. I pictured our three children — all boys, ages 11, 8, and 6 at the time— always one monkey bar or trampoline accident away from a dreaded trip to the ER. I cringed as if I could hear their small bones snapping in advance.

    “Where are you?” I asked, picturing him standing on the corner of 59th and Lexington holding a cardboard box that contained the contents of his career, a silver-framed photo of our boys in their most recent Halloween costumes poking up from the corner.

    “Penn Station,” he said, his voice evening out and taking on a decidedly upbeat tone that immediately plunged me into despair. “I’m going to grab some pizza and I’ll be on the next train.”

    Irrationally, my first thought was: “Now is not the time to splurge on overpriced slices of Sicilian. You’re unemployed!”

    He hadn’t been happy at his job in a long time and lay-offs had become as insidious as the corporate jargon with which those proverbial pink slips were delivered. Still, we hadn’t seen this coming. Nor did I expect him to appear as elated as a frat boy en route to spring break when I picked him up from the train station an hour later.

    In the days that followed, he was euphoric. A bear sprung from a trap, delighted by his newfound freedom. I was panicked. A deer during hunting season.

    My own job as the editor of a local news website had been dangling over a precipice for months. I’d watched as talented colleagues were picked off sometimes en masse and, on other occasions, in tiny clusters akin to a reality show-style culling.

    Six weeks after my husband was let go, I, too, lost my job via an impersonal group conference call in which all those who dialed in were dismissed.

    Struggling to absorb the shock, my husband and I stared at each other in disbelief.

    How did we end up here?

    The old “I married you for better or worse but not for lunch!” had come decades early for us. I wanted to believe that if we’d been younger, we’d have rented out our home, traveled the world, and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. I pictured us sampling Saganaki in Santorini, Flamenco dancing in Barcelona, dozing under the stars, aglow with the lack of responsibility.

    But, in reality, we had children, a mortgage, and our next career moves to consider. We couldn’t afford the luxury of a respite from real life.

    So, rather than falling deeper in love gazing into each other’s eyes as we cruised the Greek Isles, we started sleeping back to back, staring at opposing walls, a squall of terrible “what if”s swirling between us. And so we began the slow, awkward dance of reinventing ourselves in our mid-40s.

    Unlike the ease we experienced when selecting a sofa or agreeing on an appetizer, we were of two very different mindsets when it came to job hunting. I believed it was a numbers game and applied to every possible opening.

    My husband, on the other hand, needed to be coaxed into even reading a position’s requirements before ultimately deciding it wasn’t a “good fit.” His severance package lulled him into a false sense of security. I feared we were destined for the same fate as professional athletes and lottery winners who squander their windfalls only to look back in horror at their carelessness.

    Neither of us was accustomed to the “new” job market where applications requested that you include your personal theme song along with your resume. We weren’t prepared to “wow” anyone in 140 characters or less merely to score a phone interview.

    I was willing to play along to avoid packing up and moving the five of us into my parents’ home where we’d be forced to cram inside my childhood bedroom, a sad, impromptu slumber party. But my husband, with almost two decades of impressive experience at a major financial news organization, was not as game. And that was when our previously amicable relationship began to grow tense and surface-y.

    Our mutual unemployment — and the way we intended to address it — created a constant unspoken divide, one that grew wider by the day.

    We grieved our losses in different ways. I accepted every freelance gig that came my way, writing like a poor man’s Jack Kerouac on a Benzedrine binge, while my husband folded laundry and told me he’d think about looking for a job “later.” His heavy sighing became the unpleasant soundtrack to my days, as jarring and irritating as microphone feedback.

    I’d heard people say that the secret to not getting divorced is never falling out of love simultaneously. But here’s a loophole: It’s actually OK to fall out of love at the same time as long as neither of you has any other prospects and nowhere else to go.

    As weeks slipped into months, I grew certain there were times when we despised each other as our situation brought to the surface all the things we secretly hated about each other and ourselves.

    I was impatient; he was apathetic.

    I needed to talk things through; he chose to brood in sullen silence. I was frugal; he was a spendthrift. Previously, no matter what came our way in 13 years of marriage — sewage pipes backing up into our basement, eccentric aging parents, middle of the night trips to the ER when the kids awoke with croup that couldn’t be helped by that old steam shower trick — we’d always been a team. This was breaking us. Yet, we felt tremendously unlovable, so it seemed imperative that we find our way back to each other. We were all we had.

    On good days, we consoled one another as our phones pinged, indicating more rejection emails. On bad ones, we had terse disagreements while the kids were at school in which I nagged him to complete more applications while he barked back that he was “networking,” a euphemism for falling down Facebook’s rabbit hole.

    Six months into my search, I found a job. It seemed like a great opportunity and my husband was thrilled for me. When it turned out to be a bit of a bait-and-switch situation — but one that I was stuck in until something better came along — he comforted me and corralled the kids, my very own cheerleading squad, as I wept fountains of hopelessness in my laptop at our dining room table.

    It took eight additional months before he landed in a new position. Things felt hopeful for the first time in 16 months. It seemed somehow our sinking ship had righted itself and corrected course. Yet we were still tentative around each other, weathered from the storm.

    As we found our way back to each other, we learned that love and romance have nothing to do with a fresh bouquet of tulips “just because” or a bottle of wine shared over a pricey meal. It is found in showing up during the rough patches that gut you and make you ugly and mean. It is rooted in not walking away when, in fact, you feel like running. It is hidden in swallowing the snarky comment or expletive on the tip of your tongue, knowing it can’t be unspoken. It lies in small gestures on bad days, a cup of coffee and a kind word on a difficult afternoon.

    Almost a year to the day after he started his new job, my husband was let go in yet another reorganization. We have been thrown back into the sea of uncertainty and forced to wade through it again. “This is the new economy,” we are told. Restructuring is the new armband tattoo.

    But we have been here before and we will survive it once more, hopefully, stronger for the experience.

     

    Liz AltermanLiz Alterman has been writing in print and online for 20 years, covering an array of topics from real estate and the royal family to personal finance and parenting for outlets such as CNBC.com and The New York Times. She recently completed a memoir chronicling her adventures in unemployment. She maintains a blog, On the Balls of Our A$$ets, where you can follow her forays in underachieving. 

     

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  • HerTake: Should an Ambivalent Wife Leave Her Marriage?

    When should a midlife woman leave her marriage?

    HerTake Nina Badzin

    During the HerStories Project relaunch, we announced that Gen X women at midlife is the new focus for essays and classes at our site. The relaunch included a call for questions for our resident advice columnist, Nina Badzin, that goes beyond friendship dilemmas. Although Nina will take questions related to friendship as they pertain to midlife women, we couldn’t think of a more representative dilemma for our site’s relaunch than the one presented in the question below.

    Nina is always accepting anonymous questions here.  

    Dear Nina,

    I’ve been married to my college boyfriend for almost 20 years, and we have two kids — a teen and a tween. I’m in my mid-40s, and I’ve been experiencing a mid-life crisis in good and bad ways. One of the good ways is that I have a sense of this being a turning point where I can let go of past failures and insecurity and move forward with a better sense of myself.

    An uncomfortable symptom of this sense is that I’ve become more and more aware of disappointment in my marriage. My husband is a nice guy and an excellent provider and (I’m pretty sure) has always been faithful. But I think I knew early on in our relationship that we had very different interests. In recent years, he has gotten more intensely interested in three (count ’em, THREE) different hobbies. When I ask him to go on a date or do something with the family, it often feels like he’s pulling himself away from his practice or study because he knows he should, not because he really looks forward to time with me or the kids.

    We have been in and out of marriage counseling and recently ended therapy because I was feeling like what I really wanted was for my husband to be a different person with different priorities. Even when he tries hard to be a good husband and dad (which he sometimes does), I feel like he’s doing it out of obligation, not enjoyment or interest. In our last session, he admitted that he was probably never going to value his relationships as much as his hobbies.

    Although I’ve worked part-time for most of our kids’ lives, I’m currently not working. I enjoy being able to devote time to family and volunteer work, and the thought of going back to work full time makes me nervous about work/life balance…especially because my fields of interest and experience are not very lucrative.

    I’m struggling with whether to stay in the marriage or not. On the one hand, I so often feel disappointed by the lack of interest and intimacy in our marriage. And I worry that our lukewarm relationship is not a great role model for our kids. There’s rarely real conflict between us, but sometimes I’m sure they sense disconnection and resentment.

    On the other hand, we have a good symbiotic relationship: He makes a comfortable living for us and has time left over for his hobbies. I enjoy taking care of the household and family relationships and not worrying about money.

    Should I leave my husband and change the entire dynamic of my family, with no guarantee that things won’t be worse for all of us? (The thought of living, even part-time, away from our kids and pets, is horrifying to me…and I would almost certainly end up with a lot more economic insecurity.) Or do I stay in a relationship that I know will never fulfill my deepest desires?

    Thank you,

    Ambivalent Wife

     

    Dear Ambivalent Wife,

    I let this question sit in my inbox for weeks. It’s one thing to opine on the safe terrain of friendships. Yes, friendship problems lend themselves to permanently hurt feelings, resentment, and disappointment. (See the many variations of friendship dilemmas I answered right here.) But hard as it is to hear this truth when we’re upset about a faltering friendship—we can replace the hole left by a friendship disappointment with another friend. And we all get to have more than one close friend at a time.

    Spouses are (obvious statement alert) not so simple to replace, especially spouses with whom we’re currently raising children. Which is not to say you should stay. And marriages 20 years in the running with long-held resentments are not so simple to change. Which is not to say you should leave.

    Let me be clear: Other than situations of abuse in any form whatsoever, I would never outright tell someone to leave a marriage. But I’m also not going to tell someone who seems to see her husband as a roommate, at best, that staying is the only choice.

    You were brave to share your situation and give voice to a reality felt by plenty of couples who’ve been together for two decades or more. (Or less!)

    While I cannot give a direct answer—really, how could I?—I’d like to at least further the conversation you started and encourage other HerStories readers to add their thoughts.

    I suspect many people reading your letter will come down in one of three camps.

    #1. Life is short and you should leave him.

    #2. You should stay, at least for now.

    #3. You need more information from yourself, from your husband, and for sure a new marriage counselor.

    Let’s start with the temptation to leave.

    I think the fantasy of starting over with a new partner with all the self-knowledge we’ve earned in two decades of adulthood is relatable.

    I personally have a recurring dream of going back to high school or college with the 41-year-old version of comfort in my skin I enjoy now. Would I have made vastly different choices as this version of myself? Would I have put up with less from other people and experienced less self-doubt at every turn? I suspect the answer to all of the above is yes, but I’m also glad I went through those growing pains. Weren’t those awkward and sometimes painful experiences all necessary to make me the person I am now? But those are just dreams. Let’s get back to reality.

    You asked at the end, “Do I stay in a relationship that I know will never fulfill my deepest desires?” I wonder if defining and analyzing your “deepest desires” is a good place to start. Have you adequately reflected on how realistic those desires are? Are they reasonable enough to find? Is there already someone out there you have in mind? Whatever those desires are—sexually or otherwise—are they sustainable for, say, two decades with someone new? The answer may be—yes. I cannot say.

    The rest of my answer will combine options two and three, not because I think staying is the only option, but I do think it’s one to consider.

    Judging your husband based only on your letter, I’d say, yeah, he has tons of work to do. But I want to defend him on one of your biggest complaints. You said, “ . . . it often feels like he’s pulling himself away from his practice or study because he knows he should, not because he really looks forward to time with me or the kids.”

    I bet my husband could say the same about me, and yet, I know I’m a very dedicated mother and wife. I am physically where I need to be for them. Most of the time, I’m emotionally there, too.

    But at 10:00 at night when all the kids are finally in bed, I can’t say I’m terribly enthused when my husband wants to talk to me just as I’ve sat down to read, write, or watch a show. (In other words, I wouldn’t mind if he had three hobbies to call on in that exact moment.) I can’t say when I jot down the many dates of my kids’ games, activities, and school events, that I don’t sometimes sigh and panic about all the time parenting requires. I can’t say I don’t sometimes wonder, aloud, in front of my husband, when my life will feel like mine again. I know he wishes I had a cheerier attitude about all the transporting and face-showing that comes with parenting. I know, for a fact, that he doesn’t love it when I text him self-pitying notes letting him know I am once again cancelling an appointment or interrupting my work time to pick up a kid at school who convinced the school nurse she has a stomachache.

    I could go on and on.

    You said your husband is generally a good husband and dad, but it bothers you that he seems to show up out of obligation. I guess I feel like by that standard I am not a good mom and wife, and I know that is simply not true.

    And now for some meatier advice, I’m sharing my mom’s email to me about your letter because my mom is smart, has been married to my dad for 52 years, and has successfully added her two cents to some of the friendship letters on this site. 

    Here’s Kathy, my mom, writing to me about you.

    I think Ambivalent Wife’s feelings are very understandable and common for someone married around 20 years. Some people call it the second seven-year itch. Many women feel “disappointment” in their spouse at this time of life. It doesn’t seem like this is what we signed up for when we first got married. I had those exact feelings at her age, though divorce did not occur to me. I felt Dad was unavailable in a lot of ways—busy at work, traveling, playing tennis twice a week. The way I got through it was to find something for me that did not include him or the children. I was about Ambivalent Wife’s age when I took a course and started a consulting business. The business was time-consuming and removed me from my daily life into a different universe. Finding something that was just mine and completely absorbing was a good way for me to get through the rough times.

    There are things we do not know about this marriage. We do not know whether there are big communication issues, whether there is still a sex life for this couple, and if they even still like each other. Assuming that he is not abusing her, does not have another woman, and does not have a severe emotional problem, there might be some good reasons to stay in this marriage, or at least consider options and issues that might occur if she were to leave.

    First, if she goes, she will have to work, and it doesn’t sound like she has or had a career. Second, her children’s lives will be completely disrupted, and does she really think the grass is greener anywhere else? Third, a continuation of item two, another man her age will also be busy with work and hobbies and may have his own children.

    She might consider finding wonderful new hobbies for herself, especially now that her kids are older. She should also maintain close relationships with her friends. There is no substitute for long-time women friends.

    The divorced women I know left for the following reasons:

    1. Another woman
    2. Severe emotional problems such as untreated mood disorders.
    3. Terrible communication problems. For example, one woman told me if she and her husband disagreed about something, he would not speak to her for a week or more. I asked her, “Not even pass the salt or pass the pepper?” She said not even that. She found that intolerable.
    4. Another friend said her husband worked long hours. When he came home, all he did was criticize everything she did from the smallest housekeeping issue to other things. No detail was too small for him to criticize, and she felt demoralized all the time.

    I don’t think any one person can advise another to get a divorce. I hope that Ambivalent Wife explores some other options for herself before deciding to leave her husband. Lots of couples have different hobbies. That can make a marriage more interesting. In my opinion she needs to find an activity that consumes her before deciding her next step.

    Love, Mom

    Okay, I’m back. And I will only add that as someone married for over 17 years who is surrounded by friends married for around that same length of time, I promise you are not alone, which does not make your next step any easier.

    But I do feel comfortable saying that the status quo is not an option.

    Maybe, once you find a new marriage counselor, you can bring your letter to me with you and read it aloud. That might be a good place to begin (again) to work towards a happier marriage, if that is possible with him.

    Wishing you peace whatever you decide to next,

    Nina

    Nina Badzin is a freelance writer and a writing workshop instructor at ModernWell in Minneapolis as well as ModernWell’s book club host. She has been the advice columnist for the HerStories Project for three years. Learn more about Nina at her website.

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