“Her children arise and call her blessed; her
husband also, and he praises her.” Proverbs
She was the Vice President of Household Affairs for her entire
adult life. She had a husband, four daughters, and one son whom she managed.
Her calling was not to the workplace; it was to the home. It was a calling that
she fulfilled well. She often went beyond her job description to fulfill menial
tasks like sewing clothes for her twin girls, playing dolls, and even playing
catch with the only boy in the clan.
Things were going along well until midway in life a telephone call
came that changed everything. The caller informed her that the love of her life
had been killed in an airplane crash. She was in her early 40’s, still
beautiful, with five kids to raise on her own in spite of the fact that she
hadn’t worked in the business place for nearly 20 years.
The death of her husband removed their steady upper middle-class
income, and she was now faced with the greatest test of her life. At her lowest
moment, wondering how she was going to make it, she cried out to God. God
answered, “Trust Me, Lillian.” Those audible words became the
strength that she needed to care for her family for the next 40 years.
From that moment on, she came to know her Savior personally and
shared Him with her family. Her children came to know Him as well.
Grandchildren became the recipients of her prayers, and they came to know Him
too. She was building an inheritance in Heaven, one prayer at a time, one soul
at a time. She never remarried; Christ became her Husband.
Whatever wisdom and encouragement has come to you through these
devotionals, it is only as a result of one who answered the call to the
greatest and most important workplace there is: the home.
You can thank my mom, Lillian Hillman, for whatever grace you have
gained from these messages throughout the year, because she remained faithful
to the call to invest in those she was called to love and serve. “Her
children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises
said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” – Revelation 3:19, NIV
Nine-year-old Al had disobeyed his father who, as a strict disciplinarian, sent
him with a note to a police station in London. When Al came in late after
curfew, his father met him at the door and handed him a note and said,
“Take it to the jailhouse.”
Al was terrified.
“The officer, a friend of his father, opens the note, reads it, and nods,.
‘Follow me.’ He leads the wide-eyed youngster to a jail cell, opens the door,
and tells him to enter. The officer clangs the door shut. ‘This is what we do
to naughty boys,’ he explains and walks away…. The jail sentence lasts only
five minutes. But those five minutes felt like five months. Al never forgot
that day. The sound of the clanging door, he often told people, stayed with him
the rest of his life.
“The fear of losing a father’s love exacts a high toll. Al spent the rest
of his life hearing the clanging door. That early taste of terror contributed
to his lifelong devotion to creating the same in others. For Al—Alfred
Hitchcock—made a career out of scaring people.” (From UpWords from
Max Lucado, www.maxlucado.com)
True, discipline is important, but it always needs to fit the crime. Some
children are impaired for life because of severe punishment as a child. Others
are left terrified if they were beaten severely or abused. It is imperative
that parents never discipline out of anger because that is punishment, not
discipline. Discipline always needs to be in love.
Those whom God loves, he disciplines in love—not punishes in anger. We need to
do the same with our children.
God, thank You that when You discipline me it is always out of Your love for me
and for my good. Help me to do the same when disciplining my children. May it
always be in love and never out of anger. Thank You for hearing and answering
my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus’ name, amen.”
As the traditional concept
of family continues to evolve, single gay men having children through surrogacy
are beginning to emerge.
Julius Ybañez Towers was taking a walk around the Harlem Meer in Central Park with his twin 10-month-old sons and two dogs. A woman stopped to compliment him for giving his wife a break.
“There’s no wife,” he told the woman. “I’m a single gay dad from surrogacy.” He smiled at the confused look on her face.
Mr. Towers, 40, is still rare, but he is part of a growing movement. Surrogacy agencies across the country report a surge of interest from single gay men in the last few years.
Shelly Marsh, a spokeswoman for Men Having Babies, a nonprofit that helps gay men navigate the surrogacy process, said that the increase in interest from single men is part of a broader surge in gay families.
“Our volume has increased substantially over the last few years,” Ms. Marsh said. “But more so, single men are learning that they do not need to wait to find someone to fulfill the dream of having a biological child.”
Most single gay men pursue what is known as gestational surrogacy: the surrogate is implanted with a fertilized embryo taken from a separate egg donor. The surrogate is not genetically related to the child. She also has no maternal rights, so intended parents are legally protected from her keeping the baby.
For that legal protection however, the birth must happen in a state where it’s legal to pay a surrogate and that recognizes the contract. New Jersey recently approved compensation for surrogates; Washington State’s announced it would do so in January. New York, along with Michigan and Louisiana, are the only states where it remains illegal to pay a woman to be a surrogate mother.
Where it is legal, the total cost of the procedure — from paying the agencies, the donor, the doctors, the surrogate and the birth — can be anywhere from $80,000 to $200,000. None of this is covered by insurance.
But for Mr. Towers, having biological children was a long-held dream that he was willing to work toward.
He grew up in what he called a humble home in Palm Bay, Fla., where he said he was bullied at school. “Growing up gay in a homophobic town, and in tough financial times, it was hard to see how I’d have my own kids,” he said.
His parents strung together several low-wage jobs, and he’s the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. He put himself through law school at University of Pennsylvania. He was a corporate attorney in Manhattan for 15 years and is now pursuing a master’s in public health at Columbia University.
Gradually, after the death of his mother, a failed relationship and two dog adoptions, he realized that he was ready to take on fatherhood, even by himself.
“I wanted to have children more than I wanted a partner,” Mr. Towers said. He viewed being single as a positive because he alone would control the decisions about surrogacy and parenting. Yet control was still an illusion.
Because it is illegal to pay a surrogate in New York, Mr. Towers’s quest to become a father began all the way across the country. Through an agency in Portland, Ore., Northwest Surrogacy Center, he found a woman there who was willing to carry a fertilized embryo. The embryo itself was made with the eggs of an anonymous donor from an agency based in California. These eggs (which, according to the agency, came from an astrophysicist) were fertilized at Oregon Reproductive Medicine, a clinic in Portland.
After a failed transfer of a single embryo, Mr. Towers and his surrogate decided to transfer two embryos in hopes that at least one would take. They knew it could mean twins.
“I realized I couldn’t control everything,” Towers said. “I left it to fate at that point.”
Nine months later, he traveled to Portland for the surrogate’s scheduled C-section and held his sons, Asher and Galen, for the first time. Asher had a short stay in the intensive care unit, so Mr. Towers stayed in Oregon for three more weeks, until the twins were ready for the long flight home to New York.
As unpredictable as the medical prospect of surrogacy may be, some gay men prefer that to the possibility of facing discrimination in adoption.
Dennis Williams had his son, Elan, via surrogacy four years ago. Mr. Williams, who is 46 and black, said he chose surrogacy because the prospect of persuading a woman to allow him to adopt was daunting. “As a single, gay black man,” he said, “I figured I’d be at the bottom of the list for most women.”
Mr. Williams and his former partner had a failed egg donation from a woman they met through a friend. After he and his partner broke up, Mr. Williams still wanted to be a father. The donor, a black lesbian who didn’t plan on having children, agreed to try again for Mr. Williams.
Once he became a father, Mr. Williams said, he felt as if he finally fit in with his big family in Kansas, where he grew up. “I was no longer an anomaly to them,” he said. “Once I had a son, it drew me closer to the tribe.”
For Mr. Towers, the race of his twin sons was more difficult to control. Both his parents are mixed race: his mother half-Filipina, and his father part Native American. He hoped to find a multiracial egg donor, but most of the donors, he found, were white.
“Some accused me of whitewashing my kids’ skin,” Mr. Towers said. “In the end, I don’t care about skin color. I’ll just have to work harder to make them understand their multiracial roots.”
One son, Asher, has the blond hair and blue eyes of the donor, while the other, Galen, has the dark brown hair and complexion of his father.
During the surrogate’s pregnancy, Mr. Towers enrolled in a twins class, did a daddy boot camp and took a baby-dog home-integration class. Even though he has a nanny seven days a week, he is on his own nights and mornings. Like any new parent of twins, he’s overwhelmed at times.
“I don’t like the feeling that I can’t do it all on my own, but sometimes I need help, even with a nanny,” he said. “Because I signed up to be a single father of twins, some people tell me I can’t complain. It contributes to the feeling I’m alone in the wilderness.”
The little moments keep him going.
After the walk around the Harlem Meer, Mr. Towers, with the help of the nanny, returned home and put the boys in their cribs.
He leaned in to kiss each of his sons on the forehead. “Daddy loves you,” he whispered.
As the boys drifted to sleep, he exhaled and stood watching them. He mentioned that he just renewed another year of storage for his remaining frozen embryos. Through a genetic screening test, he knows one embryo is female.
“Who knows?” he said. “One day, when the boys are out of diapers, maybe I’ll have a little girl.”
Do your children feel led or pushed? Or asked another way, are you as a
parent dominated by love or frustration? The two questions are inexorably tied
together. Leading is born out of love and pushing is born out of frustration.
Too often as parents we tell our children that we demand obedience and speak
sharply because we love them and only want the best for them. Most likely our
children are not buying this explanation. It feels to them as if they are being
pushed into doing what mum and dad want.
In contrast, notice the sequence of thought and actions in Deuteronomy
6:5-7: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and
with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be
upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit
at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get
First, you are to love God with every fiber of your being, with all that
you have to offer as a human living and being sustained by the grace of God.
Second, the commands of God are to dominate your inner being because of
your profound love for God.
Third, these commands are to be deeply implanted into the lives of your
children during every event and opportunity that God brings to you each day.
So, you as a parent are to deeply love God with all that you are as a
person. This love is expressed by drinking deeply of his commands so that your
heart is permeated with them. Then, this love for God and his commands is to
overflow from your heart into the everyday situations of life that you and your
It is this combination of loving God and living out His commands that
will allow you to impress the love you have for God into the lives of your
children. In this sense no pushing is required. This is what it means to lead.
Even as you embrace this deep love for God that Deuteronomy requires you to
have, your children will be still the same sinful creatures that desperately
need the grace of God. The difference will be that you will not be pushing them
to grasp what remains elusive to you. Rather you will be leading them to the
same place that you long to go – to the cross.
4 KEY ISSUES FOR NEW PARENTS AND HOW TO SOLVE THEM
We all know that having a
new baby presents unique challenges, and research shows that couples are more likely to feel dissatisfied with
their relationship after a child is born. As much as expecting parents plan and
prepare, there is still so much to learn about raising a child while keeping
their relationship with their partner intact.
In fact, according
to research by The Gottman Institute, 67% of
couples had become very unhappy with each other during the first three years of
their baby’s life. Only 33% remained content.
As with any life
transition, challenges are inevitable. It’s natural to disagree with your
partner on issues around parenting, finances, household chores, and marital
expectations. But as overwhelming as that sounds, it is possible to reach a
solution that everyone is happy with.
Differences in parenting
styles are a growing cause of concern in marriage, and issues can
arise between couples even before they bring their new baby home if there is no
established sense of unity and connectedness in place.
Perhaps your partner is
in favor of sticking to a strict parenting routine, while you prefer to be more
lax. Maybe you disagree on how to hold or change the baby. Whatever the issue,
it can become a source of tension in your relationship, particularly if the
problem is brought up repeatedly with an inability to see eye-to-eye.
Learning how to handle
stress and conflict effectively in order to understand each other more clearly
and reach compromise is essential. For example, through empathetic listening, you might realize that
your partner wants to develop a routine so that everyone sleeps better. Once
you understand their views and needs, you could compromise by creating a schedule
that works for both of you.
is key, so be sure to schedule some time to discuss parenting. Incorporate a
daily stress-reducing conversation and a
weekly state of the union meeting—even just 10
minutes a day of quality face time can drastically increase a couple’s
friendship and intimacy.
When you and your partner
disagree on parenting styles, it’s a sign that you both feel strongly about
what’s best for the baby, which is not at all a bad thing, and couples
counseling can help you focus on these positive intentions.
New moms struggle with
hormonal shifts, body changes, recovering from childbirth, and issues like
postpartum depression that can significantly reduce their desire for sex after
birth. While intimacy is an important part of sustaining healthy relationships,
it’s really important to create a situation that both partners feel comfortable
Start by discussing your expectations for physical
touch, affection, and sex openly and honestly with the understanding that you
might both be coming from very different places, eagerly trying to bridge the
gap. Practice a judgment-free zone without becoming defensive and try not to
take denied requests for sex and intimacy personally. Determine how best to say
yes, and how best to say no, so that you both feel understood and respected.
Your partner trusts you
enough to be vulnerable and wants a positive sex life, and it is a crucial time
to respect that trust and vulnerability. And if you feel that you or your
partner might take sexual rejection personally, talk about ways to indicate
that you’re not feeling up to it that you both understand and that won’t be
hurtful to either of you.
distribution of chores
It’s easy for chores to
pile up after a baby is born, and finding the right balance can be tricky,
especially after both partners have life demands to deal with like returning to
work, running errands, trying to exercise, seeing family members (especially
those who haven’t yet met the baby), trying to find a few moments of personal
downtime, and, of course, taking care of the new baby.
To help with the
increased workload of caring for a child on top of everyday chores, a weekly
planning discussion between you and your partner is imperative to coordinate
schedules, share co-parenting duties, and keep the house clean and tidy for the
During this discussion,
you might decide that if your partner cooks dinner, you’ll do the dishes, or if
you complete a job you really despise (like emptying the diaper bin), your
partner will do it next time and you’ll take turns.
Arguing about chores
might seem minor, but disagreements can quickly escalate to become major
sticking points, so it’s best to tend to them on a weekly basis. Voicing your
concerns and complaints early on in a respectful, non-blaming way will keep
negativity at bay and will allow you to effectively resolve your issues
Most people know that
raising a child is expensive. According to a report from the USDA, it will cost a
middle-income family $233,610 to raise a child born in 2015
through to the age of 17. That’s some serious money, and the spending starts
the moment you find out that you’re pregnant. This can put a lot of strain on
your relationship, particularly if one partner is a big spender while the other
prefers to save and be frugal.
Try sitting down together
to create a financial plan for the year. This should
include budgets for groceries, clothes, bills, utilities, medical care, prescriptions,
and other essentials, as well as plans for college savings, family vacations,
and larger purchases. Try to check in and discuss your finances at the same
time each month in order to stay on top of things and make adjustments as
needed. Financial planning is a skill that will serve you well for the rest of
If you can address each
of these issues as part of an overall parenting plan, then you can reduce the
amount of stress you and your partner will experience while adapting to the
life of being new parents. The two of you are a team, and while raising a child
is a big challenge, you have each other’s backs. Stick to the plans you make,
and remember that despite the pressures of parenting, your relationship can
still be a wellspring of trust, love, and devotion.
Victoria’s heart hurt. She’d just received
news, a few days before, that the marriage of her best friend, Callie, had
unexpectedly hit a breaking point. Although they were a part of her church
family, few people really knew what was going on.
When she walked in to teach her Sunday school
class, she could see the pain on the faces of Callie’s two youngest children.
She silently prayed, “Lord, what can I do?”
She stepped up and greeted the kids in a different way. She said, “I am sad
today. And it’s okay to be sad. Lots of times we put on a smile for everyone to
see on the outside, but inside we hurt. You wouldn’t know that I was sad today,
except that I told you.”
She then asked the children for a hug. “When our hearts hurt, we can share the love
that God puts in our hearts with one another, and it helps us feel better.
Would anyone want to give me a hug, today?” Immediately all of the children
lined up. As she hugged each child, some of them admitted to her that they
needed a hug too, including Callie’s children.
The atmosphere in the room changed. Her simple demonstration of honesty and
love had turned things around for her entire classroom. She encouraged her
children to ask for a hug from others if they felt they needed one during the
Today’s One Thing
Demonstrate God’s love to someone in a special
way today. If you’re not sure how, ask God to show you. There are times in our
lives where our authenticity can open the door for our friends or family to
share with us things they may be facing or even encourage them to know that no
one has a perfect life. We are all struggling together and can lean on one
another and God for help in our time of need!
There are three main paths to adopting. The route you
choose will be based on personal, legal and financial factors.
are two main ways to adopt a newborn within the United
States: through an agency or a private attorney. The latter
is referred to as an “independent” or “private” adoption.
adoption is becoming less common and more difficult, but an accredited adoption
agency or professional can help you navigate the process.
through foster care is essentially free and comes with support — but
make sure you have the capacity to help a foster child succeed.
you are exploring the possibility of adopting a child with a different
background from your own, educate yourself on the nuances involved in forming a
transracial or transcultural family.
adoptive parents must complete a “home study,” the process that will clear
your way to being able to legally adopt.
adoptions today have some degree of contact between birth and adoptive
families. Just how “open” your arrangement is will be determined via a
can cost as much as $50,000 — but resources exist to help offset some
The process of adopting can be a long,
complicated and emotional ride, with far more legal and
financial roadblocks than many people assume. But, as
most adoptive parents will tell you, it’s also a deeply fulfilling
are three main paths to adopting in the United States: through the foster
care system, with the help of a local adoption
agency or private attorney, and internationally. The route you
choose will ultimately be based on a number of personal, legal and financial
your reasons for adopting — and accept your limits.
Before embarking on an adoption process, you should be clear
about your motivations for doing so. “This is a lifelong decision you’re
making,” said Rita Soronen, president and C.E.O. of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, so it’s
important to be honest about any specific needs
you may have. Any limit you identify should not be
construed as a “failure,” Soronen clarified. “It’s an honest
personal assessment.” Below are some of the more common questions adoption
experts suggest you explore to help identify whether and which
kind of adoption is right for you:
Is it important to you to
parent a newborn, or are you open to adopting an older child? How
about a sibling group?
Would your home be an appropriate
fit for a child with special needs? Or an infant who was exposed
prenatally to drugs and alcohol?
If you are matched with a child
of another race or background, are you prepared to educate yourself
on the nuances of forming an interracial or intercultural family?
How much contact are you
comfortable having between you and your adopted child, and his
or her birth family?
Foster-adopt: According to the United
States Children’s Bureau, there are over 440,000 children in the
foster care system, over a quarter of who have been legally “freed” for
adoption. This makes foster care “a very real option” for prospective adoptive
parents, said Laurie Goldheim, Adoption Director for the Academy of Adoption
and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (A.A.A.A.). While children who have not
been legally “freed” may eventually become eligible for adoption, Goldheim
stresses that the government’s primary goal in these instances is to reunite
the children with their biological families.
children are in foster care for a reason,” said Soronen of the Dave Thomas
Foundation. Most are school-aged children over the age of 8 who have suffered
some form of trauma or neglect. The Child Welfare Information Gateway has
some resources to help prepare foster-adopt parents for the realities of
parenting a child who has experienced grief.
the best training you’ll receive, according to Soronen, comes once you’ve begun
the certification process. “Every parent is required to complete a home study
and 20 to 30 hours of training,” she said. “It’s time-consuming, but very
educational.” Soronen says this process can also serves as a “reality check”
for parents, meaning you’ll have “plenty of opportunities to decide whether
foster-adopt is right for you.” As a first step, she recommends simply making a
call to a certified foster care agency to begin the
Domestic infant adoption: If you hope to
parent a newborn, there are two main paths to doing so: through an adoption
agency or a private adoption lawyer—the latter is often referred to as an
“independent” or “private” adoption. “Which you choose will really just depend
on how involved you want to be in the process,” said Deborah E. Guston, former
Director of the A.A.A.A. An adoption agency, she explained, typically manages
all aspects of the adoption process for you, from start to finish.
you adopt independently, you will be responsible for aspects an agency would
normally handle, like finding a prospective birth parent through advertising,
and hiring an agency to conduct your home study. “Independent adoptions are
usually good for people who want to be deeply involved in the process,” Guston
said. “Those who don’t mind ceding control may prefer the comfort of an
agency.” Independent adoption isn’t legal in all states, and even where
available, restrictions often apply. Consult an experienced adoption lawyer for
help navigating the laws in your state.
International adoption: Adopting abroad has been
steadily declining in recent years, thanks to the closure of several countries’
international adoption programs. Still, thousands of parents successfully adopt children from
abroad each year. The process for doing so can vary considerably by country. “Some
restrict who can adopt based on marital status, sexual orientation, or age,”
said Goldheim of the A.A.A.A. “Even your body mass index can play a role.” You
can visit the U.S. Department of State’s page on intercountry adoption to
familiarize yourself with individual countries’ adoption laws — be sure to keep
checking back since laws can change rapidly. An accredited provider will
be necessary to guide you through the process.
your adoption professionals carefully.
Finding an adoption agency or lawyer can be
a daunting prospect. As a first step, Becky Fawcett of HelpUsAdopt.org suggests tapping your own
network. “Just start talking about it with people you trust,” said Fawcett.
“Sometimes you’ll be surprised by who has a good recommendation — you never
know who may have been touched by adoption in some way.”
The relationship that exists between
prospective adoptive parents and their professionals is an “intimate” one, says
Guston of the A.A.A.A. “So it really is important to not make your decision
lightly — call several agencies and lawyers and ask lots of questions.”
for the home study.
No matter which adoption path you choose,
you will be required to complete a home study, the process that clears the way
for you to legally adopt. “A good home study will have two parts: evaluation
and education,” said Dawn Davenport, Executive Director of the non-profit
group, Creating a Family. “Your case worker should be assessing your fitness to
serve as an adoptive parent, as well as educating you and providing you with
Though it varies by state and by agency,
home studies generally take anywhere from three to six months to complete and
include: several visits to your home by a case worker, health exams, proof of
income and health coverage, a criminal background check, and the names of
several people close to you who can serve as references. For more detailed
information on what to expect from and how to prepare for the home study
process, explore resources made available by the Child Welfare Information Gateway and Creating a Family.
how “open” you want your adoption to be.
There is a clear trend in the United States
towards maintaining some degree of contact between birth and adoptive families,
thanks in part to ongoing research that has found benefits
for all involved. Just how “open” your arrangement is will be the result of a
negotiated process between you and your child’s birth family. “It can range
anywhere from letters being exchanged once a year on the child’s birthday, to
frequent in person visits,” said Davenport of Creating a Family.
Even in the case of a “closed” adoption,
Davenport notes that children will still be able to access some identifying
information about their birth parents when they turn 18. The popularity of
commercially available DNA testing services, like Ancestry.com and 23andMe, has
also made the process of finding birth relatives so easy that the notion of an
entirely “closed adoption” is now all but obsolete. Creating a Family dedicates several resources on its website to open
adoption as does the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Adopting through foster care is essentially
free and often comes with subsidies. But the costs associated with other paths
can be considerable. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, an agency
adoption generally ranges from $20,000 to $45,000, an independent adoption from
$15,000 to $40,000, and an international adoption from $20,000 to
note for single, unmarried, and LGBTQ prospective adoptive parents.
states have enacted bills that allow state welfare agencies to legally
discriminate against people on the basis of religion: this has complicated the
efforts of some prospective adoptive parents who identify as LGBTQ, are single,
or are part of an unmarried couple. If adopting through an agency, choose one
listed on the Human Rights Campaign’s All
Children – All Families database of
agencies committed to nondiscriminatory policies. The LGBT
Bar Association’s Family Law Institute also
maintains a directory of lawyers committed to diversity.
Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I share a home with her?
Beth and I first lived under the same roof in 1982, when I was 13. My father, who was 47 at the time, invited Beth, then 23, to spend the summer in the Maine lake house he and I had fixed up the summer before. I refused to leave my room the night she arrived.
Without laying eyes on her, I knew she would be another of Dad’s interchangeable “little chickies” as he called them — the skinny, busty former students he liked to date.
The next morning, I was eating Honey Nut Cheerios when I heard her coming down the stairs. My father had already retreated to his desk upstairs, purportedly to work on a lecture on Puritan literature, but mostly to take hits from a hidden bottle of vodka.
I planned to freeze Beth out of existence with my thoughts — a superpower every gay boy needed in the 80s. But instead of making awkward chitchat, Beth just smiled, picked up her copy of “Crime and Punishment,” and ate her own Cheerios in silence.
When done, she asked if I liked the book I was reading — stories by John Cheever. Dad asked such questions only to hear his own opinion. Beth was actually curious to know mine. She was making me like her before I had the chance to hate her.
Soon on sunny afternoons, Beth and I lay on the dock together, tanning and lightening our hair with lemon juice, as one did in the 80s. Neither mentioned a shared lust for a neighbor — a combination seminarian and jock — who joined us for a swim from time to time.
Dad and Beth married the following September. By May, two semesters later, my father’s tantrums had driven her away. Amazingly, he never once had an ill word to say about Beth. And this was a man who in five minutes could convince you Gandhi was a narcissist and Jesus a sociopath.
He did have bad things to say about his first wife, my mother. And she gave him reasons. Beneath her charms lay inchoate storms of hurt and aggression. As Dad was leaving her for the last time — I was 12, a year before Dad met Beth — she told him she was going to take me to “Luna,” a recent Bertolucci film. A terrible look came over his face, not rage this time but horror.
After he left, I was too terrified to look at the art house flyer taped to the fridge. My mother never did take me to see the movie, but a few years later, “Luna” returned for a Bertolucci retrospective. This time I did read the flyer and wished I hadn’t. “Luna,” it turned out, was “the story of the incestuous relationship between a mother and her teenage son.”
To be clear, my mother had never acted on the themes of the film, but she craved an emotional closeness that was too much for a son to give.
At 17, I went as far away as I could, first to college in California and then on to a journalistic career I kept undercutting with debt-fueled geographic cures that never worked for long — not Los Angeles, not Paris, not even Rio de Janeiro.
At first, Beth and I stayed in touch, but like me, she kept moving. She married again, had a daughter, divorced and, as a social worker/actress, constantly chased cheap New York City rents. By around 1995, the handwritten phone numbers in our respective address books were no longer valid.
When Dad died in 2005, the vodka finally having wiped out his liver, my sister tracked down Beth’s email and cc’d me. I was living in Rio, where I thought I’d found both happiness and a mate for life. Right away, Beth and I were yakking the way we had on the dock. Soon, I was visiting her for weeks at a time, ostensibly to work on a screenplay but mostly just to be together.
In 2013, a Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage, enabling my Brazilian husband, 14 years my junior, to immigrate to the United States as my spouse. We moved to Upper Manhattan — two blocks from Beth. The Brazilian complained that she and I analyzed movies to death. We both thought, but we live to analyze movies to death.
One afternoon, I left him on the couch playing video games and texting bar plans that I no longer wanted to be part of. I walked to Beth’s, where she and I talked about substantive things — books, movies, joys, griefs. On the way back, I realized I wasn’t just bored at home. I was also lonely.
It was the Brazilian who left in the end. Beth comforted me as neither of my parents nor the Brazilian could have — she was patient, protective but never pitying, sure of my strength.
Suddenly, she and I were both single and struggling to pay Manhattan rents. Why shouldn’t she move into my extra bedroom? I hesitated, ostensibly because of her clutter problem. I once left some junk mail on her coffee table, only to find it in the same place when I returned six months later. When I threw it away, she was actually a little sad. I, by contrast, strove for the modernist austerity of the homes I wrote about for architecture magazines, and threw away not only clutter but even things I actually needed.
However, clutter was just cover for a deeper fear. By living with my father’s former wife, would the incestuous waves, at last, pull me under?
In 2010, Mom learned that her gut discomfort was stage-four colon cancer. “Forgive me …,” she said nine months later, from her hospice bed. Whether because of the pain, the morphine, or her own hesitation, she couldn’t name the thing to be forgiven. “For … for … well, you know,” she said.
I had found peace with my dying mother, but was still haunted by her earlier avatar — the Medea willing to psychically drown her son. Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I really share a home with her?
Then when I was 47, I lost my biggest freelance client. My finances were in free fall. Two months later, Beth, by then 57, moved in. I gave her the master bedroom and the two largest closets. In return, she ceded all aesthetic control of common spaces.
The clutter problem turned out to be only a minor annoyance. When her things piled up, I placed them on her bed while she was out.
The Mommy issues took longer. I would share details of my own peccadilloes, but plugged my ears and hummed when Beth did the same. “So you can talk about sex and I can’t?” she asked. “I guess that’s another one of your double standards, sweetie.”
Like aversion therapy, this controlled exposure has had marvelously curative effects. Now, Beth can get as graphic as she wants, and it is fine — at least tolerable. And gradually I have come to see my mother as a charming, cultured woman who, in 1980s Baltimore, kept up with Italian cinema.
Beth and I still analyze movies to death, but now from the comfort of the sectional couch I bought with the Brazilian. I am still regrouping for my next foray into love and marriage, but most days that question seems moot.
I’m still learning that a happy home is constructed not with Modernist furnishings but emotional safety — a language that, after nearly four decades, Beth is still teaching me to speak.
Many parents sending kids off to college worry that their time as a
family is over. But that isn’t always the case these days.
The Sugerman family’s
trip to Southern Utah this past May involved a treacherous drive. There were
hairpin turns; the three adult children needed to move boulders to clear a path
for the car. “We were on these roads which were barely roads, climbing up
canyon walls,” said Andy Sugerman, of Ann Arbor, Mich. “It was night. The sky
was beautiful. Everybody was fully engaged.” The value of shared adversity and
overcoming these obstacles together allowed for bonding unlike any other kind
of experience, he said.
Many parents sending kids off to college weep over their empty
nests, thinking their time as a family is over. And a generation ago, young
adults often wanted to get as far away from their parents as possible once they
entered adulthood. But that isn’t always the case these days. An increasing number of young adults move back home for summers or after college.
And even for those who launch quickly, family vacations present an opportunity
for parents to remain close to their adult children.
The trip to Utah was the latest annual family vacation for Mr.
Sugerman, his wife, Gayle Rosen, and their three sons, Eli, 25; Alex, 23; and
Sam, 19. The family’s first outdoor adventure — a road trip across the West in
2008 — was motivated by the recognition that “as the kids were getting older,
the opportunities for time together would be more limited,” Mr. Sugerman said.
Since then, the family has explored 28 national parks together.
Rosen presumed that as the boys grew into young adulthood, they’d lose interest
in being with their immediate family and that the trips would stop. But that
has not happened.
opportunity to go on a cool outdoor trip with my family continued to present
itself, and I’ve continued to take it,” said Eli, who lives about four hours
away from his parents, in Chicago. “I see no reason why an end would be in
Ms. Rosen feels fortunate that her children still want to go. “I
love being outdoors with them. We all unplug and I get to see the amazing human
beings they’ve become,” she said.
A variety of
factors are keeping young adults connected to their parents — both
geographically and emotionally. Research by Karen Fingerman, a professor of human
development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, found
that, compared to the mid-20th century, young adults today tend to be less
financially stable and are more likely to marry later — keeping them closer to
their families — while many more of them live with their parents. She also
discovered that technology and accessibility of transportation make it easier
to stay close. “The culture is shifting toward increased contact and increased
interdependency” between parents and their young adult children, Dr. Fingerman
Her work indicates that 30 years ago, only half of parents
reported weekly contact with a grown child, while currently nearly all parents
had contact with a grown child in the past week, and over half of parents had
contact with a grown child every day. She found affection and intimacy between
young adults and their parents rising as well. Dr. Fingerman said this is
generally a positive development that benefits both generations. As young
adults turn more to their parents than their peers for guidance, “they’re
getting better advice from people who care about them,” she said.
you can foster close relationships without spending money, taking a family
vacation with young adults is a growing trend, said Rainer Jenss, president and
founder of the Family Travel Association, a company that encourages family
travel. He points to Backroads, a Berkeley, Calif.-based company focused
on upscale active travel for families as an example. Next year, Backroads will
introduce a “20s & Beyond” segment dedicated to parents
traveling with their children in their 20s and 30s. Tom Hale, the company’s
founder and chief executive, said that last year, 6,500 parents and their adult
children went on the company’s trips, even though the trips weren’t specifically
aimed at this older age group.
a relationship psychologist based in St. Louis and author of “Stress Less, Live
Better: 5 Simple Steps to Ease Anxiety, Worry, and Self-Criticism,” suggests
these trips go better if parents manage their expectations, don’t overschedule
and allow everyone to have time to themselves.
Laura Sutherland, who lives in Santa Cruz, Calif., and her
husband, Lance Linares, have taken their son, now 30, and daughter, now 32, on
10 trips since they graduated from college. The trips now include their
spouses. Ms. Sutherland recommends booking accommodations with private rooms if
possible. She assigns everyone responsibility for preparing or treating for a meal
— and pitching in with cleanup. “We have clear communication in the beginning
that parents shouldn’t be servants,” she said.
If budgets or timing don’t allow for travel, hiking close to home or going out for lunch and a visit to a local museum can work, too. As young adults strike out on their own, there’s a delicate balance that parents need to achieve. It starts with respecting kids’ growing independence in adolescence, said Dr. Ken Ginsburg, co-director of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. They should feel comfortable coming to you for advice. By the time they are young adults, it’s no longer a one-way street.
“When you honor the fact that they can guide and support you,
you’re developing a relationship that can last for decades,” Dr. Ginsburg said.
Dr. Sanford says if a dispute arises, instead of reacting or
getting angry, “pause, take a breath and ask yourself whether it’s more
important to get your way or have the opportunity for a good relationship.”
Carl Pickhardt, a counseling psychologist based in Austin, Tex.,
and author of the blog “Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence” and the book Who Stole My Child? Parenting Through the
Four Stages of Adolescence,encourages
parents of adult children to repeat a few mantras to themselves: I will respect
the choices you make and how you face the consequences; I will not criticize or
censor your behavior in any way; and I will cheer you on as you engage in life.
He said to never provide unsolicited advice, but to request permission, saying
something like, “I have some advice I would like to give that would be helpful,
but only if that’s something you would like me to do.” Dr. Ginsburg suggests
determining if your child wants you to listen or to provide advice, using
language like: “I’m so glad that you always feel you can come and talk to me
about these things. How can I be the most supportive?”
Ginsburg emphasized that there are some situations that call for a parent to
become involved if the adult child’s safety is at risk, including dangerous
depression, significant and substantial drug use or domestic abuse.
As young adults
struggle with their identity and their life goals, parents should rest assured
that they continue to play a vital role, Dr. Ginsburg said. “You are the person
who is going to love them no matter what.”
you take a vacation or just spend time together at a movie or a restaurant, he
noted, “Your highest yield time is to just be with each other and enjoy each
Last fall, I made a viral video about having trouble making friends. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Being known as “the girl with no friends” wasn’t my favorite part about having made a video that went viral — but you take what you can get.
About a year ago, as a college freshman at Cornell, I was assigned a short video project for my Intro to Digital Media course.
I decided to focus on my disappointment with the early weeks of college: How I couldn’t get past superficial conversation, how I couldn’t seem to enjoy parties, feel comfortable on campus, or just meet people who I wanted to spend more time around. I felt so lost and beyond confused.
I had been a pretty social person in high school and I fully expected to make great friends right away when I got to college. It’s supposed to be the time of your life, right?
I had been looking forward to college for years. I started studying for standardized tests in 10th, hammering out extracurricular activities and A.P. courses all through 11th, and spent senior year typing applications till my fingers practically bled. I got into a great school, pleasing myself and my family. This was not the payoff I expected.
The worst part was that I felt as if I were the only one who was this lonely. I’d see all these freshmen walk in packs — just massive groups of friends already formed in the first two weeks of school. I couldn’t muster the courage to ask people to get lunch. It was so frustrating. I immediately turned on myself — criticized and blamed myself for being weird and unapproachable.
I spent a ton of time on social media, constantly checking in on my high school friends and seeing how they were getting along at their colleges. They’d post more and text me less. I really tried to put myself out there, but the more people I met, the more defeated I felt. I wasn’t interested in forging fake relationships out of necessity, I wanted genuine friendships that I could treasure. Why couldn’t I find them in my first month on campus?
I poured my loneliness into the four-and-a-half-minute film I made, called “My College Transition.” I posted it on YouTube expecting only my professor and a couple friends to see it.
It now has over 275,000 views and hundreds of comments. I had students from all over the country reach out to me and express their experiences, thanking me for making them feel less alone. Administrators from various universities wrote to me asking for permission to show the video to their freshman class. I even landed a few freelance video design jobs. I spoke on panels, gave tons of interviews and won an award at a film festival.
It was overwhelming in the most beautiful way, and was further proof that I wasn’t alone in my experience. It also showed how necessary it was for people to be open about isolation on college campuses.
Now a sophomore, I see how ridiculous my expectations were for my first year. To assume I could instantly meet my New Best Friends while also getting used to a new place, starting a new academic career, and learning how to adjust to life away from home — that’s a full plate already. Some of the high school friends I was missing had been my friends for my whole life.
Expecting close relationships like the ones that had taken years to develop was unfair to myself and the people around me. Going to college is a massive change — so many students are being uprooted from the familiar comforts of their homes and thrust into a completely new place. It was beyond unrealistic for me to anticipate a seamless transition.
After I posted the video I had people of all ages and genders reaching out to me, explaining how they felt the same way when they started a new job, when they moved to a new place, even when they started retirement.
Loneliness is too often paired with self-blame and self criticism: “I can’t find my place among these people, so it must be my fault.” My social life became a big game of trial and error, slowly learning in which groups I felt welcome and included. It was hard! It was draining! But by putting myself out there, I found so many communities on campus to invest myself in, and where I knew I would be happily received.
The video was definitely a conversation starter, and it made people more likely to open up to me about their struggles as a freshman. But I don’t think the video was any sort of motivator for people to actually become my friend.
Now, a year after making the film, I’ve settled in to college a lot better. But I see the new batch of freshmen around me and imagine many of them are going through the same transition. Here’s what I know now that I wish I could have told my younger self.
You can’t clone your high school friends
The notion that my college friends should be stand-ins for my close relationships from home: impossible. One of the great things about going away to college is the chance to meet people who are not the same. I learned to cherish each relationship for its uniqueness, for the different perspective and ideas it brought into my life. At first I searched for people who reminded me of my friends from home, who would play a similar role in my life that they do. But I began to realize that no one can stand in for or replace them — which was oddly comforting, and a relief to acknowledge.
Social media is not reality
I had to minimize my time on social media. It became a platform for comparison. I evaluated every picture my friends posted, determining whether their college looked like more fun than mine, if they had made more friends than I had, just meaningless justifications for my unhappiness. It was comforting when old friends reached out to me to say that they related to the video. Many of them were people I thought were having a fantastic time at school. Social media reinforces the notion that you should always be enjoying yourself, that it’s strange to not be happy and that life is a constant stream of good experiences and photo-worthy moments. I taught myself that everyone’s college experience is different, and slowly, I started to embrace the uniqueness of my own.
Give yourself time to adjust
Transitions are always hard — regardless of your age. But the social expectations around college put overwhelming pressure on students to fit in seamlessly into their campus, without truly acknowledging the difficulty of uprooting your life and starting fresh. The hardest thing to tell struggling freshmen is that acclimation takes time — and “thriving” even longer. Making friends is an active process, and all the preconceived ideas college students arrive with can make for a defeating experience. Understand that your loneliness is not failure, and that you are far from being alone in this feeling. Open your mind and take experiences as they come. You’re going to find your people.