Where has the white picket fence family gone?

You did what you thought you were supposed to do. It’s all part of the script – the formula for life, right? You grow up. You go to school. Get a job. You fall madly in love. You marry. You buy the house with or without the white picket fence, get the dog and have babies. You’re living happily ever after, right?

Hopefully, some of you are.

Vintage Schwinn Bike & White Picket Fence by csterken

Vintage Schwinn Bike & White Picket Fence by csterken

There is nothing more heartwarming than that couple, we all know them, the couple who makes it 50 or 60 years together. The couple that sticks by each other through thick and thin and who remain faithful to one another, always. And they do it despite all of the challenges that a lifetime can bring.

But admit it. Even when our parents parents were young, not everything was rosy. Affairs happened. Folks left each other. Dads, decades ago, were most likely the ones to walk out the door because, well, because mom’s job was to stay at home with the kids.

Times have changed, folks.

Love far too often fades in today’s society. In part, because we’re told, always, that we’re supposed to ‘be happy.’ Few seem to want to put in the work marriages and raising kids together often requires. People grow tired of the same old thing. Couples grow apart. Jobs get in the way. Affairs still happen, on either side. More and more, moms are not only going to work but also becoming the breadwinner. They’re not at home, any more than dad. Depending on the situation then, mom or dad leaves whatever house they’re in because if you’re splitting up, someone has to.

But that means the couple is broken.

The family as a whole, doesn’t have to be, too.

Ask just about any fit (willing, able, wanting, non-abusive, not chemically dependent) parent, and they’ll tell you they love and want to care for their children moving forward whether it be in one or two homes, as much as they have since the day their child was born. Not just the financials of it all. But actually helping raise their child.

And, given it has been shown time and again to be what’s best for kids, we all have some pretty important choices to make in how we handle divorce and custody discussions, decisions and litigation should we (as a family choosing to separate) not be able to reach a workable solution for everyone involved, on our own. North Dakota voters specifically, at this moment in time, have an unbelievable opportunity before them. ND; what you need to know about Measure 6:

  • 110 world experts endorse shared parenting in family law and say current law is based on “flawed science”.
  • Too many children are growing up without one of their parents; usually the dad. There are tremendous, documented physical and emotional consequences to this.  
  • Shared parenting is popular in poll after poll achieving over 70% approval and with equal support of men and women.
  • Lawyers only get paid to draft documents and “argue”, so they have a financial incentive to create conflict.  Who ever wins in this situation? The legal system. Not your family.

I told my ex the entire time we were married and discussing how the marriage wasn’t working, that if we ever separated, I wanted to be that couple. The couple that still gets along, that has holidays together, that invites each other over for whatever. There was no way we were going to be that couple. Not from the get-go. But we still shared everything when it came to our daughter – the responsibility for raising her, time, decisions and when we couldn’t agree, we sought out mediation. While we didn’t always agree on how it looked, we absolutely did our best to do right by her. Not by what one or the other of us wanted. It’s why, when we went through the divorce, we sought out ‘collaborative’ attorneys. What, haven’t heard of it? It’s a common practice in Wisconsin, among other states. But, it’s rarely heard of in states that want to perpetuate the fighting. Like you, North Dakota. Think those attorneys throwing everything they have including 70k of their own money against Measure 6 have your children’s best interest in mind? Think again. Think of all the other good that 70k could do? Or how much of a break they could cut families who do need to litigate? Think of how commonplace Collaborative Divorce would be in your state if they truly wanted what was best for a child? About $3,000 each got us both through the actual divorce process, which was cordial and vetted out one of the most thorough and well defined placement schedules I’ve ever seen, leaving little to question or fight over. How many of you have ever even heard of a collaborative divorce?

For what it’s worth, some thougths – and not just on Measure 6 in North Dakota but for folks in any state or region where #sharedparenting reform is being discussed and on the table:

– Talk with others. Moms and dads. Grandparents. Professionals in the field. If you really want to educate yourself, seek out dads that you specifically you know are good dads – good people, who have gone through divorce and get their first hand account. Be interested in their experience if you truly want to become an educated voter. All sides of this complicated family situation are throwing a lot of statistics around at you and a lot of anecdotes. To know yourself for sure, what is best for families (and every situation will be unique other than this;  when two fit parents are involved and their locations make it physically possible to share custody, shared parenting has been shown to be most effective. Always.) ask questions, do the research and ignore the rhetoric.

– Trust that very few adults are better at raising a child alone, than together. No one’s role as full-time parent should be diminished just because there may now be two homes instead of one.

– Kids do need both parents. Which, when possible, includes equally a mom and a dad. Or in some cases, two moms, or two dads. And grandparents on both sides. And a school that trusts and shares information with all parties. And neighbors wherever they are, helping watch over them. Raising kids well requires a team effort. It does actually take a village. Those who think they can do it alone or that they’re better off shutting out another good parent, your children are simply missing out. You are also putting your child at risk of a whole host of problems proven to arise when good dads, in particular, are absent. Statistics back this up.

– Collaborative divorces are what is best for a child. It requires parents agree to sit down at the table, together, with their attorneys, and work things out. Always, deliberately, with the best interest of the child in mind. Encourage your state bar to promote this kind of law practice.

We now just need the court system and family law to recognize what we, as a society, should already know and value. Kids do need both parents – equally where and when possible – and the best possible alternative otherwise. It shouldn’t be a mandate. It shouldn’t be a ‘no matter what’. It shouldn’t tie judges hands. But it should be a starting point.

Measure 6 lives up to all of this.

Still stuck on that script? Still trying to live that picture perfect life? Those of you with primary placement still feel that less than 82.2% (national average) time with your kids means somehow you’re less of a parent? Or that you’re giving the other parent way more time than they should be given for some unknown reason – or ‘just because’? Let go of that old script. It hasn’t fit the storyline now for decades. You can do it. Figure out a better way for you, your ex and your kids. Appreciate another parent who wants to be a part of your kids lives and work to be inclusive versus the opposite. It may not look or seem easy, but if 110 world experts are right and experience speaks for anything, the rewards can be phenomenal once you let go of the fear, especially that fear of losing control. For your kids. For you. For everyone.

No good parent should be deliberately minimized in the life of their child. Kids love and need both parents. They don’t want to have to pick and choose. Our courts (in any state) shouldn’t be allowed to either.

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Mind your own business

Have you ever lost someone so close to you, you feel like a part of you died as well? A loss so profound it has you realizing each and every day how lucky you are – to have what you do – the people around you, your health and the gift of more time with them? A loss that in many ways, also becomes a gift because it helps you realize you shouldn’t take a moment in this life for granted?

My mom passed away 13 years ago. She was just 56 years old. She died of lung cancer. I miss her terribly.

My mom

My mom

SO .. every year, on this day, I feel a bit of frustration. Not over her death. But over how apathetic we’ve grown to a day designed to do so much good for other families that could prevent the same fate my mother had, despite the fact my mother wasn’t a smoker.

Today is the Great American Smokeout. Did you even know that?

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Usually the response from anyone who still smokes to anyone expressing concern is often something along the lines of, “Mind your own damn business.” That’s a comment I’ve heard time and again – not necessarily to me but to others on countless occasions, especially as a reporter trying to do any sort of news coverage on this day.

So.. I’m not going to talk about smoking or quitting smoking. What you want to do to your own body is your own business. I get it. But seeing the meager news coverage today on the event, I feel compelled to say something. Because I miss my mom. And because lung cancer sucks. And because smokers, I want to remind you, if you’re blessed at all to have people around you that love you, it’s that you’re not the only one who gets sick, if and when you get sick. From smoking.

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Please do me a favor and if not for me, for those who love you: 

  • Smoker or not, know the signs, symptoms and risk factors for lung cancer.
  • Go to the doctor if you do smoke, have high radon levels in your home or if you’ve been taking in secondhand smoke much of your life.
  • What are the radon levels in your home? It’s the second leading cause of lung cancer. The test is cheap and easy, test your home.
  • Know that if you’ve quit smoking, even upwards of 20 years ago, you are still at risk. Those statistics that say you’ve magically recovered somehow from all of the damage done – throw them out the window when it comes to your lungs.
  • Get screened if possible for this disease if you know you’re at risk. Screenings are more available than they’ve ever been. Call the NCI designated cancer center nearest you and ask.
  • If you’re lucky enough to catch the disease early, don’t expect it to be as treatable as every other cancer having success right now. It’s a tough diagnosis. And while advancements are being made by some very caring, hard-working and dedicated researchers and physicians, there are few treatment options available that work for advanced stages of this disease.
  • Donate to lung cancer research. Any cancer research, actually, because advancements in one area are often translate anymore to other cancers. Just donate, to a reputable organization. And if you want it to go to research, do you homework. Ask how much of it goes to research. Because I bet if you started asking if what your donations are going to, they are often steered elsewhere unless you know to ask. If you want to be lung specific, two great options include the lung cancer program at the Carbone Cancer Center and the National Lung Cancer Partnership. I’ve worked with and for both organizations. They steward your dollars well.
  • If you’re a lung cancer survivor, share your story. Don’t hide in the shadows worrying if someone will ask you if you got it from smoking. Because, people just will. And then you ask them in return, “Why do you ask?” Think about the position that puts someone in then, to have to explain why they’re asking. No one deserves this disease. Would they do that to someone with heart disease? Type 2 diabetes? Not so much, I’m thinking. Stand up for yourself, talk about what is happening. You’d be amazed at how much support there is for you if only others knew.
  • If you’ve lost a loved one to lung cancer, become their voice. Nothing will change where the course of this disease or the prognosis until we unite our voices and the research dollars.
  • If you have the guts to confront what is before you, smokers, if you really want to quit – which statistics show many of you do – try this. Go fishing. Catch a live fish and watch it as it struggles to breathe until it dies. Understand that this is the position you’re putting your family in. Know that doesn’t have to be you. Or them. I’d never wish what my mother went through on anyone. Not that she could do a thing about it. She was among those that just got the disease, because. And she handled her life, disease and death with as much grace as one possibly can.

If you decide you ever want someone to butt in, to help you quit, there is help. There are resources. It doesn’t have to be today you take that first step. Any day is a good day to try.