Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The joy of child support

"Male incomes rise by a third after a split, while women are worse off and can struggle for years.

Divorce makes men - and particularly fathers - significantly richer. When a father separates from the mother of his children, according to new research, his available income increases by around one third. Women, in contrast, suffer severe financial penalties. Regardless of whether she has children, the average woman's income falls by more than a fifth and remains low for many years."

So why is it that guidelines for child support remain low? If the research shows that men's incomes rise, if we know as a culture that there is still a pay gap between women and men, why are men not paying child support?
I look at my circle of friends and the men I know. My women friends have exes who try everything they can to wiggle out of child support. The ones that are most laughable are the men who spend thousands in court to prove how they are incapable of paying child support and other expenses. Family court often participates in this fiasco, especially when a man's income falls outside the guidelines. A very rich man can get away with paying very little child support and create a huge gap in lifestyle for his children between mom's house and dad's house.
And many men deliberately do that, since our culture at large has values related to materialism and not quality of life or quality of relationship. It allows a man to use money to look good instead of actually demonstrate good character, and sets up a deliberate power imbalance in which he can use the situation he has created to look like a good father by denigrating his children's mother.
My sister in this has written here about the whole matter.

Given the staggering amount of back child support that is owed, there is only one explanation. We are not expecting men to grow up and take responsibility. Is it because we don't smile at them and praise and coo and coddle their fragile egos that they evade responsibility? No. It is because they CHOOSE not to grow up.
I have no tolerance for men who cry "poor" when they come and go in work as they please, and make their ambition bullying instead of their children's quality of life. It's a lie. These are the users who conflate fathering with making a child's mother look bad and won't step up to the plate to financially support and fully be a father to their children. This is the farthest thing from fathering that there is. These men are not the kind of fathers who hold the bigger picture of their children's lives, and who make sure their life is good no matter where they are. I am stating the obvious here, but these men are just not caring for or about their children.

Consider some of the men I've met along the way. The man whose wife cheated on him but who made sure he took on extra debt and responsibilities to help his child. The man who continues to pay for his ex's mortgage, above and beyond what he would be "required" to pay, in order to give his daughter a happy life. The men all along the way who are angry and bitter over their divorce and how they've been hurt, but still maintain that supporting their children is important and do everything in their power to give to their children financially, and to work with their children's mother to make sure the kids are taken care of.
These men are respectable. They understand that if you support a child's mother, you set an example of the worth of a woman (that she should be treated with respect) and the worth of a man (that he is capable of support, overcoming anger, and altruism). Daughters and sons see this and take it in. Men who use the court system out of a financial power imbalance to retaliate and punish their ex for lack of automatic compliance with their wishes, men who refuse to pay anything extra, men who cry poor...these men are not thinking about their children. They are not even thinking. Men who use attorneys who would most certainly be happy if your children had nothing to eat at your house. Men who use their own resources or their family's resources to continue to bully their ex and spend way more money on litigation to prove they cannot pay child support than actually paying child support would cost.
Yes. Men actually spend money to prove that they don't have any money so they don't have to support their children. Logical, right?


Then there is the question of race. I heard a story that angered me to no end, where a black man was unfairly jailed for failure to pay child support, or being in arrears, and there was a technical mistake. No matter. He was jailed. A white man can use sophisticated methods to wiggle out of child support, but this would not work for a black man. The hunger for some people to find and blame a scapegoat is evil, just plain evil.
Doesn't anyone stop to confront and question a man who can afford expensive housing, new cars, excessive and long litigation, multiple vacations but not child support? Doesn't anyone wonder why he gets off barely working, living off his family's money, or why it is acceptable for him to hide money? Doesn't anyone wonder how and why a woman can be expected to hold down multiple jobs, go to school, and do the large majority of the parenting work while a man is not held to those same standards? Is this ALL we expect from men? For them to be justified losers? For their selfishness to know no boundaries?

The other thing that cracks me up is often these men, monumentally drunk on projection, will accuse the woman of not supporting their children. The projection is so clear, so cut-and-dried, and he doesn't see it because that is the nature of projection. It is a heady drug, a blinding anesthetic, and it somehow makes him feel better.
What about 50/50 time and equal pay? If there was a reasonably equal marriage and that sense of mutual participation in equality and support can be carried into the divorce, then I am all for it. I think those are the couples that have basic good will towards each other and can make it work. But it should be part of a bigger picture of structuring the children's lives to be supported and loved, not as a way for an uninvolved dad to become interested in parenting so he can get out of child support, or as a way for him to denigrate his children's mother. There is no excuse for a man who uses the legal system to bully the mother of his children and continue the pattern of abuse set forth in their marriage. And the legal system doesn't care. People look at me like I have two heads when I tell them the sad reality of family court. It is NO PLACE to take the lives of your children. PARENTS should be making decisions for their children, and only people who have no capacity for problem-solving, empathy, or cooperation use family court as a bludgeon and to get their way. I'm not talking about the ones who need protection from a hitter or stalker or sexual abuser. I'm talking about the petty, conflict-addicted, retaliatory and entitled ones.

Wake up, world. My blog is small and not widely read, so no matter how many articles are published or what the research says, no matter how may people complain and bring the truth to light and try to make changes, men are still going to be bullies, think small and limit themselves, and try to wiggle out of personal duty and responsibility. Start calling it what it is: abuse. It is financially abusive to mothers and children. It is abusive because repeated litigation and child support evasion is based on the principles all abuse is based on: entitlement and exploitation. Someone has to take care of the kids, and it isn't going to be him, at least not where he disagrees.
Most people don't give a shit if kids are being child-supported or not. They don't give a shit that the men don't give a shit and will pretend right along with them. They turn a blind eye to abuses of every kind. But they should care. The underlying message is that men are incapable, blind, baby hamsters (think "You Ain't Woman Enough to Take My Man"), entitled to receive the best treatment their cages can afford.
Please, world. Give us more men that do not disappoint us, but that we can believe in and count on to be strong and supportive.

Thursday, June 2, 2016


Wasichu is a Lakota Sioux word meaning quite literally, "white person." But over the years,another connotation emerged: "he who takes the best meat for himself."
You can hear all about it here.
I watched the video 3-4 times, just not believing it, sobbing over and over with powerlessness, anger, and an untold well of grief.
Wasichu is the guiding principle behind sexism, racism, capitalism, bullying, narcissism, domestic abuse, colonialism.
Wasichu marriage plants one as colonist and one as colonized. Wear our clothes. Only our furniture. Put it where I tell you. Only our culture counts. Your ways are those of a savage. I must  monitor your savage ways. Only our customs and family events are important. Speak our way. Do only as we do. You ultimately have no value, no meaning, no place here. Your interests are relegated to the basement, your things mine to throw away. You must ultimately hold to my word. Your accomplishments don't count. You must give, I must take.
Wasichu divorce goes on and on and leaves its own trail of broken treaties, displacement, stolen territory, lies, and wielding unfair force, in the form of money. Money is wasichu power, and enables the wasichu to take the best for himself. Everyone else be damned. And the ensuing trail of tears, the brokenness, gives the wasichu opportunity to do the most evil act of all: blame the suffering of his victim on his victim's weakness, and not on his own deplorable abuse via deliberate, systematic bullying. My hands are clean, he says. I did nothing wrong, he says. I deserve all the meat, he says. I deserve to cause suffering. I deserve to be held blameless and above reproach. You are the wrong one. I am the moral one, the religious one, my secular morals make me inherently superior. Look what a weak, emotional mess you are.
Perhaps it is up to all of us to become less like a wasichu, and more like a human being, and to stop the wasichus from taking when we can.

(previous post about a different kind of wasichu:

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Though wounded, they shine

In "The Body Keeps the Score", I read about how a group of veterans were moving right along in their healing, opening up and talking and telling their stories, but were reluctant to move out of that place. They simply wanted to keep telling their war stories to each other, and stick with the narrative they knew.
In healing from trauma, from emotional abuse and domestic violence, healing is centered on three things: telling your story, having your story being compassionately witnessed, and re-ordering your story with the help of that compassionate witness. In situations of domestic abuse and healing, it is still important to hold to the truth and tell your story WITHOUT becoming stuck in a victim identity.
 The hope is one of a re-ordered story.
As for bullies/abusers; how can anyone be proud of themselves, be morally consistent, when their stories of other people are ones of judgment, criticism, fault-finding, attacking, and then twisting the story to make themselves the victim? This is the identity the bully/abuser is stuck in: one of superiority, winning at all costs, contempt, disregard for  truth, and exploitation; their stories ones of victory over threats to their fragile egos, their perceived tormentors those who are really their victims. And I can see why they would perceive themselves a victim. If you are stuck on your own way and dependent on someone giving you that way, you are going to be mired deep in anger toward what is not giving you your way. You do not see that you have made yourself powerless.
Victim-blaming is a huge anesthetic. It ensures continued blindness to one's own grief and despair, keeps one from having to fool with one's own messy humanity by way of remorse, and puts up a huge wall that locks out information about how your own behavior affects others. It makes sure you stay stuck in not having insight and self-awareness, not being able to forgive, and certainly not caring about how to make a repair in a relationship.
It keeps you from the deepest truth about yourself: that you are valuable. Not that you are superior,but that you are valuable. There's a huge difference. That you, through your actions, can lead people to their worth, or you can lead them to their pain. Sure, you help them become stronger by inflicting wounds which lead them to their pain, and ideally, to their recovery. You have that power: the power to wound. We all do. But then, in hurting others, you betray yourself. Bullies want and need others to play into their self-betrayal. It's why they love codependents. They want people who will play nice and support their incongruity. But if they truly understood, if they "got" the truth of what they've done just one little bit, they would hang their heads in shame and avoid your (their target's) gaze and stay far away from you. They would understand that even an apology might not work and would appropriately accept the consequences of their hatefulness. They would see how they have disregarded and diminished their own value. (see this article regarding remorse from a Christian viewpoint:
Sherman Alexie writes that there are basically two tribes of humans: those who are assholes, and those who are not. People who love an asshole do the right thing by speaking up. It's like telling your friend they have kale stuck between their teeth or toilet paper on their shoe. If I love you, I help you see yourself. If I love you, I do not allow you to be an asshole, not to me or anyone else. If you still want to stay stuck in asshole identity while in relationship with me, then we must part ways. I won't support you in that endeavor. But at that point we must be clear that you have deliberately chosen that, and there is no room for pretending otherwise. Here is the broom, you sweep up your mess.Or not.
Oppressors so often betray themselves but do not know they betray themselves.
As for the victims of oppressors, silence is an act of deepest self-betrayal. And so the truth-telling is just as important as the rest of the healing. Re-ordering the story means making it one of personal victory instead of one of victimization and oppression. Once you are in the tribe of an oppressor, you are their victim, because they define you. You belong to their story of who you are and your worth. Once you realize that their actions define THEM, you are not in their tribe any more, no matter what vitriolic, grandiose, judgmental, motion-filing, hate-spewing vomitous bile they throw on you. Even when couched in a gloating smile. Then you are defined as the opposite: an overcomer and your story is one of survival, rising above, and holding to truth. It means you are closing the gaps between words and actions and feelings and becoming strong, compassionate, whole. You are in your own triumphant story and you define yourself.
Then the bullies, who used to loom so large, now just seem petty and small. After all, bullies are just a list. After so many  years of watching their patterning, it's easy for me to now say, "Oh, you're just a Huffington Post or Psychology Today article. Someone else is acting exactly like you and someone wrote about it and made a list and  it is really a list of all the things you do or have done. Actually, lots of someone elses have written a list. Not a good list, either. You're not special because you bully. You're not special because you exploit, demean, have contempt, and control. That's just a list." Bullies then become a big "so what?"
You have then effectively re-ordered the bullies. They are just another lie you believed and don't believe any more.
Survivors of legal, financial, physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological abuse who find their identity in truth-telling, authenticity, congruity, healing, overcoming, and speaking out about their experiences are special. They really are. I know so many who have turned their bus around and they just shine. They have been wounded and  have had to re-order what they know about people with exquisite courage. They have had to learn to turn away from users and takers. They have been unfairly jailed, their kids unfairly punished, and have endured the worst imaginable losses at the  hands of cruel people and a cruel system. They are not silent, they are righteously angry, and despite what they have been through, they are making a difference in broken places through compassionate love.
Though wounded, they shine.
This is the identity I choose.

Worth Watching

I got to watch this for my class and am now a bonafide Sherman Alexie fan. Maybe you will be,too.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

People are Portals

In the kitchen today over lunch, the subject of Canada's weather came up. It's cold in the evenings, and the lakes are clear, we said. My colleague had fished on a lake, and I had been with a love.
My heart sprung way back, into a July that happened a couple of lifetimes ago.
We drove,my love and I, through Indiana and into Michigan, all the way through the upper peninsula where the trees are taller and the road just doesn't end. Driving onward, we passed Mackinac island and the border, and on to back roads in Canada. We arrived at the cabin his grandfather built,and removed the boards from the windows, as tired travelers.
We had some really good fights and we knew how to make up. We also had some deep conversations, an easy affection for each other, and a propensity to be wrapped up in each other's energy. Whenever he greeted me, it was like something out of a "B" he hadn't seen me for years. He loved me after my first divorce, and when I felt lost or conflicted, or like bolting again, he would say, "I just want you to be happy." We were off and on for awhile before I decided he really did love me. My kids and family were none too thrilled about him, he had his quirks,and we pretty much drove each other crazy. He was, in every way, my best friend, my beloved, and there we were, in Canada, together.
The cabin was small and sparsely equipped. We cooked our meals on a small stove, and there were plenty of windows from which to watch the rain,or the lake. I found out the truth about Canadian mosquitoes. There was an outhouse and a boat,and a store about 15 miles up the road.
One day, we took the boat out and explored the lake.I don't remember anything we talked about, I just remember his presence. Sure, we were both musicians and creative beings with an appreciation for art, but there was much more than that.There are some people in your life that you just fold into, and feel safe with, who are not threatened by your quirks and idiosyncrasies but welcome you with unending grace and uncommon mercy. He was that for me, an absolute giver, my beacon of "unconditional positive regard."
We love who we love. We just do.

When we returned, he said, "I want to wash your hair." And so he filled a bucket with cold, clear, cold Canadian lake water, walked it over to my head, and with the gentlest of hands, with utmost tenderness and affection, he washed and rinsed my hair. Just like "Out of Africa". Another evening, we laid out in a field under Canada. where the stars are so close you can touch them. We both soaked in and rayed out so much love for each other. So much.
Years later, my heart broke with him over and over as we just could not find a way to make our paths converge and continue. That caused a trail of tears that seemingly lasted an eon. But we eventually found our way to  new paths: his to a new love while mine definitely held much more pain, and also joy in more children.
"Why'd you leave a guy who would wash your hair?, my colleague asked, and I told him.
People are portals into memory, grief, love, and who we are inside. My old love was a portal into so much learning and growth, and if I saw him today I would embrace him and wish him love and we would go on our way. Some people lead you to your grief, others lead you to your worth. He showed me deepest love. Of course there is a tinge of  wondering what would have happened, but life always moves just the way it is supposed to.
I've had a few loves since then, but none who carried such fire for so long with me. And it's not like I've not been open to what others offer and set them up to compete with distant memory or an idealized version of a past relationship. It's not like we weren't complicated and conflicted. It isn't like we didn't fight or have jealousy. It was just a beautiful love despite all that and still it couldn't last and that is just sad. And it's completely ok. It was there and now it's not. It is funny, though, how after so many years, after a period of finding fault with the situation and with him, all that is left is love. This is what I choose to remember most.
I fancied myself Annie Hall in that relationship. These days I jokingly refer to myself as the "Taylor Swift of 47-year-olds": "I go on too many dates, but I can't make'em staaayyy." Jokingly, for I am in charge of my love life or lack of  love life...I choose. But when a lonely sting or an insecure pang hits me, I remember love. A former love said I was strong but he was wrong on some level, for I fall prey to sentiment and longing like anyone else. I am not invulnerable. I am still human because I love. I am love, I am loved, I have love, I have loved, I love.
Today I walked through a portal into another time, into a Canadian sky and a clear-to-the-bottom lake, into a certain melancholy, a few tears shed, a distant love.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

You're Grounded

Today (Saturday) was a good day.It's always nice to start a paragraph like that, right? Serena had a volleyball game, and from there we went to the  Dyescape garden for  their volunteer day. Who knew that what we all needed was to put our hands deep into some dirt, and make some new connections? 
Reading about Dyescape (Anchal's) mission (found here) really resonated with me. Years ago, I read a book called, "Where Am I Wearing?",a book that detailed the lives of those in other countries who make our clothes. It was not pretty, and on one trip to Georgia, where I saw an abandoned textile mill, I was told that the process was so toxic and there were so many political complications that those mills were shut down. But the equipment and toxic processes were shipped overseas. So nothing changed in that except geography, and now instead of Americans being affected,Chinese were exposed to health complications. This was touched on in the book, and I've taken that with me ever since. 

From Anchal's website: 

Globally, humans consume about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, which is 400% more than the amount we consumed just 20 years ago. With the rise of consumption comes an alarming rate of discarded clothing. The average American now generates 82 pounds of textile waste annually, totaling more than 11 million tons. In addition, the textile industry is the 2nd largest polluter on the planet followed by oil. The harsh chemicals released during industrial dyeing damages aquatic systems and make drinking water dangerous.

It grounded and sobered me to be reminded how our choices affect others and our beautiful land. It's one of the reasons I get my clothes at Goodwill and thrift stores. It's why I compost and try to save energy and have my own garden and buy from farmers and am snobbish about my fair trade organic chocolate. And every year, I have plant dyed 100 skeins of yarn for school. 
However, this year, I was weighing the environmental impact of plant dyeing versus synthetic dyeing. The synthetic dyes I use are low-impact in that the dye is completely absorbed into the fabric and it uses so much less water than plant-dyeing.
Still, my heart is with the colors and challenge of the plants. And in helping with the dye garden at Dyescape, I felt such a sense of connection to the earth and to others that it seemed silly to give up plant dyeing. Just get a couple of rain barrels, I told myself. Being in touch with the soil for a larger purpose just FELT good.

My kids were none too thrilled about going until they, too, got their hands dirty and found a frog and a mulberry tree, and therefore, found happiness and connection,too.

When I'm feeling a little lost, reconnecting to this  land, this soil, helps me remember who I am,and who I am in relationship to other people. And lately there has been a lot of lost soul-wandering as I traverse the realms of grief and moral injury. Yet here is this soil, ever true, ever solid, always giving. Here are these plants, these cycles of growth and giving life. This is something I can rely on.
It always comes back to my hands, this grounding. My hands which are used to heal, comfort, make, and connect. My hands which connect me with myself and others. My hands which can do good,solid work and can bring beauty. My  hands,which nurture my sense of how I touch the world and how I touch others.

With this work, I'm grounded.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Short Answer

Last night in class, a veteran came and spoke to us. Boy, was it eye-opening to hear of his experience, of how his training and programming were so completely different than life in society, and how hard it was to overcome the lingering effects of combat trauma. For instance, he showed pictures of curbside trash on junk day. He told a story of how he swerved to avoid a minor pothole and narrowly missed a collision. He spoke of empty boxes and things that seem innocuous to us. Those things, he said, were hiding places for bombs, explosions waiting to happen. You would never pick up a piece of trash in Afghanistan. He explained that often he would  leave a bomb-threatened town like that and be back in the States within 24 hours. What I gathered from his talk was an appreciation for how hard it must be for veterans to integrate back into a culture that has no clue about what they have been through. Not just that, but we are an illiterate bunch when it comes to trauma in general.
It's why I write about the issues surrounding relationships with narcissists and habits of abuse. Bystanders are a powerful force, and are naive about the kind of change they can enact.
One issue I read about that arises as a result of trauma is moral injury. Moral injury is the act of doing something against your morals. In war, these difficult decisions happen all the you kill the cute kid who is carrying explosives to the next village?  The choice is clear but to cause a child to lose their life is also horrid and repulsive to me. Thinking about facing those kinds of moral dilemmas makes me ball up inside and cringe, so I can only imagine what happens to the soul and psyche of someone who so violently sacrifices themselves for the good of the many over and over and over again.
 A narcissistic or overly entitled person never self-betrays. They do not face moral dilemmas where they would have to make amends or reconcile their behavior within themselves. They have given themselves a free pass to ignore any consequence of their actions. The only moral dilemmas they deal with are your moral dilemmas of calling them out on their lies, projection, gaslighting, manipulation, and contempt. They perpetually stand with their hands over their ears crying, "la la la, don't wanna see, don't wanna hear".
Somehow, you become immoral for telling the truth.
This morning, I  heard of a woman who was asked by an acquaintance regarding her custody battle, "why don't you just share custody with him?"
There is no short answer for this, for women who have to face sharing custody with a man who controlled and/or abused them. People don't get it. People in general do not understand that you cannot operate as if an abuser will do things from a similar moral perspective as most of the people in your world. An abuser's moral sense is impaired to the degree that they cannot receive information about how their actions affect another human being. They might be on good behavior when it suits them, say they are moral, and be able to fool a lot of people, but they absolutely cannot be trusted to have the same moral compass, if they even have any.
Think politicians.
Not understanding this allows people to say stupid things to a woman who has divorced a narcissist.
"Just let it go." (Let what go? My house? My car? My pride? My personhood? My rights as a parent? Any hope of financial stability? My ability to care for my kids? Because he won't be happy until I am crushed and his attorney won't be happy until my kids have no food to eat at my house. )
"You two need to just get in a room and talk it out." (You mean you want me to go into a room and be the acquiescent wife I once was, and not really talk it out because negotiating with him has the same effect as negotiating with a terrorist, as in nothing I say matters. Why don't  YOU talk to him and make him to stop bullying me?)
"It can't be that bad. I just saw him at church and he is so nice." (Have you ever heard of Jekyll and Hyde? Ever watched the movie "Gaslight"?)
"You are both to blame. It takes two to tango." (In some normal situations, this viewpoint from systems therapy holds water. But in an abuse situation, it is superstition. It's like saying washing your car causes a storm. It's like saying you just ate and that is why you got a dinner invitation. It's like saying that the people who live downstream from the mining site that illegally pollutes the water supply are to blame because they live where they live, and they know the mine is there and  that the company is not trustworthy. Seriously, people? Another term for it is victim blaming and it is horrid. Horrid. It allows others to become co-abusers under the guise of politically correct neutrality. Those same people will then turn around and blame you, because they aren't really neutral. They knowingly support an abuser.)
A woman who has been in an abusive marriage faces her own moral injury. She may have completely lost (betrayed) herself and her children to keep relative peace and may have done extreme things to deal with an impossible situation.
Wars abroad, wars at home, all call for understanding and compassion. Trauma manifests in ways as simple as not being able to think clearly or find your words, to actually re-experiencing traumatic events in dreams and in triggering situations. Women who live with abusers and move and work in the world have to re-integrate into life every day. They leave a virtual mind-fuck at home, and they are most likely a little out of it, or quirky, or absent-minded, or depressed when they hit the real world, where a tone of voice or a romantic card can be a trigger.. Triggers abound and it is difficult to know what to do to help. But blaming her will never help.
My hope is we become more trauma-literate as a culture, which really just involves being kind and empathetic, and listening deeply to those who say they are hurting, and believing someone who says they have been abused.
I'm not sure I effectively connected all my streams of thought this morning, but there it is.

Educate yourself about domestic violence/divorcing a narcissist: