Mother’s Day: A memorial to my mamacita

The thing in my life that brings me more joy than anything else, is parenting alongside my husband, so I feel like I should love Mother’s Day. But, Mother’s Day is especially hard for people who don’t have a positive relationship with their mom, wish more than anything they could be a mother and aren’t, or have lost their mom and are left to navigate the world without her. I lost my mom when I was way too young. I look back and realize that it was the beginning of a life journey where I began to learn about grief and how to minister to people in a counseling setting. As we begin to celebrate moms this weekend, a practice that is beautiful in so many ways, I pray for those that have a hard time on this day. I miss my mom just a little bit more on Mother’s Day… so today, I am sharing the word’s I spoke at her memorial service so many years ago as a tribute to those who celebrate this day without their mama:

Mamacita…My little mama….

Last week, a friend of my mom’s (no, I won’t tell who…), was at the house when a hospice nurse was there. The nurse asked her relation to my mom. She said, “Salma is my best friend and although I know I am hers, I know there are at least 20 others who feel the same way.” The other day my brother and I were on the couch with mom and I jokingly asked her who her favorite child was. She smiled a little and giggled as she said, “Who’s all here?”. As my mom’s only living daughter, I’d like to think I was her favorite. Of course, she made me FEEL like she loved me best but the truth is, my mom didn’t have to play favorites. My teeny mama had a heart as big as a house with plenty of room for all those she loved. I don’t know how she had the time and energy to maintain all the relationships she had. I can only count it as a gift from God that she how to prioritize her life in a way that she was there for so many of us in this room when we needed her most. I have countless memories of times when my mom held my hand and said just the right thing to encourage me, praise me, confront me or challenge me.

I think she had time for all of us because she made time for all of us. I always thought my mom was a pretty decent housekeeper but she was always trying to be better at it. She was always saying, “I just need to get organized!”. One time she told me, “You know what my problem is? If someone calls or drops by, I’d much rather talk to them than finish what I am doing.” Thank goodness she realized that organized cupboards are great but they don’t make good friends. Still, it was always on her mind. Flying home from my brother John’s wedding in New Jersey, the engine of our plane caught on fire and we had to make an emergency landing in Denver. Thinking of other’s first, she turned to my Dad and said, “If you have to save us, save Sonia first.” Then she turned to me and said, “If I die, don’t let anyone see my messy drawers!”

My mom did always put others first. The event in my life that was most meaningful to me was the birth of my twins. As many of you know, Mike accepted a job in Salt Lake City and began commuting there 4 days a week just 14 days after my c-section delivery. I was overwhelmed by my colicky babies and with the showing of my home to potential buyers. Mom, still weak after beating cancer the first time, would arrive on Sunday night and stay for the four days while Mike was gone. She did this for almost 6 months. She gave up her lecturing, her lunches with friends…almost everything…during this time to make sure that I could recover and mentally prepare for my move. We had sweet times together during that crazy time. We laughed and cried, and talked and talked and talked as we rocked Azile and Emilee. I have often thought that I would not have enjoyed one minute of those months had she not been there with me.

Another gift that my mom gave to me is that she loved the people I loved. She took in every one of my friends as one of her own. Granted, most of my friends were lovely people, but there were a couple who were…well, not as wonderful as others…yet, I could always count on my mom to show the people I brought home, her renowned hospitality.

By giving of herself to others, my mom inadvertently gave me another gift that I have appreciated more than ever in the past week. She gave me the gift of many of you. Because Mom was a Godly woman, because she was a good friend, because she opened her heart and home to others, she created an enormous circle of friends that Dad, Paul, John and I think of as family. No one can ever replace my mom in my life, but she made sure I had at least 20 women, all her best friends, who because of their love for her, will grieve with me and love me through this most difficult time in my life.

Thank you all so much for being here today and for that you meant to my mom.

 

Happy Mother’s Day…because whatever our joy, whatever our pain…we are grateful for the women in our lives who have sacrificed to make our lives richer.

Marriage Seminar #3: For you, for me or for us?

If you have been married any time at all, you know that there are moments in marriage that are very imbalanced. One person is out doing the other person by carrying the emotional weight of a stressful conflict or by doing the bulk of the supposedly shared responsibilities. There are a number of very good reasons for imbalance, the most obvious being that one person is going through a particularly stressful time, for whatever reason, and the other spouse has to pick up the slack.  However, there are also times when life does not necessitate an imbalance and one person gets sick and tired of doing most of the emotional or physical lifting, when they are married to another perfectly capable human being.  When couples end up on my couch, oftentimes that imbalance has gone on too long and some reorganizing has to be done to save the harmony of the home.

Much of the time, in conversations surrounding the “who-does-what”, it becomes very clear that  people do the tasks or take on the emotional burdens that make sense to them. For example, one spouse may not mind a little clutter around the house, while their honey may need things tidy at all times. So each time the neater spouse picks up something left out-of-place, they are making a mental checklist of their efforts and then slowly, like a crock pot, resentment is building.

A quick reframe that can be used in these situations is to ask yourself who you are actually doing this task for….yourself, your spouse or for the marriage!

Couples that live well together have usually figured out a system that works…each of them have areas of their shared life that fall within their “jurisdiction”. For example, regardless of my strong views on equality for women, it is best if I do the bulk of the laundry in our family and Mike tackles all things related to our cars. It is an area of our life that we are both comfortable with traditional roles. These are not the areas where conflict arises.

The areas of conflict for married folks, arises where there is expectation on one person’s part that the task should be performed by the other person OR the other partner is not pulling their weight. For example, I have the expectation that my husband should be able to get his socks in the hamper and he has the expectation that I will close the cupboard when I take a dish out. (We both have improved in these areas over the years, but honestly, the struggle is real.)

Of course, neither of the above scenarios should land us in counseling but you would be surprised, how if gone unchecked, numerous imbalances can lead to built up frustration between two people. I once had a family in counseling that literally talked about kitchen responsibilities in my office for a solid three months. Each person had different expectations of the part they should play and it lead to some intense conflict. Fortunately, we were able to reframe their approach to shared responsibility, not only in the kitchen, but in their interpersonal dynamic as well.

A healthy switch in viewpoint can sometimes change the whole dynamic.

Step one: Ask yourself why the task or issue at hand is important. Who does this affect the most? Are you making something that is only important to you, everyone’s problem? Or is the task or idea being challenged something that has to be addressed, in order for your home to function properly? Set expectations and communicate time lines so that you avoid disappointment.

Step two: Realize that even though you have pledged to cleave as one, it doesn’t mean that you are going to share a brain. Don’t expect that your spouse knows what you think is the priority for household chores or child-rearing. Each of you were raised in different homes, by different parents. Blending those experiences takes numerous, ongoing conversations, to find a happy medium that you both are comfortable with.

Step three: Find ways to serve one another. Healthy marriages involve two people that WANT to help one another get through life. When I toss those wayward socks into the basket and Mike closes the cupboard, without making an issue of it, it should not feel like a big sacrifice. You are doing those tasks for harmony within your marriage! Also, remind yourself not just of the tasks your spouse doesn’t do, but what they do! You may even find that it is not as imbalanced as you thought.

Step four: Own up to the areas you fall short and work to improve. “It’s just the way I am” seems like an authentic, self-aware statement, but it does not usually promote positive feedback from the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with. For goodness sake, give them some hope that your relationship is going to improve with age!

While I purposefully used simple illustrations, I am aware that imbalance in relationship can run much deeper than who is mowing the lawn each week. If you sense there is an imbalance that is rocking your marriage, don’t wait until you are ready to leave your spouse to start the conversation!

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #2: Choose but choose wisely

A Counseling 101 method, utilized by marriage counselors everywhere, is a “recounting”, done by each spouse, or when they met and fell in love. It is a way to start the “troubled marriage counseling journey” on a positive note, rather than with a list of grievances. So many people have truly beautiful stories about their first encounter, their whirlwind romance, the way they could not get enough of one another. Sure…every once in a while, there is a relationship that is so far gone that one or the other can’t remember feeling love for their then-boyfriend or girlfriend…but generally speaking, people have fond memories of the time they shared prior to marriage.

In my experience, a common thread that emerges in the relationship narrative is a time where someone chose to ignore a red flag in the relationship dynamic or that they had specific assumptions that were never actually discussed. When couples push away important conversations (i.e., roles within marriage, thoughts on parenting, finances, ideas on ethics) or fail to address dynamics they wish were different (i.e. time spent together or with friends, date nights, the way you verbally and physically interact, in-law dynamics) in the courtship process, they deny themselves an opportunity to really know if they are making a wise choice for a lifelong commitment.

Let’s be honest. We are all flawed people. We all enter into relationships with pre-conceived ideas, cultural norms, and wishful thinking. Every single one of us was raised in a family that shaped us in a particular way, both for the good and the bad, and when we attempt to share our lives with another person, lots of that “stuff” collides… However, a marriage is different from any other relationship in that you share space, more time than you can imagine, trials, finances, maybe children, physical intimacy, and the pursuit of hopes and dreams. Good marriages find two people that sacrifice for one another, finish one another’s sentences and care about one another as much as they care for themselves. Bad marriages find two people who feel unheard, unfulfilled and stifled by their spouse. And while it is EASY to fall in love, to stay in love, there has to be a whole lot of trust and respect, not just physical attraction and positive feelings.

If you are in the process of choosing who you want to spend the rest of your life with and hoping they choose you back, ask yourself some of the following questions:

1. When we discuss important issues, do I feel that we share similar values that will be put to use as we share life, pursue long-term goals and raise a family together? Are our disagreements about finances, gender roles, parenting, or whatever else, close to an obvious compromise or will they require a huge sacrifice on one person’s part?

2. Are there behaviors or attitudes that I am hoping this person is going to give up when they are in a committed relationship with me? Do they know I have that expectation and are they in agreement? If they do not change, will that be a deal-breaker for me?

3. Does this person have characteristics that enable them to be the father/mother I am hoping for my children? Are there characteristics they exhibit that I am not comfortable with now and will not be able to tolerate longterm?

4. Do we agree on the place that spirituality will have in our future home?

5. Have we had a chance to do life activities together? Do we enjoy similar hobbies or topics of conversation? Are the things we connect on today, things we can connect on when our life circumstances change, or we have kids?

Marriage is risky business for sure. When you commit to spending a lifetime with someone, you are banking on them growing and maturing into a person that you will love as much in 30 years as you do now. The risk of that decision is minimized if you ask the hard questions and make some of the tough decisions when you are still in the crazy-about-you stage! And the benefits of choosing wisely are SO WORTH the effort!

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Recently, I read a book by Gary Thomas, a Christian writer, entitled The Sacred Search. While this book was written from a faith perspective (so it may not be for everyone), it has some very valuable lessons for people actively seeking to share their life with someone in a committed and mutually satisfying marriage. A general summary of the book would be that if you are looking for a longterm, healthy marriage, you must have a shared life vision and that while you definitely want to be attracted to your spouse and be able to have fun together, the conflicts that arise in marriage come from misconceptions about the other person, differences in life goals and inability to communicate and decision make. I will no doubt use a number of the concepts discussed in this book as I do pre-marital and marital counseling in the future.