Day Eighty-Three: The five most foolish things I’ve heard from parents in custody cases

Source: Dr John Bullas (Flickr)

Source: Dr John Bullas (Flickr)

I’ve worked as secretary for a psychologist for a few years now. One of his areas of specialty is Family Law cases–specifically when children are alienated from one parent. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t. I know that these people are going through tough times and everyone is their enemy, but hell, I just get paid to make the appointments, take your money, and smile politely when you walk in the door.

(Note: I am not a psychologist. These views are entirely based on my own observations and experience. Although they are based on things that actual people have told me, I am not referring to any specific individuals; rather, I’m noting the things I hear all too often from many cases.)

 

The magistrate said there was no evidence of the abuse that was alleged, so there should be no reason my kids can’t see me.

No reason except that they don’t want to. It’s not fair, and it sucks, but one proclamation isn’t going to suddenly reverse years of negative thinking. You might be a great guy who’s been shafted by a vengeful ex; your kids probably know less than half the story (and heard most of it from your ex). It’s going to take time to change their attitudes towards you. So, hey, welcome to therapy!

 

My child was petrified of coming; he/she cried all the way here.

Since the only reason they know about it is because you told them, it can be safely assumed that their fear stems directly from yours. If you told them that they’re being forced by a judge to go to an unfamiliar (but perfectly pleasant, I might add) place where they’ll be forced (again) to see their estranged father/mother, then I can totally understand why they bawled their eyes out or refused to get in the car. If you told them that they were going along to have a chat to a nice man about how they’re feeling, things might have gone a little better. No sensible psychologist would dump an alienated parent and child into the same room together at the first session; the psychologist probably told you that when you came along for your individual session. It’s telling that most of the Orders I read have to specifically prohibit the parents from talking about Court Orders or matters with their children.

 

They said we’d only need three sessions/ Why is this taking so long?

I can’t claim to know what happened in your family unit to make your children not want to spend time with you, but I can make a pretty solid bet that it didn’t happen over the course of three isolated one-hour sessions. So why would you expect that it can be reversed in that period? Therapy is an individual experience, and depending on the client, progress can be achieved in two sessions, twenty sessions, or (sadly, sometimes) never. In these types of cases, it’s usually between twenty and never. (Also, while we’re on the topic, don’t listen to what your lawyer suggests about the frequency and length of therapy. They have no idea.)

 

I’m just going to email/call my ex and tell them straight up to cut the crap/stop lying/give me my kids.

Remember how you’re in a Court case? Do you remember why you had to go to Court? It’s probably because you couldn’t work things out just between the two of you, so needed to involve lawyers and judges and Court Orders. Contacting your ex informally and giving them a piece of your mind is akin to pogo-ing onto the thin ice that everyone else is very delicately skating over. If you don’t want to give your ex another piece of evidence of your “abusive nature” to wave in Court, then keep things cool and cordial. Speak to them only when you have to, or not at all. Everything else can be handled by your lawyers. You’re paying them enough.

 

Can I talk to the psychologist about fees? I just can’t afford this after the legal stuff. I can’t even afford a cup of coffee!

One of my favourites, this one was said to me by a man who was carrying a thermos of coffee that he’d brought from home. “You poor man!” I should have said, rushing to wrap him in a warm blanket. “It’s OK; we’ll just give you some free counselling, shall we?” No, what I really wanted to say was, “Gee, I’ll bet those starving kids in Africa would weep to hear it, sir.” (What I actually did was smile apologetically and advise that I can’t do anything about the fees.) I get it. You’ve paid tens of thousands of dollars to lawyers and been dragged through the Court system for six years with no real outcome or progress. Unlike a lawyer though, the psychologist isn’t billing hours for every single moment that he’s even thinking about your case. He’s trying to work stuff out, so you don’t have to go back to Court.

 

 

There’s nothing like watching broken families to put you right off marriage and children. In the end, though, it comes down to whatever is going to be the least damaging for the kids. And if that means suffering through instant coffee brought from home, then so be it.

 

TB

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Day Seventy-One: My opinion on Bernardi’s opinion

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Lots of people say stupid things. Sometimes they say them to just one person, who can swiftly reach over and slap them, and end things right there. Other times, they will spout their idiocy in a large group, prompting eye rolls, anger, and mutterings of “what a dickface”. Then there are those people who take their moronic comments, launch them to a great height, and let them rain down upon greater society. I’m talking, of course, about the esteemed Senator Cory Bernardi.

The only thing I love more than someone with very strong opinions is someone with very strong opinions who wants you to respect their opinions (while your opinions can just fuck right off, thank you). It is my opinion that when you suggest very publicly to a country how said country ought to function, you cease to have the protection of “everyone’s entitled to an opinion” and enter the realm of “are you kidding me with this shit?”

Remember, if you would, back to the time when Australian families were all sickeningly happy and heterosexual, when there was no crime, no juvenile delinquency, no abortion, and everyone just did whatever their boss wanted them to. Struggling? So, it seems, is history. I would be more inclined to agree with ‘going back to the glory days’ if in fact such days ever existed (or the dude talking about them was even born when they supposedly happened). There have been lots of changes in our society, some for better and some for worse, but if evolution has taught us anything, it’s that survival is all about adapting, not fighting change. (I’m sick of this filthy air-breathing that humans have come to embrace. I say we go back to the sea! In fact, I regularly and publicly attempt to breathe water. Water is the best…)

I wouldn’t be so annoyed by Bernardi’s comments (OK, I probably would be) if he just expressed them in a way that didn’t condemn thousands of people and ignore other pertinent contributing issues. I feel the best way to illustrate what I mean is by quoting the man himself. Oh, I do love a good quote!

(Note: these are quotes from the book, The Conservative Revolution, as printed by the ABC on Monday January 6. Sadly, I have not read the book, and can accept the possibility that these quotes may be abberations in an otherwise well-balanced and intelligent piece of literature…)

 

On abortion:

“The political pressure from the left has ushered us into a morbid new world. It is not enough to stop the trend. What is needed is a reversal back to sanity and reason.”

 

Oh, yes, we baby-killing fag enablers are only that way because the political left ‘ushered’ us that way. Nobody was getting abortions before the political left came in and started handing them out. I’m not sure where Sen Bernardi suggests we reverse back to, but it’s probably so far that he’d be pulled over and fined for reckless driving.

 

On the number of abortions per year (after his figures were disputed):

“It’s a lot and I don’t know anyone in this country that wants to see more abortions; in fact, I think most people would like to see less abortions.”

 

Are you kidding? People love abortions! Just like they love choosing to euthanise their pets. Of course nobody wants to see abortion become the next botox (which is what I think when I hear ‘trend’), but plenty would agree that as long as women are requesting and using this service, it should be available and safe. The notion that making something legal and available makes people want to do it more has been disproven with drug decriminalisation in smarter countries—although, to be fair, nobody just tries abortion at a party and gets addicted to it, so perhaps the legalisation of the two shouldn’t be compared.

 

On what he proposes we do about it:

“I haven’t said we should outlaw or prohibit abortion; I have said there is a right-to-life issue we should be exploring.”

 

Since ‘unlawful’ abortion is still illegal in Queensland, New South Wales, and Tasmania, and it’s an issue governed by states rather than at a federal level, I’d say this comment is redundant. For interest’s sake: Abortion is legal under some circumstances—like serious danger to the physical and mental wellbeing of a woman (Queensland, New South Wales), “maternal health” or “foetal disability (South Australia and Northern Territory), or provided that the services are performed under strict medical supervision at the advice of doctors (other states). I wonder what kind of “exploring” Sen Bernardi is proposing. Based on his other comment—”I think we need to start to investigate measures and ways in which we can assist in that regard”—I’d say he has about zero idea.

 

On modern families:

“Given the increasing number of ‘non-traditional’ families, there is a temptation to equate all family structures as being equal or relative.”

 

Bah! Equality! Wouldn’t that just be ridiculous? On what grounds would anyone even think to suggest that these ‘non-traditional’ families were as good as the fast-falling mum-dad-and-two-point-four-kids model? I actually agree with Sen Bernardi here. I am tempted to equate all family structures as being equal (though perhaps I would use less redundant language to express the sentiment). I’m sorely tempted to believe that it doesn’t matter in what family structure you grow up as long as you are loved, educated, and cared for.

 

On juvenile deliquency in single-parent families:

“Why then the levels of criminality among boys and promiscuity among girls who are brought up in single-parent families, more often than not headed by a single mother?”

 

While it’s true that juvenile crime has been linked to single parent families (at least according to the studies I scanned), the reason is not the single parenting itself, but the correlation between single parent families and neglect—though the percentage of total abuse victims who came from these families was not significant. Other contributing factors included poverty, low social status, and crowded dwellings (i.e. big families). A child with two parents may get more attention and support, but he may not. Two dads earning good money to support their one child should theoretically have fewer problems than a straight couple struggling to raise a brood of eight on unemployment payments. Then again, when were children ever predictable? Some of those I see in trouble with the law come from the most stable, two-parented, financially-blessed families around.

 

On alternative (and fanciful) methods of starting a family:

“What is missing in the push for human cloning, in vitro fertilisation and surrogacy, for example, is the understanding that children come into families as gifts, not commodities.”

 

Yeah, guys. Quit all that cloning, all right? But seriously, try telling someone undergoing IVF that they’re failing to see children as gifts rather than commodities, and you’ll probably cop a hormone-and-disappointment-fuelled kick to the nards. Generally speaking, the same goes for surrogacy. There aren’t many women out there whose first choice is to have someone else carry their child (and I’m sure if a gay male couple could somehow produce a child without a woman involved, they would). Surrogacy, like IVF, is a long and involved process with no guarantee of success. Altruistic surrogacy is now legal in all Australian states and territories, and allows for the practice to occur if there is no payment exchanged (beyond medical expenses). Doesn’t that sound like the definition of a gift?

 

On his “enduring views” that are totally not far right:

“These are traditional views that have stood the test of time and been developed over successive generations. You can’t tamper with tradition and not expect there to be adverse consequences.”

 

So I’ve learned every Christmas when I try to tell people how horrible fruit mince pies are, and how we should ditch the roast and eat Thai food. In this case, though, the adverse consequences are people whining, “but it’s tradiiishuuuuun” and the resolution that I will do things my own way when I have kids. The thing is, traditions are just things that people have done for a long time. Beating your wife might be traditional in your family, but that doesn’t make it the best path. There are plenty of ridiculous traditions being upheld all around the world. The problem with tradition is that it’s rigid, and it ignores the obvious changes that are contributing to its becoming obsolete.

 

And one more, on the (apparently needless) separation of Church and State:

“I believe that by stripping God and religious principles from our culture (and our politics) we have become a nation which does not know which port it is sailing to.”

 

You know what keeps ships on course? Compasses. You know what doesn’t? Bibles. Bad analogies aside (which port does he think we should be sailing to? I’m genuinely curious about his elaboration on this one), the separation of religion and politics is kind of a cornerstone of our government system. Many (some would argue, enough) of our legal principles come from basic Christian teachings anyway—don’t kill other people, don’t steal, don’t embezzle $40 billion from your company and drain the retirement funds of every person who works for you. Well, maybe just, ah, don’t steal. It’s probably not a lack of religious guidance that is cutting our country adrift (geddit?) but a government and corporate system that values money over people and maintaining the status quo over risking a beneficial change. But then, maybe there is something to be said for running a country based on Buddhist principl— What’s that? Only Christian? Never mind.

 

Obviously, it would be pretty hypocritical of me to ask you to accept my opinion as the true word of God/Allah/Ganesha/FlyingSpaghettiMonster, but I hope you’ve found them stimulating nonetheless. Besides, I’m only a small ripple in the vast ocean of the internet. (I do promise to be more responsible when I enter parliament, publish a book, and get interviewed by the ABC.)

 

TB

Day Thirty-Three: There’s no such thing as a good parent

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My day at work today got me thinking about my admiration for people who manage to parent their children not-badly. I say not-badly, rather than well, because I don’t think the same criteria apply to everyone, and sometimes we’re too quick to call people out as bad parents, rather than appreciating that their particular strategies are working for them.

If you’re reading this and going “Whoa, how did I miss days twenty-eight to thirty-two?”, first thanks for paying such close attention, and second you should know that I had a week where work and sleep seemed to bleed into one another, like some sort of bad Inception parody. I’m not even exaggerating (and we know how I love to exaggerate). This was some hardcore working and sleeping. It’s not that I wasn’t thinking of highly witty and thought-provoking shit to post, it’s just that I had zero minutes in which to write said posts. If anyone has mastered the brain-to-print technology, I’ll fall at their feet.

 

As a young, childless, almost-professional, I am firmly in the group of people who think about having kids one day, but mostly just think about work and sex and fun. We’re a great group, always chatting dreamily about our future plans, and usually judging the shit out of people who don’t meet our astronomical standards.

I can admit this freely, because I’ve found myself doing the old ‘instant judge’ on mothers and fathers that I see in my daily travels.

“Ugh”, I think, as I watch a young woman wrestle with a pram for her newborn while a shreiking toddler-from-hell clings to her leg. “When I have kids, I’m going to space them more than a few years apart so that never happens.”

Oh, yes, good plan. I’m sure nobody’s ever fallen accidently pregnant shortly after giving birth to one child, and ended up with two say, I don’t know, 14 months apart. Right, Mum? As I constant clarify with my brothers, I was an accident but not a mistake. As much as you want to plan these things, sometimes fate just takes a big fertile dump on you, and you make the best of it. In my mum’s case, it was the only way she was going to get a girl.

 

“If you’re good until the end of the shopping trip, Mummy will get you a lolly,” the woman beside me at the supermarket offers the red-faced tantrum-terrorist occupying her trolley.

“How terrible, bribing a child with treats to make them behave,” I think, shovelling health foods into my own trolley. “My future angels will never be coerced into silence with sugary snacks.”

So, I like to think that the last part is still true. I’m still firmly on the track of “my children will never know what McDonald’s or sugar are”, but in reality a bribe is sometimes the only way to prevent a full-on meltdown. I’m sure that normally my sweet cherubs will accept a reasonable explanation for why tearing boxes off supermarket shelves is not appropriate behaviour, and will subsequently curb such behaviour permanently, but in the midst of an all-out scream war, I know that I will likely not be appealing to reason. The time limit is tight. Judgey arseholes like myself will probably be looking at me wondering why I can’t just be better at parenting so my kid doesn’t scream. In that instance, “shut up and you can go on the merry-go-round outside the shop” is probably the best deal I could strike.

 

“Your kid is jumping up and down and calling you a pig. Are you seriously going to just stand there and take that?”

As it turns out, yes. If you knew the child, or had seen them on more than the one occasion you’re seeing them on now, you would know that much of their acting out is attention-seeking, and scolding them for their actions is playing into their hand. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve watched kids run around apparently imitating a fire alarm and screaming “Mummyyyy!” at top volume, only to slowly become frustrated and sullen when they don’t get a response. These terrors morph into quiet little angels when you don’t feed them after midnight pay attention to their nonsense. I’ve seen equal numbers whose faces light up with evil satisfaction when their parent yells at them (in a similar air-raid style) to behave. Obviously there’s a fine line with this one. If your kid is drawing on the walls in my office or destroying furniture, I expect you to restrain them. If their attention-seeking behaviour has escalated this far, you’re probably ignoring them too often.

 

“But Dad, I hate playing soccer.”

“No you don’t. You always said you loved it. I’m not going to let you just quit.”

If there’s one thing that everyone loves, it’s being told what they like. I think most of this comes down to parents who want to provide ‘the best opportunities’ without really giving any thought as to whether their child enjoys those opportunities. To be fair, Mum was right when she told my brother that he’d regret quitting guitar lessons at 13–but she didn’t force him to keep doing them. There has been many a lamentation of “imagine how good I’d be by now if I never quit”, which makes her quietly smug. But in some cases, it really is just a parent living vicariously through their offspring. Don’t get me wrong, my kids are going to be enrolled in multiple activities–sporting and cultural–but only so they are exposed to the opportunity. If they genuinely hate it and want to try something else (within reason, since I assume I won’t have the cash to fund entry into the Young Chanel Enthusiasts Club), then I will swallow my protests and let them move on. Nobody likes a stage mother, right?

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“I had a dream!” – a dream to torment my children with my ambitions.

 

While it’s very easy to say that some parents are inherently bad–like the ones who physically and/or emotionally abuse their children, or are neglectful–deciding what makes a ‘good’ parent is a lot harder. If your child is fed and clothed, and you give it a decent amount of affection and support, then I’d say you’re already in the ‘not bad’ category. As much as I sit and dream about all the ways my kids are going to have the best lives ever, I’m not going to aspire to a particular method or say ‘never’ about a parenting strategy. I’d certainly like to avoid having two kids under five and using food bribes, but who knows what kind of crazy shit I’ll be thinking when I’m running on pure hormones and broken sleep? Parenting is hard to perfect, but there are a lot of wonderful people out there who have thrived because–or in spite of–the individual parenting they received.

 

Having said this, I am absolutely adamant that my foetuses will be subjected to in-utero Mozart and quantum physics lectures–because I’m going to have perfect pregnancies.

 

TB

Day Twenty-One: Let’s talk about poo, baby

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Humans poo. There, I’ve said it.

Some of you will stare at the page blanky and say, “So what?” Others, I expect, will wrinkle your noses in disgust and note that you might have been OK with it if I’d said “humans produce waste”.

How about this? Humans are pooping, pissing, bleeding, farting machines who have sex and get sweaty and occasionally vomit.

Plenty of people I’ve met will argue that they accept these traits of humanity, but it doesn’t mean that they want to hear about them. Fair enough, gratuitous poo talk at the dinner table is not ideal, but trying to block out the fact that you (or your partner) does these things just makes life more difficult.

“Chicks don’t crap,” my brother once quoted his friend as saying.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Of course they do. Does he really not know that?”

“No, he does,” my brother answered. “But he meant that as far as he’s concerned, they don’t do it. He just pretends it doesn’t exist, because it’d be too gross otherwise.”

I have to agree that imagining another person huffing and puffing to relieve themselves of a hefty log is not exactly boner-inducing material, but pretending that it doesn’t happen just sets you up for a horrible shock when you one day stumble into the bathroom when your honey is steaming things up.

 

I remember my boyfriend and I discussing farts, maybe a year into our relationship. One day–which one, I couldn’t pinpoint–we’d suddenly stopped trying to hide from each other the fact that we had bowels. From then onwards, it’s been a sweet little partnership peppered with suspicious noises, funky smells, and inevitable giggles.

“Remember back in the day when we were trying not to do anything gross in front of each other?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he laughed. “I held in so many farts.”

“I did too,” I admitted. “Actually, every time I told you I had an ‘unexplained belly ache’ it was just built-up gas.”

“I know,” he said. “Sometimes you farted in your sleep. It was cute.”

I don’t know if we’re just a couple of weirdos, but knowing this information about each other, and witnessing each other’s less glamorous bodily functions hasn’t killed The Magic. In fact, it just makes me feel completely at ease with the one I love (particularly now that we live in the same home AKA Lucy’s Fart Cave).

It could be because we both come from families where one parent has medical connections. His mum is a nurse (and now he is too), so blood and pus and poo were all treated very clinically. My dad is a pharmacist, and we grew up with him as our pseudo-doctor, investigating our various ailments and doling out treatment as necessary.

“Your dad buys your pads?” my friends gasped. “That’s so embarrassing.”

“For who?” I asked (I know, it’s ‘whom’ but I was young and foolish). “Dad doesn’t care; it’s his job. I don’t care. He’s always bought our medicines for us.”

And yes, if you’re wondering, that does include the more awkward stuff like thrush pills, fungal cream, and herbal laxatives (not all of which were for me… and not at the same time).

When I go to the pharmacy (the one downstairs from work) to buy my ‘sanitary items’, I feel not even an inkling of shame. At least they know I’m regular (and not pregnant), I think as I make aggressive eye contact over the counter.

“But isn’t it weird that the people in your workplace know you have your period?” friends have asked.

It’s about as weird as the people I work with knowing I eat and shit.

 

If anything, a bit of knowledge and openness can actually save you a lot of trouble. The old saying (and I’m loosely paraphrasing) goes like this:

Don’t be a fool; check your stool.

What they should say is this: if you’ve never spoken to anyone about toileting habits because you’ve been too embarrassed to bring it up (even with a doctor), how will you know what’s normal? I imagine that there is a high percentage of people out there suffering from undiagnosed IBS and ignoring the blood in their stool simply because they have no point of reference for how things are meant to be. You only crap once a week? Yeah, that’s a problem.

 

My friends and I had an amazing moment of clarity in year nine when one of us casually brought up vaginas. What followed was an enlightening and uplifting conversation where each of us was assured that our pink bits were, in fact, completely normal (even though they weren’t all the same). We didn’t have to whip anything out or compare pics, but years of pent-up anxiety was able to relieved by a simple and candid conversation, with plenty of description. (If you didn’t have this convo, and are interested in the varying shapes and sizes of fannies, check out the ‘controversial’ Honi Soit magazine cover here.)

If your argument is that children shouldn’t be exposed to images of real genitalia then I have to ask how exactly you figured out what was going on downstairs in your youth. Sure, I would have giggled my ass off and probably made a face about how ‘gross’ the vaginas looked, but in the end I’d keep those photos in my memory for a later date, and save myself a lot of stress about whether I was ‘normal’.

 

So, have a chat to someone about how many poos you’ve done today; proudly purchase your tampons and/or condoms and refuse a paper bag to hide them in; Google pictures of vaginas (or penises, guys) that haven’t appeared in a Playboy magazine.

And always remember: your parents had sex at least once (and they probably liked it). You don’t have to trade tips with them over Christmas lunch, but never forget that you are a product of one of the most basic (and sticky) human acts.

You’re welcome.

 

TB