Teaching My Son the Lessons I Didn’t Learn

Crosspost: Teaching My Son the Lessons I Didn’t Learn

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Latebloomer’s blog Past Tense Present Progressive. It was originally published on May 12, 2013.

"Watching my naturally shy little boy become comfortable and have fun with other people is incredibly satisfying."
“Watching my naturally shy little boy become comfortable and have fun with other people is incredibly satisfying.”

Much to my surprise, I’m finding motherhood to be incredibly therapeutic.

Part of it is certainly that I have felt far more socially connected since my son’s birth than at any other time in my life.  Ironic, I know, but true.  I feel incredibly supported by my friendships with other parents, accepted for who I am, and inspired to grow.  Finally experiencing the social connection that I desperately craved for my entire childhood has increased my self-esteem and has decreased my issues with depression, which in turn helps me feel like a better mother.

But more specifically, as a mother, I feel like all the kindness and love that I pour into my son’s life is somehow healing my own childhood wounds.  I see him learning the lessons that I wish I had learned myself as a child, and I feel at peace.

He is learning, right from the start, that his feelings are important.  As a toddler, he has so many feelings, which often appear suddenly and catch both of us off guard.  My job as a parent is to help him learn to recognize his feelings, to validate his feelings, and to direct him toward an appropriate action to manage his feelings.  For us, that means when he’s expressing an emotion, I get down at his level and say things like, “Sweetie, are you feeling sad/upset/angry because _______? Awww!” And then I suggest an appropriate comforting/distracting/calming activity.  The most amazing thing to me is that, even as a toddler, he usually quiets down in order to listen to me name his emotion,  and seems incredibly relieved just to be understood.

He is also learning that his opinions and desires are are worth expressing, even though at this age they sound like nothing more than him shouting, “No! No! No!”  It’s up to me to help him phrase his opinions and wishes more clearly, because his “no” could mean anything from, “Don’t do that!” to “I don’t want to do that!” to “I want to do what you are doing” to “I want to have what you have.”  Once we understand each other, we can decide how to proceed.  But most importantly, I always try to praise him by saying something like, “Good job asking!” even when I have to delay or deny his wish.

Finally, he is also learning, along with me, about the importance of social connection and the joy that others can bring into our lives.  He is not yet in pre-school, so as a stay-at-home mom I have to make a conscious effort to teach him this.  We leave the house at least once every day, either for a playdate, coffee date, mommy & me class, park, children’s museum, library, or errand.

For myself, I know that I need to be around other people daily to avoid emotional flashbacks to the isolation of my youth.

For my son, I know that he needs to have a lot of early positive experiences with others and have a lot of opportunities to observe social interaction so that he can build his confidence for later social success.  Watching my naturally shy little boy become comfortable and have fun with other people is incredibly satisfying.  It gives me hope that my personal social weaknesses will not greatly limit him.

Seeing my son learn these three lessons has made my motherhood experience wonderful so far.  I only hope, as Baby Boy #2 joins that family this fall, and as my boys get older and start school, that we will be able to continue building strong family relationships on this basic foundation.

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Six

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Six

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

*****

In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

*****

Part Six: A Tomboy in Christian Patriachy

"If I had known the term 'badass' back then, I would have applied it to myself with pride."
“If I had known the term ‘badass’ back then, I would have applied it to myself with pride.”

I was not the type of daughter that my mother wanted. I was a tomboy.

My hair was very short and I preferred blue clothes. I wanted to run faster and climb higher than anyone. I wasn’t afraid of slimy frogs and worms, and I could kill a spider without batting an eye. I looked with confusion and disdain at the passive little girls with their hair-bows, sitting and talking about clothes and boys. If I had known the term “badass” back then, I would have applied it to myself with pride.

When I was young, my mom was more tolerant of this. After all, in the early days, there were mostly boys in my age group in our small homeschooling community. So I was free to run wild with the boys and join their sports games during our weekly park days.

However, puberty was looming, and it signaled the end of my adventurous life. It was time for me to learn to act like a “lady”, and the means of teaching was through one sentence: “That’s not very ladylike”.

I was a difficult student; after all, the rules seemed very arbitrary and I couldn’t see any advantages that compensated for the extra restrictions. The heart of the message seemed to be that I had to become extremely aware of my body in order to keep other people from being aware of it. A lady did not run. A lady did not sit with her knees apart. A lady did not lie down in public. A lady did not make random bodily noises or find them amusing. A lady did not use crude language like the word “crap” or “fart.” A lady did not wear tight or revealing clothing — for awhile, that meant no shorts or sleeveless shirts. A lady never pointed to or discussed her own body in public. And most of all, a lady never called boys or invited them into her bedroom (not even when I was 23, in a group, with my family home and my door open! What did my mom think I was going to do, have a blatant daytime orgy before my first kiss??).

And besides the extra restrictions, there were also extra responsibilities. I had to learn to sew and cook, things that my brother was exempt from. I tried and tried, but I was never able to enjoy these womanly skills. Eventually my mom gave up on me and moved on to teaching these skills to other more grateful homeschool girls, leaving me feeling jealous and rejected.

It didn’t help my situation that my sister took naturally to wearing cute dresses, having tea parties, and making crafts. She didn’t even need coaching, while I was unsatisfactory even with coaching. As I watched my brother leave for his many outdoor adventures with other boys, I felt cheated and limited, having been born a girl.

In some ways, I was lucky compared to many other girls in the Christian Patriarchy culture that attended Hope Chapel with us. I was never required to wear only dresses or have long hair. I didn’t have to take care of innumerable younger siblings. But most importantly, I was actively encouraged to go to college.

For many conservative Christians, higher education is seen as suspect because of the so-called “secular liberal bias” of universities and professors. That was the case for my family as well. However, my parents were unusual in our church and homeschooling community because they believed that even a daughter should be educated enough to support herself if necessary. So they encouraged me to attend a very conservative Christian college such as Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, or Moody Bible Institute. They advised me to choose an area of study that would allow me to supplement my future husband’s income by working from home after I had children.

So, why didn’t I head off to college right away? After all, I was completely miserable at home due to the extremely authoritarian parenting style that my church promoted. There were really two reasons: first, my severe social anxiety made the thought of college overwhelming and terrifying. Second, my parents’ pro-college message was drowned out by the sexist anti-college message of my church.A couple more years of worsening family relationships, of increasing depression, of a sense of purposelessness, of no prospects of a church-approved way out of that mess — that was exactly what I needed to reach my breaking point. My exact thought process at the time was this: “I’ve been praying for guidance about my future for years, and I haven’t heard anything. I can’t go on like this. I’m going to just start moving and hope that God will steer me if I go the wrong direction.”As I left home for the first time at age 23, I felt small, weak, timid, and vulnerable, heading out into the great wide world all alone. There was no trace of my former badass self from childhood. So is the Christian Patriarchy right about women after all?People tend to live up to the expectations of those around them, what others believe they are capable of.  The sexist beliefs then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The women in the church were told over and over that they were easily deceived and easily swayed by their emotions and needed a man’s protection/guidance. But denying women education and experience is what made them that way.College was a time of transformation for me; I was overcoming my severe social anxietydiscovering my true identity, learning to be comfortable with sexuality, and learning to set boundaries and take responsibility for myself.   Marriage has only continued that process, as my husband and I work to maintain an equal partnership–something truly beautiful that I didn’t know existed 7 years ago.Now I am a feminist stay-at-home mom.  I stay at home because I want to, because I love the bond I have with my little one and the adventures we have together as I introduce him to the world.  I can understand his excitement as he discovers what he’s capable of — because I’m finally feeling. it too.

*****

To be continued.

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Five

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Five

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

*****

In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

*****

Part Five: Forming Boundaries Late in Life

"I wasn't secure enough in my boundaries, so I was hyper-sensitive to any attempts to control or manipulate me."
“I wasn’t secure enough in my boundaries, so I was hyper-sensitive to any attempts to control or manipulate me.”

Do any of these sound like you?

I have to always say yes to others, or else I am selfish.

I have to always hide my hurt, or else I am unloving.

I have to treat other people as faultless, or else I am holding a grudge.

I have to keep my wants and needs to myself, or else I am a burden to others.

People who experienced authoritarian parents tend to turn into adults with poor boundaries. They were trained for it their whole lives and can’t imagine another way of doing things. However, it’s an extremely unsatisfying and unsustainable way to live, don’t you think? But most importantly, it’s actually not what a loving person is like! For me, when I was in that mindset, my “loving” actions were actually motivated by obligation or guilt because I thought I didn’t really have a choice; I was just an actor.

Besides hindering me from showing real love based on real choice, this mindset also prevented me from ever feeling loved. My buried wants and needs were still there; I just expected any true friend to be hyper-vigilant to my emotional state and correctly guess my unexpressed wants/needs. I felt that anyone who didn’t put in that monumental effort didn’t really care about me. And when people hurt me, I didn’t give them a chance to repair the damage to the relationship; I either lied to myself and them by saying that I wasn’t hurt, or I expected them to realize the problem and fix it without being told. Obviously, it was really hard for anyone to break through those defenses to form a real and lasting connection with me, even if they wanted to.

When I was in my late teens/early twenties, equipped with my driver’s license, I began to have more opportunities to interact with my peers.  However, with my poor boundaries and repressed emotions from authoritarian parenting, and with my severe social anxiety from isolated homeschooling, I wasn’t exactly set up for success. It’s not surprising that I was able to form friendships with more dominant and outgoing people most easily at first. They were the ones who were confident enough to break through my guardedness and befriend invisible me. I had no identity and nothing to contribute, and they were the ones who could talk enough to cover for my silence. They were the ones with ideas that I could go along with. And, thankfully, they were the ones who could ask me the pushy and nosy questions on occasion that helped to break open my protective shell.

It’s also not surprising, although really sad, that many of those first friendships didn’t last through the turbulence of my mid- and late- twenties. In a way, I was really experiencing my teens and twenties simultaneously. Out on my own for college, I was trying to discover and establish my own identity for the first time in my life, and dealing with an incredible amount of childhood baggage at the same time. And just when I felt I was making real progress in replacing social anxiety with relationships, my progress in forming boundaries set me back.

I asked my husband to provide a little outside perspective of what the process looked like, since most of it took place during our relationship. He sees it this way:

1. I realized that conflict had to be acknowledged and resolved rather than ignored in order to have a healthy relationship. That meant that it was ok to admit when someone’s behavior bothered me. However, since I had no experience at conflict management, I didn’t know when or how to go about it. I was a mess of over-reactions and under-reactions, and the whole time I was incredibly stressed and afraid of rejection.

2.  Once I began to open up about my feelings, wants, and needs, a backlog of repressed emotions suddenly started to flow out. In my mind, lists of ways I had been wronged started to appear, even from all those times that I thought I was being loving and not keeping a record. So, whenever I needed to talk to someone about a conflict, they would be surprised and hurt by the size of my list of related issues.

3. I wasn’t secure enough in my boundaries, so I was hyper-sensitive to any attempts to control or manipulate me, whether it was a friend or a family member. Even just their attempt to change my opinion by sharing a different perspective was threatening to me. Figuratively speaking, if a person even dared to knock politely on my boundary wall, I would appear with a shotgun and tell them to get off my property. I had very strong ideas about how I should be treated, and it was almost impossible for people to fit in my narrow tolerances. Everything had to be on my terms; I expected anyone who cared about me to change immediately when I informed them of a problem.

4. Now I’m finally feeling more secure in my boundaries, so I’m starting to become more balanced and pick my battles more carefully. I’m getting better at differentiating between real offenses and simple mistakes, as well as determining what approach might be most effective way to manage the conflict. I’m also trying to prevent emotional build-up by dealing with things right away. And most importantly, I’m trying to take other people’s differences and imperfections into account and realize that change usually comes slowly. It’s easier to accept that when I remember that others are also being patient with me in ways I can’t fully see.

I deeply appreciate my husband’s support during this process; without him, it would have been much more difficult to work through so many issues. Even though this process has been extremely challenging and painful at times, and even though I still have a lot of progress left to make, I am so much happier than I was before. Now when I choose to help people, I have the reward of feeling happy and satisfied because I did it willingly. Now I take responsibility for my needs, wants, and feelings, so I don’t feel so helpless and dependent. Now when I choose to tolerate people’s imperfections, I feel a sense of our shared humanity rather than feeling devalued.

However, it is unfortunate that I had to go through this process so late in life. I feel like it was much more traumatic than it needed to be because it conflicted with the progress I was making in forging friendships with people for the first time in my life. If you are dealing with similar issues as an adult, I’d like to recommend two things: read the book  “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend and find yourself a good therapist; hopefully you can find a way to establish and maintain good boundaries in a less destructive way than I did.

*****

To be continued.

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Four

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Four

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

*****

In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

*****

Part Four: Authoritarian Parenting and Emotional Repression

"At the worst point in my relationship with my dad, I went for several years without my dad smiling at me even one time."
“At the worst point in my relationship with my dad, I went for several years without my dad smiling at me even one time.”

I have a lot of respect for my dad. He’s thoughtful and generous to all of us. His constant reading makes him an interesting and well-informed conversationalist.  He makes his life decisions very carefully, yet never looks down on me for making different decisions than him.  Instead, he tells me all the time that he loves and misses me, and that he’s proud of who I’ve become. I feel so lucky to have him as my dad.

Unfortunately, we have not always gotten along so well.  Less than ten years ago, our relationship had been almost completely destroyed thanks to the authoritarian parenting techniques of the fundamentalist Christian homeschooling culture (in our case, it was Reb Bradley’s Child Training Tips). Authoritarian parenting forced both of us into roles that we were not at all suited for, with tragic results.

For my dad, authoritarian parenting caused him to see our relationship as a power struggle; maintaining his authority was his biggest responsibility and highest priority.  After all, if we were calling the shots in our own lives, we would become self-indulgent and lack internal self-control.  That would lead us to more dangerous “worldly” teenage rebellion against our parents and God.  So in order not to fail at parenting, my dad had to be hyper-vigilant against giving up power to us kids.  What an insane amount of responsibility to put on one person!  And how difficult to create a positive relationship with that kind of dynamic: it’s impossible to mandate real respect and love!  My dad began to crack under the pressure.

For me as a teen, authoritarian parenting very nearly reduced me to an empty shell of a person. I found that my opinions and emotions were sources of trouble and guilt.   Anger or frustration–even just on my face–were signs of disrespect and lack of self-control. Questioning my parents’ decisions or expressing different opinions, even on trivial matters, were signs of rebellion.  Even the simple act of lifting my eyebrows could get me in trouble.  In order to survive, I had to bury my negative emotions and try to become more passive and less opinionated.

In addition to guarding my facial expressions and speech against “disrespect” and “rebellion,” I also had to hide many positive feelings. My parents’ preferred method of discipline when I was in my teens was to take away privileges. Anything that I had shown happiness or excitement about was a likely target. So, to protect things I cared about, I tried to stay detached. One technique that helped me care less about something was to focus on the negative about it. Unfortunately, it was hard to rekindle my excitement once my negativity had extinguished it, but at least it was easier to deal with the feelings of helplessness and disappointment.

At the worst point in my relationship with my dad, I went for several years without my dad smiling at me even one time.  He spent long hours at work or locked in his room and tried to avoid talking to me or looking at me when we passed. But still, every night, my mom made me find him to say, “Goodnight Dad, I love you,” and stand there looking at the back of his head with no answer.  Any time I protested this nightly tradition and expressed my hurt to my mom, she simply cautioned me not to let the “root of bitterness” spring up in my heart. So I did my best to bury my negative emotions, just like I saw my mom doing.

I was supposedly in the prime of my life, but I started to feel very old. My body was full of aches and pains, and I was constantly tired or dealing with a headache. Finally, at my mom’s urging, I went to see a doctor.  I was caught off guard when the doctor asked, “Do you think you’re depressed?” “Oh my goodness, no!” I answered. When the doctor left the room, I burst into tears with no idea why. I finally decided that I must have been upset that my Christian witness was damaged since I wasn’t showing Jesus’ peace and joy on my face during my doctor’s appointment.

Looking back, it’s easy to identify that I was deeply depressed and incredibly emotionally repressed.  But I didn’t interpret it that way at the time.  I saw my depression as “deep spiritual sensitivity” that came from my desire to be perfect.  And I saw my emotional repression as “true love”: by pretending I was never bothered and that I had no preferences, I thought I was being unselfish and putting the needs of everyone else before my own.

As I entered college and started to work through many of my social anxiety issues, I continued using the relational techniques that had helped me survive at home.  I was passive; I went along with other people’s ideas and goals; I had no strong opinions or desires of my own.  I was just there, a non-factor, grateful to be included.

The real change for me came through developing my relationship with my boyfriend/husband.  Our long conversations helped me work through my pent up emotions and discover my opinions.  On many occasions, he waited patiently even for 20 minutes, silently walking next to me with his arm around my shoulders, so I could finally express a basic opinion or feeling.  At some point, I came uncorked, and we now have an entirely different challenge as my opinions and feelings come flying from left and right!  In time, I’ll find balance.

Sorry, but I don’t agree with ___.
I felt really sad when you ____.
I’d really rather ____.
I don’t really enjoy ___.
In my opinion, ___.

These phrases may seem mundane to you, but to me they are priceless.  Every time I use them, they remind me that I am a real and valuable person with my own identity, my own voice, my own choice.  They make me feel empowered because I remember what it was like to try to live without them.

*****

To be continued.

Post-Fundamentalist Marriage

Crosspost: Post-Fundamentalist Marriage

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Latebloomer’s blog Past Tense Present Progressive. It was originally published on July 4, 2012.

"My church was completely wrong about women."
“My church was completely wrong about women.”

If I had stayed within the constraints of fundamentalism and Christian Patriarchy, my husband and I would absolutely not be happily married today.  Our relationship from the very beginning consisted of many departures from the teachings I grew up with.  Each of those departures furthered the development, health, and mutual happiness of our relationship.

The first departure: As a single woman, I moved out of my parents’ home to get a college education. What is a completely ordinary step for many North American women was a desperate and terrifying leap for me. My family’s homeschooling church, led by Reb Bradley, promoted a very restrictive view of gender roles along with a strong suspicion of the “liberal bias” of higher learning institutions. Within the church culture, daughters were obligated to stay home under their father’s authority until marriage; once married, they would be housekeepers and stay-at-home mothers.  For daughters, a college education was dangerous (because it removed them from their father’s protection), risky for their faith (because it exposed them to non-Christian ideas), and wasteful (because it was not practical for their duties at home).

However, despite my church’s reservations about college, only good things came to me through my experiences there, far away from home.  College helped me grow socially, intellectually, physically, and spiritually in ways that have benefited me in every area of my life since then.  But of all the good things, I am most grateful for the chance to meet my husband; we were definitely meant to be together.  Without college, we would never have met.

The second departure: My boyfriend and I dated instead of courting. According to Reb Bradley’s teaching of “Biblical” courtship, a daughter needed the protection and guidance of her father to find a spouse. This was because women were supposedly easily deceived, just like Eve in the Garden of Eden, swayed by their emotions and easily taken advantage of. Through the courtship process, a father could “guide” his daughter by screening any suitors for “correct” religious and political beliefs; he could “protect” his daughter by making rules about displays of affection and enforcing those rules through constant supervision.

My experiences away from home at college convinced me that my church was completely wrong about women.  In fact, it was denying women experience and education that caused them to be so dependent on men; it was not an innate quality of women. As I was working hard to increase my self-confidence and independence that my church and family had damaged, I made a goal for myself: I was not only going to date, I was also going to ask out the guy.

The first and only guy that I asked out turned out to be my future husband.  As it so happened, we lived several hours apart from each other, so we only had one meeting and one shot at a relationship.  If I hadn’t taken the initiative to ask him out, we would never have ended up together.

It is absolutely critical that my husband and I found each other without being pushed or restricted by our parents.  We were not playing a role of trying to please our parents and stay true to our parents’ beliefs; we were free to be ourselves, and we could see more clearly what our life would be like together if we got married.  We were adults, taking responsibility for ourselves and our well-being in the present and the future.

The third departure: My fiance and I cohabitated before getting married. It goes without saying that cohabitation was forbidden in the culture I was raised in, since even the alone time of dating was considered unnecessary and hazardous to “purity”.  In fact, cohabitation was seen as one of the great evils of society and a major contributor to the decrease of marriage and increase of divorce rates in North America.

My fiance and I never planned to cohabitate. The circumstances of life simply made it the best option for us. It was only later that we saw that cohabitation itself benefited our relationship.  It gave us confidence that we were making the right decision to get married, because we could more clearly envision our future married life together.  What were the gaps like between structured activities and conversations?  What were we like as introverts, when we withdrew from our pseudo-extroversion in order to recharge?  What was it like to take care of mundane tasks together, like keeping up an apartment, cooking, cleaning, and shopping for groceries?  What did he act like, first thing in the morning before he’d had his coffee?  What did I look like, first thing in the morning before I’d put on makeup?  The fewer surprises, the better–especially when it’s a lifelong commitment you’re talking about.

Besides that, cohabitating without having premarital sex allowed us to horrify absolutely everyone in the world.

The fourth departure: He pushed me to freely express my opinions and disagree with him.  As we developed a closer relationship, we began to experience some communication challenges.  Specifically, I found it extremely difficult to express my opinions, even when we were just making simple decisions such as what movie to watch or restaurant to eat at.  A lot of this was due to my emotional repression from authoritarian parenting, but there was more to it than that.  It also came from a serious misunderstanding of healthy relationships, which I had learned from my church and family.  I felt, deep down, that having and expressing my own opinions was selfish and would cause my partner unhappiness. I thought we would have a better, stronger, and happier relationship if I buried my preferences and played the role of a supportive wife.

To my surprise, the opposite was true.  Due to my “unselfishness,” I rarely felt loved or understood, and my partner constantly felt frustrated as he tried to guess my wants and needs in order to make me feel valued.

It turned out that he wanted to have a relationship with a real person, a person with feelings and thoughts. He did not want a “yes man” or a deferential subordinate; he wanted us to learn from and challenge each other.  Improving our communication skills beautifully affected our relationship; we began to understand ourselves and each other much better.  With that greater understanding, we were able to begin making better decisions as a team, compromising and compensating each other when necessary, so that we experienced the most mutual benefit.

The fifth departureWe don’t separate our responsibilities based on gender.  Within fundamentalism and Christian Patriarchy, your role in life is based on your gender, with no regard for your personality, strengths, weaknesses, or preferences.  If you are a man, you must provide and lead.  If you are a woman, you must take care of the house and children and defer to your husband’s decisions.  Any unhappiness that arises from this gender-based arrangement is merely a sign of your need to depend on God more and try even harder to fulfill your gender role properly.

That approach to life is blind to the huge amount of variety in the world and even the variety in the Bible.  Instead of acknowledging variety and diversity, everything is black and white, neatly categorized, and stacked in little boxes.  All the misfits and in-betweens are either ignored or labeled as sinful.

My husband and I realized right away that we would both be unhappy if we just automatically followed traditional gender roles without adapting them to suit who we were. In some ways, we appear very traditional at first glance; I quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom, and he supports us financially by working every day.  However, we are only doing that because we both happen to be happy in those roles right now, and we do not feel trapped because we know we could choose another arrangement at any time.

In many other ways, we have chosen to depart from traditional gender roles to promote the greatest mutual happiness and success.  For instance, he loves cooking and experimenting in the kitchen, while I find cooking to be a monotonous chore.  We are both happier when we share the cooking responsibilities.  Also, organizing and planning comes naturally to me, but he has a lot of difficulty thinking of and keeping track of the details.  That means we are both happier and things run more smoothly when I take charge of managing our plans and vacations.  Over time, we have recognized that we each have areas of expertise, so the person with the relevant skill or knowledge naturally takes the lead at the appropriate time.  Each of us is unique, and together we make a unique team; it would be a shame to damage that dynamic relationship by trying to force ourselves into roles that don’t fit us.

These five departures are risks that I took, doing the very things that I had been warned about for my whole fundamentalist youth.  In the end, it turned out that they were stepping stones from my depressed past life to my satisfied present life.  They were an escape route surrounded by scary shadows and “maybes”, but I’ve finally made it out into the light. I feel extremely lucky. I hope for the same happiness for each person who reads this; just realize that happiness doesn’t come from formulas and rules, and it will probably look different for you than for me, because of the beautiful variety of life.