Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Greatest Temptation

Last week I wrote about my greatest fear. I figured this week I should write about my greatest temptation....

That would be this: I have an opinion on everything---and I'm not afraid to share it. I am often driven to tell people what I think, without pulling any punches. Regardless of whether they want to hear it or not...

It is very easy to blame this on the Leo in me.

The Internet offers me an endless opportunity to give in to that temptation. Particularly when it comes to my hot-button issues: the church I love...the faith to which I am committed...the sanctity of commitments and the need, on occasion, to break them...and the welfare of children in broken families.

In general, I have learned, as the result of several painful and embarrassing episodes, to sit on my hands and give myself time to think before I post. For every comment I leave on a blog, there are probably five more that I end up deleting.

That education actually came in quite handy during the worst part of my divorce, when my ex was sending me the most hateful e-mails I could imagine. E-mails in which he tried to push every button I possess---easy enough to do when you've been living with someone for 14 years and know all their vulnerable spots. It infuriated him that I refused to respond.

I had to take my comfort where I could...

(Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Sigh. I got another one this morning, where the message I got was that it would have been better for me to kill myself than to leave him. But I digress...)

Unfortunately, I am not always successful in my resolve to be temperate. Sometimes I say more than I should. Sometimes I offer opinions that are best left to those who share "meat space" with the person I am addressing.

If you think I am talking to you, I most assuredly am. And for my pride and arrogance, I offer my apologies. They say the first step toward changing is recognizing the problem...let's hope they're right.

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Sometimes we can see things for what they are. We can see that the "issues" that set us off are not really what they appear to be on the surface.They are really only proxies for something else.

For example, as a first-time mother, I quickly found myself embroiled in The Mommy Wars. Violent battles of words raged on the Web between women who stayed home with their children, and women who worked for wages outside the home. Each was trying to "prove" that their way of being a parent was best (or, at the least, not damaging to their children's futures).

For stay-at-home moms, the issue was that they were permanently limiting their own future earning power (and placing themselves at the mercy of their spouses) to be at home with their children. For work-outside-the-home moms, they were sacrificing a significant amount of daily interaction with their children to ensure financial stability--or simply acknowledging that working was something they needed to do as individuals.

The truth, of course, is that there is no one best way to rear children. As in most things in life, "it depends." There are moms who have the great gift of making time at home with their children a wonderful thing, and moms who are much better parents when they can use their talents in places outside the nursery.

(I happen to fall in the latter camp, in case you were wondering.)

Every woman involved in the debate was really just trying to deal with her fear that she was not a "perfect mother" (whatever that means...) and that her children were being damaged by her choices (or by the circumstances that took choice away). We could all quibble about what "best" really means for kids, but the bottom line was that we ALL loved our kids and we ALL felt guilty about our performance as mothers.

I learned early that guilt is the one common denominator for motherhood.

So I refused to fight that war any longer. And when various skirmishes came up (breastfeeding v. bottle, crib v. co-sleeping, circumcision or not, etc.), I just refused to play. And I somehow got much more confident in my parenting when I stopped trying to compare myself to the mythical Perfect Mom.

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Other times, however, we are just too close to an issue and cannot really see beyond our own "stuff." I am in that place about marriage, divorce, and children.

Over the course of many years, I have recognized a pattern in my behavior. Whenever I make a big change in my life, everything that happens to me for quite some time afterwards gets analyzed through the filter of that change.

So when I see a blogger who is struggling with marital issues, or who is feeling depressed and hopeless, I can't help but personalize their struggles. I tend to barge in and pronounce, when what is usually needed is just an ear. Or even silence.

As the Perfect Mom would say, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

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So how does all this play out in the blogosphere?

I'm trying to figure that out.

But this I know---that the moment when I'm most certain I'm right, is the moment when Wormwood is most in control.