How Google Hangouts Helps My Marriage

When you have three kids, two full-time jobs, a household, and a marriage, sometimes one of those has to fall by the wayside. We have only 24 hours in the day, and kids have immediate needs, jobs have deadlines, bills need to be paid, groceries need to be bought, dinners need to be made.

But marriages seem to lack everyday demands. If my bills aren’t paid, I could lose my house. My job isn’t done well, I could lose my job. No food means starvation. Child neglect is not an option.

But my marriage is crucial to my well-being. I want to live in a harmonious home, where love is palpable, affection is given freely, and we talk to each other and not yell at each other. That requires communication.

Sometimes, my husband and I have NO time to talk at home. Our children are high-maintenance, in the best of ways — they love to talk and play games. But then they are high-maintenance in the worst of ways — they get sick, they need homework help, they fight each other. And, oh yeah — they require food and clothes. Every day. Bills don’t pay themselves. My job requires an incredible amount of brain power.

So what do we do to make sure WE are okay? To make sure WE are meeting each other’s needs instead of always only meeting other people’s needs, including our children? We use technology to our benefit.

My husband and I talk every day on Google chat. Every day. Multiple times a day. We talk about our kids, we talk about our bills, we talk about our jobs.

But mostly, we talk about each other.

We express gratitude when we didn’t get a chance to do it properly. If the morning was really rushed and tempers flared, our 2pm G-chat is an opportunity, with calmed down emotions, to discuss what went wrong and how we can change it tomorrow. The medium allows for some dispassion and requires us to actually listen before we speak. We can strategize about a child without letting them know we are talking about them. We can say sorry and give each other the grace we deserve, knowing that we are both doing our best.*

We can work on us and what we want and need and then save our face-to-face together time to put those things into action. We can give each other gentle reminders about who we want to be, as parents and friends and lovers. Today, we talked about how to get out the house better and faster without yelling or getting upset with each other or the kids. We talked about how we don’t want the morning to be so tense. I don’t want him to be passive aggressive and sarcastic with me or the kids. He wants me to light more of a fire under the kids. We talked about how to make that happen.

And we either of us feels a little talked out, we can bow out of the conversation gracefully by saying “I have to get back to work. Love you!” Unlike in face-to-face, no hurt feelings. Because jobs.

And tonight, when we are together, our bedtime can be used for more important things. Because sex lives. Because laughter and fun.

So if you are feeling like you are missing serious talking time with your partner, if you feel like the metaphorical ships in the night, try using technology. Get gmail accounts. Open gmail on your work computer. And talk to your homie lover friend.

Dr. Mama Esq.

* We can even get a little naughty. But I’m not going to talk about that part.

P.S. — It’s also a great way to leave your kids at home alone and have a way to talk and see them without them having their own phone or a house phone. 

Fear of a(n Evil) Stepfather

by Carolyn Edgar

My teenage daughter often stops by my office for brief visits. During one of her recent visits, I found myself telling her about one of the couples I follow on Twitter, who are planning their wedding. 

“Ugh, I guess, whatever,” she said, or words to that effect. “I mean, I just don’t see the point in getting married.” 

This isn’t the first time she’s expressed those feelings. I understand why. During the time her father and I were together, we didn’t exactly model marital bliss. What she said next, though, shocked me. 

“I hope you and ____________ [my current boyfriend] never get married.” 

My kids get along great with my boyfriend. He likes them, and they like him. He does “guy stuff” with my son, like wrestling and playing basketball, that I can’t do or have no interest in doing. My boyfriend talks to my son about all those “guy” things my son no longer wants to share with Mom (although my son uses me as a sounding board for the advice he has gotten from my boyfriend). My daughter says he’s “cool,” and he gets extra cool points for treating me well. 

But I have only been seeing my current boyfriend for less than a year. We’ve talked about marriage – as a concept, as an institution – plenty of times, but we’ve never discussed the idea of getting married to each other. So the fact that my daughter brought up the subject of us getting married seems a little odd to me. I guess it’s the influence of movies – in the movies, two people who get along and care for each other in a romantic relationship, are by definition head over heels in love and destined for the altar. 

My daughter’s comments were even more pointed than, “I hope you don’t get married.” When I asked why she hoped ___________ and I never get married, she said,

“I don’t want a stepfather.” 

The kids are 100% in agreement on this “no stepfather” thing. A few months earlier, my son told my boyfriend that his Mom didn’t need another husband. “It didn’t work out so well the first time,” my son said. 

My boyfriend and I concluded “don’t marry my Mom” was my son’s way of warning, “Don’t hurt my Mom.”  Later, I asked, and my son confirmed “don’t hurt my Mom” was what he meant. Judging from my daughter’s remarks on the subject, it sounds like she and her brother have talked and agreed that one father – even if they don’t see him very much – is enough.

In the abstract, it’s easy to understand why a stepfather would be undesirable. In literature and movies, and especially on TV news, stepfathers are violent, cruel, and abusive. The evil stepfather is almost as common a trope as the wicked stepmother.

But it is still hard for me to comprehend why the thought of my marrying this particular man – someone who is not violent, not cruel, not abusive – is so scary to them. 

“It would change things,” my daughter said. “My attitude towards him would change.”

I could see from her facial expression that the very idea of it was upsetting her. There was no point in continuing the conversation, especially since it’s not even a possibility at this point.

“No need to worry about that, since it’s not something we’re considering,” I told her. “If we ever need to, we’ll talk about it again.”

 “Ugh,” was all she said in response, making sure she got the last word – or noise – in.

Original to CocoaMamas

Reclaiming the Narrative

Written by CocoaMamas contributor Rachel Broadwater; a version of this first appeared on Love Isn’t Enough here & here.

After years of black motherhood being equated with abandonment and neglect, it was pure joy to see the Obamas walk across that stage to accept the nomination and then the results of the election.  Those nights – and those ever since – have been an affirmation for those of us who were what they are: A strong, loving, playful, and spirit filled African American family.  The Obamas, of course, are not the first nor will they will be the last, but they are in the here and now, tangible and concrete.   It is important to note the Obamas – including Marion Robinson, First Lady Obama’s mother who has been hailed by both of them as being instrumental in the development of their daughters – deserve every bit of praise.  It is clear that they not only are extremely devoted to their children but also to their own relationship.  If there were to be a soundtrack for the Obama family, it would be Stevie Wonder’s “Knocks Me off My Feet”.

They are the flip side to the many single black women – grandmothers, aunties, sisters, and every other in between – who are indeed mothering under siege.  These examples seem to be the only dots on the spectrum.  For those of us who seem to embody the Obama model it can be a lonely, isolating and conflicting experience.

I am a 34 year old mixed race woman – Puerto Rican father and African American / Cherokee mother – who identifies herself culturally as an African American- who mothers 2 amazing little girls: my daughter, 8, and my niece, 9.  I have been married to an awesome guy for 10 years and on our second wedding anniversary our daughter was born.  I work in pharmacy, a profession where there are more women than men.   Because of this, I would find myself in conversations with the pharmacist- sometimes white but frequently themselves or their families hailing from the Middle East or South East Asia – about parenting.  There was almost always a look of surprise and wonderment when I would talk about the regular every day struggles of mothering.  I could almost see the thought bubble: “Oh my God she is just like me!”  Usually at some point in time they would admit to being pleasantly surprised at how devoted I and my husband were to our girls.  I was different, you know, unlike “those other” parents.  Meaning “regular” black people.  I would insist that every mother regardless of race, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, socioeconomic or marital status wants the best for her child whether they have the resources or not, and I was not, in fact, an anomaly.

But I admit that I do feel invisible. There are very few mediums where black mothering is normalized.  Normalized brings to mind for many a two parent, heterosexual, often Christian family.  That is not what I am talking about.  I mean I want to see black and brown mothers in advertisements for safety systems, breastfeeding campaigns, and educational enrichment pitches.  I want to see sensitive portrayals of black and brown women as being nurturing, caring, responsible, patient and concerned about their children.  I would no longer have to endure a picture of a black child automatically followed by these or any combination of words: challenge, crisis, chaos, dangers, death, neglect, and dysfunctional.

To black and white people I did right.  I got married then had children.  “You are a good mother” they nod approvingly.  It’s like because I married when I married that I automatically get 500 points on the SAT’s of parenting.  Why should that be?  There is so much discussion concerning the ills of out of wedlock mothering in spiritual, economic, and emotional terms.  Single mothers have their actions shredded apart.  People feel it is justified by pointing to the high incarceration rates, poverty, violence etc. but is it any more right for a married woman to have a baby to save a relationship? Is it right for a married couple to bring a child into a household where the father is emotionally distant or even cruel because of their own unresolved demons?  There might be a temptation to point out that society “pays” for out of wedlock children but don’t we “pay” when children are conceived under the matrimonial fairy tales that don’t work out.  But there are a whole lot of ways to pay for a baby.

There seems to be a concerted lack of nuance in the discourse in both white and black spaces. If white spaces don’t acknowledge my presence black spaces insist only on the respectable.  In a way I can’t say that I blame them.  Slavery did not allow for slaves to be recognized as humans much less families.  Even if an enlightened slave master allowed for slaves to be married, it was never legally binding.  At any time these two people, who chose each other despite the pure hell of slavery, could be separated and sold along with any of their children or told to mate with another salve who had their own family or did not and simply had no desire to breed.  When freedom was won the majority of slaves legalized their marriages.  They may not have had much but they had each other.  Literally.

So against that backdrop it is no wonder when pastors look out into the pews of their church and see the couple sitting next to each other, an arm draped across their partners back, maybe with a child or two on either side, maybe in between, they are not necessarily seeing patriarchy and submission.  What they see is a stone in the eye of the naysayers who use charts, polls, and studies to prove that these people sitting in church on a Sunday morning don’t exist.  There is no doubt that something pulls at you when you see a couple married for 40 plus years helping each other put their coats on.  It is pride, love, joy, hope, an abundance of every bit of positive energy in the world.  It is also tempting to stay rooted in that energy.  It is so warm and wonderful.  It makes me believe that I too will be in that number.  To believe that this is the right way, the only way, the best way.  But I can’t and I won’t.

Poor mothers do not automatically equate poor mothering.  The No Wedding, No Womb and Marry Your Baby Daddy/Mama movements although conceived with good intentions have left so many important threads blowing in the wind and it seems like few are interested in catching, examining and then tying them together.  Lack of comprehensive, fact based sexual education, the denial of mental health services (both in idea that it is needed and actual services), the lack of safe spaces or even language for men and boys to discuss their own feelings that are not steeped in patriarchy and the sustained unwillingness to deal with the effects of physical, mental, sexual and emotional abuse and how that affects interpersonal relationships all impact both parents and children alike.

The first step to correct this is the insistence that black women take back their own maternal narrative.  Take it back from whoever is mishandling it, whether the person is wearing a three-piece suit, a black dress with pearls, pastoral robes or jeans and t shirt.  This is your story.  You and your child’s.  There will be laughter and tears.  There will be slammed doors and cuddles on the couch.  There will be fear and certainty.  There will be clarity and bewilderment.  These things will happen at different times or maybe all at once.  Doesn’t matter really.  When you tell your story I will sit down and make myself comfortable, ready to listen to you.

Jumping That Broom

Yesterday was National Black Marriage Day, a day that celebrates and promotes marriage within the Black community.

According to many opinion article writers, a forthcoming book by one of my professors, a “movement” championed (and also derided) by many in the black blogging community, and a recent report on the state of Black children, the issue of marriage among Black people is cited as the #1 reason – and also #1 solution – for why Black people are in the situation in which we find ourselves today. The breakdown of the “family unit,” as many call it, is hurting black children. From what I can see, most of these reports/opinions/etc. take the approach of the Moynihan report and cite that the issue is black single mothers raising children without black fathers. Something about the lack of a father in the home – and hence the breakdown of the family unit – has caused such damage that only the revival of marriage can fix.

I think this is… how can I say in the most polite way…misguided.

My issue with this whole propaganda machine is this: marriage and the multitude of support needed for black children to succeed and thrive are two totally different things. While they need not be mutually exclusive, one can exist without the other.

I am black, and I am married with black children. So I am not anti-marriage. I love my husband, and plan to be with him until death do us part. For real. I think that children can benefit from having both of their parents in their lives as much as possible, given that both of those people are available and willing to do the job. But it doesn’t necessarily work that the converse is true: that children must suffer if they don’t have both parents – a man and a woman – in their lives as much as possible. There is just very little evidence for this.

Research is showing that children who grow up in same sex coupled households do just as well as children who grow up in opposite sex households. Census data shows that children raised in same sex households do as well in school as children raised in opposite sex households. Children of lesbian co-parents do as well, and perhaps even better than children of heterosexual married couples. There is little evidence that children need both a man and a woman in the household to succeed.

That many call the fact that over 70% of black children are born “out-of-wedlock” a crisis is a crisis. The statistic is that black women are choosing to have children with men to whom they are not married. The crisis, to those who call it that, is that some moral value has been violated – obviously these women had sex before marriage. I suppose a second value violation, although it’s hardly moral, was the failure to use birth control. But are these two facts really of crisis proportions? What is the real problem?

I was pregnant with Big A before we got married. I was also college educated, had my own place to live, with my own job, and was about to go to graduate school. I had had sex before marriage, and failed to properly use birth control. An issue that I was pregnant? Of course. A crisis? No.

People often point at the 1950s and 1960s as the hey-day for marriage in the black community. Blacks supposedly had the highest rates of marriage among any racial group in the country. Since that time, however, the rate of marriage has been on the decline, not just for Blacks, but for everyone. But to me, it’s not just a coincidence that the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement and the decline of marriage occurred around the same time (and don’t forget about the womens movement.)

Just like many things were fractured in age of integration, so was the black community. I think that what is a crisis is not the decline of marriage, but the decline of community. Marriage is not supported only by those two people who stand at the altar and profess their love; family and friends are invited to serve as witnesses and to pledge their support to that union. In the 1950s and 1960s, new marriages began in the comfort of a community where people loved that couple, counseled that couple, saw that couple in church every Sunday. They likely lived around the corner from their Mamas and Daddies, sisters and brothers. When they had their first child, the grandmother came and stayed for weeks helping out; the entire family brought over food. Black women married and worked and raised their children, but also helped raise other people’s children too. Children were supported by more of the village concept, where my mama know your mama and if your mama sees me doing something wrong, your mama will punish me just like my mama would. Before integration, children saw businesses run by their own people, people whose name they knew and who knew their name. School teachers lived on the block, and knew every child’s family because they also went to church together. So children were not only supported by the institution of marriage, they were supported by a strong community that knew each other and did for each other.

Integration changed that. Integration, as it’s played out, has created huge rifts in the black community along class lines as some have moved on up to the big time, getting their piece of the pie while others are holding on to the promises but have been left looking up from the bottom of the well. The same fractures that were created among slave negroes and house negroes have been recreated for the 21st century. And now, someone is feeding to us that marriage is the ticket to our salvation? Naw, son.

What has always been the backbone of the black community is exactly that – community. If black people want to get married – that’s great. More power to them. But our children don’t need marriage; they need community. They need the support of any and all loving adults who can care for them, married parents or not. There was a time, which is still true now in many areas, where grandparents, aunties and uncles, where considered essential parts of black children’s’ lives, in both married and non-married families. But not as much anymore. When I read the reports that bash parents for failure to parent, I wonder from where these survey takers think the current parents learned to parent? And where did their parents learn to parent? There was a time that even if your parent was not doing all that you needed, your best friend’s mother was, and you were learning right along with him. Now, you have to set up playdates. The natural community fluidity and trust is gone. Parenting is often happening in a vacuum. What happened to the community that nurtured and mentored young parents on the way to go?

Our little family, the four of us, live 3000 miles from our biological family. But we’ve created, as many transplant Black families do, our fictive kin right here in the Bay Area that serve as our “family” of aunties and uncles and cousins. In the black community, nuclear families have never had to go it alone. But now, it’s not natural. We have to work to make a family seem real.

With integration, the black community adopted the American mantra of “every man for themselves.” And that has been what has destroyed the black community. The decline of marriage has been a collateral consequence.

So when these groups, movements, days, etc., claim to want to celebrate Black marriage, I have to take a *pause.* Because while I feel that their hearts are in the right place, I think their energy is totally misdirected. Instead of “promoting” marriage, how about community building, i.e. creating spaces where marriages can thrive? In those same spaces, not only will marriage thrive, but also other forms of families and ultimately, supports for children.

Whether a child succeeds should not depend on whether their parents are married or not. By putting our feather in that hat we are walking a very narrow path indeed, and deflecting energy and resources from where they could best used.

Cheaters as Relationship Gurus

Popular gossip/entertainment site The YBF made a splash yesterday when it posted a YouTube video from Mary Harvey, Steve Harvey’s ex-wife, in which she talked of Harvey’s infidelity during their marriage, including his affair during their marriage with his current wife, Marjorie. The ex-Mrs. Harvey also posted a salacious letter from one of Steve Harvey’s jump-offs.

Not surprisingly, this revelation spawned comments ranging from “I knew he was a low down dirty dog! How dare he try to be some kind of relationship guru!” to “Yawn, old news, old girl needs to move on.”

It is old news, in a way. Steve has admitted his cheating ways. It was already known that his current wife was his side piece. He’s not the first nor the last man to cheat, to marry his side chick, or to say he can tell women how to avoid low down dirty dogs because he was once one himself.

Although Harvey’s relationship books are best-sellers, there are those who resent his emergence as the media’s African-American relationship expert.

Can a person with multiple divorces under his belt seriously be considered a relationship counselor? Or, as Harvey argues, should we listen because of those past failures?

In my opinion, the fact that Harvey is a (reformed) cheater neither qualifies nor disqualifies him as a relationship expert. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship has ideas and opinions about relationships, based on their own experiences. And all of those people are capable of giving both good and bad advice.

I write about being divorced, so I am often asked to write about marriage – particularly, about lessons learned. I managed to partner with and marry the one person on this planet who was incompatible with me in every single way imaginable. Apparently, this is because I am an overachiever.

The biggest lesson I learned about marriage? Don’t marry the wrong person. Or, as I said to a friend shortly after I filed for divorce, “Choose better.”

I can’t tell people how to know he’s Mr. Right, because I’m still trying to figure that out. I have some ideas on how to know you’re dating Mr. Wrong.  But I don’t claim to be the Mr. Wrong expert. One person’s Mr. Wrong is another person’s Mr. Right or Mr. Cool For Right Now.

All I know is this: you are the expert of you. No one can tell you what’s best or worst for you, except you. The only thing another person can do is provide some guidance that might help you make the right choices for yourself.

Which leads me back to Steve Harvey. The fact that he cheated on his wives and has been divorced a bunch of times doesn’t mean much to me. The advice he dispenses should be judged on its own merits.

That said, I’m not a huge fan of his relationship advice, and not because of his own relationship history. I read his book “Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man.” While I do think he makes some good points – such as the importance of establishing standards for how you expect to be treated early in a relationship – I don’t care for his “men are simple” brand of relationship advice.

I don’t think men are simple. I think men are wonderfully complex human beings. Harvey says men need loyalty, support and sex. Don’t women need the same things, too?

For the record, I also think the aphorism, “why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free?” is deeply flawed. It assumes sex has no value for women except as currency in trade with men.

Men and women alike should be smarter about and embracing of sex and their own sexuality, which doesn’t translate to strict “wait till the third date” rules. Other people can give you guidelines, but you have to establish your own rules about sex and intimacy.

As for Mary Harvey, the ex-Mrs. Harvey? I feel badly for her. You don’t save letters, emails, and other evidence of your ex-husband’s infidelity this many years after the divorce, if you have truly moved on. She appears to still be in a lot of pain over her husband’s betrayal of their wedding vows.

If telling her story helps her process that pain and helps other women in the process, then her revelations are a good thing. If she’s still coming from a place of bitterness and vengefulness, she will need to heal for her own sake, no matter what she writes or posts on YouTube. Only she knows what her motives are. I wish her well.