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Donna Jean Freberg Headshot

Time For Some "Time-Outs"

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Some parents need a serious timeout. No negotiation, no bargaining, no giving in. Off you go to be by yourselves and think about what you've done. About your behavior. Sit and be alone with yourself until you can come out and choose to behave better. The way you have been acting is way out of control and completely unacceptable. Go to your room. Timeout.

"We were vain and ignorant nor knew that when we stabbed thy heart it was our own real hearts we slew." -- Oscar Wilde

I've been seeing the trend toward uber-acrimonious divorces for some time now. An arc that has been building. Fighting to the death, winner takes all -- but there's either not as much to take at the end of the battle, or it's all so tainted with literal or metaphorical blood, that it's lost its appeal way down deep in the heart and soul of the so-called winner. It's come with such a high price, a cost that only begins to reveal itself when it's all said and done.

Sometimes you have to keep shouting from the rooftops about what is unacceptable, until more and more people hear and it sinks in -- and those who continue to engage in certain behaviors and attitudes are looked down upon by the more-evolved citizens. In our history, that's how change in how we treat one another as human beings begins to happen. And, in my opinion, it's time for one of those changes.

I'm going to tell you two stories I heard recently that I can't get out of my head. First is one about me crossing paths with a stranger -- a girl in one of the shops in our neighborhood. She started telling me about her dreams and how she was close to stepping out into those dreams, but then she looked down and hesitated. She said to me, "Well, I've been nannying to get by and though I'm ready to go, I just can't leave my job right now. I can't leave the precious children I take care of." She continued, "You see, their parents are going through a divorce, a really ugly divorce, and the kids just need me. I mean it's really bad... the parents can't afford to live separately, but they've taken a restraining order out on each other. While living in the same house."

I was temporarily speechless while it sunk in. "How is that possible?" I asked, not expecting to get an answer. But what we both remarked on as we went our separate ways, was how sad it was that these two people didn't really see -- or choose to see -- what it was doing to their children. Whose security it seems at that moment in time lay in the arms of a nanny, unrelated to them, who did see them, and loved them. But who would soon be moving on. What is the matter with people? I still can't picture how that would work. What comes to mind is something like that scene in "It Happened One Night" with Clark Cable and Claudette Colbert, when they put that string up and hung a blanket over it to separate them. Do you do that for one part of the house?

The next story is about a friend who was talking to me about her working situation, and told me that this dad she knew had asked her to nanny for them -- but only for a short time during the day. From like 2:05pm to 3:20pm. "What?" I didn't know what she meant. "Well, you see the husband and wife can't see each other or tolerate being near each other -- even to hand off their 3-year-old. First they asked me to nanny from 7:10am to 7:50am... I mean they would be paying me, it's grocery money right?" "So let me get this straight," I say, "they want to hire you as a nanny just for the hand-off time because they cannot cope with being in each other's presence for the few minutes it takes to make sure their daughter is safe and sound, and then walk away?" "Pretty much." She said she'd known them quite a while, back when they were in love and expecting this very same baby. My friend didn't take the job because of scheduling. Sometimes I think it's dangerous that just anyone can have a child. It's a privilege. Maybe we should all be required to sign some kind of contract when you have a baby, that protects the kid from this kind of madness.

It's not that I don't get that you can hate someone you once loved. I'm talking about a bitter hate that is as strong and deep as that love once was. I get it. I saw "War of the Roses." Though from my own experience, I know that you have to make certain choices, cross a lot of lines, emotional stop signs and ignore the inner voice that knows better to get to the place where that hate is so palpable and all encompassing so as to poison the life you have, and the children you say you love. But the truth is, grown ups must make different choices. I know it's hard, I got divorced from the man I had a wondrous baby girl with. No one could drive me crazier than him sometimes, but I was lucky. Whenever he and I came to an impasse, which you always do, one or the other of us would back down. We decided we would rather love her, than indulge our disagreements. It was really hard sometimes, but it was the greatest gift we ever gave her.

An honorable mention, in regard to how parents can treat each other, has to go to two friends of mine that I loved deeply. I say "loved" because they are both dead. Both died of cancer after horrible, unkind, nasty, protracted, court battle divorces. Coincidence? We'll never know. But I do know this, because I knew both of them, and their hearts -- it took its toll. And in both cases it hurt and affected the children, and these mothers knew it. Pain and loss. Loss and pain. And who, in the end, really won? Those left standing have to live with themselves.

We have to get a hold of ourselves. Stop this hate-fueled behavior, for our children's sake... for our own sakes. What happened to the Golden Rule, "Do unto others...?" Or all this talk lately about compassion -- doesn't anyone ever really listen to the Dalai Lama or Nelson Mandela, or remember Gandhi, Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King? If you are one of these people embarking on, or in the middle of, a marital horror story -- over money or the need to be right, or whatever else -- stop. Just stop it. And please stop, before you write another "check to charity" (especially to help children) and ask yourself, "How am I living in the trenches of my own life? With my own children, who are my responsibility?" I say this from the depths of my being: if you can't start living what you say you believe, if you say you believe in compassion or love or kindness, in the places it can be the hardest -- in your very own life -- then no matter how much money you have, or how right you can prove you are, your life, for my money, isn't worth a hill of beans.