Archive for the ‘Spiritual Development’ Category

Making Sexuality a Priority in Families.

When I dropped off my 9 year old son at school today he said, “Have fun on your date with dad!” before kissing us good bye.   My husband took the morning off, and we went out for breakfast, and then had a couples’ massage together before he had to be back at work.  Today is the 28th anniversary of our first date; the day before Valentine’s Day.  Later, we will have dinner together, as a family, and exchange Valentines with each other.   For the past few years, I have been making a point to show my son, and his father, that our adult relationship is a priority and my son is starting to get used to it.  When we make our relationship with our partner a priority, we are building a strong foundation that we can all depend upon when times get difficult.

I have seen too many families fall apart because the adults in the household put the needs of their children above their own.  In the end, the children suffer the consequences, even if the parents stay together.   Children need both their parents, and it is ideal when those parents can learn to love and respect each other, especially when they disagree.  In fact, it seems that the best reason for a child to have more than one adult who loves and cares for them is to see that our differences do not tear us apart.  Our children are exposed to many different personalities, preferences, skills and abilities.  A family is a great place to learn to respect our differences while working together.

Our baby put demands on us that strained our relationship, but our relationship was already strained.  Before he was born, we had each suffered many losses. We moved across the country away from extended family to an unfamiliar environment.  When we arrived, we faced unemployment, poverty and job discrimination.  My husband was passed over for a promotion and had a bout of suicidal depression that devastated both of us.  His anti-depressant medication did not alleviate his depression, but it did take away his desire for sex while we were trying to get pregnant.  He didn’t express that he had lost his sex drive, so I felt rejected and abandoned.

Simultaneously, I was trying to get pregnant.  It took 10 years from the time we stopped preventing pregnancy, before we would give birth to our son.  My first miscarriage was the impetus for relocating and spurred my partner to change careers.  The second miscarriage took place as I moved our household across the country, while my husband remained to complete graduate school.  The first ectopic pregnancy threatened my life, and the second one happened while my husband was struggling with depression.  We decided try to adopt siblings, but the home study did not favor our plans to adopt due to his depression.  Finally, In Vitro Fertilization was necessary to conceive our son and resulted in a healthy pregnancy.  After 29 hours of labor, the first 12 hours with no medication, plus Pitocin to induce contractions, 90 minutes of pushing, and a failed attempt at suctioning the baby out, we finally resorted to a Cesarean Section.  The doctor who delivered him said “you did everything to have this child!”

It was hard to put mine or my partner’s needs ahead of the baby, especially after what we had been through to bring him into the world.  When a baby demands food, medical care and attention, they sure make it hard for you to ignore them.  One of us had to tend to the baby while the other was tending to other demands of the household.  Sometimes it was easy to forget that we were on the same team.  Once, when I was nursing my son, my partner expressed a desire to contribute more than just cooking dinner and doing the dishes.  I realized that when he was doing the dishes, he was allowing me to relax and be fully present with my nursing baby, instead of worrying about dinner.  I assured him that his contribution was meaningful to both of us, because he was providing the nutrients for me, while I provided the nutrients for the baby.  My spouse needed my appreciation and reassurance that his contribution mattered to both of us, even if it was indirect.

It is very hard to reconnect through sleep deprivation, breast feeding, and the demands of work and household.  It isn’t easy to make time for your relationship, especially when you live away from extended family, or when your extended family makes demands, too.  While I was breast feeding, my spouse acted as if my body now belonged to the baby and stayed away.  After a while, I was getting my needs for physical touch met by the baby, while my partner tried not to interfere, but I could tell he felt left out.  It was easier to nurse in the night by co-sleeping because we all got more sleep when the baby was nearby, but having the baby in bed did facilitate intimacy between the parents.

Parents need to “put the oxygen mask on themselves first” or we will have nothing to give to those who are in need.  Not only do we need the oxygen to think straight and manage our own fears, but we are also modeling healthy behavior and making self care acceptable for our child.  We tried to move our son out of our bed several times with limited success.  My husband and I developed different sleep schedules after my son was born, because I was coordinating my life around the baby’s schedule, and my husband was operating on his own schedule.  We had to adapt to find times to connect when we were both awake, had energy, time and desire.  We tried to reconnect emotionally with each other by saying 5 things we love about each other before bed each night.  We have tried many arrangements, made changes and compromises, and eventually found a pattern that seems to work.

Sometimes, my son tried to wedge between us when we are kissing each other, because he likes the loving behavior and wants to be a part of it.  He has learned that his parents need to express our love for each other to keep it healthy, and sometimes we must exclude him to do that.  As children get older and can do more for themselves and it becomes easier for parents to make time to connect with each other.  Sometimes it feels like we have both changed so much we feel like strangers when they are alone together.  Sometimes we don’t know what to talk about anymore and it feels like our differences have created a wedge.  It is important that we sit with this discomfort and move through it together or the wedge just gets bigger.

Our church offers a sexuality education class titled “Our Whole Lives” and our son is learning that sexuality can be healthy and loving for a lifetime.  When he learned that we were going to have a date together, he said “I hope you won’t be having sexual intercourse” and I responded, “If we do, that will be something private between your daddy and I.”  I am glad he is learning that our sexuality is loving and healthy for all of us, even when he is excluded.  It is important to keep trying to find new ways to get together.  That is why I am so grateful we took the morning off work to have a date during school hours.  I am reassured from my son’s kiss goodbye that he is benefitting from the time we spend making our sexuality a priority.

Making Spirituality a Priority

In preparation for our upcoming trip to Greece, Jacob and I attended our First Unitarian Church service and St. George Greek Orthodox Church both in Albuquerque, NM.  Our family has attended St. George’s Greek Festival several times in the past and one service during the Christmas holidays.  First Unitarian is our home congregation that we have been attending for 15 years and have strong connections to the community there.  We pledge our resources to this community, we attend weekly sermons and participate in religious education programs.  We are known and feel at home at First Unitarian.

My husband, Chris was raised in a dual Catholic home; Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox.  His father went to Greece and convinced his mother to marry him and move to the US.  They had two weddings, one in the Greek Orthodox Church and one in the Roman Catholic Church because they each wanted their marriage to be recognized in by their own faith. Each year they celebrated both wedding anniversaries four days apart from each other.  Although, Chris attended Roman Catholic School and church services, it was clear that each of his parents had their own faith.  Once her husband died, Chris mother returned to the Greek Orthodox Church for her spiritual community.

As I child I attended the Presbyterian Church with my mother, while my dad proposed alternative perspectives to the bible stories I was taught in Sunday school.  I distinctly remember him comparing the Bible story of the loaves and the fishes to the story of Stone Soup. My dad emphasized that the miracle was that Jesus taught the people to share what little they had with each other to create a sense of community.  To my father the primary value if church is a shared community, rather than a reverence for the mystery of life.  Around the same time that I discovered First Unitarian in Albuquerque, my parents joined a Unitarian church in Sacramento.  My dad was amazed to find a church that would let a devout agnostic be the Board chair.

The decision to attend two Easter services this year was an exercise in preparing Jacob for our trip to Greece and giving him a sense of his cultural heritage before we go.  I appreciate the Unitarian’s commitment to telling the many stories of Easter each year, and didn’t want him to miss the religious education.  Our church is large enough (750 members and rising) that they provide two simultaneous services on Easter; a more contemplative service in the sanctuary and an intergenerational service in the social hall. As we found our seats, I head the ministerial intern announce that we would need more chairs for all the families coming in.

As a child development expert, I appreciated how the intergenerational service involved us in the story using multiple senses.  We used grape juice to blot stains on a napkin to symbolize the plagues of Passover. We sang a song that represented the story of Jesus resurrection.  Pictures were projected on a screen illustrating the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone’s the return of the spring.  Each story was represented by a bead we put on a ribbon.  In closing, we joined the participants from the sanctuary in the courtyard to hang our individual contributions on branches connecting the two services to each other as we sang together.  The service was rich in symbolism that Jacob learned, participated in and understood.

For Jacob and Chris, the Greek service was very different.  Since Chris attended Greek School as a child, Catholic School and Catechism, he understands the symbolism of the Greek Orthodox Church in ways that Jacob and I do not.  I could see comfort in his face from familiar sights, sounds and smells as he participated in the Greek Mass.  The crosses, portraits of saints, and smell of incense were very beautiful and I appreciated the multi-sensory experiences, but I did not understand what they meant. He has taken Greek languages classes at that church and recognized on of the classmates from his class.

I was grateful that Jacob requested to sit in the upper balcony because after the novelty of lighting candles and kissing a portrait wore off he was in agony with the monotony of the service.  Even the singing of the priests in Greek and English was in monotones that were the kind of sounds that induce sleep. After a half an hour, Jacob was threatening to walk home alone. I consented to take him to the park across the street while Chris stayed for the end of the mass where they passed out traditional blood red dyed eggs to the children.

The parishioners of St. George’s served a luncheon for their congregation after the service.  They served us lamb, peas cooked in olive oil and dill, orzo, salad and rolls to approximately 100 people.  A dessert table offered sheet cake the Greek Easter cookies like Chris’ mom made every year.  There was a bottle of wine and chocolates on the tables. The food had a similar impact on us as the mass for Chris.  The flavors were familiar to Greek cuisine and made the experience taste like home for Chris.

A woman, who became a member a year ago, introduced herself and reveled in how surprised she was to find a spiritual home in the Greek Orthodox Church. I observed many congregants who did not appear to be of Greek heritage, but did not find that unusual.  The priest spent some time talking to a family during the luncheon and a centrally located table, but he did not make his way to our table in the farthest corner. Based on my experience at the annual Greek Festival each October, I was concerned about parking and we arrived early, but the parking lot only had a few cars.  Jacob said he would use a yellow mug at this church so that we would be greeted as newcomers, but this small church had no yellow mugs.  Aside from the one woman who introduced herself, no one else made an attempt to welcome us. There were plenty of empty chairs in the sanctuary and in the social hall for lunch.

I am not surprised that I feel at home in the church that I have attended for 15 years, and that Jacob has attended since before he was born.  I am not surprised to feel like an outsider at a church that has such strong Ethnic culture associated with its faith.  However, I walked away with a greater appreciation for the effort we make to make our church experience welcoming and inclusive of all who choose to attend; from the services designed to create a sense of participation in the story and something tangible that brings the sermon into my child’s hands, to the yellow mugs that indicates that a newcomer would appreciate being greeted. Without the familiarity of language, the meaning of the stories, the explanation of the symbolism and the welcoming gestures from those who do belong; our church might feel foreign to a newcomer, too.