Every one wants to feel understood, even celebrities. The rich and famous get little sympathy from the average Joe and Jane. Your first world problems will understandably get little empathy from those in the third. But, for the sake of just being human, could there be space for everyone to lament and say life is hard sometimes?
On March 27th, Gwyneth Paltrow announced “conscious uncoupling” from her husband, Chris Martin. This press release about a difficult family issue had her terminology questioned and her presentation mocked and viewed as smug. The internet became flooded with a lot of schadenfreude and a myriad of jokes. Kat Inokai, on the other hand, supports the term and, frankly, likes appreciates the distance from traditional terminology when splits are anything but.
A week before this announcement, there was a previous round of irritation and mockery when Gwyneth Paltrow her an interview on E! News. Her comments incensed many working moms when she said, “I think it’s different when you have an office job, because it’s routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening.” Adding, “When you’re shooting a movie, they’re like, ‘We need you to go to Wisconsin for two weeks,’ and then you work 14 hours a day, and that part of it is very difficult. I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as, of course there are challenges, but it’s not like being on set.”
In Mackenzie Dawson's tongue-in-cheek open letter, she challenged Gwyneth, stating that she is so glad she doesn't have to make millions shooting one movie a year with staff to help with the care of her children, like Gwyneth does. Poor little rich girl was the flavour of the piece—an understandable perspective, considering Gwyneth's means and affluence.
Why does Gwyneth's perspective, even if it is one from a privileged and famous existence, bother us? Her perspective is her own. Can she be afforded that without us getting bothered? Perhaps her comment was the usual "the grass is always greener," where she wished for a “regular life,” with predictability and routine. Yes, she has alienated some with her comments where she refers to herself as a “normal mother with the same struggles as any other mother who’s trying to do everything . . . nothing perfect about my life, but I just try hard.” It might be a little less about trying, as financially her life is worlds away from a regular life in the US. In 2012, it was recorded that the normal average everyday working woman in the United States makes $37,791. Gwyneth Paltrow reportedly makes millions per movie and that doesn't include the money she makes from brand endorsements. The “normal mother” doesn't have a staff at the ready, luxurious vacations, and money to spare. But, whether she puts it out there or not, she has intense global scrutiny on everything from her weight, her children's names, and her eating choices. And that's not even mentioning being hassled by the paparazzi. We wouldn't wish for any of this.
The truth is this—parenting is hard, relationships are a lot of work, balancing a career while parenting is challenging, and separations are painful no matter what you call them. There are many commonalities that we as parents can get together on no matter what our socio-economic status. We have interrupted schedules, face disobedience, fear for our kids, our hearts break for them, and the list goes on.
We all have times when others appear to have it better than us. Friends or acquaintances have made out of touch comments, no doubt we have also. And we can learn from this, being careful how we speak about the ease in which others live, confident in our place in life, and our abilities to face challenges. And, perhaps most importantly, show empathy on the things that connect us and make us human.
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Ever tackled something that seemed insurmountable? Has your relationship ever faced such extreme challenges that you thought it wouldn't last?
Mark Lukach, a husband and father, talks about both the journey of his relationship with his wife, Giulia, while she struggled with mental health issues, and the idea of commitment in relationships. They made it through times of acute psychoses, two psychiatric ward stays, and everything in between. Giulia's health has returned and together with their son they are finding balance and stability in their life. Mark decided to share their story of hope for others in similar, seemingly bleak, situations.
Facing a mental health diagnosis in your relationship is painful, confusing, and challenging. In some cases, like Giulia's, there were no signs until three years into their marriage. In other cases, it has been an ongoing struggle for the one you love, with easier and harder times.
If your partner is struggling with mental health, you are not alone. There is hope that begins with understanding. Here are some ways forward:
Get books, go online, talk to care providers and medical professionals, contact the CMHA. Increase your understanding. Mental health issues can feel overwhelming; education can provide a greater sense of control and hope.
Know Your Limits and Your Family's Limits:
Let go of added stress and expectations. Know what you can and can't do while being their for your partner. Make decisions that are right for your family—this might be in the area of safety, knowing when your partner can't care for your children, or if you need to lock up medication. Perhaps you might decide to drop some activities or maintain them for balance and normalcy. Evaluate and accept limitations.
Have a Crisis Plan in Place:
Crises are less difficult when anticipated. Have a plan for who you can call or where you can go in various scenarios. List critical numbers, such as your Psychiatrist or a crisis line. Have a plan for your children, as well. If it arises, address any abusive behaviours and know that at no time should you stay in a dangerous situation.
Honour Your Feelings and Experience, and Reach Out to Others:
Talk about your feelings to a trusted friend, professional, or support group. Your feelings are valid, understandable, and allowed in this process. Ask for help from family and friends, as they often struggle with knowing what they can do. A specific request (a meal, school drop off help, shovelling snow, etc.) will be happily received and responded to.
Try practiciing patience with your partner. Their actions and thoughts are often out of their control and upsetting to them. Again, having support for yourself and someone to talk to might help you vent your feelings in a healthy way and not in ways you might regret.
Take Time for Yourself:
A caregiving role will take its toll, think of the airplane oxygen mask and put yours on before you help others. Invest in self-care before you take on the care of another, or there will be nothing left to give.
Value the Journey:
Mark says that although it was hard, he misses how much they relied on each other during that time, living moment to moment, and how much they talked and shared even when the conversations were difficult, terrifying, and without answers. This experience is to be honoured and learned from for future times of health when the trite can cause arguments.
Keep the Faith:
For Mark, it was knowing others have survived and they could too. He committed and had faith they would make it somehow, and be stronger because of it. Her hospital stay was terrifying, her suicidal thoughts caused constant anxiety, and when she was heavily medicated, he felt very alone. But Mark says, “When she came out of that darkness, and we stood there together, blinking in the sunlight... realizing we made it... and in fact we made it because of each other... that's the greatest feeling you can have in life. Nothing compares. The victory only tasted sweet because of how hard it was to achieve. So commitment... [has] shown me the greatest gift and joy in life is in loving someone and being loved in return. No matter what.”
They painstakingly made it. A journey with no guarantees. Naturally, others have not made it out together for their own reasons; however, this story is about possibilities and the honour of commitment. Mark says of those who say they couldn't have done it, “You don't know who you are until you are there.” In her book, The Inspired Caregiver: Finding Joy While Caring for Those You Love, Tia Walker states that “caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn't know possible.” His story encourages that we all have strength we didn't know existed.
In my twenties, I was fortunate to attend a leadership retreat at The Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership—a non profit training centre for women. It was founded in 1997 by Naomi Wolf, a bestselling author, and Margot Magowan, writer and radio producer. The Institute was named after Victoria Woodhull, a prolific feminist and the first woman to run for president prior to women even having the freedom to vote, the first woman stockbroker on Wall Street, and the first woman to produce her own newspaper. Victoria no doubt knew how to make the most of her contacts.
The retreat encouraged working together as women. One of the sessions was networking, a concept not always well utilized. It is “the old boys club” that is famous for sharing information and helping each other succeed. Women are known to be relational, but don't always leverage this when it comes to careers. The reasons for this can vary. There have often been too few places at the top for women. Men hold CEO positions at a ratio of 10-1 and, therefore, don't view their opportunities as being as limited. Women have not had the luxury of perceived endless options and can approach opportunities with a scarcity mentality—afraid to share, afraid of losing the spot at the top.
Another challenge to networking might be how women network. Studies have shown women have been less successful than men in establishing and utilizing networks. Men often favour a more direct, ask and ye shall receive approach. Have a problem? Call the person you think can help. This can be a beneficial approach. At the Blissdom social networking conference in October 2013, I heard our Erica Ehm share one of the secrets of her success—asking for what she wanted.
Traditionally, women have preferred a more relationship-based approach to networking, seeking value added situations, finding out what we can do for others before asking for ourselves. This generous approach can be powerful. “Nothing liberates your greatness like the desire to help, the desire to serve” —Marianne Willamson. Women often listen to others and get to know them. Developing more intimate relationships create longevity and trust, and can open up connections across a wide spectrum, from contacts for our children to a job opportunity. However, intimate relationships can make it difficult. We see the complexity of relationships links, worry about blurred lines, and fear the conversations that could arise if the connection doesn't work out. We choose not to get involved or take risks.
We need to lose fear and reach out. I have found many fabulous communities wanting to connect with others, including YMC. Networking lead to my opportunity to write here, because Andrea Nair extended her contacts, not fearful that another psychotherapist would be joining the team, but rather championing me on. Another reason, I am writing here—I asked for what I wanted.
A great way to network is to attend conferences, like Mompreneur, Blissdom, and Mom 2.0, where like-minded others are looking for connections. In Olivia Fox Cabane's article, entitled “Plane Speaking: In flight Networking,” she states that, "Every minute you're around other human beings is a chance to network." Reach out on the commuter train, the coffee shop, at a children's birthday party, or at your gym. You can contact men and women in your area of interest online, starting dialogues and relationships.
It is important for us to network with emotional intelligence (a clear sense of who we are and what we need) and social intelligence (a sense of who others are and what they need). Armed with this, we can make the most of our professional and social connections. If unclear as to what we or others need, talk to friends, a mentor, a brand manager, or a therapist. Then utilize, network, take risks, and ask. You will find a world of opportunity opening up to you.