Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Cost Of Love: You Can’t Put a Price Tag on a Parent’s Love

Chris Bosh, Jermaine Jackson, Terrell Owens, Usher, and Halle Berry are all either rich and/or famous people embroiled in high-profile, sometimes bitter child support and custody battles. And just as I was about to hit send, a new alert hit my email box.  The headline reads, “Steve Nash child support: NBA star contests support payments for ‘spoiled kids.’”

Every once in a while though, a case involving ordinary people will make the news, like this one involving a former U.S. Marine.

Romel Smith, says he’s paid nearly $30,000 in child support for a child who isn’t his.  He found out that the 15-year-old girl wasn’t his daughter when she was four years old after his own mother prompted to him to get a paternity test.

Mr. Smith has gained lots of sympathy from men and women who are enraged over the fact that he was forced to be financially responsible for a child he didn’t father.
Or did he father her?

I guess it depends on how you look at it.

We get too caught up in what parents want and have too little concern about the kids involved.  Not saying that $30,000 isn’t a huge amount of money to pay, but if we took the money out of the equation, how would it change the story?  Whether he gets his money back or not is less of an issue as to what his relationship will be like with his “daughter” now that this story has gone public.  How will it impact her security, trust and self-esteem?

The laws may be flawed on the issue of how easy it is to have a man’s name placed on a birth certificate and how difficult it is to have it removed if it’s proven he’s not the biological parent of a child.  But here’s where I agree. If you have raised a child as yours, if you have assumed responsibility for their livelihood, if you’re the one they call daddy, you don’t get to take that back.
I’m a single mom and if I began to add up the monthly monetary cost of raising my children with not that much help from their dad, it would probably make my head spin.  There’s $500 a month on groceries, $300 a month on child care – throw in entertainment, clothes, baseball basketball – not to mention the mortgage, light bill and monthly trip to Urgent Care … Hey, they’re 11 and 12- year-old boys – and it really starts to add up.

But I don’t expect their father to share these expenses equally with me because we have an agreement that works. To me, quality time spent between my sons and their father is more important than dollars.  When I hear about people who aren’t in the same situation, explain away what fathers should and shouldn’t do, what they should and shouldn’t pay, I’m tempted to tell them how ridiculous they sound.  Even in good marriages, there’s no true equality in how much money each parent contributes to each child.

Now while I’m not advocating that anyone be financial irresponsible – I also know that when it comes to matters of divorce and child custody issues – nothing is as simple as we would like.
The bigger picture is that we nurture our children.

What is more important, more valuable and more difficult to measure is the time parents want to spend or are allowed to spend with their kids.

Women and men who keep their exes from seeing their children because they’re behind in child support need to stop.  And dad’s especially who purposely remove themselves them from their children’s lives because they can’t contribute monetarily have got this whole thing twisted.
Whether the father – Romel Smith, who was duped by the system gets his money back or not, I hope he will remain a part of the life of the girl who knows him as Dad.  If he was a positive male role model, letting a legal matter come between them is crime.

We can add up the money and material things, but a child’s opportunity to have a relationship with both parents – whether by blood or not – is priceless.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Not Watching ‘Scandal’ is Scandalous

Can you even remember what you used to do on Thursday nights before  you got hooked on ABC’s hit TV show “Scandal?”  I know, right.

Every few years a series comes along that just clicks with Black America.  Just off the top of my head, and in no particular order, there was “The Game,” “Soul Food,” “Living Single,” “Def Comedy Jam,” “The Arsenio Hall Show”, the “Dave Chappelle Show”, “The Cosby Show”, “In Living Color,” “Soul Train,” and now “Scandal.”

What distinguishes that list of shows from many of the shows popular among blacks is the emotional ties that came with them.  If you didn’t watch “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” your peers might assume it just wasn’t your kind of show … if you didn’t watch “The Cosby Show,” “Def Comedy Jam,” and now “Scandal,” black folks look at you funny.

I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  I’ve heard comedians, actresses and others literally have to defend themselves and their blackness because they aren’t regular viewers of “Scandal.”

It’s a good, well-written show, but how did it get to be an obsession?

Hollywood veteran actress and “Scandal” fan Holly Robinson-Peete thinks she knows why.
“We are starved for people who look like us doing the things we do or fantasize about doing and we don’t get a chance to see enough of that,” she says.

But Christopher J. Respass, a pastor in a Dallas suburb, thinks it goes a little deeper.  He says “Scandal” appeals to a lustful part of us that longs to be satisfied.  He says what we don’t see in the hour-drama is that its allure results in “real destruction.”

In case you’re not familiar with “Scandal,” and God bless you if you aren’t, in a nutshell, the show is about Olivia Pope, a fixer who is having a torrid affair with a very white president. Ironically, Pope seems to be able to fix the world while her personal life crumbles before our eyes. Played by Kerry Washington,  she became the first African American actress to have the lead in a network drama in almost 40 years when she landed this role.

Pope is based on former George Bush (the daddy) administration press aide Judy Smith who is also a co-executive producer. There’s lots of sex, mystery, intrigue and the show created and written by the incomparable Shonda Rhimes is fast-paced, unpredictable, and an across-the-board hit.

But even with a black creator and writer, a black co-executive producer and a black star, ABC and Shonda Rhimes are quick to stress that “Scandal,” is not a “black” show.

It may not be in their heads, but for whatever reason it speaks to Black America in traditional and not-so-traditional ways.  There are the formal live social media parties like the one Tom Joyner frequently holds on Facebook, and a variety of Twitter parties, some  that include Kerry Washington and Shonda Rhimes.  Add to that the home and cell phone parties and one thing is clear: “Scandal,” is one of the most social shows on the air.

People feel the need to talk about it when it’s on and to complain when it isn’t.

So much so that when the networks put it on a three-week hiatus, a petition was started on “Change.org.”  The leader of the “movement”, T.R. Mason writes:

“Putting a show like Scandal on repeated hiatus is a surefire way to lose fans and viewers. Gladiators/Scandalistas/Scandalists everywhere have not gotten over our initial shock that there will be no Scandal AGAIN for 3 more weeks. Instead of whining and complaining, we are doing something about it! Shonda Rhimes is NOT the reason there’s another hiatus. It’s the TV execs at Disney/ABC Television Group. Let your voices and displeasure be heard by contacting Anne Sweeney, the President of ABC Entertainment [...] Or send her a nice little profanity free email at netaudr@abc.com.”
So far, nearly 2,000 have signed the online petition.

I wonder if the signers find it a little strange when they noticed that some the other issues being protested are child sex trafficking, the exploitation of child labor and lack of insurance coverage for life saving medical procedures.

Even though Mason’s letter was somewhat tongue in cheek, we know some people who sincerely seem to need their “Scandal” fix.

I’m a “Scandal” fan, but I wonder if some of us have crossed the line and become fanatics—obsessed and overly enthused about it.  I know one mom who won’t allow her children to interrupt her during the show no matter what, and another woman who won’t work the night shift on Thursdays even though she could use the overtime.  That’s gangster.

I could understand this zeal, maybe, back before  DVR, On Demand, HULU and Netflix.  But “Gladiators” want it live or nothing…no matter what the cost.

Oh, by the way, here’s a tweet that might make their day from Rhimes:

“All new episodes of ‪@GreysABC and ‪@ScandalABC this week!  FINALLY!  Whew. Because some of you were yelling at me on the street about it ..”

Watch your back this summer, Shonda!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tragedy Deserves More Than 140 Characters and a Hashtag

So many things that we say sound like clich├ęs when we run them off almost with not thought. “Tomorrow isn’t promised,”  “make every moment count,”  “hug your kids everyday”…until a tragedy like the Boston bombing strikes.

Many of us, myself included, immediately turned to Twitter and Facebook to send out our sentiments.  Most of the messages were poignant, motivating, and inspiring.  Sadly this has become the new normal.  From catastrophe to catastrophe we bond via the internet for a day or a week or a month. It’s most likely because in a state of hopelessness, we feel like something…anything is better than nothing.

But it could also be hindering us from reaching out and actually doing the things that we write in 140 characters or less.  How many of us really made any changes in our lives since the Newtown shootings back in December?  Now here we are again, vowing to forgive, to let go of petty beefs we have with others, cherish every second with the ones we love.

I’m not hating on social media… creating global visibility using social media as a platform is my thing…but let’s not let our tweets and posts replace our traditional modes of communicating.  A mass message is not as meaningful as a phone call, and a smiley face can never convey the warmth of real smile.

A good friend of mine who admittedly has time management issues says that part of the problem is once she talks about a project or outlines it, it’s almost like she’s completed the task and she loses the enthusiasm. The same can be said for social media. Once we’ve pressed “send” on the tweet or message of encouragement or motivation, we feel like our job is done.

But it’s not – more work needs to be done.

Let’s face it. It would be impossible for our emotions to remain at peak level weeks and months after a horrific situation that doesn’t personally impact our lives. We wouldn’t function very well if we took on everyone’s problems and carried it with us for extended periods of time.  Those of us who are spiritual are taught to give our problems and burdens to God so that we can press forward and be of good cheer.

Somewhere in between the constant coverage of doom and mayhem we’re seeing on the news and the on-to-the-next-thing mentality has to be a place where we have time to create a sense of security for our children.  As hard as it is for me to process an eight-year-old dying in a bombing at a marathon, it has to be triple that for my two sons. Especially when breaking news is delivered to them via the Internet instead of through a compassionate discussion with an adult who can filter some of the information, answer their questions and lessen their fears.

I’m going to love on them today, as I always do. But I also realize that I need to do more. Sudden tragedies do serve to remind us that not even a minute from now is promised.

What IS promised is an opportunity to make this moment count.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Parenting Gay Children: Choose Love Above All

Last week the world learned what basketball great Magic Johnson and his wife Cookie had known for many years—that their son, Earvin Magic Johnson, Jr. was gay.  If you didn’t already respect Magic for appearing to be a stand up guy, a philanthropist and a businessman who has invested heavily in inner-cities, then perhaps he’ll earn it with his response to the “outing” of his namesake:  “Cookie and I have always been proud of EJ and will always support him.”

I think most people with children have wondered at one point or another how we would react to learning that they were gay.

Decades ago, parents had excuses for not handling the news as well as Magic and Cookie. Back then there were few, if any, examples to follow. There was no Oprah or Dr. Phil out there to remind people that others were experiencing the same things that they were.

No matter what your religion, politics, or upbringing has taught you, when it comes to people, even our children, some things just are as they are. Some are left handed, some have freckles, some are attracted to the same sex as they are,  and some will never feel normal living  as a boy when they feel like a girl and vice versa.

The latter is the most complicated.  As some people pointed out when they saw the video of EJ sporting a boa and purse,  gay is one thing, “flaming” is another.   Chastity Bono, the daughter of singer Cher, was so certain that she was intended to be male that she got gender reassignment surgery, hormone shots and is now living as a male.

Magic and Cher will tell you that these situations didn’t come up over night.  In fact, Magic says, EJ’s identity was so noticeable that he and Cookie approached him when he was 13 and he admitted that he was gay.

What is a parent to do? Yell, cry, ignore the truth, shun, condemn? It sounds bad when you say it, but those are all real and honest reactions for some.  We have an image of what and who our children will be and when it’s not even close to our imaginary blueprint, that can throw us way off.  We have to deal with our disappointment, fear and sometimes anger,  then with how we think others will react.
Not easy by any stretch.  But if you’re a parent, a real parent who loves unconditionally, then the question you should ask is, do I want my child to live a life of happiness or misery? Growing up is tough, no matter who you are, and the role of parents is to help our children maneuver through with guidance, patience, instruction, and love.

For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. It results in approximately 4,600 lost lives each year.

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were significantly more likely to attempt suicide in the previous 12 months, compared with heterosexuals (21.5% vs 4.2%). Among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, the risk of attempting suicide was 20% greater in unsupportive environments compared to supportive environments.

I’m not a psychologist but it doesn’t take one to know that no parent should ever allow their child to suffer needlessly.

Whether you believe one is born gay or that it’s a choice isn’t the issue.  The real issue is that as parents, we have the option to choose love. And like Magic and Cookie, we should.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Belts, Cords or Switches: Let’s Stop Hitting Our Kids

The controversial video of an African American father whipping his two teenaged daughters has gone viral and is sparking lots of conversation, which is always a good thing.  (See video below)
I just hope some of the conversation brings about change and not just more of the same.  At some point we have to realize that everything our parents and grandparents did wasn’t right, and perhaps there are options to physical discipline.

In defense of hitting our children we are quick to paraphrase Proverbs 13:24.

Now before you demand that I turn in my “black” card, hear me out. I’m in no way advocating that children be able to get away with bad behavior. The Bible says spare the rod and spare the child. The verse from Proverbs goes on to say, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”

So let me repeat: I’m in no way advocating that children be able to get away with bad behavior. In fact, I’m advocating the opposite.

Like most of you, I have a low tolerance for children throwing tantrums in Wal-Mart and teens rolling their eyes at their mamas.  If you knew me and my two sons, I think you would at least give me the benefit of the doubt on this one. My kids aren’t perfect but they are smart, talented, and well-behaved when they’re with me and when they aren’t.  I have never hit either of them with a belt or my hand—just a pop on the legs or hands when they were babies.When they got old enough to understand what I expected of them, there was no need for hitting. I do reserve the right to retract this statement should they lose their minds when they enter their teen years.

But that’s not where I came from, necessarily.  My mom gave out her share of whippings or “whoopings,” depending on where you’re from and it went on until I was a young teen. If the laws in place today about corporal punishment were around when my sister and I were growing up, my mom even admits she might have been arrested.  I more than my sister, who is a year older, got “taken to task,” usually for showing my mother disrespect.

I don’t blame her for doing what she needed to do to swiftly get my attention and to send the message of what she would and wouldn’t tolerate. That was one way to do it, but it wasn’t the only way.

My dad never laid a hand on us and with his words was able to get the same messages across to us. It may have been the combination of the two styles of discipline that led to us turning out pretty well.
Who knows?  There’s no perfect formula for parenting…a lot of it is, pardon the pun, hit or miss.

But here are my problems with the video:

1.    It’s on video
2.    A father hitting a daughter could send the message that it’s okay for women to get hit by men.
3.    It reinforces the idea that violence is the only way to discipline our children.

Trying another way is not an affront to our culture.  It just might be a way to curb the cycle of violence that we can’t deny.  Again, if disciplining with a belt, a ruler or a switch is your method, that is your right, within reason.  But it should never be out of anger, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or intended to embarrass or humiliate a child or teen.

The most effective disciplining starts when children are babies and if it’s done correctly and consistently, I promise you children can respond in a positive way without being hit.

But this method is not for the weak or the impatient. It takes a lot of work. My dad told me when I first became a mother that no matter what, you have to say what you mean and mean what you say – whether it’s good or bad.  It takes being persistent in incorporating follow-through.  To make it work, you have to be a real adult, sober, diligent and able to teach by example.  If you start when they’re old enough and bold enough to post videos of themselves simulating sex, I think it’s too late for talking… or beating for that matter.

But that’s just me.  What do you think?