Poet. Writer. Speaker. www.theamonyee.com
My Journey to Motherhood
By Mark Winkler © 2015
D-day, February 26th. I learned that my well paying job was abruptly ending. My first reaction was sharp fear. I was a new husband with three daughters, one biological and two stepdaughters. My first thought was, How would I financially maintain my family? My second thought was , I must find another job…tomorrow. I took the long road home that day. I needed to be alone with my thoughts, and frankly, I dreaded telling my wife the news. How would she react? With fear, anger, and or resentment? Actually, none of the above happened; instead, she was calm. Too calm, I remember thinking. She said, “Okay, I guess it’s time for you to expand your 501c3 youth mentoring program and finally get that business idea off the ground.” My first thought was confusion. I did not respond immediately. Was my wife, who normally reminds me that financial security is one of her biggest concerns, telling me not to go out and find the first compatible job that crosses my path? She must have sensed my confusion. Her next words erased my confusion and set me on a journey that would change my life in ways that I could not foresee. She said, “I believe in you and I trust that we as a family will be okay”.
The next day we started to rearrange our life to accommodate this new circumstance. The first major decision was to let our after school daycare provider go. It was a very difficult decision because the provider was more like family then a hired service. She had been caring for my wife’s children since they were very young and my daughter over the past two years. Thankfully, she understood. The next decision was that I would become the new after school provider while developing my two businesses. A simple enough adjustment, so I thought. What I did not bargain for was the enormous amount of energy that three young girls can exude.
My first few days with the girls were not all that bad. I thought, Heck what’s the big deal, this is easy. I can handle this. My excitement level was increasing. I would finally get to work on my two projects while spending quality time with my three lovely girls.
Around the start of the second week, I was feeling the full impact of this high energy level referenced above. “Daddy the girls won’t play with me; Mark (as my stepdaughters call me) Lexington is bothering us, again. Daddy I am hungry. Daddy/Mark can we go outside and play.” This of course required me to be out there with them, and present in ways I had not previously considered. These request seemed to intensify as the days continued. Also, I forgot to mention, in addition to watching the children I was now responsible for preparing them afterschool snacks (this was not such a simple tasks because they all like to eat different things), cleaning the house, and occasionally cooking dinner! Now I know that to many of the women readers this may sound like an everyday walk in the park (or at least that’s what I thought it was for women). For me, expecting to perform all these duties, daily, was starting to seem like much more of a distractive burden. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my girls and I can and did cook, sometimes. However, like most men I naturally leaned those “domestic” responsibilities towards my wife. Not necessarily because she was the better cook, (although she is), or a more efficient home keeper, I was just indoctrinated to believe that those household duties fell under her role. I felt this even when we both worked full time jobs. My programmed response each night was, “Honey, what’s for dinner”? However, circa the eighth night into my “sabbatical”, my wife chimed back, on her long trek home from work, “What is for dinner, honey”? I was not only watching the children, cleaning the house, now I was expected to cook dinner, more often. What was happening?
I began to feel uncomfortable in this new role. Was I a self-employed businessman or a stay at home parent? Initially, my mind rejected the idea that I could successfully merge the two roles. My ego began to tell me that the parenting role was somehow an impediment to developing my businesses. Like most “brave” men I decided to work this dilemma out myself. I did this in spite of the fact that my beautiful wife is a licensed psychotherapist, trained to help people out with such situations. I worked it out by folding into my emotions, closing out my wife, and being increasingly curter with the children. Yeah, I handled it like a “real man”. Surprise, this strategy did not work so well with my wife or the kids.
Finally, I mustered the courage to talk to my wife. I told her that I was feeling like I was losing direction and feeling less confident about parenting and developing my two businesses. She asked why. I tried to explain but I did not even make sense to myself. My wife said that it sounded like I was struggling with my new role as a stay home parent because of my long held beliefs that a man’s role was more a provider and less a nurturer. That made sense to me. I was feeling like my socially established and acceptable role was somehow being reversed or vanishing. She was right (again). I was experiencing an internal struggle: How could I become a “successful” independent businessman while taking my girls to volleyball practice, play dates, cleaning the house and cooking dinner? The two dynamics seemed like an oxymoron. Over the next few weeks I wrestled with this dilemma, until I finally I had a major breakthrough; an epiphany of sorts.
I vividly recall the day. It was a Tuesday. I remember this because the girl’s schools dismissed early on Tuesdays and they typically liked going to the park before heading home. Most days, I admit, I did not take them. I would redirect the conversation to them doing their homework first and playing on the front lawn afterwards. Being at the park would prevent me from having immediate access to my workstation! But for some reason, I begrudgingly agreed and headed to the park on this day.
As the girls started to play, I received a call from my 501c3 business partner. He needed to discuss our agenda for this coming Saturday’s life skills class. During our conversation, it hit me. I can do this. There I stood in the middle of that playground watching the girls harmoniously play and discussing business without stressing or feeling “less” a man. I found myself smiling and saying to myself, Perhaps I am becoming a good mom. A good mom not because I was “born” to perform this role; but because I was now ready to accept this role with less hesitation, more resolve, and peace of mind. That night, I celebrated my new found motherhood with a wonderful sautéed Asian styled chicken dish. Much to my pleasure, the girls and my wife told me they loved it.
To say that I am now totally comfortable in this new role would be less than honest. Long held misbeliefs do not quietly disappear. I do struggle from time to time. However, I am much more inclined to process these feelings with my wife when they do occur, and I allow myself to embrace the belief that I can be happy and successful as both a full time parent and independent businessman.
Validated communities do not have to set themselves on fire to be acknowledged.
Neighborhoods with access to basic resources do not burn with pain.
Citizens that benefit from the dehumanization of others are not murdered on camera.
Civilians who are daily intimidated by the police sworn to protect them are tired of raising their hands and running.
Someone must invest in them.
Systems have to nourish them.
You are shocked because you believe that you alone define violence.
Our warning signs remain greeted by silence.
Until the boom.
Lessons Lost in Shades of Grey
When you inadvertently enter the erotic world of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, it is damn near impossible not to lose your bearings amongst silver balls, neckties, and leather restraints. Candidly speaking, E.L. James controls her readers with delicious sexual encounters every ten pages throughout the trilogy, as evidenced by her strong fan base of women over 30 and in desperate need of a decent spanking or two. Reviews of the 50 Shades of Grey Trilogy are riddled with comments about her technical writing skills, overuse of word choices, and declining plot as the books progress. I have refrained from reading the books until the movie emerged, simply because I did not have the time to get lost in a book, as I tend to do. But in a twist of fate I was gifted the trilogy for my birthday and finally surrendered to the 50 Shades craze.
As I dove head first into Christian Grey’s playroom, my fiancé asked me, “Why do you think so many women love this book?” Based on the criticism of the trilogy, it was a fair question. It wasn’t until I read the final sentence of 50 Shades Freed that I was able to share with him the lost lessons I found in Shades of Grey.
Lesson One: We Want More.
50 Shades of Grey immediately introduces us to a seemingly innocent Anastasia Steele, virgin to all things kinky, but innately drawn to the King of Kink, Christian Grey. Grey offers her his playroom on a silver platter at the start of their relationship, complete with guarantees that she will be cared for financially. If it were about the sex or the money, their story would have ended halfway through the first book, 50 Shades of Grey. Instead, she asked for more than she was being offered, and he was challenged to give more, proving to himself and her that he was capable and deserving of more than a contractual arrangement. Isn’t this what women are asking for in their relationships? More. Perhaps we subconsciously admire Ana for demanding her more, and fall deeper in love with Christian as he stretches the boundaries of his world to give it to her.
Lesson Two: Health Relationships include open-ended negotiations.
Although it was annoying at times to endure the internal dialogue between Ana’s “subconscious” and “inner goddess”, and torturous to watch Christian struggle with basic human contact, it was refreshing to watch a couple engage in open-ended negotiation as they work towards the goal of intimacy. The early chapters of 50 Shades Darker reveal that these two have accepted that they cannot live without each other. The question remains: How do they live with each other? Darker is the process of defining the more. Questions about hard limits versus soft limits are necessary in healthy relationships, and being able to provide feedback to an open-minded partner is essential to the establishment of more. As Ana and Christian proceed into the darker parts of themselves with the goal of learning how to love each other, they stumble over challenges such as lack of empathy, poor communication, and pride. If you strip away the awesome sex toys, lavish lifestyle, and crazy exes (which may or may not be included in your relationship), you will find a normal couple creating intimacy through a process of breaking and rebuilding. The question could arise: How do we know when we are building intimacy versus when we are enabling co-dependency? Both building intimacy and co-dependency share the perception of a “loss of self”, which makes it challenging for some people to differentiate between the two. Here is the difference. Co-dependency takes away from the individual self, leaving a sense of lack or need. Building intimacy challenges one to evaluate and determine if parts of the self that are underdeveloped or damaged, due to trauma or lack of exposure, are preventing them from fully being expressed and fully embracing love. In other words, building intimacy can hurt, but in the end, you grow; and co-dependency shrinks the self. In the case of Ana and Christian, they grew individually with each book, and so did their love.
Lesson Three: Being in Love does not mean bad things won’t happen.
As the plot thickens in 50 Shades Darker, we soon discover that love does not equal immunity to “drama”. From crazy exes, psycho ex-bosses, and ghosts of childhoods past, Ana and Christian are forced to face the realities of past choices and to create new boundaries with old relationships as they move towards the goal of true intimacy.
Newsflash! “Drama” is an inevitable part of the evolution of romantic relationships, and to expect a 100% drama/conflict free relationship is simply…delusional.
It’s life! Unpredictable, sometimes unfair, and ever-changing life! Without the drama, how would we ever learn to survive this life together? Moreover, how would we learn to enjoy this life together? Drama teaches us to appreciate each moment, seize opportunities for growth and deeper connections, and to negotiate those hard limits. It reveals the truth about our relationships and offers us a path forward, or the choice to take the nearest off ramp. What we love about Ana and Christian is that the “drama” pushed them closer together, forcing them to decide what was most important to them: The past, pride, or love.
Lesson Four: It’s Okay for Adults to Play.
From the moment Anastasia literally falls into Christian Grey’s life, the stage is set for an intense struggle between love, lust, and fear. With all of the heavy-hearted discussions of child abuse, pain versus pleasure, and stalkers, Ana and Christian always make time to play with each other. Whether it is via flirtatious emails, a game of Catch Me If You Can through Christian’s breathtaking apartment, or a seductive wager where winner takes all, play alleviates the stress of the outside world while maintaining and deepening their connection to each other.
Imagine coming home after a long day at work and rather than zoning out in your own preoccupied world, you engage in a flirtatious game of strip poker with your significant other! Soon, the two of you will forget about the outside world and start enjoying the world you create together.
Our relationships should preserve the light-hearted, fun, playful, and loving parts of us that rarely get to surface in our adult lives. Play is not a symptom of childhood; it is a beautiful part of human connection and essential to the human experience. Make space for play in your life. If not a playroom, try a toy chest! If not a toy chest, take turns planning a grown and sexy game night. Whatever you decide to do….have FUN!
Lesson Five: You deserve to be happy.
The biggest obstacle that Christian and Ana had to overcome to reach their goal of true intimacy was self-worth. More than any other aspect of their love story, I believe readers everywhere identified with this struggle most of all. The truth is that the issue isn’t that most of us cannot find love; it is that we don’t believe we deserve it. Similarly to our beloved characters, we are confident in our ability to give love, but consumed with doubts about whether we will be able to “keep” the love of our significant other. It is not until the final chapters of 50 Shades Freed that Ana and Christian finally release themselves from this affliction, and embrace the love that has been available to them all along. This one act of release and acceptance plunges them into the life that they have been fighting for since they first met.
Accepting the truth, I am worthy of love, and it is okay to be happy, is the most important decision one can make on the journey to intimacy. It clears the path to negotiating the more, turning drama into opportunities to grow, and the joy of play. Christian Grey standing next to Charlie Tango in his playroom jeans, holding a glass of champagne and a Cartier charm bracelet is absolutely worthless, if you don’t believe you deserve what you are being offered. The moment you give yourself permission to be happy is the moment the real fun begins.
A Warning to Future Mental Health Professionals
If a child is receiving mental health services through a community-based intensive mental health agency in Los Angeles, chances are that the treatment they are receiving is sub-par. This is not because the treatment team visiting the home or the child’s school doesn’t care, or are not invested in the child’s progress. It is because community-based intensive mental health is a rigged craps game that is designed to ensure corporations disguised as non-profit organizations come out on top, and monopolize Department of Mental Health contracts. In this game, the ends always justifies the means, broken spirits and minds included.
I am not writing this as an advocate for the clients, not directly. I am writing this as an advocate for the aspiring mental health professionals working for degrees, without the knowledge that they will most likely have to sell their souls to gain the clinical hours necessary for them to test for their professional license. For psychotherapists and social workers, getting the masters degree is only half the journey; the clinical hours are the other half. This is when theory and practice meet, with the support and supervision of an experienced and licensed mental health professional. As an experienced and licensed mental health professional, clinical supervisors and directors are acutely aware that this is a period of a budding therapist’s professional life when they must be challenged, nurtured, taught, and empowered to trust their clinical judgement. This relationship is the root of sound clinical practice and effectiveness, so much so that it is overseen by the Board of Behavioral Sciences, the governing body of all things Social Work and Psychotherapy in the state of California. So, you can imagine how quickly mental health treatment unravels when this relationship is exploited, corrupted, or neglected.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: A new and eager trainee/intern gets hired at one of the larger mental health agencies in Los Angeles. The introductory training focuses 90% on paperwork and billing, and before the trainee/intern has organized their minimal desk space, they have been handed 5-7 high risk cases. They are told they have to make immediate contact and open the case, which means reviewing important health documents with the family with little to no experience with rapport-building and minimal to no support from their supervisor. Though they are green in the field, the trainee/intern notices a few red flags and question whether these services are appropriate for this client. When these red flags are shared with a supervisor their reservations are dismissed, and they are told to open the case to begin billing. Here is where the fun begins!
Once a client is open the trainee/intern and their treatment team will be constantly pressured to ‘bill". They will hear the words “deficit”, “budget”, “bill”, and “productivity”, every single day. The words they need to hear, such as “differential diagnosis”, “comprehensive assessment”, “client’s right to agency”, “empathy”, and “unconditional positive regard”, will rarely, if ever be muttered. This brand new trainee/intern will be conditioned to prioritize progress notes over actual client progress through negative reinforcement. Praise is the reward for billing, not client progress; and if you do not meet your billing requirements, you are targeted, and eventually forced out to be replaced by the next unsuspecting trainee/intern. All the while, the trainee/intern begins to question their choice to enter the mental health field, doubts there ability to make a difference, begins to neglect themselves (mind, body, and soul), and in an effort to survive, and complete their clinical hours.
I was that intern for nearly five years. Halfway through the fourth year I realized something: This is some bullshit.
I stopped chasing productivity. I started to see my clients without the pressure of excessive billing so that I could enjoy our connection. I began to monitor their progress, not my paperwork. I decided that this was more than a job, this was my clinical experience, and I wanted it to be a good one.
There were definite consequences. Supervisors that once praised me began to target me. I was publicly “outted” in meetings as an example of a “bad therapist” because of my low numbers (though simultaneously being praised by clients and their families for my commitment to them). My saving grace was that I caught the attention and earned the respect of a high ranking member of the executive leadership, who chose to use my skills to assist with other projects within the agencies, making it difficult for supervisors to target me and take credit for my accomplishments in the same breath.
Still, my new attitude towards my clinical experience was not enough to fight off the toxic environment often found in intensive community mental health programs. I found myself sitting in front of an Employee Assistance Program therapist, a survivor of intensive community mental health herself, who told me that enough was enough.
If you are a trainee or intern and I just described your clinical experience so far, GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE!!!
There ARE other jobs. There IS an awesome clinical experience waiting for you. You DESERVE the support and supervision you need to continue to develop and master the work that you love.
It is NOT about the billing. It is about the HEALING. You were not trained to shrink deficits or fix budgets. Trust me, they are paying someone a lot of money to do those things. Yet when that person fails, the solution is to drain you of your passion and your confidence.
A Course in Miracles reads, “Therapy begins with the realization that healing is of the mind…The overall direction is one of progress toward the truth."
You know the truth. What are you going to do about it?
Bricks & Skin
When I was 8 years old you charmed me into climbing onto a brick wall
Opening my arms like a cross, and gently placing one ked in front of the other, Olympics style.
It was dangerous, but you were always bigger than risks in my eyes
You, loved one, were helium
Unable to be grounded
Full bellied laughter in the face of abuse
I didn’t realize that you were surviving.
I was too young to see that you were being anything more than my favorite cousin.
So when you told me I would be okay if I scaled this wall,
I believed you.
And as I lost my balance, I believe you still.
And As I scraped my face against the uneven concrete,
I needed you.
And there you were.
What I regret most is not that you were HIV Positive.
It is that you didn’t allow me to be brick for you.
That you didn’t trust me to look you in the eye and say “Cousin, you are going to be okay.”
I would have done that for you.
All day everyday
I would have done that for you
Inhaled your heavy so that your fractured feet never once touched the ground
But you hid from me.
Failed to invite me behind the wall that mattered most
Had I known that day would one day come
I would have balanced a little longer just to peek on the other side
I would have scaled it the way you taught me
Because you were bigger to me than the risks
Because you being HIV Positive didn’t mean my love for you ceased to exist.
You told me everything…EXCEPT everything.
Spoke to me about women we both knew you weren’t attracted to
I asked you then to show me
Begged you to scale walls with me
But you refused to hold out your hand.
The first thing I remember after that fall, before the pain of scraped skin set it in
Was your beautiful face.
You were no longer cocky and confident,
You were worried.
Let go of my hand and allowed my mother to take over,
Returning to my side the moment she deemed fit.
I told you that my face was ugly.
You shook your head in disbelief and said,
“No cousin. Watch. This will go away and it will be replaced by skin that makes you even more beautiful. I promise.”
And I believed you, because you were you.
I told you this story as I sat beside your body, half of what I remember it to be.
You cried and tried to talk, but you were no longer able to form words.
I kissed your tears and said,
“Watch cousin. This will go away and it will be replaced by skin that makes you even more beautiful. I promise.”
And you smiled. Because you finally believed me.
Allowed me to hold your hand as you scaled your final wall
And though I am certain that your feet never touched the ground on the other side,
Occasionally, I sit atop brick walls
Swing my legs and touch my healed scar
Imagining how beautiful your new skin must be.