Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Teen Mom: Partner violence, grief, & high school graduation

September 29, 2010

Teen Mom was an intense roller coaster this week — Amber assaulted Gary (multiple times), Farrah reconnected with her deceased boyfriend’s sister, Tyler and Catelynn couldn’t graduate on time, and Maci and Ryan worked together on a custody plan for Bentley.

1. The signs of an abuser

Last night, Amber verbally assaulted Gary to no end. She yelled things such as “Guess what bitch, this is my house — I’ve bought everything in this motherf-cker — get out!” and “Don’t get cocky with me,” and ” You need to shut your f-cking mouth … You want to f-ck with me? Huh? … You are so f-cking lucky, you better watch your goddamn back.” As if that abuse weren’t enough, she then threw his stuff down the stairs, punched him in the face, and then slapped him again before he left.

Amber is an abuser. And she was an abuser before she punched Gary in the face, as the things she would scream at him were meant to maintain control over and demean him. She constantly called him a fatass, meant to degrade him and lower his self-worth, and she constantly reminded him that it was her house, so he’d better do what she says or he’s out on the street.

At the reunion episode after season one, Dr. Drew called her out on the domestic violence and she said she didn’t regret it. Only after she remembered that Gary had been abused when he was younger did she retract that statement, which was concerning because it was like she admitted that, had he not been abused as a child, her hitting him would’ve been perfectly justified. It seems that sympathy for Gary didn’t last very long.

Abusers often were victims of abuse themselves, and so have learned to use violence as a way to solve problems, relieve stress, or control a situation. Of the four main types of abuse found in intimate partner violence (via the Centers for Disease Control), Amber utilizes three (the fourth being sexual abuse, which isn’t discussed on the show) — physical abuse, threats, and emotional abuse (including “harming a partner’s sense of self-worth”).

There is a major disconnect for Amber between how she treats Gary directly and how she interprets her own treatment of Gary — directly, she is obviously abusive in a number of ways. As she puts it, however, she is sympathetic toward Gary and lets him live with her because he is Leah’s father and she doesn’t want him living on the street. She confides in her friends that Gary threatened to call Child Protective Services, and the aggressive attitude she has toward Gary was nonexistent when she described the incident to her friends.

“It scares me as a mom to hear him say, you know, ‘You’re never going to see your daughter again, I’m going to take her away,'” Amber said, though this possibility never seems to stop Amber from abusing Gary — it’s unclear whether Amber’s rage is enhanced for the same reason Maci got angry at Ryan, which was that he was implying she was making poor parenting choices, though he himself had only recently become more involved with raising their child. Regardless of what fueled the rage, nothing makes it OK.

And, again, I keep wondering how people’s reaction would be different if the roles were reversed — if Gary were abusing Amber on film, calling her a fatass, hitting her, telling her that he better respect her because he puts a roof over her head. I’m sure the public outcry would be loud and strong, and my hope is that viewers don’t cut Amber slack for her behavior — she needs anger management classes, not martial arts classes.

2. Dealing with — not avoiding — grief

Sophia’s dad hasn’t really been mentioned much before this season — in Farrah’s episode of 16 and Pregnant, it wasn’t even mentioned that he had died in a car accident, but it simply seemed like Farrah’s mom and her had decided he wouldn’t be involved with raising her. This week, she reconnected with her ex’s (Derrick’s) sister Kassy, who shared with her how much Farrah meant to Derrick and gave Sophia a picture book with pictures of him.

“I see her everyday, I see Derrick’s face everyday,” Farrah told Kassy, and the pictures of Derrick really do show a strong resemblance between Sophia and her dad. Farrah’s mom told her that the best way to deal with those sad feelings is to stay away from the family, but that is not a way to deal with those feelings — it’s merely a way to avoid them. She admits she doesn’t think she’ll find anyone who compares to Derrick, and all these feelings need to be sorted out — not swept under the rug — for her to gain some closure and move on.

I’m glad that Derrick is being mentioned in the show, because Farrah has to be feeling so many emotions that viewers who have lost a loved one or partner can identify with, especially considering Farrah was pregnant when the car accident happened. It always seemed weird that Sophia’s dad was the elephant in the room, and I think there are a lot of viewers (and obviously Farrah) who will benefit from openly addressing Derrick’s death and its effect on Farrah and Sophia, rather than avoiding discussing it.

3. The importance of education

For many people, a high school diploma is the default — a piece of paper that is just routine on the way to college. For Tyler and Catelynn, a high school diploma is the exception rather than the rule, and a symbol of why they gave their daughter up for adoption. “Me and you will be the first ones to go to college or even graduate from high school,” Catelynn told Tyler, regarding their families.

But Catelynn made a good point that they needed to graduate to really make the adoption worth it, because the entire reason they gave her up was because they couldn’t support her financially and needed to get an education first. Though being pregnant with Carly set Catelynn and Tyler back when it came to having enough credits to graduate, Catelynn says, “If I had kept carly, I might not be graduating at all.”

Catelynn and Tyler also struggled with choosing college career paths, something every teenager can relate to. It’s daunting to be 18 and charged with figuring out your life goals, and I know so many people who didn’t truly figure out what they wanted to study or pursue until two or three years after high school, and sometimes longer. “I thought I knew what I was doing, and now I don’t know what I’m doing,” Tyler said, frustrated with all the options and feeling like he should have his life figured out by now. Trust me Tyler, you’ve got a lot of company there.

Something else Catelynn mentioned was that she had to miss school because of her mom’s alcoholism — I think this is an interesting problem that isn’t really discussed in the mainstream. For a lot of people, school is just a given — you always have a way to get to school, you always have money to buy lunch, you always have the resources to complete homework.

But for some people, that’s not the case — merely getting to school is a challenge, and family problems can get in the way of attendance and homework (e.g. what if you need to focus more on an after-school job to help pay the bills than doing homework? Or what if, like Catelynn, one or both of your parents has a substance abuse problem that means 1) you can’t find a way to school or 2) you have to take care of them?). Catelynn’s admission revealed an obstacle to education that many people don’t experience or realize happens.

Advertisements

Teen Mom: Women as abusers, kids as leverage

September 22, 2010

In this week’s episode of Teen Mom, Maci moved to Nashville, Tyler’s dad got sent to jail for contacting Catelynn’s mom against a court order, Farrah had to reconnect with her ex’s sister to get social security benefits for Sophia, and Amber screamed at Gary a lot.

1. Abusive relationships work both ways

Though the stereotypical abusive heterosexual relationship involves an aggressive, controlling man and a submissive, co-dependent woman, Amber and Gary are an example of the opposite of that stereotype. Amber showcased this week just how controlling and abusive she can be, and Gary illustrated how much in denial he is about his relationship with Amber and how attached he is to her despite her verbal and physical abuse.

It becomes especially dicey when he begins to rely on Amber for a place to live, despite their not being in a relationship anymore. She yells at him, derides him as a bad parent (though she flips out if he points out she shouldn’t leave knives where Leah can easily get to them), and gets close to hitting him — though we see in clips for next week’s episode she does actually hit him.

Though Gary’s friend was an illogical douche last week, he actually had some decent advice and words for Gary, who he saw as being out of touch with reality. “Amber brings you down, Gary. She’s not healthy for you. You’re not the same Gary you were when I met you,” the friend tells him. “Right now, Amber beats [your] ass, treats [you] like garbage, calls [you] a fatass 24/7.”

But Gary, instead of denying those allegations, just says that Amber loves him. It so much fits the bill of an abusive relationship — Gary is abused emotionally, verbally, and physically, but he is convinced that Amber truly loves him and he is determined to keep his family together. He uses this drive to “keep the family together” as an excuse to go back to her, ignoring the noticeable abuse the friend sees.

Amber and Gary’s relationship highlights that though the stereotype is the man being the abuser, it’s not impossible for the woman to be the abuser in a relationship. If the tables were turned and Gary was getting ready to throw punches at Amber, there’d be a public outcry and people would wonder why the producers didn’t step in. But men are expected to be resilient, and Gary’s perceived duty to be the head of the household and keep everyone together supersedes his own self-worth and safety.

Amber’s violent behavior is also dangerous to Leah — Amber projects her outbursts toward Gary, but if Gary isn’t there as her metaphoric and literal punching bag, that means she could turn her aggression to Leah. Couples fight and cohabitation causes stress, but the fact Amber so quickly resorts to violence is not typical relationship behavior, but more indicative of how she generally handles stress.

2. Kids are not meant to be used as leverage

Perhaps it was because Ryan told Maci she didn’t care about Bentley, but regardless, Maci made a swipe at Ryan by replying that he’d better reword what he said or else she’d change his visitation with Bentley. “You’re going to see him whenever I say you can have him, or are you going to rephrase what you said?” Maci asked Ryan. Ryan declined to rephrase what he said.

I absolutely despise when parents use their kids in this way — last week Amber was telling Leah that Gary was “abandoning” her despite the fact Amber was actually kicking him out, and this week Maci is trying to use Bentley as leverage to get Ryan to do what she wants and say what she wants him to say. Bentley could see this as, “Dad doesn’t want to spend time with me,” when really it’s, “Mom uses visitation to keep Dad in check and stay in control.”

Maci and Ryan need to try to keep some form of healthy relationship for Bentley’s sake, and using visitation with Bentley as leverage or a threat is not the way to go about it. Again, a reiteration of last week’s blog, but though Maci would like to be the sole arbiter of when Ryan sees Bentley, Ryan could easily start legal proceedings to get the court to decide who gets custody of Bentley and when, removing Maci’s ability to use seeing Bentley as a way to get Ryan to do what she wants.

3. Being an adult sucks

Farrah’s trials and tribulations are a constant reminder that being an adult sucks — you have to deal with crappy situations on your own, and you can’t simply just ask your parents to make every unpleasant or difficult phone call for you. (Though sometimes your dad is nice enough to chew out a realty agent for you — thanks Dad!) But what parents can still provide is support and advice, which is equally as helpful.

Farrah sat down and talked with her dad about her finances, and he suggested Farrah try to claim some type of social security benefit for Sophia, as Sophia’s dad had passed away in a car accident before she was born. Never in a million years would I have known to do that — and I don’t know that many other young people would either. The value of a support system, especially when you’re living on your own for the first time, is huge.

And, as Farrah found out, you discover that crappy things happen and you become stuck. Sophia’s dad’s sister wouldn’t show up for the paternity test she promised to get swabbed for, and she wouldn’t answer her phone — Farrah wanted to drag her in via court order, but her lawyer informed her that wasn’t possible and could open up a new bag of worms about visitation and custody. As an adult, you find that things don’t always neatly fit into place and people don’t always do what they say they’ll do.

Teen Mom: Bitches, prom dresses, custody battles, compromise

September 9, 2010

This week’s Teen Mom brought the drama — Catelynn’s mom was possibly projecting anger over Carly’s adoption while prom dress shopping; Farrah’s therapist put her in her place and possibly made an impact; Gary was a total douche to Amber on her birthday; and Ryan’s taking Maci to court to see Bentley more/ensure Maci can’t move to Nashville. I’m going to try to use as many profane quotes as possible in this post.

1. “You’re being a bitch, bro.”

Gary’s friend illustrated just how powerful peer pressure can be — especially when it questions one’s masculinity. It was Amber’s birthday, and Gary agreed to watch Leah that night so Amber could go out dancing with her girlfriends (keep in mind Gary does not like to dance, as evidenced on the episode when he proposed to her again). Everything was going smoothly, all was surprisingly calm on the Amber-Gary front.

Until Gary’s friend started saying he was being “a bitch” for watching Leah and letting Amber go out without him. Instead of just doing something nice for Amber, the friend suggested that Gary “need[s] to say ‘f-ck you’ and be a man.” Gary takes this wise, wise advice and calls up Amber, demands to go dancing with her friends and says she needs to “spend time with [her] f-cking fiance,” and refuses to babysit Leah anymore. Then, when he gets home, the friend remarks to Gary, “You’re going to cower like a little bitch in a minute to watch Leah.”

This problem isn’t central to couples with babies. I can only speak for heterosexual couples, in which guys are often peer pressured out of doing nice things for their significant other because showing affection or that you care about someone is a “weak” feeling — and because these same guys associate being weak with being a woman, you are then a “bitch” because you aren’t standing your ground as a man, constantly making demands and controlling your significant other like a strong, masculine, powerful man should.

Beyond that, his friend associates taking care of his child as something weak and feminine, too. Why should Gary have to watch Leah at all? He’s a man — and not only should he not have to babysit his own daughter, he shouldn’t even be responsible for finding a babysitter. Problematic because it encourages the parent to be irresponsible, and it speaks to how that peer pressurer views parental responsibility as a father.The entire scuffle wouldn’t have happened without the provocation of his friend, though I’m glad Gary eventually overcame the peer pressure and babysat Leah so Amber could go out.

Both man-to-man and woman-to-woman peer pressure can be toxic to relationships. Friends feel the need to point out problems in the relationship that never were problems. Then the friends convince the person that XYZ action is a problem and that their silence means they’re getting walked all over, and the person instigates a fight. This is why (1) too much friend involvement in the relationship is unhealthy; (2) you need to learn to stand up to your friends’ advice sometimes; and (3) some guys need to realize that you’re not a “bitch” for being a responsible parent/decent human being.

2. “Rude bitch.”

Catelynn and her mom don’t have a great relationship these days — though they tried to have a nice day out prom dress shopping, her mom quickly turned rude, mouthy, and childish when Catelynn disagreed with her opinion about a dress Catelynn liked. Catelynn’s friend’s theory was that “she sees that [Catelynn’s] happy and actually out doing things and it just pissed her off.”

This combined with Catelynn’s theory — that because she didn’t listen to her opinion about Carly, her mom feels Catelynn doesn’t trust or put importance in her opinion about anything — hits the nail on the head. Not only does her mom feel slighted that Catelynn chose adoption against her advice and wishes as a mother/grandmother, but Catelynn’s happiness continues to prove that Catelynn made the right decision and continues to prove that her mom didn’t necessarily know best.

It’s unfortunate for Catelynn though, because her mom’s projections feed into other insecurities that Catelynn has. Instead of being mature, Catelynn’s mom is negative about dresses and the way Catelynn looks in them — though for her mom this is because she feels slighted about the adoption, for Catelynn it merely adds to body issues she has had ever since becoming pregnant. “I’m already self-conscious when I’m in those dresses, I don’t need my mom being like, ‘Ugh,'” she says, adding her prom dress shopping experience “got turned into a horrific nightmare.”

Catelynn’s mom’s attitude also shows how immature she is. Constantly calling Catelynn a “bitch,” she also mimicks what Catelynn says and makes snide comments under her breath — sometimes watching them interact, it’s as if Catelynn is the mom and her own mother is trying to be the defiant child that gets under the parent’s skin. I’m curious if this is always how her mom has been, or if the adoption sparked this childish attitude.

3. “I have no rights.”

Ryan has actually been making an effort to see Bentley more, even asking Maci if they could split the custody 50/50 instead of the current setup in which Maci has Bentley more. Maci suspects it’s linked to the child support Ryan has to pay, whereas Ryan’s parents also seem to be pushing Ryan to get more time with Bentley. Eventually, they talked face to face about it and Ryan let her know he was taking her to court.

Maci was infuriated, saying, “He wasn’t a dad the first year [Bentley] was alive. Why should I have ever let [Ryan] see [Bentley]? He didn’t do a damn thing to show he was a good dad.” Regardless of his past though, and regardless of his intentions, he does have a right to see Bentley. Maci is understandably upset that he didn’t show such motivation sooner, especially when they were together, and I also think she sees better father potential in Kyle — which does not negate the fact that Ryan is his father, and is showing initiative now to see Bentley.

Ryan’s frustration is that because Maci is the mom, she can do whatever she wants with Bentley, but as his dad, his parental rights are more limited. Maci feels like Ryan needs to earn time with Bentley and isn’t entitled to it. There is a major communication breakdown between them, and when parents are separated, communication becomes even more essential. This is unfortunate for them because they’ve always had awful communication — e.g. Ryan has to drag it out of Maci that she’s planning on moving, she’s keeping her resentment bottled up. When you’re separated you don’t have to make a romantic relationship work, but you do have to make a parental relationship work.

On a different note, Ryan was complaining about child support, though he really has no reason to — his calculation was he’d pay $80,000 by the time Bentley was 18 and that it was outrageous, though it really isn’t considering the cost of raising a child ranges from $124,800 to more than $500,000.

4. Boo. Yah.

Seeing someone finally put Farrah in her place was refreshing — not because Farrah is entirely in the wrong to have problems with her mom, but because she was complaining about how doomed her relationship with her mom was at a therapy session that Farrah herself invited her mom to in order to try reconciling! The therapist called her out on her body language and unwillingness to be open to a relationship with her mother, despite the fact she invited her mom there in the first place.

“You’ve got to take a step back and look at what you can do differently, too,” her therapist told Farrah. These words seemed to resonate with Farrah, as she was much more open and friendly with her mom after that. Farrah seemed to feed off getting pitied; I think she wanted people to feel sorry for her — which people do, as her mom is abusive and mentally unstable — and I think she wanted to bring her mom in and get that same sympathy from the therapist. Instead, the therapist basically said, “Yeah, your mom needs to change. So do you.”

It was an important moment because it introduced the idea of compromise. Farrah can’t expect her relationship with her mom — which was damaged before the domestic violence — to be fixed solely by her mother, as it will never be mended or changed if Farrah keeps resisting it.

Teen Mom: Scams, family tension, and the foundation of trust

August 18, 2010

Last night’s episode of Teen Mom kept the drama coming — Farrah got scammed out of $3,000 (still not sure exactly why she was wiring that money); Tyler told Catelynn she “disgusts” him; Maci introduced Bentley to Kyle; and Amber and Gary were … Amber and Gary.

1a. Learning Life Skills: When it comes to money, always double-check and be skeptical

Farrah is living on her own now, and she is learning the hard way that sometimes the only way to learn is from your mistakes. Farrah sold her car online, and the buyer sent her a check for $8,000. For some reason, she wired $3,000 back to him (the episode is unclear why, they just say it’s for shipping the car, which makes no sense) and later learned that the original check was bad, she was scammed, and the “buyer” got away with her $3,000.

Farrah is 18, and she is bound to make mistakes like this. What’s worse is that she lives on her own without any parents or support system wise enough to tell her it’s a scam — though considering Farrah’s attitude, I’m sure she would’ve sent the check anyway, just to defy her mom’s accusation of it being a scam. But the lesson here is that when it comes to money, you have to be careful.

Farrah should’ve made sure the original check cleared before wiring the person any money — really, you shouldn’t wire strangers money at all, but at least making sure the check cleared is a good start. If the person on the other end is insisting you not wait or that s/he needs the money immediately, be skeptical. It’s easy to be young and ignore your instincts because you aren’t sure how things work in the real world, but if it feels sketchy, it probably is.

Plus, I’m sure the guy offered way more than the car was worth, so Farrah was definitely down to sell him the car because it seemed too good to be true — if you’re thinking that, then you need to take a step back and wonder if it is. You’re a lot more susceptible to scams when money is tight, so don’t let the dollar signs overwhelm your instincts and better judgment.

1b. Learning Life Skills: Prioritizing needs vs. wants

Farrah’s car was fine — she just wanted a new car that had a sunroof and automatic locks. Typically, when you’re as cash-strapped as Farrah says she is, you sell your car out of financial necessity — you need to sell the car and use the money to pay for bills, or buy a cheaper, crappier car and use the profit to pay your bills. Nope, Farrah just wanted a sunroof.

Making the transition from high school to the real world means understanding how to prioritize — just last week, Farrah was calculating that she needed more than $1,000 to pay her bills. This week, she is intently focused on getting a new car — not because she needs a new car, but because she wants a new car. Even her friend Kristina finds this puzzling, questioning her selling the car before she even had a new one to replace it.

“I’m spontaneous like this all the time, but I need to quit because I have a child and I’m on my own now,” Farrah told her. Wise words, but not words she is actually following. Farrah is not just being “spontaneous,” which has a positive, fun connotation — she is being impulsive and reckless with her money and her main form of transportation. It’s not bad that she wants a sunroof — it’s bad that she convinces herself that she needs a sunroof and automatic locks, despite the pile of bills that should be taking priority.

1c. Learning Life Skills: “Where do I sign my check?”

For the second time in the history of Teen Mom, Farrah has asked where she needs to sign the check. Certain life skills really are only learned through experience — it seems like a dumb question for Farrah to ask, but there are lots of questions regarding money, bills, rent, landlords, etc. that you don’t think to ask about until you’re dealing with them directly. They don’t teach you about things like landlords scamming you in high school — that one you learn on your own.

Farrah getting scammed falls into this category, too — lessons you learn only from making mistakes. We’ve all had these experiences, and you feel really dumb at the time for not knowing how to do something, but you can’t beat yourself up about it — when were you taught how to write a check, deal with a landlord, or handle problems with your insurance company? Though Farrah, you’ve asked twice now, so I’m pretty sure someone has told you where to sign the check.

2. How trust is built

Tyler asked Catelynn to provide him with phone records to show that she was being honest with him and to rebuild trust. Last week, I talked about how that was a terrible way to build trust, and at the end of this week’s episode Tyler refuses the phone records. “I’ll just believe what you say, ” Tyler told her. “I think looking at those phone records is going backwards.” Aside from him then littering and tossing the phone records into the water, this was a great move on his behalf.

Except that the phone records did lead Catelynn to admitting to Tyler that she had tried to call her ex six times, talking to him two of those times. I’m not sure whether the phone records are recent or from three years ago, but the threat that Tyler would see the phone records seemed to push her to confess this information to him. So despite Tyler’s refusing to view them, the phone records policy got Catelynn to admit some information she had been keeping from him. I hope Tyler doesn’t use the threat-of-the-phone-records as a trust policy, considering it was successful here.

Tyler’s mom made a good point, however, of how your childhood and your past can affect your ability to trust in relationships. Tyler’s dad was in prison for a lot of his childhood, and he spent a lot of time lying to Tyler and/or making empty promises to him. “To me, lying is purposely hurting someone else,” Tyler told his mom. Because of his stance on lying — that it’s always malicious, because he felt his dad’s lying was always malicious — he originally saw Catelynn’s lies as nothing but direct attacks. We don’t always realize how much our past shapes or influences how we view relationships.

3. Do families need to get along to make relationships work?

Amber and Gary had another fight (surprise). But this time, it was about Gary’s brother (I think) not liking Amber’s parents. When Amber and Gary started discussing their wedding and saying that Gary’s family could stay with her family, the brother immediately opposed staying with her family before qualifying his answer by saying he just didn’t want to stay with Amber’s dad or mom. You can imagine how Amber reacted to this. She stormed out of Gary’s mom’s house, where they were having Easter dinner, and walked home.

There’s obvious tension between the family members, which adds stress to any relationship. Would it make or break a relationship? That depends on a few things: How close emotionally the person is to his/her family (which will determine how offended s/he is by comments — Amber was extremely offended); how close in proximity the families are (e.g. how often they see each other); how strong the tension is, e.g. is it a general level of annoyance that can be ignored or is it confrontational and open yelling and screaming every time they see each other?

The range of whether families need to get along is wide — there are minor differences that are easy to look past, such as different senses of humor, and there are major differences that are impossible to look past, such as different religions — which in some cases will get people disowned by their families. Families don’t have to get along, but it obviously makes the relationship easier — or in some cases only possible — if they do.  

4. What it means to date a parent

I really like that Maci took the time to spell out for Kyle not only what he needed to expect as someone dating a parent, but what she expected of him as someone dating a parent. She took her time before introducing Kyle to Bentley and that she made sure they got along before going further with their relationship. But, she also let him know that dating her wasn’t also signing up as Bentley’s new dad.

“I don’t want you to feel that if you are unhappy you can’t leave because of him,” Maci told Kyle. I find Maci to be extremely mature, and this statement is just one example. She lets him know upfront that yes, dating her means also getting along with Bentley and understanding that Bentley is her number one priority, but like any relationship, they shouldn’t only be together just for the sake of the baby. It’s that notion that almost led her down the aisle with Ryan, and it’s nice to see that she’s addressing it with Kyle right off the bat.

Teen Mom: Phone records, gov’t assistance, separated parents

August 11, 2010

On last night’s episode of Teen Mom, Amber and Gary kept fighting about getting engaged, Catelynn and Tyler tried to mend their relationship after Catelynn’s lies broke Tyler’s trust, Farrah struggled to make ends meet, and Maci tried (but failed) to keep Ryan on the same parenting page as her regarding Bentley. Lots of yelling, lots of crying, lots of themes to work with.

1. Will access to phone records (or e-mails, texts, etc.) mend trust?

Catelynn and Tyler have gone from dream couple in season one to broken couple in season two — the skeletons are coming out of the closet for Catelynn, who lied to Tyler about her previous relationship with a guy in Florida, and Tyler’s trust for Catelynn has been destroyed because the lie has existed for their entire relationship. Tyler accuses Catelynn of having a wall up, they go to couples counseling, yet the trust remains a big problem.

Tyler tells Catelynn he forgave her but he can’t forget — which I think is constantly a bogus line because if you can’t forget what happened, then there is still a part of you that isn’t forgiving the person — and says he needs some concrete evidence to look at to know she is being honest. So what does Tyler ask to see? Her phone records. It’s unclear whether he wants past or present phone records, but it’s not the right path to rebuilding trust.

Relying on access to e-mails, phone records, text messages, etc. is not the way to build trust — it’s a way to get into the habit of needing to monitor your partner and never being able to believe what they say unless there is physical evidence (or a lack of physical evidence, e.g. check my phone records, I never called so-and-so). The definition of trust (according to Merriam-Webster) is:

A firm belief or confidence in the honesty, integrity, reliability, justice, etc. of another person or thing; faith; reliance.

You can fool yourself into thinking that seeing those phone records and text messages creates and builds a sense of confidence and faith, but the entire idea of trust is that it functions without physical proof or evidence — sure you believe someone if you see their actual phone records, but if you have to check the records, you aren’t trusting them — you’re trusting the evidence you found, if anything. Trusting is believing the person without checking the phone records.

Tyler is stepping down a dangerously slippery slope if he thinks looking at her phone records is the key to rebuilding his trust — it gives him peace of mind to know she’ll agree to share them, but it creates a new pattern in which he doesn’t develop any true trust or confidence that she is being honest, but rather a dependency on invading her privacy and seeing physical evidence that she isn’t lying.

2. Making too much, but not enough

Farrah brought up a good point about government assistance when she was telling a coworker that she made too much money for government assistance but wasn’t making enough money to pay her bills. This is actually a common problem for many individuals and families, being denied assistance for making too much money to be considered “in need” but not enough to actually stay afloat or maintain any savings every month.

Luckily there are countless websites dedicated to helping people find other forms of assistance, such as this one, this one, and this one. But, it’s an important problem to highlight — people probably assume Farrah, as a single parent, would qualify for these programs and might judge her or write her off as someone whose livelihood is subsidized by taxpayers. In reality, however, she isn’t getting anything for free — except temporary baby-sitting, and that’s only because her mom was being charged with domestic violence and couldn’t be around baby Sophia.

3. Separated parents trying to jointly parent

Parenting is all about consistency — Supernanny will tell you that you need to stand your ground, otherwise your children will know that if they kick, scream, and complain enough, you’ll give in and let them break the rules. Maci was on a mission to wean Bentley off his pacifier, and she was extremely consistent — despite the fact his crying and fussing kept her awake all night, she never relented and never gave him a pacifier even though it would have stopped his tantrums.

Fast forward to Ryan’s day with Bentley, when Bentley hits his head on a table and Ryan calms him down by throwing a pacifier in his mouth. That sleepless night that Maci endured to show Bentley that she meant business? Out the window. It’s hard enough for two parents to be consistent in parenting under the same roof, but it’s exponentially harder when the parents are separated.

My parents are divorced, and I know from experience that kids pick up quickly on what they can get away with — this happens with parents who are together, but they are more likely to communicate with one another about parenting decisions they’ve made. Without my parents communicating, it was easy to learn one set of rules with one parent, and a completely different set with another — not sure how that affected my upbringing; perhaps it made me more conniving, or observant, or secretive, as I had to know when to keep quiet about one parent having stricter rules.

Either way, Ryan needs to show more respect toward Maci’s parenting choices, especially since it seems like she sees Bentley more than Ryan does and has to deal with the repercussions of whatever parenting choices Ryan does or doesn’t go along with.

Also, I’d like to give props to Maci for being mature about Ryan’s girlfriend, Kathryn. While her other friends were calling Kathryn a whore, Maci was saying that she hoped Kathryn was a positive influence on Ryan and led him to wanting to spend more time with Bentley. Maci was right to be concerned that Kathryn was also a positive influence on Bentley, but it was really great that she opted out of being catty and vindictive and focused solely on the well-being of Bentley.

4. Getting antsy about getting hitched

Amber wants nothing more than a ring on her finger so that she will feel secure that Gary won’t abandon Leah and her again. She tells Gary this pretty frequently, and they nearly broke up on last week’s episode because he wasn’t ready to propose. This week, on a family vacation in Florida, the topic reared its ugly head again, concluding with the most awkward marriage proposal I’ve ever seen in my life.

Amber relentlessly talked about how she was old-fashioned and thought the man should propose, yet she didn’t seem to keen on waiting until he was ready or felt like he really wanted to marry her. “I know what I want, but I’m not waiting forever,” she said (though I think that’s an empty threat), which is not uncommon for a person to think when s/he’s been dating someone for a long time, but Amber and Gary seemingly just agreed that he wasn’t ready and they needed to work on their relationship — STOP THINKING A RING WILL FIX YOUR PROBLEMS, AMBER.

How “old-fashioned” and romantic is it to pressure your boyfriend into proposing even though he is obviously apprehensive about it? Amber was practically feeding Gary what to say and getting angry when he didn’t use the right wording. Although, judging from the scenes from next week’s episode, it’s clear that the proposal and the ring weren’t the relationship-fixing, commitment-forcing things that Amber thought they’d be.

Teen Mom: Taking breaks, staying together, and moving out

July 28, 2010

Last night’s episode of Teen Mom was full of drama — Maci wanting to move out, Farrah wanting to move out, Catelynn lying about sleeping with her ex three years ago — and nothing tops the relationship problems that Amber and Gary were having. These problems raised a couple interesting questions.

1. Does asking for a break count as cheating?

Gary met a girl at Walmart, and he wanted to see if there was something there. So he asked Amber to take a “four-day break” in order to figure things out and see if he wanted to be with this new girl or stay with Amber. Amber’s reply, to her daughter Leah, was, “Daddy’s a cheater!” So does asking for a break count as cheating? 

First we have to define the difference between “taking a break” and “breaking up.” The line between the two is a bit blurry, but I’d say the difference is that with “taking a break,” you have some interest in coming back and reevaluating the relationship — with breaking up, you don’t want to give things a second chance, and you just want the relationship to be over. Gary wanted a break so he could test the waters with this new girl and figure out whether he wanted to stay with Amber or not.

The person who is being told about the break needs to evaluate whether s/he can, after the person explores and sees other people, continue to be in a relationship if the person comes back, which is implicit in “taking a break.” Amber ended up giving Gary a one-day pass with this girl, who he went on a date with and decided wasn’t worth breaking up his family. But something tells me the one-day pass will linger and keep causing problems between them.

Technically, if you haven’t done anything else prior, it’s not cheating to ask for a break. It is a guilt-free way to be with someone else though, like Nikkole’s (from 16 and Pregnant) on-again, off-again boyfriend Josh, who really does just break up with her so he can hook-up with other girls, and then he asks to date her again when he’s done with those pursuits. My friend Jonny said it best when it comes to asking for a break to see other people: “I mean, that’s not cheating, that’s just being a douchebag.”

Taking a break is the loophole around cheating, though some might argue that merely having the thoughts of wanting to be with someone else is a form of cheating. Gary had feelings for her, said they “somehow exchanged numbers,” and was texting her while still with Amber, which is cheating territory in my book — he didn’t do anything physically, but he was going behind Amber’s back to keep in touch with her.

2. Should you stay together for the kids?

My friend and fellow Teen Mom enthusiast Emily brought up a good point while we were discussing the show last night — should you stay together for the kid, even if you as parents are unhappy with each other? Amber and Gary also dealt with this, as they were obviously at each other’s throats but trying to make it work for Leah’s sake. Does Leah benefit from having them together physically even if they aren’t together emotionally?

I don’t think so. We saw with Maci and Ryan that trying to force something — e.g. almost getting married — just so two parents can live and raise the baby together is not healthy. Kids are intuitive — they aren’t going to be fooled by the fact that, despite that their parents live in the same house, they constantly fight and show no love for each other. I wouldn’t want my child to use that as a model for a healthy relationship.

________________________

Aside from Amber and Gary’s problems, we saw that trust can be broken even years later, as Tyler was beyond angry to learn that Catelynn had lied to him three years ago about hooking up with her ex. We also saw how important a support system is, as Farrah loses hers because of the domestic violence incident with her mom and is left to fend for herself in taking care of Sophia.

On the Farrah note, it was also interesting to see her struggle to find an apartment — it illustrates how difficult it really is to be young and on your own, when landlords want you to have a certain credit score/be a certain age/make a certain amount of money. Similarly, it was tough for Maci to find an apartment, not because of finances, but because of Bentley — it was the same situation Farrah had last season when she was apartment-hunting and found that none of the roommate living situations was conducive to raising a child.

I’ll take ‘Potpourri’ for $1600, Alex

June 3, 2010

1. 10 ways cities and towns can kick the offshore-oil habit, per Grist

Anything that involves transportation and infrastructure improvement is amazing, and Jonathan Hiskes hits the nail on the head when he discusses 10 things cities can do to become less oil dependent and more energy efficient. Some of his suggestions include making streets accessible to all people (not just drivers), building near public transit, demanding more density, and cutting parking.

2. Documents Show Early Warnings About Safety of Rig, per The New York Times

Hindsight is 20/20, and the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon is no different. Now, documents are showing that the oil rig that exploded showed several serious safety problems, all of which serve as clues to its eventual explosion:

On Tuesday Congress released a memorandum with preliminary findings from BP’s internal investigation, which indicated that there were warning signs immediately before the explosion on April 20, including equipment readings suggesting that gas was bubbling into the well, a potential sign of an impending blowout.

The warning signs started almost a year ago and continued up until the oil rig exploded. There seems to be a pattern of well-documented safety concerns in these environmental disasters, which either don’t get resolved because of pressure from the company or because federal regulators are too lax with their rules. Both sides are too concerned with the cost in terms of money and time than in terms of human and other forms of life.

3. Sex and the City 2‘s stunning Muslim clichés, per Salon

I haven’t seen the new Sex and the City, but reading this (spoilers, beware) made me concerned:

After discovering they will visit the Middle East, the ladies whip out hall-of-fame Ali Baba clichés: References to “magic carpet” (a double entendre, naturally), Scheherazade and Jasmine from “Aladdin” come in rapid succession.

I was eager to see the movie, but now I’m not sure I’ll watch it. It was already being panned as a terrible movie, and it sounds like the way they depict Middle Eastern culture is problematic and borderline racist.

4. Science Proves That “Helicopter Parents” Ruin Kids, per Jezebel

A study has shown that overprotective and obsessive parents — aka “Helicopter Parents” (you know, because they hover of the children and everything they do) — often breed neurotic, anxious, dependent children who don’t take as many risks:

Some protection from parents is natural, but too much (like, say, forbidding travel) can convince kids that they’re not equipped to deal with the risks of the world.

I would always prefer that my mom just deal with doctors’ offices, customer service, mechanics, and the like, but I think it’s healthy that she doesn’t give in to my whining and makes me deal with that kind of thing myself. Unless my being young is getting in the way of someone helping me or treating me properly.

Glee: The fine line between being a guy and talking “guy”

April 28, 2010

What’s a blogger to do when 16 and Pregnant is over for this season? Discuss Glee, of course. And not discussion of its songs or dance numbers, but the topics it sheds light on. Last night, the topic that most struck me was the relationship between Kurt and his father.

Kurt — the only openly gay main character on the show — often has funny one-liners or is drooling over Finn, but last night we got to see the struggle that is likely common in a lot of households: the struggle between parent and child to form a connection or bond; in this case, the struggle between a straight, masculine father and his gay, feminine son.

The dichotomy has been addressed on the show before, as his father was more proud of him than ever when Kurt was a kicker on the football team. But on last night’s episode of Glee, the tone was more serious, as Kurt tried to get his dad and Finn’s mom — both who were widowed — to start dating in order to get closer to Finn. The plan backfired, however, as Kurt’s dad took an interest in Finn that he had never showed in Kurt before.

Kurt’s dad and Finn were able to talk sports, which hurt Kurt because he has never been able to have that kind of relationship with his father. What really stood out was when Kurt’s dad commented that he knew it had offended Kurt, and he said that it was “just guy talk” and Kurt replied, “I’m a guy.”

The line is powerful — Kurt’s father assumes there is this understanding between himself and his son that involve “guy things” — e.g. sports — and “non-guy” things — like singing and dancing. This is interesting (1) because Finn is also in Glee Club and therefore is also interested in a “nonguy” thing and (2) Kurt’s father is admitting that he doesn’t view his son as a true “guy.” It’s not that whatever guys talk about is consequently “guy talk,” it’s that there is a predetermined set of topics that are socially deemed masculine.

I was glad to see this topic discussed because Kurt’s homosexuality is often thrown into the shows in a comedic light — but for Kurt and likely many gay men, there is nothing funny about not being able to form a bond or connection with your father. And for Kurt, whose mother died eight years ago, his dad is his only parent. Though his dad has shown support by coming to his musical events, Kurt yearns for that true interest and father-son bond that comes out of interest rather than obligation.

And though Finn also sings and dances, his masculinity is confirmed by his interest in sports. He is still a true “guy” in this regard — what about the guys, of any sexuality, who aren’t interested in those typical “guy” things? They often have to constantly overcompensate or prove their own masculinity to fit in with “the guys.”

This episode shows the difference between sex and gender — biologically, Kurt is a man (we assume he isn’t transgender or intersex). But socially, he is not considered a man — his gender is not entirely male because he doesn’t take interest in the things that society deems “masculine,” such as sports.  

At the end of the episode, Kurt thanks Mercedes for singing “Beautiful,” which is an acknowledgment that Kurt has been feeling ugly for not meeting up to the expectations of a true “guy.” He obviously yearns for his father’s acceptance, and it’s tough to watch his dad so easily and eagerly accept Finn while Kurt has been trying his entire life to become close with his father and gain his acceptance.

I’ll take ‘Hodge Podge’ for $800, Alex

March 30, 2010

Another male college columnist thinks it’s cool and edgy to blame women for getting raped; the EPA takes a stand on a terrible mountaintop removal mine; and why bribes don’t work with children, but praise and attention do.

1. ‘”Date’ Rape is an Incoherent Concept”: Blaming the Victim, American U. Edition, from Jezebel

I don’t exactly know when male college columnists will stop writing about date rape, but another columnist thinks he is really being edgy by saying there is only rape and not-rape (um, so I would think date rape = rape), and he calls for someone to draw a nice, solid line between the two:

“Date rape” is an incoherent concept. There’s rape and there’s not-rape, and we need a line of demarcation. It’s not clear enough to merely speak of consent, because the lines of consent in sex — especially anonymous sex — can become very blurry. If that bothers you, then stick with Pat Robertson and his brigade of anti-sex cavemen! Don’t jump into the sexual arena if you can’t handle the volatility of its practice!

Of course, this wise man doesn’t seem to realize that (1) yes, the lines of consent are blurry, which is precisely why you can’t merely make judgment calls about what is and isn’t rape based on your personal interpretation of someone’s non-verbal consent. And (2) being anti-rape isn’t about being anti-sex — saying not to have sex if you can’t handle the possibility of rape is like saying don’t drive a car if you can’t handle the possibility of getting hit by a drunk driver.

I like that Jezebel writer Anna points out that this type of college column is not uncommon, which is really problematic. Victim-blaming continues, and lots of these male college columnists think they’re being inciteful and original by saying that all this “date-rape” is nonsense. Expect a blog soon about house party atmosphere and how this plays into the victim-blaming.

2. U.S. Proposes to Veto Mountaintop-Removal Coal Mine, from Grist

Now we’re talking! The EPA has proposed to veto to restrict or stop mining at a major MTR site in West Virginia. Why? Because:

In explaining its decision, the EPA said Friday that the Arch Coal Inc. mine would pollute surrounding water, fill over seven miles of stream, cause “unacceptable” harm to wildlife, and “directly impact” some 2,278 acres of forest. 

Even though mountaintop-removing mines in general all pollute waterways, fill streams with toxic sludge, hurt ecosystems, and destroy trees, it’s nice to see the EPA taking a firm stance on this one. Yes, everyone wants cheap coal, but we’ve got to stop and realize if coal is worth filling all the waterways of the Midwest with black coal slurry and toxic chemicals.

3. Why Bribing Your Child Doesn’t Work, from Slate

I don’t know why I’m drawn to articles about parenting and punishment, but I am. Here’s a good analysis of common myths regarding rewards vs. bribes. A lot of parents — my mom included — think that rewarding behavior that should be expected is a bad way to parent. The authors point out that common, consistent rewards are key, especially praise and attention:

A parent’s attention is very rewarding to a child, and praise is even better. Parents are giving attention all the time, and they are giving mild forms of praise, verbal and nonverbal (a smile, a touch, an affectionate or impressed look). Attention and praise are our main rewards, and often they’re sufficient to change behavior on their own, without resorting to tokens, privileges, or prizes.

Children gobble up praise and attention way more than cookies and stickers — they love positive attention just like as an adult, you like getting praise from your boss and recognition for a job well done. Also, the article highlights how rewards differ from bribes.

Spanking is a really ineffective form of discipline

February 18, 2010

Whether or not to spank children has always been a highly debated topic, but it’s truly an ineffective form of discipline — even if Tyra thinks “light” spanking doesn’t count as abuse and is OK.

Now, I’m sure if you ask your grandparents about spanking, they’ll likely have a no-nonsense attitude toward discipline and will praise spanking as a way to toughen kids and teach them that actions have consequences. These days, parents are growing more progressive and concerned about the ill effects that spanking can have on children — if Supernanny has taught us anything, it’s that parents are in desperate need of disciplinary advice and simply hitting them doesn’t curb bad behavior.

Spanking doesn’t curb bad behavior for the following reasons:

1. It’s not a long-term solution. Much like torture, spanking is a way to get short-term results. You hit, the child cries, and you have scared them into acting how you want them to act for the next 10 minutes. Spanking is also like torture because both do not produce adequate long-term results — you get a superficial, positive result immediately, but over time the method isn’t effective.

First, using violence gets short-term goals because the child is only stopping behavior out of fear and not out of any moral obligation or value-based thinking. You aren’t rewarding or encouraging positive behavior, but instead only threatening the child with physical pain. This physical pain is only temporary and momentary, so it doesn’t have any lasting affect on the child. Nothing is instilled in the child except a fear of violence rather than a true understanding of good vs. bad, morals, etc.

Long-term solutions come in the form of taking away privileges, time-outs, and then talking to your child after the punishment about why whatever they did was wrong. Yes, you can smack them when they talk back to you, but you also assume they will understand why they are being punished and why exactly it was wrong to act that way.

And, in today’s world of gadgets and gizmos, it is a lot more effective to take away a cell phone or computer because the momentary pain of a spanking is tolerable compared to feeling/being disconnected from the world.

2. It promotes violence as a solution. To get your child to do what you want, you proceed to hit them to get the point across. This instills anger and fear into the child, and it teaches them to be violent toward someone else in order to get that person to obey you. The child sees results when they beat up on other children, and the cycle continues.

3. It creates resentment. Yes, you get annoyed at your parents if they take away your phone, but excessive spanking can lead to a lot of resentment between child and parent. Resentment issues are likely to occur when the spankings are not “light” but actually rather rough and painful; resentment likely will occur if the spankings are frequent and often in response to mild or harmless infractions — you’d resent your parents if you got smacked every single time you did something slightly annoying and got an unwarranted and unexplained painful spanking.

And finally, some developmental psychologists promote discipline based on personality, which means your seemingly more sensitive siblings will not receive physically violent discipline but you will. I feel deep resentment toward my mom simply for being disciplined more severely than my brothers in a non-violent way (e.g. I was grounded for breaking rules, had an early curfew and they didn’t), so I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I was not only treated unfairly, but also violently disciplined whereas my brothers never were touched.

Yes, lots of people complain that children these days have it to easy and they just need a good smacking to get straight. The problem is that violence is constantly portrayed as this omnipotent solution to all our problems, when in reality it subdues them for a while but doesn’t actually solve anything.

Hmm … I wish I had written this last week when I saw the Tyra episode … I feel like I had another point to make but it’s lost now.