If You Live In A Dysfunctional Tribe

In this post, I want to bring up a subject that will clearly show you why the field of divorce law needs to be joined with psychology and spiritual development if life is to be meaningful and good.

I have described divorce as a stop in the life journey – a “place” where we are knocked back so that we can grow more mature and better equipped for the journey. But in many cases, too many cases, the only relief people get is the relief of having their marriage dissolved. The relationship problems are never addressed, and when there are children involved those problems compound. We develop a dysfunctional tribe.

Do you have a tribe?

How is your tribe?

What is your tribe?

Today, I want to talk about a special kind of tribe…the accidental dysfunctional family tribe. If modern statistics serve, odds are, you are living in one!, and if not you, then someone close to you is.

Today I want to talk about what I call “the tribing of America,” and why that “tribing” may need attention from you.

What’s “tribing?” It is the phenomenon of winding up in tribes.

Let me begin by saying, how ironic this is, to me, the Radical Rabbi, because I’m asked constantly by people, “Hey Rabbi, what’s the relevance of that biblical stuff to the way we live today? After all, times are different. These are modern times, and those people lived in ancient times. What’s in the Bible may be good for them, then, but how is it relevant to the way we live today?

So, I want to take you with me on a little journey back to ancient days – back to the time of our ancestral patriarchs and matriarchs thousands of years ago, when they were living in tents.

What was the family like then?

Then, we assumed that there would be one head of the tribal family, and that head was the patriarch. And that patriarch had wives and the assumption in society was that if he was successful at all, he would have more than one wife. So, the conventions of society were that every one of those wives would know by contract exactly what they were going to get. And what share their children we’re going to get in the in the assets of the tribe, and in the succession of the tribe. Everything from the blessing, to the land, to the power structure, was set out by contract and social convention, because that’s just the way it was when everyone lived in tribes.

There was another very big difference too. Marriage was a business deal. In fact, the word for love, which is ahava in Hebrew, has as its root, the word, hov, which is a commitment, because the love that is spoken of in the Bible is a commitment kind of love. It’s a promise. It’s not the romantic post-Victorian love that we feel today – the star-struck love where two people can’t stay away from each other. That’s how it was in the Ancient Tribe – a thing of the past. Today, we would never want to live in a tribal structure like that. Or, so we say. We don’t want those rules. We don’t want marriage to be reduced to a business arrangement. We want to believe that romantic love conquers all.

When we became “modern” and liberated people, we relegated to ourselves the right to live in any domestic structure we want. And, lo and behold, what did so many of us maneuver ourselves into? TRIBES! But these modern tribes, are, for the most part, accidental dysfunctional tribes.

I want you to think about your life circumstances and that of your neighbors and friends, and you’ll begin to understand what I’m talking about. Let me describe a common scene in my divorce and family law office. In come Sally and Johnny. Sally is five months pregnant and Sally and Johnny are just now getting married. Sally was married before. She has two kids by her previous marriage. And they go, every other weekend to visit her ex-husband, their father. Their father had been married once before, and he has three children with his prior wife, they visit with him every other weekend. Over the years, when Sally and her ex were married, his kids and their kids got to know each other, and kind of got comfortable with each other. Those children arewhat I call “siblings by marriage,” Over the five years that Sally and her Ex were married, those children, his and theirs, grew up somewhat together, they compared notes. They also had to pay attention to where their things were between the houses, and it bothered them when their half siblings would use or move their things. They all went through the tensions and the perils of Sally and her previous husband’s divorce. And they told their mother about it, and they were there through it, and they still want to stay in touch… kind of…but they don’t want to discuss that with their parents. There’s a lot about it that they don’t understand. They don’t understand if the grown-ups still love them the same way, or if they ever really did. That’s the picture of Sally’s part of the tribe.

Johnny, whom she’s marrying was also married once before. He has three children with his previous wife, and he also has a child that was born out of wedlock. His ex-wife is now dating a man who also has children from before. And they visit with him on some weekends. So, there are some weekends, where his children by his former wife, and former girlfriend, meet with the children that come from Sally’s network. It feels kind of random, and sometimes there is tension about it. They all talk about each other and about the grown-ups.

And all of them have been the subject of a divorce action where child support, and parenting visitation time have come up. They have heard accusations and verbal assaults. One of the things that I can tell you with absolute assurance as a divorce lawyer is that never do any of the judges, or divorce lawyers or parents all around think in terms of the relationships that these siblings by marriage have with one another. And it is pretty rare to see parents who are going through a divorce really, really considering the entire impact of what happens to the children across the tribe. Well, this can make for a very, very dysfunctional tribe, as you can surely imagine.

Let me tell you first of all, the grown-ups are often fighting. I would say that far more than half of the people who come to see me in my law office, tell me that they’re current spouse or partner, or their ex-husband or ex-wife is a narcissist or sociopath or has a high conflict personality.
They’re constantly triggered by each other. They are constantly annoyed, constantly fighting over things like, who bought the children’s shoes, or should the shoes stay at mom’s house or dad’s house. In fact, just in the past week, one of my clients called to say that her daughter came back from her father’s house without her shoes, and was told to tell her mother, “Daddy bought those shoes. They’re Daddy’s, and they’re staying at his house.”
The same thing happened with another one of my clients with one of the children’s book bags.
Well, if you live in a situation like that, you’re probably putting your hands over your ears and saying, “ No, no, I don’t want to listen to this! I don’t want to hear it! I have enough of it in my own life! Or,“ My best friend goes through this with her ex and it’s just horrible.”

Well, within these dysfunctional tribes, you start to see what happens to the kids. I’ve seen cases where one sibling by marriage has college paid for, another not. Some of them can go to the senior trip, and others cannot. Some can get tutoring, while others cannot. The favoritism that the children perceive, because a parent provides more for some than for other children, can have really devastating effects on the kids. A lot of pain.

It causes hurt to the parents, too. For example, if you’re a mother who can’t afford to send the kids to a certain kind of camp, but a sibling that’s coming every other week comes with beautiful clothes and does go to that kind of camp, you’re going to resent that. The kids really don’t understand it. And it happens so often that it could break your heart.

Well, a truly horrible thing happened in my practice last year. There were two teenage siblings by marriage, two 15-year old boys. And they were sharing a bedroom about every other weekend. As kids would have it, they also played games where they saw each other on line and they saw each other a lot on Facebook, and they became very close. And these two boys would go out drinking together in secret. Of course, their parents didn’t know. And they were smoking and doing things that 15 year old boys sometimes do. When the two adults, the parents of their common household, began a very very nasty divorce, the parents started separating those boys, and saying, “ I don’t want this one here now,” or, “You boys are going to have to get used to not seeing each other.” And there were accusations about who was a bad influence on whom, and the like.
The boys made a suicide pact, and their suicide pact, unfortunately, was successful with one of the boys. It was their message to their parents about how much they couldn’t stand the world that their parents had created within their dysfunctional tribe.

By the way, when Johnny got up to go to the bathroom, Sally said to me, “If he ever wants to get any again, he’ll take care of my baby (pointing to her belly) before he gives my money to her.” It made me think of Abraham and Sarah, when Sarah looks at Isaac and Ishmael and says, “My child will not inherit with the some of that Egyptian bond woman!”

I’m bringing all of this up because I have been working on some solutions. I want to give you some information about what I’m doing. And I want to invite you to connect with me on the website to get even more information as this develops. But here’s what I want to say about it.

Very often the fighting, the horrible stuff going on, is the result of extremely poor communication amongst the adults, and very poor skills at looking globally at what’s going on within the whole tribe.
So, I want to address this from two sides. Side one is looking globally within the whole tribe, If you have one of these kind of families, I would not just suggest, I would encourage, please, for the sake of your children and all the children within the tribe, that you list out all the kids, and do some scoping out to see what’s going on with all of them. Talk to your children about how they feel.
The other side is about the communication with the parents. I have found that the parents are triggering each other just constantly. I mean constantly. And when they trigger each other, toxic ripples go through the entire tribe.
So, I have created a program, and I’m in the process of getting it ready to launch. I’ll keep you all posted. But the purpose of the program is to teach people who are co-parenting with a high-conflict ex how to manage their own triggers, and manage the relationship, without the intervention of an attorney or a psychologist. I’m going to tell you this as a very experienced lawyer, when you’re constantly fighting and bringing actions in court, seeking to hold your ex in contempt because he didn’t discuss something with you, or because she took the book bag, the judges hate those actions – they absolutely hate them. They often figure that both of the parties are at fault. They just don’t want to hear it because it’s so unpleasant, and it’s very often perceived to be petty. The program I am developing is going to teach you how to manage the co- parenting relationship with a high-conflict ex. I’m very excited to be bringing that forward to everybody who’s in my Radical Rabbi tribe, so that I can help you all to tame some of the conflict, and find your peace. It is part of one of my missions – to change the culture of conflict in families.

I also want to say that the same stress that’s affecting you in your family is probably affecting you everywhere else, as well. When you’re constantly stressed about what’s happening with the kids, there is a long term toll that it takes on you, in terms of your ability to concentrate. You’ve got stress hormones running through your body, constantly. And it’s very hard to function; it’s very hard to pay attention to anything else without it being really exhausting. So, I will describe more about this program, as it comes to fruition. But for now, what I want to tell you is, HELP IS ON THE WAY. That’s my first task is radical rabbi, to try to bring some peace to the modern dysfunctional family tribe. If you live in one, please stay tuned, because that’s where you’re going to get some first relief fromThe Radical Rabbi.

Now I’m taking my program from some of what we see in the Old Testament, I’m taking my program from a number of the process passages that we encounter there. And believe it or not, I’m taking it from the place where the people are crossing the sea, before the miracle where the sea is parted. I am making a program out of that.

So stay tuned everyone. Please respond to this post. I will read some and post some responses. Most of all, I want to hear from you to get an idea of how I can help.

And now, for a blessing: May you feel safe within the borders of your tribe, may peace be upon your dwelling and upon your heart, and may wisdom, grace and inner strength guide the decisions made by you and for you. May it be so…

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