High Heels in the Dung Pasture (or Further Adventures in Taking Responsibility)

Jennifer-David-Carol-DrPhilSo I have a moment at the end of the Dr. Phil Show that we did a few weeks ago that I’m hoping no one will see, but that my ex-husband David assures me is the one moment they will probably be sure to include (air date: Dec. 1).

Great… Just what I wanted to hear.

I write, as best as I can on this blog and in the book, about owning your own shit. We didn’t actually call Chapter Two that, because I guess one expletive a book is enough. So Chapter Two is called Own Your Own Crap, but the idea is the same: one of the first steps in creating a breakthrough when a situation is bad is to own your own shit. In other words, take responsibility for the muck that you’re bringing to the table when there’s ongoing conflict.

The very notion is completely counter-intuitive for most people. We’ve got an entire lifetime’s worth of habit helping us to look outside ourselves at external circumstances — and using them to decide whether things in our life are “good” or “bad.”

But really, we all inherently know that what determines how our “reality” really seems to go has mostly to do with what’s in our own little marble-filled noggin….

It’s just that most of us (self included) often feel perpetually resistant to looking at what’s rolling around inside our noggins.

We walk around feeling as if we’re mostly “right” and know how things should be. End of story.

But ironically, we also walk around also feeling like if only people could REALLY see inside us, they’d run for the hills, so we’re also mostly “wrong,” but that part is supposed to be a secret.

What’s ironic is that everyone feels this hidden sense of shame and random guilt, but no one is supposed to know it! So we pretend we don’t and work hard to cultivate our surface presentation of who we are. And we’re like some little cartoon microcosmic universe of busy people, living purposeful lives, zooming around — on task and on target.

Which leads me to my confession….

In a moment at the end of the show, I found myself feeling pretty stirred up, after hearing the mom, stepmom and dad who were on during the second half of the show talk at length about their problems with each other.

Emotionally, I kept coming back to their teenage son. After hearing various stories from each adult about situations they were struggling with, I started to get truly exasperated.

No, you’re not supposed to have emotional reactions like that on national TV, especially if you’ve written a book about that particular topic. You’re supposed to be impassive, detached, operating from a higher level of professionalism and objectivity.

But damn, the stuff I was hearing just made me think about what this kid’s experience of his parents and stepmom must be like and how painful it must have been. And judging from what the adults were saying, there was only going to be more of it, possibly into perpetuity.

I was thinking, THIS is what we’re doing to our children, making them feel schizoid and fragmented, putting pressure on them to buy into one parent or teams’ version of reality, of being right, of being the better parent, supposedly fueled by their love for the child. We go back and forth with the other side as if someday they’ll wake up and realize what an idiot they’ve been this entire time, say they’re sorry and start doing things YOUR way.

And in the meantime, the kid is like a old football, being kicked across a field.

So I had a little “moment” there, at the end, where I tried to say to them that their behavior had to change, for their son’s sake.

I was kind of worked up. I think there might have been finger-pointing (cringe). I felt passionate about what I was saying.

And if that had been the end of it, it could have made for some pretty good TV, because hey, isn’t that what TV is all about? Passion? Intensity? Vulnerability? Kleenex?

But the problem is, what I said was also fueled by a sense of judgment. I felt judgmental towards the adults. And even for a bit here and there, superior, like I had figured out something they hadn’t.

Hate to say it, but there it is. You’ll probably see it for yourself anyway.

Now, have I ever put my kids in the middle of battles between Carol and David and I? Have I ever used them as ammunition?


Okay, actually


Plenty. Not really so much anymore, but before we were all skipping through the fields of flowers in slow motion, you bet your ass I did.

And I STILL feel guilty about this, and rightfully so, which is maybe also why it was easy to just slide into feeling judgmental with the other adults on the show. You hide from stuff inside yourself – it still finds a way to leak out.

My ex-husband David told me it seemed like I was scolding them, even though he could tell "my heart was in the right place." He said I looked pissed. Carol assured me it was the right thing to say, "given the moment."

Personally, remembering the whole thing makes me want to crawl under my bed.

So… if I come across like a total sanctimonious scold, I’ll live — and I’m sure the shame of doing this in front of millions of people will fade eventually, like maybe when I’m in my eighties or something.

But more than that, my little “moment” is a great example of how easy it is to slip right back into our ego-filled positions of self-righteousness, even when we’re also responding to something compassionate and caring in our hearts.

Sure, we love our children. We want to do right by them.

But we get caught up in the experience of war with the adults in these bi-nuclear family situations, because it’s all too easy to be offended by the other side, for our own actions to be misinterpreted, for the lines of communication to become horribly mangled and crossed.

Our fallback position of wanting so very much to be “right,” to be better, to be in control — that stuff always seems to rise to the surface, no matter how altruistic we might be in our calmer, more centered moments. It’s human nature.

But we always have a choice about how we ultimately respond to our very human natures.

What happens when you make a mistake? Do you make amends, at least eventually? Do you brush it under the metaphorical carpet, hoping no one will notice, grateful for the passage of time and the obscuring dustcloud of busyness that we all seem to live in?

I apologized immediately after the show to the stepmom and dad who were on the show, but I still haven’t done so with the mom, whose contact information I have (she was on by satellite).

I need to handle that…. And will.

We all screw up.

And we will continue to, despite our best intentions and “knowledge” about how not to do that.

It’s what we do with our mistake afterward that matters.

Facing the discomfort is the first step. And kind of like going to the dentist or exercising, once you get going, it’s not so bad. You face that brakes-on feeling of resistance and then, lo and behold, you actually create room for change, growth and healing.

It’s a work in progress – this learning about being human, connecting with others past our own egos, owning our own shit. I know I’ll be learning about it ‘til the day I die.

And you?

Where are you
in the dung pasture? How far to the safety of the fence? Most importantly, what kind of shoes are you wearing?!

The show is on one week from today (Tuesday, Dec. 1st).
I hope you’ll tune in!

Your thoughts?


  1. Go easy on yourself. Your book’s subject is high stakes (kids’ emotional health), and there are plenty of professionals who would bring out the hammer. Dr. Laura Sleschenger (sic.?) went too far IMO, way too judgemental on lots of occasions. That didn’t hold her back on getting her message out for years.
    Looking forward to the broadcast!

  2. You know what I LOVE about you Jen? Your ability to go inside and figure it out. You own your crap, take responsibility for your stuff, make amends and then move on. YOU ARE AWESOME!

  3. Jenn, I am so grateful for your anger on behalf of a child who deserves and can benefit from a mother rearing up in anger, defense, and, yes, even judgment. What you did may have been a far more ‘professional’ response than an impassive distance, a woman seemingly unaffected by a child’s suffering. I acknowledge your continued willingness to ‘own your own shit’ and be clean; but even more, I thank God for you, and your willingness to put it all out there and speak your wisdom and strength.

  4. Jen,
    As always I am impressed with your honesty. It is so hard for us to even see what we’re doing to our kids when we’re in the middle of the muck. I can see why you reacted the way you did and I hope that it will do that family some good. (And the millions other who will watch the show!) Bravo to you on all fronts.
    Best wishes,
    Jacquelyn Fletcher
    Author, A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom

  5. Jen-
    That is a moment that Steve and I have talked about time and time again! (Guarantee it, we will see that this afternoon and there WAS finger pointing). We needed the “scolding” and I know that it is a lesson that ALL of us need to learn. I genuinely had hoped that someone would point out what I was doing wrong so I could figure out what I have done wrong all this time. Someone needed to point out my shit so I could start truly owning up to it. None of our friends would do it for us!
    We have the greatest respect for you and Carol and for your brutal honesty because you have been there and you have succeeded.
    We would not have made any progress without your book. We would have stayed the course of misery and disrespect.
    I look forward to the show today and told Steve that they CAN’T cut any of your parts because you were all so wonderful and the example of a success! We wish you all the best of luck with your book!

  6. I didn’t see it as anger, just passion. I thought you, Carol and your ex came across very well. It is hard not to resent someone else parenting your children. I think it’s wonderful that you put your children first, all of you.

  7. You both did a amazing job I am so glad Dr.Phil finally did a segment on this. Me and my stepdaughters mother have a HORRIBLE past really bad but in 2006 I finally reached out to her and decided it was time to figure this out she was very receptive and here we are 3 years later and we can be around eachother. Its still not peachy we were pretty good friends for a while and somethings happened and we just stopped talking. We both have some issues that need to be worked out but I fear never will be worked out. A lot of insecurities and resentment in both our lives towards each other. I wish more then anything we could truly get along with eachother. I love my stepdaughter with all my heart, me and my husband both have full custody of her so I am in the position of being the full time mom, yet i bare the title of stepmom which makes things worse for me lol. I cant win for loosing, I love her and Im deemed a child stealer because I do take care of her and love her/ yet if i stopped I would be the wicked step mother… ugh so much crap to always deal with. I just want to be able to be a BIG happy family and work together on things. I am hoping and praying she watched the show today and maybe me and her can talk andd put our differences aside and really truly talk to eachother about somethings. Thank you laides for stepping out and i commend you on what you are doing. Good luck in the future!

  8. woo ho saw u on Dr philly! Looks like a great book well done!

  9. Don’t be so hard on yourself. I watched the show and didn’t give what you said a second thought.

  10. So…the episode just aired.

    I’m surprised there aren’t any other comments on here yet. I am recently divorced. A single mother now. It’s been three years since our separation and my ex still hates the ground I walk on. He remarried this year, and I hoped his new wife would make him realize he was holding on to useless hate, but instead she just seems to fuel his anger.

    My ex and I can not have a civil conversation at all. He answers the phone cussing at me, so I don’t even call anymore. Not communicating is so stressful for me. It makes me sad that I can’t call him to tell him about the girls success’. And that I can’t call him when the girls need a good scolding from their dad. He sends messages (and they’re usually nasty) to me through my girls, and I just ignore them and act like everything is ok. Which can’t be teaching my girls anything good either.

    Anywho. I just wrote a note. I’m putting it in a Christmas card and sending it to his new wife. I hope this is the beginning of my new life. 🙂 Thank you for the inspiration.

    P.S. Your “outburst” came across just as you wanted it to. I felt the same way as you when I was watching them, you can tell nothing is going to change with them….and your comment was only saying what we all were thinking…and what they needed to hear!

  11. I just watched a Tivo’d version of the show, and thought your comment at the end was right on target. In fact, I thought — Well, that was heartfelt and powerful. The reason it was ok is because you’ve been there, you know the fear of what all that bad blood between parents can do to a child. So, it wasn’t judgmental. It was just real. Of course you were emotional listening to all of that crap — the TV audience was, too. People who are caught in a 9-year battle like the (ex) couple on the show need people to shake them up! And you were a perfect candidate to do that because you’ve walked in their shoes. Dr. Phil knew that and used that to the show’s advantage. You’re the one who’s now actually “written the book” on how divorced families can get along, and you’re walking the walk. You deserve to have confidence in what you think on the subject.

  12. Dear Jen,

    I saw the show today. Your last comment was the strongest statement, the one that really stuck with me, and I thought it was absolutely magnificent. It was so right on. Maybe you were coming from judgement inside; you are the only one to know that (and if so, hey, great to clean it up). But from over here it looked like a passionate and brilliant truthful one liner that I’m sure many people besides me took away with them as the most memorable moment of the whole program.

    I am a former wife and get along well with my former husband and his wife. While overall we have gotten along over these years there have been periods of time where it has been more challenging. It is a constant process of change and learning.

    Am really glad you said what you said. It is right that what has to matter most is the kids. When you come from that place everything else is doable. My situation is further proof of that.

    Thanks for the good you and Carol are doing in the world with your book and your work. I wish you the greatest success in sharing your wonderful message.

  13. PS…Hi Jen – I LOVE the new look of your blog!

  14. Moonshadow says:

    I saw the show yesterday and was wanting for someone to speak up at the end. I was/am the stepmother and only found out after the children were all grown (I raised them) that the mother referred to me to them as “the bitch” regularly. She abandoned the children, moved halfway across the US, then called ME “the bitch”. I guarantee you it was more than difficult for me to hold my tongue about HER. She made promises the children never heard about because my husband knew she wouldn’t fulfill them. She never sent birthday cards which she later told the children she HAD sent and that I must have kept them from them. The children viewed her as being on a pedestal because SHE wasn’t the one disciplining them daily. It will probably always be a sore spot, though it’s years in the past. When I have occasion to see her I treat her with respect because this it how I was raised. Is it telling that her children (who moved to be with her when they turned 18) cannot maintain healthy committed relationships and my two are in loving marriages of 13 and 16 years?

  15. I watched the show yesterday because I have 4 step-children and one of my own. It’s always a constant struggle with the ex-wife. So watching it I felt a lot like Carol in some ways. I wished that our ex-wife was more like you are and I was secretly hoping she was watching the show. I’m really trying to figure out a way to send her a copy of the book anonymously. My point is, I didn’t think you were scoling them at all. Stephanie needed to be told to back off. She needs to get over herself and something that happened nearly 10 years ago. Which is so what I’d like for our ex-wife to do. I’m so glad that I’ve found you guys for support and strength through all of this mess. Yes, It’s a mess!

  16. Jen,
    Your work and experiences will help so many. How refreshing to see two people work together to handle this situation so well as opposed to those who languish in muck for years. Continues best wishes on your book and life.

  17. Thanks, everyone, for your wonderful, incisive comments! I’ll be back here tomorrow to respond more completely (migraine kind of day here, bleh). Feel free to join our forums too and meet other like-minded, interesting folks….


  18. Just saw the show yesterday! I agree you should do what’s best for the children.But,sitting by your ex at games,dinner,and other events, dont you think maybe, the kids might be asking them self, if my parents get along so well why did they divorce? Did they fall out of love? will that happen to me?

  19. Christie Hines says:

    I watched the show yesterday, and I feel that your comment was totally appropriate and well spoken. You might have felt that you were showing your emotions, but as an objective observer, I promise you, you displayed yourself in a very professional manner, and what you said was completely true. That family needed to hear it from someone…why not from someone who has taken the high road in a similar experience? You go girl!

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