In the “Your Family Village” Podcast, Val Hemminger shares the values she learned from being raised by the Hemminger family, helping to make the world a better place by sharing her parents’ legacy.
Today I want to talk about why being broke, or almost broke can turn into happiness and human connection. So why can being almost broke can give us really good clues about how to be happy and how to have human connection?
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Now, when I talk about being broke I’m talking about “first world” broke. So we can still feed ourselves and have a roof over our head, but we extra-curricular spending is quite limited after that.
Human beings are Social Creatures
You’ve heard me say this before: Human beings are social creatures. We’re actually happier when we have meaningful relationships. We’re actually happier when we hang out with people. We’re actually happier if we go to a concert and sit beside someone. Our bodies get “happy juice” aka endorphins that go into our bodies more than if we sit down and watch TV by ourselves, and it has a lot more than just the sound quality and visuals.
One thing that struck me a long time ago, is when I first purchased my house over eighteen years ago, I was pretty limited on cash. I literally moved in roommates, I had a suite upstairs, I had a long term roommate who actually helped me buy the house (thank you Jody!). I rented out my dining room and spare room as bedrooms – every square foot that I could rent out, I did. That was the only way that I could actually make it work financially, and it was a total struggle, but I LOVE this house (and I’m still here).
After that, a number of months after I bought the house, I met my husband and fell head over heels in love. It took a while (like a few months), but he eventually moved in after one of my roommates moved out. We still had another roommate here, and another in our separate suite upstairs where we literally kept the door open, we’d go up and down, and we’d have friends in both areas. So one of the things a friend said to him was “What? You’re moving in together? And she’s not getting rid of her roommates? What is that about?”
He was really critical of this. And the reason being because when you’ve launched into your permanent relationship or have achieved proper, good success, that we start to move away from that “student-y” model of living with others, living cooperatively and more into our own kind of “digs”.
I was on a super tight budget – $25 a day
I thought about this while I was traveling in Europe about 25 years ago. I was on this super tight budget – $25 a day. Because of my tight budget, I camped, I met people at the campground. I stayed in hostels and I met people at the hostels. What I didn’t have the money for was to stay at a fancy hotel all on my own with my own room, my own bathroom, my own shower facilities.
But what ended up happening, was I ended up having this rich, vibrant experience of my Europe trip because yes, seeing the Greek Pantheon was pretty awesome, and the Statue of David was really cool, but what I really remember when I carry on in my heart are the connections and relationships I made. Matter of fact, someone I met on the beach in Greece – she remains my friend to this day.
On the other hand, my cousin and her family went to Europe, and they spent a lot on their trip, they spent money on a tour, they stayed in these fancy hotels, they saw all the sights, but they didn’t really connect with other Europeans, they didn’t connect with other travelers. To me, I think, “What a waste is that?”
One of the things I’ve really tried to create in my life, is (and I’ve been quite bossy) is trying to get my other friends to move into my neighborhood, and to a certain extent, it’s really worked. I live literally a stone’s throw away from very important people in my life. So we get to do what we call the “neighborhood pop by” and we come in for a cup of tea, a hello, drop off a dog snack, you name it. The point is, I live very very closely to the people I care about.
I had a business/life coach once, and I was telling her this story about my neighborhood and how that’s important. Her reaction was that she was so jealous to hear that, and how she really wished that she had that in her life.
I’m friends with her on Facebook, and I noticed just recently that she’s doing quite well financially, and she’s built her family’s dream home. Let’s be clear. It’s a really nice house. And it’s huge, and what I see is that it’s in this suburban neighborhood, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but every drives their car everywhere. People can’t walk to the store because there’s no store to walk to, so there’s no opportunity to run into neighbors that way.
They have a big huge double garage whereas at our house, we park on the street so when we’re coming in and out of our car we’re saying “Hi” to Pete and Dora across the street , “Hi” to Mary next door, “Hi” to Neil over here. I doubt we’d have those little bits and pieces of connections if we had to drive 10 miles to our house, click our way into the garage, and close the garage door. How much engagement is that really?
What I see about my old business coach is that she has “made it” financially, and yet her structure about what “making it is” is getting that suburban, nuclear type home. Is that really what’s going to make her and her family happy? What happens when the kids move out after spending years of amassing all these things? Do you then go through the process of downsizing after that? I don’t know.
I think maybe, if we spent more time focusing more time on what was great about being a student, or great about not having a lot of money like when I bought my first home, or when I was a university student. As a university student, I lived with other people because I had to live with other people to make the finances work.
What I try to do now in my adult life, now that money is less of an issue in terms of making it all work, I still really gravitate towards living with other people. So in my family now we had Dana. Dana lived with us for 4.5 years and we’re still good friends. Now we have Jacques, my brother in law living in our spare room. So what we’ve done, again, is re-created our extended family even though it’s not a financial piece now, but it’s really about those human connections and how important they are for us.
Here’s the point:
I believe the nuclear family, the whole thing of “Oh we’re gonna have a mom, dad, and child or two, it will be functional for the next 20 years, then the kids will leave, then mom and dad are going to be alone” seems like a bit of a messed up model. If we lived more communally with people (and I’m not suggesting we pool our resources), but I think there’d be less pressure on the spousal relationship and there’s less pressure on the other relationships. From my experience even just having Jacques around makes things a little bit brighter and brings up the vibration in our home just a little bit more. Also, sometimes when we’re too tired to cook dinner or to deal with our daughter, sometimes he picks up the slack. Everything is a little easier and a little happier.
Going back to my European experience, I know that my experience in Europe would not have been nearly as rich if I had waited until I had more money and could afford a private hotel. The very fact that I was stuck and hanging out with other people made that experience so rich. And that’s what we can do in our lives even though we’re older and sometimes we might even want to think about as our kids get older and move out on their own. What’s wrong with having a roommate? Even if some people find that weird. Maybe it’s not the best experience in the world, but even little cups of tea or coffee is going to make things a little brighter.
From my home to yours,
For those of you who know me, I was adopted. I was a foster child to the Hemminger family. To my luck, they decided to keep me. It was because of this fluid definition that my parents had about family, that opened up their hearts to raise more than one child from infancy to leaving home that were not their biological children. That fluid definition of family is something that my siblings and I carry forward in our own lives still.
Today, I want to talk about how we as a culture can do our part to put divorce lawyers out of work (or at least a substantial part of what divorce lawyers fight about).
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As a Divorce Lawyer
I’ve been working in this industry for over 20 years. When people divorce, they have a lot of things that they need to figure out. They have to figure out things like how to divide their assets, support issues, child support payables, spousal support payables, the list goes on.
*Side note: I actually really think it is a good idea to get a divorce lawyer to walk you through that kind of stuff. It’s actually a good use of their time, energy, efforts, and skills to ensure everyone walks away with what’s appropriate.
The thing is, a HUGE part of what divorce lawyers fight about is kids. In my law firm, one of our beliefs is that going court is really the last place you want to go to when it comes to children. What happens is parents literally hand over to a judge who has never met or spent time with them to make huge decisions about their kids. You’re probably thinking, “WHY would you do that?!” Well sometimes, at least in my practice, it is necessary because there are times when the parent just doesn’t have the capacity to execute the job of such parenting properly. Or sometimes, the parent might have personality disorder that really affects their ability to parent
the child well.
Now, when people separate, of course they are critical of their ex. If they weren’t critical of their ex, they’d probably still be together! However, most of the time, what most parents are able to do is realize that they know the other parent isn’t perfect, but they know they love their kid. They realize that they probably won’t get their child every Christmas, and they’ll have to share, but parents usually hold their noses and stumble through it. I can say in my law practice, of every one to three files we open a week in a family law matter, at least one of those files is involving children, and yet we only do a Supreme Court trial once or twice a year. This gives you an idea about how many parents settle.
That being said, what I’ve noticed is that we have a cultural problem about families or parents separating. What that problem has to do with is that people get married, we join two families together, everything is roses, and it all seems beautiful and wonderful. But then if the parties do end up separating, which happens a lot of the time, the two families (or at least one of the families) sees it like a piece of paper ripping in half – with each side of the family on a different side. What that does, is it creates an “other”. It creates tension, it creates “Now we’re at war with the other side”.
In the Hemminger family where I come from, people don’t do this. Unless safety is a concern, if someone is not safe for children, then that’s fine, that can’t happen. But for the most part, we know that if someone was in our family as a spouse, a long term partner, a parent of a child, and things just didn’t work out in that Mom and Dad relationship, that doesn’t mean we have to completely turn on the other person.
I was at a mediation recently, and what I couldn’t figure out was why one of these parents was SO upset about his ex’s family. What really landed for me during this mediation was that this guy, when he became engaged to the mother of his child, he was part of a family. Part of something bigger. Part of a global situation that he found great meaning in. Then what happened when the relationship broke down with who he thought would be his wife, her family completely shut the door on his face, didn’t touch base with him, didn’t see how he was doing, etc. Now, I’m sure they have their own narrative on why that happened, but the thing is, these parties have now gone on, and have both spent a bunch of money on legal fees, and then finally go on to a mediation where they spent more money but at least have an in term agreement.
So instead of ending the relationship with positive thoughts on how his child is part of this other family, and how he really connected with his brother-in-law, and how his son will be in really good hands when they’re having a family gathering. Or how his ex’s mom is awesome and he knows she loves her grandkids to pieces, and although it hurts the relationship is over, he knows they’re going to do a good job with his kid. All he could see was that they were split now, and they had their troops and he had his troops, and they were going to go to war with each other.
What I think, as a culture, if we saw separation between parties more like “this family just looks different now, it’s gone through a transition”. How we look at everyone within that family or how they’re going to move forward might not be the way we expected, but it’s still going to move forward and we’re going to do what we can to see the good parts in others. Again when we’re talking about a child’s safety is a issue, of course we’re talking about something else.
I know some people who have recently separated from a long term relationship, and something one of the grandparents did, was made sure call the parent (who wasn’t their child) and told them that they are still part of their family, they still love them, and although things didn’t work out with their adult child, they are still in their hearts.
What do you think that would do if everybody did that? If everybody was able to open their hearts regardless of how things turned out? As divorce lawyers, I think, the most frustrating part of our job, a big part of what’s frustrating, a big part of the expense, a big part of what make divorce law seem so tense or difficult would simply lessen a little bit. And that would result in people keeping more money in their jeans rather than paying for their divorce lawyer (just sayin)!
That’s my suggestion about how to do your part to put divorce lawyers out of business: Embrace the other side, extend the olive branch.
“If you are committed, so be it”
Never ever compare yourself to others. Just like being committed to someone. Never ever compare your family to others, every family has its own unique way of living. It maybe be simple or not, happy or not,
contented with one another or not. Family is very important, knowing the consequence is unpredictable yet you must face towards the aisle that no matter how you win or loose, family is there to provide the inner most of you. They will never leave you no matter what, as long as you have the courage and patience.
From my home to yours,
If you’ve listened to much of my material before, you’ll know that what I talk about a lot is our ancestors and how humans biochemically change when we spend time with other humans. Sometimes, I get so busy that I forget to connect with the people I live with. I find that I’m too tired or overwhelmed.
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We live in a busy digital world – glued to social media and immediately jumping on Facebook the second we get home. For me, I love my iPhone just as much, if not more than the next guy. So much so, that I can forget to connect with the people I live with, or I feel too tired or overwhelmed to interact with other humans.
The digital world and the progress that we have made as human beings are so good. But the thing is, our ancestors did a lot of things that provided so many benefits. If we could bring those strengths and benefits to our current world, a lot of us would be a lot healthier, a lot happier, would enjoy life more, and be able to contribute more.
For example, back in the olden days – let’s talk about when people started farming. When it was time to bring in the wheat, people gathered together to do the harvest. When a barn needed to be built, people gathered together to build the barn. Just the other day, I was at a friend’s house and she was getting a dock built. Now to get the dock built, with getting floats put on it, she needed a gathering of people to help lift up the dock. As I saw all these guys (yes, guys) raising up this heavy structure and working together, in reminded me of what our ancestors did only it was a barn as opposed to a dock to have social engagements on.
I want to do stuff with my hands
While I really crave hanging out with other people, I do find it really challenging to just sit there and sip tea; I want to be doing stuff with my hands. Recently, I’ve been going to a friend’s house and helping her go through old cupboards and drawers, and sort through knickknacks to help organize her home. Speaking for myself, it is much easier to do in someone else’s home rather than my own! I’ve found that I’ve gotten a lot of pleasure from this.
So, if you already have lots going on, one of the things to remember is that even if we just do a chore or something that “has to get done” with a friend, doing it together can be such a neat way of spending time together. In essence, you get the job done and, at the same time, you get that connection of hanging out with someone.
I was helping out a friend
I found that as I was cleaning up my friend’s kitchen drawers, I was actually visiting with another friend while I was doing it! I ended up going home later that night and thinking about how I was so satisfied and happy. It was because I accomplished something (I love accomplishing things). I ended up helping a friend out (“tick”, human beings love being in service). Then I also got to bond with a couple other friends who were also helping out that friend.
SO – that’s the whole idea! It’s such a neat thing to be able to spend time with other people. In our busy world, our digital world, we’re losing that ability of just hanging out and almost losing the skills of getting stuff done. That being said, what we do know, and what science proves (check out the book I read The Village Effect by Susan Pinker), is that it’s not just looking at someone eye to eye, or having a conversation with someone socially. It’s as simple as being in the presence of other human beings makes us happier. The chemicals in our bodies changes, and we have feel good hormones coursing through us.
Who would have thought it? We’re social creatures.
Moving Forward with Life: Even When we Forgot to Get Skinny, be Financially Successful, or Become Amazingly Interesting
Today’s episode is all about living life on the court even though we forgot to get skinny, be financially successful, and amazingly interesting.
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Today’s episode is all about living life on the court.
Today, I want to talk about many of us who are getting to be middle age or older, and how if we have kids, our kids don’t need us as much as they used to. We don’t have our hands as full running our kids around to activities.
For me, when I look at my family and my family environment, I know that I have let the excuse of “I’m working so hard” and “I’m tired” and I come home from work sometimes and it’s so easy to plug in to Netflix, and so easy to plug in to Facebook and stare at my Facebook feed rather than connecting with my now teenager, spouse, or other friends or people that I live with.
The thing that we already know, is that even though we are more digitally connected than we’ve ever been, what we also know is that loneliness is also on the rise. So I’ve had time to look at my life, and I go “Oh my gosh”, “Uh-Oh” I got so consumed in my work (even though for a lawyer I have really good work-life balance. I don’t work evenings, I don’t work weekends). But what I do know is I come home from work a lot of times and my brain feels so full and fried that I don’t have a lot of juice left for my family.
I realized that I’ve let that narrative, that story impact my home life. Now I’m going “Uh oh, wait a second, now what have I done?”. I’ve got a family and a teenager, a spouse, and I’m looking at them and they have their heads hunched over their screens. I wonder how I’m going to pull it together and do most important thing – connecting with the people we love.
What we know that as human beings, we are social creatures. The whole nuclear family idea is a bit of a dumb idea, because our ancestors really thrived by living with other people. By living in groups, by living in tribes. We both know that neither of us is about to go live in a commune, but at the same time, what I do know is that human connection is super important.
My mum was the matriarch of the family
So if I go back to my mom and how she was, she was a stay at home mum which most of us don’t have nowadays, and she was in charge. She was the matriarch of our family. In charge of making sure Thanksgiving happened, Christmas dinner happened, Easter happened. She was the gatherer of everyone all the time – and my aunties did the same thing. Now of course men can do this as well if they like to, but I know in my nuclear family I’m certainly the matriarch. And it’s up to me (and us) to a certain extent to ensure that those connections happen, that those gatherings happen that hanging out with other happens.
The thing is, is that I’ve always felt that “Yeah, I’ll get to that”. But I’ve gotten to the point in my life now where I’m over 50 years old and there’s so much I have not gotten around to doing. As an example, I’m not financially organized in the way I hoped or thought I would be. I didn’t get skinny. I didn’t become super buff (of course as it turns out you need to eat in a certain way and make it a priority to become buff). I didn’t become as interesting as I wanted to become. I didn’t travel as much as I wanted to travel. Now here I am, I’m 51 years old and I’m thinking “Has my life passed me by?” It hasn’t.
Years ago I did Landmark. They have this expression: “Living on the court”. Landmark Forum is a weekend long, 3 day type, really intensive way of life transformation. People who have done this are like “Oh my gosh it’s amazing”. It’s about living your life authentically, it’s about conversations, about calling yourself out for your own bogus stories. It’s really powerful. People who haven’t attended Landmark can be quite critical of Landmark because when people come out of it, they’re all “Landmark did this, Landmark did that”. That being said, it is really worth looking into!
I haven’t lived my life on the court
The one thing that I really grabbed from Landmark is that I haven’t lived my life on the court in certain ways. Sure, on the outside I look pretty successful, I have a small thriving law practice, I’m a lawyer, I have a beautiful home, I have a completely abundant life. There’s no question about that. But what I’ve also done, is I’ve also lived on the sidelines in so many ways.
So I live on the water. Although it’s darn cold, my family goes swimming it it almost every day in the summer. I (because I have body issues) have barely gone in the water at all in the 18 years that I’ve lived in this house. What kind of tragedy is that? What kind of waste is that? So I’ve stood on the sidelines watching my family have this really great time in the water while I’m too shy or insecure or critical of my body to get into the water along with everyone else. We know what that teaches my daughter about living life on the court, now don’t we?
Now I have some friends who live in my neighborhood. They have 3 kids and I’ve lived a few doors down from them for more than 18 years. Their kids were wee and now they’re growing up. This family lives on the court (literally, they’re very sporty). The husband and wife they go out to art events all the time. The kids travel with their parents all the time. Their dad’s a performing artist and they’ve gone traveling with him tons of times. From the time they were small. Mom and Dad swim every day in their water, and they just live their lives on the court.
We’re having fish tacos
I think about how I’m too tired to make dinner, or I’m too tired to focus on having conversations cause it’s so easy to dive into Netflix. Yet I look at this family; the other night, it was a Wednesday and they were like, “Hey! We’re having fish tacos come over!” Next thing you know, we’re sitting around the table telling stories. 2 of the 3 kids (one is volunteering abroad in New Zealand for Habitat for Humanity). it was this vibrant energy around the table of these young people talking and their parents telling stories.
I remember thinking how “living life on the court” or how living life in action, doing life anyway even if we’re not rich enough, or rich enough, or skinny enough, or whatever excuse we tell ourselves for living on the sidelines. Thinking about the cost of that, and thinking about how living on the court could be so much better.
While people who know me might say that I’m totally in action all the time, I think I could do better. So now at 51 years old I’m really jumping into matriarch of the family and wearing that with a badge of honour while focusing on my relationships – not allowing that story of being tired or overwhelmed or exhausted from work to burden me so I don’t connect to people who are most important in my life.
So I’m offering that to you. What kind of thing would you like to do to connect with the people you live with? If you don’t live with people, who are you going to connect with? We’re social creatures and our bodies biochemically change when we hang out with other people. SO even going into Starbucks and talking to the barista for just a moment. That actually has a biological effect on us and makes us happier. So all of our social interactions count.
From my home to yours,