Wisdom for families on divorce and growing your nonprofit
Claire Barnes  415.831.5363

Home About MeNonprofit ServicesRepresentative OrganizationsImpact of Divorce on America's ChildrenMy Blogs
PaymentI'm Still Your Grandma; I'm Still Your Grandpa

Wisdom for families on divorce and growing your nonprofit


by Claire Barnes on 10/11/13



Since easing out of my position as Executive Director of a nonprofit organization, I have been extremely reluctant to apply the term ‘retirement’ to my new life status.  I am one of those people who found the end of my full-time work life rushing toward me, rather than me rushing to embrace it.  If you are one of those very lucky people who has the financial capacity and life experience to plan and ease into a retirement, you might want to stop reading here.  But if you are one of the majority of us who thought we would work until we dropped, perhaps my experience over the last five months will resonate with you.


First, I have been terribly reluctant to use the term ‘retirement’ to describe my new life phase.  I thought retirement was for old people.  I am not old – in fact, the newly nominated head of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellin, is older than I am.  (Well done Janet!)  I pondered this dilemma with a friend, External Affairs Director for the San Francisco Symphony, Nan Keeton.  After our chat, Nan sent me a friendly email suggesting a new name for this life experience is ‘inspirement’.  I thank and credit Nan for the idea, and henceforth, I now refer to myself as living my inspirement.  As such, I am taking all the energy I historically committed to helping others and now directing it to improve circumstances for my family and myself.


It was apparent early on my husband and I were becoming out of sync with one another. He works in civil service and is slightly younger than I.  He would charge out the door each morning to tackle civic challenges, while I lounged around looking for something to do (more about that later).  It was apparent we needed to set a mutually agreeable retirement goal for him so he didn’t resent my newfound leisure and I didn’t resent his ongoing ability to earn a six-figure salary.


In August, we celebrated our anniversary by taking a day trip to the beach overlook where we were married in 1996, and spent that day planning, figuring, budgeting and projecting when he can step aside from his current position.  The goal we set is twelve to fifteen months away, and making that decision together has really helped us enthusiastically embrace a future to which we can mutually commit.  We now both know there is an end game and can focus our energy on the short-term projects to get us there.  Skills I previously applied to the benefit of a nonprofit agency, are now part of my new J.O.B. -- planning budgets and activities for our future.  This includes learning how to live with a budget where my income is reduced by 60%.


Importantly, the plans for the future include downsizing and relocating in order to manage on a fixed income.  Preparing for a move and emotionally saying good-bye to a community we love (San Francisco), is now part of inspirement.  A close friend is experiencing something similar.  She will soon move out of a beautiful condominium with an expansive view of the San Francisco Bay.  When I asked how she’s managing (emotionally), she said:  ‘I’ve had this view for seventeen years; now it will be someone else’s turn to enjoy it.’  I am impressed by her healthy attitude.


While sitting in front of a computer five days per week for the last twenty years, it will come as no surprise I didn’t make time for an active exercise regime.  I had all the excuses – too busy, too tired, low energy, too distracted, too much stress and so on.  That has now changed.  Thanks to an inspirement mentor, I have joined the local YMCA and am attending water aerobics at least three times each week.  No one is more surprised than I at this commitment of time and energy, but the effort is long overdue.  And it is interesting I have returned to a setting (a swimming pool) that was a significant part of the first twenty years of my life.  Redirecting energy which was expended for others to improve my own well-being is an important part of this transition process.


As important as the physical well-being is the brain activity.  Previously, the application of my intellect was singularly focused to address a huge societal problem affecting children in our country.  I am now stimulating my intellect by seeking out Lifelong Learning environments where there are affordable classes for people to study, discuss, question, express and challenge ideas outside of former professional settings.  I love being a student again especially where there is NO PRESSURE!  All I have to do is show up and participate as much or as little as I want. 


And finally, getting used to a flexible schedule with limited commitments has been challenging.  After leaving a job which was beyond full-time (including middle-of-the-night wakefulness and obsessive attention to email and texts during off hours), creating new habits has been challenging.  I do hope to eventually find part-time work because I know my skills can still contribute to my community.  In the meantime, un-obligated time does occasionally weigh heavily. As a dear friend – also in inspirement – told me:  ‘I just sit with the empty space and experience it.  I let it pass through me. I know something will come along eventually to help me fill it.’  My friend is a wise woman.


So there you have it – affordable, accessible ways to transition to a new phase of life.  Most of us Booomers will face realities of time on our hands, reduced incomes and a vacuum for where to apply our fully developed skills. I hope others will comment on this blog and share how you are handling your inspirement. 

Grandma, What Big Eyes You Have

by Claire Barnes on 09/12/13

Grandma, What Big Eyes You Have


As part of my transition into my new phase of life (now called ‘inspirement’), I signed up for a class at San Francisco State University  -- one of their offerings through their Osher Lifelong Learning Center (OLLI).  If you are fortunate enough to live in a community with an OLLI, you know the coursework is designed to inspire, stimulate and inform students over the age of fifty.


I enrolled in a class called ‘Transformations:  Revisiting Fairytales’.  I anticipated course content that would explore the human condition as characterized over the centuries through Fairytales.  I wasn’t disappointed by the first session with the entire focus on Little Red Riding Hood.  Most stimulating to me was the role of the Grandmother, which led to further, independent exploration of how grandmothers and grandfathers across cultures are presented in folk tales.


Little Red Riding Hood is obviously close to her Grandma.  She is willing to navigate the dangerous woods and face down a wolf to take food to Granny when she is sick in bed.  Similarly, in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, the lead source of comfort and adult supervision for Peter is his Grandpapa.  Even when Peter disobeys Grandpapa and steps outside the gate and into the woods (watch out for those wolves again), Grandpapa is gentle, kind and tolerant of Peter’s youthful curiosity.


Similarly, in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the aging Sorcerer (similar to a Grandparent), has to tolerate the Apprentice’s energetic inquisitiveness even at the risk of flooding the castle.  What Grandparent hasn’t had to watch a grandchild make a mistake and learn the lessons from it? 


And finally, our favorite American holiday, Thanksgiving, is paired with a visit to Grandmother’s House.  Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go .. evokes a warm, welcoming and safe atmosphere with plenty of food when we get there.


I am encouraging my fellow grandparents to consider the importance of their role in their families as characterized across cultures and through multiple, artistic representations:


1)      Grandparents are a source of family continuity – the tribal elders.  When parents don’t have the time to share family histories, traditions and habits, it is the grandparent’s privilege to do so.

2)      Grandparents have the patience to let children make mistakes and learn from those experiences.  Because most grandparents are not with their grandchildren every day, they can be tolerant of youthful questioning (Why?) and missteps that are part of learning.

3)      Grandparents often act in loco parentis (in place of parents).  When parents are not physically or emotionally available, grandparents can nurture, cuddle, supervise and discipline.  Importantly, with grandparents involved, childrearing is still a family matter.


We lived in my grandmother’s home when I was 2-4 years of age.  My grandmother had very long, straight gray hair, which she taught me to braid into two braids, then wrap the braids around her head so she could tuck them under her Sunday Church hat.  I always loved doing that for her. 

She also let me eat oatmeal cookies for breakfast because they had oatmeal in them.  I loved her very much, and like Little Red Riding Hood, I would have navigated a dangerous woods to go see her.  So for all you Grannys, Grandpas, Nanas, Abuelas, Papas, and Babooshkas, always remember how important you are to your grandchildren.  By doing so, you will live forever in their memories.

Feeling Schizophrenic? An Open Letter to Boomers

by Claire Barnes on 09/05/13

Dear Fellow Boomers:

I am feeling schizophrenic this morning after reading two online posts:

1)  On nbc.com -- a report on how hard it is for workers age 55+ to find new employment if they are laid off;

2) A report in the Chronicle of Philanthropy confirming what I know to be true -- retiring nonprofit administrators still wish to continue to contribute in a meaningful way to their communities but in nonmanagement positions with fewer responsibilities and less stress.

I can relate to both realities.  As I transitioned out of my thirteen year role as ED of Kids' Turn, I have fully intended to find part-time work where I can continue to apply my proven skills to the benefit of Bay Area families.  It's been a real challenge.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not complaining.  I fully anticipated the difficulty when I self-initiated the change last summer.  I am fortunate to have a supportive, patient husband who encourages my creative approach to finding a professional meaningful role for my life's 'second act.'  I know the work is out there, and I will find something eventually.  (Or....I go sell popcorn at the Balboa Theatre up the street.)

But others are not as fortunate as I am.  We Boomers have much to offer in the way of life experience, mentoring and skills.  We can hit the ground running in our chosen fields.  We are not high maintenance and we aren't addicted to checking Facebook in the workplace.  We may have a learning curve when it comes to newer technology innovations, but most of us took typing in high school so we have the basic skill needed to work a keyboard.

In the mid-1990's, I was the founding Executive Director of Disability Resources, Inc. in Reno, Nevada.  We operated one of the most successful supported employment programs in Northern Nevada, helping people with barriers to work find meaningful jobs.  A valuable lesson for me in that setting was this:  It's easy to find job candidates who can put the round pegs in the round holes.  It's harder to find candidates who have the personal aptitude and emotional intelligence skills to get along in the workplace.

I never forgot that lesson in all the years I did hiring.  When reviewing applications for positions, I always tried to find the backstory in resumes that disclosed the human story of the candidate.  I would say this approach worked well in most cases.

So I'm not giving up.  I have a very interesting and accomplished backstory.  An online computer program cannot extrapolate my story from my resume.  (I don't even apply for positions where I know a computer is doing the preliminary resume review.)  I know human-to-human interface is critical to employment success, and I'll find a setting that shares and practices the same value.

Stay tuned!

Lying to Children

by Claire Barnes on 08/29/13

I had an inquiry this morning from a columnist in Malaysia who had read my HuffPost blog on when/if it is ever appropriate to lie to children.  I am motivated to revisit the topic based on her questions.

Lying to children -- or stretching the truth to the benefit of the story teller -- requires a hard look at the motive behind the action. In families where parents are in conflict, it is very common for a parent to want the child(ren) to take his/her side in an argument.  The problem is, most adult arguments are way beyond what youngsters can understand developmentally.

Children do not understand  financial problems -- the #1 cause of marital arguments. Even if a parent has been unfaithful, children do not want to hear hear about it.  No matter what the adult difficulty, they still want the love and affection of both parents, and this includes not hearing bad things about one parent or the other.

Granted, there are some circumstances where children need to know tough truths for their own safety.  In those cases, keeping the message short and simple is the best advice.  If children then have questions, they can be answered simply and honestly in an age appropriate way.

When experiencing the urge to lie to a child, especially an impressionable one, do a gut check about your motive.  When it doubt, say nothing at all.

Here is the original Huffington Post blog on lying to children:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/claire-n-barnes-ma/should-split-parents-ever_b_2964221.html










Turn It Off!

by Claire Barnes on 08/27/13

Turn it Off


The chattering class has gone berserk over Miley Cyrus’ performance at Sunday’s VMA awards.  Ms. Cyrus used the hugely popular broadcast, with enormous ratings, to show the world her transformation from a performer who dances with teddy bears to one who can gesticulate and gyrate with Robin Thicke.  And don’t forget the tongue action.


And who’s surprised?   The only thing surprising is that people are so upset.  The disconnect between our puritanical history and contemporary, overt sexualization of children is growing rapidly.  Our technological advancements almost require entertainment to push more boundaries in order to keep the audience engaged.


Provocative, sultry and raunchy performers sell records, movies and other forms of ‘entertainment’.  Those of who remember can laugh at the outrage over Elvis Presley’s gyrating hips.  Remember the gasps at Madonna’s bullet bra, Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, Madonna & Britney’s kiss and Lady Gaga’s meat dress?  (Who can forget Gene Simmons’ tongue!?!)  Today’s most popular television viewing consists of reality television where conflict, sex, violence and people who operate below cultural norms rule the airwaves.


I ask again:  Who’s surprised by Miley Cyrus?


All the hand-wringing and agonizing about how these cultural icons will ruin our children takes the responsibility for our youngsters’ well-being out of the hands of the people who are truly responsible for it – the PARENTS!  Parents who are unwilling to use the remote ‘off’ button or the parental controls on their cable systems surrender control of their children’s well-being to entertainment conglomerates – mega corporations that exist to keep our children stimulated and addicted to what they offer. 


By taking control of what children watch on television, the computer and game systems,  parents accept responsibility for their most important job – raising children who develop a moral compass with a sensitivity to quality interactions with other people.   This is a huge struggle considering all the money industries throw at seducing and ensnaring children into a complex web of economic participation.


The answer is simple.  Use the remote ‘off’ button.  By doing so, children’s brains can developing at a natural rate.  Also, you demonstrate to your children the important role parents have in making decisions in the best interest of their families.


For crying out loud – you’re the adults!  Act like it.  If you don’t like what your children are watching, turn it off!