Guest Post by Whitney Rupe
Over the weekend of September 20th, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in Families United Action Network – FUANs booth at the Tri-City BBQ Fest in Denison, Iowa. Thousands of people attended this festival. It was a fantastic way to get FUANs name heard and share our cause of Family Law Reform with the crowd. Great people, great food, and great music; the atmosphere was amazing!
Our primary focus for the day was asking people to vote in our corn poll and give us their opinion on one matter in particular: “Should a child have equal access to both parents if both are fit, willing, and able?”
Lesson Number 1. The public's understanding of the issue.
While some thought this was absolutely a no-brainer, others had opinions that went in the opposite direction. But that was why we were there, to listen and maybe sway a person's opinion once they better understood what the question was.
Many people who were initially against or apprehensive about the idea of Shared Parenting changed their view once they realized that this does not mean mandated Shared Parenting even when one parent is unfit.
Once this issue was understood better, they felt that it was a definite YES that BOTH parents be accessible to the child if they were (keywords) fit, willing, and able.
Lesson Number 2.
The importance of the choice of words.
Responses varied from a few voicing indifference to others who declared “no-brainer,” some asking how many kernels they could put into the YES jar….a handful? Two handfuls? Just fill the jar? More times than not, a person would listen to us quietly, smile politely, vote yes, then walk away.
One man voted no, I have a feeling that it was solely based on Nick [our founder] interrupting him on his way to get some of the delicious BBQ available and had nothing to do with his opinion whatsoever. Let's face it. We all get a bit hangry at times.
We met parents who had upsetting personal experiences. Their faces fell as they heard our question, and voted yes. Then they looked at us and told us their stories. There were women whose husbands or brothers or close friends were fighting for their children, young men whose battles had just begun, and older men that spoke of their battles lasting for years. Every one of them had a story, and every one of them needed someone to listen to them.
Lesson Number 3.
People in this fight want to be heard and know that their story matters.
Lesson Number 4:
The emotional turmoil that people experience when dealing with custody issues doesn't seem to go away, no matter how long ago it happened.
These people still felt pain talking about it as if they were going through it again, at that moment.
The impact that these stories and individual reactions to the questions had on me is immeasurable.
There was a woman with a young teenage boy. The young man didn't quite understand the question. The woman asked him if he'd like to spend the same amount of time with his Mom and his Dad. The boy said, “Like a week with Mom and a week with Dad?”
The woman replied, “Yes.” The boy, unable to contain the excitement from the thought of having both his parents for the same amount of time, said, “YES! YES! YES!” He voted yes and smiled ear to ear as they walked away from the booth.
Other kids who hadn't experienced divorce in their lives wondered why this was a question, “Of course kids should have both parents,” some said. The kids whose parents have divorced, voted yes… EVERY SINGLE TIME.
Lesson Number 5.
Kids have the capability of understanding more than you'd think. And they all valued equal time with BOTH parents.
While listening to all of these incredible stories, I still had not worked up the courage to be the one to initiate the conversation with these people. That was my husband's job. Stepping out of my comfort zone is not something I often do, and not something I do unless absolutely necessary. I'm more of the behind-the-scenes type.
I gladly kept filling balloons and listening to stories, all while avoiding eye contact with the strangers passing by. Responding to someone who's already mid-conversation is much easier than cold-calling someone from the crowd. As the night was drawing to a close, Ryan (my husband), dared me to try talking with people. “No, thanks,” was my first response.
He told me that if I did it once, I'd feel much more confident about it. I told him he was crazy but decided that I should at least try. Boy, was he right!
My first attempt was a group of four, all of whom were super friendly, and the man in the group had a wonderful story. I fumbled over my words, I shook their hands with my sweaty, clammy ones, and tried to keep my face at the most normal level of red I possibly could. BUT I DID IT. Afterward was just like he said, I was FAR more confident.
Stepping out of your comfort zone will NOT kill you.
It can be extremely uncomfortable but totally doable and rewarding. At this point, Ryan and I had been in the booth most of the day. We were getting tired and hungry. We knew Nick would be coming back from the FUAN Forum soon but not quite sure when.
I decided I'd go ahead and try to get some more people over to vote, my newly found confidence soaring. I called out to a couple that was walking by, asking if they'd like to vote in our poll. The man told me that he had already been there.
“To the forum,” he said.
Oh? That's great!
They started walking over, and he introduced himself to me. Jim Carlin. I'll be honest. I didn't pay much attention to our guest list for the forum. I am not familiar with any Iowa Legislators. The only thing I knew at this point was his name sounded familiar, but I couldn't remember why.
My husband and I began talking to Mr. Carlin and his wife, having a pleasant conversation sharing stories, beliefs on Shared Parenting, ideas, and other topics. We spoke for some time; then, they told us they needed to leave because they had a long drive to make. We shook hands with each, and we thanked them for sharing with us.
Then Ryan says, “I didn't catch your name (to Mr. Carlin).” He introduced himself, and Ryan's face said it all. He didn't recognize him before, but he placed the name immediately. We said goodbye, and they walked away. Ryan looked at me and said, “That was Senator Jim Carlin. I had no idea who we were talking to!” Ohhhh. THAT explains why his name sounded so familiar.
Lesson Number 7.
Monitor personal confidence levels, some too high may cause you to do crazy things like lobby a state senator without your knowledge.
Lesson Number 8
Knowledge and understanding of guests and materials is essential.
Lesson Number 9.
You never know who you might get to talk to.
Lesson Number 10.
Lobbying isn't that difficult.
I did it and didn't even know I was doing it! Legislators are just people too. Getting to know them is the best way to influence them.
I cannot express enough my thanks for having been a part of this event. The experience and lessons I learned are priceless. Someone looking you in the eye and telling you to keep fighting and not to give up is so powerful.
When I first became a member of FUAN, my motives were selfish. I joined to fight for my husband and my children. Growing within the group, meeting people who are also battling has revealed that my tunnel vision and woe-is-me attitude was utterly inappropriate.
So many parents are fighting this battle. So many children have lost because of the selfishness of parents and animosity harbored against each other. I looked many of those in the eyes this weekend, and they told me to keep fighting.
Keep fighting for them, and everyone like them. That's why FUAN is here.
We're fighting for the kids.
We're fighting for the families.
We're not going to give up.
This entire experience lit a fire under my belly. It is refreshing, and I've found new motivation. I encourage everyone to get involved in the fight for Family Law Reform. You'll be surprised at what you can accomplish just by stepping outside of your comfort zone.
Whitney Rupe is passionate about FUAN and what it stands for. From being the child in the middle of her own parents’ divorce, learning how to work well with her oldest kids’ dad for the sake of the kids, watching her husband struggle to get the minimum “visitation” with his son because extra time isn’t ordered by the court, to raising their son together
Whitney has learned from every experience and seen how kids thrive when given the opportunity to have equal access to both their parents.
Whitney was born in Vermont and spent the first part of her life there. Her parents divorced when she was young. The divorce was everything but civil. A few years after the divorce Whitney’s mother decided to move back to Iowa where she was from. Whitney and her younger sister came with her leaving her dad and family in Vermont.
As Whitney grew up, she discovered a passion for cooking and decided to pursue it as a career. During her senior year of high school, she became pregnant. She was 17 when she gave birth to her daughter. She continued to pursue culinary arts and began the program at Indian Hills so she was able to stay close to home.
The responsibilities of being an adult and a young mother were problematic and she had to make the difficult decision to drop out of the Culinary Arts program to work more and afford a life for her daughter and herself.
Fast forward a couple of years, Whitney got married and had a son. The marriage was rocky, to say the least. Eventually, she and her husband split due to emotional and physical abuse. He fell into drugs and was unable to see our kids for a while. When he came out of this rut, they were able to gradually work out a way for him to be involved with the children.
The growth in her ex-husband that she has witnessed has been phenomenal. She is proud of him and what he does for their children. After everything that they have been through, she can happily say that they co-parent wonderfully and look forward to being able to move into a 50/50 custody arrangement someday. Whitney says the kids have never been happier.
Whitney met her current husband Ryan a little more than 5 years ago. Ryan has had his own battles with parenting time with his son, but this issue has only brought them closer together. Ryan and Whitney welcomed their son to the world almost 3 years ago and got married last year.