Long Distance Parenting


Your marriage or partnership has ended and you or your partner/spouse has had to relocate. What to do?  The best you can.  There are a variety of ways to be connected when you can’t be with your children in person.  Be creative and keep the contact as predictable and frequent as possible.

  • Maintain a good co-parenting relationship to help ensure the availability of your children.
  • Get a good sense of their schedules and try to work with them.
  • Ask their other parent when the children are most likely to be responsive totelephone calls, facetime and email messages.
  • Arrange a visit or call to their teacher to learn your about children’s strengths andweaknesses as well as class trips and projects. You’ll feel more involved intheir lives and they’ll know you are really interested.
  • For younger children you can record stories, or conversation, on CD’s,to be replayed at their pleasure. Just remember to buy a CD player if they don’t have one.
  • Watch some of their videos or favorite TV so you can talk about them.
  • Keep them up to date on your side of the family if they are not available.
  • Establish, or continue, shared interests whether it’s sports, the arts, collections.
  • Walk down ‘memory lane’ about fun and memorable past times, even withsmall things.  They’ll know you remember and cherish those special moments.
  • Make a calendar, if they don’t have one, so they can anticipate when you will be together for a visit or a vacation.  Keep them involved and offer some choices when possible.

Don’t be afraid to be creative so you can be apart together.

Children’s Divorce Rights


Divorce is a parental decision when an adult relationship no longer seems viable to at least one of the parents.   Children have no say about the division of their family.  However, they are entitled to certain rights during their upbringing which will reduce some of the stress of their family coming apart.  Mindful parents will want to observe the following:

  • Children have the right to love both parents.
  • Parents will work to share time and activities with their children.
  • When both parents are present, they will be cordial.
  • Children are able to have pictures of the other parent in their room.
  • Children are not to be used as messengers or ‘spies’ between parents.
  • Parents will allow private phone calls with the other parent and not ask questions about their conversation.
  • Adult business [legal, business or financial dealings] will be private.
  • When transferring children, parents will keep it brief and peaceful.
  • Parents will not judge or criticize the other parent’s doings or choices.
  • When possible, parents will acknowledge good things about the other parent.
  • Parents will be flexible, when possible, to accommodate social or extended family gatherings for the children.
  • Parents will never drive the children if they have been drinking.
  • Neither parent will speak negatively of the other parent’s family to the children.
  • Neither parent will rewrite family history.
  • Both parents will feel free to share stories better family times with the children.
  • Children will be allowed to freely take their clothes and possessions [unless they are too large or cumbersome] to both homes.
  • Parents will discipline on their parenting time only.

Respecting the above rights for your children will ensure their well-being from now and in the future.


Remembering Love: Divorce and Children

Remembering Love: Divorce and Children

You may be thinking that the above are mutually exclusive. Coming apart is painful, whether you or your partner chose it.  There are likely a bucketful of feelings related to the dissolution of your relationship – anger, sadness, confusion and resentment, not so pleasant.  Add feelings of relief, discovery, freedom, independence, self-reliance and growth when we feel acceptance and resolution.

Valentine’s Day reminds us to celebrate our love relationships. Hopefully we do that more than once a year, even when there is no holiday.   Your children were created out of the love you both felt for each other in the past.  Even though you may not currently feel that love for your former spouse/partner, your children are a constant reminder of that partnership.  Consider offering them a former family picture for their room. It’s comforting for them to know, especially if they can’t remember back when, that there were loving, happy family times.  Remember to relate some funny or nice stories from that period. If the stories are told with both parents present, even better.

So, just remember that old love, even though you probably do not feel it now.  Consider forgiveness. Letting go of regret and past anger and actually frees you and demonstrates to your children that it is not useful to hang on to negativity.   We need to spread a little  more ‘love’ all over this world.

Happy hearts to all !


Post Divorce Parenting



Whether you are considering divorce or in the process, you need to think about how you and your partner/spouse will both parent your children. Unless your partner is unavailable or totally incapacitated, for any reason, you are in it together.  There are choices to be made.

Decide between you so no one else gets to mandate your parenting role, the most important job in your life.

  • Do you have similar parenting philosophies and styles – religion, discipline, meals, screen time, etc?
  • Can you both work through different opinions? Agree on some specifics.
  • Is there flexibility for the children’s benefit?
  • Do you trust each other’s parenting?
  • Can you both put the children before your own feelings?
  • Most important, communication…method… timing,,,dealing with disagreement.

If you can answer affirmatively on the above, you are ready for cooperative co-parenting. It is the best way for your children to flourish.  They learn that, although you do not want to be with each other any more, you are able to work together for their benefit.  You will be good role models and add to your children’s sense of security and well-being.

  • Do you both have very different parenting styles?
  • Do you feel very strongly that you are usually right?
  • Is it hard to communicate without arguing, name-calling, etc?
  • Are the children ‘stuck’ between parents?
  • Are stalemates your norm with each other?
  • You both want to have relationship with your children.

If your answers are ‘yes’ to the above, than cooperative co-parenting is not going to work for you at this time [though, hopefully, that would change]. Parallel parenting is recommended in such situations.  When there is high conflict, parental contact needs to be minimized.  Your Parenting Plan would be more detailed so all (you and the children) know what to expect…a rigid schedule, no last minute changes and no direct parental contact.  Communication needs to be through texting, e-mail or notes, with just the facts, no emotion.  Think of it as a business message.  You all lose flexibility but gain peace of mind if parental contact is discordant.

If cooperative co-parenting is your choice, congratulate yourselves and keep it going!

If you are not able to co-parent in a cooperative manner, please make it a goal !  If you need assistance with that, I am available to help.

Separated/Divorced Parent Communication


             INSTEAD OF                                           TRY

Where are you?  It’s your time!                    The kids are missing you.

You left them with a sitter, again?                With notice  I’m happy to cover you.

Mac Donald’s all week?                               I can share some healthy choices.

They spent All day on TV ?                          Let’s review some alternatives.

Their homework was not done.                    Here is our homework schedule..

They never call me from your house.           Let’s both have the kids call nightly.

You can’t speak to me that way!                   If you can’t stop, I’ll need to hang up.

There’s no supervision at your house.          Can we agree on some limits for him?

I’m not grounding Jack for you.                     We need to discipline on our own time.

I need a calendar from you!                           Here’s my calendar. Please send yours.




Reunification Therapy

Court ordered reunification therapy takes place when there is, or has been, a high conflict divorce. One, or both, parents may not be following their Parenting Plan and a child [or children] protests being with one parent.  Reunification therapy is an attempt to undo damage and help parents and children move on, in a more positive manner.

Unlike more traditional therapy, for an individual or family,  there is often great resistance on the part of the alienating parent and the children who are being alienated to engage in reunification therapy.  They may miss appointments, come late, feel they are not heard and are not open to hear any view different from theirs.  They only want to hear that the other parent is terrible and needs to be avoided so they can be happy.  There is no motivation to change their feelings and views.  It is difficult for them to acknowledge anything decent about the other parent whose foibles may be greatly magnified.  In such cases, the only person who wants the therapy is the alienated parent, who is suffering and wanting to be a parent again.

When doing reunification therapy, it’s important to see the alienating parent quickly and understand their personality and dilemma and try to help them see that they are being ‘heard’.  Their willingness to alter their behavior is crucial to helping their children be allowed to have and hold their own feelings about their other parent.  If I am accepted, even begrudgingly, by that parent, it is more possible to have a good resolution.  If there is more than one alienated child, a younger child will frequently absorb the feelings of an older sibling and imitate their behavior so it is beneficiall to see them individual although there may be exceptions.

Reunification therapy is not a quick fix. As a therapist, I need to work with other professionals.  I am asked to speak to or write family members’ therapists, attorneys and the court so this process is not completely confidential.  There may also be a parenting coordinator, court ordered to help the parents follow the Parenting Plan in a way that benefits the children.   I educate the parents about the importance of parent-child relationships and the emotional damage to children when that is curtailed and a parent is being vilified.   The alienated parent needs to understand that s/he has likely made some mistakes  that interfered with parenting and is helped to rectify them. They need to be sensitive to their children’s experience and the impact of their alienation from the other parent.

Reunification therapy with the children is listening and understanding their complaints about the alienated parent. There are often kernels of truth in their criticism but they need to recognize their exaggeration.  Alienating parents encourage the child’s magnified negative vision of the other parent, his/her partner and extended family and the child remains, Eventually we see an altered version of the child. Although the child uses the alienator’s exact words and phrasing [usually not age appropriate] the s/he is less strident and, eventually, more open to even share some positive memories of the alienated parent.

Joint sessions, with the child and alienated parent, begin with non-threatening interactions and/or games, perhaps some they have enjoyed in the past. As their encounters are less awkward, I initiate some other [not board] games such as guessing the other’s favorite food, vacation, color, etc.  These  exercises often involve  sharing of memories which are especially rich as the child becomes aware that their parent does remember and realizes they were and are important to that parent.  We then move on to more conversation and ways to ameliorate their situation.

It is difficult for the alienating parent to feel the child is slipping away and more willing to be with the other parent. More work is needed for that parent to understand  and accept their child’s need for both parents.  Sessions wind down as the alienated parent and child relationship beings to resume.  This is hard work – for all – but so incredibly important.















Alienation By Parents


I want to talk to you about a heartbreaking topic –  children who become alienated from a parent [and likely his/her extended family as well].

Parental alienation occurs when one parent continually demeans, criticizes and marginalizes the other parent and, often, their family.  Unfortunately, we see this too often during contentious divorce.  The child is privy to hearing faults and misdeeds , real or perceived, of the alienated parent.  Children hear such statements as “he/she left us” instead of the reality that the parent was left or “he/she doesn’t love us any more”.  In the extreme, there may be false allegations.  The alienating parent makes no effort to speak privately about their partner/spouse to family and friends when they only have bad things to say.  The saying “Children have big ears” especially rings true about listening in on conversations when their life is being turned upside down.

The children may be said to be “busy, out, or asleep” when the alienated parent calls or comes to spend time with them.  They become a ‘weapon’ used to hurt the other parent.  They are often asked to carry messages from the alienating parent.  “Why are you not giving mommy money for us?”   “Why do you have a girlfriend [boyfriend] and spend time with her/his children?”   “If you loved us, you wouldn’t have left.”

The alienating parent may have no awareness of the harm s/he is doing to the children.  He/she is overwhelmed by devastation and feels s/he is protecting the children from the other parent.  The alienator projects his/her rage at the other parent and believes that the children feel that anger on their own.  Alienators do not believe that they initiated that rage and then cultivated it.  Hopefully, the alienated parent does not engage in the war and loves the children enough to become informed about alienation and how to get help.

The alienated child becomes’ ‘parentified’, feeling that they need to protect and defend  the hurt and angry parent. The child often parrots the exact words of that parent, using words or phrases that are not uttered by their age peers.  The child’s comments about the ‘bad’ parent are strong and all encompassing.  There is no admission of anything good about that parent.  Most children have negative and positive things to say about their parents.  After all, we are all human. An alienated child sees NO good in the ‘bad’ parent.

The harm to children is multifaceted. They are in great pain.  Not only do they lose contact with a parent (and their extended family), they are learning that when people come apart, ‘war’ is inevitable and warranted.  That angry feeling and behavior can seep into their personality and affect friendships and future relationships if they part ways. At a time when the family is coming apart, children lose half of their primary support.  Even if the alienated parent was not as active, in parenting, as the other, they usually want to have contact with their children.  Sometimes those parents left the household in order to avoid their partner/spouse and keep the peace.

When doing parent/child reunification therapy, I work with both parents and the children to help them understand that they will all benefit from working through their differences.  Parents learn to move on with their lives and realize how much their children will be affected and limited if the present situation  continues.  They come to realize that there are major benefits for their children if they can alter that situation.  War destroys.  Working together peacefully builds.






Divorce: Well-Adjusted Children


children suffering from stress anxietyDivorce is a wrenching experience for all family members. Parents are sad at the end of something they thought would be ‘forever’ when they first came together.  Children lose their family grouping, in the way they always knew.  Now there are two homes, changes in lifestyle, maybe new people in their lives and other adjustments. That’s  not a reason to not continue to raise well adjusted children.  It takes some special attention.

  • Know your children, their needs, fears, quirks, strengths and weaker areas. Keep that information in mind as you parent.
  • Listen to them before you speak so you know the best way to approach things.
  • Individualize them. Pay close attention to their personality, their relationship with both parents, etc. – to share certain information, individualized.
  • Be aware of yourself and how you look when you are speaking. Pay attention to your voice, your facial expressions and your body.  The body speaks too,hopefully, in sync with what you are saying.  You don’t want your body and face to be announcing doom while you are saying that things will get better.
  • Don’t limit what your children have to say.       Hear it all – the sad, the bad, the mad  It will give you important information about they are feeling and what they need. If they can speak, and be heard, about their hurt and anger, they are less likely to act out those feelings.
  • Let them know you are deeply listening by repeating your understanding of what they are saying. They can correct you if wrong and appreciate when you are on target.  It feels so good to be heard and understood and not shut down.
  • Speak to what you hear them saying and empathize so they know you are right there with them.
  • Be consistent with most of your household rules. A little loosening lets them know you understand but trust they will be OK to carry on as usual. Dropping all rules and tasks sends a message that nothing is the same.  Continuing rules offer structure, so important when other things are changing.
  • Be the best that you can be…real, maybe vulnerable, but strong and up to the
  • challenge. Remember, they do as we do. You are  one of their main supports and role model.

Be sure to utilize your own supports and be kind to yourself. Life does go on and life, after divorce, is a new chapter.  You have a lot to do in the writing of it.





13 Things Kids Want Parents to Know

13 Things Kids Want Parents to Know

By Isolina Ricci, PhD

  1. We need to know you love us, will protect us and won’t leave
  2. Help us get organized for going back and forth. Be patient
  3. Listen to our questions and opinions even if you don’t agree.
  4. Accept that we need a lot of time to adjust, even when we don’t show it.
  5. Keep your conflicts and dislike of each other out of sight and earshot.
  6. Keep us out of the middle of your problems. We are just kids.
  7. Don’t ask us to spy, pass messages or hear you put down the other parent.
  8. Give us a chance to talk with kids who are also going through this.
  9. Help us express our feelings and learn how to manage them.
  10. Give us space and time to grieve the loss of our old life at our pace.
  11. Confide in people your own age. We are not your substitute spouse.
  12. Tell us we aren’t at fault for your problems. We can’t fix them either.
  13. Show us it’s OK to love and want to be with both of you

Children and Divorce

“When you’re a little kid, you don’t know what’s going on”

“When they fight, I go to my room and cover my ears. Why do they have to do that? They tell me and my sister not to fight”.

“When my parents get into it, I play my music……loud ”

“I think it’s my fault when they yell. “

“I want things to be like they used to be. My little brother comes into my room. He gets so scared…….me too.

“ I want them to know how I feel but they might feel bad or get angry with me”.

“ I feel lonely and bad inside”

“I’m stuck in the middle…it doesn’t feel good”.

These are some comments I’ve heard from children of divorcing parents over many years. It’s heartbreaking.  Children love both parents, who are part of them, and share their parents’ pain. Children may be confused by what they see and hear. They feel disappointed or upset with their parents’ negative behavior. Typically, they won’t, or can’t, articulate their upset to their parents for fear of upsetting them. Divorcing parents  struggle to hold things together during a very trying time. Because they can be preoccupied, many parents are  unaware of what their children are experiencing.

Divorce is a multifaceted and draining experience.  It requires many  transitions for the entire family.  If you are considering it, or in the midst of it, you know that. There may be a number of major transitions in your life. You may need to move, change your child’s school or get a job, even if you have been out of the workforce for a long time.  Living on your own may mean having to take on tasks that your partner/spouse took care of.  Entertainment can be impacted as well, including few extracurricular activities and vacations, dining out less and fewer indulgences for all. There may be shifts in how you relate to in-laws or how they relate to you.  Sometimes ‘couple’ friends choose one partner and withdraw from the other, which may also affect children.

If your spouse is involved with a new partner, there will be a period of acclimation for all. Even though your children may like the new person, there are often loyalty issues to their bio parent. Many of children’s feelings depend on how their parents feel and handle the situation.   “If I like Mary, will mom feel bad or be upset with me?” “If David plays ball with me, how will dad feel”? In a blended family situation there will be new and different family rituals and rules to be absorbed by children…the time [and how] you eat dinner, rules of behavior, holidays and vacations to name just a few situations that require adaptation on every one’s part. If your partner’s or spouse’s new partner (or yours) has children, additional layers of adaptation need to be considered and managed.

Children don’t cause divorce but they do have to live with its consequences. Confusion, sadness, anger, guilt and feeling lost and powerless are some of the feelings expressed by children living through divorce and its aftermath. Parents need to protect their children from having to do the hardest thing of all – choose between them. One way to protect them is to minimize or eliminate the negative and angry aspects of the divorce experience. If parents don’t create two sides, children don’t feel conflicted about having to take a side. It’s important for them to feel safe and be able to hold on to cherished family memories as the family transforms.

Single or shared parenting is a new and challenging experience, for parents and children. If your spouse/partner relocates farther away, you may find yourself with most of the parenting responsibilities.  You long for your children when they are with the other parent.   Your children may be missing one parent much of the time, especially initially. If you live near the other parent, your children’s needs, schedules and desires will be best served by flexibility on the part of both parents. There are so many ‘ifs’…   cooperative co-parenting is crucial!

One of the benefits of collaborative divorce is that stressful transitions can be eased.   The level of divorce related tension is largely determined by how you and your spouse/partner navigate the experience. When you work together, with dignity and respect, everyone feels more comfortable – family members, in-laws, other couples and friends in your sphere but, most important, your children. As you and your spouse/partner make decisions together, with the assistance of experienced and understanding professionals, in a safe environment, your joint efforts to put your children first will generate priceless rewards.

The child specialist is a licensed professional who has expertise in working with children, adolescents, adults, family systems and divorce. S/he is knowledgeable about the emotional and cognitive development of children and can provide answers to your questions and guidance, as needed. Child specialists are experienced in gathering information and sharing recommendations with parents that are specific to each child’s personality and needs. Having been trained in mediation and collaborative divorce, in addition to fulfilling the  requisites of their clinical professional licenses, they are well qualified to help you create a Parenting Plan, which covers all aspects of your children’s needs following the dissolution of a break-up or divorce.

The child specialist is a member of the collaborative divorce team who first meets with both parents to gather background information on the children’s personalities, predilections and possible problems.   He/she will want to know what the children already know about the divorce and how the parents have dealt with, or plan to deal with, the situation. S/he can advise you on how to tell the children about the change in your family and how to prepare them to meet with the child specialist.   Parents often seek guidance on the best way to inform their children, about separation, and/or divorce.   The child specialist’s role is to understand what is especially important and meaningful to each child and share that information with parents.   S/he educates parents about the impact of divorce and family transition on their particular children, given their ages, personalities and established relationships with each parent. Working with both parents, the child specialist tailors the Parenting Plan to each family’s specific needs. Cooperative co-parenting, at all times, is basic to insuring continuity, consistency and emotional security.

The children’s contact with the child specialist is often brief and focused. They are seen individually and/or together, as appropriate, in a gentle and friendly manner. They are helped to understand that they are their parents’ priority and their input is important to their parents although it is their parents’ responsibility to make decisions.  The child specialist can also be available, if child related issues arise, following divorce.

After working with parents and children during the collaborative divorce process, I have been so happy to hear more different comments from children:

“I got punished a lot so thought it was my fault that mommy and daddy were getting divorce. Now I know it wasn’t my fault, just something between them. I don’t know what – they said it was grown-up stuff”.

“They used to fight but now they talk more – even so, they still don’t want to live together.”

“They said Santa will know and come to both houses!”

“We’re still a family but don’t live together any more, that’s all.”

“ I think they are both happier and it’s easier ,“

Ah, music to my ears!