Imaginary Friends

Is your child talking about a friend that you are completely unaware of ? Possibly you are told that the ‘friend’ is currently at your dinner table or on a trip with you  but you can’t see or hear them.  Your child is likely enjoying a special relationship that is only hers/his.   Do you recall having an imaginary friend ?

Not to worry. Imaginary friends are part of normal development.  By age seven, 65% of children have had one at some point.  The most likely children to experience an imaginary friendship are the eldest, shy or only children, for obvious reasons. .

An imaginary friend may be a person, creature, ghost or even a personified object.  It may involve a mirror image of  play that your offspring has had. Think of your child’s invention as an action figure or doll as they serve a similar purpose.  Invisible friends may be positive and soothing company for a child who is lonely or bored.   S/he can practice social skills and be able to be in complete control.   Such play involves  stretching the power of imagination.

You learn more about your little one when you hear what your child is saying to his/her friend or what that friend is quoted as saying. Is your child trying to ‘safely’ tell you about things s/he doesn’t like so it becomes the buddy who doesn’t want to visit grandma or go to school ?.  When does the friend pop up?  Dinner-, bed-, bed-time? There’s likely a message to you there.  If your child wants a certain toy or extra treat, for his/her friend of course,  you can say “Invisible friends get invisible treats”. Maybe the friend exists  in the service of becoming more independent…”my friend will give me a bath”. Sometimes, an imaginary pal may be nice, mean or bossy…more information for the adult to ponder.

No need to jump into the veracity pond. Just dip a toe in and go along with it.  These elusive friends usually fade when a child enters school.  If the friendship continues through  first or second grade, you will want to evaluate why they are still hanging around.

We adults have imaginary situations and conversations in our heads.  Think of practicing for a job interview.  “He’ll say…” and “I’ll respond…”  Or, “The next time my friend says…”  I’ll remind her….!”.  Our little ones are just  practicing in a more concrete manner.

 

 

Mothers and Mothering

With Mother’s Day on the horizon have you thought about your mother? What was she like when you were growing up?

* What was her parenting style… strict, laissez-faire?                                                        * What did you like to do with her?                                                                                    *  Did you confide in her?                                                                                                    *  How did she discipline?                                                                                                    *  What are you favorite memories?                                                                                                                          * How was she, in your eyes, with your father?                                                                                                                                 *  How will you honor her?

Are you a mother?

*  How would your child[ren[ describe you?                                                                      *  Do you say/do things you swore you wouldn’t – because your mother did ?               *    How do you think your child[ren] will quote you?                                                      *    What memories would you hope they have?                                                              *    Do you see your mother differently now that you are one?                                         *   Do you consciously emulate her ?                                                                               *   Do you appreciate how hard – and joyful -it is to mother?

We are all our mothers, to some degree.  We are all human.  Let your mother know how much you appreciate her now that you know what a struggle it is and also how wonderful…to be a mother.

 

 

 

 

A Good Divorce? Oxymoron?

General opinion is that the two simply don’t go together. I say ‘no’. Coming apart because a relationship/marriage hasn’t worked means that two personalities (or, at least, one of them) couldn’t get beyond their different needs, wants, styles, expectations and disappointments.  Initial attractions have likely waned and living in close proximity has become too difficult.  Does that mean dislike and worse need to ensue?  Hopefully not, but if there are no children from the union, each person can go forward separately with no further contact.

When there are children, parents are connected, for life, with each other – decisions, of all kinds  (religious, academic, camps, medical, etc.) need to made.  Experiences such as birthday parties, school and sports events, recitals, communions, graduations, weddings, and grandchildren, bring on a whole new cycle of events and need to be discussed, decided and shared in some manner.  When there is no  flexibility and parents can’t discuss and negotiate solutions, the children suffer.   Parents who do not get along model a kind of negative relationship behavior for their children, demonstrating that coming apart means bad feelings and/or interactions.  Children, of all ages listen to and watch us and learn from our behavior.

There is another way. Parents can demonstrate that although love is gone, respect and civility prevail.  Acknowledging each other and conversing, when you are both present, reminds your children that you are still able to perceive positive aspects of the person with whom you created your offspring.  They are the product of that love and are part of you both.  If one parent diminishes the other, in word or deed, the child feels that he/she is diminished as well.

Show your children that you both can get past your differences to create a better family environment for all. Yes, you are still family, in two homes, even when one or both of you have recoupled. That civility is likely to be absorbed by your children and played out in most of their future relationships.

If you are considering coming apart, mediation and collaborative divorce are available.

Collaborative, A Mindful Divorce

There’s a lot of talk about mindfulness lately….focusing on being in the moment, being fully present without being overly reactive or overwhelmed. Add awareness and non-judgmental to the list. We can take a class in mindfulness, do the exercises and help develop greater inner peace.  Harder to imagine is mindfulness going through divorce… a life altering experience, the angst, the pain…but… there is a way, collaborative divorce.

Unlike traditional divorce, with two attorneys often strategizing to get the best deal (which can cause considerable strife between partners/spouses) , the collaborative method consists of a team (trained in mediation and the collaborative process), dedicated to making your divorce respectful and out of court. The attorneys work cooperatively, while still protecting their client.   All work together to come up with a plan that serves both parties and children in a non-judgmental yet purposeful atmosphere.

In addition to the attorneys are licensed mental health professionals who help maintain the emotional temperature in the room.  It is not therapy, but a supportive way to know what you want and need, going forward, without emotionally damaging either partner/spouse.  The collaborative facilitator is there if you or your partner/spouse get ‘overheated’ and need to take a break.  They offer assistance and guidance to calm partners/spouses and to more effectively present their thoughts and needs.   The facilitator can help inform the attorneys on the best way to proceed, considering the personalities and situation.

The collaborative child specialist informs parents, after briefly meeting with the children, of their concerns to better tailor the Parenting Plan to  meet the specific needs of their family. They are trained to understand children of all ages and make them feel comfortable and safe as their parents navigate through the divorce process.  The result is a more cooperative  co-parenting team  to continue as a family, but in two homes.  Children learn, via parents, that coming apart does not need to tear people apart.

When appropriate, a collaborative financial expert joins the team to help couples divide their assets and establish a realistic budget that will work for both. These experts are not only skilled in dealing with figures but also dealing with the stress people experience and helping them toward a more relaxed way to ‘divide the pie’.

In collaborative divorce, you do not go to the court, in itself a stressful environment. No, you are settled in a lawyer’s quiet consultation room, with conscientious seating so all are equal and comfortable.  You are assisted in focusing on what is important to you and to state that in a manner that expresses your needs without offending or distancing your partner/spouse.  None of us can change the past.   Team members help couples stay in the present which is the best way to plan for the future.  They do not overemphasize the negative but pay attention to the positive.  In a non-judgmental manner, collaborative professionals help couples pay attention to what is essential to them. Each couple and family is unique.  Collaborative professionals celebrate that and the concept that when mindfulness prevails during divorce, all family members can grow and move past division and create addition in their lives.

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 !

 

The Fine Art of Negotiating With A Pre-Schooler

Too young to negotiate? No way! Your three year old has likely already has begun the process. At bedtime, “I’m thirsty” [ie, not ready for bed], ” I need another story”. “I need to kiss you again”. Sound familiar? They have begun. Time to negotiate? Absolutely. They know their own needs and wishes and you have years ahead of you to deal with their desires and yours.

Here’s the good news: conflict is an opportunity for resolution and your child can learn an important communication skill. It helps not to see your child’s effort as decision-making NOT only as an attempt to challenge your authority (though that has it’s own meaning, to advance their eventual independence)  but rather to recognize it as a sign of sophistication, intellectually and socially.

At this age, children understand your saying “If you are quiet at the doctor’s, we’ll get ice cream after”. they get the “if…then” statements. Compromise becomes possible when children are able to delay gratification. Compromise is an important tool in life, in so many ways. Children who learn to negotiate in pre-school have an edge. When others want something of his/hers, they an say “I’ll let you play with this if I can use yours”, etc. Such children can more easily cope with the increasingly complex social interactions they face in school.  when they are able to express themselves, there is less likelihood of physicality.

You can encourage your child’s negotiating skills before elementary school. Encourage him/her to make decisions, within certain boundaries that you have set. For example, “Which of these 3 dresses would you like to wear”? [not the whole closet full]. Your child sees you value her opinion and she still gets to make a choice.

Of course, certain things are NOT negotiable [safety, etc,] though you can still deal….”if you let me strap you in, we’ll listen to your favorite music, etc.”.

Let your children hear you negotiate with other adults. Be sure they hear you say, “Honey, you made dinner so I’ll do the dishes,.” Little ones repeat what they see and hear more than what they are told.

Let your child win some negotiations. There’s nothing like success to motivate them to try again. Enjoy and celebrate their new level of skill .

The New Year

Sharon Klepner Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The New Year

We hear about tossing out the old year and ringing in the new one.  We look forward to a new year, new friends, new experiences and challenges.  No matter one’s age, it can be exciting to go forward, not knowing who or what will pop up in our lives.  Especially if you have lived a long time [whatever age you think that is] and like surprises, the future is yours.

But, let’s not forget the old year(s) and all that it has provided us, moving into the future.  We are a product of our past, from way back to recent times.  Past challenges, problems and opportunities helped create who we are now.  There were experiences we learned from and we can use that ‘education’ living it forward.  Likely, there were mistakes made, offering us the opportunity to correct some of them or to reconnect with someone we may miss.  Apologies are about self searching and self-confidence and enhance growth .

Memories of old friends, homes, trips, music, etc. enrich our lives today as we recall some of those moments.  So, anticipate 2019 but don’t ‘toss’ out the past.  select and bring forward whatever will add to the new year and make it even richer.

Happy old and new year !!