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 !!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas ‘Crankys’

 To young children, eight days can seem forever! The Yule pace has picked up at home and just about everywhere else. Parents are shopping, gathering, decorating, cooking and on and on….busy. They may be distracted, preoccupied and a little testy too. There is the excitement…or even a little stress [depending on the age and personality of a child]… of Santa coming down the chimney. “Will he fit? Can I hear him”?. Ads on TV, school presentations and projects, decorating the tree and the house, all add to the anticipation. “What will he bring me? I can’t wait”!!

 I have a little problem with some of the lyrics in ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’…ta da ta da…” “You better not cry, better not pout” [good luck with that in any given day or week] “ He sees you when you’re sleeping”. Children are prone to ‘magical thinking’ so it why add a little paranoia at bedtime? What’s with “He knows if you’ve been good or bad, so be good for goodness sake”. Santa, NO bad kids! This time of year is especially hard for model behavior. What if they have been cranky and naughty and get presents anyway? Now there’s a confusing double bind message. Young children are literal and believe what they see and hear…and sing. So, maybe pick another classic to teach them. There are so many … : -)

When possible, slow things down and share your child’s wonder and glee of the holiday. That’s the best gift of all. Happy holidays to you 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?
  • Can you both work through different opinions?
  • Is there flexibility for the children’s benefit?
  • Is your communication reasonably good?
  • Do you trust each other’s parenting?
  • Can you both put the children before your own feelings?

If you can answer affirmatively on the above, than you are ready for cooperative coc-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 sake.  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.

Partner/Spouse Communication

INSTEAD OF                                                       TRY 

Another business trip?                          I’ll really miss you.

You never listen to me!                        How can I help you hear this?

It’s your problem!                                  Let’s see how we can fix this .

You  put me down a lot.                         It hurts when you say that.

You don’t care.                                     I feel you are distant…am I right?

You’re always late!                               Can I send you a reminder earlier?

Stop yelling!                                          I hear better if you tone it down.

You deal with the kids now!                  I’m out of options…can you try?

You need to lose weight.                      Let’s exercise… together1

 

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.

 

 

 

Silence…Not Always Golden

(I’m not suggesting to not ‘hold your tongue’ briefly rather than use sarcasm or say something deliberately hurtful.)  I am referring to using the ‘silent treatment’.  It’s no treatment at all in the sense of restoring or dealing with a relationship…with a child, friend, partner or spouse or parent.

Long ago, a woman told me that when she did something wrong, as a child, her mother did not speak to her, for a week!  She did not always understand why her words and/or behavior, were not acceptable.  Silence was her mother’s go-to punishment. She felt unloved and, therefore, unlovable.  Many problems, in that and other relationships ensued.

We all feel upset with friends and family at times.   Ideally, we can discuss our reactions about something they said or did.  We let them know we were hurt and why.  We reach out to them to have a dialogue.  Communication fosters relationships.  If one person just drops out, the friend simply does not exist any more.  That hurts and there is no way for the discarded friend’s  thoughts and feelings to be heard.

Some couples engage in loud disputes and even throw or break things…not great. At the other end of the spectrum is silence.  Often, with couples, one person has to talk and the other keeps their feelings inside.  Disputes result in a traumatic tango…it takes two.  Something occurs between them and one partner withdraws.  The more s/he pulls back, the more the talker needs to hear and be heard.  The silent one recedes even more and the talker feels placed on the other side of a thick wall, as if s/he did not exist.

Extended silence does not resolve differences. It shuts them down so there is no way to resolve a disagreement.  Those who make up, letting the past be the past, without discussion,  move forward without understanding.  History does repeat itself, especially in relationships.  There are areas in which our personalities either “fit” or don’t fit.   Other situations will engender those differences and we need to know how to settle them in a way that enables us to move along  more  smoothly on the bumpy road of relationships.

Are you the silent one?

  • Are you silent to punish?
  • Do you feel you would lose the verbal match?
  • Are you self aware of how you feel in situations?
  • Do you prefer ‘just the facts’ briefly?                                                                      Do you dislike talking about your feelings?
  • Would you prefer to not hear details of others’ feelings?
  • Are you a man, or woman, of few words in general?
  •  Has  this  affected .your relationships?

What to do if you have answered ‘yes’ to the above.

  • Acknowledge that the above is your style.
  • If it has affected relationships, reflect.
  • Do you want to alter your response to disputes?
  • If yes, share with those with whom it is an issue.
  • Seek counseling                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   IAre you the ‘talker’ ?:
  • Try not to feel as if you don’t exist to him/her.
  • Share that you feel abandoned with extended silence.
  • Acknowledge your need to connect and share feelings.
  • Ask if s/he needs some time to gather her/his thoughts.
  • Learn if s/he prefers another way to communicate.
  • Suggest .counseling to learn  a better  way.                                                                                                                                                                                                  Extended silence is not a viable way to settle differences whether it serves as a defensive mode to protect you from a verbal onslaught or to quietly bully. It will cause more problems than it settles. Dare to share !

 

 

Coming Apart From A Narcissist?

Let me introduce you to the narcissist.  Narcissism is a personality disorder, which is a maladaptive and deeply ingrained pattern of behavior and personality style. It can develop from our genes, early childhood and teen experiences and the environment in which we are raised.   In general, the narcissist has a sense of grandiosity and entitlement which can cause him/her to be manipulative, critical, envious of others, and demanding.

Narcissists feel easily slighted, exaggerate their talents, expect special treatment, want the best of everything (because they deserve no less ! ) and are swift to blame others.They are arrogant, to various degrees, need constant attention, and lack empathy.  If they fall short, they are fragile and experience vulnerability and humiliation.  Under the bravado and charm, is a core of insecurity, often unconscious.  They look down at those they consider to be inferior.  There are legions of narcissists on our public stage  in all fields..

Are you in a relationship with someone who only seeks to fulfill his/her needs?   Does it seem that their attention to you, and others, is a means to appear giving but is more about getting attention or having their way.  Their charm may have  attracted you but, as time passes, you observe that it is superficial and geared to serving their own interests.  What is underneath that public charm is not so pleasant.  You will be told that you have stopped being interested, proud and supportive and that is why your relationship has deteriorated.  It’s never their doing. If your partner cannot recognize or acknowledge any part of their contribution, don’t expect any cooperation.  Once they can no longer seduce you into their web, they will accuse you of all the problems in the relationship (please note: we all have some input).

If you admit to some your shortcomings, and that doesn’t make any difference, it may be decision time…to stay or leave.  Such decisions are painful and deserve deep consideration.  If you cannot tolerate your situation and decide to come apart, be prepared.  Try to avoid ‘pressing’ certain buttons that may encourage more abuse.  Do not be reactive to your partner’s behavior  Focus on protecting yourself, your assets and, if applicable, the children. It will not be easy early on but eventually you will be freer to pursue your own goals.    In addition to family and friends, a counselor and good lawyer are critical supports to help you extract yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, there is great resistance by family members who are being alienated or encouraging it, to engage in reunification therapy.  They 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.  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 are 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 their dilemma and try to help them understand 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 individually.

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 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.

Therapy with the children is listening and understanding their complaints about the alienated parent. There are often kernals of truth in their criticism but they need to recognize their exaggeration.  The alienating parent encourages the child’s magnified negative vision of the other parent, his/her , and the child remains, I see a somewhat different 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 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 is especially rich when 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 and Grandparents

When couples dissolve their relationship, there are extended family members who do not want to lose their relationships with the children. Why should children have to lose those family members they have bonded with and love?  At the grandparent phase of life, you may be  taking stock of where you have been, what you have done and what’s really important.  Maybe you are on the last leg of your journey and more focused on the basics, being connected to others, especially your family.  What could be more important than children?

Chances are you celebrated when your children found the person they wanted to share their life and start a family, providing you with grandchildren.  Love at first sight and ever after!  From their first cuddly days to tottering about, then talking, entertaining and adorable, always interesting.  We’ve all seen many pictures of and heard stories about grandchildren by doting grandparents.  As grandchildren mature, many have a special relationship, confiding in their parent’s parents, experiencing them as a safe haven when things are tense at home.

Why then, when there is a divorce, deprive children of those close relationships as their household, as they knew it, is dissolving?  The security and continuity of talking with and/or seeing grandparents can be soothing and supportive as parents struggle with coming apart.

In a contentious divorce, extended family may be brought into the fray, creating two sides.  Children then have to navigate between both sides of their family, perhaps hearing negative comments about one of their parents.  Or, they may not even be able to see  grandparents as the battle wages.  When parents are engaged in divorce war, children suffer immeasurably.  Their world feels turned upside down and they don’t know when it will end or what else will happen.

Grandparents need to stay out of the negativity, supporting your child by being helpful but not engaging in verbally bashing the children’s other parent.  You can offer  sage, neutral, advice and assure them that things will settle down and life will go on.  Grandparents can serve as a safety net as children’s parents seem to be teetering on a high wire.

When there is a respectful dissolution of a relationship, or divorce, parents tend to recognize and appreciate what their own [and their spouse/partner’s] parents can provide to them and their children.  Grandparents are a valuable resource, in fact, priceless.