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.

 

 

 

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. But 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.

 

 

 

 

Building Memories

Building Memories

How far back do you remember? What are some of those memories – big moments?  Small moments?  Traditions or a one of a kind experience?  They are all  important.

I recently enjoyed a ‘cousin’s weekend hosted by the adult child of a first cousin. The younger adults and their young children look forward to this annual weekend summer gathering.   The older adults drop in to enjoy seeing all of our children sharing their children just as we did over the last few decades.

There are expectations – Will aunt Carol bring her delicious tarts? Uncle Jay will likely fall asleep on a couch.  Will little Soleil swim this year?  There is acceptance, sharing and love.   Members feel part of something that offers a respite from the travails of the everyday world.  Family group traditions help us feel grounded.  Even if you are not close with all of your family members, you gravitate to your favorites.   There is predictability and that feels safe even if it’s not always ideal.

I recall hiding under a long holiday table, with other little cousins, waiting for the grown-ups to find us. Now we talk about when we played house and the grass became spaghetti and little stones were meatballs. When we share about “back then,” we each have some specific memories that others have forgotten.   We may also have different perspectives of some of the same situations that expand our views.  There is something special in

having people who your memories… that you don’t have with anyone else.  You are part of something bigger than yourself and connected.  We thrive on connections.

As soon as we are old enough to recall, memory building takes place. Each memory ‘brick’ adds to children’s emotional foundation. Bed and meal time routines, vacations, how we celebrate occasions and holidays help form our children and affects how they will create and maintain friendships and relationships. We grow up and move on to different lives in other places but there remains a sense of belonging and safety in returning to our past.  As children grow, such memories are imprinted in their mental album.   Siblings share memories that no one else has which may prove to be a great comfort, especially during trying times.

We are a conglomerate of memories. They can add to or subtract from our level of self-esteem.  They can transform into emotional symptoms  – or – give us strength to overcome adversity. Think of all of the special ‘bricks’ you provide for your children.  Consider having a family evening for sharing memories.  You may learn about experiences that you didn’t give a second thought to but were meaningful to your child.  There may be some delightful surprises!

 

 

 

 

Siblings: Rivalry and Revelry

What is the hardest thing to share, especially when you are very young? Your parents. They are the people you count on when you are not yet independent.  Parents provide the various kinds of sustenance to survive and thrive.  Children are housed, fed, protected, indulged, entertained, educated and loved.

The first child, once dubbed “the royal experiment”, has had it all – time, attention and love. Then, along comes a tiny interloper who has even more needs. So, #1 needs to share what was once all theirs.  At times, they need to be more patient, more quiet and more independent. What’s more difficult to share than one’s prized possession?  That’s what we are to our small children.  Although it’s our doing to bring a sibling into our home, it’s easier for #1 to pick on someone smaller –   hence, sibling rivalry.

For some children, it’s easier when the newborn just eats and sleeps.  Depending on the age and personality of the first child, they may be uninterested in the little bundle or want to hold and play with the new arrival.  As time passes, things change.  With each new phase of development that the baby achieves, it can be more fun…. or not, for the first child.  For example, a newborn is not going to interfere with big brother’s possessions but a crawling, and then, walking toddler will want to imitate their older sibling and play with their things.  Aging up, younger children want to hang out with the older sibling and his/her friends.  Imitation is flattery but #1 may not see it that way!

When handled well, rivalry has benefits. Children act on their wants and needs,  and eventually learn to negotiate and work out a solution. These abilities will come in handy as they mature.  Parents can help teach those skills, indirectly and directly.  Children observe parents and imitate.  They watch how parents cope with differences, with their spouse, their own parents, friends, etc.  Do they yell or use the ‘silent treatment’?  When parents are able to have a respectful discussion and come to a compromise, observing them is a learning experience for their offspring.  More directly, parents can help their young children by explaining the differences in the abilities of each of them [to the other] when they are having a problem.  “Your sister is too young to know when she hurts you”  or “ Your brother really needs some quiet time to be able to really talk…”.

While there may be resentment in needing to share, there is also the opportunity to have a sibling who is closer in size, dependence, levels of energy and enjoyment than the adults. There will be things to giggle about that grownups just don’t get.  They may also learn to team up with each other in order to bargain with parents. Although we see the rivalry, most older siblings would defend and protect their younger siblings if they were bullied.  Parents are relieved and entertained watching their children play well together and be affectionate.  It’s comforting to imagine their future adult friendship when we are gone.

We cringe at the rivalry and rejoice in the revelry. Both are essential.

 

 

 

 

Children and Frustration

Children and Frustration

Life is frustration, among other things.  Nobody gets everything they want and there are many things we simply have to wait for.  We all need the ability to delay gratification.  You begin a job and need to wait to prove yourself to ‘move up the ladder’.  Most of us eat dinner before dessert.  It’s hard to wait nine months before you get to see your beautiful baby and so on…we  bide our time.

When a newborn is hungry, s/he gets fed quickly but, as time passes, the baby learns to delay a little. Just hearing a soothing voice that the bottle or something is coming can help.  That’s the beginning of delaying need.  Most young children prefer to skip dinner and go straight to the goodies but parents help children learn to be patient, an essential  lesson in life.

In order to succeed in delaying gratification and tolerating frustration, children must learn that they are not the center of the universe and sometimes other things and people, come first. That reality is introduced quickly when there are siblings,  also clamoring for attention.  Day care and school are arenas where learning to wait one’s turn takes hold.

child behavior problemsParents who try to fulfill their child’s every wish, to avoid tantrums, set up a pattern.  When children carry on and then get their way, they learn that is how to get what they want. Those who can’t tolerate frustration often become demanding and self-centered. Compromise is not in their vocabulary because they are unable to consider the needs of others.  Their solution is to be demanding and manipulate to get their way.  That entitled way of looking at the world will likely present problems in personal and professional relationships.

It’s hard for a parent to say “no”.  We derive pleasure from seeing our children delight in our offerings.  We want them to have everything and yet…we adults need to remember that “no” and frustration are gifts.  The no is a healthy breeding ground for learning to be patient, have longer-term goals and to care about others and their needs.  That is our lasting gift of their success in life.

 

 

 

 

 

Kids…Frustration…A Good Thing

child behavior problemsLife is frustration, among other things.  Nobody gets everything they want and there are many things we simply have to wait for.  That means we all need the ability to delay gratification.  You may begin a job and have to wait to prove yourself to ‘move up the ladder’.  Most of us eat dinner before dessert.   It’s hard to wait nine months before you get to see your beautiful baby and so on…

When a newborn is hungry, s/he gets fed quickly but, as time passes, that little baby can wait a little. Just hearing mother’s soothing voice that the bottle is coming can help.  That’s the beginning of delaying one’s need.  Back to that dessert.  Young children might prefer to skip the healthy dinner and go straight to the goodies and the whining begins.  Parents help the children learn how to wait, an important skill in life.

In order to succeed in the life skills of delaying gratification and tolerating frustration, children need to learn that they are not the center of the universe and, at times, other things and people, come first. That reality pops up quickly if there are siblings, who are also clamoring for attention.  Day care is another arena where the reality of learning to wait one’s turn takes hold.

Parents who try to fulfill their child’s every wish, to avoid tantrums, are setting up a pattern.  We need to remember that “no” and frustration are gifts to our children.  They can be the breeding ground of learning to be patient, have longer-term goals and consider the needs of others.If a child tantrums and get results, they are going to learn that’s how to get their way. Those who don’t learn to tolerate frustration can become demanding and self-centered. They often have problems with intimate relationships as well as friendship.  Compromise is not in their vocabulary as they are unable to consider the needs of others.  Their solution is to be demanding and manipulate to get their way.  Their entitled way of looking at the world can present problems in personal and professional relationships.

So, the next time you have to utter a reasonable “no”, don’t feel you are a meanie but simply a mindful parent, setting a precedent for a patient, caring person.

 

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Before You Blend…

 If you’re a parent who is widowed, separated from a partner or divorced and you plan to couple or marry another person with children, you are forming a blended family. Before you jump in,  please consider the following:

  • Don’t rush things

Take all the time you need to reliably assess the new relationship, especially if your last experience was a breakup.  Since none of us is perfect, and everyone puts their best foot forward during early dating, be sure that you are compatible with each other’s quirks and flaws. Really get to know each other first and be absolutely certain about your relationship.   That should take a while, at least a year.  Although you have met the ‘right’ person, don’t expect it to be an instant  attraction for your children.

You have likely exchanged pictures and told stories about the children’s personalities.  Share family rituals that your children are used to – mealtimes, play, homework, bedtime routines, chores, birthdays, vacations.  Discuss religion and how you handle extended family relationships and gatherings.  The more you know about each other’s families, the more you’ll be able to preview, and deal with, any problems that may arise. Your blended family will be able to establish some new family rituals.

Discuss your parenting styles and how the two of you can complement your differences. Then, plan some brief meetings, on neutral ground, with fun activity, to minimize any awkwardness. 

  • Meeting the children

Arrange a first, brief meeting for your partner and your children, without his/her  children. S/he can give full attention to your children and there’s no need to overwhelm them with other children at first.   A few more meetings with the other adult would be beneficial before all of the children meet for some activity that all could enjoy.

  •  Talk with your children

Imagine your children’s perspective – dealing with a new parent figure and his/her children.  There will be some new rules and rituals.  They may feel they are losing part of you, having to share you with a new adult and other children.   Be clear about how the adults will run the household –  baths, media, play dates, curfews.  Especially, in the beginning, it’s useful for a blended parent to say “your mom/dad said you need to …”  when doling out limits and rules.

Ask (but don’t dwell) about your child’s experience of meeting the new ‘blends’ in an age appropriate way. What was good and what was hard for them?  See if it’s reasonable and feasible to follow their lead for their next meeting.  When you tell them that they will be in a blended family, help them be comfortable with how they address that person.  Don’t expect it to be “mom” or “dad”.  Even if you are widowed, children, above a certain age, might feel disloyal to bestow that venerable title to other than their bio parent.  When there is a bio parent, loyalty feelings are rampant and that could cause dissonance with your former/partner spouse.  A blended parent can begin by being a special friend…love can follow.

*    Give it time

Re-coupling and remarriage are adult decisions. There will  be some changes for each member of the newly blended family – school, a new home, friends, family rituals, etc.  Adjustment takes time and discussion.  Talk with your own children first and, depending on their ages, then there’s time to have a blended family meeting, with some limitations set by the adults.  Each child can share something that is hard for him/her and something s/he likes.  Allow time for the new relationships to gel…blended parents and blended siblings.  Addressing their feelings and facilitating some alterations will go a long way toward  bonding and what can be a wonderful experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Kale in My Smoothie

relationships be open and observeI don’t like kale but it seems to be so healthy, why deny myself ?  I love the banana, mango, blackberry, sometimes peanut butter, milk and other berries [depending on what’s in the refrigerator] , a great way to start the day.  One weekend visit, my cousin made a smoothie with some of the above…and kale. I watched her make it and thought “yuk” but I did taste it.  (Don’t we tell our kids, “Just try one bite” ?)  It looked nice and green and was… delicious.  I never even tasted the kale.  Now, and for years, I feel even healthier and savor it daily.

Lessons learned:

  • Observe
  • Be open to new things
  • Sample [give a chance]
  • Enjoy and benefit from the above

Can’t we say the same thing about relationships and experiences? How many times have we not gotten to know someone better because they didn’t fill some of our preconceived expectations?  Not being open to new things and people shrinks our perspective and limits our quality of life.  Giving someone new a chance to appreciate them and/or their differentness can open new horizons for us.  Possibilities are  enriching and endless.

 

Recipe For A Good Divorce

Divorce is not easy  but if you prepare it together, and follow the directions below, you can be proud to serve it up.

        Ingredients

  1. Two partners who know they can’t to stay together
  2. Be ready for a pinch of heartache and eventual happiness
  3. Liberal measures of honesty and trust
  4. Strive to dissolve the relationship/marriage respectfully
  5. Share pertinent information and really listen to each other
  6. A sense of where s/he wants to be in 5 years
  7. Willingness to negotiate conflicts with thinking, not feeling
  8. Develop the ability to forgive, necessary in all recipes
  9. Agree on cooperative co-parenting, if there are children

recipe for a good divorce

 

 

 

 

 

 

Directions

Chill the first ingredient. It must not get overheated !  Sift the next four ingredients, then add to the first, and stir, tolerantly.  Blend the next three ingredients and blend into the first batch. Be patient and let it rise.  It is ready to be baked at a low, steady temperature with understanding and empathy. Allow the cake to cool and then feel good about your efforts and results.  If you have the last ingredient [children], that’s icing on the cake.  Be sure the cake is cool enough.   Stir, gently and smooth on the cake.  Beautiful.  Take a picture and feel proud of your collaborative creation.

Note: These good and healthy ingredients will allow for  errors, especially if you add liberal amounts of #8