Gray Divorce

Although divorce rates have stabilized and appear to be inching downward, couples between ages 50 and 64 are increasingly choosing to come apart. In 1990, one out of ten, in that age group, were getting divorced.  Now it’s one out of four.

Here are some of the reasons for gray divorce:

  • The stigma of divorce has faded.
  • Divorce is easier to obtain than years ago.
  • Long-term unhappiness.
  • Waiting until the kids are grown.
  • Spouses evolve and don’t communicate.
  • People want to discover themselves…alone or with someone new.
  • Couples drift apart and feel a lack of fulfillment.
  • Many cite wanting more freedom and control.
  • Women are tired of caretaking and feel a loss of respect.
  • Men are tired of supporting a wife who doesn’t appreciate them.
  • “It’s my time now and there may be little time left.”
  • Some cite their spouse’s drug or alcohol abuse.
  • “The kids are gone…new lease on life…new interests and friends.”
  • Some women are more financially independent and can now manage alone.
  • Viagra helps more men be appealing to younger women.

The consequences for the above are numerous.   Couples may be severing a relationship that began as young adults or even younger. The leaver may feel the pressure of time and want to act on feelings they have been harboring for some time.  Those who are left often feel confusion, anger, helpless during and after the divorce.  The divorce news is a major and unexpected change in life, when a spouse may be experiencing the physical and emotional aspects of being fifty plus.

Many, fifty and older, are part of the sandwich generation, coping with elderly, more needy, parents and dealing with their own children, ranging from teens to college age or even married, but still looking to parents for guidance and help. While adjusting to their middle age, they feel squeezed at both ends.

Often men, during their silver years, don’t have the same support system that women do and they isolate, possibly affecting their emotional and physical health. They are less inclined to discuss feelings.

Divorce ‘survivors’ are expected to get over grief sooner than those coping with the death of a spouse.  In death, fate ‘decides’; in divorce a spouse decides, leaving the ‘left’ feeling worse, abandoned in a different way, especially if they also need to deal with the fact that a new person is chosen.

If it is a second or third divorce for the person who didn’t make the divorce choice, the trauma of the earlier partings can exacerbate current feelings of loss, fear and anger. “Here I go again.  How will I ever trust?”

Despite all of the consequences listed above, gray divorce can offer new possibilities, if one explores new ways to cope and grow.  It’s a time to spread wings and be open to   new people and experiences as well as deepening old relationships.  Most important is to look at the ledger of your life – understand –  and love yourself.

 

Keeping Peace During The Holidays

Does anticipation of the coming holidays have you stressed – gifts to buy, people to invite, meals to make, in addition to your already busy daily schedule?  First, enjoy a slow, long,refreshing breath and then, keep reading.

The frenzy of festivities for adults inevitably trickles down to children.  They sense tension (if not the reason for it) and react.  Children are creatures of habit and find comfort in the security of routine….knowing what comes next.  It gives them some sense of control, which is something they don’t yet have much of.  As holiday preparations interfere with parents’ usual routines and their stress level increases and patience decreases, children may show signs of distress,  becoming more clingy, needy, cranky or combative.  They may present problems with activities that they normally do with relative ease.  Bedtime, waking up, going to school or their play may be affected.

If you observe any of the above, or other changes, in your child’s behavior lately, you might want to consider a quick self-check.   Are you feeling overwhelmed by adult responsibilites?  Do you have less time to play or talk with your children?  Do you feel less patient when they are not being angels?  Relax.

Your first step is to help yourself.  Think of what they tell us on airplanes. ” Put your own oxygen mask on first!” OK, another deep breath.  Then you need to summon your support system – spouse, parents, family, friends – to lighten your load.  See if you can organize your time better, eliminating the frills for a while.  Only do what is most important;  some tasks and chores can wait until after the holidays.  A babysitter, even a young one who can occupy the children while you are at home, can offer some breathing space.  Maintaining some of the routines that your children are attached to helps keep them grounded.

You already know that children are often the most problematic when you really need to get something done.  Spending ten or fifteen mintues with them (a story, game or simple project that they can continue with themselves) should allow you to return to your task more peacefully.  If what you are doing is something they can participate in (making cookies, etc.), even at a very simple level, they feel important and may actually be helpful.  Even clean-up can be done together if it’s presented as fun (“see if you can beat the clock”, etc.).  It’s easier to do if there’s a promise of  something special to follow. [“If we can finish this chore quicker, we’ll have more time to read a book together”]

Young children can feel overwhelmed by the level of activity  –  crowds of pople, having to sit on Santa’s lap, worrying about Santa and all those reindeer on the roof, having to kiss  or be adorable for scores of relatives and friends.  What we take for granted or fun can be stressful to a child, depending on their personality and age.  Taking a few moments to listen or observe your child, especially if they are not yet verbal or  inclined to express their feelings, can save a lot of time and energy.

The spirit of the season will be remembered, in the long run, not for the number of presents or events attended.  Feeling safe and secure in a loving family ignites the spark of the warm glow we feel when we think of the holidays.   Enjoy !

The Hardest Job In The World

If you want to drive a car, you have to take a course or read an informational booklet and pass a driving test,  In order to do many jobs, training and/or study is  a requirement.  Often, it seems that only parenthood requires no training or prerequisites.   Yet,most parents would agree, it is the most difficult and the most important ‘job’ of all ! How do we know that what we are doing is right?

children and stressWe are, in a way, training (to be a parent) from the day we are born.  Experiences we have with our own parents play an important role in the way we parent our children. Think about it….the ways you communicate, express anger, love, disappointment, etc.  You will likely recognize some similarities in the way you were parented.  Some families express love with hugs and kisses, words of endearment or encouragement, others with gifts.  Some people are not so comfortable with physical affection or words of praise.  Anger may be freely discharged (and then forgotten about) in one household and utterly shunned in another. How did your parents allow you to express your anger as a child?  Were you “seen but not heard” or could you vent your frustrations, and, in what ways?  A parent who was not allowed to express his/her own opinions as a child may have difficulty permitting his/her own child to do so.  Or, he/she may go to the other extreme (to NOT do what his/her parent did) by  allowing a child limitless expression.  All of the above constitutes our informal and, largely unconscious, job training for parenthood. How many times have you said, or done things that you vowed you would never do (because your parents did) ?  That is how deeply these feelings, thoughts and actions are imbedded.  We all do it sometimes.

There are other opportunities for honing parenting skills, especially if you don’t come by them naturally (ie, by familial ‘osmosis’).  Our parents, or grandparents, had Dr. Spock  if they had questions. Today, we have an embarrassment of riches in resource materials.  Any good website or bookstore has a wealth of information, begininning with pregnancy, delivery, nursing, etc., to problems with sleep, toileting, and sibling rivalry, all the way through helping children get into college. Your first difficult decision may be which book or site to choose!  Take some  time and plan to explore a few. Determine which information is organized in a reader friendly way; for example, chapters that are clearly defined so you can find what you are looking for quickly without having to read the whole book if you are short on time.  See if the writer’s style and philosophy of childrearing is something you and your family are comfortable with and can manage.

Another important and pleasurable way to gain knowledge is to vicariously experience parenting through family, friends and groups. Talking with others offers  a wonderful opportunity to stretch your parenting skills.  You can learn what might be in your future as you listen to others talk about their child(ren) who is older than yours.’ Mommy and Me’ groups are wonderful.  ‘Daddy and Me’ groups could accomplish the same goals with parent and child.    There is not necessarily a right or wrong way to parent. Each family is unique, as is each  family member. When you have gathered a variety of possible responses, you can choose  from an array of solutions that might better suit the personalities in your household.

And, that’s just the beginning.  When you have ‘launched’ your children, be prepared to be open to learning  how to grandparent.  Observe your parents doing it with your children, another great learning experience.

Single Parents in Stepfamilies

While members of blended families are concerned with dancing to different tunes and not stepping on each other’s toes, there is another member of the stepfamily, who may appear, to some, as the wallflower (male or female) – the single parent who doesn’t have a Significant Other.  Many single parents don’t  think of themselves as part of a stepfamily but they are…an important one.

The single parent may be debated as an object of derision by the new stepparent and/or the former spouse, hopefully not.   S/he can be a welcome relief pitcher to take the kids when things are too unwieldy or an emergent problem arises.  That same single parent can be a wonderful source of information.  S/he may provide new  perspectives to a stepparent about the children’s development and past experiences as well as their quirks.  In good post-divorce situations, single parents  provide reinforcement for specialized study plans, behavioral guidelines, etc.  Lastly, but crucial, never doubt  that the single parent also has the love and allegiance of his/her offspring.  Children need to feel good about both parents to feel more positive about themselves.

Single parents have their own perspectives about their position in the stepfamily.  Some feel  out of the loop, somewhat of a “lonely only”, especially when their children are at the other home.  Isolation or a sense of loss may occur when one’s former spouse has more children with a new partner.  If your self-esteem is shaky, it may seem as if the other household has more to offer, teeming with life.  As one newly single mother reflected, “There’s more joy around the holiday table in numbers.”  Invite friends and relatives but  keep in mind  that a smaller grouping can allow for more intimacy and sharing.

The single parent, not residing with family, has to do it all alone. No one  shares the household chores and parenting responsibilities. There may be no one to fall back on  when s/he is not feeling well, has to bring work home from the office or is going to be late.   One inexpensive and reliable solution is to form a babysitting coop with friends.

Discomfort may arise from a number of sources for a single parent.  There are the vagaries of reentering the world of dating, with children.  Sometimes married friends drift away and/or maintain social contact with one’s former spouse (especially when former spouses are still battling and their friends don’t want to be in the middle).  Single mothers often find themselves dropped from couple-oriented social get-togethers and are relegated to seeing their married girlfriends at lunch.  Older, single mothers commiserate about being invisible, older, single women in a youth-oriented society.  Feelings about this social sitation may be intensified by having had a former spouse who left for or married a younger woman.  Remember. in today’s world, one is never too old…60 is the new 40.

Single parents  deal with a “two against one” mentality when trying to settle parenting disagreements with a former spouse and their new partner.   One can imagine when this sort of standoff might arise…”Daddy and Anne say I can stay out all night for the prom,”etc.  Maintaining a good, working co-parenting relationship with your former spouse reduces children’s manipulations.

Being  alone can be uncomfortable at public events when both sides of the family are likely to attend. Family gatherings may be awkward because they are usually smaller and more intimate. Religious rites of passge, birthday parties, weddings, having grandchildren and celebrating other special moments can be a challenge to one’s resilience, maturity and dedication to one’s children.  Working things through with a former spouse is a relief to everyone, on these occasions, and a special gift to your children.  You, too, will likely feel more at ease.

After a second divorce, different issues may arise for divorced parents who are both single again. Each parent may have renewed, upset feelings about the romantic life of the other.  It is useful to understand the source of such feelings and get past them.  Sometimes it may seem more permissible to intervene in what goes on at a former spouse’s house when there is not a new partner. When the war continues to be waged on two battlefields….not a good situation. Having two single parents  is especially difficult for only children and those whose parents go through multiple divorces. With no full-time partner to distract and absorb them, some parents seek emotional gratification from their children, instead of other adults.  ALL parents, married or divorced, need to adapt to a new level of ‘separation’ with a support system other than the  children.

Single parents in stepfamilies  benefit from forming  a new lifestyle.  The more you value yourself and feel competent, the more you feel entitled to happiness.  Developing a good self-image which goes beyond one’s role in the family. Friends, work and interests fill in some of the gaps left by a former spouse.  When we feel reasonably good within ourselves, we are in a better position to utilize outside supports.  If this is not your profile, support groups and workshops are an excellent solution to meeting others who”know what you are talking about”.  A stepfamily therapist can be invaluable.There are many avenues to be single, but not alone.  It’s worth taking a stroll !

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

Coming Apart Together

Are you contemplating divorce? Do you have children?

If you are in a relationship/marriage, with children, that’s not working, consider coming apart together. You created your children with love, hopes and dreams for a family future. Just because the adults can’t be together, don’t deny your children the feeling of a family.

When there is a divorce battle, there are two distinct sides, often dividing extended family and friends. Everything trickles down from parents. When there is a divorce war, children (and others) feel the need to take a side.  Everyone loses. Children lose the continuity of co-parenting and perhaps parts of each extended family. War is trauma…  divorce war is a more personal trauma.

The alternative is to demonstrate  that, although the adults can’t live together any more, they can still cooperate on parenting the people they love most in the world…their children.  Children need to be able to love and be with both parents, know that their parents will meet their important needs and will share some parental expectations and consequences so they can enjoy a healthy relationship with each parent. Cooperative co-parenting is a valuable role model.

For parents who do need to come apart, a worthy process is the collaborative divorce method. It’s private, out of court, with a team approach.   Divorce specialists – attorneys, financial and mental health professionals, with specific expertise in the different aspects of divorce, work together.   They provide a comprehensive approach to resolve differences and set the family on the road to still being a family, in two homes.  Two homes can provide love, guidance and the opportunity to see that differences can be settled when people listen to each other, respect the other and come up with solutions that are best for their children.

If this sounds familiar, please consider the collaborative way.

 

Divorce, The Collaborative Way

When it’s time to come apart collaborative divorce allows parents to come apart respectfully

For the last 26 years, savvy couples have discovered a newer,  kinder and gentler,  way to divorce   It’s keeping  your divorce private and confidential.  You don’t  go to Court or have a judge make your  decisions. Collaborative divorce offers an alternative dispute resolution. You each have an attorney, to advocate for you.  Both collaborative attorneys, committed to working in a civil and respective manner to reach an Agreement acceptable to both parties.

The International Academy of Collaborative Professionals [IACP]   has more than 5000 collaborative professionals.   they provide services in 25 countries. Governor Christie, on September 10, 2014, signed the New Jersey Collaborative Family Law Act into law. New Jersey collaborative professionals take pride in being in the vanguard of helping couples dissolve their partnership/marriage in a non-adversarial manner to preserve the sanctity of the family they have created.

We recommend that couples seeking a divorce ask self proclaimed collaborative attorneys if they are members of the IACP.  Ask what specific collaborative training  they have taken. There are eight collaborative practice groups throughout New Jersey. The Collaborative Divorce Association of North Jersey  requires its members to have 40 hours of mediation in addition to  collaborative divorce training. Its members continue advanced education throughout each year to expand and update  skills.

A team approach

Licensed mental health professionals can function as a divorce coach.  They help couples overcome emotional obstacles to get a decent divorce experience. They also keep the team on track of offering options and getting to mutually agreeable resolutions.

The child specialist is a licensed clinical mental health professional.  S/he  meets with parents first and then the children to understand their needs, fears and wishes. Children often don’t share their feelings with parents because they don’t want to upset or anger them. The child specialist’s role is brief and focused.

Although the coach and child specialist are licensed mental health professionals, they are NOT doing therapy. If that seems warranted, they may refer to other professionals. However, they do utilize their clinical skills to guide parents an children in navigating the muddy waters of the family in crisis. Because divorce is such an emotionally intense experience,  having professionals with specific skills can offer priceless guidance toward helping each family member progress.

Licensed collaborative financial professionals help protect the family’s interest by reviewing your assets, debt and income.  They help you each develop viable options for the future. They are skilled not only in dealing with numbers but are trained to work in the emotional atmosphere when you are couples coming apart.

With the collaborative divorce process, professionals have specific areas of expertise to offer which are best suited to clients’ needs and pocketbooks. For example, you would not pay attorney fees for dealing with emotional, communication or parenting issues. Instead, mental health professionals, at a lower fee, are best suited to deal with such concerns and situations. The collaborative team is an experienced grouping, with each professional utilizing and sharing their specific expertise to other team members, when appropriate, to offer a more comprehensive way of addressing the multitude of situations that can arise. The team strives to present a wellness approach for the future of your family.

Why choose collaborative divorce?

  • Collaborative professions work to help couples resolve issues in a more positive way and can be more cost effective.
  • Keeping out of  Court offers privacy, especially desired by couples with high worth or public profiles.
  • There is no judge involved who has to review documents of scores of couples so you benefit from more personal attention. You work directly with collaborative professionals who are dedicated to helping you both to create a plan that works best for your family’s needs.
  • Convenience. There is no Court schedule  or costly cancellations. Collaborative professionals work around your time frames and respect your emotional readiness to continue – or – take a breather, as needed.
  • A team of divorce experts, with specialized training and experience, efficiently addresses your family situation.
  • The collaborative way helps you protect your children from potentially damaging fallout of a “messy” divorce. The goal is to preserve parent’s mutual respect to ensure cooperative co-parenting going forward.
  • After the divorce is over, some team members are available to advise on post-divorce situations, as needed, or to revise any aspect of the final agreement.

You may be coming apart from your partner/spouse but you can still preserve what you both recreated – the family – in two homes, with the collaborative way.

Considering Divorce?

If you are, take your time. It’s a huge step. Marriage is something that should take time and very careful consideration. However long you have been partnered or married, you owe your partner/spouse and children, if you have them, to give it all you’ve got.

Have you thought about your significant other’s critiques of you and if you could make some changes to improve the relationship? If you have already tried everything – talking with your partner/spouse, marital counseling – here are some questions to ask yourself before you take your first divorce step.

Do you choose to divorce respectfully so neither you nor your spouse/partner and certainly not, your children, feel destroyed by the process? Do you want decisions to be made by the two of you and not by lawyers or a judge? Do you want it not to drag on? Is keeping the fees down important?

If the above are your goals, can you:

* Give up blaming, the negative past, ‘ego’ and anger?

* Bring your best self to the table?

* Focus on the big picture?

* Find room in your heart for empathy ?

* Learn to control your emotions?

Are you ready, able and willing for some hard, but worthwhile work?

Do you think your partner/spouse could do the same?

If you want to divorce respectfully and make your own decisions on your schedule, consensual dispute resolution, more specifically, collaborative divorce, is an opportunity to be considered.  Collaborative professionals: attorneys, divorce coaches and child specialists, as well as financial experts, are trained in mediation and the collaborative method to help you through this difficult experience in a manner that can leave parents and children feeling whole as they transition through the divorce experience. The collaborative divorce professionals can also be available to assist you with post divorce issues that may arise..

You can make coming apart less painful….your choice.

Discipline

One of the hardest tasks we parents have to undertake is disciplining our children. Eventually our tiny ones learn that they are ‘separate’ from mother and have different feelings, wants and ideas from us and are ready to test us. Discipline is all about the consistent practice of clear, preset rules to help encourage responsible behavior, at home, at school and in the community.

children and stressThings to consider:

  • Know your goal. Is it about punishment or teaching?
  • Children learn more by what they see and experience than by what we say.
  • Set a pattern for self-discipline that they can emulate.
  • Repeated physical punishment does NOT work…it engenders hostility and rebellion.
  • Physical punishment teaches children to hit, hurt others when they are frustrated or angry.

Does your child misbehave? [I know, silly question]

  • Encourage them to share their problems…listen to their distress.
  • Be firm but not dictatorial.
  • Self-check…how do you feel about authority?
  • Are you clear, firm, consistent, fair?
  • Does your child show signs of being turned off to you, school, friends?
  • Help your child take responsibility for his/her words and actions.
  • Don’t overload them with responsibilities; be appropriate to age, ability, personality.

Discipline:

  • Always begin with communication.
  • Listen to their feelings.
  • Be clear about your requirements of them.
  • Remain calm (not easy) as it demonstrates good self-control.
  • Don’t give mixed messages and practice what you preach.
  • Be firm and consistent so your child knows what to anticipate as a result of behavior.
  • Be a parent, not a friend…children need our guidance to develop their own beliefs.
  • Let the ‘consequence’ fit the misbehavior. When related, it has more meaning.
  • For young children, consequences need to be immediate and brief.
  • Discipline is easier with a spoonful of love and praise, if honest and warranted.
  • ENJOY your progeny and have FUN!

Blended Family Myths

Today, it’s likely that nearly everyone in America, is either in, related to someone who is part of, or knows someone in a blended family.

The older term, stepfamily, comes from the Old English word, steop, designating a bereaved orphan.  Stepfamilies date back to colonial times when men and women were widowed, sometimes due to war.  Indeed, as I’ll describe later, a blended (newer term) family involves loss and grieving. A blended family, is formed when one, or both, partners, have a child, or more, from a previous relationship. Today, this term encompasses many different types of family profiles: non-married cohabitants, double remarriages [when both partners remarry], when one or both, partners are widowed or divorced. A blended family can also develop in a dating relationship.

For those who were enchanted or frightened in childhood, by fairytales, stepmothers tended to be in charge as their husbands went to work. In “Hansel and Gretal” the children are sent into the woods, to fend for themselves, as a result of insufficient food, equality and love. In “Cinderella,” the stepmother fears that her stepdaughter’s beauty and charm will disadvantage her own two daughters chance of being chosen for marriage by the prince.

Myths, as fairy tales, mislead and can make it more troublesome for those forming blended families, leading them to unrealistic expectations and not being aware of  complications inherent in the formation of a blended family. Some contemporary myths about blended families are:

  • Love develops quickly between a stepchild and stepparent. Love that has depth requires the test of time  as a child understands that s/he is listened to, cared for and respected. Demonstration of the aforesaid entails many hours of listening, tolerating, sharing time and experiences together. Still more complications are involved when a stepparent comes to the family with their own child/ren. Both parents and children need to understand and accept that there will be emotional differences in such situations. A stepparent puts undue pressure on him/herself when s/he expects to love a stepchild in the same way as his/her bio child, with whom one has had a history of a myriad of attachments and experiences. Blended love does not need to rival to be significant. As long as family members don’t expect instant bonding, they have the leisure to become a ‘new’ family more organically.
  • Stepmothers are wicked. The role of the stepmother can be the most difficult,     especially if she is the parent  at home the most. If there is role confusion, for both child and stepmother, things can quickly spiral downward. When the new couple can work out their respective roles, this can be communicated to the child/ren in word and deed. Stepparents who understand accept a child’s feelings of loyalty, for their bio parent (and likely wishes for his/her parents to be reunited) may not take rejection and testing so personally. A stepparent should also be sensitive to a child’s potential feelings of disloyalty, and ensuing guilt, if the child does  like her/him.  Informed stepparents understand that their role is to be that of a special friend who cares, listens and carries through limitations set by the bio parent. A new relationship with the child/ren, independent of the bio parent is the reward. And so it grows…
  • Children will adapt to their new blended family more easily if their bio parent withdraws. Nooo ! Such situations only create abandonment problems. In blended families, more is more. Children benefit from the love of each of their parents, blended and bio. When there is a parenting partnership among all of the parents everyone wins, especially the children.
  • A stepfamily formed after the death of a parent is easier for children. When a child has lost a parent, both remaining parent and child need to first mourn the loss of that parent and the first family. Otherwise, there is a possibility of a ghost in the house. Idealization of a deceased parent is also difficult for a new parent. The new parent needs to be comfortable, not competitive, with a child’s effort to hold on to that first parent.
  • Part-time stepfamilies are easier. Change and relationships take time. With
    children going back and forth between two families, it takes longer to build relationships, gel and stabilize, especially if the rules are very different in each household. Each stayover is a transition – different home, expectations, limitations, rituals and people. Aside from how the adults handle the situation, there are also variations of the children’s ages, personalities, interests and sibling bondings.
  • Divorce and remarriage damage children. On the bright side, this does not need to be true !