Pandemic Co-parenting

 

Separated?  Divorced  With children?  When getting together, or marrying, and having children, most couples never imagined coming apart.  Yet it happens.  Situations occur, feelings change and separation or divorce becomes a reality.  Whether you, or he or she, wanted not to live with each other, you had to decide how to share your children.  Being without your children, at times, having different parenting styles , feeling strongly, one way or another, about each other are just some of the mountains to climb to ensure your children’s physical and emotional well-being. It’s not easy and, for some, monumentally difficult.   A comprehensive Parenting Plan, followed by both parents, makes life more predictable and stable for all.

Enter a pandemic.  How does life change?   No school, no friends, no movies, teams, and many other no’s.   Is one parent at home now, without a job?  Does the other parent have a strategic job they can’t leave at this time?    Is a stepparent the only one at home during work hours?Do both parents agree on observing stringent safety precautions and how to cope with limitations on lifestyle?  Are there parental or child health issues that need to be addressed?  These are just some issues that can provoke a reasonable co-parenting situation, not to mention those who are still struggling.

Please read:

Health first

Stay informed and be sure your children are following reliable CDC local and state guidelines for hand washing.  Model that behavior and wipe down surfaces and frequently touched surfaces as well as social distancing.

Be Available and clear

Calmly explain the situation, in an age appropriate manner, to each of your children, but protect them from media coverage.  Be open to answering their questions truthfully, at their level.  Help with a discussion and some explanation or possible solutions to their concerns.

Respect

Follow court orders as much as possible.  Don’t be emotional when communicating with the other parent.   Keep it to ‘business’ when you have differences,,,just the facts please.   Consider their thoughts and feelings.

Be Forthcoming

Share, honestly with each other, what you have and have not been doing relating to this situation. Protecting your children from exposure needs to be primary.  Listening and understanding of the other parent is also a gift to your child.

 Work hard

Be diligent in working together for the safety of your children. Make reasonable accommodations to keep stability but be flexible, always putting your children’s needs for physical safety and emotional comfort first.  These unusual times will be imprinted in their memories.  You have the power to affect some of those memories.   When older, your child will note and appreciate your cooperative co-parenting, even in difficult times.  They love you both…support that.

Play fair

Try to note and understand what this predicament  means to your co-parent.Are they out of work and need to pay child support?  Are you the recipient of that?  If so, can you endure or offer some ‘wiggle’ room to the other parent?If you are financially better off, can you be generous, ad settle things later? It will affect your child.

Knowing  and doing what’s right for your children will engender more calm in yourself.  Being an effective and protective parent is of the highest order.  Be there and be proud!

 

 

 

Divorced With Children? Communication Counts

            If communication is key when you are ‘together’, it’s even more important when you are apart, with children.  Please consider the following do’s and don’t’s.

DO’S

  • Use what works best for the two of you – talk, text, email  –  at ay given time.
  • If possible, don’t communicate when you are angry. With him/her.
  • If necessary, use “I” statements, not accusations.                                                    “I feel frustrated when you are late and don’t communicate”.
  • If necessary, review your note, when angry…imagine yourself receiving it.
  • Try to speak when you both know that your children cannot hear you.
  • Make a short list, to refer to, and stay focused and fairly brief..
  • Be sure to acknowledge positive words or deeds on the other side.
  • Establish a blog about activities with young children.
  • With older children, consider a family blog.
  • Treat it like business….it is…family business.
  • Do admit, if you were wrong, and apologize.

DON’TS

 Don’t blame or ‘bad mouth’

  • Don’t extend the communication longer than necessary,
  • Don’t need to have the last word or always be right.
  • Don’t forget it’s all about and for the children.

Doing the ‘right’ thing is a gift to your children and yourself.

 

Long Distance Parenting

 

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

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

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

Children’s Divorce Rights

 

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

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

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

 

Remembering Love: Divorce and Children

Remembering Love: Divorce and Children

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

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

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

Happy hearts to all !

 

Post Divorce Parenting

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Separated/Divorced Parent Communication

 

             INSTEAD OF                                           TRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Reunification Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alienation By Parents

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Divorce: Well-Adjusted Children

 

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

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

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