Tag Divorce

We Disagree. Now what?! (Part 2)

alienation, long termIn last week’s entry I discussed how parents who live together might handle parenting disputes. This week I’ll tackle the same issue for parents who live apart.

As I discussed last week, when parents who live together argue frequently about parenting it can be a sign that the relationship’s maintenance is poor. In the case of parents who don’t live together, frequent conflict with the other parent can be a sign that a peaceful co-existence, post separation or divorce, has not been established, or has been undone. For tips on how to establish this peace, please enter the search term “parenting through divorce” in the search bar above. Moreover, all of the tips from last week’s blog (i.e., Part 1) would be useful in this context as well.

Here are 10 additional suggestions:

  • Agree that when kids are at each residence, and assuming that significant risk of harm has been ruled out, each parent at that residence is in charge. It’s often best for the non-residential birth parent to just stay out of it.
  • Try to have a regular meeting with the other parent (e.g., coffee, lunch) where you review what’s going on with your kid(s). Open communication can stave off many kinds of problems.
  • Do everything you can to stay out of court. In my clinical experience, divorce graphic2everyone loses something when a gavel settles a parental dispute. (I’ve seen many instances when one parent was the official “winner” in court but didn’t factor in the ongoing costs of the other parent feeling resentful, anger or hurt secondary to the outcome.)
  • When asking for the other parent to contribute financially to something, and referencing matters that aren’t a part of the initial divorce decree, try to make it a request that isn’t, and doesn’t sound even remotely like, a demand or a manipulation. (And, even when it’s in the decree, niceness goes a long way.)
  • Try avoid getting into the “s/he was a jerk to me so I’m not going to be nice” spiral. High road life is hard enough without making residence embattled young couplethere dependent on someone else’s choices.
  • Avoid communicating when you are suffering from transient brain dysfunction (e.g., you’re angry, have consumed alcohol, are highly stressed). Moreover, avoid name-calling or bringing up old business. If in doubt about this, ask yourself how well these strategies have worked in the past.
  • Point out what you’re grateful for and suggest that your kids do the same.
  • Avoid letting your current significant other get into the mix, unless you’re very confident that s/he will only have a calming effect.
  • Unless you have a fabulously cooperative relationship with the other parent, try to avoid using the other parent as a messenger of some third party’s important communication regarding your child. When teachers, physicians, coaches and so forth have something important yes i canto share regarding your child, try to be a part of the original communication; if you can’t be, ask if that third party would be willing to speak with you also. Triangles tend to be fertile soil for misunderstandings and conflict.
  • Avoid texting when a communication has a chance of being misunderstood or causing tension. Pick up the phone or wait until the aforementioned coffee or lunch.

There are a bunch of experts available to help if this gets challenging. For a referral, click here.

Parenting Through Divorce, Part 2

divorce graphic2In last week’s blog entry I set a context for parenting through divorce and reviewed some common parenting traps. This week I will focus on positive parenting practices and offer some qualifiers.

The following can be very helpful to your child as your family adjusts to divorce:

• Having positive conversations with your ex within earshot of your child.

• Offering sincere compliments regarding your ex within earshot of your child.

• Affirming to your child that your ex loves him or her.

• Qualifying or disagreeing with negative statements that your child makes about your ex (see last week’s entry for the rationale).

• Putting your child’s best interests above any feelings of rage or hurt that you Asian mom with kidscontinue to feel towards your ex.

• Keeping your child unaware of any ongoing court battles.

• Making peace with your ex as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Sacrifices rendered along these lines, as long as you can manage them, are in service of giving your child a precious gift.

• Allowing and welcoming your child to voice feelings of loss pertaining to your ex. This can be very hard to bear but your child will likely appreciate your selflessness across time.

• Allowing your child to talk about, and play through, feelings pertaining to the divorce.

• Providing the your child with methods for coping with the divorce (e.g., readings—for example see the book for kids by Isolina Ricci, a child divorce support group, counseling and so forth).

ethics, awesome• Pursuing your own recovery from the divorce.

I have four qualifiers for this material:

1. Many parents in my practice will say things like “Ok. Fine. But, what if I play by these rules and my ex doesn’t. My child will end up hearing only complaints about me from my ex and only positive statements about him from me. This could cause my child to be turned against me!” I have two responses. First, I’ve found that when you widen the lens across time, instead of only considering the here-and-now, you will find that most kids, or adult children, will be able to tell which parent is acting in a loving fashion versus which parent is acting more out of hurt and anger. Second, I would use your child’s psychologist to help you with this. She or he can be in touch with the other parent and/or help your child to recognize how much your behaviors along these lines are evidence of your now what characterselflessness and love.

2. Sometimes parents challenge: “But, he gets drunk when my child is with him.” “Or, she has sex in common and open areas of the house with her boyfriends while my kids are sleeping in their beds.” Or, fill in the blank with some other potentially abusive or seriously neglectful behavior. The question becomes “how can I allow my child to be exposed to situations like this?” In my experience these situations are sometimes innocent or easily adjusted, while at other times they represent a serious and ongoing problem; it can be almost impossible for you, as the ex, to make an objective determination about which is the case. However, a child psychologist can help you to both understand what is going on and craft a reasonable intervention plan. But, regardless, be reassured that no reasonable adult believes that it is serenity prayer backgroundokay for a child to be subject to abuse or neglect.

3. You want a formula for creating burnout? Insert the following three elements into a person’s life: (a) the notion that a given outcome is very important, (b) the idea that that person is responsible for that outcome and (c) the person does not have the power to significantly affect the outcome. This is why the serenity prayer is so commonly used in recovery programs. If I try to control how my ex parents I am setting myself up for significant stress because such involves an important outcome over which I have very little, if any, control. This is another scenario where a good child psychologist can be very helpful.

4. If you find that you cannot follow these indicators because your feelings of hurt and anger are too great, it would be highly advisable for you to consider starting your own counseling. (This might be a good idea even if you can act with intention.) If research on parenting tells us anything, it is that promoting your own wellness is an act of love towards your child. (I have some searchable databases on my website: www.helpingfamilies.com/referrals.html.)

Every crisis contains both pain and opportunity, with the dosing of opportunity crisis opportunityoften exceeding the dosing of pain. Parenting a child through a divorce usually involves plenty of pain. But, such situations also include opportunities to manifest and model both excellence in parenting and selflessness. There is no way to calculate the incredible value of such manifested love.

Parenting Through Divorce, Part 1

divorce kidBecause of the various ways that families are formed or changed, most children do not reach age 18 living with both birth parents. Quoting a 2005 research brief from the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values: “Before they reach the age of 18, a majority of all U.S. children are likely to spend at least a significant portion of their childhoods in a one-parent home.” A significant contributor to this landscape is the fact that almost half of first marriages end in divorce. Therefore, if you find yourself parenting within a divorced family, you’re in a very, very large club. In this week’s and next week’s entries I will focus on this topic. This week I will set a context and describe common undesirable parenting behaviors. Next week I will describe positive parenting strategies.

Divorce can cause some of the deepest wounds that a person can suffer. So, when someone suggests that your ex is still a member of your family, and that finding a way to parent cooperatively is an important goal, your stomach can wrench. Your ex may have cheated on you, abused you, damaged your relationships with others, stolen from you, made you feel worthless or done some other terrible things. Or, your ex may be highly emotionally reactive to you and depressed characterlose his or her mind whenever you open your mouth. In these situations, it’s so easy, and even understandable, to either stay trapped in feelings of hurt and rage or to be highly dismissive of your ex. Moreover, you might deeply begin to question whether your ex should even be allowed to parent, never mind parent your child/children. Such thoughts and feelings are both common and easy to empathize with. After all, these are human reactions to real pain, suffering and alienation. That said, research makes it clear that the two largest predictors of child adjustment following a divorce are 1. How many changes the child needs to endure (with fewer being better) and 2. How well the divorced parents get along.

With a context set, let me share that the following are usually hurtful to a child:

divorce, child in betweenBerating your ex within earshot of your child. Berating your ex outside of your child’s hearing range is also usually not advisable (see below). It sometimes helps to remember that every bullet fired at your ex goes through your child first.

Quarreling with your ex within earshot of your child. Nothing makes a child want to cover his or her ears more than his or her parents arguing. Kids turn up music, put on headphones, leave the house or do whatever they can to avoid hearing these arguments. To them, who is right and who is wrong, and what is being argued about, no matter how important it may be to the adults, is usually not very important.

Allowing your child to say negative things about your ex without challenge. I know this can seem counterintuitive. But, keep in mind that your child likely has an uncanny sense for what pleases you. And, pleasing you may be worth the pain of trashing your ex. For your child this is like sticking a dart into himself or herself. If left unchallenged, your child may end up complaining about your ex to you and vice versa. The resulting wounds can facilitate surprisingly negative outcomes, both now (e.g., depression) and later (e.g., your adult child becoming insincere and chameleon like in relationships).

Expressing non-verbal anger towards the other parent within earshot of divorce graphicyour child. While verbal expressions of anger are often more damaging, this often hurts too. While non-verbally expressed anger may be a lower caliber bullet, it is still a bullet none-the-less.

Questioning your child about your ex’s personal affairs or allowing your child to play the role of reporter. While both understandably motivated and common, such behaviors are often in support of either 1. trying to collect information to use against your ex in court (which is psychologically akin to asking your child to aide in a prosecution against his or her parent), or represent a difficulty in letting go of the relationship (e.g., it drives me crazy to think of my ex dating someone else so I hope to be given confirmation, by my child, that s/he isn’t doing that). In the latter case this is like trying to quench my thirst by drinking ocean water. Understandable? Absolutely. Helpful? Rarely.

embattled young couple• Differing with, or qualifying, positive statements that your child makes about your ex. Your child may be factually incorrect in some positive statement s/he makes about your ex. But, positive illusions can be an important component of good adjustment growing up (and maybe even as adults), so it’s usually best to let those go. Besides, your child will likely have the opportunity to reconsider his or her childhood as an adult. Your child remembering that you took the high road would only stand to improve your child’s respect and appreciation for you.

• Trying to form a coalition with your child against your ex. Consider such behavior a symptom that your own needs are not being sufficiently met. Love is boundless. It is only pain that can fool us into believing that love is a zero sum game (i.e. to think of love as being like a piece of pie: I better grab it lest I go hungry). The more your promote your own wellness, and find healthy ways to get your needs met, the more your temptation to do this will weaken.

• Threatening to limit access to your ex. This can terrify your child.divorce war with kid, sketching

• Threatening to take your ex to court within earshot of your child.

• Rejecting, or qualifying, feelings of loss that your child expresses regarding your ex. Again, if I do this I am usually responding more out of my own pain and discomfort (none of we parents want to see our child hurting) than my child’s need to mourn. Significant feelings of loss, buried alive, can reek havoc in a psyche.

Communicating to your child, directly or indirectly, that s/he has to decide which parent is favored or loved more.

• Staying trapped in feelings of rage or hurt towards the other parent.

character at a laptop backgroundIf you are parenting within such a context, and are doing some of these behaviors, it just means that you’re human. However, aspiring to eliminate these behaviors only stands to benefit both you and your child/children.

Please tune in next week for suggestions on positive parenting practices to try.

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