Tag Separation

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.

Reduce Separation Drama On the First Day of School

tantruming girlThe separation on the first day of school can be upsetting for kids and parents. In this entry I offer six strategies for lessening the drama.

#1: Preparation is key. For my blog entry on useful preparation strategies, click here. (Two key points I’ll re-iterate here are to avoid reassurances and the avoidance of developmentally appropriate situations.)

#2: Most kids with separation challenges have one parent, or parent-figure, that they are most attached to. Try to have that person not be the one to take your child to the bus stop or school, at least until the separation has become drama free. Separating from that person at home, while in the company of the other parent, or parent figure, allows your child to get into the separation bath more gradually instead of all at once. It’s also likely easier for your child to separate from the other person when at the bus stop or at school. (My experience is that the second parent/parent figure also tends to be the parent who is less nervous about the separation, which leads to the next point.)

#3: Be calm yourself. Our kids read us in ways that are outside even their black woman smiling backgroundawareness. As there is only so much you can fake, and your anxiety will escalate your kid’s anxiety, use your self-soothing strategies to be cool about school (e.g., thinking about something you’re looking forward to, relaxing your muscles and unobtrusively breathing into your abdomen, engaging another adult in an interesting discussion).

#4: Make the separation as cleanly and as quickly as possible. In this context, syllables synergize symptoms. “Have a great day!” “See you at X time!” “Can’t wait to hear about your day later!” are examples of simple phrases you can use to separate. Chatting your kid up suggests you’re nervous, or expect him or her to be nervous, which may start or fuel drama.

#5: Let whatever adult is taking over deal with any distress your child may be showing. Lengthening the period of separation, in an effort to calm your child, usually has the exact opposite intended effect. Rare is the child who won’t calm down on their own shortly after you leave, especially if the adults with whom you are leaving your child are baseline competent or better. If you’re concerned about this you can always arrange to call the school later to see how your child is doing.

cancel fear#6: If your child continues to struggle with separation for a period longer than two weeks, or your child displays school refusal, consider seeking out the services of a qualified mental health professional. Why have everyone suffering needlessly, right?. To get a referral, click here.

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