Parenting is difficult when you have a good, strong marriage. When going through divorce, parenting has additional complications. In order to co-parent effectively, you need to have mutual respect, strong communication skills and a willingness to compromise and work together for the good of your children. It's extremely difficult to have all of the skills necessary to co-parent effectively when you're angry at one another and are in the middle of divorce negotiations.
After a marriage ends, there can be a lot of built up anger and resentment. Sometimes attorneys can exacerbate those negative feelings as they try to get the best deal for their clients. Meanwhile, if you have children together, you need to interact with each other to discuss parenting schedules and various issues that come up with your children. This can be a recipe for disaster because the children see and feel the tension between their parents. Children can be significantly impacted by this tension.
Co-parenting counseling can help. Co-parenting counseling enables parents, with the help of an experienced professional, to work together to build communication and other skills so that they can work together productively. The professional can be very clear about where the boundaries are - what's acceptable and not acceptable for the parents to say, email and text each other. For example, one of my clients thought that it was fine for her to ignore the other parent unless it was an emergency. The other parent would get frustrated and would lash out. Obviously, these are not ideal ways for co-parents to communicate.
When I work with co-parents, I encourage them to think of each other as colleagues or coworkers. This enables them to take the emotion out of their communication with each other. I work with them to be respectful of each other, use I messages, listen to each other and come to compromise. Throughout our work, I stress that they're doing this for the good of their children and although it can be difficult, most of my clients are successful. When my clients develop strong co-parenting relationships, they're giving their children the gift of a better future life.
Most of the time, when a couple goes through separation and divorce, many angry and resentful feelings occur and it's difficult to see any way to forgive an ex-spouse. However, there are ways to work toward forgiveness. Not only will you benefit from forgiving your ex-spouse, if you have children, they will benefit tremendously.
Forgiveness involves a change of heart and occurs at different times for different people. Circumstances can impact the ability to forgive. If there was an affair, an addiction or some other betrayal, it may take longer to forgive. But there are many reasons to forgive your ex-spouse, including the impact that not forgiving has on you.
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
When you hold onto anger, you’re hurting yourself. You can become stuck in the feelings from the past and it can hold you back from moving on with your life. In addition, it doesn’t feel good to be angry much of the time. It’s not good for people physically to be angry and to hold onto anger. Finally, it can negatively impact children when one or both of their parents are angry at the other.
So how can you let go of your anger? The first step is getting it out. You can talk about it to a friend or therapist or write about it in a journal. Find a way to release some of the feelings and that will help you move on.
Forgiving yourself is part of the process of forgiveness after divorce. Being angry with your ex may be a way for you not to look at how angry you are at yourself. You may feel guilt, remorse and shame. If you develop empathy for your ex-spouse, you may then feel worthy of empathy and forgiveness also, potentially leading to self-forgiveness. This can lead to a journey of healing and the ability to move on in your life.
Although forgiveness may feel like the last thing you want to do, forgiving another and forgiving yourself may be exactly what you need. It will ultimately restore your personal power, reduce negativity and create peace in your life once again.
For most parents, telling their children about the decision to divorce is one of the most difficult things that they have to face. It is helpful for both parents to discuss ahead of time what they’re going to share with their children and how they’re going to respond to their children’s questions.
Parents should make several agreements:
If you don’t know where you’ll live, that will create some stress for children. Letting children know a plan for where you’re living, even if it’s just for the near future, will help lower children’s anxiety.
If there are issues that the children already know about such as substance abuse, sexual orientation or an affair, it’s better to acknowledge the issue rather than avoid it. If you discuss it with the children, it will enable them to ask questions and feel that they can come to you to talk about things that concern them.
Discuss what the schedule will be and anything else that will impact them. Children need to know things like will they be moving, where will each parent live, who they will live with, when will they see each parent, will they stay at the same school and what will happen on their birthday and holidays. Even if you don’t have all of the answers, telling children what’s happening in the near future will help.
It’s best for parents to tell their children about the divorce together. It helps children see that their parents are still working together. It provides a sense of safety for children through an unstable time. It also provides an opportunity for children to process the information in a safe environment as both parents are available for questions, reassurance and support. Choose a time where there's no distractions and everyone can be together.
If children don’t feel like asking questions or talking about anything, don’t push them. Allow them to have time to process the information. They probably feel a lot of conflicting emotions and may not be able to verbalize their feelings right away.
It’s ok to tell children that you’re sad about the divorce and that with time, you will all heal and adjust to the changes in the family. However, try not to show intense emotions like crying for hours or saying, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Even though you may be struggling emotionally, you need to deal with your emotions separately from your children. They need to know that you are strong enough to deal with the divorce so that they don’t feel obligated to take care of you. If you need help dealing with all of the emotions and overwhelm of divorce, see a therapist so that you can be there for your children.
Many clients seek counseling because they’re having difficulty with combining two families after divorce. They have children who are different ages, have different needs and personalities and they find it overwhelming and stressful. It’s not surprising considering how difficult it is raising children in intact families where there hasn’t been divorce!
Despite the difficulties, it is possible to have a happy family even if you have children from two different marriages. Some of the ways to make this situation successful are as follows:
These suggestions will help you develop a closer family when you have partners that have children from previous marriages/relationships. If these techniques don’t work, family counseling with an experienced therapist is an option. However, if you make children and your relationship a priority, respect boundaries and communicate effectively, you’ll be far along the way to having a happy blended family!
Thank you to guest writer, Carla C. Hugo, divorce coach at www.getcoached.com!
When a threat comes between you and your child, what's your first response? Often, your hackles are raised and your lips recede baring your teeth, all in an attempt to defend your “cub.”
What happens when the threat to your child is the dissolution of your own marriage? Facing divorce is as frightening as any other threat to your children’s well-being. And in this state of emotion, you function from your “Reptilian Brain.” This is the part of your brain that is activated for survival. Your response to the threat of a broken home for your children may include fight, flight, fear or freezing.
It is imperative that you learn techniques to move out of your emotional brain and into your logical-thinking brain. Otherwise, you will be making life long decisions about parenting time, housing, alimony and child-support from the short-term survival decision making part of your brain. Doing so can cause long-term challenges on your life and those precious cubs you long to protect.
Get the neutral support you need from a counselor or coach. Learn to feel your emotions, and to refrain from making major life decisions while in an emotional state. A counselor that has experience with divorce or a coach who specializes in divorce are both great resources. Thinking with your logical brain will enable you to protect your “cub” and function better. If you’re functioning better, your children will function better and you will be able to make the right decisions for your family's future.
This is the time of year when children are transitioning. Parents are bringing their kids to college, children are starting school and whether it's your first child or your last child, it can be emotional. Throughout a child's life, parents need to let go - when a toddler first learns to walk, the first day of preschool or kindergarten, the first sleepover, the first day of high school - all of these experiences can be difficult for parents to let their children go out on their own. But the more parents can encourage children to be independent, the easier it will be for children to make these transitions.
Children look to us as their role model for many things. If we have a tremendous amount of anxiety or trepidation about our children's independence, children will be able to tell, even if we don't say anything. Talk to a friend or your spouse about your feelings so that you can express your fears and anxieties. If you're still feeling anxious, see a therapist so that you can work through those emotions. It may be bringing up something from your childhood and it may help to have a few sessions with a professional to lessen your anxiousness.
During these transitional times, I encourage parents to ask their children questions - ask them about their feelings about going to high school or leaving for college. Ask them what they're excited for and and what they're nervous about. Ask them how they plan to handle any challenges. After hearing all of their feelings, tell them how confident you are that they are going to be able to handle the experience and give specific examples from their past about how they've handled other difficult situations. This conversation is so important because if children feel that their parents have confidence in them, this can give them the confidence they need to move forward. Letting go of our children is difficult but there's nothing more rewarding for a parent than watching your children conquer a new challenge successfully.
My son just recently had his wisdom teeth removed and he's recovering nicely physically. But his moods are another story. I've been biting my tongue and trying to stay calm but if I hadn't gone through this with my two older sons I wouldn't be able to be able to put this phase into perspective.
The teen years can be tough - for parents and for teens. Hormones are going wild, teens are trying to figure out who they are and there is so much pressure on them to succeed in school and in life. I wouldn't want to go back to those years for all the money in the world!
Each child experiences the teen years differently but they all have some kind of adjustment. I've counseled many parents of teens and teenagers and I've found that the most important thing that a parent can do is to focus on their relationship with the teen. If the relationship is strong, your teen should be ok. While it may be difficult to have a good relationship with your teen, here are some tips to help:
All of this requires a parent to be very patient and to have a lot of self-control. In order to do that, we need to take care of ourselves. As I've mentioned in my previous blog posts, it's extremely important for parents to take care of themselves. So when you find yourself ready to react harshly with your teen, ask yourself, "What can I do right now to take care of myself?" If you can do this successfully, you'll get through the teen years and have independent, appreciative and happy adult children to laugh about it with!
We often hear about a child or an adult who has ADHD or dyslexia or one of the many other learning disabilities (LDs) and feel sorry for them. Many people are embarrassed and ashamed that they are different than others and have had to struggle in school or at a job. Many parents avoid getting their children evaluated because they don't want them labeled. A person's self-esteem can be significantly impacted by this struggle and it can effect them for the rest of their life.
My experience was different. I struggled in elementary school with reading. Although I did very well in my math classes, I couldn't do well in English class no matter how hard I worked. I couldn't read until 3rd grade and even when I started reading, I had a hard time keeping up with the rest of my class.
My mother was never the type to give up on anything, especially her children, so she took me to doctors and specialists. I was diagnosed with dyslexia and my mother completely changed my diet. She brought me to a center in New York City every week to get eye exercises. She gave me carrot juice (which tasted awful to a 9 year old) and took me to health food stores and alternative doctors before it was the thing to do.
During this time, she never gave me the impression that I was lazy or stupid. Instead, she told me that I was very smart and capable. She had faith in me that with the right help, I would be able to succeed. Although I never became a top student in my English class, I did succeed. I went to Cornell University and completed a masters degree. And getting through my earlier struggles has made me the person that I am - hardworking, creative, efficient, empathic.
People with LDs are gifted - we are unique, special, different. But being different in this society can be very difficult. We look at our friends and neighbors and see what looks like a perfect life. We compare ourselves or our children and feel that we don't measure up. But if we look at our differences as strengths instead of weaknesses, we can help our children feel good about who they are and we can feel good about who we are. We can help parents appreciate and nurture their children's unique gifts - just like my mom did. And if you didn't have a mom or dad who did that, every day you can nurture yourself and surround yourself with people who appreciate and celebrate the unique and special person you are.
My 16 year old son asked me this week whether he should go to his track practice after school because his throat hurt. I immediately thought to myself that he was just trying to get out of practice and he should push himself to go. I thought that he wasn't being tough or competitive enough if he didn't go to practice. I wanted to say, "Just go to practice!" But then I asked myself what message did I want to send him. Do I want him to ask me whenever he had a difficult decision to make? Did I want him to think I didn't have confidence in his judgement?
I was very glad that I thought before I answered (I don't always do that!). I ended up saying that it was up to him and that I think he could go with a sore throat but he would have to make the decision about what he wanted to do. In the end he decided to go to practice. I know that if I really pushed him to go he might have been a little resentful and angry about it. Instead, he learned that I trusted him to make decisions about himself and that he didn't have to fight against anyone - he could think independently about what he was going to do.
Everyday our children ask our advice and interact with us and it gives us an opportunity to teach them something. I'm not saying that you can never give your children advice. But at some point, they aren't going to be able to ask us for our advice. We want our children to have confidence in themselves. We want them to individuate, or develop their own sense of self. We want them to make their own choices and learn from their mistakes. The best thing a parent can do is think before answering a child, "What do I want him to learn?"
I am quoted in an article in the 2016 Central Jersey Family Living. It's titled, "Making Time to Bond" and it outlines how mother-son and father-daughter time is important. You may not have seen it because it's at the back of the magazine but if you have it, take a look. The article describes how it's easier to spend time with the same sex child - fathers take their sons to ballgames and mothers take their daughters for manicures. This may be true in some cases. What it didn't go into was that each child and parent relationship is so unique that it's difficult to generalize. Some mothers are more connected to their sons and find it easier to spend time with them while some dads are more connected to their daughters. It's so dependent upon the personality of the child and parent that it's better to discuss how important it is to spend focused time with your child.
The child can feel so special by a parent doing something that the child really enjoys. It really does a lot for a child's self-esteem if the parent regularly listens to the child and spends quality time doing what the child likes to do. This doesn't have to be every day - once a week is enough. But taking an hour or two once a week gives the child a gift that will last a lifetime.
What do you do with your child to make them feel special?
Jill Barnett Kaufman, MSW, LCSW and Certified Parent Educator is an experienced clinician who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges and bring more happiness and peace into their lives.