Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Parents Perceptions vs. Children's Perceptions

When parenting children before or after a divorce, be mindful that your needs and those of your children will often be very different. While you might be feeling angry, anxious, or depressed about your new living situation, it is entirely possible that your child feels a great sense of relief now that things have changed. Avoid assuming that your children feel or think exactly the way you do. Their experience of your ex is very different from your experience. That is the way it should be. Remember, the relationship your children have with both parents is different from the relationship parents have with each other. You may feel betrayed or rejected by your ex-spouse, but that may not be what your child experienced. Parents and children rarely experience a separation and divorce in exactly the same way. If you suspect you are confusing your own feelings with those of your kids, get some outside objective feedback from someone you trust. Attending some parenting classes can also be helpful.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Even Lousy Parents Have Something to Offer

Parents will tell me that their co-parent has little or nothing to offer their children in the way of good parenting. I gently and respectfully try to get them to see that raising healthy children means having the best possible relationship with both parents. However, you cannot control what your co-parent does and doesn't do. Moreover, attempts to dictate what kind of parent they will be usually backfires and makes things worse. This is actually good news because it keeps you focused on the things that you can change. Your job as a co-parent is to begin focusing on those areas (however small they may seem) where you can feel positive about the other parent and what he or she has to offer your children. All parents have something to offer. Nurturing the seeds of what is good in the other parent can often help more positive things grow. This means that whatever good that parent has to offer should have some pathway of getting through to the child.

Step back and look at your ex-spouse in the role of a parent. Many people make lousy husbands or wives but have the potential to be terrific parents. Don't assume that the parent he or she was in your marriage will be the same parent once you are divorced. Remember also that in some ways, your child identifies with your ex-spouse. On some very basic level, children have a sense that they are 50% Mom and 50% Dad. Any trashing of your ex inadvertently trashes 50% of your child. Also, children have a shared history with both parents, and a shared present and future. Your ex-spouse is an important part of your children's lives, and just as you would help your children succeed in school or sports, it is important to help them succeed in that relationship.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Remembere to take care of yourself

In the parenting classes that we teach, parents often times say they have very little time for themselves. This is unfortunate because your children deserve the best you possible. Parents should realize that focusing on their own needs helps their children. Most children, regardless of their age, will feel secure if they sense their parents are emotionally healthy. Making time for yourself, while often difficult, is important. Healthy outlets include counseling with a professional therapist, meeting with friends or support groups, or any activity that brings you pleasure. Neglecting yourself makes it difficult to be effective with your kids’ needs. Positive parenting through divorce requires that you have outlets for dealing with your own difficult feelings.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Working Through Negative Feelings After Divorce

Effective parenting after divorce is facilitated by your changing perceptions. How you view you are ex spouse is extremely important, as well as the feelings they evoke for you. It is never too early to begin working on your negative feelings toward your ex-spouse. However, please realize that having angry or painful feelings about your ex is not the problem. This is normal. The problem comes when parents don't find appropriate ways of expressing and dealing with these away from their children. It is best to have a support system of family and friends, as well as a trusted mental-health professional with whom you can process these feelings appropriately. Attending parenting classes for divorced or divorcing parents can also be helpful. Don't expect to get through negative feelings overnight. Most parents report a back-and-forth process between negative feelings and a sense of resolve. Remember that this happens over time, and you have to find your own timetable. Parents who avoid dealing with these difficult feelings merely prolong the suffering for themselves and their children.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Good Parenting Decisions after Divorce

In the parenting classes we offer, parents oftentimes tell me that they want to continue good parenting practices after they get divorced. However, there can be some confusion regarding what this type of post divorce parenting actually looks like. Co-parenting is the term used to describe the process of parents working together to meet the needs of their children. Co-parenting responsibilities apply to all people—whether they are single, married, divorced, adoptive, grandparent, guardian, or foster care—who are entrusted with the responsibility to care for children.

Co-parenting, however, almost always takes more work, communication, and lifelong commitment than most people initially expect. Parents who understand the importance of co-parenting and learn effective co-parenting strategies greatly assist their children through the changes associated with separation and divorce. Whenever possible, both parents should be involved in the decisions that keep children safe, healthy, and thriving. Many parents, because of difficulties beyond their control, will be faced with making the majority of decisions themselves. For some, this is a relief because having the other parent's input would be more stressful. For other parents, this can be a source of stress because they are going it alone. Remember that every situation is different and your openness and flexibility will be the key to a healthy co-parenting relationship.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Discussing divorce with children

A positive parenting approach focuses on communicating with your children in age-appropriate ways. Most experts agree that both parents together should speak with their children about the decision to separate or divorce. Many can do this even if one of them does not want the divorce. It is certainly OK for children to see that parents are struggling emotionally. They must also see their parents successfully manage those difficult emotions. If one or both parents prefer or feel obligated to discuss the divorce separately, be honest with your children about what is happening, but speak in neutral terms. Be sure not to assign blame to the other parent. As common-sense as this advice is, it is a very common trap for parents to fall into. In addition, let children know that they are not to blame for the divorce. Be prepared for a wide range of reactions, and make room for whatever responses they have. Do not necessarily expect their initial reaction to be permanent. Remember also, that most children ask a lot of the same questions repeatedly. This is a normal way of gaining a sense of security about their future. Try to curb your frustration and answer them lovingly and consistently.

Let children know often that both parents will always love them and that you will always be a family. The difference will be that Mom and Dad are living in separate homes. Remind your children that you will always support them in having relationships with both parents. Let them know that you are parents forever, and that they will never be abandoned. Remember that for younger children (between the ages of three and seven), short, clear explanations are best. For older kids, lengthier explanations may be appropriate, but be careful not to over-explain. Children will often perceive added details as a move toward getting them to take sides. It is important to remember here that divorce is a process, and your child's understanding will continually evolve with time. As children experience more of life, their ideas about divorce in general and their own situation in particular can change dramatically.

You should stress to your children that the separation/divorce is occurring because of differences between Mom and Dad. Always refrain from speaking badly about the other parent. To accomplish this, you must have other outlets to deal with difficult feelings regarding the other parent. You will ensure a quicker, healthier, adjustment when you are able to respect and care for the other parent despite difficult feelings. Being able to do this will also aid in your own ability to move on and be happy.

Positive Parenting, at this early stage, requires parents to balance stability and change. You should make every effort to keep stability in your child's life while recognizing that divorce is a context for change. The transitions associated with a divorce are wonderful opportunities for children to learn and accept change as a part of life. We can't always predict or choose when our children will get to learn certain life lessons. However, we can look for and embrace such opportunities when they arise.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Deciding to Divorce: The Initial Stages

The first step in implementing a positive parenting approach is to recognize that divorce is not a single event but rather an ongoing process. When you focus on divorce as an event, it’s natural to want to gain control over it. Viewing divorce as an ongoing process, however, permits a broader perspective and greater flexibility. It is also important to remember that no two divorces are alike. People enter and move through the various stages of divorce differently, and personal experiences will vary. While some general signposts are clear enough, there are no exact guidelines to describe each and every divorce, or to prescribe how individuals should deal with various situations and issues.

The initial stage of most divorces occurs when one or both spouses decide that the marriage is over. Sometimes divorce is preceded by a physical separation, in which one spouse moves out of the family home. In other cases, parents live together until the divorce is final. At some point, however, parents are faced with the task of establishing two separate households. When both parents agree on separation, this step can bring about a sense of relief—especially if the home environment was tense, stressful, or filled with the pain of continued arguments. Sometimes parents' best efforts to work on their marriage can actually create more stress. Parents often report noticing their children experiencing some emotional relief during the initial stages of a separation. If you notice signs of distress in your child or children, listen to their concerns, take them seriously, and remember that as they grow more familiar with having two homes, they should begin to feel better.

For many families, separating and establishing two households can be emotionally painful, especially if one or both parents do not want to separate. Positive parenting requires that parents take care of their own needs as they are caring for their children. Because parents who can successfully deal with their own emotional issues during this time are much better equipped to help their children, they should take time to work on the painful emotions that separating can engender. Those emotions may initially include fear, worry, anger, and frustration, to name just a few. Parents who do not have constructive outlets for their own emotions are more likely to express them in ways harmful to themselves and their children. Finding ways to discuss your feelings, get objective feedback, and receive encouragement can help you make balanced and healthy decisions for your kids. Similarly, parents and children both suffer when parents' negative feelings lead them to treat each other poorly. Parents should strive to treat one another with respect. Since conflict is a normal part of life, it would be unrealistic not to anticipate disagreements. However, parents should actively engage in working out conflicts as long as it is done in a safe context for both of them, and as long as children are not present for escalating arguments. Positive parents make this one of their most important priorities at this stage of the divorcing process.