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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ahhhh, the Holidays!

I can tell the holidays are here again because parents fighting over children has escalated at Hannah's House -- right now it's costumes and Trick-or-Treating. Soon it will be fights about when the family eats the turkey and what time that absolutely must happen! I met a 30 year old woman recently who spoke about how much she hates Thanksgiving and Christmas now because of the way her parents fought over her when she was a little girl. She said that there are not any good memories for her, just bad ones. Tension, fear, competition, and being caught in the middle between her mom and dad. She remembers trying to tell her parents to stop fighting, that she didn't care what time of day she hate turkey, that she didn't care if she had to eat turkey twice in one day, and that she didn't care what day she celebrated the holiday. All she wanted was for her parents to get along.

That is what most children of divorce and separation want, for their parents to get along. So what does that look like from the child's point of view? Here are some ideas! Let us play with our friends, wherever they are. Let us share a meal with Mom and Dad during the holiday week-end -- that's right -- the REAL day does not matter to a child. Lamenting the loss of family tradition is a coward's way out and sometimes that of a very selfish person pretending to be a grown-up. Sound harsh? I suppose so. But I have been helping children navigate the stormy and threatening seas of parental disputes over these holidays for over twenty years and things just don't seem to change.

What will your child associate with important cultural/family holidays? Fighting, tension, and the pretense of happiness? Or will it be compromise and a spirit of sharing? What a great opportunity to teach your child about cooperation, positive solutions and finding the win-win for everybody in the family -- I hope you seize this chance to be kind and generous with your child this year. After all, a family is a circle of people who love you and your child deserves to experience that circle of love during this holiday season

Happy 2013 Holidays! Hannah's House has FREE support groups for Moms and Dads who are co-parenting 2-home children. Child care is provided. Dad's Group is Monday night from 6-7 pm and Mom's Group is Friday night from 6-7 pm. The groups are open to any Mom or Dad with 2-home kids!

What's Age Got to Do With It?

Children who get caught in the middle during family break-up are at risk for mental, emotional, and even physical health compromise depending on several important factors. Age at the time of the trauma, co-parents ability to get the child out of the middle and keep them out of the middle, and protective factors in the child's life are critical to long-term healthy adjustment.

Younger children, in general, tend to fare better if the parents are able to act like grown ups and take responsibility for the decisions they made that placed their child in a difficult family situation. If a parent continues to blame the other parent and hold themselves faultless beyond a year after the break-up, the child is less likely to make an adequate adjustment. Parents are role models and most want to teach their child to be fair and responsible in relationships. "Do as I say and not as I do" is a sure way to breed confusion, resentment, and acting-out or acting-in for children; especially when the negativity is directed at the child's Mom or Dad. A simple question for a young child: How can you hate that person so much and not hate me? That's my Mom! That's my Dad! If you can quit loving him/her, can you quit loving me?

If a parent is too immature, too cutoff from a support system, or troubled by undiagnosed/untreated mental health problems to provide adequate care and protection for the young child, that child may have no escape from the emotional war zone. And children who grow up in a war zone suffer long term emotional, mental and physical health consequences because there is no break from the tumult and the stress.

Pre-teens and teens are often more compromised than young children by the family break-up. Parents in the midst of intense emotional upheaval tend to treat the older child as a sounding board or a confidante and are more likely to pressure them to take sides in the conflict. It's easier for a parent to justify or even ignore the burden of putting a teen the position of an adult than it is with a young child. The good news for the older child? He or she is much more likely to have protective factors that can mediate the negative effect of a toxic parent, because they often have relationships with caring adults outside the family at school and in the larger community!

Parents with children who are in a relationship that is troubled owe it to themselves and owe it to their children to learn as much as possible about how to make the transition from a family who lives together to a family who lives apart in an informed and thoughtful way. Sometimes that doesn't seem possible because a specific problem like domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental illness is at the root of the break-up.

If you are a parent facing the transition of a family break-up, whatever the situation, reach out for support and information! You do not have to do it alone. There are many people who have done it successfully, and many people working on making the same transition. Learn what helps and hurts children who are the age of yours. Find out what kind of co-parenting relationship might work best in your situation. Investigate all of the alternatives available to avoid the trauma of Family Court litigation. The resources are there for you and for your children.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Parenting is Very Personal!

Parents love their children, and feel strongly about providing care and support to help them. Parents aren't neutral about their children. Yet parents who are sharing parenting responsibilities with a co-parent living in a different home, frequently rush to reassure themselves and other people "Oh, no, I don't ever say anything bad about my co-parent, I am neutral!!" Really? I don't believe it, because it's not believable. Try replacing the word "neutral" with one of its synonyms to understand how ingenuine the use of this word is: impartial, unbiased, unprejudiced, objective, disinterested, detached, impersonal, unemotional, indifferent, uncommitted...

Children end up with hurt feelings when parents don't support them. Children feel confused when parents ignore their interests and needs. Ask parents if they think it is important to listen to their children and to nurture their interests, and most parents would wonder why you would even ask such a question. They would say,"What do you think? Of course I think it's important. I love my child. How can you even ask that!?!?!"

Most parents intuitively know that children often need encouragement the most at times of transition, whether they are the little transitions of daily life like getting up, eating breakfast, getting dressed, and getting in the car with all the gear needed for the day -- or big transitions like the break-up of the family. The difference is that parents know how to cope with the ordinary transitions of daily life. Break-up of the family overwhelms the coping skills of everyone in the family.

Parents don't usually think of themselves as "co-parents" until the couple relationship ends, even though they may have years of co-parenting experience to draw on. And, like most of our life experience, some of it has been positive and helpful, and some of it has probably been more negative and unhelpful. Families break apart because the grown-ups have differences that can't be resolved. Inevitably some of those differences are in the area parenting and, unfortunately, one or both parents tend to paint the other parent as "the bad parent" and him or herself as "the good parent." As the Executive Director at Hannah's House, I have personally had the experience of a parent telling me they are "the good one."

My heart hurts when I hear these words or perceive this attitude/belief in a parent. I hurt because it is an impossibly painful situation for the child. It means the child is "half good" and "half bad." And, no, parents don't go to that next step because they just are not thinking about the whole child. In fact, that mom or dad isn't thinking about the child at all. They are focused on their own needs, feelings, and shaky identity with no regard for the child. It's not intentional and it will not last. At least it won't last for the vast majority of parents because sanity will return. But what damage is done to the child as the parent struggles to find a sense of equilibrium again?

Neutral just is not possible for a parent even under the very best of circumstances! And it is completely impossible when the parent is hurt and their dreams shattered. If you are a friend or family member of a parent striving to be "neutral" when really what they are is angry, frustrated, hurt, depressed and so on, then please speak up. Validate the pain and grief of loss that goes with the break-up of the family and support that parent in acknowledging and supporting ALL of who their child is, not just PART of the child. The way children end up with a facade, a false self, a loss of childhood spontaneity and pleasure, is through the neglect of their emotional and psychological well-being by the most important adults in their life: Mom and Dad.

So, please don't be neutral! Speak up, help, support, and be a friend. Be a thoughtful and loving family member. Suggest a co-parenting class, counseling or therapy, a support group, something to help Moms and Dads get the support and information they need to deal with one of the most difficult life transitions a person can navigate.

Hannah's House has FREE support groups for Moms and Dads who are co-parenting 2-home children. Child care is provided. Dad's Group is Monday night from 6-7 pm and Mom's Group is Friday night from 6-7 pm. The groups are open to any Mom or Dad with 2-home kids!