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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Family Break-Up: Minimize Chaos and Maximize Continuity

Proactive coparenting consultation prior to or least early on during the breakup of the family can make a huge difference in the life of children. It would also create some peace for the parents much sooner than wading through the family court process with either no preparation or only preparation from a zealous legal advocate. Attorneys are a necessary and important part of the process but more parents should do some research first to determine what type and what amount of legal representation their particular child sharing and property division situation requires. Many parents would take that step if they just knew where to go.

Parents making the transition from living in 1 home together to living separately in 2 homes need to do everything possible to plan the process so that they minimize chaos and maximize continuity for the children. If the parents can plan for and pay close attention to these two concerns, the larger changes in the family structure will be much easier for the children to navigate! The same is true for parents making the transition from single parenting to coparenting.

There is an excellent online resource for parents who are separating and who may never have thought very much about their coparenting relationship. For parents who are divorcing, Up To Parents is a great introduction to coparenting children living in two homes. For parents who have never married but are trying to figure out their child sharing, Proud To Parent is an excellent resource. Both of these offerings provide information about the court process and about the needs of the children. Parents who complete one of these FREE online courses can print the completion certificate and file that with the court or provide it to the other parent.

The Self-Help Centers located in the Family Courts in San Diego County are another excellent resource for parents seeking assistance and information about appropriate and necessary filings. Transitions Family Program at Hannah's House offers FREE support groups for moms and dads dealing with the challenges of family restructuring.

There are also voices of anger and outrage protesting the unfairness of the Family Court system. It is true that no stranger is going to make a better decision for your child than you, the parents will. The only reason that the Family Court system gets involved in family decisions is because a parent invites them to do so. Sometimes that is absolutely critical when a child is in danger from the other parent. Many times, it is not necessary to protect the child but is done to protect the insecurities of a parent.

Before you take action, get informed. Find and listen to a variety of voices on the matter. Try to be honest with yourself about your own emotions and work to separate those from the actual needs of your child. Remember that the support groups at Transitions Family Program are FREE and you will be able to meet with Moms or Dads with experience in this process. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn directly for yourself what others have learned. If you want to minimize chaos for yourself and for your child, don't rush unless it is a matter of imminent physical danger. Take a breath, and take some time to make thoughtful changes.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Family Break-Up: Healthy Alliances or Unhealthy Allegiances?

Most coparents have either heard or read about the problems children have with coping skills when the conflict between their parents continues after the separation/divorce. Some children feel caught in the middle of the conflict and feel pressured to choose one of their parents over the other one. Coping with this loyalty conflict is a terrible burden for a child. Some parents, most unintentionally, exploit the child's vulnerability at this crucial time.

A parent who is adequately child-focused, and who finds him or herself struggling with a child feeling torn by a sense of love and loyalty to each parent, will try their best to reassure the child of several things:

1  You don't have to choose. You love both of us and we both love you and always will.

2  You are not the parent, I am. You don't have to take care of me. It's my job to take care of you.

3  Your Mom/Dad and I are working together to make good decisions for you. This is not your responsibility.

4  It's not your fault. You didn't cause it. Your Mom/Dad and I decided we would both be better parents to you if we didn't live together anymore.

5  I know it's hard learning to go back and forth between Mom's House and Dad's House, but I know you can do it and your Mom/Dad and I will both help you!

These 5 basic messages help create healthy alliances for the child with both of his/her parents. They support the child's need for reassurance and relief from grown-up responsibilities. They communicate that there is an agreement between Mom and Dad to cooperate with each other to take care of the child.  The message is clear that both parents share the same interest in being supportive of the child.

A parent who is not adequately child-focused, and who finds him or herself struggling with a child feeling torn by a sense of love and loyalty to each parent, will covertly or overtly try to exploit the child's worry:

1  You want to mainly live with me now, right? We would still all be a family, if your Mom/Dad hadn't destroyed it.

2  I miss you so much when you are gone. I wish you didn't have to leave. It's really hard for me to be alone.

3  Your Mom/Dad is making things really difficult for us to be together. You need to talk to him/her and let them know that you want to spend more time with me.

4  I don't know why your Mom/Dad did this. Everything was going so well. I can't believe s/he would do this to us. I just don't think s/he really cares about us anymore.

5  I don't know how your Mom/Dad expects you to live like this. Nobody deserves this kind of life. I am so sorry that I can't make it stop. I don't know how you can possibly succeed when your Mom/Dad keeps doing this to you!

These 5 messages are used to create an unhealthy allegiance for the child with one parent. They pressure the child to be loyal to only one parent and to withdraw from or reject the other parent. They communicate the need for the child to take responsibility for care of the parent and to feel obligated to that parent. The message is clear that the only choice available is either loyalty or betrayal. The message is also clear that only one parent is interested in being supportive of the child.

If you recognize yourself in the first set of messages, your child will probably be successful as s/he makes the transition through these family changes. You are working to enhance healthy alliances for the child in both homes which creates and nurtures opportunities for cooperation, collaboration, and resilience.

If you recognize yourself in the second set of messages, your child will probably struggle with the transition through these family changes. You are working to create unhealthy allegiance for the child in only one home, which engenders loyalty conflict, competition, and low self worth.

Your child deserves a chance for a bright tomorrow which can only happen if you, the parent, learn how to stop competing and start cooperating; and how to stop sabotaging and start collaborating. You deserve a chance to learn how to coparent in a way that supports your child AND supports you. You can do this by joining a support group, taking a class, or getting some personal coaching or therapy.  You owe it to yourself and to your child!