Thursday, August 20, 2015
Parents are the first and most important teachers of social and emotional learning for children. Like it or not, we are heavily influenced in our love maps and social imprinting by our Moms and Dads. It is the reason that we end up 'marrying' our mother or father, metaphorically speaking. It is the reason that we almost all reach a point in our lives where we say..."OMG! I sound just like my mother/father!" It's also the reason that one of my favorite magnets is "If it's not one thing, it's your mother..." :-)
Parents cannot be neutral influences in our lives because they are quite literally half of who we are. So an absent or impaired mother or father has just as much influence as an active and engaged one, although quite different in the way we are shaped.
We know from research and practical experience that the best learning for all of us emerges in the context of supportive and nurturing relationships that make learning challenging, engaging and meaningful. Social and emotional learning is the process by which we acquire and apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
That is a tall order for any parent and chronic stress increases the challenge. Family court involvement is often an unexpectedly long and complicated part of our lives, filled with uncertainty, anxiety and loss. There is no way that a parent, no matter how loving and committed, can possibly attend to the social and emotional needs of a child without help from others during a prolonged family court dispute.
We can learn to teach our children well even under great stress and emotional pressure, if we are taking care of our adult needs and attending to our own need for information and support. Transitions are difficult, even when they are positive. Life happens to everyone and family court is certainly not a part of life for everyone. But transition is a part of life that everyone shares. Uncertainty, anxiety and loss are part of the territory of the transition landscape. And there are resources in almost every community that assist people with all kinds of life transitions.
If you and your children are in transition, look for the resources in your local community involved in family court support. Possible sources of information are United Way, county Health and Human Service Departments, and your local nonprofit Foundation which is usually a great resource for nonprofit mission information. Find the nonprofit organizations serving the needs of family court involved parents and children.
There is help available if you reach out for support. In San Diego, Hannah's House and Transitions Family Program are great resources and can also make referrals for other needs you may have. Our Family Resource Center is in development and we hope to be able to eventually offer resource information for family court involved parents and children locally, regionally and nationally.
Our children are watching and listening and learning from us every day. They absorb our lessons about social and emotional values in every moment we spend with them. Whatever we do, they learn from it. Whatever we say, they take in. I believe that parents who are in transition have an obligation to their children to recognize the need for help and support and reach out. That ability to recognize the truth of our situation requires self-honesty and courage. And those are lessons we want our children to learn - self-honesty and courage.
Friday, August 14, 2015
Back to School or Back to the Battlefield: Finding Peace and Healing for 2-Home Kids and Their Parents
August and September bring special days in the lives of children starting school for the first time or returning to school after a summer break. The emphasis here is on special days for the children!
Unfortunately, parents can easily take the pleasure and happiness out of these special days by placing the children in the middle of a coparenting conflict.
1 But, sweetie, Mommy (Daddy) already bought you a back pack!
2 Oh, no, what are we going to do! I invited your granny and grandpop to your first day of school and you know they don't get along with your dad's new wife (mom's new husband)!
3 What?! Did you say that Mommy and Daddy Bob (Daddy and Mommy Sara) are coming to your first day of school, too? You only have one Dad (Mom) and that is me!
For those of you think that there is a gender which has ownership of guilt-tripping 2-home children, think again. After nearly 30 years working with family court moms and dads I can honestly say that I still hear and see moms AND dads do and say things that surprise and sometimes even shock me.
And for those of you who want to say that I am criticizing parents and defending the system or that I am a part of it, I understand you frustration. But what can I do? I ask myself that every day which is why I am writing this blog.
I can't prevent damage done to children because parents are waiting for the system to protect their child. I can't prevent damage done to children because attorneys are required to be zealous advocates for their family court clients, most of whom are adults. I can't prevent damage done to children because parents wait too long to protect their children from family dysfunction: domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, physical abuse, emotional and psychological abuse and violence. I can't prevent judges from making decisions that don't protect children, whether in the short term or the long term.
This is what I can do. I can try to have a dialogue with coparents who know there must be a better way to coparent than always feeling defeated, or challenged, or angry, or competitive, or powerless. And there is. But it is hard work and takes commitment and lots of practice and lots of failures or at least near misses!
If you are stressed about your child's transition back to school, shift your focus. Put yourself in your child's shoes and figure out what this means to them. How does it feel to them when they are made responsible for your need to control and manage your anxiety about your coparent? Focus on your child, his or her needs from you, and keep your nose out of the other parent's business. Unless you need to call the police or CPS because your child has been injured physically or is in imminent danger of being injured physically, relax and reset your emotional and psychological boundaries.
Anxiety interferes with empathy. If you allow your fears to run the show, you will behave in an egocentric manner that ignores your child and cuts him or her off from your support when they need you the most!
Focus on making your child's return to school fun and exciting with a focus on all the potential for discovery and pleasure in the coming months. Set aside your own fears and celebrate the joy of a child growing into new possibilities! If you can find a way to be positive or just respectful toward a coparent you have previously ignored or disrespected, then that would be awesome!
If you can make just one step toward healing yourself at this time of important transition in the life of your family, then your child will flourish this year.