Getting Kids Used to a Stepmother

Getting kids used to a stepmother is the kind of thing people dread—and with good reason. Whether the new stepmother comes into the picture after divorce or death, she’s seen by the children as a usurper: someone who stole the real mom’s place. Someone who sleeps with their dad. Even if a child has longed for a new mom, it’s awkward letting this new person into your everyday life with all its small intimacies. This situation requires major adjustment.

Mothers are sacrosanct, irreplaceable. And you’d be surprised at the strength of a child’s loyalty and rebellion against any attempts to offer a substitute. Even where the child maintains a good relationship with the biological mom, there’s bound to be a defensive reaction against a stepmother’s attempts to fit in.

Stepmother as Cool Aunt

When she became a stepmother, Jessica Thompson of California adopted a mantra that served her well: Don’t try to be Mom. Thompson found it was better to think of the stepmother to stepchild relationship as “different.” “The child may want to relate to you as a mother, but not necessarily. Do not force the issue, or take it personally if she never embraces you as a mother. You don’t have the same standing as a mother, so don’t try to discipline as if you are one,” says Thompson, who suggests the natural, biological parent take the lead when it comes to the difficult area of rules and discipline.

“Sometimes stepmoms get the awesome deal of being the ‘fun,’ ‘cool,’ or neutral parent. Aiming for a ‘cool aunt’ type of relationship is a good initial goal. I quickly became the confidante, and a safe place for my stepdaughter to voice frustrations when things got challenging with dad, or at school, and that was a really rewarding relationship. You can be a neutral escape valve and voice of reason, as well as be the one to take the lead in fun activities,” says Thompson.

Age Matters

Parenting Coach Dr. Richard Horowitz, feels that adapting to a stepmom depends, to a large measure, on the age of the child as well as the child’s relationship with the biological mom. “If the biological mother is not part of the child’s life and the child is fairly young (not yet preteen) the stepmother can assume the full role as a mother (nurturing, discipline, etc.). The older the child and the presence of a biological mom makes the situation more challenging. In this case the stepmom along with the biological father must discuss with the child what the stepmom’s role will be and what expectations there are for both parties. This is especially crucial in setting household rules and in determining when stepmom will have standing in regards to rule-setting and enforcement,” says Horowitz.

Have the Talk

Psychologist Wyatt Fisher says that if at all possible, there should be a discussion with the child before the stepmom assumes her new role. This helps prepare the child and lessens the shock of receiving a “new” parent. Once the stepmother comes into the picture, Fisher offers four tips to new stepmoms:

  1. Go slow. Wait until the child warms up to you rather than force the relationship.
  2. Be inviting. Greet the children with smiles and warmth.
  3. Encourage father/child time. It’s important to encourage your husband to spend lots of quality time with the children so they don’t see you as taking their father from them.
  4. Be respectful. Always speak with respect when referring to the child’s biological mom.

Rosalind Sedacca CCT, founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? agrees with Fisher that adapting to a stepmother is a slow process. Sedacca offers the following six tips for making the transition as smooth as possible:

  1. Introduce children to a potential stepmom very slowly so they have a chance to get acquainted and develop a caring relationship.
  2. Never insist that a stepmom is a replacement for their own mom. Children will be more resistant if a stepparent is imposed upon them or their biological mom is removed from their life.
  3. Stepmoms should never be the disciplinarian to the children. Give Dad that responsibility.
  4. Stepmoms need to earn the trust and respect of the kids which is a gradual process. Dad can be very helpful with this process.
  5. Talk to your kids, listen to what they say, validate their right to feel the way they feel. Don’t make them feel bad or wrong if they are having trouble accepting their new stepmom.
  6. Seek out the support of a family therapist or coach experienced in working with step family dynamics.

In the case of divorce, the main issue with getting used to a stepmother is the fact that “every child wants, wishes, and longs for their mothers and fathers to stay together,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author, The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors and CBS TV. “The breakup of the family unit is traumatic—even in the most amicable divorce.

“Kids have a range of feelings that can change at any given moment. Emotionally, children feel sad (about the loss of the exiting parent); angry (‘Why my family?’); worried (about logistics including where will ‘I’ sleep?;  who will take me/pick up from school?; will I still see both sets of grandparents?; and on and on). Behaviorally, you may see your child’s academic grades drop. You may observe her sad (not smiling) or angry, resisting, opposing, or defying you and your rules and expectations,” says Walfish.

Permission to Feel

“As her stepmom, you need to give her permission to have powerful emotions about the huge disruption in her life. Encourage the open direct expression of these feelings,” adds Walfish, cautioning, “Stepmoms, don’t be afraid of her anger. The more comfortable you become with her verbalizing her anger the more validated and accepted she will feel—flaws and all.”

Walfish treats many kids from separated and divorced families and like Sedacca, suggests that counseling can make a difference. “Sometimes, it helps your child to talk to someone outside of Mom, Stepmom, and Dad, like a teacher, counselor, or therapist. Kids may feel worried and guilty about hurting their parents’ feelings. Talk with your child about whom he can go to for comfort and support. Ask him to name people for instance, Grandma, Aunt Susie, Uncle Bob, teacher, or best friend.”

Children are going to have strong feelings as the stepmother enters the scene. “Offer karate, dance, singing, art, or gymnastics classes as a physical outlet for expelling strong feelings,” says Walfish, who says the most important thing is to grant kids permission to love and respect both biological parents. “She is half her real mom and half her real dad.

“If she hears you or her biological mom put her father down it is putting down a part of her. If her biological father makes derogatory remarks about her biological mother tell your stepchild that divorce is a grown-up matter and sometimes moms and dads are mad at each other, but it is not the kids’ fault or responsibility to fix things.”

Blending the Family “Soup”

Parenting Expert Donna Bozzo suggests that finding ways to include children in the process of blending the family is the way toward acceptance of a new stepmom. “Include the kids in the wedding ceremony. Instead of a bride and groom cake topper, how about a full-family cake topper, with kids in tow?” says Bozzo, who suggests that families find fun ways to make things work going forward.

“Think of your new blended family as a kind of soup where different members of the family add their own favorite ingredients to the pot. Like peanut butter and jelly sometimes the sum of two (or more) parts, is greater than the whole,” says Bozzo.

Single Parent Pros and Cons

Single parent households are now so common that more than a quarter of all U.S. children under the age of 21 are being raised by a single parent. Only one in six of these single parents are dads. But the very vast majority of single parents, be they moms or dads, work to put a roof over the heads of their children (and food in their mouths).

It’s a hard road to haul and it’s not always by choice. Some single parents are widowed. Others may have never found that special someone, but were lucky enough to have children. In short, every single parent has a story to tell and it’s bound to be an interesting story at that.

If you’re a single parent, or a parent contemplating the end of a marriage gone wrong, you likely worry about the effects of the single parent home on a child. By having only one parent, are you cheating your child of the stability of a two-parent home? Will your child suffer from having a mom with no dad or a dad with no mom? Or perhaps only part time influence from the other parent?

On bad days, the guilt can be crushing.

Single Parent Freedom

But on good days, perhaps you think how awesome it is to be free to make all the parenting decisions, to have no one undermining your authority, no one confusing your child with conflicting demands. By the same token, of course, when you’re absolutely exhausted from being up with a sick child all night and you still have to go to work in the morning, you may be green with envy of two-parent homes, where someone is available to pinch hit when the going gets rough. You may dream of someone who shares the burdens of cooking and housework and running errands. Someone who picks up the dry-cleaning or goes to that PTA meeting when you just can’t make it.

Melanie Oates can tell you all about both sides of the equation. A single mother to a set of special needs 6-year-old twins—one has autism, the other a rare genetic disorder called Chromosome 7 Terminal Deletion—Oates blogs about her experiences as TwinMomMel. The pros and cons of single parenthood are something Melanie has often contemplated.

Single parent Melanie Oates with her special needs twins Julius and Genell
Single parent Melanie Oates with her special needs twins Julius and Genell

On the pro side, Melanie says, “You don’t have to worry about daily input from the other parent nagging about how you changed a diaper or what you cooked the kids for dinner. You don’t need to worry about your child favoring one parent over the other. That doesn’t exist because you are the main (or only) parent! Also: you get to create all the rules.”

Single parent Melanie Oates with Genell and Julius

But being able to see the positive doesn’t mean that Melanie doesn’t see the downside of single parenthood. Her cons outweigh her pros. “You get burned out quicker because there is no time for you to take off your ‘parent hat’ while the other parent takes over. If you have more than one child, it can be difficult to give each child their own independence because you don’t have another parent to help take one child to soccer practice, while you take the other to dance practice.

The Single Parent: Dating? What’s That?

“Also, as a single parent, if your child is sick, there goes another sick day taken from work since there is no other parent to fall back on. Not to mention: dating (what’s that?), especially if you have special needs children like myself. Good luck with finding a childcare provider that can help while you try to explore the dating world. Even worse, try meeting a ‘Mr. Right’ who actually understands the circumstances at home!” says Oates.

Single parent Melanie Oates with Julius and Genell

For Becky Lockridge, the issue for her two sons was the absence in their lives of a positive male figure. A single mother to two sons, ages 11 and 23, Becky has always been on her own. The lack of a strong male in her sons’ lives is something Lockridge feels keenly. “I tried to fill the void with coaches, godfathers, and big brother types. In the end I do wish my sons had had their fathers actively involved.”

Kate Campion, who blogs at My Sweet Home Life, has experienced it all: shared custody, full custody, and with remarriage, step-parenthood, as well. Like Melanie, Kate loved that there was no one to compete with her parenting style and no one to undermine her parental authority. But Campion suggests some other perks we might not have suspected. “You get the ‘firsts.’ When your child gets home from school, they often tell their news to the first parent they see. By the time their second parent gets home, that report is condensed to ‘I had a good day,’” says Campion. “You are the one with whom they share all the details of their life as it unfolds. It makes your relationships closer.”

Campion also suggests that single parenthood can bring extended family members closer, since a single parent may be forced to rely on extended family for help. On the other hand, says Campion, “You will never be a family unit the way you once were. If you remarry, you will need to navigate the murky waters of step-parenting. When you have a child, you build up a bank of love over the years that you can withdraw from in challenging times. You don’t have that luxury with a stepchild and your new partner will not have that with your children.

The Single Parent: No One to Share the Delight

“Also, as a single parent, there is no one who will share with you the delight of their achievements. When your child performs in a school play, or has a killer time on the sports field, you won’t be able to share in those moments with their dad at the end of the day,” says Kate.

“Finally, you have half the time, half the money, half the energy. Even small things, like when your child is sick, or you have a late meeting at work, are so much harder to manage when you are on your own.”

A single mother of one child, Monique Battiste adds that as a single parent, “There’s not much time to yourself, no dating life (unless you have or can find a sitter), and you feel stretched thin both financially and mentally.  But the hardest part for me, perhaps, is having to answer the question of why the other parent isn’t in my child’s life, why that parent is simply unavailable.”

Single Parent Monique Battiste with her daughter Jianna
Single parent Monique Battiste with her daughter Jianna

Single Parent Blind Spots

Dr. Edward V. Haas, M.D., psychiatrist and author of Transformative Parenting: The Empathic, Empowering Approach to Optimal Parenting and Personal Growth, points out that for the single parent, there’s, “No one to catch you when you are becoming irrational/unreasonable: Sometimes we are irrational. We may have an unrealistic expectation of our child which is leading to frustration and anger. Having another adult with a second opinion can help us see these ‘blind spots’ which interfere with our understanding, communication and bonding with our child.”

Haas also speaks of the dilemma of the single parent in balancing work and home. “Even many couples have difficulty meeting their financial obligations and caring for their children at the same time. Being a single parent can create a severe conflict between being present to care for the emotional needs and wants of their children and working to provide for their needs for food and housing.”

While most single parents see it as a plus that their parenting styles hold sway with no one to undermine their authority, Haas sees this a different way. “A single parent can only teach their way of doing things. People have different strengths and perspectives, children who have two parents can learn different ways of resolving issues and seeing things.”

On the other hand, says Haas, “Single parents can teach their children their way of seeing the world and doing things without the stress of conflict with another parent who may want to teach their child differently. Parents who are inclined to provide more freedom of action to their child do not have to feel conflicted with the other parent who may be more comfortable restricting their child in certain ways, and vice-versa.”

Single Parent Attitude

There is no doubt that the life of the single parent has its hardships and much like any other parenting experience, its triumphs, too. Can single parenthood be better in some cases than the traditional two-parent home? It seems that in many cases, it may be, especially when there’s strife in the marital relationship. But what seems to matter most of all, is attitude. A single parent who makes the effort to see all that is good, while not turning a blind eye to the issues, is a strong single parent: one who is bound to raise a strong, independent and healthy child, no matter the obstacles that develop along the way.

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Spanking? The Jury is in: It’s BAD

Spanking was never proven to be a bad thing, at least not scientifically. That is until now. University of Michigan researchers have looked at the data and finally and absolutely concluded that being spanked as a child may lead to an assortment of mental health issues in adulthood.

This new study was undertaken by Andrew Grogan-Kaylor and Shawna Lee, both assistant professors of social work at the University of Michigan. The work they did in tandem with their colleagues points to spanking in childhood as a form of violence, which leads to mental health issues such as depression, attempts at suicide, and moderate-to-heavy levels of substance abuse, such as alcohol or illegal drug use, later in life.

“Placing spanking in a similar category to physical/emotional abuse experiences would increase our understanding of these adult mental health problems,” says Grogan-Kaylor.

Spanking and Physical Abuse

The researchers noted the similarities between spanking and physical abuse: both involve using force and inflicting pain. Both are linked to similar mental health outcomes. These similarities caused the researchers to wonder whether spanking should be categorized as an “adverse childhood experience.” That would place spanking in the same basket with, for instance, abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. Household dysfunction would include, among other things, divorce, or a parent in prison.

To a layman, the questions that comes to mind are: are the scientists looking to label spanking as abuse? Could it be that parents who are likely to spank their children are also more likely to use physical abuse, neglect their children, or run dysfunctional households? Just how big a study was this?

Also: can we finally lay this to rest and rule, unequivocally, that spanking is bad? Or is this just some psychobabble being spouted? Must we, as parents, pay attention?

It bears noting here that the study is based on data pulled from the CDC-Kaiser ACE study. “ACE” stands for “adverse childhood experiences.” The ACE study definitely represents a large enough sample to be statistically relevant. The number of participants stands at over 8,300, with an age range of 19-97 years. As for the methodology, the data was gathered by having people answer questionnaires when visiting an outpatient clinic for routine checkups.

Clinic patients were asked how often they were spanked during the first 18 years of life. They were also asked to describe their childhood households and whether an adult had abused them. Physical abuse was defined for the participants as pushing, grabbing, slapping, or shoving. Emotional abuse was described as being insulted or cursed.

Almost 55 percent of those who filled out the questionnaires reported having been spanked as children. Men were more likely to have been spanked compared to women. Minorities, except for Asians, were more likely, compared to whites, to say they’d been spanked.

Spanking and mental health connection according to gender and color
(photo credit: Michigan News)

Participants who reported being spanked as children, were more likely to be suffering from depression and other mental health problems.

What constitutes “spanking” in this study? Is spanking any time the hand is applied to the bottom, whether or not the parent is angry at the time? The researchers came up with this definition: “spanking is defined as using physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, to correct or control the youth’s behavior.”

A fair enough definition. But how do we know it’s spanking that is causing the mental health issues later in life and not some other factor? This author put the question to researcher Grogan-Kaylor, who responded as follows: “The question is a great one. The key question is whether we are comparing children who are otherwise alike. That is to say, are we comparing families and children that are otherwise alike with the exception of spanking? Statistical techniques allow us to ensure that we are comparing like to like, and to rule out a number of other alternative factors as possible causes.”

Spanking as “Adverse Childhood Reaction”

Grogan-Kaylor shared with this author two other papers he’d co-authored, The Case Against Physical Punishment, and, Unpacking the impact of adverse childhood experiences on adult mental health. Both papers lend evidence to the theory that spanking can be seen as an “adverse childhood experience,” and therefore causes harm to the child, which may manifest only in adulthood, in the form of mental health issues. The former study illustrates this harm to the child through three theories: the attachment theory, the social learning theory, and finally, the coercion theory.

The attachment theory suggests that a child needs to feel absolutely sure of a parent’s love and care in order to flower. This sense of secure attachment to the parent is founded on parental empathy and sensitivity to children. Spanking then, is a way of responding to a child’s need for attention that erodes the child’s secure attachment to the parent by making the child feel degraded and rejected. Such children can develop feelings of being unworthy, which in turn can lead to depression and anxiety.

The social learning theory has children learning from example. The theory here is that when parents punish children for bad behavior by spanking them, children learn that violence is an acceptable method for correcting the misbehavior of others. Further complicating the message, is the fact that spanking stops the poor behavior, so that children learn that violence is an effective way to control and cope with interpersonal relations and for dealing with social interactions in general. In other words: violence is the way to work things out with people/relationships.

Coercion theory describes a cycle that occurs when the child rebels against the parent’s punishment. The parent may say, “If you don’t stop doing that, I’m going to spank you.”

Spanking: Vicious Cycle

The child may react with hostility to this situation, which causes the parent to “step up his game.” The intensification of the parent’s response comes with anger from the parent, which makes the child more rebellious. This “coercive cycle” continues to worsen until one side gives in. The parent may give up disciplining the child or the child may give in to his fear and pain and do as the parent wishes. In any event, one side “loses” and feels defeated. Defeated, one might emphasize, as opposed to feeling as though a problem has been resolved, or a lesson learned.

The latter paper shared with this author by Grogan-Kaylor does a fairly good job of showing that spanking in childhood is a risk factor for later mental illness independent of such adverse childhood experiences such as neglect; a parent in jail; or divorce. This suggests that spanking should also be included in an expanded understanding of the “adverse childhood experience.” This idea led to the current study, which concludes that spanking is absolutely an adverse childhood experience.

In terms of real life examples of how spanking is or isn’t used as a parent-rearing method, this author has often heard one mother say, “I don’t need to hit my children.”

The implication here is that there are other ways to make children behave, and they don’t involve violence.

Spanking as negative association

Another friend said she spanked her child just once, when her child ran out into traffic. This mother spanked her child out of equal measures of love and fear, out of a desire to preserve her child’s safety. It was a protective, knee-jerk reaction. In spanking her child this one single time, this mother meant to create an association: run into traffic=receive an unpleasant smack on the butt.

That child is today, what seems to be, to this author’s eyes, a well-adjusted adult, with no apparent mental illness. Also, that child never again ran into traffic. Thus, at least on a basic level, the parent achieved her aim: to create a negative association so the child would never repeat the behavior. Would that lesson have been driven home as effectively in any other manner?

There may be a generational factor in parents who did spank and parents who never do. Today, there is a greater awareness of abuse in all its forms. A parent may be reluctant to spank due to the perceived association between spanking and physical abuse. Back in the 1980’s, however, there was much less awareness of abuse and its effects. Even today, this is study is groundbreaking in that it suggests that spanking actually hurts children in terms of their future mental health.

Lead author of this study, Tracie Afifi, associate professor at the University of Manitoba, suggests we too often think about child abuse and its prevention, but not so much about harsh parenting. Afifi believes we need to put thought and effort into preventing this sort of parenting before it occurs. “This can be achieved by promoting evidence-based parenting programs and policies designed to prevent early adversities, and associated risk factors,” says co-author Shawna Lee, who is also a faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research. “Prevention should be a critical direction for public health initiatives to take.”

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Art Therapy And Your Child

Art Therapy And Your ChildArt therapy is a form of treatment that uses art to help people work out their feelings, and a tool that can help experts diagnose their patients. Children and many adults may find art therapy easier than other types of therapy, because they may not have to use too many words to get relief. Instead, in art therapy, it is often the art and its symbolism that tell the therapist how that person is feeling inside. This is important for patients who find it hard to talk about their feelings or for the young child who may not have the words to describe a traumatic or painful experience.

Besides helping patients express their feelings, art therapy can help patients cope with difficult situations. The act of making things, creating art, is relaxing and reduces stress. Painting on a canvas or squeezing a piece of clay feels good. It’s also a great feeling to watch an art project take shape, something you make with your own hands.

Imagine a child with a chronic illness, or a child who has been bullied or abused. Such a child might use art to express how he or she feels about the experience. In this case, the art project he creates in an art therapy session, offers testimony to what he’s going through. The child can also look at and touch the art project, and show it to others. The art object itself may serve as validation for what he feels inside, or even be his voice: “This is how I feel.”

Whether a painting, drawing, or other type of art, an art object can become a symbol of the child’s experience. Having that symbol helps the child to put distance between himself and his medical or emotional issues. A sick child might, for example, draw a picture of a painful or frightening treatment. In the case of a child who was abused, he might draw a picture of the abuse. Once the child sets it down on paper (or in clay, or some other art medium) he has acknowledged what has happened, made it real, and now he can move on to be the person he is, outside of the painful treatments or abuse.

Art Therapy Creates Powerful Truths

Children would rather do something with their hands than talk about their feelings. They may worry that adults won’t believe their stories and sometimes that happens. It is painful for children when they are telling the truth and no one believes them. Art gives children a powerful tool for saying how they feel.

The child looks at the artwork she has made and she feels good. She created it, and to her, it’s very real. Her artwork gives form to what she feels and thinks. It’s something she can point to that expresses her feelings with credibility. It’s all there, without any need for words. Art is believable.

Creating A Healthy Distance

Through art therapy, a child may come to see that his illness or his bad experience is something separate from his identity. He may make a painting, for instance, that is all about pain, shame, anger, fear, helplessness, or disappointment. Expressing his feelings in an art project gives the child a concrete symbol he can then see as something outside of himself. He can point to it and say, for example, “This is pain.”

Then again, the child with cancer, or the victim of abuse, may want to use art not to express these unpleasant feelings. The child with cancer may want to remember that she is also the child who adores the color purple, loves flowers, and has a silly sense of humor. That too, can be in a child’s painting. Through art therapy, children can come to understand that they are people beyond and outside of their illnesses or experiences.

It’s important to note that children don’t have to be talented at art to receive art therapy. The purpose of art therapy is not to create art for art’s sake but to serve as a means for:

  • Exploring feelings
  • Self-expression
  • Boosting self-esteem
  • Self-examination
  • Coping with illness or difficult experiences and feelings
  • Communicating feelings and ideas with others
  • Digging deep into the unconscious and finding and expressing the feelings buried deep inside

Art Therapy As Diagnostic Tool

Sometimes it is difficult to know what is bothering a troubled child. A trained art therapist may be able to diagnose the problem by examining a child’s art. Dr. Carole Lieberman is one such expert. A Beverly Hills psychiatrist and bestselling author who treats children and their families, Lieberman has experience in interpreting children’s drawings.

Dr. Lieberman also acknowledges that a parent or teacher may be able to tell something is bothering a child, just by looking at that child’s painting or drawing. A child may be putting out distress signals through art and parents should be watchful. “Parents should worry if their child’s drawings are mostly in dark colors, since this is a typical sign of depression. A child’s world seems very dark when they’re depressed, so that’s what they draw.

“If a child draws something and then scribbles over it in long dark strokes, it means that they are very angry. And if you can still see what they were covering over on the page, you will have a clue as to what they are angry about.

“If a child draws a dilapidated house, with no flowers or trees around it, and no sun, it means that they see their own house as being unhappy.

“If they don’t draw windows, it can mean that they don’t want people to know what goes on in their house, or they think they are not supposed to tell what goes on there,” says Dr. Lieberman, who cautions that parents should consult with an art therapist before jumping to conclusions about a child’s art and what it means.

To sum up, art therapy offers a stress-reducing, tangible, and nonverbal way to explore and deal with feelings and issues. If your child hates to talk about her feelings, art therapy may be just the ticket. The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) website links to a directory for licensed art therapists in the United States, broken down by location.

 
Has your child used art therapy to cope with chronic illness or a difficult experience? We’d like to know about it. Write to Varda at Kars4Kids dot org with your child’s success story.

8 Keys For Co-Parenting Success After Divorce

Co-parenting following a divorce can be complex, frustrating and confusing. However, every day, parents around the world are coping with the challenges and raising happy, well-adjusted children. As founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network I’ve found there are many factors that can have a positive influence on your effectiveness as a co-parent. All of them begin from the inside out.

In this article, we review eight major keys to insuring a more successful co-parenting outcome for you and your children during, and long after, your divorce. Remember that co-parenting is a life-long endeavor. But when you master the skills suggested here, life will be better and more rewarding for everyone in the family. And that’s a goal worth attaining!

  1. Watch Your Attitude

Attitude plays a big part in the success of any child-centered divorce. If you approach your divorce with a commitment to making it as positive an experience as possible for the children you love, you are on your way to succeeding.

What attitudes are you conveying about your divorce? Try to catch your thoughts and the way you speak about the divorce. Are you filled with negativity? Are your days consumed with a “poor me” state of consciousness? Are you attracting and spending time with others who share these sentiments? If so, it’s time for an overhaul in your thinking and attitude.

A child-centered divorce is created over weeks, months, and years of attention to positive parenting. It’s never too late to start regardless of how long you have been divorced. The decisions you make today will affect the relationships within your family tomorrow and for decades to come. Co-parenting is a life-long experience. Why not approach it with a positive attitude for the sake of your children?

Co-Parenting Difficulties
Be positive for her sake.
  1. Evaluate Your Perceptions

The world is what we perceive it to be. Whether you believe your lot is good or bad—you will be right—and create an outcome to justify your belief.

If you perceive yourself to be a victim in your divorce, you will focus on evidence to prove that to be true.

If you instead take your divorce as a life experience to learn from, you will derive many benefits and value from the divorce, no matter how much pain is also involved. You will also accept responsibility for the part you played in the process and be more willing to contemplate new ways to live your life in the future that will bring more positive results.

Sadly, it’s through challenging experiences that we grow and learn the most from life. Are you discovering meaningful lessons for yourself? Are you role -modeling effective decision-making and cooperative co-parenting, despite the challenges you face?

  1. Look For The Gift

There are always lessons to be learned from painful experiences. If you perceive those lessons as “gifts” to you—wisdom and opportunities you will never have otherwise experienced—you can move on from your divorce a better, stronger, wiser person. There is always a gift to be received if you look for it.

Take your lessons to heart. Get support in making better decisions in the future. Know what to do and not do when dealing with new relationship issues. If you’ve learned from the past, be grateful for the gift of understanding so you don’t repeat old patterns and instead make smarter choices.

co-parenting issues
Make smarter choices so your child won’t feel torn in two.
  1. Be A Respectful Co-Parent

Moving on after divorce is but a small piece of the puzzle if you are a parent. Working through the challenges of creating successful communication with your ex is a goal that must be worked on continuously. Keep your children in mind before making any decisions related to their well-being and you will stay on course.

Because you and your former spouse will be parenting your children for many years—and decades—to come, it makes sense to start off on the best possible course. The first step is to develop a respectful co-parenting relationship with your ex. Remember that your ex is your child’s other parent, whom they love. Treat your former spouse with that level of awareness and dignity in all your communications and he or she will be more likely to return that same level of respect to you. Changes may not happen overnight. But with patience and persistence things can and will improve.

  1. Learn To Let Go

If you truly want to transform your life after divorce you must learn to let go of negative emotions that hold you hostage. Negative emotions include anger, resentment, blame, jealousy, hatred and anxiety. There is, of course, a time and place for experiencing those emotions. Feel them; mourn the dream that turned sour. Then make a decision to let them go. Do this for your benefit—not on behalf of your former spouse.

Negative emotions can hold you in limbo and suck the life out of you. When you experience negative emotions, you get stuck in a place that’s painful to experience and it makes you unpleasant to be around. For the sake of your children—if not for yourself—decide to let it all go. Be determined to move on.

It’s not always easy to do, but the contrast of living in your pain is not an easy place to be either. Which state would you prefer? Which state will give your kids the better opportunity to enjoy the innocence of their childhood?

When you’re stuck in emotional turmoil your children feel it and are helpless to change it. Reach out for professional support if you can’t release the anger, hurt, grief, and other emotions that hold you hostage in a doom and gloom mindset.

Successful Co-Parenting
Successful co-parenting looks like this.
  1. Practice Forgiveness

The big step after letting go of your negative emotions is learning to forgive. This begins with you. Forgive any mistakes you made related to your marriage or divorce. Forgive your poor choices, immaturity, or naiveté. Acknowledge yourself as someone who is open to personal growth, change, and transformation. Feel your worth and start doing things that express self-love.

Next take the big step of forgiving your ex. This does not mean condoning his or her actions or hurtful behavior. It means you are determined not to let them affect you any longer.

You are cutting the emotional chords that bind you and keep you from enjoying the new possibilities in your life. Behind forgiveness is freedom. Don’t you want to be free of the pain, hurt, insecurity, and rage that holds sway over you? Cut the chord and be free! It’s a gift to yourself and to your children as well!

  1. Make Time For Yourself!

One of the healthiest things you can do in creating a positive attitude is to make time for yourself! This is a choice that will pay off on many levels in your life. Think about reinventing yourself in new ways that excite you. Take a yoga, meditation, or exercise class. Pursue a new hobby. Volunteer at an animal shelter or hospital. Start a craft or business enterprise that excites you. Make time for strolls in nature, sports activities, watching your weight and diet. Treat yourself to a message or facial. Get a new hairstyle. Indulge when you can.

By nurturing yourself, you make it possible to give your children your total attention when you are with them. During and after divorce your kids need you more than ever. You can’t be there for them if you’re not there for yourself to renew your spirits. It’s all part of the child-centered divorce formula and it works if you play your part.

Do the best you can. Be the best parent and co-parent you can be. Take it day by day. If you need help, reach out for it without embarrassment or shame. You’re not alone. And the help you need is out there for you!

divorce and co-parenting
Don’t let the pain hold you hostage. Let go and be free.
  1. Handle Your Conflicts

Disagreements are inevitable between divorced parents from time to time. Develop good communication skills and you will minimize the damage that results.

When a conflict with your ex arises, be a good listener. Most disagreements come about from misunderstanding. Clarify what you heard to make sure that was the intention. Mistaken assumptions can cause hurt feelings.

It’s a good idea to get into the habit of paraphrasing what you think your ex said and ask for clarification. Apologize if you misunderstand or leave out something critical. Be understanding if your ex is the one to make the error. Try not to put your ex on the defensive or jump to negative conclusions.

Find a middle ground with which both of you can live. Take turns getting to “win” the debate or issue at hand. Agree to disagree if necessary. Learn to move on.

Try one of the co-parenting scheduling tools available online. They help reduce conflict, simplify communication and coordinate all co-parenting decisions and activities for a better, happier outcome. If talking on the phone results in frequent arguments, choose instead to put all communication in writing. The goal is to make co-parenting smoother, easier and more positive on both sides.

Your children will thank you when they’re grown.

Co-Parenting Bonus: Take The High Road

Dr. Phil often says, “Every relationship needs a hero.” Be the one who can step up and look beyond the ego gratification of being right or getting your way. Why? Because it’s in the best interest of your children for you to minimize conflict.

That doesn’t mean you become a doormat. Stand up for your values. If an occasional concession won’t harm your children’s overall wellbeing, consider whether you can let it go. It’s not about being “right.” It’s about being the best parent you can be for the kids you love.

If you must stand firm, do it without using “I told you so” putdowns. Make your points using “I” language and stating your feelings. Avoid “you” language that’s insulting or insensitive.

It takes a mature, aware adult to take the high road when a conflict is taking place. Be that person. Be the catalyst for behavior you can be proud of. In the future your children will remember who made them feel secure, protected and loved. They’ll acknowledge you for it.

Wait and see!

Divorced Parents: 5 Ways to Avoid Scarring Your Kids!

We were so intrigued by Rosalind Sedacca’s advice on positive parenting and divorce for a recent piece here on the Kars4Kids Educational Blog for Parents, that we asked her to elaborate on the subject in a guest post. To our great pleasure, she immediately accepted the challenge. We believe our readers will find this blog post both helpful and informative!

Divorced Parents: 5 Ways to Avoid Scarring Your Kids!

Let’s face it, divorce impacts everyone in the family. But it doesn’t have to scar your children if you remember to put their emotional and psychological needs first when making crucial decisions. Keep in mind that every decision you make regarding your divorce will affect the wellbeing of your children in a multitude of serious ways. Of course, the emotional scars are not only harder to see, they’re also much harder to erase.

Here are 5 ways to avoid scarring or wounding your kids as you move through your divorce and transition into your new life afterwards.

1. Emphasize that your kids are not at fault.

It is common for children to tend to blame themselves for divorce, no matter how bad Mom and Dad’s relationship has been. The younger the child, the more likely this is so. Sit down together and talk to your kids, emphasizing that they are in no way at fault for your divorce.

You can say something like: “Mom and Dad don’t agree about certain key issues and that has created conflict. Even when some of the issues are about you, it does not mean you are to blame. You are an innocent child whom we both love.

“Sadly, Mom and Dad disagree about certain important issues — but not about our love for you. You are not to blame for our divorce.”

2. Put your attention on change — not on blame.

Divorce always results in change within the family. Some of those changes can be beneficial and create a more peaceful environment for your children. Just don’t ever burden them with adult information and judgments.

Remind them instead that change is an inevitable part of life and not necessarily bad. Let your children see that everything in life keeps changing. “You grow bigger every year. Seasons change, clothing styles change, your school classes change. Sometimes it takes a while to get used to changes, like when you get a new teacher or try a new sport. In time you may come to like these new changes. Let’s give it a try.”

3. Keep from bad-mouthing your soon to be Ex.

When you belittle, put down, or in any way disrespect your child’s other parent – regardless how justified you may feel in doing so – it hurts your children in deep and long-lasting ways. Children innately love both their parents and feel a connection to them. When you insult their other parent it creates confusion, guilt, sadness, anger, insecurity and low self-esteem in your children.

Instead, remind them that Mom and Dad will always be their parents and will always love them. Reassure them that no one will replace Mom or Dad either. “We will both always love you and be there for you, no matter where we live or how things should change.”

Then make it your business to do the right thing on their behalf.

 

4. Let your kids enjoy their childhood.

As tempting as it may be, never confide adult content, the down and dirty details of your marriage, to your children. They are not psychologically prepared to handle the emotional complexity. Many adults aren’t either.

Save your venting for trusted friends, a divorce counselor, or a support group.  Never ask your children to spy; to act as messengers between parents; or to provide inappropriate details about the other parent’s home life. Involving them in the nitty-gritty of your divorce pressures them in many ways – none of which are positive.

It is not your children’s place to assume adult responsibilities or to help you to find evidence against your ex. Let your kids be kids. Don’t rob them of their childhood.

5. Put yourself in your child’s shoes.

Before making any decisions regarding divorce issues, think about the consequences for your children. See the outcome through the eyes of your five, ten, or fifteen year old. Ask yourself: what will they say to me about this when they are grown adults? Will they thank me for the way I handled the divorce – or be angry and resentful about my attitude and behavior?

The choices you make now will affect your children for years and decades to come. For their sake, take the high road and be the role model they will come to respect and later want to emulate.

© Rosalind Sedacca  All rights reserved.

The “D” Word: How Do You Tell The Kids You’re Getting A Divorce?

How do you tell the kids you’re getting a divorce? Do you present them with a carefully prepared speech filled with phrases suggested by uninvolved experts or do you find your own words? Is there an ideal time to out with this life-changing whammy, or is any time a bad time?

Is there a way to soften the blow?

A good rule of thumb, when talking to children about life-changing events is to imagine one’s self in their position. What is likely to be uppermost in their minds when hearing the news? If your children are like any other children, they will have two main questions:

  1. Is it my fault?
  2. How will the divorce change my life?

Now that you’ve pinned down the major concerns, you know what you most need to address when you talk to them. That’s your starting point.

Tell Them Together

As for the setting and the how-to of the discussion, there will only be so much you can control. For instance, it would be idealHow Do You Tell the Kids You’re Getting A Divorce for the two of you to break the news to the children, together. But divorce is not always (or even usually) amicable. It may not be possible to coordinate things in this manner.

A visit with a counselor or a mediator may help you have this conversation about telling the kids together. But if that’s somehow not possible, you may just have to go it alone. At any rate, don’t rush to get it over with. For one thing, you want to make absolutely sure you’re going ahead with the divorce before you tell the kids. On the other hand, you don’t want them to hear it from a stranger or from the kids at school (who heard it from their parents who heard it from the grapevine).

By the same token, you want to tell your kids all at one time. You don’t want one sibling telling the others because that sibling is unlikely to give over the details with the sensitivity and accuracy necessary. Tell the kids in a manner that the youngest will understand. If necessary, talk to the older children later, to clarify the situation for them in an age-appropriate manner.

Express Agreement Not Disagreement

Set the tone by remaining calm but serious. Don’t use the “I” word, but use “we” whenever possible, to show that the divorce is a decision you and your spouse have made together. You don’t want to leave the impression of disagreement, but rather of agreement: the two of you have agreed to divorce. If you remain calm as you break the news, it will help your children come to terms with this life-changing event.

Your kids will want to know why and that’s only natural. But the truth is, the details will likely only confuse them. It’s best and most appropriate to keep your explanation a general as possible. Think about this in advance: what you want to tell them as a general reason for the divorce. Give this a lot of thought, because, for example, if you say, “We no longer love each other,” your kids might wonder if someday you will stop loving them, too. Always think about how your children are likely to respond to what you tell them and use this as your guide.

While the reasons for the divorce should be given over in a general way, the details of how the divorce will change things should be told to the children in as specific a manner as possible. The children should be told if they will have to move to a different location or house. They should know with which parent they will be living and how much they will see of the other parent.

Be Honest

If there are details you don’t yet know, tell them so, but also tell them you will let them know as soon as you know the answer. Be honest about what will change and what won’t. Be honest about what you know for sure and what you don’t yet know for sure.

A child may be very concerned about the parent that will be living apart from him. Here you should go the extra mile to describe the parent’s new living conditions and location. If you have photos, all the better. What the child really wants to know is whether or not a relationship can be properly maintained with the parent who is leaving the home. Here is where reassurance is helpful to your child.

Both parents should let the children know they are not the cause of the divorce. Moreover, it is critical to convey to them that there is nothing they, the children could have done, to stop the divorce. Both parents, should ideally offer the children lots of affection at this time. Make your love tangible to your children so they know they can still depend on this one constant: the unconditional love of both parents for them.

There’s No “Right” Response

How Do You Tell the Kids You’re Getting A DivorceBe ready for whatever response you receive. This is not good news, however you want to paint it. In fact, it’s pretty darned devastating. Your children may be too shocked at first to have any reaction at all. They may feel they have to put up a brave face and be nonchalant. Or, they may become very angry, or cry for hours. They may have a lot of harsh words, or none at all. This is a serious and painful event for you and your spouse and it’s also a serious and painful event for your children. Recognize this fact and be accepting, no matter their response to news of the divorce.

If you’ve handled things well until this point, it’s perfectly normal that your kids will have questions. Let them ask whatever they want and give them good honest answers. They may be too shocked at first to come to you with their questions but may want to ask questions later on, as they occur. Be prepared to answer their questions as they come. There is never a point where you can decide that enough time has elapsed, you don’t need to discuss this topic anymore. If a question is asked and even if it is repeated, there is a reason, something left unexplained, at least in the mind of your child.

Time is the magic ingredient you can’t add to your talk. It will take much time for your kids to see what you see about the future. What you can provide them with is reliability and steadfastness. No matter what happens, you are there for them. If they know that, they can cope with the rest.

Time is also necessary to help children fully internalize the idea that the divorce is not their fault. Once the idea does sink in, your children may still feel a strong need to pinpoint a cause for the divorce. They may shift the blame from themselves to one parent or another. A child may even say it out loud, “If you weren’t so overweight, she wouldn’t have left you,” or, “Maybe if you weren’t working all the time, Dad wouldn’t have divorced you.”

Deep Breaths

Take a deep breath when this happens. That’s the hurt talking: a child trying to make sense of a complicated situation when he’s not privy to all the details (nor should he be). You might tell your child, “That sounds like you’re trying to figure things out—how we got to the point of divorce. I think it’s more complicated than that. The main thing to understand is that we both love you very much.”

That may not satisfy your child then and there. But as time goes on, he will invent a narrative that explains the divorce—to himself and others. Your response to his pain and confusion at the time of the divorce will have a great impact on the formulation of that future narrative. If you are understanding and refuse to sling mud at your ex, your child’s account of events will likely be a respectful one (They both loved me dearly but just weren’t meant for marriage/each other), rather than a blame-filled litany (Dad had a wandering eye and Mom wanted to hurt him).

Your children need both parents and they need time, too. They need to feel your steadfast presence and your unconditional love. But no matter how you slice it, this is a difficult time for him and for all of you. Be patient with your children and most of all, be there.