Friday, February 5, 2010

Avoiding The Disneyland Dad Problem

Recently divorced dads are prone to feeling insecure about their relationship with their kids, and when that happens they are likely to do things that they think will please their kids and gain their acceptance. They get caught up in the "disneyland dad" syndrome of doing, going and buying, thinking that if their kids have a good time they will look forward to coming back.

The truth is that children don't need lots of "stuff". They just need a dad that loves them and spends quality time with them. The reason divorced dads tend to feel insecure about their relationship with their children very likely stems from unresolved feelings connected with the divorce, and from having less contact.

After a divorce, non-custodial dads face a difficult adjustment when they go from being around their children every day to seeing them once a week or once every two weeks. They often find it hard to strike a balance between discipline and expressing love. In some cases they may try too hard to be the child's friend rather than just being a parent.

Here are some ideas that can help you avoid the Disneyland dad syndrome:

*Maintain a regular routine with bedtime and meals. Avoid letting your children stay up later than usual, set limits on sweets and snacks between meals.

*Maintain contact between visits to ease the sadness that you and the kids feel when they go back to mom's house. Encourage them to call you between visits. Make an agreement to call them one or two nights a week at a certain time, and stick to it. This type of structure helps children feel secure.

*Make arrangements to visit your child's school. The more frequently you see them, the better you can maintain the bonds between you.

*Suggest that your children come up with ideas about what to do, ideas that are fun and inexpensive.

Remember that the Disneyland dad syndrome stems from your feelings of sadness, guilt and anger connected with the divorce, regardless of who initiated it. Divorce is a major life-changing experience, and you need support for yourself. Doing so will help you make an easier adjustment.

When your children are with you, give of yourself and your time. This is what they want most of all.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Divorced Dads Who Disappear

Has the father of your child been out of his or her life temporarily or on a long term basis since your divorce ? If so,you and the child have double the problems to deal with. Children can feel abandoned after divorce even when both parents are still in their life. They often feel that divorce had something to do with them,and that they are at fault somehow.

If these are the normal reactions of children to divorce,imagine how a child feels when one of their parents is truly absent, temporarily or on a long term basis. They will experience double the pain, sadness and feelings of abandonment that comes with divorce.

You can help mitigate these feelings by reassuring them that the other parent loves them, even though they are not in contact. You can also reassure them that it isn't their fault, and also let them know that you don't know why their dad is not calling or seeing them. Even if you know the reason, don't tell them. Children need to love both parents, and anything you say that puts the parent in an unfavorable light can be harmful to their self esteem.

Here are some things you can do to help your child cope with the feelings connected with this. Encourage him or her to write letters (with your help)telling dad they miss him, including a brief description of what's going on in their life. Even though they may not get a response, it will give the child a feeling of connecting with dad, even though temporarily. If dad has an email address, encourage them to communicate that way.

I would also suggest that you email, write or call dad to learn if there is some way to work around the issue of why they are not seeing the child. They may have some lingering anger or pain connected with the divorce that makes it difficult for them to be in contact with you when they pick up the child.

If so, you might arrange for a trusted third party to be a go-between, picking up the child and dropping them off at dad's house. Another possible reason for the problem may be dad's new romantic interest, or second wife who may have some jealousy issues. That may sound trite, but it happens. In fact, it happened to me.

If you call or email dad, offer to send him a schedule of the child's school or sport activities. When you talk with him, try to be as business-like as possible. This will help you avoid falling into a guilt trip or expressing your anger about them being absent.

Divorced parents who are not on good terms can often attend their child's activities (when held in an auditorium or gym) with a relative degree of anonymity. There are lots of people there, and dad can come and go without having to talk to you.

One of the issues you may have to deal with is your own anger at dad for not maintaining the relationship. It hurts when you see your child suffering, and it's a natural response to want to protect your child. Get support for yourself. Talk to a close friend or family member, or get counseling.Another possibility that could help your child is Big Brothers/Big Sisters, an organization that provides adult friendship and support for children of the same gender.

If dad has been absent for long periods of time, find a good family counselor who can help you and your child cope with this problem. The more support and reassurance you can give your child,they better they can adjust to this situation without lasting scars.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Divorce and Addiction

Does your ex-spouse (or soon to be ex-spouse)have a problem with addiction ? If so, you have double the issues to deal with. It's very likely that the addiction problem existed before the divorce, and you tried everything you knew to cope with that person's drinking or drugging. Here's some news for you: there is nothing you can do to stop another person from drinking or using drugs. You may have discovered that by now. If not, give it time to soak in.

At this point,I want to share something with you that could be a tremendous help. It's called THE THREE C'S:

1)You didn't cause it
2)You can't control it
3)You can't cure it

If you make these a part of your daily routine, you can gain some much needed peace of mind. Now, this brings us to another issue: what do I tell my children about their mom/dad's addiction ?

The first and most important thing they need to know is this - it has nothing to do with them. That parent has a disease that is causing their behavior. They are not acting that way because they are a jerk, or because they don't love you.
Tell them about the THREE C'S. This is also the core issue of divorce that children need to understand.

The next most important thing you need to tell the child is strategies for keeping safe when they are with that parent while he or she is under the influence.
Encourage them to call you when the other parent is drinking or drugging and they feel uneasy. Knowing they can call you anytime can give a child a feeling of security.

Encourage your child not to argue,nag or plead with their drinking/drugging parent. This just creates more frustration for him or her. The best responses they can give are minimal and to the point.

If they have no choice but to ride in the car with that parent, emphasize the importance of seat belts. Make it clear to them to avoid arguing between themselves, or to avoid any behavior that would increase the stress level in the situation.
DON'T ROCK THE BOAT are the keywords in this situation.

As for your dealings with the former spouse, don't try to talk rationally when they are under the influence. If you have an issue to discuss with them regarding the children or child support, make notes ahead of time about what you will talk about. This will help you communicate in a business-like way. Avoid talking in person with them. Phone or email communication can be more objective than face-to-face; There are fewer possibilities of getting hooked into conflict.

One last but very important coping skill for you and your children is Alanon for you,and Alateen for teenage kids. Another good option is the How To Cope program that the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence sponsors. They have a 6 week program for adults and children with substance abusing loved ones that is very helpful and effective. You are provided with a workbook containing all the information you need to know about the disease of addition.

I would suggest family counseling for you and your children while you are going through the divorce, since you are dealing with very complex issues. Remember that you are going through a grief process regarding the loss of a relationship, but your grief process started long ago as your spouse's addiction began to be the focus of your family life. Allow yourself the time to feel sad and angry about the situation. Your spouse's addiction is not your fault. He/she made their own choices to drink or use drugs. You can't control that.

What you CAN control is your own emotional responses. Recognize that you are not a victim. You have choices. Avoid blaming the other parent. Blaming keeps us helpless and stuck. In order to go forward with your life, you need to DETACH from your attention on that person. The best strategy at this point for you and your children is to make a life that focuses on YOUR needs and goals.

You can, through reading about the effects of substance abuse on the family, gain the necessary knowledge that will help you GROW through this experience and come out a healthier, happier person. The following are suggested sites to explore.

www.http://healthyplace.com AND www.http://livestrong.com

Watch for my newsletter to appear on WizIQ

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Interaction Styles of Divorced Parents

Divorced parents generally fall into one of several categories of interaction that affects their children's ability to adjust to divorce. They can be collaborative, cooperative, foes, or downright enemies. These interaction styles can impact the way they handle their parental responsibilities, which of course do not end when they are divorced.

Cooperative parents are good communicators who deal with anger in healthy ways that allow them to effectively manage any conlicts that occur. They are able to separate issues with their former spouse from parental responsibilities.

Parents who still have anger towards their former spouse do not communicate well. They are not effective co-parents, and conflict leaks into the relationship with the children.

Parents who are foes or enemies cling to wrongs about the marriage, often distorting them due to pain and anger related to unresolved marital difficulties. These emotions adversely affect the children, who feel the tension. This often results in problems for them that include psychosomatic complaints, decreased school performance or conflict with peers.

In some cases disconnect between the spouses occurs when one parent drops out of a child's life for short periods, often for longer times. When this happens a child is devastated by the abandonment, and behavior problems develop with the custodial parent. When a child has nowhere to channel their pain and rage in these instances, they often strike out against the parent they live with, making parenting a struggle.

If you are in any of the latter categories,there are solutions. If the other parent is receptive, make an appointment to talk with them away from the child. Make notes before that time to organize your thoughts and help you present yourself clearly. Focus on the child's well being, and how cooperative co-parenting would improve that. Take a business-like, matter of fact approach.

If necessary, use examples of problems children have been having that are resulting from conflict, but do that in an objective blame-free manner. Take responsibility for your part in the conflict and suggest that you both need to do better.

When this option doesn't work, seek counseling for you and your child to strenghten coping skills for you and them. If one parent has disconnected or dissapeared, take time to frequently reassure your child that the other parent loves them, but we can't control him or her. A good allegory of this is the THREE C'S:

1) You didn't Cause it
2) You can't Cure it
3) You can't Control it

With counseling and continued reinforcment with these techniques, the effects of negative interaction styles between divorced parents can be mitigated over time.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Divorced Dads and Visitation Problems: Three Things to Improve the Quality of Time With Your Children

Divorced dads who have visitation rights but do not share joint custody have an especially difficult time after divorce if their former spouses are not fully cooperative in adhering to the visitation agreement. For the first year or two after divorce, many divorced couples still have anger issues towards each other relative to problems that ocurred during the marriage.

This can result in the custodial spouse (mom) withholding visitation for various reasons, not legitimate. This can add to the anger and pain that dads experience. They don't have as much visitation as both them and their children need. Due to the increased financial burden of child support, divorced dads often don't have enough income to get legal help to enforce the visitation agreement.

They are then faced with the problems of erratic visitation, which is also hard on the children. They can develop low self esteem and trust issues that can impact the quality of their potential for forming intimate relationships in young adult life.

This may seem like a glum situation, but there are some solutions. The following information shows you three things divorced dads can do to improve the quality of time with their children.

I. FOCUS ON SIMPLE INEXPENSIVE TIME TOGETHER
* Play board games
* Take trips to local parks
* Ride bicycles together
* Watch educational videos and TV programs

II. MAINTAIN CONTACT BETWEEN VISITS
* Make phone calls, send cards or emails
* Attend their extra-curricular events: sports, hobbies, etc.

III. GET INVOLVED IN YOUR CHILD'S SCHOOL
* Attend school events that they participate in
* When possible, arrange to visit their special classroom activies
* Arrange to have treats sent to the classroom on the child's birthday

These are all simple things that any divorced dad can do to improve the quality of their relationship with their children when visitation is erratic and problematic. You can come up with your own ideas - anything you can do to stay involved in their lives will help. Recognize that it is not necessarily quantity but quality that is important for divorced dads to maintain a good relationship with their children.



Thursday, December 10, 2009

Children and Divorce

Children experience some of the same emotions connected with divorce that adults do, but in a different way. They experience them in a different way, however, since their conscious minds are not fully formed.
Children go through the feelings of the grief process as adults do. But they have emotions that adults do not.

Because they are children, they trust and depend on mom and dad to love and take care of them. Feeling and knowing they are part of a family makes children feel secure. When mom and dad separate, children experience feelings of abandonment, even though they may not say so. They think that if one parent left the household, the other one could also. They worry that there will be no money, no food, no place to live.

Children may feel responsible for the divorce. They may think that if they had only been "better", not argued, listened to mom and dad more, this would not have happened. Reassure them frequently that this had nothing to do with them. If either or both parents are in denial, still spending time together as a couple in an attempt to be "nice" to one another,.children will feel confused. They will not adjust to divorce in a healthy way, and will likely have trouble learning to trust as young adults.

There are specific indications that you can be alert to that will tell you how children are dealing with the grief process. These indications depend on the age of a child. These signs are listed below according to childrens ages and developmental stages.

Infants: Birth to 1 year
Infants can feel the tension of adult emotions in divorce situations. They respond to that tension by crying more frequently, having digestive disturbances, or not sleeping as well.

Toddlers: 1 1/2 to 3 Years
Children at this age can experience some of the same responses as infants. If they are going through potty training they may take longer to accomplish bowel and bladder control. If they have been recently potty trained, they may have more accidents. If they have been recently weaned from the bottle or binky, they will likely regress and want it again. Don't hesitate to give it to them. This is their "comfort" source.

Preschoolers 3-5
Preschoolers can have trouble sleeping and may have bad dreams. They may wake up during the night and want to sleep with mom or dad. If that should happen, allow them to do that on a temporary basis. Set a time limit that lets them know when they will go back to sleeping in their own bed. Children this age can be especially clingy when their parents have separated, moreso than usual. They may throw temper tantrums if that was not part of their behavior pattern before.

Elementary School Age 5-10
Children in this age bracket can adapt to divorce in a healhy way if parents are open and honest about the divorce. Parents who are still doing things together as a couple and as a family with their children can retard their childrens' adjustment to divorce. School age children may act out the anger stage of the grief process by dragging their feet with household responsibilites and taking care of their room. They may have problems in school, such as conflicts with classmates, inattentiveness in class or failure to turn in work on time. Inform your child's teacher about your divorce. He or she can be your eyes and ears away from home regarding children's adjustment to the grief process.

Pre-Teen and Teen Ages .
The developmental task of children this age is forming their own identity separate from mom and dad. This process may be retarded if parents are not honest and clear about the divorce. This age will spend more time in their room, and may show a lack of interest in favorite activities. A child who has been involved in sports for example, may not be as enthusiastic. Teen agers that are working may want to help mom or dad financially. One parent in my class had a teenage boy who offered to give her money whenever he visited on the weekends because he felt responsible that she had a lower standard of living since the divorce. The worst case scenario for teenagers is getting involved with the wrong crowd, or with alcohol or drugs.
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This concludes my blog, "The Myth of The Friendly Divorce". I hope you have gotten some good ideas from this.
Hopefully, you and your former spouse can be objective with each other and avoid the pitfalls that can happen when a divorcing couple are still acting like a married couple. If your state does not offer divorce education, there is much information on the Internet and in libraries. An excellent source of information is anything written by Judith Wallerstein. She has done some good research that has been published in her books.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Myth of The Friendly Divorce

Many people who are going through a divorce try hard to be amiable and friendly, even though they are hurting or angry inside. I have seen this phenomenon many times in the 10 years that I have been teaching a divorce recovery class. Considering that divorce is a loss for you and your children, why would anyone want to put on a friendly face when they are facing such a loss ?



This if the conclusion I have come to: when we keep things friendly and "nice", we can avoid our true feelings of sadness, anger, pain or guilt. Mind you, I am not saying that there has to be open conflict in order to successfully navigate a divorce. Nor am I saying that two individuals going through this process can't be civil and respectful of one another.



Let's look at this from a broader perspective. Divorce is a loss. Loss involves a grief process. When we don't complete it, we set ourselves up for problems in some way. Let's explore what sort of problems can ocurr by first examining the grief process .

I. Shock
This is the first stage.It is characterized by a sense of numbness and disbelief..We don't feel pain, anger or sadness.

II. Denial
In this stage we find ways to rationalize and minimize the difficulty of the situation. We are not aware of our feelings. We may do something to mask or medicate our feelings. Some people do this by working longer hours, or getting involved in "busy" projects at home. Some get involved in rebound relationships. And in worst case scenarios, some may turn to alcohol or drugs.

III. Sadness
In the sadness phase we are fully in touch with the pain, and we may even experience some depression. If you are experienceing depression you will likely feel a loss of interest in things you are normally enthusiastic about. You may spend more time alone than usual, and lose interest in socializing or connecting with friends and family.

IV. Anger
During the anger stage we may blame ourselves or our former spouse for things we did or didn't do that contributed to the divorce.Anger is expressed as hostility, irritability, verbal aggression, and feelings of revenge. Many people get stuck in the anger stage more than any other phase of the grief process. Getting stuck in anger can keep us from completing the grief process.

VI. Anxiety, Guilt
Anxiety is worry. Worry stems from fear. People in this stage may be afraid that they can't manage the new financial responsibilities of divorce, such as child support or managing a budget on less income. In this stage we may feel guilty for leaving our spouse, or guilty about the breakup of the family. We may feel guilty because our children don't have daily contact with the other parent if we are the custodial parent. Guilt can make us overly accomodating when we need to be focusing on our own interests. It may also compromise our ability to set limits for our children.

VII. Acceptance
When divorcing people reach the acceptance stage of the grief process, they no longer experience the pain, anger, sadness or guilt. They are emotionally neutral. This is a good analogy: when we can be in the same place at the same time as our former spouse spouse and experience an absence of these feelings, we have reached the acceptance phase.

There is one very important thing to remember about the grief process:
We can go through all of these feelings in an hour, a day or a week. This is not a linear process. We can go from sadness to denial, anger to sadness, sadness to anger, or acceptance to anger. Since people are all individuals, there are no firm rules written on a stone tablet, stored high in the Himalayas about how we experience the grief process.

Strategies For Dealing With or Avoiding Conflict
If we are still in the mode of superficial niceness in a divorce situation, we will not deal effectively with conflict, and there may be times when conflict is unavoidable during or after divorce. If it happens we need to be prepared with good coping skills. I will share some of the strategies I have taught in my classes.

The most important thing we can do in dealing with conflict is fighting fair. This means that we don't yell, use obscenities or deragatory language when dealing with our former spouse. We make an effort to be polite and respectful.

If we find ourselves too angry to do this, the next best thing is to detach from the situation. This means that we don't continue to argue, or continue to listen to the other person arguing. We simply say "I'll talk to you later about this" and walk away. Another strategy is to set a definite date and time to talk about the issue. We can talk by phone or by email. If there has been a history of conflict or disagreement, email is the best tool to use. When using email we are not exposed to facial expressions or tone of voice. This has the best potential for remaining objective in communication.

The following is a few suggestions to use in situations involving visitation with children.
If conflict arises in regard to visitation with our children, the best tool to use is to refer back to the schedule that we set up for parental visitation at the time of separation. Send your former spouse a copy of the visitation schedule with a note indicating when your last visitation was and what date the next one will be. This can be done by postal mail or email. Follow up with a phone call in which you say, I would like to pick up the kids on this date at this time, as a reminder of what the normal visitation schedule is.This approach can also be used if you need to make unplanned changes to the schedule. If all else fails, talking to an attorney about enforcing the visitation schedule would be a last resort. This can often be done in one visit.

The "friendly divorce", when two people are superficial rather than honest and real, can be very damaging to children. They will be confused and ultimately, angry. They know well that their parents are no longer together as a couple. If parents try to always be amiable and friendly when they are angry, sad or hurting, children will pick up on it right away. Their adjustment to the divorce can be compromised and they will suffer from it with a lack of trust and fear of closeness in their own adult relationships.

Lastly, a vital component in avoiding the myth of the "friendly divorce" is effective co-parenting. Co-parenting is effectively accomplished by using the same behavioral strategies mentioned : treating your former spouse with respect and politeness, another term for which is co-parenting.

The best approach to co-parenting involves being businesslike with your former spouse regarding the children. Consider this: when you are dealing with a client at work that you dislike or have issues with, you pull in your personal feelings and relate to that person in an appropritate way for the workplace.

This may sound cold, but this approach can be effective with co-parenting. Think of your former spouse as a business partner with whom you share your most important asset - your children. If you maintain this focus, your children will benefit the most. If they see adults working out difficulties, treating each other with respect, they will be able to bounce back from divorce without adverse affects.

If you are able to apply these suggestions and techniques to your divorce, you and your children will adjust in a healthy manner, paving the way for an emotionally successful future in which you and they will be better able to have fulfilling opposite sex relationships.