Articles for Parents

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    4 Must-Dos for Parents After Divorce

    Based on hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, Dr. Warren Farrell, co-author of The Boy Crisis, says that “Dad’s time trumps Dad’s dime.” 

    “More than 100 psychologists and researchers got together. They wrote in unanimous consent that the children need their father about equally to their mother in the case of divorce,” says Farrell. 

    Farrell explained that for years researchers believed that children did better with an involved father because intact families had more money and lived in better neighborhoods. However, researchers controlled for virtually every variable and found that father involvement plays a vital role in the health of a child. It’s not just about the money he may provide, although that is very important. It is the combination of presence and provision.

    “The degree of difference between the health of a child who has both father and mother involvement, who has four things after divorce is so different from the health of the child that doesn’t,” Farrell says. 

    Farrell goes on to say that whether babies are born prematurely or full-term, the importance of the father being involved is enormous. 

    “Prematurely-born children are more likely to develop their brains better and get out of the hospital sooner and have more psychomotor functioning when the father is visiting the hospital as much as possible, according to research from Yale University,” he says.

    “The father breathing on the child when it’s first born helps the bonding process to occur and changes the dad’s brain,” Farrell says “The sooner the father gets involved with the child, a whole nest of neurons in the male brain begins to develop and connect with each other that mimics the mother instinct - overlapping with mother instinct. Oxytocin levels go up, testosterone levels go down. Dads connect emotionally with their children.”

    According to Farrell, in the event of an unavoidable divorce, here are four must-dos for your child to have a reasonable chance of doing well.

    The first one is ensuring an equal amount of time with mother and father. Being in checks and balance mode with each other never means the father going away and working 80 hours a week and coming back when he is exhausted and the children are in bed. Farrell asserts that children need more than a Disneyland Dad or just a visitor on the weekends. They need time, and plenty of it.

    The second must-do is for the mother and father to live within a 20-minute drive time from each other. This gives children greater stability and creates less resentment, because if parents live further away, the kids may have to give up activities or friends in order to see the other parent. 

    It’s also important that children are not able to hear or detect bad-mouthing or negativity from one parent about the other. If one parent responds negatively about something concerning the other one, it can affect the child’s intimacy with one or both parents. Bad-mouthing isn’t just by words, it’s also via body language and tone of voice. Farrell says that many parents will swear that their kids did not overhear them saying something negative about the other parent while on the phone, but the child could detect the difference in the tone of voice, even from another room.

    Finally, it’s beneficial for the kids if parents spend significant time doing consistent relationship counseling, even if it only happens every few weeks. If parents only seek counsel in an emergency, the chances are you need to solve the problem sooner, and you are more likely to make the other parent wrong and you only see the other parent when you are emergency mode. Therefore, you don’t have the chance to think and feel through with compassion the other parent’s best intent to solve the problem and make decisions.

    “Before you make a decision to have a child, do the research on why children need a significant amount of father involvement so that you don’t raise a child on your own and think it is just fine to do so and think that having a stepfather or you doing the father-type of role is going to be enough,” Farrell says. “If you believe your new husband is going to be a better stepfather than the biological father is a father, know that almost always the stepfather perceives himself to be an advisor, and the dynamic between a biological mother and stepfather is one where the biological mother does make the final decision. All of the dad-style parenting that a stepfather could potentially bring to a child’s life, like roughhousing, is likely to be inhibited by a biological mother with a lot more power and potency than she will use with the biological father. There’s a tendency for the stepfather to back out of equal parent engagement and just become a breadwinner.”

    Since research consistently shows that both parents are the best parents, Farrell expresses concern for unmarried biological moms who are living with the father. Farrell wants these moms to understand that when Mom is the primary parent, it often leads to the father being uninvolved and feeling that he is not valued. In situations like this, many fathers leave the child’s life within the first three to four years. 

    A word of caution here: While there is no question that some parents are unfit when it comes to filling the parent role, careful evaluation may be necessary to discern whether an ex is truly not fit to parent, or if it would "just be easier not to have to deal with them." If your thought process is more along the lines of, “I made a mistake marrying them. I want to start life over again without them. I don't like them. I don't like dealing with them,” it might be wise for you to reconsider your stance.

    There’s a big difference between safety and abuse issues and misunderstanding the other parent’s reasoning, thought processes or parenting style. If the goal is for children of divorce to be healthy in adulthood, it is important to follow these 4 must-dos after a divorce when it is possible and safe to do so.

    This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 7, 2019.

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    Steps for Keeping the Peace in Broken Homes

    “How do I get my ex to be consistent with discipline?”

    “Sometimes I find it very hard not to talk bad about my ex in front of the children.”

    “There is nothing that will make my blood pressure go up faster than when my ex says they will do something and they don’t.”

    “I honestly believe my ex does things intentionally to get back at me.”

    In the aftermath of a divorce, people often realize that instead of being better off as they hoped, they have traded one set of problems for another. There are a lot of frustrated moms and dads who don’t understand why they can’t agree on anything after the divorce when it comes to parenting.

    Life is Different

    Even though you have lived with this person for a number of years, you are now learning how to live separate lives while still parenting your children well. There may be things your ex is doing that you totally don’t agree with, but you have to figure out how to work within the boundaries of your new relationship - while always considering what will be in the best interest of your children.

    For starters, it is important for you to plan how you will manage as a single parent.

    • Get organized. Make a plan for moving forward. Take time to sort through activities, job demands, a budget, available resources, friends who can provide support and backup, etc. This will help you to be more in control of your situation and to focus on what is important.
    • Focus on family. Set expectations, keep the lines of communication open, establish boundaries and set aside time to be together as a family.
    • Throw perfection out the window. It isn’t about having it all together. It is more about doing the best you can under difficult circumstances.
    • Ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. There are resources available, but you have to make the connection. Neighbors, church friends and co-workers are often ready and willing to step up to the plate when you need them.
    • Take one day at a time. After you have put a plan together, don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture.

    This transition time can be very challenging. Having a plan in place will help you bring some order into your life and help you keep your cool when things don’t go as planned with your ex.

    Keep the Children out of the Middle

    An old African proverb says, “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”

    “Biological parents who fight and refuse to cooperate are trampling on their most prized possession - their children,” says stepfamily expert Ron Deal. “Elephants at war are totally unaware of what is happening to the grass because they are far too consumed with the battle at hand. Little do they know how much damage is being done.”

    Parents who want to reduce the negative effects of divorce on their children should strive to be effective co-parents because it reduces between-home conflict and increases cooperation. Taming your tongue, for example, is critical to cooperating. Conflict containment starts with controlling your speech. You cannot be an effective co-parent without doing so.

    “Parents have to remember and accept the fact that while they can end a marriage to someone, they will never stop being parents,” Deal says. “While you may be relieved to be out of the marriage, your children have been in a transitional crisis. How well they recover from that crisis has a lot to do with you, the parents. The key to successful co-parenting is separating the dissolution of your marriage from the parental responsibilities that remain.”

    According to Deal, children successfully adjust to the ending of their parents’ marriage and can fare reasonably well if:

    • The parents are able to bring their marital relationship to an end without excessive conflict.
    • Children are not put into the middle of whatever conflicts exist.
    • There is a commitment from parents to cooperate on issues of the children’s material, physical, educational and emotional welfare.

    Many ex-spouses have great difficulty cooperating about anything, let alone the nurturing and disciplining of their children. That does not absolve you of the responsibility to try. Your children deserve your best effort.

    Co-parenting does not mean sharing all decisions about the children or that either home is accountable to the other for their choices, rules or standards. Each household should be autonomous, but share responsibility for the children. It also does not mean that rules or punishment from one home cross over to the other home.

    For example, if your child gets in trouble on Thursday and he loses his television privileges, in an ideal world it would be great if your ex were willing to enforce the consequence over the weekend. That may not happen in reality, so the actual consequence would go into effect when your child returns home to you Sunday evening. Telling your ex that he/she has to enforce your consequence usually leads to more conflict between the two of you and more angst for your child.

    Deal believes effective co-parenting should look something like this:

    • Work hard to respect the other parent and his or her household.
    • Schedule a monthly “business” meeting to discuss co-parenting matters. Make a list of things that need to be discussed. A word of caution: Do not discuss your personal life or that of your ex. If the conversation drifts away from the children, redirect it toward your children and their activities, schedules, etc.
    • Never ask your children to be spies or tattle-tales on the other home. The goal is to decrease distress, not create more. If you hear information about what happened while they were with their other parent, listen and stay neutral.
    • When children have confusing or angry feelings toward your ex, don’t capitalize on their hurt and berate the other parent.
    • Children should have everything they need in each home. Don’t make them bring basics back and forth.
    • Try to release your hostility toward the other parent so that the children can’t take advantage of your hard feelings. Bitterness, hurt and anger keep you from being the person and the parent your children need.
    • Do not disappoint your children with broken promises or by being unreliable.

    In the midst of a complicated and difficult situation, you have the opportunity to show integrity, honor and respect. Even when you don’t like someone anymore or you don't think they deserve it, you can still find a way to be respectful.

    • Make your custody structure work for your children even if you don’t like the details of the arrangement.
    • If you plan to hire a babysitter for more than four hours while the children are in your home, give the other parent first rights to that time.
    • Suggest that younger children take a favorite toy or game as a transitional object.
    • If you and your ex cannot resolve a problem, change in custody or visitation, agree to problem-solve through mediation rather than litigation.

    Moving On

    “The reality is many parents who were poor marriage partners are good parents and their children enjoy them very much,” Deal shares. “Give your ex-spouse the opportunity to be wonderful with the children, even if he/she wasn’t wonderful with you.”

    You are traveling in uncharted waters. While you probably have friends who have experienced this and are willing to give you advice, it may not be right for your family.

    A father once said that it had been six months since his divorce and it was time for his “kid” to get over it. Children of divorce don’t ever “get over it.” They may learn how to cope with it, but every day for the rest of their lives they will have to make decisions that are a result of their parents' divorce.

    As time goes by, you may feel like you are moving on, adjusting and putting this chapter in your life behind you. However, this is not something your children will ever “put behind them.” At every turn your child will gain new insights and more questions. They must understand the divorce was not their fault. Equally as important is being intentional about modeling healthy relationship skills with your children.

    Additional Resources:

    The Smart Stepfamily: Seven steps to a Healthy Family – Ron Deal

    Parenting After Divorce: How to Work Together with Your Ex-Spouse for Happier, Healthier Children – Ron Deal

    The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce – Judith Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakesless

    What About the Kids?: Raising Your Children Before, During and After Divorce – Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee

    Smart Stepfamilies

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    7 Ways to Support Teens During a Divorce

    I was 18 when my father announced he was divorcing my mother. My sister and brother were 13 and 20 respectively.

    While some might think that the three of us were old enough to grasp what was going on, our lives were honestly in an absolute tailspin. Sure, we had heard our parents fight, but it never seemed like it was anything major.

    Never in a million years would I have suspected they were headed down the road to divorce. If you had asked anyone in our community about the likelihood of my parents splitting, they probably would have laughed in your face. The whole thing was a very big shocker.

    “What some people don’t take into consideration is the younger you are when your parents divorce, the more childhood you have left to travel between two parents whose lives become more different with each passing year,” says Elizabeth Marquardt, author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce and director of the Center for Marriage and Family at the Institute for American Values.

    “The older you are when your parents divorce, the more you have to lose. You have a long experience with your ‘whole’ family. You have (for yourself, the teen) a lifetime of memories, experiences, photographs and stories of YOUR FAMILY. All of that comes apart.”

    A World Turned Upside Down

    Going through the divorce process was an awkward time, not just for my family, but for friends, youth leaders, teachers, and neighbors. People knew what was happening, but seemed to keep their distance as if they weren’t quite sure what to say.

    Just recently I was talking with a childhood friend about my parents’ divorce. She said the divorce shocked her so much that she didn’t know what to say - so she never said anything at all.

    As a teenager, I had all these thoughts and feelings rumbling around inside my head and no idea where to turn to sort things out. Furious with my parents and the situation in which I found myself, I wondered how I had missed the severity of the situation and if there was any way I could have helped to prevent the divorce.

    I had questions:  

    • “Would we have to move?”
    • “How would I afford college?”
    • “Would we see our father and did I even want to see him?”
    • “What will my friends think of me?”
    • “Why me?”

    I would lie awake at night praying that this was just a bad dream and that I would eventually wake up and everything would be just fine.

    “Divorce is tremendously painful at any age (even if you are grown and have left home when your parents divorce), but especially so in the vulnerable teen years when you are just looking at the world and imagining taking it on, on your own,” Marquardt says. “You are standing on the rock of your family, about to jump off, but needing to know that the rock is there so you can jump back at any time. But before your eyes the rock fractures in two.

    “Teens can be more likely than younger children to get drawn into their parents’ needs and to worry about their parents’ vulnerabilities. And this is occurring at precisely the time when, developmentally, they are supposed to be identifying more with peers than parents. It’s not developmentally appropriate for a teen to spend the weekend ‘visiting’ his father or ‘visiting’ his mother. His parents are supposed to just BE THERE, steady, in the background, while the teen is focusing on other things.”

    Teens Need a Strong Support System

    In many instances, teens don’t feel like they can talk with their parents about the divorce. I suspect there were many people who wanted to be supportive of me as I went through this tough time, but just didn’t know what to say or how to approach me. Honestly, I think just letting me know they were aware and available if I needed to talk would have been helpful.

    “Parents can do their teen a great favor by personally speaking with people who are close to their teen such as grandparents, a beloved aunt or uncle, coach, youth leader or close adult friend letting them know they want their teen to feel free to speak openly about how they’re feeling, even if it means sometimes saying something bad or unflattering about their parents,” Marquardt says.

    “Clearly, this is not about family members and the teen joining together in badmouthing the parents, but they do want to give 'permission' to the teen and family member to speak openly as the TEEN wishes. Parents need to understand that if this person is not someone the teen already has a close relationship with, the teen is likely just to see them as another adult and unlikely to form a trusting bond during that time, unless the person is especially skilled and empathetic.”

    Family members, friends or others who have their own feelings they need to process about the divorce should turn to someone besides the teen, cautions Marquardt.

    Local clinical psychologist, Susan Hickman encourages caring adults who find themselves in a position to reach out to teens who are experiencing divorce to consider the following:

    • Be immovable. Provide unlimited, unyielding support at a time when everything seems chaotic.
    • Be patient with their behavior. Remember that teens often express their pain through their behavior versus words. Respond to this with positive regard and consistent support for the child providing gentle limits and correction if needed.
    • Listen, listen, listen. Do more listening than talking. Teens experiencing divorce are in pain and confusion. Someone needs to hear them.
    • Validate their feelings even if you do not agree. Emotions aren’t reasonable. They are expressions of exuberance or distress. Acknowledge their emotions and tell them you understand why they might feel that way.
    • Save judgment or criticism for later. This is a time of repair – being there for them in the midst of distress speaks volumes. Teens need to know you care and that they are worth caring about.
    • Find a teen support group. Support groups for teens experiencing divorce allows them to connect with people their own age in similar circumstances.
    • Time is the key. Giving teens the time they need can sometimes be challenging. Just like there are times when we think people ought to be in a certain place in their grieving process after a death, people often assume that after a certain amount of time kids should just be over the divorce. Sometimes it takes a long time for teens to process what they have been through and for healing to take place.

    “Teens going through this very hard time should get the help they need. They should also be encouraged that there are so many great ways to learn about having a good and happy marriage,” Marquardt says. “The pain they are going through is something they can use to inspire them to be a great husband/wife and father/mother some day. There are many children of divorce in happy, lasting marriages and that can be them, too.”

    They say time heals all wounds, and I suppose to some degree that is true.

    I remember talking to one of my college professors before heading home for Christmas break my freshman year. I did not want to go home. After listening to me for a while, he said, “I know you don’t want to do home. I understand that what you are experiencing is miserable, but you have told me that you plan to be a counselor. And while this is not something I would wish on anybody, what you are experiencing now will be helpful to you later on when you are working with people who are dealing with divorce.”

    He was right. I am painfully aware that my parents’ divorce left scars on my life. If there is a positive side to the divorce, it would have to be the tenacious passion I have for having a healthy marriage and for helping teens that are experiencing divorce. They need to know somebody out there cares and is willing to walk the road with them. 

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    Aging Parents and Broken Families

    “In 2010, the first Baby Boomers turned 65. By 2030, 20 percent of America’s population will be over 65. As the Baby Boom generation moves into later life, the proportion of American elders who are divorced is skyrocketing," says researcher and author Elizabeth Marquardt. "The McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2015, 46 percent of boomers will live in divorced or unmarried households. These trends raise concerns for Baby Boomers as they age - and challenges for their grown children - as they become caregivers for their aging parents.”

    Marquardt and Amy Ziettlow are co-researchers in a 3-year project funded by the Lilly Endowment to investigate aging, death and dying in an era of high family fragmentation.

    Marquardt and Ziettlow are asking Gen Xers about things like:

    • How does your generation care for parents who may live far apart?

    • Is there an obligation to care for stepparents?

    • How do you grieve the loss of a parent when you have grieved the loss at the time of the divorce?

    • How do you honor your father and mother when a parent abandons their child?

    During an interview, one man said, "My parent’s cold war lasted until my dad died. Then my mom wanted me to mourn the loss of my dad with her. I had already mourned the loss of my father."

    “Married parents will do their best to protect their kids from the worst of a dying parents’ illness,” Marquardt says. “Fragmented families don’t have that luxury. In fact, many of the people interviewed talked about stepparents who don’t communicate anymore once the biological parent has passed away. Family change is not the only stressor. Longer life span, smaller family size and rapid economic changes have a ripple effect on family breakdown.

    “We have never thought forward to the impact of divorce on an aging nation,” Marquardt says. “Marriage used to be ‘until death do us part.’ Now it is ‘until it doesn’t feel good anymore.’ There are people who will die a lonely death due to family fragmentation. Leaders are asking who will be taking care of the old people.”

    Marquardt and Ziettlow have found there is a lot of hope with Generation X.

    “There is something about telling your story,” Marquardt says. “Out of sharing tears, raw memories and family craziness there is a hope that seems to emerge. They take a deep breath and at the end seem to feel a sense of relief.”

    Many of those interviewed said they agreed to do it because they wanted to honor their parent.

    “The golden rule doesn’t say, 'Do unto others as they have done to you,'” Marquardt says. “Of the Gen Xers we have interviewed, many say their only hope is to rise above what has happened to them and to 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'”

    Who will be there to take care of you when you can’t take care of yourself?

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    5 Ways to Rise to the Challenge of Single Parenting

    The challenges of single parenting are many. Holding down a job, taking care of the children’s needs and household repairs, and a whole host of other things vie for the 168-hour week. How do single parents make it through the trials and come out feeling good about themselves and their children?

    When Martin Luther King III was asked how his mother handled being a single parent, he responded, “My mother did the best she could. She surrounded us with caring adults, including my grandmother, who loved us and provided structure and security to help us grow to be responsible adults.” 

    Census reports indicate there has been a significant increase in single-parent households. In fact, more than 13.7 million men and women find themselves in the position of parenting alone. Things that have never been issues before are now on the radar screen, often producing anxiety, fear and many sleepless nights. 

    “I have been a single parent of three for six years,” says Richard.* “I didn’t know a soul when I moved here and had no family support. The biggest obstacle for me was keeping all of the balls up in the air. I was launching a new business and trying to keep my family going.” 

    Richard describes his transition into single parenthood as highly emotional.  

    “I was living in a one-bedroom place,” Richard says. “At the outset it was very difficult. I realized I was insecure emotionally. I remember taking lunch hours to do laundry at the laundromat.”

    Fortunately, Richard found resources that were available to assist in his parenting efforts. 

    “The aftercare program at school was a lifesaver,” Richard shares. “There were teachers and friends who helped out in many ways. We were befriended by many people to whom I will always be grateful.”

    If you’re a single parent trying to find your way, here are some helpful suggestions from seasoned single parents:

    • Get organized. Make a plan for moving forward. Take time to sort through activities, job demands, a budget, available resources, etc. This will help you to be more in control of your situation and to focus on what is important.

    • Focus on family. Set expectations, establish boundaries, keep the lines of communication open and set aside time to be together as a family.

    • Throw perfection out the window. It isn’t about having it all together. It is about doing the best you can under difficult circumstances. 

    • Ask for help. It's not a sign of weakness to ask for help. There are resources available, but you have to make the connection. Neighbors, church friends and co-workers are often ready and willing to step up to the plate. 

    • Take one day at a time. After you have put a plan together, don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture. 

    After going through the trauma of a breakup, loss or abandonment, it’s easy to shy away from asking for help for fear of being seen as weak. Most single parents will say this is not how they wished things would be. But over time, many single moms and dads realize the experience has made them stronger and that it is truly okay to ask for help. 

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    How You Can Make Visitation Count

    Many divorced parents face the reality of divided time with their children. Arrangements vary from weekend visitation to splitting time with each parent right down the middle. This often creates problems between the two homes: sometimes one parent is strict and the other is lenient, one parent may try to fill both parental roles, or perhaps one parent’s home is like a vacation spot.

    Occasionally, parents refuse to work together for the good of the children out of spite for each other. This sets up an environment of competition, guilt and resentment, according to stepfamily expert, Elizabeth Einstein.

    How can you work together for the best interest of your child?

    First, you must put your issues aside. It is helpful if both of you:

    • Complete a joint-parenting plan and agree on expectations and limits so that your child can’t manipulate you;

    • Work as a team to provide consistency for the children;

    • Agree not to degrade or talk negatively about each other even though you might still have unresolved issues and anger;

    • Allow the children to talk about their feelings while listening and comforting them, as they also are going through a very difficult time; and

    • Try to make home as normal a place as possible.

    Each of you should have a plan in place for how to spend your time with the children.

    • Remember to make sure it is not necessarily all fun and games, but give them the freedom to learn and get to know you better, just as they would if they lived with you all the time. It is important that the parent-child relationship does not only become one of playmate, peer or buddy when visitation time comes, but one of bonding.

    • Mentally prepare yourself for the visitation, and do not expect your kids to be cheerful and happy all the time. They are going through adjustments that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

    • Remember, no one is perfect. Do the best you know how to do. Work with your children to establish new traditions. Stick to the agreements in the joint-parenting plan, and above all, be consistent during the special times you have with your children.

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    Co-Parenting: Smoother Transitions

    When Catherine* and her husband separated, their children were 3, 7 and 9.

    The couple's separation and divorce was amicable. They were friendly, worked well together, and took turns if one of them needed child care. Catherine often thought that if they could have gotten along that well when married, they would have never divorced.

    After about nine months, however, the relationship became ugly. The parents couldn't be in the same room without arguing or fighting horribly.

    “I will never forget the time my youngest was clinging to me and crying, saying he didn’t want to go,” Catherine says. “I had to peel him from my body, hand him to his daddy, turn around and go in the house and throw up. Sometime later he said, ‘I don’t want to go, but if I cry it doesn’t matter.’ I told him that was right. It nearly ripped my heart out.”

    People often think that if they are reasonable the ex will be reasonable, but that's not always the case. Smooth transitions and difficult ex-spouses don’t tend to go together. The challenge for co-parents is to set aside personal issues and focus on the parental issues at hand. The goal is to make transition times as smooth as possible. In some instances you just have to be decent.

    “I frequently remind people that some of what happens during a transition is up to you and some is not,” says Ron Deal, author of The Smart Stepfamily and the web book, Parenting After Divorce at successfulstepfamilies.com. “An old African proverb says, ‘When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ Biological parents who fight and refuse to cooperate are trampling on their most prized possessions - their children.”

    Here are Deal's suggestions for diminishing conflict in the midst of transitions:

    • Write down your goal for the parental task at hand on a 3x5 card. Whether it is making a phone call to determine drop-off arrangements or talking in person about an issue at school, script out what you want to say. This will help you stick to the topic and hopefully achieve your goal.
    • Keep the conversation civil and nonreactive. Maybe you are calling about visitation arrangements and the other parent brings up something else. Instead of changing topics, perhaps you could respond with, "I know that is a problem -what time should I pick him up?"
    • Avoid putting your child in a position to choose between one home or the other.
    • Schedule a monthly “business” meeting to discuss co-parenting matters.
    • Be reliable. Don’t disappoint your children with broken promises.
    • Make your custody structure work for your children even if you don’t like the details of the arrangement.

    “It is common for couples to move in and out of higher levels of cooperation,” Deal says. “Things are usually worse right after the divorce. Your goal is to create a strong boundary between old marital issues and the current parental relationship.”

    For more insight on marriage, download our E-book, "10 Tips for Blended Families." Download Here

    *Name was changed.

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    How to Navigate the Holidays as a Divorced Parent

    For so many, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a beautiful season sprinkled with festive events and family gatherings. For parents who are divorced and sharing their children over the holidays with their other parent however, this can be the beginning of a very complicated time.

    “I grew up as a child of divorce, was a single mother for eight years and am now remarried,” says author and marriage and family therapist, Tammy Daughtry. “I know firsthand how difficult and chaotic the holidays can be for children going between two homes, not to mention the emotional turmoil that can come from expectations of creating the ‘perfect Christmas.’”

    Joey, now 41, recalls his saddest moments of Christmas were seeing his mom cry when he left to visit his dad. 

    “Like many children of divorce, Joey hated to see his mom fall apart when he left for the holidays with his dad,” Daughtry says. “Thinking that it was his job to make her happy, he felt sad and like it was his fault. He felt guilty about having fun with his father. At 9, he described feeling like he needed to call his mom every day while he was away to make sure she was alright. As an adult looking back, he wishes someone had been there to tell his mom to pull herself together and not place that kind of pressure on him. Joey said the mental image of his mom sitting at home crying, alone and sad caused enough guilt to last more than my lifetime.”

    Daughtry not only has personal experience with this issue, but she also works with stepfamilies to help them navigate situations such as these. If you are in the midst of co-parenting, Daughtry’s suggestions can help you make this shared Christmas bright for your children.

    • Confirm that your children are loved and secure in both homes.

    • Allow your child to share the joy they feel at their other home. Affirm their joy with a healthy response.

    • Create a photo collage of your child with their other parent and give it to them as a gift this year. Encourage your child to hang it in their room at your house.

    • Purchase a large corkboard and encourage your child to put special tokens and mementoes of their other parent and their family on the board - grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins - as a way to celebrate both sides of the family.

    Additionally, Daughtry has some ideas for making your own Christmas celebration brighter, especially if you’ll be celebrating Christmas without the children:

    • Invite a friend to be there as your children leave or to ride along as you drop them off so you won’t be completely alone initially.

    • Be kind to yourself by acknowledging the pain you may feel, but plan ahead to care for yourself. You might even create your own extra-fun experience instead of becoming an emotional trainwreck.

    • Don’t sulk at home alone. Make plans to be with family or friends.

    • Get together with a single parent who is also celebrating without the children this year.

    • Volunteer somewhere and give to others in need.

    “We often don’t know what we are capable of handling until we have to do it,” says Daughtry. “Be intentional about taking care of yourself which will help you be strong for your children. Give yourself permission to re-frame and redefine your expectations as a parent. You might be surprised how much joy you actually experience this holiday season.”

    For more insight on parenting, download our E-book "10 Tips for Blended Families". Download Here


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    9 Ways To Help Your Kids Transition During the Holidays

    Scott (not his real name) will get his fill of turkey this Christmas at three different homes with different sets of parents and relatives. He's not happy about moving from place to place, but he really doesn’t have a say.

    “It is not unusual for children of divorced parents to celebrate holidays multiple times,” says Rev. Dick Dunn, retired minister of singles and stepfamilies and author of New Faces in the Frame and Willing to Try Again: Steps Toward Blending a Family. “Often, parents are so caught up in their own feelings of grief and loss or wanting things their way during the holiday season, they forget how hard it is on the children.”

    For example, one child said she wanted to go visit her non-residential parent, but when she is with that parent, she misses the other parent. Going back and forth is better than nothing, but it is very hard on children. It's helpful if parents recognize this.

    “Every time they go back and forth, they relive the divorce,” Dunn says. “A lot of the acting out that occurs in preparation for a transition, especially around the holidays, is a reaction to the gut pain, hurt and anger children feel. The best thing parents can do is help their child make the transition from one house to the other as smooth as possible.”

    To help children have the best holiday celebration possible, Dunn offers these suggestions to parents:

    • Acknowledge that transitions are difficult. Talk about holiday plans ahead of time and get your child's input. Sometimes acknowledging the reality of the situation can make things better for your child.

    • Strategize with your child. Ask them what would make the transition easier. They may not know at the moment, but asking them can make them feel good. When they suggest something, try it evaluate how it worked together.

    • Keep commitments. Your children are depending on you to do what you say you will do.

    • Don't play games with your child's emotions. Children learn relationship skills from watching their parents and they often question their parents' love and care when things do not go as planned. Do not put them in the middle or use them to hurt the other parent.

    • Be prepared. If plans change often, get your child ready for that. Then make a back-up plan and understand their disappointment.

    • See acting out behavior for what it is. Ask your child, “What would make going easier?” or “How can we make your return go smoother?”

    • Stay in the parent role. It's normal to want to be your child's best friend, especially when you only have him/her for a day or two. But once you cross this line, it is very difficult to go back to the parent role. Your child is depending on you to be their parent.

    • Remember, you can celebrate the holiday when you want. Celebrate according to what works best for you and your child.

    • Consider how making or changing plans will affect your child beforehand.

    “The key to pleasant holiday memories for children who are moving back and forth between homes rests in the hands of the parents,” Dunn says. “Regardless of the situation, focus on solutions and staying whole in the midst of craziness. Parents have the responsibility and privilege of setting the mood for the holidays. Being considerate of your children as they adjust to this situation will help them create pleasant memories. Including them in the planning process will encourage communication that makes the holidays easier for everyone.”

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    5 Holiday Tips for Divorced Parents

    The holidays will be different for many children who are adjusting to their parents’ divorce. What once was, is no more. In the midst of their “new normal,” now they must learn how to deal with dividing the holidays between parents. And, it isn’t just the kids who will be experiencing stress.

    “I think it is critical for newly-divorced parents to anticipate the added emotional strain the holidays can present for both themselves and their children and prepare accordingly,” says Dr. Susan Hickman, local psychologist. “First and foremost, parents must remember that it is their role to provide emotional support for their children, not vice versa. Unfortunately, too many parents look to their children, rather than to other appropriate adults, for emotional support, love and/or validation.”

    Rarely does everything go according to plan. Maybe one parent doesn't pick up or return the children on time or the kids forget their favorite teddy bear. Perhaps somebody says something hurtful, resulting in a meltdown along the way.

    “The likelihood of this happening is great because favorite routines that are so easily remembered have gone away and truth be told, everybody still longs for them,” Hickman says. “Nothing is as it was, and with this realization comes sadness and perhaps anger – especially during the holidays, when family time is viewed as more sacred. Understanding these sensitivities and the reasons for them is the first step in not allowing the stress to spiral out of control.”

    If you want to prepare for dealing with the holidays constructively, try Hickman's suggestions:

    • Have a release valve. Identify a parent or friend in advance, someone who has a level head and who is willing to listen without attempting to fix the problem or meddle, to be on standby for you to call and blow off steam. Recognize that the overwhelming emotions of the present are not permanent.

    • Be available for your children. If it overwhelms you as a parent, imagine how overwhelming it is for children with their limited coping abilities. Children cannot reason through or understand adult decisions or actions and thus often blame themselves erroneously for parental behaviors such as divorce. If they do not have the opportunity to express their grief, anger, sadness, shame and self-blame, how will you ever tell them differently? Many emotional and behavioral problems arise because children of divorce try to cope on their own.

    • Allow children to be children, especially during the holidays. While divorce is serious and full of heavy ramifications, children still need to laugh, play, relate to others, engage in fantasy, etc. They do not understand the emotional pain of their parents, nor should they! Do not think they “don’t love you” because they don’t show empathy. Try not to expect or force them to carry this load the same way you do. One of the best gifts you can give them as a parent is the gift of childhood.

    • Give up the idea of ultimate control. Adults often believe they can change and control others, and they frequently make themselves (and others) crazy in their attempts. This is the art of parenting from a distance. Children need to see healthy coping skills and positive attitudes modeled in difficult situations toward all. This is a time to promote family involvement, not sabotage it through bitterness and the need to hurt one another.

    • Keep as many old traditions as you can, but don’t be afraid to start new ones. The old traditions provide stability, but many disappear due to divorce. Invite your children to help you create some, but be sensitive if they are sullen and reluctant to do so. This is especially important for teens.

    “There will likely be some tough moments this holiday season,” Hickman says. “Don’t let this daunt your enthusiasm. Your willingness to move ahead sends the message that you can live fully, happily and hopefully despite unexpected loss. This is the real message of the season: Hope, joy and peace.”

    For more insight on parenting, download our E-book "10 Tips for Blended Families". Download Here

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    What to Teach Kids About Marriage

    In a Wall Street Journal article called The Divorce Generation, Susan Gregory Thomas tells the story of her marriage. She met a guy, and they fell in love. Then, they moved in together. His parents warned them that being roommates and pals was totally different than being husband and wife, but they paid no attention. Instead, she and her boyfriend opposed their parents' advice. They thought it was old-fashioned and sexist.

    “Like many of my cohort, the circumstances of my upbringing led me to believe that I had made exactly the right choices by doing everything differently from my parents,” says Thomas.

    Thomas thought her marriage would last forever. But nine years later, she found herself in the midst of an unwanted divorce.

    A Generation of Divorce

    “Gen X children witnessed the beginning of a divorce epidemic. This led to a divorce culture, which led to the conclusion that marriage can be a source of pain and loss,” says Dr. John Van Epp, clinical counselor and author. “These failed relationships convinced people to believe that relationships are good, but relationship definition is risky.”

    According to a 2004 study by Generational Differences, Gen Xers were one of the least-parented and least-nurtured generations in U.S. history. Census data shows that almost half of them come from broken homes and that 40 percent were latchkey kids.

    In a 2005 article by Kate Hughes in the Journal of Sociology, she states, “Adult children of divorced parents’ failed marriages and broken families brought a fragility that led to risk-diminishing strategies.”

    "Many parents sent messages to their children like, ‘Don’t marry young. Establish yourself first. Be sure. Be REALLY sure. The goal is to minimize your risks,’” Van Epp says. “Consequently, Gen Xers took the messages of apprehension a step further to avoidance. Can we form relationships without defining what they really are?”

    Family Structure Matters

    Van Epp believes it's a myth that lack of structure in a relationship is safe. Compared to children living with their own married parents, children 12-17 living with cohabitors are:

    • Six times more likely to exhibit emotional and behavioral problems,
    • 122 percent more likely to be expelled from school, and
    • 90 percent more likely to have a lower GPA.

    Additionally, the rates of serious abuse are:

    • Lowest in intact families,
    • Six times higher in stepfamilies,
    • 14 times higher in always single-mother families,
    • 20 times higher in a biological cohabiting family, and
    • 33 times higher when mother is cohabiting with a boyfriend who is not the biological father.

    “Structure gives a framework to the relationship and defines the roles,” Van Epp says.

    “People don't understand that relationship dynamics without relationship structure increases their risk for experiencing exactly what they want to avoid in relationships. Whether married, single or divorced, you can teach your children about dating, partner selection and how to build healthy relationships that don’t create risks.”

    The answer is not to avoid marriage, but to teach people how to do it well. This begins when parents build their child's confidence (not apprehension and avoidance) about how to successfully navigate romantic relationships and establish a secure and lasting marriage.

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    Life Without a Father

    In 2001, Regina R. Robertson hated her day job, so she was very thankful, and relieved, when she was ultimately fired. She also felt free to pursue a new path, as a writer. Having begun her career in the music industry, she contacted some of her former colleagues for help. She started out by writing artist bios and press releases. Within a year, she was meeting with magazine editors, including one who told her to “write what you know.”

    Robertson’s first national assignment led her to interview three friends, whose names she changed, and write a piece about their experiences of growing up without a father. After the story, titled “Where’s Daddy?”, ran in the October 2002 issue of Honey magazine, she received calls from other friends who asked why she hadn’t thought to include them in the article. At that point, Robertson had the first thought to write a book on the topic.

    Over the last 15 years, and while enduring rejection from agents and publishers, Robertson spoke with many women who had stories to share. She decided to focus her book on three areas of father absence: divorce, death and distance.

    “Throughout the years, I’ve interviewed a lot of people, but writing these kinds of personal stories was quite different from writing celebrity profiles or entertainment features,” says Robertson, who has served as West Coast editor of Essence magazine since 2006. “When I spoke with friends about the project, some suggested that I try reaching out to women like fitness expert, Gabrielle Reece, and MSNBC host, Joy-Ann Reid, both of whom had grown up without their fathers. I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but I thought I’d have to cut through layers and layers of the red tape to reach them. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.”

    Robertson not only got through to those women, but they, and others, were very excited to share their stories.

    Her new book is called, He Never Came Home: Interviews, Stories, and Essays from Daughters on Life Without Their Fathers (Agate Bolden).

    “I can’t believe it,” Robertson says. “This project has been such a labor of love and so far, the response has been phenomenal.”

    “One young woman, Nisa Rashid, shares her story of growing up while her father was in prison. Television writer, Jenny Lee, writes about her father’s suicide, when she was 20. Simone I. Smith, a jewelry designer, talks about her relationship with her late father – a loving, though troubled, man who battled addiction. Reid, who shared her story on Facebook after her father passed away, signed on to write foreword.”

    For Emmy-winning actress, Regina King, witnessing her parents’ divorce was very painful, as was her father’s eventual estrangement. Years later, after enduring her own divorce, she realized that she and her ex-husband were not connecting as co-parents. Eventually, the pair agreed that being divided wasn’t healthy for their son. As a result, they began to take the necessary steps to work together and redefine their family.  

    Sarah Tomlinson, author of Good Girl, also contributes to the book. She gives a raw account of her lifelong quest for a relationship with her father and her own self-destructive behavior. Tomlinson titled her essay, “The Girl at the Window,” which references the place she sat and waited, for hours, on the days he promised to visit.  

    Robertson even shares her own story about never knowing her father.

    “Usually, when I sit down to write, I agonize over every detail. When I wrote the introduction to the book, I was surprised by how quickly the words came to me: My mother raised me on her own, from day one. She’s the only parent I’ve ever had. My father was never in the picture - not for one second, minute or hour. I never met him. There were times when I wondered how a man could leave his family, his kid, and not look back, but I didn’t obsess over my father’s absence. I definitely thought about it, though.”

    Robertson is happy and surprised by the way He Never Came Home has already touched people. She hopes her book will help others know they are not alone.

    “I hope I’ve written and edited the book that I wished I’d had as a teen,” Robertson shares. “This collection of essays is for all of the fatherless girls and women who’ve ever thought, as I once did, that a piece of them was missing. Life has taught me that no matter the circumstances you’re born into, you are responsible for steering your ship. If I can do it, you can, too . . . and you will. It just takes time.”