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Entries in divorce (20)


Co-Parenting Through The Holidays: "The Kids Can Only Eat One Turkey!"


photo courtesy of Horton Web Design

The holiday season is the time of year when the reality of children living between two households can be the most challenging.  So Deesha reached out to our friend, psychologist and single parenting expert Dr. Leah Klungness, to talk about how we can co-parent through the holidays with our kids as our priority...and with our sanity in tact.

Deesha: I love what you said once about how the kids can only eat one turkey for Thanksgiving. It exemplifies the need for co-parents to be more flexible and creative.

Dr. Leah: The best way -- especially for co-parents -- is to remember that the holidays are a season. There are many opportunities to enjoy time with your kids. Of course, Thanksgiving is the great exception ... there is only one turkey.

Trying to have two Thanksgivings is madness. Divorce attorneys hate the days ... and, frankly, psychologists [my hand is raised] do too.  These are ttrying times as Thanksgiving approaches and unresolved issues emerge. One woman told me that her ex's mother cooked and served a Thanksgiving dinner at 10:00 AM -- the whole extended family gathered-- and consumed that mountain of food when the rest of us are just looking for coffee. When Dad picked up the kids for his scheduled Thanksgiving, the kids were already stuffed and in the predictable turkey coma.

 Creativity and flexibility ... those are key. For example: I am a solo mom, no-parenting partner, but during one particularly stressful Thanksgiving week, I told my kids that we were going to have a Mexican Fiesta Thanksgiving.  I made a fast dash to the supermarket and bought the makings for fajitas and tacos. Yellow rice ... you get the picture. My kids still talk about that Thanksgiving with the laughter that only great memories provides.

Other co-parents have told me that they celebrate Thanksgiving with their kids by serving breakfast that starts with dessert, or a campfire cook-out.  The key is that you're together making special memories.

Is that what you would have suggested to that Dad whose kids were more stuffed than the turkey when he went to pick them up?

Certainly, insisting that the kids eat twice or even sit at the table twice is unreasonable. So I would suggest to that dad that he let the kids sleep off the turkey coma, and that their Thanksgiving feast with him that year was leftovers later that night (which is what he did).  Or they could enjoy the leftovers later that weekend with him when they were actually hungry.  

That’s a very child-centered solution, not focused on the adult disconnect, assuming the 10 AM Thanksgiving dinner wasn't intentional to thwart Dad’s plans.  But even if it was intentional, the response was child-centered. And I think that's key.  Sometimes you have to let the disagreeable co-parent "win" in order for your kids to be okay.

Of course, focus on what the kids need. The adult disconnect -- in this case entirely intentional -- should not penalize the kids. The "disagreeable" parent chalked up a win -- or so she thought - but the real winners were the kids given Dad's thoughtful and appropriate reaction.

Can you talk a bit more about why divorce attorneys and psychologists dread the holidays when it comes to co-parenting?

High conflict divorce is one of my practice specialties. As in all divorce agreements, when children are involved, parenting time -- including a holiday schedule -- is negotiated as part of the agreement. At the time, alternating Thanksgiving on a yearly basis -- is nearly always readily agreed upon. But after the agreement is finalized, and the holiday approaches, the reality that one parent will NOT eat that one and only turkey with the kids hits hard.

Not sharing that turkey dinner becomes a symbol -- a representation of what has been lost as a result of the divorce. It's what's now seen as lost which brings up a firestorm of feelings --- sadness, tears, anger, recrimination ... and sometimes crazy stunts like serving Thanksgiving at 10:00 AM.

I try to help people anticipate this experience and make sensible plans which help them cope with that loss AND have emotionally healthy holiday fun with their kids.

I definitely get the sense that generally kids handle not being with one parent or the other better than the parent does.  What advice do you have for co-parents who are sad about splitting time over the holidays?  And we should definitely talk about loneliness because that's a factor too.

Plan. And plan some more. If you'll not be spending the holiday with your children, use this free time not as a time to wallow in self-pity and loneliness, but to do some things that sometimes are not possible when you're juggling kids and career. Plan an indulgent day of binge watching a TV series you've missed. Have food in the house that you love to eat.

Alternatively, seek out others who may also be alone for the day. Have the courage to share with others that without your kids, it's a lonely day. You'll find that many others share that feeling during the holidays.

And when we do this kind of self-care at the holidays, it's easier to give our kids permission to enjoy their time with their other parent. And some kids need that permission.

Well said. Some kids -- especially as they get older -- need that permission. Let your kids know that you have plans, things to which you are looking forward. Share those plans in as much detail as is age appropriate.

Let's talk about gifts...Helping kids make or choose a gift for their other parent is really a gift to the kids. But some co-parents are reluctant or unwilling.

Absolutely. Some parents are unwilling because their own unresolved feelings get in the way of doing what's right for the kids. The gift can be something as simple as a picture of their kids in a homemade frame. Or a letter. Or some "treasure" picked out at the Dollar Store. It's not about the money spent; it's about giving your child the gift of knowing that it's OK to love you both -- in fact, it's one of the best ways to send that critical emotional message.

I want to wrap up by going back to something you mentioned earlier...Memories. If we think about the memories we're making with our kids, during the holidays--and every day--that should encourage us to act in ways that are memorable...for the right reasons!

My own "babies" are grown-up. That gives me the privileged perspective to know -- with absolute certainty -- that experiences we create for our kids done with pure intentions matter. This is what our kids will remember. That we tried. Sometimes we did not succeed, but we always did our best.

Thank you, Dr. Leah!


What special memories are you making with your kids this holiday season?  What plans do you have for yourself when the kids are with your co-parent? Share your holiday plans with us in the comments section!




"My Co-Parent Doesn't Want Our Teen to Date"

photo by S Braswell
We heard from a co-parenting mom recently whose daughter's dad doesn't believe that their teen should date...ever.  Mom feels that dating should be permitted, with certain restrictions, but dad doesn't agree. 

In our household, dating isn't an issue yet, but we're on the same page about it.  But what do you do when you and your co-parent aren't on the same page about something so significant?

We reached out to some co-parents, and here's what they thought about this teen dating scenario:

"There's got to be some sort of compromise, respecting the fact that both parents care about their child and want to act in her best interest.  A compromise might be only dating in groups, or dating only after both parents have had a chance to meet the date."

"Dad needs to get real.  When teens want to date, they will find a way to do it, with or without permission. So it's better to communicate your values and expectations to them, rather than just telling them they can't."

"Maybe they can compromise on the age at which dating is permitted: older than Mom would allow it, but younger than Dad's 'never.'"

"We handle dating like we do everything else: My house, my rules.  His house, his rules."

Is your teen dating? What guidelines or restrictions do you have for him or her?  Are you and your co-parent on the same page about this?

Parental Alienation & A Child's Intense Fear Reaction

photo credit: doriana s

A recent article from Charles D. Jamieson, a Palm Beach County family law and divorce attorney, sheds some light on one of four contributing factors to parental alienation: a child's intense fear reaction.

It may be difficult to understand how one parent can effect such a fear reaction in a child unless one remembers the essential human need for connection. The child begins to see the non-custodial parent as having abandoned him and surmises that if he disappoints the custodial parent, he or she will also leave.  Under these circumstances one can imagine how a child learns to employ survival strategies to keep the peace and avoid paying the ultimate price, being alone.

In many cases, coping strategies of a child of parental alienation reach extreme levels as it becomes "easier if they begin to internalize the alienating parent's perceptions of the absent parent . . .and [join] the alienating parent" in open attacks.

Read the rest here.

And of course parental alienation can happen when parents share joint custody, not just when one is non-custodial.  The child may see both parents regularly (until the alienator completely blocks access), but internatlizing a steady stream of "You can't trust him," "She doesn't really love you," "He's lying to you," "She's a bad person," or "I'm the only one who really cares about you" can leave a child feeling confused and emotionally abandoned by the targeted parent.  

From the outside looking in, it can be difficult to understand why the targeted parent's love doesn't triumph over the alienating parent's pressure and negativity, in the child's mind. Why can't the child see who is really at fault here?  But Attorney Jamieson hits the nail on the head: the child's need for human connection invokes a self-preservation mechanism.  Not wanting to be abandoned by both parents, emotionally or physically, the child does what she feels she has to in order to survive.

Given such a heartbreaking conclusion, we wonder if it is ever possible for a child's relationship to be restored with an alienated parent.  Attorney Jamieson also posted an article listing programs that offer help and healing, here

Is your child frightened by your co-parent's extreme emotional demands? Have you had to address alienation or attempted alienation in your family?