By Guest Writer: Rosalind Sedacca, CCT
As a divorced parent, what lessons and behaviors are you modeling for your children?
The messages you convey will influence your children into adulthood.Here’s valuable advice on leaving a positive imprint on your innocent children.
Bad things can happen to good people. Divorce is a prime example. Good people get divorced. Responsible people who are loving parents get caught in the decision to end a loveless or deceitful marriage.
The consequences of that decision can either be life affirming or destroying, depending upon how each parent approaches this transition. Parents who are blinded by blame and anger are not likely to learn much through the experience. They see their former spouse as the total problem in their life and are convinced that getting rid of that problem through divorce will bring ultimate resolution. These parents are often self-righteous about the subject and give little thought to what part they may have played in the dissolution of the marriage.
Parents at this level of awareness are not looking to grow through the divorce process. They are more likely to ultimately find another partner with whom they have similar challenges or battles and once again find themselves caught in the pain of an unhappy relationship.
There are others, however, for whom divorce can be a threshold into greater self-understanding and reflection. These parents don’t want to repeat the same mistake and want to be fully aware of any part they played in the failure of the marriage. Self-reflective people ask themselves questions and search within – often with the assistance of a professional counselor or coach – to understand what they did or did not do and how it affected the connection with their spouse.
These introspective parents consider how they might have behaved differently in certain circumstances. They question their motives and actions to make sure they came from a place of clarity and good intentions. They replay difficult periods within the marriage to see what they can learn, improve, let go of or accept. They take responsibility for their behaviors and apologize for those that were counter-productive. They also forgive themselves for errors made in the past – and look toward being able to forgive their spouse in the same light.
These parents are honest with their children when discussing the divorce – to the age-appropriate degree that their children can understand.They remind their children that both Mom and Dad still, and always will, love them. And they remember their former spouse will always be a parent to their children and therefore speak about them with respect around the kids.
By applying what they learned from the dissolved marriage to their future relationships, these mature adults start the momentum to recreate new lives in a better, more fulfilling way. From this perspective, they see their former marriage as not a mistake, but rather a stepping-stone to a brighter future – both for themselves and for their children. When you choose to learn from your life lessons, they were never experienced in vain. Isn’t this a lesson you want to teach your children?
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Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is a relationship seminar facilitator and author of the new e-book, How Do I Tell the Kids … about the Divorce?A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! The book provides fill-in-the-blank templates for customizing a personal family storybook that guides children through this difficult transition with optimum results. For free articles on child-centered divorce or to subscribe to her free ezine, go to: http://www.childcentereddivorce.com
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(Note: whether you’re a separated parent or not, you may find this article useful for yourself, and possibly to pass on to someone you know it could help)
Although it is becoming more and more common for families with separated parents to have their children living between two homes, it doesn’t mean it is necessarily easy for all involved. The child(ren) may have difficulties following different routines, sleep patterns are inconsistent, sometimes their performance in school is affected, etc.
However, the fact that it isn’t necessarily easy for all involved also doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way to live in such a scenario and have it truly work!
I have clients in various stages of separation – from the beginning stages of figuring out an arrangement to already separate and living for some time in two homes. This plus the fact that I too have my children living between two separate homes, gives me a lot of perspective on ways to manage this living arrangement in a healthy way for all.
I thought I would share a particular personal story and the results of the situation.
My daughter (at 6 years old) started to wake up several times during the night, calling “Mommy!” I would go to her, provide comfort till she fell back to sleep, until the next call out, “Mommy!” Finally, she would ask me to stay with her in her bed, which I would do till the morning.
I didn’t realize the impact of this, until my beloved fiancé (now husband) pointed out to me how ‘unworkable’ this is: for me and my sleep-health, for her, and….for him!
We decided to find out if this was happening in her other home, with her father. NOPE!
We set up a time to conference and exchange information on what each of us are doing in our respective homes in terms of routines. We went through the whole thing: morning routine, after-school routine, bed time routine, etc.
It was illuminating!
I was able to try their approaches, where mine seemed not to be working. And, likewise, they were able to try some of ours, where theirs weren’t working.
Consistency across two houses, leading to greater confidence and sense of safety and security for our daughter and ease in her routines. Not to mention PEACE OF MIND for all adults involved!
But not only was she (and we) sleeping through the night, another important result arose.
For those same few months we were getting regular reports from school that, while academically she is incredibly astute, behaviourally she was being disruptive in class during group time and not cooperating when asked to stop. Never a fun thing for the ego as a parent! Not to mention, we were concerned that this behaviour would overshadow her academic capabilities.
As we worked to maintain this semblance of consistency across the two houses for the benefit of our daughter, I found that I was transforming as a parent. I was actually starting to really practice more of what I and many other parenting practitioners preach: being consistent in my parenting, rules setting and keeping, and following through on consequences. I called it “Being a Firm-Wall while being loving and compassionate”
Interesting – this way of behaving on my part became a natural outcome when my focus was on creating and maintaining an environment that truly works for my daughter’s (and our family’s) success.
And the calls from school?
What calls? We stopped getting them.
So what are the key points you can take away from this story and bring to yours?
- Create consistent routines between 2-households. Of course, each parent may have very different lifestyles and work schedules so it’s not about being “exactly the same.” But, where possible, such as similar or same bedtime, and similar routine leading to bedtime, and ways of handling homework, discipline matters, etc.
- Keep a collaborative and communicative relationship with your ex-spouse – if not for you, for your children, which ultimately WILL benefit you.
- Focus on creating and maintaining an environment for your children that is conducive to their (and your) health and success. Try different approaches when the ones you’re using aren’t working.
- Be open to transforming yourself and your ways of acting. Why not? You are a growing and developing human being. Learning through this process keeps it dynamic and even fun for you.
- View and treat others as your partners for your children’s health and success. That includes your ex, potentially their new partner/spouse and yours, as well as school(s) teachers/principals, etc.
I wish you the very best with your parenting.
If you would like guidance on this, or any other parenting, separation/divorce, or relationship matter, please schedule a complimentary strategy session.
Don’t see a time in my schedule for you? Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Earlier this month in my blog, “How to Talk to Your Kids About Divorce” I introduced the concept of “Pouring On The Love” so your children feel nurtured, important and secure during and after the separation or divorce process.
A reader wrote in and asked, “How can I pour on the love when my situation is such that I have 4 children between the ages of 5 and 15, who are with me all but 2 weekends per month, I manage a household, a full time job, doctor appointments, etc….How do I make sure they are getting enough attention?”
Seeing as many of us parents can relate to having this type of concern, I thought I would share this with you all.
Pouring on the love is not always easy, but it is simple and is not necessarily what it seems. Mostly we think we need more time: If we had more time we could be more loving. While that perspective seems to make sense, it is not the only possible way. Being loving can happen in a given moment, in the process of doing what you’re doing.
Scenario: Take 1!
You are busy making dinner after a full day’s work. Maybe on the phone hands-free at the same time. Your child walks in the kitchen and wants your attention – to tell you a funny story or to complain about their sibling’s wrong-doings. In that moment, how you respond speaks. The first reaction may be a thought in your mind, “Argh, I can’t handle this all right now” or some version of that thought or feeling. When you react from there what is likely is an annoyed, frustrated type of reaction (words, body language, tone of voice, etc.), leaving your child with some experience of being a burden or the like.
I don’t think there is any parent who couldn’t possibly understand and completely relate to this kind of experience. And, while this is understandable and even justified, the outcome we are left with is less than satisfying, and if the truth were told, we as parents are left feeling pretty horrible, and not how we truly want to be.
Your child comes to you with the same interruption to your dinner-making. Instead of reacting with annoyance and frustration that may initially be there, you choose to be loving there and then.
“Can you hold on a moment?” you say to the person on the phone. You stop what you are doing temporarily. Look at your child in the eyes, and ask, “What is it?” And listen. (Often this takes less time in reality than our mind anticipates the interruption will be)
Then determine how to deal with whatever your child has said. If it was a story share, give them a kiss and say, genuinely “Thank you for telling me this. I’m getting back to making dinner; we’ll be ready to sit down together in about 15 minutes.” Or, if it was a complaint regarding a sibling, see if you can offer a word of advice for them to handle the situation and encourage them to go back in there and deal with it.
How you deal with your child actually speaks, often more than the words themselves. In this scenario your child is more likely to be left with the experience of being important and loved.
Now, you may reflect on this and think, “how can I be this way, really?” or “How can I be this way all the time?”
Hold on. Give yourself a break. You are in the “practice of parenting” AND if you’re in the process of separating or divorcing, you are in the “practice of parenting through separation” now, too. The operative word is “practice.” Allow yourself some grace and space. You will have some successes and you will have some failures, just like anyone who is practicing being good at something that is important to them.
The key is: Stay The Course.
Consider getting some coaching or training from a professional on mastering this craft so you have more wins than failures over time.
Did this help you? Please leave a comment or question.
I remember in 2009 finding myself sitting in a lawyer’s office after stating I want sole custody of my daughter.
It felt strange. Like an out of body experience. But it was clearly me, sitting in my body, sitting in that office.
The “wake up moment” happened after I told that lawyer that I’d just brought my daughter to her father’s house for a Father’s Day visit and was planning to take her over there the next day again. The lawyer responded, “Don’t do that”
I asked, “How come?”
He said, “Because if the two of you are able to communicate between yourselves, then you don’t need me.”
LIGHT BULB MOMENT!
At the core of my value system is Communication. What I heard the lawyer telling me (and I’m clear that he was just doing his job cause I asked him to ‘get me sole custody’) was to go against my core value….in order that I can have the lawyer speak for me.
I thanked the lawyer for his time, went home and proceeded to call my ex-partner. Within a 10 minute phone conversation that neither of us will forget, we ironed out a custody and visitation agreement that we and our daughter are all happy with. We sorted out our inter-personal differences over time, and, until today, we maintain extraordinary communication.
Why am I sharing this?
Well, what led me to seek out sole custody and end up in the lawyer’s office was the opinion of other people who love me and care about me, and who were worried about what might happen if I don’t get full custody.
Were they wrong to express their opinion about what I should do?
What I didn’t realize at the time was that my emotions were clouding my vision so much that I was reacting to those opinions out of desperation, as opposed to listening to those opinions as exactly that, opinions.
So how should you manage other people’s opinions?
- Be open to listening to what people have to say, but remember it is their view based on their experience and knowledge. You want to weigh those views with your own carefully.
- Be clear about your vision for your self and your family life.When you have a sense of the end product you envision for your life personally and your family-life you can weigh those opinions against that vision. Ask yourself if pursuing those others’ approaches will lead you closer to your vision. The answer may be ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and that is for you to determine and pursue.
- Be grounded in your core values.Often we think we know what our core values are but we actually have them mixed up with something else. Take some time to connect to your inner core, your soul, or what you believe is really important, no matter what. These core values are the anchor that keep you being ‘you.’ When your friends and family express their views, tune in to your core values and see if their suggestions would be an expression of your core values or not.
This is a dance; a paradox. Yes – listen to what others have to say. And, Yes – listen to yourself.
Please leave your comments below as I’m always curious about your views….
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- How do you know when is the right time?
- How do you know what to say?
- How do you know how to deal with their response?
For example, you might start with “Mommy and Daddy have done a lot of thinking,” then explain, for example, that Daddy is going to get a new apartment/home. Aim to know what the visitation days and times will be before the conversation so you can share those details. It will comfort your child to know she’ll continue to see both of you and that there’s a plan.
Tell her flat out that the divorce is an adult decision and has nothing to do with her.
Sometimes one parent may feel so upset that they want to tell the child about the other spouse’s egregious or erroneous behavior. Refrain from this. Children will take this as a betrayal — or worse, criticism of them. For example, if one calls the other a “liar” or “cheat,” they begin to see themselves, half the product of that parent, as half a liar, half a cheat.
“Will I still see Grandma and Grandpa? (or other family or friends) Let her know what to expect regarding seeing relatives. Ideally you can say with authenticity that she will continue to see relatives as has been in the past and even that on holidays like Christmas, Passover, Eid, Kwanza or the like, there may be times when you spend it all together.
“Where will I sleep?” At this age, your child will have a lot of questions about how her daily life will be affected: “Will I still go to my same school? Who’s going to take me to dance/skiing/soccer?” These are very real concerns for a child, so go over the details. For example, “You’ll still live with Mommy here in our house. You’ll have a home at Daddy’s new house; you’ll have your own special bedroom.” Depending on what you agree on, you can tell her she can be part of searching for the new place and/or picking decorative items, etc.
“Who will take care of Daddy (or Mommy, depending on which parent is moving out)?” Your child might have a sense of empathy that’s developed enough for her to actually worry about the parent who is moving out.
Reassure her that the other parent will be just fine. You might say, “Daddy might miss you when he’s not with you, but he won’t be sad because he would see you again very soon.”
Pour on the love. Divorce is difficult for children to understand and accept. While your child adjusts, she’ll need a lot of your affection and attention. Resist the urge to talk constantly on the phone or let TV become the sitter. Give her more snuggle time or extra time during bedtime routine. Just as you benefit from your support network of relatives and friends now more than ever, your child needs extra hugs and kisses from you.
Keep talking. Even after the news has sunk in, be prepared to go over the same explanations and answer questions again and again, for weeks or even months. Make sure she knows that you’re open to questions about the divorce any time, even if what you really want is to stop talking about it. One way to keep the lines of communication open is to read kids’ books like Ricci’s Mom’s House, Dad’s House for Kids, or Lallouz’s The Case of the Clown Who Lives in Two Tents.
Keep routines consistent. Sometimes divorce can make it difficult to maintain routines or even keep the house tidy. But continuing a child’s regular schedule, in Mom’s house and Dad’s house, makes children feel safe. As much as possible, make basic mealtimes and other rituals the same between the two households. Make sure the kids keep going to school and any classes or practices — the more things remain the same for your child, the more stable she’ll feel.
Be aware of signs of trouble. Your child may have difficulties adjusting to visitation and custody arrangements. Look for signs like misbehavior or withdrawal, particularly after a visit with the other parent. To open up a dialogue without putting words in your child’s mouth, say something like, “I’m wondering if you’re missing your Mom right now.” Your child might just need time to transition from one household to the next or a safe way to vent.
Consider seeing a family coach or counselor to guide you and your child through this transition. Other parents have said it is the best thing they could have done as it gives a safe place for each parent, personally, to have support, and for children to ask questions or talk about things, without worrying about upsetting their parents.
Make a point of remaining positive. If your divorce means, as it often does, that you’re taking a financial hit and they can no longer have every toy they want or take expensive vacations, let them know you’ll still do lots of fun things together.
PLEASE share your comments below…
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I received a call from a dear friend who is a Realtor. She said, “Tallie, I need to talk to you about an important business matter.”
We met soon after that call at a locally owned tea/coffee house. She explained to me that among the many clients she has who are listing their homes, she has several who are listing their home because they are divorcing. She was very committed to providing the utmost service to all her clients and felt that when it came to those who are divorcing, there seemed to be different, complicated and sometimes emotional issues that would arise. She asked me for my help in understanding them better, so as to provide her service with real care.
I’d like to share what I offered her. Here are a few keys to implement when dealing with real estate clients who are divorcing:
1. Compassion. This may seem like an obvious one; however to actually practice this way of being in reality takes some conscious effort. It includes imagining being in someone else’s shoes, while at the same time never assuming that you know what it is really like to be them. You are affording them the respect and appreciation they deserve for what they are dealing with in their life at the moment. This practice also requires acknowledging that your divorcing client is going through a phase that sometimes has them acting in ways (sometimes even irrational, emotional ways) that are not typical; and this phase will pass. Treat people as the mature adults they are, who obviously had enough of what it takes to purchase their own home to begin with.
2. Ask permission. Sometimes you, as a Realtor, can become somewhat of a confidant for your clients. When people are selling and buying a home Realtors know how emotional it can be for any client. With your divorcing clients you may be someone who can listen to what they are dealing with – without being a therapist or counsellor, but rather a confidential listening ear who is supporting them in this transition. Be open to being in that role, but always ask permission first before you discuss or ask questions about their personal affairs.
3. Review options. As a Realtor you know that the more time you have to properly stage a home for sale, the higher the likelihood for higher offers. For some of your divorcing clients, that could mean living under the same roof for longer than they would prefer! Discuss the options so that they are clear about implications of a quicker sale versus taking the time to “do it right.” Let your client choose what will work for them and bring your compassion and respect to their choice.
4. Evaluate & Elevate. After you and your client have evaluated all options and have made all necessary decisions, it’s time to move forward. Through the process, like any life situation, there may be some difficult times. Keep Elevating the C.A.R.E. principles to be more superior than the frustration that can often arise. This takes practice. So please, don’t only bring compassion and respect to your divorcing client, but also bring compassion and respect to yourself: someone who is choosing to practice new principles for making a difference for your clients.
If you have any stories to share, either as a Realtor or a divorcing client, please do tell!