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Divorce social worker - Gary Direnfeld MSW, RSW

Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider Gary an expert on child development, parent-child relations, marital and family therapy, contact/residence recommendations and social work. We are delighted to have his regular input here.
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Gary's new book: "Marriage Rescue is a strong addition to self-help and relationship collections."- THE MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW "This title will provide readers with the skills necessary to enhance their relationships. Recommended." - LIBRARY JOURNAL "...filled with solid keys to success." CALIFORNIA BOOKWATCH

 

The honeymoon has ended. Issues are mounting – money, family, friends, drinking, online relationships. Sadly, if you’re reading MARRIAGE RESCUE, it’s likely you're experiencing marital turmoil and your marriage is not the idyllic union you imagined. But don’t despair. Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW, will help you overcome the ten deadly 'sins' of a failing relationship and lead you to the relationship of your dreams.

By exploring each of the ten deadly sins, you will learn how to unravel the problems associated with it. By learning to forgo your ego and accepting your contribution to the issues, you will learn where your problems stem from, how to craft solutions and skills to develop effective strategies to address the issues harming your marriage.

If you and your partner really want your marriage to work and to get back on track, then you both need to be willing to work at it. MARRIAGE RESCUE can help you make it happen.

Click here for Marriage Rescue

 

How to advance the needs of the child between separated parents

I have chatted with many children whose parents are in the throes of a divorce where one parent had little to do with them before the separation. The other parent may hold the view that the former, based on lack of effort doesn’t deserve much time with the children after the separation or that given that is what the children may be used to, the children wouldn’t want anything different on a go-forward basis.

However post separation, these same parents may seek more time with their children. They may realize they cannot rely upon the other parent to keep their image alive on their behalf to the kids and they often come to realize how much they missed for not being present for whatever reason.

However, all of that is the parents’ thinking and issues. What about the children?

I’ve long since learned that these children are protective about their parents’ feelings and don’t often report to them what their needs, hopes or longings are. They are also dependent upon their parents for survival and they have witnessed the animosity and behavior between their parents, such that they do not want to endanger their own sense of survival and certainly would not want to act is any such way as to bring the wrath witnessed between their parents upon themselves.

Very often, these children while unhappy about the parental separation none-the-less secretly feel good about the new-found attention from the otherwise less-involved parent. These are kids who had secretly longed to feel fully valued by both parents and now experiencing the absent parent being or seeking to be more involved, they are pleased. This is so, even if the child does not show it The child may only be fearful that the involved parent may feel unappreciated for now appreciating the less-involved parent’s involvement. Pity the child who feels a need to balance their own needs with the issues of the parents.

This is a terrible dilemma for the child

It certainly may upset a parent who for years may have tried to cajole the less-involved parent to be more engaged with the kids who all-of-a-sudden is more involved post-separation. It may cause the more involved parent to question the motivations of that parent. Here’s the rub though; even if the less-involved parent’s motive for greater involvement isn’t the most altruistic, from your child’s experience it may still be felt as positive and in fact may be positive. Your child doesn’t stand there to question parental motivations. From your child’s perspective, he or she may be finally enjoying the attention and validation previously missed. The other issues belong to the parents.

If you want to really uncover your child’s views and feelings, this is best done with the help of a neutral third party – a person who has experience and expertise chatting with children of separated parents. We speak of this as hearing the voice of the child and doing so requires a balanced process with the involvement of both parents.

Once the voice of the child has been heard, then the neutral helper who facilitated the child’s voice can bring the child’s feelings, views and experience of their life and parental separation to the parents’ attention for the parents to be informed. On the basis of information provided, then the parents may be in a better place to meet their child’s needs. If indeed there were untoward issues, it may be instructive for a parent to be advised of those issues from the perspective of the child. It may be helpful to have a better appreciation of your child’s experience and needs when considering a parenting plan.

Five sure-fire signs you need couple counselling
Your relationship has been unsatisfying for some time. You’ve been toying with the idea of getting help, but just how do you know when you need to see a counsellor? Here are five sure-fire signs:

 1.      No time together:

Do you find yourself spending more time at work, with friends, family or hobbies, than with your partner? Avoidance of each other is an indicator that things aren’t working well between you. It’s not that we must always feel like running into each other’s arms, but not wanting to be in the company of your partner says your relationship is amiss. Eventually the excuses don’t work and you will have to admit that at least now, you are uncomfortable in each other’s presence. Counselling may be a good choice to help get beyond the impasse.

 2.      No intimacy:

Has it been some time since you were sexually intimate? Does the thought of sex with your partner, turn your stomach? Sexual intimacy is a good indicator of the health of a relationship. If trouble in the relationship is keeping you from being intimate with your partner, it shows that the problem is affecting at least this area of your life. The absence of sex leaves many couples feeling more adrift from each other. Couple counselling may be the fastest route back to the bedroom.

 3.      Depression/anxiety

Are you overwhelmed by your relationship issues? Do you have difficulty concentrating, getting out of bed, eating? Do you have problems getting to sleep at night or turning off your worries? It may be that your relationship issues are creating mental health problems. Depression and anxiety are the most common associated mental health issues with unresolved relationship strife. If your relationship problems are of such significance that they affect your mental health, it’s definitely time to seek help. While prescribed medication can ease the emotional distress, it will likely take a good dose of counselling to address the underlying issues in your relationship.

 4.      Using drugs or alcohol to cope:

Have you turned to drugs or alcohol to help you cope with a distressing relationship? Do you find yourself drinking or using recreational drugs more regularly or in greater amounts to get through the day? While drugs or alcohol may ease your inner turmoil, these substances will do nothing to resolve your interpersonal issues. More to the point, alcohol or substance abuse will likely add to your relationship distress. It may be that you need an appropriately prescribed medication to help you cope emotionally and this would certainly be healthier than the use of recreational drugs or alcohol. These poor coping strategies signal that your relationship is in trouble and you need to see a counsellor with your partner.

 5.      Stepping out:

Do you fantasize of being with someone else? Are you flirting with cheating through social media? Are you already searching profiles of other people thinking of or looking for a fling? Have you already crossed the line and stepped into an emotional or sexual affair? Investing your energy into finding or being with another person is a very significant sign that your relationship is on the skids and may even be past the point of no return. If you want to maintain any semblance of a relationship with your partner, step back from the third party and step into counselling with your partner.

 Couple counselling won’t save every relationship. However, those who attend early enough, who are vested in maintaining the relationship and are open to the prospect of counselling, are apt to do well. Couples with longstanding intractable problems, where one or both are no longer determined to make it work and/or when one has a poor view of counselling, tend to have poorer outcomes.

So, when do you need couple counselling?
You need it when either person says they want it. Better to get in early for a minor problem, than have the issue get out of hand and undermine success. Couple counselling is an investment in yourself and your relationship for a more satisfying future.

Are you a litigant in person - representing yourself at court?
Have you 'cycled through' various lawyers?

There's an old saying in the law that the person who represents him or herself has a fool for a client.  However, there are a number of different reasons why persons subject to custody and access disputes choose to represent themselves when at court. 

 

Increasingly, more and more persons cannot afford to hire a lawyer and so they are forced to represent themselves.  In other circumstances, some persons are unsatisfied with the direction their case is taking, believe they can do better on their own, and hence seek to act as their own advocate.

 

Persons who represent themselves should be warned.  There are many rules, subtleties and nuances to the law that the novice just will not be privy to.  As such the person who represents him or herself is at risk of undermining his or her own interests in the absence of important legal information.  The person may miss important deadlines for filing, may not fill in forms properly, and may have mistaken beliefs in terms of what is acceptable information or evidence.  Further, the person may not be informed even as to alternate strategies for conflict resolution other than resorting to the courts.

 

There are also those persons who have cycled through a number of lawyers, never satisfied with the feedback provided or the direction of their case.  In these circumstances, the person may have been provided very reasonable and appropriate guidance and their case may be progressing, as it should under the circumstances.  These persons may not understand that a good fight does not equal winning and they may have the mistaken belief that the harder they fight, the more likely it is that they will win.  These persons who have cycled through a number of lawyers who are then self-represented are at substantial risk of presenting an image of themselves as obstructionist and controlling.  They may create an image of themselves in the minds of the court that is thus contrary to their interest. These persons are advised to heed the input of their lawyers particularly when their feedback and guidance is similar.

 

Are there winners and losers in court?

While some people hold the belief that court is about winning, it's not.  At best, court is about having an impartial person learn about your circumstances and where resolution cannot be achieved by any manner of negotiation or discussion, the resolution can be imposed by Orderof the Court.

 

While a person may never be satisfied with the outcome, the best process is generally achieved through the use of a lawyer.
Editor's comment: Please see our list of acredited family solicitors.
If there is no-one in your area or you need specific advice re international, high finances or domestic violence for example, we are able to help you find what you need.
Just use this link to email us your brief details about your situation and also list any solicitors contacted by either of you. This will save us time referring you to those again by chance. Click below to email the team:

Personal Divorce Solicitor Referral Service


NB
Most importantly, please provide your full postcode and length of marriage.
We need this for jurisdiction - please do not just say UK as there are various laws. Thank you
Christina, Editor

Now is the time to plan Christmas for your children

All I Want For Christmas… and we are not planning presents!

 

Time for the annual holiday debacle. I’m not talking bad Christmas gifts; I’m talking high conflict separated parents duking it out over when to exchange the children on Christmas Day.

 

Every year, same old fight with kids caught in the middle. As other kids are dreaming and scheming about their Christmas booty, kids of high conflict separated parents are embroiled as emissaries taking contentious emotion- laden messages back and forth between their parents to sort out exchange time.

 

They are exposed to the toxic animosity and bad mouthing of one parent against the other.

 

These same kids have to reconcile their own worth, knowing they are half of each parent and given each parent portrays the other as bad, they extract the meaning that they are therefore entirely bad, being composed of both parents. This view of self carries them to adolescence where they give up on a reasonable life in favour of early onset sexual behaviour, drugs and crime as they assuage their poor feelings of self worth.

 

Further, If the parents cannot reach a consensus on how to share or arrange Christmas Day, then by default the one with the kids from Christmas Eve has control of their release or until the police arrive thus turning Christmas into a criminal activity and total embarrassment for the children.

 

What a despicable tradition. And what of these children come adulthood?

 

Firstly, these children often seek to have nothing to do with either parent on Christmas when they are of an age to control their destiny. Secondly, with their parents as role models, as much as they may try to do things differently, they all too often find themselves in the very predicament they swore they would never be a party to. Misery begets misery.

 

If you are a separated parent in a high conflict situation, there are other solutions to fighting it out with your ex. Rather than running to Court, each advising of the shortcomings of the other, consider alternate strategies for conflict resolution such as alternative dispute resolution, mediation or collaborative law.

 

Regardless of mediation or collaborative law or negotiating on your own, then consider how rigid you truly need to be with respect to holding out for your preferred outcome. Did you know, low conflict separated parents have figured out that kids don’t really need to see both parents on Christmas Day! Indeed, some parents switch off on Boxing Day on an alternate year basis and some even elect to have the kids every Boxing Day.

 

From the child’s perspective, those parents who settle their dispute typically with one being very flexible, get to enjoy a conflict free Christmas with traditions special to their circumstance. Given they no longer have to worry about the parental conflict, they are then free to dream and scheme about their Christmas presents just like the other kids.

 

As these kids age and they will, they come to see the differences between their parents. They come to understand who the instigator was and who was reasonable. Come their adulthood, they are more apt to choose the reasonable parent over the one observed to make life miserable. The parent who was flexible has a greater chance of a life-long relationship with their children over the parent who was seen to create conflict.

 

This year, if you are a separated parent in a high conflict situation, give your child the gift they truly deserve, peace on earth and goodwill towards all. Settle your dispute in the favour of your kids versus your preferred outcome. Freedom from conflict will last a lifetime, the electronics, maybe a year.

 

Children and parents need time to adjust to separation
You haven’t separated physically yet, but the ink is dry on your parenting plan agreement and you are ready to go your separate ways. Now reality bites!

 

Although many parents don’t talk about it, the final act of separation cuts like a knife, particularly when previously living on a full time basis with the kids. Now ready to start a new home, you are struck by the fact you will not be with your children on a full time basis as accustomed. The sense of loss and upset sets in and for many is overwhelming. Few are actually spared the process of mourning, even those who initiated the separation. Some parents are actually surprised by the depth of sadness when this part of the separation takes hold.

 

As parents experience their first days and weeks without the children’s company, many are left wondering what to do with themselves. They may be restless, agitated, have trouble sleeping or eating and may find themselves tearful with little or no provocation. These experiences point to the emotional adjustment that parents make to the separation process. Here is where some cry in their beer while others chat with friends or family and others seek the support of clergy or counselors.

 

To intensify matters, as parents are making their own emotional adjustment the children are on a parallel course, also adjusting to the reality of separated parents and separate residences and often a separate set of rules. Similar to parents in the adjustment process, children can appear agitated, depressed or anxious. Children may have trouble sleeping or eating or even concentrating at school. Here some parents point to the children’s adjustment as the basis to re-evaluate the parenting plan. As such, some parents fight over custody and access issues supposedly on the basis of the best interest of the children, but at heart the objective is to lessen their time away from the children and hence soothe their own emotional adjustment. So what was just agreed to a few days, weeks or months ago, is now subject to re-evaluation.

 

What may be necessary however, is not re-evaluating the whole parenting plan, but offering strategies to ease and facilitate the adjustment process. There are several strategies available to parents and children to help out.

 

The first strategy is to allow time. Even though living through upset, parents need to understand that an adjustment process is normal and that in many ways, only time can heal the upset. Time is necessary for old habits to wane and new habits to develop. As new habits develop parents and children grow accustomed to the change and the new living arrangements.

 

The second strategy is to acknowledge the struggle. This validates it as normal. You don’t have to feel bad about feeling sad. Parents can help their children acknowledge their upset by gently admitting their own. It is fair to say to a child, “I know the change is upsetting, I feel it too”, Then go on to add, “But we will both feel better in time.” The key is for the parent to not burden their children with their own emotional issues, but more simply to use their experience to validate their children’s experience.

 

The third strategy is to talk to someone. This may be a friend, family member, clergy or counselor. The objective is not to change the circumstances, but to find a safe place to let out and share one’s pain. For many people the mere process of acknowledging the upset, eases the burden.

 

The fourth strategy is to discuss the adjustment with the other parent and see if the parenting plan can be tinkered with, on a friendly basis and for a limited time. Sometimes, separation and new parenting plans can feel radical. The time between parent-child contact, whether person to person or by phone or email can be too long. Shortening the time between contacts can ease adjustment in the short term knowing that over time, time between contacts can be increased. Other strategies in this vein include the odd visit between residential changes, mutual attendance at extra-curricular activities, more phone calls and even having recent photographs.

 

Adjusting to the immediate change of separation and time with the kids can be onerous. If parents or children are finding the first days, weeks or even months particularly difficult, consider the above strategies before necessarily opening up a whole new custody/access dispute. It just may be that with a little more time, mutual kindness and consideration, the adjustment will take care of itself.

 

How long does it take to adjust? Several months to several years depending on the will, determination and mutual kindness of both parents.

 

Separated parents and mutual antagonism

Some separated parents cannot avoid provoking and antagonizing each other, co-creating conflict from which both seek relief. Yet and even though separated, they continue with their miserable ways, each complaining about the other. Both are looking for the other to stop and thus relieve the conflict.

Children of these parents go back and forth between them. They are the emissaries. They provide the fodder for parental complaints. Their secret mission is to keep the parental relationship alive and even though in conflict, parental conflict still signals a parental connection.

As these children inform each parent of the goings on with the other, neither parent is apt to redirect them from delivering their messages. Thus both parents can claim that the messages are non-solicited and certainly not coerced. Being children and particularly when young, the messages are distorted and reflect a child’s perspective. However, the parents take the messages as gospel and the child’s perception as clear and accurate statements of fact.

A child unsatisfied with the other parent’s dinner meal complains of being starved. Next, unsatisfied with the bedtime, a child complains of cruel punishment, being sent to bed early. Sometimes innocuously, a child merely comments or muses about the behaviour of a parent’s new partner and the other parent is racked with fear about the goings on of the other. Mountains are made of molehills. Sinister plots and outcomes are seen in every instance and one parent cannot resist intervening on the other for the sake of the child. The intruded upon parent however, seeks privacy and certainly denies any and all allegations. The fight is on and while the parental connection is kept alive, the children are subject to anger, hostility and conflict.

Making matters worse is when one parent leads his or her life with a sense of entitlement. Not only is what I am doing fine, but I am entitled to parent as I see fit and I am certainly entitled to be happy, date, develop new relationships, expose my kids to my new relationships and enjoy the company of new companions by day and by night.

So, on the one hand we have a parent who is self-centred and on the other hand, a parent who cannot resist taking the bait and escalating matters. The dynamic is toxic and as one antagonizes the other, they escalate their respective behaviours and the child lives on a diet of acrimony.

The challenge from a therapeutic point of view is to get both parents to disengage, to leave each other alone, recognising it is the antagonism that drives them both and that is the truly toxic part to the child. While parents may concern themselves with the standard of care each provides and/or the moral role model each presents, the outcome for children of separated parents is more determined by the parental conflict than the behaviours at issue. As the parents disengage, they must also help remove the child from the role of emissary. Comments about the other parent are not to be implicitly reinforced by letting the child prattle on, but rather parents should redirect the child to other matters, more notably issues of the moment with the present parent.

The objective is to limit escalation by facilitating better boundaries, recognizing that given the self-centred nature of one parent, the likelihood of getting that parent to change their ways is quite remote and relative to the behaviours in question, it is the parental conflict that will be more destructive to the children’s psychosocial development.

The goal is to extricate the child as emissary and to limit the toxicity of the family experience. In the end, you have a happier, better adjusted child who when older, will better understand the respective behaviour of the parents and make choices for themselves.

If you are the parent who continues to worry about the moral role model of the other, concentrate more on your behaviour as a role model and still limit conflict. That way you are not drawing more attention to the very behaviour you may find objectionable and you offer your child a range of experiences from which to draw.

Mutual antagonism and provocative behaviour: neither is truly acceptable, but conflict is still worse.


What do we tell the children?

Once the decision to separate has been made, the next big concern is telling the children. What you tell your children depends upon their age and beyond what you tell them, is how you tell them and then how you support them emotionally thereafter.

 

Certainly dealing with a toddler and younger, there is little you can tell them that they will truly understand. More important than explanations to the toddler, is managing their experience of the parental separation and making sure the child has frequent time with both parents so that the separation is not felt like an abject loss of a parent.

 

For the preschool child, simple explanations, such as mommy and daddy won’t be living together is a good starting point. Your child will likely be confused by such a message and wonder if the outcome is related to something about him or herself. If you tell your child something like mommy and daddy don’t get along, or we don’t love each other, but still love you, it may leave the child wondering what will happen if he or she falls out of favour with a parent. So it is important to shy away from big, long drawn out explanations in favour of brief explanations that concentrate more on how things will change and how you will help the child cope with the change.

 

For the young school age child, he or she will also wonder if their own behaviour played into the outcome. Hence the child will need reassurance that the decision for the parents to separate had nothing to do with the behaviour of the child and nor is it the child’s responsibility to fix or do anything on behalf of the parents.

 

The older school age child will not only be upset about the parental separation, but will be concerned for the impact of change on his or her own life. For a child of this age it becomes important to explain the plans you may have, how their life will be affected and how you will help them manage change.

 

The teenaged child can show tremendous concern for the well being of a parent or parents or alternately concern mainly for him or herself and sometimes concerns equally for parent(s) and him or herself. The teen will be quite worried for how his or her life will be affected, what it means in terms of school and friends. They will need reassurance that you will heed their input into decisions affecting them.

 

Regardless of the age of the child, it is helpful for the child that the parents are able to manage their own emotions at the time. The degree to which a parent becomes emotional and distraught signals to the child that life is scary, out of control or at least very terrible. They will worry more for themselves and for the parent at a time when they are counting on the parent as their own source of support.

 

Parents are cautioned to know that telling a child on one occasion about the parental separation does not equal the child adjusting immediately to the message. Children will need time to make sense of what they are told. They will emerge with a number of different feelings and questions. Some children may withdraw and others may act out their feeling through inappropriate behaviour.

 

Parents are advised to reassure their children, let them have input into minor decisions affecting them (choice of a new bedroom, furniture, colour of paint) and appreciate that as they may vent negative emotions, they are expressing their upset for the loss of the family as they new it. Parents can help them cope simply by listening to them non-judgementally and helping them continue with their responsibilities such as homework and attending their extra-curricular activities.

 

Throughout, parents must also remember not to intrude on the children’s relationship with each parent and not to disparage the other parent to the children. That way they can not only be loved by both parents but feel free to love each parent too.


The words inside your head
Some people have a negative script that runs through their heads. By way of the script they are telling themselves over and over again matters that contribute to their own distress: I am; fat; ugly; unlovable; afraid; shy; undeserving; etc.

 

Further their scripts may provide for a negative and ongoing self-fulfilling prophecy, such as; Bad things happen to me; I’ll never succeed; I can’t be happy.

 

These kinds of negative affirmations are then self-reinforcing and embed the person in a cycle of self-perpetuating upset. These negative scripts or negative affirmations are frequently an issue for persons who experience depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviour.

 

To help resolve the distress, change the words inside your head.

 

Positive affirmations are scripts you recite to yourself to counter or change the negative and thus promote relief.

 

Typically, one uses the antithesis or opposite of the negative script to create a positive affirmation. For instance;

 

I can lose weight; I can strive to be healthy and vibrant; I can choose not to be inducted into conflict; if I take my time, I can learn; I am deserving of a healthy relationship.

 

To strengthen the influence of the positive affirmation, one must recite it regularly. Not necessarily out loud, but certainly regularly.

 

Further, the positive affirmation can be recited in those situations that usually elicit the negative affirmation. By way of example, a person who usually feels anxiety giving a presentation can tell him/herself “All is well, I am confident and prepared”. 

 

Changing the words inside your head is like exercising a muscle. It takes practice, time and commitment. Some people find it helpful practicing in front of a mirror while looking at their own facial expressions. As you practice in front of a mirror, make your facial expression match the sentiment of the positive affirmation.

 

For many, a reminder is necessary to maintain the practice. Write your positive affirmation on a piece of paper and carry it with you. Tape a copy on the bathroom mirror and tack others on places where you will come across it regularly. Some people find wearing a special bracelet or ring can help them remember to use their positive affirmation. The key is to be practical and use a bit of creativity and have some fun with how you set up your reminders. This is a process you can enjoy.

 

With time and practice, the positive affirmation can replace the negative. As this occurs, your behaviour may change to be consistent with what you are telling yourself. As your behaviour changes, so too do your feelings. Distress fades, success gains.

 

Change your words; change your life.

Don’t focus on your child’s happiness!

Many parents strive to have happy kids.  In their efforts, they are loath to see their children upset and seem to do anything to allay the child’s consternation.  So, what child wants, child gets. Child doesn’t want, child doesn’t have to do.

 

There is a belief by these parents that their children will be naturally appreciative and hence will behave inordinately well. However, when their children do not behave as hoped or expected, the parents will admonish the child, advising of how well the child has it and hence should act more reasonably. Typically the child shrugs off the lecture and the parent feels more beholding to the child for upset caused by reasonable expectation and the parent winds up seeking to undo the child’s distress by giving in to the greater demands of the child. A vicious cycle ensues and eventually the child acts with a tremendous sense of entitlement, is out of control and increasingly is doing less and less in terms of reasonable expectations such as helping around the house or taking care of school work. The child does what he or she wants and literally nothing else. The parent feels impotent – helpless to do anything about the situation.

 

In truth, in the pursuit of their child’s happiness, parents forget to hold their child accountable to reasonable expectations. Rather than being concerned by the child’s objections to reasonable expectations, the parents need to concentrate on helping the child learn to tolerate frustration and learn to delay gratification and most importantly, learn to be responsible.

 

Parents must understand that they cannot purchase their child’s happiness and nor can or should they spare them from feelings of frustration. A child’s frustration is the life lesson that they cannot get everything they want as they want it. Some things they may never have and other things they may have to plan for. Learning these lessons, the child learns that life does not revolve around just themselves, but around others as well. Thus they learn to cooperate and get along with others in the pursuit of needs and wants. Further, the child learns that he or she cannot escape responsibilities and that the managing of responsibilities is tied to life’s rewards.

 

If you really want your child to grow up happy, the best thing a parent can do is concentrate on supporting their child to act responsibly.

 

As your child is responsible in behaviour and responsible in taking care of chores, school work and activities, then the child develops skills and learns how to cope in the world. Further, this child stays out of trouble, cooperates with others and completes tasks in a timely fashion. This child gets to reap the rewards of their responsible behaviour. They learn to cope with frustration and plan for things or events of interest. They also learn to cope with not obtaining everything they may want or desire.

 

If your child learns this kind of responsibility, then your child can be truly happy. This is the kind of happiness that comes from cooperation with others, intact relationships and earning life rewards by one's reasonable actions.

 

So, don’t focus on your child’s happiness. Focus on helping your child become responsible and happiness will be the outcome.


When separated parents meddle in each other’s parenting
Some separated parents can’t resist telling the children how the other parent’s rules or expectations or new partner are not up to scratch.

Thus the children return from mum, disgruntled with dad’s rules or relationships. They act out and find themselves directly at odds with dad. Dad in turn seeks to set the record straight and admonish the children for the attitudes attributed to mum and chides them to tell mom to mind her own business and that her rules and relationships are the ones that are wrong. The children returns to mom and shortly finds themselves next at odds with her. As for these parents; out and out warfare.

Imagine if teachers acted that way!

Imagine the art teacher likes kids to arrange the desks in groups, speak out without raising their hand and work on projects in teams. Now consider the math teacher who requires the kids to pay attention to a specific set of instructions, has the desks arranges in rows and requires the kids to raise their hand to be called upon when asking a question. All is well and good. These students learn the behavioural expectations of both teachers and both classes function well. Now imagine the art teacher believes the math teacher is all wrong in terms of teaching style and tells the kids so. Imagine the art teacher compels the kids to rebel and ‘on their own’ rearrange their desks into groups.

Instantaneously, these two well functioning classes deteriorate into anarchy and the teachers will be in significant conflict.

Note that neither teaching style is wrong, bad or abusive. They are simply different. The only bad thing that happens is when one teacher tries to impose his or her will on the teaching style of the other teacher. So too between separated parents.

The challenge for some separated parents is to disengage from each other and allow each other to find their way and parent independently.

It is well known that parents, like teachers, coaches, instructors, baby-sitters, camp counsellors , recreation leaders and the like will all have different styles for managing children’s behaviour. Interestingly, children learn to adapt.

Children learn to run on the football field, yet walk beside the swimming pool. They learn the differences between each responsible adults’ style and typically adjust accordingly. Somehow, it seems that only between separated parents does the expectation that they must do everything the same in every aspect of how they manage the kids.

Assuming no actual abusive or neglectful behaviour, butt out and leave each other alone.

It is not differences in parenting style that will necessarily hurt the child, but the ongoing conflict that ensues when one or other parent cannot resist meddling into the style and relationships of the other parent. The parental conflict is usually more destructive than the differences in parenting style.

Yes, kids must get their homework done, get to bed at a reasonable hour, be kept safe from harm and have opportunity for recreational enjoyment. How each parent accomplishes this will differ from parent to parent.

The best rule is for separated parents to concentrate fully on their own house, their own parenting, their own relationship with partners, and their own relationship with their kids.

The kids will sort out the rest.

Separating?
Each issue in separation/divorce brings a host of emotions, mostly dark and upsetting.
Once the decision to separate is made, there are a number of other issues to settle. If the decision has been made in isolation, there is the matter of informing one’s spouse. Thereafter comes telling the children. From there, attention is directed towards determining the ongoing care of the children between the separated parents. Then there is the matter of settling housing, finances and ongoing financial obligations. For some people, these issues begin to blend together, overwhelming them with the enormity of the consequences.

Underneath all decisions are associated feelings. Each issue brings a host of emotions, mostly dark and upsetting. The parties are dealing with the loss of the relationship, let alone the fantasy of how things should have been. There is worry as to the impact on the children, ongoing parent-child relationships, and economic hardship. Feelings may include anger, resentment, depression, fear and in some situations, even elation. Typically it is the feelings that drive decisions. Many people directly or indirectly seek retribution in how they settle the cascade of issues. People also may seek to make quick and rash decisions, serving to assuage their feelings and fears.

In the wake of the decision to separate, many people turn to a lawyer first, seeking to preserve rights and turf. The decision to separate is then communicated to the other party by way of a legal letter, not only telling of the separation, but laying out the demands and expectations for settlement. With the rug pulled out from beneath them, the other party, in a tizzy, is seldom able to respond reasonably given the information just befallen them. Hence the response may be nothing more than an outpouring of their emotion, upset, rage, sadness and fear, disguised as a counter to the demands of the other. Then the couple, like a ship, makes a series of over-corrections, trying to counterbalance competing demands; they veer left, then right, further left and further right, harder and harder, until their matter reaches epic proportions, spilling over into the courts.

Separating is always counter-intuitive. No person enters a long-term committed relationship saying that in time, they seek to lose their love and develop animosity enough to drive them from the relationship. These are always upsetting times and when upset drives decisions, poor decisions are often made further compounding problems. The ones to suffer most in the process are children. Statistically, it is not the distribution of assets, residential setting or even the access schedule that determines the outcome for children. It is singularly the level of conflict between the parents that most determines how their children will fare during and after the process and how they shall fare in their own adult intimate relationships later on.

Upon a decision to separate, parents would be wise to call to a counsellor. The counsellor will help the couple identify and manage the issues that contributed to the decision to separate and will maintain a clarity of vision to help the couple truly sort out what is best for their children, given their situation.

The goal of the separation is to permit for the untangling of lives, whilst still respecting and maintaining relationships vital to the care and development of the children.

It can be scary seeing the counsellor, but parents are advised to consider this a mature decision aimed at managing their feelings to achieve an outcome best for everyone combined and especially, their children.
Editor's note: Please see our Emotions and Parents sections for further details

What direction do you want your case to go?
A parent has his or her first meeting with their lawyer. The parent is upset, hurt and angry. It seems divorce is inevitable. The lawyer engages with the parent who while seeking a settlement, is also seeking retribution for the real or perceived wrongdoing of the other. The lawyer is prepared to send a letter on behalf of the parent in front of them on the basis of the one-sided account of events and demands. What will the letter say? What will be its tone?

Imagine being on the receiving end of the intended letter. You are likely well aware how your other conflicts have ended up. If the letter comes across as accusatory, even if deserved, the reply will likely start defensively and then turn offensive as the receiver of the letter first denies or minimizes the accusations and then seeks to “set the record straight” with his or her version of events. You will receive that response and then imagine how you will feel and how you would like to respond in kind.

Thus the conflict that saw the demise of the relationship will enter the settlement process and the settlement process will serve as the venue for not only the continuation of the dispute, but escalation too. Not much of a settlement process.

Thus, in view of the above, the direction a case goes is often predictable from the first volley of lawyer letters.

Notwithstanding upset and anger, the challenge for the distraught parent is to realize that angry or demanding legal letters while seemingly cathartic, are typical antithetical to settling disputes. So you may get your feelings off your chest, but expect them to bounce back with venom from the other side, only to inflame you further.

If you want to get your feelings off your chest, see a counsellor. If you want to settle your dispute, don’t start out accusatory, start out concilliatory.

If there are serious issues of concern such as power and control, violence, abuse, drugs or alcohol use, then you may wish to raise those issues, again, not in an accusatory fashion, but as matters of concern to be addressed in the settlement process.

If the other side responds defensively, angrily or accusatory, the strategy is not to defend and then fire back, but continue with the strategy of settlement. You can offer to attend mediation, assessment, arbitration or parenting coordination. The strategy is not to send volleys of defensive or accusatory letters, but engage in a process where the issues can be heard, addressed and resolved.

If your situation appears high conflict, you may have to look at yourself to determine if there is anything in terms of your behaviour that contributes to mutual distress and aggravation. If indeed your behaviour plays a part in the conflict, then settlement may require some change on your part too. The challenge here is to not only project culpability on the other side for the demise of the relationship but to take responsibility for one’s own contribution too.

If settlement is the goal and you wish to be spared from the expense and upset of a drawn out and expensive court battle, the key then, is to focus on settlement and disengage from the name calling by concentrating on the outcome you seek and if not fully attainable, then seeking safeguards to mitigate concerns.
Big challenge.
Editor's note: The family lawyers used by Divorce Aid always try the conciliatory route in the first instance but may, of course, be more aggressive according to the requisites of the case.

50/50 Living arrangements for children may equal a loss of relationship in the long run
As soon as the argument over children becomes about the 50/50 residential care arrangement, the writing is on the wall that at least one of the parents has lost sight of the best interest of their children.

These kinds of fights tend to take on epic proportion and the next issue to be determined becomes who can baby-sit when one or other parent is unavailable because typically neither parent can be available 100% of their 50% of the time with whatever schedule is determined.

Thus these children grow up in a situation of constant conflict and animosity between the parents. To understand the effect of this, think of your child as a bucket of white paint, clean and pure. Think of the parental conflict as black paint. With every parental fight, a drop of the black paint falls into the bucket of white paint. Try removing the black paint once mixed in. Impossible.

Over time, as more drops of black paint are added, your child, who was once pure like the white bucket of paint, becomes grayed with the luster removed.

When constructing parenting plans, the parental goal must be on a meaningful relationship with their children while being mindful of the demands of work-life and any other time constraints. By developing a parenting plan that is in this sense more rationale, the conflict is removed and the child is spared the discolouration from the tortuous ongoing drops of conflict.

Children who grow up between their parents’ animosity and conflict live for the day when they can leave home to escape the constant dropping of black paint into their lives. They grow weary and angry with their parents and will naturally seek to ultimately get away from them both. Hence a parent may win the 50/50 battle of time with their child, but lose the lifetime relationship when their child becomes an adult in their own right. Your child’s time on earth will be spent more as an adult than as a child. As you lament not having enough time with your son or daughter as a child, think how this can be worsened by losing your time with them as an adult, not to mention your time with your potential grandchildren.

The key here then is not to fight for 50/50 time with the kids, but the kind of sharing of care that allows for a meaningful relationship with the them. This kind of meaningfulness is measured by supporting school and extra-curricular activities, attending important functions of the child and having some recreational activity time for the mere fun of being together. Meaningful to the child also means freedom from parental conflict and animosity.

The best you can wish for is a 100% relationship with your children with whatever time is available. Any time put towards fighting and you are undermining what you already have.

Concentrate on what you’ve got and the future takes care of itself.

Editor's note: Please see our Parents' section where you will find details of a Parenting Plan and other leaflets.

Marital Therapy Explained or Couple counselling as known in the UK
Let go to win - Child residence disputes
The words inside your head
Parenting plan considerations
Separating?
Divorce counselling
Someone really really difficult to get along with?
The long arm of domestic violence
Children and parents adjust to separation
Improving Eleventh Hour Parenting Agreements
Choosing Mr. Right
Parenting Plans From a Kid’s Eye View
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe… Can a child choose which parent to live with?

Marital Therapy Explained or Couple counselling as known in the UK
Persons whose marriages are in distress may turn to marital therapy to improve the relationship.

Often the one seeking the therapy first, believes that the source of the distress is primarily, if not singularly the responsibility of the other person. While it may be true that the other person is contributing to distress, marital therapy seeks to inform the parties of both persons contribution to distress, so both might take responsibility for improvement.

A challenge at the beginning of martial therapy is getting the person who may seek to avoid the therapy, into therapy. This person may wish to avoid feeling blamed, deserved or not. Further, it is common for one or other party, but mostly men, to feel that they should be able to “fix” the situation without third party intervention. Hence making oneself available for marital therapy may take much time, coaxing or a serious intensification of the conflict to motivate for attendance. In any event, it is never the therapist’s job to cajole, coax or trick a party into therapy. To do so undermines the integrity of the therapist and hence that party will likely never come to trust the therapist or the therapeutic process.

Note that whilst both persons may contribute to the issues underlying the integrity of the marriage, the behavior of one may actually be more egregious and hence serve to focus attention.

In the situation of an affair, drug and alcohol abuse as well as domestic violence, it is reasonable to focus on these matters and deal with them forthrightly. These issues cannot be condoned and safety considerations must take priority.

Once addressed however, and safety and primary health considerations are attended to, the focus shifts from overt or egregious behaviour to mutual contributions. The challenge is then in helping the person who initiated therapy to also self-reflect with the view of determining his or her own contribution to mutual distress. The issues to be addressed include; what are your respective contributions to distress and; how do you each affect the other such that neither is satisfied or a reasonable solution cannot be reached.

Marital therapy should offer both persons an insight into respective contributions so that they are better informed and hence in a better position to make decisions more attuned to sustaining and improving marital quality. Beyond that, marital therapy should equip persons with more effective strategies to resolve conflict and set priorities.

The challenge for the therapist is to withstand the intensity of the couple’s emotions, provide a safe and secure environment and manage the delicate balance of supporting yet holding both persons accountable for affecting change.

Best advice? If one party in the marriage is requesting marital therapy, both should attend.

Marital therapy in the absence of one party is really individual therapy. Attending individual therapy for a marital issue increases the risk that any guidance offered would favour the person in attendance. This in turn can inadvertently undermine the integrity of the marriage. Bringing the other person into therapy after one has been seen is also not advisable as the person who comes second will be concerned that the therapist will be biased in favour of the person seen first. If it is the marriage you seek to address, then go together.

In view of issues of domestic violence, apprise the therapist before attending so that safety considerations can be taken into account.

Let go to win - Child residence disputes
Monkey hunters have an ingenious way to trap their prey. They carve a small hole into a gourd and then hollow it out. Into the gourd they place a small piece of fruit or some nuts. They strap the gourd to a tree and then wait. In a little while a monkey shows up and sniffs at the bait. The monkey then squeezes its hand into the gourd and grasps the bait. With its hand clasping the bait in a fist, it cannot remove its hand from the gourd. Trapped. Along come the hunter and cuts off the monkey’s head.

Parents in residence or contact disputes are advised to remember that story. It is true and reflects what can happen when parents engage in battle over the kids.

As each parent grabs hold of their prized position, both can lose control of their destiny to the will of the Courts. Not only can both parents lose control of the outcome, but when children become the battlefield, they then often become the casualties too. Children subject to bitter and ongoing parenting disputes are at risk of anxiety, depression, school failure, poor self-esteem and behavioural problems. Many of these problems can persist through childhood and into adulthood thus affecting adult relationship and vocational performance. This is quite the legacy of parents unwilling to ease their position.

Parents in bitter residence or contact disputes should consider that the prize is not necessarily half the time with their kids or even half a say in matters affecting their lives. The true prize is a 100% relationship with one’s children. This is achieved not by fighting tooth and nail for one’s perceived rights, as the right to fight is not necessarily what is right for the child. Rather, parents are advised to concentrate on their relationship with their kids.

A parent can win a disproportionate amount of time with their child, but if the relationship is poor, it really just means more time to ruin the relationship and hurt the child. Further, not enough time with the other parent may only create resentment towards the parent who limited the child’s time. Rather than focusing on amount of time then, parents can strategize how they will spend the time they have. Thus when concentrating on quality of time, parents can direct their attention to taking their kids to extra-curricular activities, helping with homework, joining in with hobbies and volunteering on school outings. Therefore parents can negotiate the activities in which they participate with their children instead of the amount of time a child is necessarily in their care.

Further and even if not a resident parent, parents can still negotiate to attend parent-teacher meetings and demonstrate an interest in their child’s schooling. Thus the parent demonstrates a keen interest in the life of their child, which enhances the relationship and contributes to the child’s self-esteem.

Assuming that neither parent is abusive or otherwise harmful, children tend to develop best given enough time with both parents to have a meaningful relationship. Meaningful though will be a function of parental participation in the child’s life. Even if the history suggests a parent has been distant or less available, on a go forward basis a positive outcome to a failed marriage may mean better parental relationships with the children. Limiting the possibility of better parental relationships does a double disservice to the child. Not only will the child have lost the primary family structure, but also the possibility of these better parental relationships.

Hence, parents on both sides of the battle are advised to stop and think before clenching tight on their position. Both can let go a little to gain a lot.

Interestingly enough, monkeys who do let go their fruit or nuts get to live another day and parents who let go a little, often improve relationships.

The words inside your head
Some people have a negative script that runs through their heads. By way of the script they are telling themselves over and over again matters that contribute to their own distress: I am; fat; ugly; unlovable; afraid; shy; undeserving; etc.

Further their scripts may provide for a negative and ongoing self-fulfilling prophecy, such as; Bad things happen to me; I’ll never succeed; I can’t be happy.

These kinds of negative affirmations are then self-reinforcing and embed the person in a cycle of self-perpetuating upset. These negative scripts or negative affirmations are frequently an issue for persons who experience depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviour.

To help resolve the distress, change the words inside your head.

Positive affirmations are scripts you recite to yourself to counter or change the negative and thus promote relief.

Typically, one uses the antithesis or opposite of the negative script to create a positive affirmation. For instance;

I can lose weight; I can strive to be healthy and vibrant; I can choose not to be inducted into conflict; if I take my time, I can learn; I am deserving of a healthy relationship.

To strengthen the influence of the positive affirmation, one must recite it regularly. Not necessarily out loud, but certainly regularly.

Further, the positive affirmation can be recited in those situations that usually elicit the negative affirmation. By way of example, a person who usually feels anxiety giving a presentation can tell him/herself “All is well, I am confident and prepared”.

Changing the words inside your head is like exercising a muscle. It takes practice, time and commitment. Some people find it helpful practicing in front of a mirror while looking at their own facial expressions. As you practice in front of a mirror, make your facial expression match the sentiment of the positive affirmation.

For many, a reminder is necessary to maintain the practice. Write your positive affirmation on a piece of paper and carry it with you. Tape a copy on the bathroom mirror and tack others on places where you will come across it regularly. Some people find wearing a special bracelet or ring can help them remember to use their positive affirmation. The key is to be practical and use a bit of creativity and have some fun with how you set up your reminders. This is a process you can enjoy.

With time and practice, the positive affirmation can replace the negative. As this occurs, your behaviour may change to be consistent with what you are telling yourself. As your behaviour changes, so too do your feelings. Distress fades, success gains.

Change your words; change your life.

Parenting plan considerations
In intact relationships, parents do not usually consider how decisions are made with regard to the care of the children, let alone who would carry out the various parenting tasks. However, once parents are living separate and apart, these issues must be clearly specified, understood and agreed upon to avoid conflict and assure proper care.

A Parenting Plan is a written agreement between separated parents setting out the rules and structures for the ongoing care of the children. Parenting plans are constructed with sensitivity to the developmental and cultural needs of the children and the ability of the parents to meet those needs given respective parental strengths, weaknesses and willingness.

Parenting Plans are generally developed on a consensus-building model between the parents, whose efforts may be supported by others. Depending on the nature and quality of support required, supports may include legal counsel, parenting coaches, child specialists, family specialists and other specialists with knowledge, expertise and training in matters such as: mental health, addictions, domestic violence, child development and the like.

As with the development of any plan between separated parents, it is necessary to be mindful of power and control issues and imbalances that could give rise to lop-sided agreements; agreements not necessarily in the best interests of the children; or agreements that may perpetuate harm or may place persons at risk of harm.

Parenting Plans typically contemplate matters in terms of responsibilities and authority as well as set out rules and structure for the direct care of the children between the parents. By way of example, one parent may retain authority for deciding a medical procedure, yet the other parent may be responsible for assuring attendance and implementation of the decision.

In view of the above, the Parenting Plan document will usually address at least, the following:
Distribution of time the children are in each parents’ care;
Consideration for holidays, birthdays, special occasions, religious days, summer vacation;
Transfer of care of children between the parents including transportation arrangements;
Purchase/exchange of belongings;
Healthcare decisions and responsibilities;
Access to information;
Extracurricular activities (how choices are made and rules for parental attendance);
Involvement of new partners/family;
Change of name;
Religion;
Education;
Parental communication;
Decision making processes and dispute resolution processes;
Limits/rules on mobility and/or travel;
Date or circumstances for review;
Considerations for special problems (geographical distances, mental health, abuse/violence, etc.)

Editor's Note: For a copy of the Government Parenting Plan, please see Divorce Aid/Parenting Plan at the end of the page.

Separating?
Once the decision to separate is made, there are a number of other issues to settle. If the decision has been made in isolation, there is the matter of informing one’s spouse. Thereafter comes telling the kids. From there, attention is directed towards determining the ongoing care of the children between the separated parents. Then there is the matter of settling housing, finances and ongoing financial obligations. For some people, these issues begin to blend together, overwhelming them with the enormity of the consequences.

Emotions
Underneath all decisions are associated feelings. Each issue brings a host of emotions, mostly dark and upsetting. The parties are dealing with the loss of the relationship, let alone the fantasy of how things should have been. There is worry as to the impact on the children, ongoing parent-child relationships, and economic hardship. Feelings may include anger, resentment, depression, fear and in some situations, even elation. Typically it is the feelings that drive decisions. Many people directly or indirectly seek retribution in how they settle the cascade of issues. People also may seek to make quick and rash decisions, serving to assuage their feelings and fears.

Shock
In the wake of the decision to separate, many people turn to a lawyer first, seeking to preserve rights and turf. The decision to separate is then communicated to the other party by way of a legal letter, not only telling of the separation, but laying out the demands and expectations for settlement. With the rug pulled out from beneath them, the other party, in a tizzy, is seldom able to respond reasonably given the information just befallen them. Hence the response may be nothing more than an outpouring of their emotion, upset, rage, sadness and fear, disguised as a counter to the demands of the other. Then the couple, like a ship, makes a series of over-corrections, trying to counterbalance competing demands; they veer left, then right, further left and further right, harder and harder, until their matter reaches epic proportions, spilling over into the courts.

Poor decisions
Separating is always counter-intuitive. No person enters a long-term committed relationship saying that in time, they seek to lose their love and develop animosity enough to drive them from the relationship. These are always upsetting times and when upset drives decisions, poor decisions are often made further compounding problems. The ones to suffer most in the process are children. Statistically, it is not the distribution of assets, residential setting or even the access schedule that determines the outcome for children. It is singularly the level of conflict between the parents that most determines how their children will fare during and after the process and how they shall fare in their own adult intimate relationships later on.

Divorce counselling
Upon a decision to separate, parents would be wise to call to a counsellor well trained and versed in separation and divorce matters. Please note, this is a specialty and very different to working with persons on other individual, emotional or psychological matters. The counsellor trained and versed in separation and divorce matters will help the couple identify and manage the issues that contributed to the decision to separate and will maintain a clarity of vision to help the couple truly sort out what is best for their children, given their situation. Further, most counsellors, trained and versed in separation and divorce matters can facilitate referrals to financial and legal services and would do so with the view to preserving the integrity of the parties and relationships.

The goal of the separation is to permit for the untangling of lives, whilst still respecting and maintaining relationships vital to the care and development of the children.

It can be scary seeing the counsellor, but parents are advised to consider this a mature decision aimed at managing their feelings to achieve an outcome best for everyone combined and especially, their children.

Someone really really difficult to get along with?
Most people get along with others. There might be the odd bit of friction between a person or two, but for the most part, most people get along.

There is a sub-group of people however, that don’t seem to get along with almost anyone. These persons tend to project blame onto others for their conflict and may also cause others to feel guilty for not meeting expectations in the relationship. Further, some of these people while feigning interest in others, are really only interested in meeting their own needs. These people can be manipulative, self-serving and very distressing to others. If they themselves are distressed, it is only due to the reaction of others, or for others not attending to their demands. They tend not to be distressed about their own behaviour. In fact, when confronted on their own behaviour, they are quite unable to see a problem with themselves and treat the confrontation as a serious attack. They are incredibly adept at making excuses that continues to exonerate themselves while making it seem like everyone else is the problem.

If you explore their childhood, one often sees a history of abuse or abandonment. There may have been parental alcohol or drug abuse and violence in the home. These persons may have been subject to many moves in childhood and care by multiple alternate caregivers.

Such persons may have a personality disorder. A personality disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis given to adults whose behaviour brings them into conflict with many persons and society. Their behaviour presents as frequently troublesome, inflexible and persistent. There are many behaviours common to persons with a personality disorder. When clusters of certain behaviours are seen in the same person over time, different types of personality disorders are identified. Hence 10 distinct types of personality disorders are distinguished and there are mixed types. Some persons are loud or dramatic, others cause rifts in relationships between other persons with themselves seeking to be in the middle, some may flaunt the law, believing it is their right to do so and others make everything seems about themselves. These characteristics relate to the histrionic, borderline, antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders.

Personality disorders cannot be treated with medication, although someone with a personality disorder may have another disorder such as depression or anxiety, which can be treated with medication. The personality disorder itself may be treated by psychotherapy; however, many persons with personality disorders are treatment resistant. In other words, the psychotherapy does not work and the personality disorder continues. The reason many are treatment resistant is due to the nature of the personality disorder. Another feature of the disorder is the inability of the person to view themselves realistically. They have tremendous difficulty or may be fully unable to realistically appraise or see their own behaviour as troublesome. Therefore, they are quite unable to accept it is they who have the problem and needs the help.

People who live with someone with a personality disorder may come to believe they have the problem, rather than the person with the disorder. The one with the personality disorder is so good at projecting blame and their version of reality and are so inflexible, that others are drawn into accepting blame and feeling guilty. Hence treatment for the family and friends of the person with the disorder becomes paramount. Treatment or counselling is aimed at educating the family and friends as to the nature of the disorder and at helping these persons form strong boundaries to protect from the intrusions of the one with the disorder. Some family members or friends may also have to distance themselves to be self-protective and others may need coping strategies to manage situations as when they need to be near the person with the disorder.

If you are having difficulty with someone as described above and even if they do get help, get help for yourself. Describe the situation to the therapist and seek education, guidance and support to manage the relationship and make choices as to how you will cope and decide what is acceptable for you. You are allowed to be independent of the person with the disorder, regardless of the relationship.
Editor's note: Please see our Health section for further information.

The long arm of domestic violence
Public attention to domestic violence tends to focus on the immediacy of the problem. In other words when the average persons thinks about domestic violence, thoughts go to the fright of the victim in the situation and physical harm caused. Media attention often reinforces the present context of the violence and perhaps the criminal aspect and legal outcome. Little consideration is given to the emotional and psychological aftermath. The emotional and psychological aftermath can last years to a lifetime and affects not only the target of the violence but also the myriad of family members and relationships.

When children are involved, the aftermath can fracture or mal-align parent/child relationships in a manner that can continue to perpetuate distress for all involved.

In many instances children share in the trauma of the violent event. They witness it, observe the aftermath of harm to the parent or environment or are left to cope with the emotional and psychological distress of the violated parent. Further, their care can be affected by the violated parent who traumatized, may in some cases be thus over-protective and in other cases unable to meet the emotional needs of the child in view of their own emotional dishevelment. Such children whose emotional and psychological care is altered in this manner develop problems in their own right ranging from fears and worries to lacking a secure sense of self and worth. In turn, their emotional and psychological issues manifest in behaviour at home and school next feeding into a cascade of more problems for the affected parent.

If the parental relationship continues where violence is a feature, children may learn that violence is a reasonable strategy to achieve goals and hence become violent themselves. Alternately, some children learn to be submissive and avoid conflict as a strategy to minimize risk of perceived violence and thus withdraw from meaningful participation where reliance on others is necessary. Further, some children may align with the violated parent, believing it is their responsibility to keep that parent from harm. They may feel a need to remain at home to keep their parent safe or suffer distraction at school as they worry about the safety of the parent at home. Other children may in fact align with the perpetrator and participate in the violation of the affected parent. These children grow to become bullies in their own right whose behaviour the violated parent cannot control and whose behaviour is reinforced by the perpetrator.

If the parental relationship ends, children may be subject to custody and access disputes locking them into an ongoing parental conflict. Some children will seek relief themselves from the perpetrator. However, the perpetrator may not believe or accept that their child is uncomfortable, scared, upset or angry with them. Promises of better behaviour are met with scepticism. Children may naturally align with the violated parent in view of that parent’s distress and be forever unforgiving to the perpetrator. Efforts by the perpetrator to reconcile with the child directly may therefore prove unsuccessful. The child may be influenced directly or indirectly by the affected parent or in his or her own right may reasonably be forever fearful and suspicious of the perpetrator.

In more extreme cases, due to size differential and the relative maturity of the child, the child may harbour feelings and thoughts of the perpetrator as quite larger than life. Fears, real and/or imagined, may intrude their conscious and unconscious mind causing them to hide or avoid detection by the perpetrator. Their behaviour can become organized by these fears and affect all manner of relationships thereafter as well as school and then vocational participation and performance.

The impact of domestic violence is not restricted to the violent act and physical harm caused. The impact of domestic violence thus reaches to immediate and extended family. As affected persons interact with the world, they too carry the aftermath with them and through their interactions, into the rest of the world. The impact of domestic violence next shows itself through fractured and altered relationships and learned behaviours of the affected persons who in turn make their imprint on others.

Needless to say, domestic violence is not a good thing. Nor is the impact isolated to the to the direct victim.
Editor's note: Please see our articles at Parents and Legal

Children and parents adjust to separation
You haven’t separated physically yet, but the ink is dry on your parenting plan agreement and you are ready to go your separate ways. Now reality bites!

Although many parents don’t talk about it, the final act of separation cuts like a knife, particularly when previously living on a full time basis with the kids. Now ready to start a new home, you are struck by the fact you will not be with your children on a full time basis as accustomed. The sense of loss and upset sets in and for many is overwhelming. Few are actually spared the process of mourning, even those who initiated the separation. Some parents are actually surprised by the depth of sadness when this part of the separation takes hold.

As parents experience their first days and weeks without the children’s company, many are left wondering what to do with themselves. They may be restless, agitated, have trouble sleeping or eating and may find themselves tearful with little or no provocation. These experiences point to the emotional adjustment that parents make to the separation process. Here is where some cry in their beer while others chat with friends or family and others seek the support of clergy or counselors.

To intensify matters, as parents are making their own emotional adjustment the children are on a parallel course, also adjusting to the reality of separated parents and separate residences and often a separate set of rules. Similar to parents in the adjustment process, children can appear agitated, depressed or anxious. Children may have trouble sleeping or eating or even concentrating at school. Here some parents point to the children’s adjustment as the basis to re-evaluate the parenting plan. As such, some parents fight over custody and access issues supposedly on the basis of the best interest of the children, but at heart the objective is to lessen their time away from the children and hence soothe their own emotional adjustment. So what was just agreed to a few days, weeks or months ago, is now subject to re-evaluation.

What may be necessary however, is not re-evaluating the whole parenting plan, but offering strategies to ease and facilitate the adjustment process. There are several strategies available to parents and children to help out.

The first strategy is to allow time. Even though living through upset, parents need to understand that an adjustment process is normal and that in many ways, only time can heal the upset. Time is necessary for old habits to wane and new habits to develop. As new habits develop parents and children grow accustomed to the change and the new living arrangements.

The second strategy is to acknowledge the struggle. This validates it as normal. You don’t have to feel bad about feeling sad. Parents can help their children acknowledge their upset by gently admitting their own. It is fair to say to a child, “I know the change is upsetting, I feel it too”, Then go on to add, “But we will both feel better in time.” The key is for the parent to not burden their children with their own emotional issues, but more simply to use their experience to validate their children’s experience.

The third strategy is to talk to someone. This may be a friend, family member, clergy or counselor. The objective is not to change the circumstances, but to find a safe place to let out and share one’s pain. For many people the mere process of acknowledging the upset, eases the burden.

The fourth strategy is to discuss the adjustment with the other parent and see if the parenting plan can be tinkered with, on a friendly basis and for a limited time. Sometimes, separation and new parenting plans can feel radical. The time between parent-child contact, whether person to person or by phone or email can be too long. Shortening the time between contacts can ease adjustment in the short term knowing that over time, time between contacts can be increased. Other strategies in this vein include the odd visit between residential changes, mutual attendance at extra-curricular activities, more phone calls and even having recent photographs.

Adjusting to the immediate change of separation and time with the kids can be onerous. If parents or children are finding the first days, weeks or even months particularly difficult, consider the above strategies before necessarily opening up a whole new custody/access dispute. It just may be that with a little more time, mutual kindness and consideration, the adjustment will take care of itself.

How long does it take to adjust? Several months to several years depending on the will, determination and mutual kindness of both parents.

Improving Eleventh Hour Parenting Agreements
Some say an elephant was a horse made by a committee.

The value of that metaphor is handy to keep in mind when separated parents and lawyers seek to achieve settlements at the final hour on the courthouse steps.

In view of ongoing parenting disputes, many parents turn to the Courts to resolve their differences. As many a lawyer will advise their client, the Court is a very blunt instrument. They are telling their client that they may not be satisfied with an outcome handed down by the judge. In view of the risk involved, that the decision may not reflect the wishes of the parent, lawyers and parents seek to achieve a settlement, right up to the last minute. Many judges also encourage this.

There is tremendous benefit to parents achieving their own agreement, even at the final hour. Agreements entered into voluntarily tend to be more durable than solutions imposed by third parties. Further, parents who voluntarily enter into agreements tend to feel like their life and situation is still within their control, at least to some extent.

The problems with achieving settlements at the final hour is that parents and lawyers may come up with solutions that although sounding reasonable in the heat of the moment, may not be practical in the clear light of day. Further, without the added benefit of input from other professional parties, parents and lawyers may also come up with solutions that are contra-indicated or too cumbersome or so far reaching that it may bind the parents’ hands to processes that are just unacceptable.

Parents and lawyers are advised that while pressure may work in some instances to achieve reasonable agreements, in other instances, the agreements reached can backfire and work against both parties and in particular the needs of the child. In other words, while reaching to develop a horse, they may have come up with an elephant.

Frequently, after achieving such elephant agreements, the parties are referred to therapists or counsellors to implement the plan – plans achieved without the input or guidance from the very counsellor expected to carry out the work.

If parents and lawyers are looking to settle at the final hour and achieve reasonable plans, particularly next involving the work of other service providers, they are well advised to include the intended service provider in the planning process.

Strategies to include the service provider include inviting the service provider to act as a consultant during the planning process. Hence the service provider can be invited to the settlement conference, not to provide the service per se, but to speak as to how the service may be helpful and what would be necessary to make it so. Another strategy is to at least have the service provider on notice that he or she may receive a phone call to discuss potential involvement and the nature of involvement as the parties are negotiating their plan. By virtue of input from the intended service provider, parents and lawyers can be better assured that their plan doesn’t require something beyond the ability of the service provider to provide or doesn’t bind the process inadvertently.

The last thing separated parents need when looking to develop an agreement and plan, is an outcome that quickly falls apart from lack of input from other reasonable sources. Obtaining the input during the planning stage, even if at the final hour on the court house steps can facilitate a more workable solution, clearly in everyone’s interest.

Think of it like the slogan from the gas or electrical company, “Call before you dig”, or in this case, “Call before you commit someone else to your plan.” Make sure the settlement is achievable in the eyes of those who may have to carry out the plan.

Choosing Mr. Right
Some women find it difficult finding Mr. Right. They may be jumping into the relationship too quickly. These strategies may save a lot of disappointment and hurt:

Determine if this should even get started:
For whatever reason, men of limited virtue seem to have radar for vulnerable women. So the first question is, “Are you single”. If not, don’t even bother to ask anything else, just run. Developing rapport with a married man or a man living with another woman is just asking for trouble.

Find out if he is still licking old wounds:
If the fellow is separated, find out how long the separation has been. If too short, he may still be carrying a torch for the other woman. Not long enough and he may not have looked at himself to figure out his own contribution to the demise. Somewhere in the middle and he may just be sexually hungry. In any event, it can take six months to well over a year to get past a prior relationship and be ready for another. Be careful not to be his transitional relationship or just the answer to his pent up sexual frustration. These relationships tend not to last.

Take a drinking inventory:
The more the booze, the greater likelihood of problems. Ask him how much he drinks. You aren’t looking for his assessment of his drinking, but actual numbers. So, if he says he is a social drinker, ask him how often he socializes, with whom and how many alcoholic beverages per occasion. More than six drinks a week or more than 4 per occasion and the risk of problems begin to escalate. It would be wise to take a pass. As for drugs, totally out of the question.

Check out his respect for you:
Assuming the fellow is unattached, not licking old wounds, and not drinking more than a little, start slow and get to know him. Emotional attachment clouds rational judgment, so use your head before your heart. As you get to know each other through dating, make your own preferences known. See if you share in decisions and if your input is accepted and valued. If decision-making is all one-sided there is a big clue that you do not have a voice in the relationship. Further, if values and goals are different or if there are behaviours at issue, discuss them. If they cannot be resolved now, sex, marriage, cohabiting or having children will not make them any better. You might be better off leaving now and starting the process again.

Put your health first:
If indeed you are ready for sex, the fellow must wear a condom. There simply is no other device that can reduce the risk of getting a sexually transmitted disease. While you are at it, practice another form of contraception at the same time. No one contraceptive is 100% foolproof. Combining a contraceptive with a condom will greatly reduce the risk of both contraception and STD's. If the fellow refuses to wear a condom or one is not available, then no intercourse. If the fellow objects, he is telling you that your health is secondary to his sexual gratification. This is not the basis of a caring relationship and signals an exit point.

Continue to get to know each other:
If you have gotten this far and now think this relationship has substance, continue to court for at least a year before cohabiting or marriage. People are often on their best behaviour in the beginning of relationships. A period of courtship allows the couple to get comfortable with each other such that their true self emerges. See if you like him then. If so, then consider formalizing your relationship.

Take your time
Just like it takes time and effort to churn milk into butter, it takes time to determine the goodness of fit in relationships. Slow the process down and take the above strategies as steps along the way. The goal is a stable, healthy and sustainable relationship to truly meet your needs rather than a quick jump into the pool, holding your nose, hoping the water isn’t polluted. Finding Mr. Right requires choices.

Parenting Plans From a Kid’s Eye View
Parents have been telling the kids to get along, play nicely, share and not talk bad of others, their entire lives. Then the parents announce their separation and the conflict, hostility and upset between them, perhaps previously hidden from the kids, is now in the open. Their tension spills throughout the house. For the children of separating parents, their first wish is for their parents to get back together. If that is not possible, their second wish is for their parents to get along. If their parents cannot even get along, their third wish is for their parents to leave each other alone and quit fighting. Kids don't typically think about residence (child custody) and contact (access). They think about their parents' love.

The level of conflict, whether low, medium or high and the kids three wishes are the clue to parenting plan solutions.

Low conflict
In low conflict situations, the parents may not get along well, but perhaps well enough to stay in the same house, maybe not the same bedroom, but the same house. The parents may regard themselves as high conflict, but actually, this is more akin to high tension rather than medium or high conflict. In high tension, there is a stress imposed by the bad feelings between the parents. There is concern for eruption of conflict, but none-the-less, the parents can manage their behaviour and curtail open hostility. Children in these situations get their first wish. It may not be perfect, but they remain together with their parents under one roof. Scheduling and parental responsibilities generally remain the same.

Medium conflict
Open hostility or antagonism differentiates high tension from conflict. In medium conflict, while the parents may not get along, there is still a level of civility which only from time to time dips to include subtle denigration, such as making faces, sniping or sarcastic comments and the like. The parents are well able to distinguish their issues from the needs of the children and keep the children’s interest forefront, even though they the parents cannot stand to be under the same roof. Given medium conflict and the kids’ second wish being that the parents get along, kids in these situations would like their parents to be neighbours. In their mind, if their parents lived in houses side by side, or at least within walking distance of each other, they would have some peace of mind with regard to maintaining a close and loving relationship with both parents.

High conflict
In high conflict situations, the hostility between the parents has likely never been hidden or managed well in view of the kids. There may be allegations of abuse between the parents or even of a parent towards the children. Issues of alcohol or drug use/abuse may be present and there is a greater probability of a mental health issue affecting at least one parent. Parents are deadlocked with regard to their view of the ongoing care of the children. The children shudder at the thought of their parents remaining in the same house, let alone the some neighbourhood. Like the ol’ western, “This town isn’t big enough for the both of them”. Kids in these situations, more often than not, still seek to maintain a close relationship with both parents. However they realize that like some young kids fighting in the sandbox, peace will only prevail as long as they are kept far apart. So these kids just want their parents to leave each other alone, so they might enjoy their own relationship with each parent, free from the intrusions of the other. In these situations, children are better off with some physical distance between the parents to act as a buffer or neutral zone where neither will run into the other.

Kids subject to parental separation do live with some level of hypocrisy. We tell kids to get along, play nicely and the like, yet and certainly during the separation process, many parents do anything but. Want your kids to adjust better? Follow the advice you would give them and consider a parenting plan according to the level of conflict.


Eeny, meeny, miny, moe… Can a child choose which parent to live with?
Sometimes parents involve their children in residence and contact matters hoping the opinion of the child sways the outcome. At other times, children may seek to initiate a change themselves. The child's desire may be due to conflict with a parent; seeking to be closer to a particular school or friends; or even seeking to avoid reasonable parental expectations looking instead to live with the parent with whom they have greater albeit inappropriate freedoms. Thus children sometimes wonder about their influence in such matters too.

Generally, residence and contact decisions are matters for parents to decide. When they are unable to reach a decision between themselves, parents may turn to a mediator for guidance. If that is unsuccessful, parents may then turn to a lawyer and if that is unsuccessful, they may turn to the court.

With regard to the input of children, the older the child, the more weight their input can have in the decision making process.

Often the age of twelve is considered a turning point when the opinion of a child may begin to truly give added weight to these decisions. However, there is nothing magical or automatic about that number. Maturity of the child, the situation and parental influence will also be important factors, not to mention the needs of the child and the respective parent's ability to meet those needs appropriately and in a timely fashion. Therefore, being minors, the decision still remains in the hands of adults, be they the parents, professionals or Courts.

Parents are always cautioned against involving their children in residence and contact decisions.

In the event a parent influences a child, the child may feel trapped, unable to resist the influence of the parent and not wanting to undermine their relationship with the other parent. Hence influencing a child only adds to their psychological and emotional distress living between their separated parents. In these circumstances, parents must ask themselves if what they are doing is truly for the child or their own interest.

From the child's perspective there can be all sorts of legitimate reasons to alter their residency between separated parents. However the child may not be privy as to how the residence and contact decisions were arrived at in the first place. Hence their view of the situation may not be fully informed. So while children may form a reasonable argument in view of their desire, it still remains between the parents to discuss and reach a decision.

Whether child initiated or parent initiated, parents are encouraged to sit down with each other and the older child and if unable to resolve matters between themselves, consult a counsellor, mediator or lawyer to aid in their decision making process.

While parents may consult with the older child, hopefully in the end they will keep the actual decision making process to themselves.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW.
Gary is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert on child development, parent-child relations, marital and family therapy, contact/residence recommendations and social work. Read more about him at www.yoursocialworker.com

Editor's note: You may also be interested in an Independent article, The choice: When a child decides to move parents.
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