Reducing Trauma

The dictionary definition of trauma is, “an experience that produces psychological injury or pain.” Parents instinctively want to protect children from injury or pain.  However, when parents decide to separate or divorce, sharing the news with children is likely to be difficult and painful.  However, there are ways to reduce the emotional trauma.

Vikki Stark (Divorce: How to Tell the Kids. pg. 87-95)  compares the trauma of telling children with the way a child would react to any threat.   She points out that just as adrenaline would surge through a child’s  body so that he could run away from a physical threat such as a scary dog,  adrenaline will also provoke a strong reaction to hearing that his parents are separating.  He is likely to experience uncomfortable feelings and sensations, such as nausea and shakiness. A child may remain glued in a chair, but his mind and heart are likely to be racing.

Parents can help child cope with the fear and despair as they tell their children about separation and divorce.   Vikki Stark recommends that:

  1. Whenever possible, physical contact with your children is very comforting. Holding hands, having them sit next to you or on your lap is reassuring.
  2. Do whatever you can to remain as calm as possible. Part of children’s fear and despair is a reaction to the fear and despair that they see in parents. Of course, it is very likely that you are very upset and fearful; just do your best to keep these emotions in check when you are sharing the news with your children.
  3. Be there for your children as they react. Try to be attuned to them; be supportive as possible as they respond to your words. Reassure them that you will try to keep life as normal as possible.
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Jonas: A Teachable Moment for Separaed and Divorced Parents.

Jonas, the snowzilla of winter storms, has closed businesses and schools and has made driving treacherous.   Jonas has wreaked havoc on many parenting plans painstakingly created by separated and divorced parents.  Weekend plans?  Transportation?  Day care?  Weekday overnights?  Some, if not all, of these have been affected by Jonas.

Jonas reminds us that even the most comprehensive parenting plans may fall short. Parenting plans can deal with many, but never all, situations.  What can parents do when faced with unpredictable events?

  1. Decide how you are going to communicate.   If phone conversations always result in arguments, then use email or texts. Be sure to respond as quickly as possible when you hear from the other parent.
  2. Keep each other informed.   For example, if you cannot return the children to the other parent’s home on time because your neighborhood has not been plowed, tell the other parent. Otherwise, he/she may be imagining that you simply want to spend more time with the children. Updating each other minimizes misunderstanding and conflict.
  3. Ask the other parent for help. You may need advice. For instance, if you expected the children to be with you for 2 days, the other parent’s ideas how to plan meals for the extended time may be useful.
  4. When life returns to normal, be willing to talk with the other parent about updates to the parenting plan. Incorporate what you learned from Jonas into your agreement.

 

 

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How to Tell the Kids

One of the most difficult conversations parents will ever have with their children is the one in which they tell the children that they have decided to no longer live together.   If one parent had no idea that the marriage was in trouble until his/her spouse surprised her with a sudden announcement to end the marriage, the other parent may feel betrayed and shocked.  If the parents had been in marriage counseling for months, they may be less surprised, but are still likely to feel extremely upset, disappointed, and angry.  In her excellent book, Divorce How to Tell the Kids( Green Light Press, Montreal: 2015) Vikki Stark provides parents with background and recommendation for how to speak with children about their parents’ breakup.

In 15 short and concise chapters, Vikki Stark writes about topics ranging from Understanding Your Own Emotions to Reducing the Risk of Trauma. For example, she describes the importance of not undermining the other parent.   “We have a right arm and a left arm, and they’re both important…Your child’s identity includes both her mom and her dad—her right arm and her left arm.  Even if one arm (or parent) does not have the most stellar of qualities, she needs both of you. Please permit her to love both of you.” (page 15)

Each chapter concludes with a few sentences labelled TAKEAWAY. The TAKEAWAY contains important ideas as well as practical advice.  For instance,  one chapter talks about a planning meeting; a planning meeting is a time for both parents to meet and decide how to tell the children.  The TAKEAWAY includes:  “Don’t try to discuss too much…” and “Keep the focus on the plans for your child, and don’t see the discussion as an excuse to attack or entreat your spouse….”

When parents are unable to control their emotions, a planning meeting may not be possible. However, parents may be able to plan what they tell their children with the help of a third party.  Planning how to tell the children is an appropriate topic for mediation.  Sheila Russian will not take sides, but will help people discuss when to tell the children and how they will explain the separation.

Vikki Stark describes the family following the parents’ separation as, “a binuclear family with two homes.”   The children are likely to spend time with each parent in a different home.   Nonetheless, the children will continue to have a strong, loving, and secure bond with each parent.

 

 

 

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Holiday Planning

Holiday planning can be particularly challenging for separated or divorced parents. Work schedules, travel arrangements, the needs of the other parent, and religious observances can complicate arrangements.

Divorce mediation includes holiday planning. To begin, parents need to decide which holidays are important as well as what portion of the holiday needs to be discussed.  For example, Christmas is often important.  However, parents need to decide if Christmas means Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day?  Does Christmas extend to winter school vacations?

Are certain holidays more important to one parent than another?  One parent may relish trick or treating on Halloween while the other parent may have his/her heart set on going to the July 4th fireworks with the children.

How does each parent’s work schedule impact holiday plans?  If one parent knows that it’s impossible to take off Thanksgiving Day, then creating a plan in which Thanksgiving is always with the other parent may work best for everyone.

What if special days fall on days when children are in school? This often happens with birthdays—the children’s birthdays and the parents’ birthdays. Do parents want to spend the actual birthday after school with the child?  Or will it work best if “special time” is planned on the closest weekend?

What will each parent do when the children are with the other parent? Spending time alone on holidays can be difficult.  If one parent knows that he/she can join friends at the beach on Memorial Day Weekend, then it may be helpful to have the children be with the other parent on Memorial Day Weekend.   Although the focus is primarily on children, it is helpful to consider what  options will help parents adjust to spending holidays on their own.

For more information:  http://www.baltimoremediationsersvices.com

           

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Does the 1 Year Wait Still Apply to You?

A new law took effect in Maryland on October 1  that  eliminates the need to live separately for one year,  if you and the other person:

  1. Both agree to the  divorce and
  2. There are no minor children, and
  3. An agreement is reached about all financial issues

One of the sponsors of the bill, State Senator Robert Zirkind, described the benefits of the change, “It creates an incentive for people to work it out. Because the last thing you want in a divorce is people fighting over every last thing.”  (Baltimore Sun, 9/30/15,  p. 17}

Although the revision changes the timing of a divorce, it does not change the need for people to make informed financial decisions.  Mediation is an effective way for people to make informed financial decisions.

For example, when people own a home they need to decide whether or not  one person will reside in the home, and  the timing of  a buy out or a sale to a third party.  They need to decide who is responsible for the mortgage payment, the home equity line payment, insurance, and other expenses of the home.  They also need to talk about:

  • the mortgage interest deduction and other tax issues
  • realtor fees
  • closing costs
  • whether or not one of them will  qualify  for a new mortgage
  • what the selling price will be
  • how to divide the equity

Working face to face in mediation enables people to reach decisions.  People share information, talk about options, clear up misunderstandings they may have about each others’ needs, and consult with other professionals.  Sheila Russian helps clients understand the  similarities and differences as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each option.

Sheila Russian also helps people understand how each option will affect their day to day lives.  For example,  when people think about a selling price, she helps them figure out whether a particular price will cover all of their expenses of sale and whether or not there will be any remaining equity for each person.  Mediation provides a place for people to reach consensus, so that they are confident that they understand and can live with their financial decisions.

Sheila Russian is a member of the Academy of Professional Family Mediators, the Maryland State Bar, and the Maryland Program for Mediator Excellence.  For more information:  http://www.baltimoremediationservices.com



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When Parents Part

This book by well known research psychologist, Penelope Leach, is chock full of information that can help separated parents make decisions related to their children. This book combines practical advice with up to date research on child development.

In her first chapter, Leach describes the impact of separation this way, “This is adult business at its most intense, and with this kind of stuff taking up most of your attention, you won’t have much to spare for anybody or anything else, including your children. But this adult business is very much children’s business as well. It may be your marriage that’s breaking up, but it’s their family. ….You are losing your husband, wife, or partner, but they are losing not only the parent who is physically absent but both Daddy and Mommy because even when you are present, neither of you is the parent they had in the past.” (Page 3-4)

Leach’s 232 page book contains child development theory with practical recommendations.  She  describes how parenting plans affect children at all ages. For instance, she explains what she thinks is most important during the first year of life for babies as well as ways to help “grown up” children handle later separations– such as when a child has left home for college.

The book includes direct quotations from fathers, mothers, children, and grandparents on most topics. For instance,  a  7 year  girl explains  why she was crying, “I get mixed up about who’s picking me up and where I’m going.  My teacher tries to help…But I don’t like it that I don’t know who to look for…that’s why I was crying when he came yesterday.  Not ’cause he was late or ’cause I didn’t want to go with him like my mom said but ’cause I wasn’t sure it was going to be him or who.”  (page 147)

Penelope Leach’s book is  a terrific resource.  It  provides useful information for anyone who wants to better understand how to make decisions related to children before, during, or after a separation or divorce.               

To learn more about Sheila Russian and mediation: http://www.baltimoremediationservices.com                                                                                                                                                                                                  

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Young Adults and Money

This morning on the Diane Rehm Show on National Public Radio, there was a great conversation, “Young Adults and Money.” The guests discussed the importance of providing young adults with education in financial literacy, so that they can make informed decisions related to credit cards, loans, and college financial aid.
Although the discussion focused on young adults, many of the ideas could help any person, young or old, who is struggling with financial difficulties.
Go to: http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2015-06-17/young-adults-and-money

One of her guests is always you.

thedianerehmshow.org

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