Co-Parenting During the coronavirus

Coparenting vs coronavirus

The rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic is upending lives everywhere, but it’s putting a strain on a group that already deals with challenges on a routine basis—divorced parents.

Schools and daycare facilities are closing everywhere, which has parents questioning how to keep their children safe. Some are continuing to work, if they’re able, while others are adjusting to life at home full-time under financial strain

Then there is the stress of co-parenting. Many parents are questioning how to handle their existing custody agreements while practicing social distancing. How do you successfully co-parent with an ex when everyone is supposed to stay home?

It’s complicated, but not impossible. We have to respond quickly while accepting that COVID-19 may require us to be lenient and accept change. 

If you’re navigating co-parenting during the coronavirus, keep reading for a guide on how to work with your co-parent to put relationship issues aside for the health and safety of your children.

Communication is Vital

Our world is in crisis, so communication has never been more critical than it is right now. 

For some co-parents in high-conflict relationships, communication is difficult. It causes stress and anxiety, but it’s time to put those feelings aside and focus on the issues. Your family should put the health of everyone at the top of the priority. 

It’s essential to remain on the same page, so the first thing you should do is agree on how to discuss COVID-19 with your children.

How to Talk to Your Children About COVID-19

Your children have likely already seen news of the coronavirus everywhere. It’s on the front page of newspapers, on every news channel, to leaflets at the supermarket.

It’s hard to tell a child they can’t visit the playground or have playdates with friends in a way that won’t make them worry more than they already are. So how do you explain the pandemic to a child?Stay Positive

Children pick up cues from adults. They will react not only to what you say but how you say it as well. So stay positive, remain calm, and speak in a reassuring tone.Be Available

Both parents should be available to listen and talk. Make time to talk together and reassure your children to come to you if they’re unsure about something. Remain Developmentally Appropriate

Take into account the age of your children when answering questions and providing information. You don’t want to overwhelm them with more information than they can handle. 

Do your best to answer their questions honestly and clearly. Remember that you don’t have to know the answer to everything—what matters is that you’re there if they need you.Avoid Stigmas

Don’t use language that blames others. Viruses can make anyone sick—race and ethnicity don’t matter. 

Don’t assume who may or may not have COVID-19—model good behavior for your children.Limit Screen Time

News of the novel coronavirus is all over the television and online. For this reason, consider reducing the amount of screen time your children get each day. Too much information can cause anxiety and panic. 

This is true for adults, too.Tell the Truth

Do, however, provide your children with accurate information. Talk to them about rumors they may see on the Internet, especially social media platforms.

Let them know not to believe everything they see or hear, and not to spread rumors based on inaccurate information.Practice Good Hygiene

Teach your children how to reduce the spread of germs. 

Practice good handwashing habits. If soap and water aren’t available, teach them how to use hand sanitizer. Remind them to sneeze or cough into their elbow or tissue, and always through the tissue in the trash. 

Tell them to keep a safe distance from others who are sick. And lastly, make sure you’re leading by example and doing each of these things, too.

Simple COVID-19 Facts to Share with Children

As you’re having conversations with your children, try to keep information simple. Remind them that both parents and all health and school officials will do everything they can to keep them safe. 

Both parents should become comfortable with the following facts. These will lead conversations about COVID-19 at home and ensure both parents are using the same messaging.What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 stands for “coronavirus disease 2019.” Coronaviruses aren’t new, but this is a new disease not previously seen in humans. 

Recently, COVID-19 has made many people sick. While most people, children especially, will be okay, some people will suffer more than others. Doctors and health officials are working very hard to keep you healthy.How Do You Stay Safe from COVID0-19?

Always practice healthy habits at home, school, and during playtime. Healthy habits that will help are:

  • Keep the germs out of your body by keeping your hands out of your mouth, nose, and eyes. 
  • Never cough or sneeze onto anyone. Use your elbow or a tissue, then throw the tissue away immediately.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with hot, soapy water. To make sure you’re washing long enough, sing the song “Happy Birthday” twice.
  • If soap and water aren’t available, ask an adult to help with hand sanitizer. Never put hand sanitizer in your mouth.
  • Keep the things we touch the cleanest. Have an adult help you wipe doorknobs, light switches, and remote controls.
  • If you’re not feeling well, tell someone and stay home. You don’t want other people’s germs, and they don’t want yours either.

What if You Get Sick?

For most people, COVID-19 disease feels like having the flu. You might have a fever, cough, and have a hard time breathing deeply. Most people who have gotten the disease haven’t been seriously sick.

Only a small group of people have had severe problems and have been admitted to the hospital. Most children don’t get very sick, and most adults who do, get better. 

A fever and a cough doesn’t automatically mean you have COVID-19. You can get sick from all kinds of germs. Remember that if you do feel unwell, tell an adult and they will help you.

As a parent, if you think your child could be infected with the new coronavirus, call ahead before arriving at any healthcare facility. 

Co-Parenting Guidelines for the COVID-19 Pandemic

Once you’re on the same page about how to communicate the facts of COVID-19 to your children, it’s time to talk about how the pandemic will or will not affect your co-parenting agreement.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts have jointly released a set of guidelines for co-parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These guidelines are meant to provide advice and clarity for how to handle court orders and co-parenting agreements during this trying time.

1. Be Healthy

Be a good model for your children by following all CDC, local, and state guidelines. 

Lead by example by showing your children intensive handwashing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched. Practice social distancing and stay informed to avoid falling victim to the rumor mill.

2. Be Mindful

While you should recognize the severity of the pandemic, you should remain calm and reassure your children that everything will return to normal eventually.

And if you have a good relationship with your co-parent, consider being proactive like Carolina from Italy:

“My ex-husband and I decided to re-organize our children’s custody in longer periods, to avoid going out frequently. In fact, even though we are close, (5 miles apart) we live in different cities and the government suggested not to move to other cities if you don’t have a good reason or necessity.”

Carolina

3. Be Compliant 

Now is not the time to make up your own rules. Despite the unusual circumstances, you should continue to follow court orders and custody agreements. 

These agreements exist to prevent haggling over details. Most custody agreements, for example, mandate that custody agreements should remain in force as though school is in session, even if they are closed. 

4. Be Creative

While you should do your best to stay compliant, it’s evident that things will change when travel is restricted. Some parents will be working extra hours, while others will lose their jobs. 

Plans will inevitably change, but each parent should encourage closeness with the other. If one parent loses time, get created with shared books, movies, and games. Communicate with platforms such as FaceTime or Skype.

5. Be Transparent

Now is not the time to withhold information from your co-parent. If you suspect that you have been exposed to the virus, provide honest information. Agree on the steps each of you will take to protect your children.

If a child exhibits symptoms of the virus, both parents should be notified at once.

And if you’re worried about exposure, understand that you’re only doing what is best for your children by opting to self-quarantine. Attitude is everything, as you can see in the following testimonial by Amelie from France:

“As far as we’re concerned, we’re on alternate custody. The confinement began while the children were at their father’s. We have 3 children: 8, 11 and 14 years old.

Being on good terms, we had no difficulty in agreeing to leave them with him because they are better off at his place, as it is on a farm in the countryside.

For the moment, I’m going to respect a total confinement of 15 days to know if I’m safe and then we’ll see if I try to go and see them.

In the meantime, we talk quite regularly, but only when the children want to because they have other priorities than me! So that reassures me, it means that they are fine and that they don’t miss me!”

Amélie

6. Be Generous

If one parent misses out on time, family law judges will expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made. 

These are highly unusual circumstances, and parents who are inflexible during this time may not fare well in later filings. 

7. Be Understanding

This pandemic is causing economic hardship for many parents, for those who are paying child support and parents who receive it. If you’re providing child support, try to offer something even if it can’t be the court-ordered amount.

The receiving parent should do everything to be accomodating under these challenging circumstances. Now is the time to come together and focus on what is best for the children. 

These strange days will leave many children with vivid memories. What children should be left with is the understanding that both parents did everything they could to keep them safe, while keeping them informed. 

How to Manage Parenting Time Revisions

COVID-19 is causing schedule disruptions that may make it difficult or even impossible to stick to your original parenting plan. It’s likely your agreement didn’t come close to accounting for a situation like this.

The best thing to do is look at your current schedules and come to an agreement on something that everyone can live with, if not be thrilled about.

If you’re having a difficult time figuring this out with your co-parent, remember that there is help available. During this stressful time, you may have to reach out to a professional to assist.

Get Modifications in Writing

If you’re agreeing to slightly different terms than what is outlined in your custody agreement, consider getting the changes in writing. If you think your ex might take advantage of this amended parenting plan after the pandemic, this is even more essential.

If you’re concerned, have your mediator or attorney draft a document outlining the amended schedule. Have them include a stipulation that the plan is not setting a precedent and has an end date. If everyone signs it now, it can be filed once the courts reopen. 

This Too Shall Pass

Many things feel out of control right now. It’s essential to remember that this hardship, no matter how long it lasts, will eventually end. 

Eventually, life will return to normal, and we will all go back to work and resume the activities we enjoy. The best thing you can do for your children and your co-parenting relationships is to be understanding and patient. Keeping conflicts to a minimum will help you and your family manage the stress. 

Don’t forget that you’re not alone in dealing with this, and there are resources available to you if you need them.

Being a Stepmom – How Difficult Is It?

Being a Stepmom

Parenting has never been for the faint of heart. It comes with 24/7 worries and requires an endless supply of patience. There are also downright thankless parts of the job. Like dealing with temper tantrums, monitoring screen time, and stepping on Legos barefoot.

Being a stepmom can come with additional baggage, too. After all, we live in a society where the easiest scapegoat has often been stepmom.

Painting stepmoms in less than sympathetic light goes back to some of our oldest stories. Just think Cinderella or Hansel and Gretel, for starters. What would they be without an evil stepmother?

While these stories portray stepmoms in a cruel light, far fewer ones explore the real joys and difficulties of being a stepmother. Let’s take an authentic look at how difficult it is to be a stepmom as well as its hard-earned rewards. 

Motherhood and Bonding

One of the hardest parts of being a stepmom? Playing a challenging game of catch-up. After all, you don’t get the same bonding time with your stepchild that a biological mother does. 

This one even goes for being a stepmom to a toddler. You likely missed out on some of the hardest and most rewarding experiences early on.

Yes, the first few months after you bring home a baby are exhausting, but they also come with critical rewards. Sure, you lose improbable amounts of shuteye. You also spend a serious amount of time bonding with your baby, however. For every one of those long, sleepless nights that you endure, you learn critical things about your baby. From how to read them to what soothes them. You deal with cryfests but you get plenty of hugs and cuddles in return.

You play peek-a-boo while you nurse or bottle-feed your sweet infant. You’re there for everything from baby’s first word to baby’s first steps. Talk about an incredible bonding experience!

Through all of these challenges and joys, nature creates an unbreakable relationship between mother and child. Well, that is, unless you’re a stepmom.

Starting at a Disadvantage

Because stepmoms come into the picture later on, they don’t benefit from these early, intimate moments with their children. As a result, bonding often feels intentional or even forced. 

That’s not to say your stepkids won’t like you. But “like” is something entirely different than the heartfelt bond you establish from infancy with a child.

For stepmoms, parenting doesn’t come from that deep reservoir of love and nurturing that a birth parent draws. Now, that’s not to say you, as a stepmom, don’t love your stepchildren. It is to say, however, that your experiences with them will be different.

In other words, for stepmoms, parenting comes from the head first rather than the heart. As a result, it’s different from the experience mothers so often have with their biological children. This sense of “difference” can lead to lots of second-guessing. 

It can also lead to feelings of shame. After all, aren’t stepmoms supposed to love their step kids the same way they love their biological ones?

Doesn’t any perceived “differences” between how a stepmom treats biological children and stepchildren instantly equate to moral failure? Absolutely not!

That said, our society has both very low expectations for stepmoms and impossibly high standards. 

Playing Catch-Up 

Consider everything you know about your biological child or perhaps a niece or nephew that you’ve been close to since birth. Now think about how long it took you to acquire that knowledge and some of the funny and entertaining stories it involved. 

You’ve got profound memories laid down with your child, niece, or nephew. You’ve also got a profound well of knowledge to draw from when they’re difficult. 

Now imagine trying to describe your child’s needs and wants, preferences, hopes, and dreams in a few minutes to a new teacher or babysitter. It feels weird and oddly difficult, right?

There’s simply too much to say about that darling kiddo. Even if you did manage to relay it all to the new caretaker, you’d still just be scratching the surface. What’s more, no matter what, this teacher or babysitter would be at a distinct disadvantage compared to you.  

That’s the crazy game of catch-up a stepmom has to play. They have to pick up on a child’s entire history at a later date, far removed from the funny anecdotes and precious moments that relayed this information in the first place. They have to make mental notes of favorite foods, allergies, fears, and preferred activities without any real-life milestones to anchor them. The result? The constant, nagging feeling that you’re missing significant pieces of the puzzle. 

The older your stepchildren are when you come into their lives, the more pronounced this game of catch-up. What’s more, kids can develop fierce feelings of loyalty to their parents following divorce, and this can exacerbate the stepchild stepmom relationship.  

Sharing EVERYTHING

Being a stepmom often comes with the challenges of co-parenting. While some stepmothers have exclusive or primary guardianship of their stepchildren, such is not typically the case. Instead, they must navigate the choppy waters of co-parenting.

Countless parenting books tell us that establishing routines are fundamental to a wonderful home life. But if you’re co-parenting, these routines only matter half the time.

After all, when your stepkids aren’t with you, you have little control (or knowledge) of what’s going on. 

No matter how great your relationship is with your stepchildren’s other mom, there’s no way you’ll see eye to eye on everything. You’ll do things differently, and this is something that kids not only pick up on but often exploit. 

While this isn’t a deal-breaker per se, you’ll only have half the time to set and reinforce boundaries. What’s more, you’ll have to remain conscious of the fact that the routine you’re trying to establish may not even exist in the other household. 

Are you sharing parenting responsibilities with another household? Learn more about 50/50 custody arrangements and how to make them work. 

Different Parenting Philosophies

Parenting philosophies can also cause friction. Perhaps you’re more of an attachment style mom while your spouse’s ex is a tiger mom. The bottom line is you’re not going to have the same approach when it comes to parenting. 

Short of a situation that’s dangerous for your step kids, there’s not much you can do about these differences. If you don’t take a more relaxed parenting approach that goes with the flow, the friction of such a situation can prove infuriating.

Many moms feel as if they have to live up to expectations and standards that aren’t their own. Their stepkids may reinforce these feelings by continually comparing their two households.

The feeling that you’re not entirely in control of your life and household can be excruciating. It’s also likely not a feeling that you ever dreamed of having when you were a little girl thinking about a future family. 

Stepparents navigate somewhat messy co-parenting situations at times. It can be hard to accept the fact that you have little control over what your children are learning and doing 50 percent of the time. Fortunately, there are ways to make co-parenting go more smoothly.

The Evil Stepmom Syndrome

Every mother complains about her kids and their behavior from time to time. Whether stories from the diaper trenches or the teenage playbook, moms commiserate to each other. 

When a stepmom complains about a stepchild, however? That’s often considered an unspoken taboo.

Even the most benign statement of critique about a stepchild can put a woman in the “evil stepmother” category. This reality is something that many stepmothers intuitively realize, and so they never have a complaint or say a cross word. 

They also never develop the type of support network that a biological mother does. This fact can make an already tricky situation feel even worse. 

After all, stepmoms have a tendency to second-guess themselves. The last thing they want to do is look mean-spirited or wicked to their friends and family. So, they bottle issues up inside and feel an imperative to keep up appearances. 

Always painting a rosy picture of what is a difficult situation at best comes with long-term consequences. It will leave you feeling isolated, ashamed, and exhausted.

That said, all kids can be frustrating at times, even stepchildren. It’s essential to have somebody trusted that you can talk to and receive advice from when the going gets tough.

Parents and Stepparents

For some stepmoms, they have nobody to whom they can turn. Their spouse can further exacerbate this fact.

For example, your spouse may spoil their children, an unconscious attempt to make up for post-divorce guilt.

Or, your spouse may have deep-seated resentment based on the relationship they had with their stepparent. As a result, your partner may prove just as hypercritical as friends and family when it comes to complaints.  

When you can’t complain to your spouse about something going on with your children, this can lead to an even greater sense of resentment, frustration, and isolation. With no one to turn to or seek advice from, being a stepmom can feel very lonely and confusing.

Finding your place as a stepmom takes time. It also sometimes means keeping negative thoughts to yourself. Finding a trusted confidante outside of the home often proves your best option. Remember, too, that integrating a family requires patience. 

The Joys of Step-Parenting

Of course, step-parenting isn’t all negative by any means. It comes with many small and big rewards. The longer I’m a stepmom, the more convinced I become that celebrating these tiny victories remains key to cultivating a happy home life. 

Past the stereotypes and co-parenting challenges, there’s an abundant wealth of beautiful things associated with having stepchildren. Like suddenly being related to amazing, sweet, beautiful kids.

As your step kids mature, they’ll likely come to appreciate your role as a stepmom, too. 

If you’re bringing together a blended family, it can also be rewarding to watch your children and your spouse’s children come together as siblings over time. Yes, there will be conflicts, but getting along with everyone in a blended family is possible. 

What’s more, depending on your stepkids’ custody situation, you may get the best of both worlds. The chance to parent and get some much-needed downtime as adults. 

This situation is not something that full-time parents get to share in. So, when the stepchildren are at their other house, it’s vital to make time for your spouse and yourself. After all, self-care is critical to maintaining the stamina you need to co-parent.

Having stepchildren also allows you to see different sides of your spouse. You’ll catch breathtaking moments of sweetness and love that you might not otherwise get to see, and these are precious moments to be cherished. 

Stepparenting also allows you to relax as a parent. Because you have to be more flexible about what’s going on in your stepchild’s other home. This flexibility can put parenting struggles you may face with your biological children in perspective. 

Being a Stepmom

Being a stepmom can feel like the fast-track to sainthood (with all of the requisite martyrdom).

Why is stepparenting so tough? For one, because of the crazy stereotypes about stepmoms that have been perpetuated in fairytales, cartoons, and films. In some sense, we’ve all been pre-wired to dislike stepmoms.

Not only is that unfortunate, but it can make a tough situation feel unbearable. Especially when you don’t feel like you have peers or a network of friends to turn to.

Isolation can make the stepmom role much worse, particularly when your spouse is dealing with post-divorce baggage. That said, the stepmom role also comes with amazing perks, such as suddenly being related to awesome kids.

When you set aside unrealistic expectations and take it one day at a time, you’ll find stepparenting to be one of the most blessed roles out there. Keep reading for more advice on living in a blended family

Amicable Divorce: 4 Tips for Keeping Good Communication

Keeping good communication

So you’re committed to an amicable divorce. Congratulations! Maintaining a friendly relationship with someone who used to be your spouse is never easy. It’s worth doing, especially when there are kids involved. No matter your intentions, an amicable divorce can turn nasty quickly – usually due to poor communication. Keep your split civil with these simple tips.

Put Things in Writing

Even when things are amicable, divorce can cause a lot of tension. When your emotions are raw, it’s too easy to say something cruel or nasty to your ex without thinking it through. Relying a lot on written communication is one way to minimize the chance of saying something you regret.

Make an agreement to communicate regularly by email, especially about sensitive topics. This gives you both a chance to express everything you want to say without interrupting each other. It might also be easier to be kind to each other in writing than it is in person.

For example, maybe you really disagree about the holiday schedule. Write out a full proposal about what you want to happen and why you think it’s fair. Include some language about how you know you’re both motivated to spend time with the kids, and that you want to make the holiday schedule work for all of you. Reread the email before sending it to make sure it’s calm and polite. Your ex can process everything you said before responding.

Schedule Checkins

When you were married, you crossed paths every day. It was easy to exchange information and compare notes about something going on with the kids. Now that you’re divorced, staying on the same page takes real effort. Things that you should remember to tell your ex could slip your mind, and vice versa. Then the blame game starts.

That’s why it’s so useful to schedule regular just-because checkins. These could be weekly phone calls, or biweekly emails, or whatever works for your family and your needs. Use each checkin as a time to touch base about any issues going on with the kids, and to look ahead to any challenges that might be coming up for them. Even better, meet up in a neutral place like a coffee shop and talk face-to-face so your kids know you can still be friendly.

Be Honest With the Kids

While you’re focused on having good communication with your ex, don’t forget about communicating with the kids. Having an amicable divorce is great for children in a lot of ways. They’re spared the fighting and tension that kids of nasty divorces live through. But watching their parents go through an amicable divorce can be really confusing for kids, too. If Mom and Dad get along so well, why are they getting divorced? Is it my fault? And if they’re still friends, can I get them back together?

As you work on communication with your ex, make sure to do regular checkins with the children, too. Encourage them to ask any questions they have. Talk about how you and your ex are still family, but you can’t live as spouses anymore, and that’s okay.

Have a Place to Vent

You got divorced for a reason. Even if it’s amicable, you’ll have plenty of low and frustrating moments while dealing with your ex. They might drive you absolutely crazy. In those worst moments, yelling at your co-parent would feel great. They might even deserve it! But in such an intense situation, just one fight could be destructive. It’s not worth ruining your treaty with your spouse just because it feels good to tell them off.

In order to maintain good communication with your ex, you have to have somewhere else to go with your negative feelings about the situation. It could be a friend who is always willing to listen to you talk, or a therapist or another type of counselor. A support group for people going through a divorce is another option. If all else fails, write or draw about your feelings in a journal – anything to keep you from exploding on your ex or kids.

The Importance of Establishing Healthy Co-Parenting Communication

The Importance of Establishing Healthy Co-Parenting Communication

It might not be easy to establish a healthy co-parenting relationship, but it’s worth it.

Learning how to move past your individual differences to create an environment that helps your children thrive is essential to their development. When joint custody works well, it can help children feel stability, security, and adoration at a time when they need it the most.

One of the pillars of successful co-parenting? Clear and consistent communication.

While it might be easiest to steer clear of your ex-spouse and avoid contact altogether, there will be many important conversations you’ll need to have over the course of your child’s life. It’s easier if you can work through these issues as a team, rather than pinning one parent against the other. Today, we’re sharing why co-parenting communication is important and how you can navigate it together.

Ready to learn more? Let’s get started!

1. Discuss Important Decisions

Maybe you’re in the early stages of parenthood, navigating diapers and preschool. Perhaps you’re in the throes of adolescence, dealing with driving privileges, dating and college applications. Or, you could be anywhere in between.

Either way, there are major decisions at every age that you’ll need to navigate alongside your ex-spouse.

When one ex refuses to communicate with the other, it can lead to one parent making all of the important decisions on their own. Then, this can lead to feelings of resentment down the road, from all parties. To avoid this clash, it’s wise to set aside your differences as much as possible and focus on your children’s needs.

The decisions might start out small and insignificant at first but as your children grow, they will take on more significance. Thus, it’s important to set a communication standard as early as possible.

2. Help Children Feel Secure

Especially in the weeks and months directly following a divorce, your children will be in a state of upheaval. Even if they remain in the family home with one parent, there will be a major disruption to their routine and their sense of normalcy will be shaken.

While you might not be able to schedule family dinners and vacations with your ex-spouse, it can benefit your children to see you speak calmly and openly to one another. This way, any sense of a major rift or fight is dissolved, and they can begin to understand that divorce doesn’t have to mean a terrible change. Rather, it can mark a healthy and beneficial shift in their family dynamics that still leave them feeling loved and cherished by both of you.

This confidence and assurance can help them adjust better and more quickly to the divorce, which can improve their self-esteem. This is an especially important step to take if your children are school-aged, as this is the stage when children begin to analyze their role in your relationship, feeling guilty and wondering if they did anything to cause your split.

You can reassure them privately over and over again that this isn’t the case, but actions speak louder than words.

3. Establish Consistency

“But mom lets me drink chocolate milk before bed!” “But dad lets me stay out past 11:00 with my friends!”

Divorced parents at every stage hear the comparisons all the time. It’s not easy being pinned against your ex-spouse, especially if you’re playing the endless, tiring game of trying to “beat” one other. Instead of seeking to one-up each other and shower your children with privileges you know they don’t get when they’re not in your custody, it’s best to be on the same page.

Playing the cat-and-mouse game when they’re young leads to manipulation when they’re older. Communicating with your spouse helps you set common, shared ground rules that the kids can expect at all times, no matter where they’re spending the night.

From bedtimes and dietary decisions to friend circles and curfews, there are myriad important rules you’ll need to set as your brood grows, and it’s wisest to set them together.

4. Set an Example of Open Communication

Your children are watching your every move, even if you don’t realize it. If you hold a grudge and give your spouse the silent treatment (or receive it), what does that tell them about working through their differences?

You want your children to feel comfortable coming to you and opening up about the issues they’re facing in their lives. This step only gets more difficult as they get older. Any parent, divorced or not, knows that asking a moody teenager about his day is no easy feat!

Set a precedent early on that your family talks through things, even the hard ones. No one has to suffer in silence or internalize feelings because your space if a safe one. They’ll be more willing to follow through on their end if you and your spouse follow through on yours.

5. Coordinate Schedules

What happens if you have a custody plan worked out but one spouse wants to take the kids on an extended summer vacation that cuts into your time with them? Or, what if you have a spur-of-the-moment business trip that will affect your ability to keep the children?

From school schedules to sports practices, family obligations, and more, there are many instances that might require a slight tweak in your plans.

While it’s best to stick to pre-arranged custody terms, there might be instances in which a change is required. It’s reassuring to know that if this happens, you can bring the issue up with your spouse and you’ll work together to create a workaround.

If you aren’t on speaking terms with one another, even the slightest scheduling conflict can turn into a major argument that leads to even bigger problems. This is especially the case during holidays, at a time when families on both sides might want to see the kids. Communication and efficient scheduling go hand-in-hand.

The good news? You don’t have to have an hour-long phone conversation to set and stick to your schedule. Today, there are online scheduling tools that you can both access to share and synchronize your plans.

6. Reduce Tension at Shared Events

Despite your best efforts, you’ll be unable to avoid your ex-spouse completely if you share children. There are many events you’ll likely want to attend together, from parent-teacher conferences to dance recitals and high school graduation.

While you could coordinate ahead of time to be present but on separate terms, it’s infinitely easier (and more enjoyable for the kids), when you can attend side by side. Attending school meetings, sports events, and other milestones together reveals that you’re willing to work past your differences for the sake of your children.

7. Stick to On-Topic Dialogues

One of the facets of clear communication is being able to stay on topic without deviating into outside, off-subject territory. The more that you and your ex-spouse communicate, the better you’ll get at it. Over time, this means you’ll be able to talk about your son’s ball schedule or your daughter’s sleepovers without bringing up past hurts.

At first, this might not be an easy step, and that’s OK. When the issues from the divorce are still fresh, any time that you speak to your spouse might feel like a fighting match. However, if you both make the dedicated effort to keep the dialogue concise and professional, you’ll find that it gets easier over time.

Deciding to work on this together is a mature and important step that can help you stay in the loop about your family’s life, and for that reason alone, it’s well worth the effort.

8. Stop Using Kids as Messengers

It might be tempting to turn your kids into tiny messengers, asking them to relay messages to your ex-spouse so you don’t have to approach that conversation yourself.

Yet, keep in mind that while that option might be convenient to you, it’s also incredibly unhealthy for them. If they’re feeling even a little bit caught in the middle, this approach strengthens that affirmation. Over time, this can cause them to feel torn between both parents, which can affect their identity, self-esteem, confidence and more.

Resist the urge to take the easy way out and play a game of telephone, funneling important information through your kids. Not only does this exacerbate their confusion but in a more practical sense, you can’t be sure that your original message made it all the way through unchanged! What began as “I’ll pick up the kids from school today” could translate to “You’ll get the kids from school today” and where does that leave them when the bell rings?

Navigating Your Co-Parenting Journey Together

Divorce doesn’t have to equal a breakdown in communication. While you might balk at the idea of working with your ex-spouse on a regular basis, keep in mind who suffers when you don’t.

Thankfully, there are resources available to help you communicate from afar if you’re unable or uncomfortable meeting in person.

Not only can resources help you and your spouse work through scheduling and finance issues, but also offer a simple messaging tool that allows you to share ideas, concerns, and comments in seconds.

Get started today and put the communication back in co-parenting.

Talking to Your Kids About Their Absent Parent

Absent parent - 2houses

Even under the best of circumstances, a parental separation can be incredibly emotional and confusing for kids. They’re used to seeing both parents at the dinner table and at soccer games. Then suddenly one parent is gone. It’s a huge adjustment, even if both parents remain involved in the kids’ lives. But when your partner disappears from your lives and doesn’t make an effort to see the kids, it falls to you to help them process this huge shift.

Explaining the Absence to Kids

Because you want to protect your child, your instincts might tell you to fudge the truth behind your ex-partner’s disappearance. It’s hard to tell them that Dad left because he cheated or that Mom moved away because she has an addiction. Wouldn’t it be easier to tell them that their parent left because of an exciting new job opportunity?

Maybe, but this strategy can backfire. Instead, separated parents should tell kids the truth in an age-appropriate way. Emphasize that the kids have no responsibility for the parent’s absence. “Daddy moved away because he fell in love with someone else and he decided to go live with her. He did that because he wanted to, not because of anything that you did wrong, and he still loves you so much.” You might even add: “Someday he will probably realize he made a mistake by not seeing you more. I’m so sorry that his decision is hurting you.”

Kids in this situation might worry that their remaining parent will abandon them too, especially if they misbehave. One parent left, what’s keeping you from going too? Tell them in no uncertain terms that you will never choose to leave, even if they’re messy or get bad grades.

Helping Kids Cope

Once your kids understand that the absent parent is really gone and isn’t reliable, they’ll need your support. You can’t fix the situation or make your ex become a better parent. What you can do is encourage the kids to express how they’re feeling.

If they’re angry, let them vent to you without trying to offer any solutions. Give them access to art and writing supplies and encourage them to express their feelings. Offer frequent affection and remind them often how lovable and wonderful they are. If you’re in a position to send your child to a therapist for a few sessions, offer that as an option too.

Does the other parent makes promises to come see the kids but often fails to show up? Make backup plans for those scheduled times. When Dad doesn’t arrive at noon like promised, spend the afternoon at the mall or at a park having fun. And be mindful to not badmouth the other parent, even after the person hurts your child by bailing. Calling your ex names or getting really emotional when talking about the situation may make your kids afraid to express their feelings.

Helping Yourself Cope

Separated parents who have primary custody are under a ton of pressure. You’re solely responsible for kids who are dealing with being hurt by their other parent. If you’re like a lot of people who find themselves in this situation, you probably feel overwhelmed and angry. It’s important to acknowledge those feelings – without making your kids feel responsible for fixing them. Ideally, you’ll talk to a therapist about everything that you’re juggling. If that’s not possible, schedule weekly vent sessions with a sympathetic friend.

And don’t forget that you’re not Superparent. You’ve got a lot going on – if the kids eat chicken nuggets every night and miss the occasional shower, celebrate how much you’re getting right instead of beating yourself up.

We know that separated parents have a lot of their plates. 2houses helps you manage it all. Give us a try for free!

Blended Family: How To Encourage The Kids To Like Each Other

blended family - 2houses

If you’re divorced with children and pursuing a relationship with someone who also has children, it’s not easy mixing your two families. After all, families are not built overnight! If you’re struggling to figure out how to encourage the kids to like each other, this article is for you.

1: Limit Your Expectations

Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s unlikely that your kids will immediately form a strong familial bond with their step-siblings. That’s okay — some distance is normal and healthy — and trying to force friendships is a great way to alienate your children. It’s possible to encourage the children to like each other, but always temper your expectations with a dash of realism.

Remember, even blood siblings go through periods where they can barely tolerate each other! Expecting your newly blended family to become the best of friends is not particularly realistic.

2: Allow The Children Plenty Of Freedom

Be patient! It’s important to take things slow in a newly blended family — let the children discover common ground by themselves. If the children are especially young (under 10 years of age), they may adjust quicker than you expect.

Adolescents and teenagers may require more time to adjust to the new family dynamic and are not as open with expressing their emotions. That’s okay — teenagers have a lot going on — and it’s important to give them space.

The more you allow you and your partner’s children room to explore and develop their own relationships, the better.

blended family - 2houses

3: Plan Family Activities and Create Traditions

Family activities are great because they provide opportunities for communication. Fun family activities get both ‘sides’ of the family invested in forming new interpersonal relationships.

Great family activities include:

  • A house tour and ‘moving in’ game
  • Celebratory ice cream and movie night
  • Laser tag or another team-based activity (try children vs. adults, it’s always a blast)

The goal here is to get the children to communicate on topics that don’t seem like ‘work’. The more your children interact during fun, family-based activities, the quicker they’ll form meaningful connections.

New family traditions (or reinventing old ones) are an excellent way to get step-children invested in the family. If Sunday is pizza night, consider adding a twist (pizza and pie, perhaps) that makes it a new experience for everyone. The more your step-children become entwined in new traditions, the quicker they’ll bond.

4: Boundaries Matter

Sit down with your spouse and figure out some basic rules of conduct. Discipline is important — especially for young kids — but expecting a new stepfather to immediately begin disciplining his step-children is not realistic. Take the time to develop interpersonal bonds before moving to the role of disciplinarian.

Of course, rules must be applied fairly and consistently. Everyone must abide by the rules of your household, no matter who the biological parent is. Step-children get along much better if they know no one is playing favorites!

5: Become a Positive Role Model

Blending two families places incredible stress on your children. They feel pressured to form familial bonds with people they have no relation to — that’s not easy. Don’t underestimate the stress your children are experiencing.

Children love to emulate a positive, successful role model. Present yourself as a rational, fair, and likable new parent and you’ll be surprised at the results. Avoid talking about former spouses in a negative way and show the children that everything will work out.

Take A Breath

Blended families come with their own sets of challenges. Remember that you’re undergoing a challenge that millions of other families have already beaten. Give the children space, temper your expectations, and take the time to plan some fun regular family activities. The results will speak for themselves.

Divorce and Children: 4 Signs You Can’t Ignore

divorce and children

The fact that divorce is super common isn’t comforting when your family is going through it. At least as one of the adults, you have some control over what’s happening. For your kids, watching you and your partner split up – even if the divorce is amicable, or ends a really contentious marriage – is probably at least a little traumatic.

So it’s totally normal to notice some changes in your kids during the months following a divorce. You’re dealing with a seismic shift in your own life, so things are changing for you too. But this can be a really scary and anxious time for children of all ages, and they’re extra vulnerable right after a divorce. Be on the lookout for these four potentially serious warning signs.

Their Behavior is Regressing

Regression just means that a kid is returning to a previous stage of development and behaving “younger” than they are. For example, a 4-year-old who has been potty trained for a year might regress and start having toilet accidents after her parents divorce. A child might also return to sucking his thumb or needing to sleep with a nightlight after having previously given up those behaviors.

If your child displays some regression, it could be a sign that she feels anxious and wants to go back to an earlier time when she felt safer. Offering plenty of affection and support, and not pushing her to “grow back up” too quickly, should help your child eventually feel ready to progress again. But if the regression lasts for more than a month or is very severe, contact your pediatrician.

They’re Unusually Depressed or Anxious

Feeling sad and nervous is unfortunately par for the course when it comes to divorce and children. This event will inevitably change things, and kids are rarely happy about that.

Depression and anxiety that interferes with your child’s ability to function, however, isn’t normal. For example, a severely depressed child might sleep much more than usual, seem disinterested in things he used to love and let his grades slip. An anxious kid might be unusually clingy, throw temper tantrums and become resistant about going to school. Take action if you notice behavior that could have a lasting negative impact on his health, friendships or academic career.

They’re Hurting Themselves

Kids who are in emotional turmoil sometimes express that pain by hurting themselves. Take seriously any signs of self-harm. These may include a child cutting, scratching or picking at her skin; burning herself; disordered eating (restricting food intake, binging and/or purging) and, in older children, drug and alcohol use. Immediately consult a school psychologist and your pediatrician if you notice signs of self-harm.

Another thing to watch for with divorce and children is faked or exaggerated illnesses or injuries. Sometimes a kid who wants to bring her divorced parents back together, or needs more attention than she’s getting, will try this ploy. That doesn’t mean you should assume every injury is fake, of course – but keep it in mind.

They’re Growing Up Too Fast

Having your child step up and help you more might sound like a dream, but some kids feel overly responsible for their parents after a divorce. Your child might try to fill in for the absent parent to make you happy or out of worry that the household will fall apart without a second adult around. Some newly divorced parents make the mistake of leaning too heavily on their kids for support, treating them like therapists or friends instead of children.

Divorce is already hard enough. Don’t let your child feel responsible for taking care of you. By all means, encourage your kids to do age-appropriate chores and take on tasks that they can manage! Just be careful to make sure they know that you’re the adult and will take care of things so they can still focus on being kids.

Navigating Joint Custody and Father’s Day

father's day

It might take a few months, or even longer, but parents and kids will get used to a new normal after divorce. The kids will become accustomed to spending time with one parent at a time, and you and your ex will adjust too. But even when you sort out the logistics of everyday life post-divorce, certain holidays may always be a source of tension. With Father’s Day and Mother’s Day approaching, talking now about what will happen on these special days is an important part of making them run smoothly.

Joint Custody and Father’s Day: Potential Pitfalls

Especially if this coming Father’s Day is your family’s first since the divorce, having a happy and loving day with your kids probably feels really important. Hopefully that’s exactly what will happen, but it’s important to be mindful about all the potential obstacles that your family will have to navigate.

First, there’s the legal side. Your custody agreement will factor into how you handle scheduling these holidays. It’s not just up to your and your ex to decide what happens, so check that agreement first.

Next, think about your expectations for this special day. Father’s Day probably seems even more important now that you’re not with the kids every day, but expecting a perfect day of family bonding is probably not realistic. Your kids might be grumpy, the weather could be bad – any number of things could throw a wrench in the plans. Stay flexible.

And if you’re not able to get custody for Father’s Day, think ahead about what you can do on that day instead. Plan a full slate of fun and distracting activities with childless friends, or opt for a low-key day at home if you think seeing families out and about will be too hard.

Divorced parents deal with these issues around Mother’s Day, too. We’re focused on joint custody and Father’s Day today, but these same pitfalls and strategies are just as relevant to moms who aren’t scheduled to have custody on Mother’s Day.

Talking to Your Ex About Holidays

Who gets custody on a special holiday is a hotly contested issue between some divorced parents. This is an emotional issue, and being separated from your kids on a day when you’re supposed to be together can cause tension between your and your ex. It’s imperative that you don’t let that happen, as adding conflict to your relationship will hurt the kids.

Luckily, you can both understand the significance of these parent-specific holidays. One good strategy to get access to your kids when they’re scheduled to be with their other parent is to offer an even exchange. If the kids can be with you on Father’s Day, your ex can have them on Mother’s Day or on another important date of her choosing.

If your relationship with your co-parent is really strained, put your request in an email or ask a trusted family member to serve as a go between. Your ex still disagrees to your request for custody that day? Suggest the whole family gets together for a meal so you can at least see the kids for part of the day.

Talking to Your Kids About Holidays

If your discussions about joint custody and Father’s Day go nowhere, you’ll have to prepare yourself and your kids to be apart on this day. The best strategy? Ignore what the calendar says and establish your own [Last Name] Family Father’s Day, on a weekend when you have custody.

Your kids might ask about why they won’t see you on Father’s Day, especially when they notice their friends are spending the day with their dads. Be honest and sympathetic, making sure not to blame your ex for the scheduling. Say something like, “I’m disappointed too, but it’s your weekend to be with mom and it’s important that we stick to that agreement. We’re going to celebrate on [date] instead!” If possible, make a plan to video chat with the kids on Father’s Day so you can share a meal or read a book together, even if you can’t be physically together.

Dating After Divorce: When To Tell The Kids

2houses - web and mobile app for divorce with kids - telling the kids you're dating someone else

I have been divorced for about three years. I have two teenagers, 13 (a son) and 15 (a daughter). They both live with me, although their father lives in the next town and my son often stays with him. I have just started to date someone. When should I tell my kids that I am dating and when should I introduce them to this new person in my life?

Answer:It’s advisable to tell them you’re dating as you begin to do so. Teens don’t want to feel out of the loop, and letting them know you will begin dating will assist them to manage the changes in their emotional lives. It’s important to send some key messages in that conversation: I’m taking this dating thing slow, I’ll typically date in a way that will not take away from our time together as a family, you’ll be the first to know if I ever develop any genuine feelings for anyone.

How much you want to discuss your date with your children depends on your relationship with them. Be cautious not to be overly excited about dating because your teens are about to get to that stage themselves and you want to preserve the excitement and healthy conversations about dating for them. However, you may have a child who wants to hear some simple things about how the date went and it’s okay to share that information, but beware that you’re not using your children as your best friend.

Introductions should be reserved for when you feel the relationship has potential. Be forwarned that children can develop close attachments quickly so you don’t want your children to develop a meaningful relationship with your man until you know he’s the one and sticking around. When you find someone you like, have a light introduction, perhaps quick dinner and a movie/sporting event just to make sure you feel they interact well and to help your kids feel like they are in the loop. After that, you can continue to have some limited, pleasant times together but they should be far and few between so that your kids aren’t forming any attachments. Once you feel that engagement or some form of long term committment is upon you, that’s when you begin to develop this new enmeshed family concept. That will take a lot of time and love. Be sure to have many open conversations along the way about what family means to you and your kids and how your family system might change with another man in your life but it’ll never change the special, deep relationship you have with your kids.

by M. Gary Neuman

The difference between estrangement and parental alienation syndrome

2houses - Web and mobile app for divorce with kids - The difference between estrangement parental alienation syndrome

Parental Alienation is defined as the deliberate attempt by one parent to distance his/her children from the other parent.

An example would be the mother who shares too much information about the father’s affair with the children in a covert attempt to cause the children to harbor ill will toward the father.

A mother or father may wish to alienate the children to pay back for the pain experienced due to an unwanted divorce. They may attempt to alienate the children due to mental illness that keeps the parent from putting her/his children’s best interest before their own. Thereasons parents participate in Parental Alienation are numerous and costly.

On the other hand, estrangement follows multiple conflicts and blowouts between parent and child, says relationship expert Irina Firstein. “There are extremely hurt feelings,” she says. “There are feelings of betrayal and of disappointment.”

The father who leaves the family for another woman, neglects time with his children and dismisses the harm done to his children is likely to become estranged from them. It is fair to say that no one responds positively to poor treatment, least of all children.

PAS results from a parent actively working at causing hard feelings between a child and parent. Estrangement results from a parent behaving badly toward his/her children which, in return causes the children to cut off contact.

It isn’t uncommon for a parent who is estranged from his/her children to blame the other parent of PAS. It is easier to blame others for bad behavior than to accept and acknowledge bad behavior.

How does one tell the difference between a parent who is a victim of PAS and one that is estranged due to bad behavior?

…Read More…

By , About.com Guide