Monday, 11 November 2019

Speaking Truth To Kids About Divorce (Hint: Marriage Is No Fairy Tale)

Dealing with a divorce is rough enough, and it may be tempting to keep your kids out of it. In fact, research over the last five years has found that over 75 percent of parents going through a divorce spend less than ten minutes, total, talking to their children about the change.

The statistic is shocking, really, considering how clear it is made to us as adults that good communication is vital to all types of relationships. Perhaps adults forget that that little law of life involves children as well, and how much children value being part of decision making, and even being welcomed into the adult world.

Here is how to talk about divorce with your kids:

1. Breaking up isn’t a crime

The end of a legal relationship, or a cohabiting one, isn’t a crime that needs to be covered up, sugar coated or kept from children like a dirty secret.

Interestingly, children are often more aware that divorces can be necessary than their parents. A UK poll found that 82 percent of older kids aged 14 to 22 preferred that their parents part if they are unhappy, than that they stay together just for the sake of their kids.
Your starting point here, then, is your own clarity about what you are going through. Life is full of interesting stages and processes that start and end. We start and finish school, college or a job, and in the same way, separation isn’t necessarily a failure. And if you feel yours is, I’m sure it’s at least more complicated than that. It’s also worth understanding that even failure is a vital part of life, and not something to be ashamed of.

In fact, as an alternative education teacher, I encourage the children I work with to “fail” because it means they are trying, over and over, and learning lessons from that, rather than being scared of trying things in the first place.

2. Children need examples of healthy relationships, not fairy tales

My parents fell out of love when I was five years old, but they didn’t get divorced until 12 years later. All that made for an unhappy home and a childhood filled with verbal violence and stress. I would have much preferred a few honest and tough conversations.

Children start to imitate adults from the age of around four — they want to cook like us, pretend to have friends over to tea, fix things with hammers and play “family.” So adults need to be good examples to them, and that means modeling good relationships, not acting out movie-perfect, unrealistic romances.

Families come in all shapes and sizes, with all different combinations of parents — including single ones, ones in relationships with someone other than the biological mother or father and same-sex parents. None of this matters. What matters for a child is a positive home environment, where respect and honesty is honored. And by the way, honesty means a place where parents aren’t pretending to have feelings for each other that they don’t have. 
Would you want your children to do that in their own friendships or romances?

Kids need to be taught that relationships evolve and change, that communication, respect and honesty are paramount. Teach them that and you’ll be paving the way for their own healthy relationships in the future. Teach them not to stay in an unhappy relationship just to make others happy.

3. Divorce isn’t an announcement, it’s a conversation

Even though your relationship with your partner is uniquely your business, your children are directly involved in that relationship also. You’ll make the decision to divorce, but understand that the details are going to involve your children. Therefore, the divorce can’t just be announced. It needs to be a dialogue, where the children are listened to, and their feelings and ideas are taken into account.

A ten-minute conversation isn’t enough! Answer your children’s doubt. Express yourself. If you feel sad, say that — don’t hide it. If you are unsure about how something will play out in the future, admit to not having all the answers. Be real: it’s okay to not know things, and it’s useful modeling to be able to express your feelings, rather than acting cold and distant.

4. It’s not about blame

However, even though you want to be honest with your children, if you’re holding feelings of resentment and blame towards the other partner, that’s something best kept to yourself. Unless there has been abuse, your children need to be free to keep loving both of you without feeling that to do so is betraying one of you.

So, at this point, you need to make sure the following things are very clear:

The kids are not the reason for the separation. They, too, are not to blame.

You will keep being a family, it will just work differently.

All the feelings the children have in response are okay and shouldn’t be squashed. It is okay for them to feel confused, angry, sad, worried or curious.

When you chat with your kids, aim to do it in a quiet place, with your partner if possible, and at a time when there aren’t pressing things to do. That way, nothing will get in the way if the conversation needs to go on for a while.

Also, if you have older and younger kids, tell them all at once. It isn’t useful to divide the kids, telling the older children first as though they can “handle” the news better, and must then explain it to the younger kids, or keep secrets.

5. After the conversation: helping children deal with change and loss

Children at different ages, and more generally speaking, cope with big changes in different ways. Some kids feel insecure, go quiet, become mischievous, clingy, uncooperative or distant. But they can also be amazingly resilient — bouncing back quickly.

However your child reacts, their change in behavior shows that they need to keep talking, so give them opportunities to do that. Show them love, and at the same time, keep many of their routines consistent.


Thursday, 17 October 2019

10 ways parents can do divorce differently

Bypass the destructive effect divorce can have on a family, and move into the new territory of mediation and co-parenting.

“Our conventional way of handling divorce is for the parties to engage lawyers whose expertise is limited to the legal matters,” points out Nina Mensing, a counsellor and FAMAC accredited mediator who specialises in family matters.

“Without help, guidance and support around all the other powerful aspects of divorce, it’s no wonder that it so often results in a bitter and traumatic fall-out impacting over the long-term not just on adults, but on children too.”

There’s growing awareness that there are significant benefits to doing divorce differently, and this is becoming more of an imperative if there are children in the family.

Research shows that respondents who went through mediated divorces reported less conflict in co-parenting a year after the divorce, whereas parents who had litigated divorces reported an increase in conflict (Sbarra & Emery, 2008).

“Mediation is based on a model of co-operative dispute settlement,” explains Nina, “The process aims to prevent the escalation of conflict between the parties, which is so easily fuelled by litigation.

"This is vital when there are children involved. In any divorce involving children, the relationship between the parents has to be maintained at a mature and suitable level so that they are capable of co-parenting effectively.”

  • Your child comes first
  • You can be a happy divorced family
  • When parents divorce

Nina's 10 steps to doing divorce differently:

1. Make an informed decision, and be sure that divorce is the way forward

If divorce is presented as an option, it is important that both parties are well-informed about what lies up ahead before this decision is actually made. Reactive decision-making can have long-term negative effects on all involved.

It is important to know and understand all the different impacts and implications involved in a divorce, from the legal and financial ramifications to the practicalities of co-parenting and the effects of the identity shifts.

It gives both parties a sense of control over the process if they’ve done research, gone to counselling and experienced divorce coaching before they reach a decision to divorce.

2. Get the professional help you need

Divorce is an arduous process that can push the limits of our usual support networks. Each party needs to take responsibility for managing their emotions, expectations and the stress.

Going for individual counselling or coaching allows you to tap into a robust resource of independent, professional advice and support.

3. Get your finances in order

Make sure you understand your financial situation before discussing how to split your finances.

4. Empower yourself

Learn about the process. Learn about the law. Learn about what would be best for your situation and your family. You don’t need others telling you what you should be doing – this is your life and your family.

Don’t let others make decisions for you. Learn from others, get support from others, but make your own decisions.

5. Do not discuss adult subjects with your children

First and foremost is to not talk negatively about the other parent.

Children like to know what is happening in their lives. Allow them to ask questions, tell them what is going on, but do not go into details or blame the other parent for anything.

Be the adult, and let the children be children. Learn about how to co-parent effectively.

6. Stop defending yourself

Attacking and defending plays into the game of litigation, and is a never-ending cycle. De-escalate the conflict by not attacking and not defending – except in the case of abuse.

If the marriage is abusive then go through the correct procedures to ensure your safety, emotionally and physically.

7. Work with a financial planner

Do this together for the sake of the children, and also individually.

8. Go to mediation

An accredited mediator will facilitate the process in a collaborative manner, always with the children’s best interests as the focus.

Ongoing communication during mediation allows for more effective co-parenting during this difficult time.
9. After mediation, get independent legal advice before signing
The mediation process will result in the drafting of a negotiated divorce agreement. Go back to mediation if advised by your lawyer that the agreement is not fair.
Starting a litigation process (suing the other person) at any point will escalate the conflict, which will have an adverse effect on the children.

10. Remember that every decision that is made, and every action and reaction between the two of you, will affect the children
It’s easy to fall into a mode where it feels like the divorce is all happening to you. But divorce is never about an individual, it is a family process.

Think always about the children’s best interests – some times that means backing down and lessening the conflict rather than having full control over every situation.

Don’t win the battle to lose the war. Our children learn from us, and will learn how to handle conflict the way we do. Teach them that one can collaborate, and despite the marriage breaking down, that the two of you can still be parents together for their sake.

“It is important to re-frame the way we have always looked at divorce,” concludes Nina, “Divorce does not break families up; it recreates new types of families.

"How you divorce has a big impact on how you will co-parent and interact with your ex-spouse, for years to come. Doing divorce differently through mediation is essentially doing it in a far more mature and constructive way.”


Wednesday, 16 October 2019

When Your Teen Sides with the Other Parent After Divorce

So, you feel you have done nothing wrong, yet your teen has created a story with you as the resident bad guy! Are your ears burning?

It is very hard when one or both parents involve the child in their agendas and it can be so detrimental to the child’s emotional well-being and subsequent relationship with the alienated parent. It can make the estranged parent feel angry, hurt, stressed and pushed out. It can be a lonely frustrating place to find yourself.

What can you do about it if you find yourself in that situation?

First and foremost, don’t despair and think it’s the end of your relationship forever. Parental break ups can be very hard for adolescents to integrate even when the split has been amicable. Teenagers go through huge emotional transitions that see them make all or nothing decisions and catastrophize their life when obstacles arise even temporarily!

Perception is reality and what he/she has experienced maybe very different to your view of what the relational history and facts are. Being wise enough to acknowledge that you have made a mistake, by seeing it from their perspective is the biggest investment tool in your positive relations bag. It smart and its strategic and will get you more of what you want than you can get by simply refusing to ever be wrong.

Here are some tips which may help in your efforts at reconciliation:

  • Encourage them to tell you if you have upset them in anyway, “Please let me know so that I can sort it out and apologize.” Saying you are aware of where they are coming from, you understand THEIR view point and why THEY are upset even though YOU don’t necessarily agree, helps. Take responsibility for your part in this breakdown of your relationship. Whatever they “feel” — their view may be inaccurate but their pain is real. Denying their right to perception will only make things worse.
  • Keep in contact even if it’s one-sided for the time being. Continue the emails, texts, or even hand-written letters, telling them how much they mean to you and why you are proud of them. If they refuse to accept these messages, write them anyway and keep them. You never know when the tide will change. Telling them later how you felt about them during that time will be a comfort and give you brownie points! They need to know they are loved unconditionally.
  • Never criticize or disparage their Mum/Dad or others in their life, even if you think it or hear it from them first. When issues involving their other parent and you are brought up by your teen, don’t engage in conversations and don’t involve them in your relationship. Children do not need to feel burdened by their parents’ issues, and it may well come back to bite you in the future!
  • At the same time, be firm but loving about your stance on issues that involve you and the family dynamic. It takes two for a relationship to be problematic.
  • Be supportive and encouraging always. Stick to safe topics: school, friends, work, etc.
  • Never give up trying to connect, they are still maturing psycho-emotionally, and teens go through a huge development stage between 18 and 25. As they learn more about the world and how to navigate relationships they will not see their loved ones in such black and white terms. The other parent is not so perfect after all! They will also begin to understand that it takes two to keep a loving relationship afloat.
  • They may not yet legally be an adult, but they are not far off. So your relationship will soon change to one of two adults, when you are still a parent but in a different way. Treat them more maturely, by asking them lots of questions about their future goals and their opinions on things. Adolescent’s love it when they are asked their views and advice on issues or even whether should you buy a new car. It makes them feel empowered, and important.
  • Always be wiser, stronger, kinder. It will hopefully be a great investment for the future adult to adult relationship.
Most importantly take care of yourself during this time of estrangement. Seeking support and relaxation is imperative to get you through and help to keep you on track.

A friend of mine lost contact with her teen daughter after an acrimonious split with her husband and, for many years, thought they would never reconnect. Her heart was broken. I knew that as a child this teenager had been loved dearly and nurtured by her Mum, and told her that the psycho-emotional ground work had been done, even if her teen was angry and distant now. I said to my friend once the teen reached her twenties she would start to change as she started to see the holes in her previous narrative. And she did.

A lot more happens at around 21, 22, 23 years old. That’s when young people tend to start understanding their parents as people with flaws like everyone else. They take a wider and further, lens when it come to their childhood experiences with their parents and sift through and collate what to them was, and was not, acceptable from the past. This maturing often means they create new perspectives that are more nuanced and gentler. Hey, maybe the old man/lady was not so bad after all!

We are all a work in progress!


Tuesday, 15 October 2019

You Can't Fool Yourself: Acting Like You Don't Care Isn't Letting Go

It can be difficult to let go of certain things or to let go of certain individuals in your life. Our minds are funny that way.

Although we understand that, in theory, we have control over ourselves, our minds, our thoughts, etc., in practice, taking and exercising control proves much more difficult.

Sometimes it's a matter of quieting the mind enough to navigate through all the thoughts running loose, bouncing off each other, making clear focus and full control unlikely.

Sometimes it's about giving ourselves time to re-navigate our course in life and restructure our lifestyle – often it's the habits we're accustomed to that make change so incredibly difficult to achieve.

Other times still, what we're trying to let go of and forget has influenced our lives and the people we are today so greatly that letting go seems basically impossible.

The truth is, there are things in our lives we can't easily let go of. There are things and individuals we won't ever forget, nor – to be honest – should we forget.

Most importantly, you need to remember acting or pretending like you no longer care, like you are no longer somehow connected to that particular point or path in life, like you've moved on or forgotten isn't actually letting go.

You may be fooling the rest of the world, but you aren't fooling yourself.

Distractions can really only get you so far.

Whether we're talking breakup, career change, traumatizing event or any other life-changing experience, distracting yourself after the initial fallout does have its benefits.

It allows you to cap your emotions, giving you time to breathe – which can sometimes prove to be exactly what we need.

Taking your focus off the issue you're dealing with and focusing on other things going on in your life can make transitioning into a new life more seamless; however, distracting yourself can only take you so far; in fact, it's only good in the beginning.

Eventually, continuously distracting yourself will remove you from reality. Of course, this is the goal in the beginning, but continuously removing yourself from reality inevitably does even more harm.

Sooner or later, you're going to have to come to terms with your situation.

Likewise, it's important how we're distracting ourselves. People tend to make some of the worst decisions when trying to distract themselves from someone or something causing them emotional pain.

What we ought to be doing is our best to avoid such bad decisions, and instead force ourselves to focus on more positive things.

Acting like you don't care can actually make things a whole lot more difficult for you.

You can lie to the whole world, which is usually what pretending not to care starts off as, but you can't allow yourself to lie to you.

Everyone else in the world can – and likely will – lie to you at one point or another in your life – you have no control over that. You do, however, have control of how honest you are with yourself.

I can understand saving face, saving yourself from feeling embarrassed and from having people snoop around your business when it's none of their business.

What I can't understand is building a delusion for yourself. I want to say you aren't ever going to fool yourself, but the truth is that is exactly what may happen.

The human mind is incredibly powerful. So powerful in fact that sometimes the shifts in realities we experience, we don't even notice.

If you play a part for long enough, you may very well end up believing you actually are the person you're pretending to be. Until, however, reality comes crashing in – because it almost always inevitably does.

When that happens, you're going to have a difficult time finding yourself, once again figuring out who you are and – most importantly – what it is you want in life.

You've been acting so nonchalant for so long that you forgot where it is you actually stand.

Have you ever stopped and wondered why you feel the need to let go?

Obviously, you feel the need to let go because holding on is painful. We don't like pain because it makes us feel uncomfortable, and therefore, we want to do our best to avoid it.

At the same time, some things you simply can't, and never will, let go of. So what the hell are you to do then?

This is the point that, when most of us reach it, we begin to drown in the realization that we are never going to be able to let go and move on completely.

We will never let go entirely because we can never forget. So what are you supposed to do? Accept that you're going to be dealing with intense emotional distress for the rest of your life?

Not at all. You see, it's one thing to let go and forget and another to accept, learn from and move on. The former isn't always possible, while the latter is really the only wise and viable solution.

Some misfortunes, mistakes or people you will never fully let go of or forget, but this is a good thing. If we were to go through life forgetting all the pain we've experienced on our journey, we would never learn or make progress.

Instead, we'd keep making the same mistakes, never learning, never finding peace or happiness.

The most painful moments in our lives are not ones to be forgotten, to be let go of and left behind.

On the contrary, they are moments we should delve into, dissect and try to understand as best as possible.

If we made mistakes, we need to understand what mistakes we made and why we made them.

If things didn't work out for other reasons, we need to figure out what those reasons are. Trying or pretending to let go won't get you anywhere in life.

Being in denial of all that you've been through and experienced will only make the likelihood of you repeating the same mistakes much more likely.

Some things – and some people – you will never be able to fully let go of. Why? Because they changed you. They added their stroke with their paintbrushes, which added to the composition you are today.

Embrace it. Don't hide from it or ignore it. Accept it. Understand it. Learn from it. And grow from it.


Tuesday, 8 October 2019

How to avoid relationship mistakes when dating after a divorce

Does the idea of dating after divorce arouse the same dread as does a root canal? Are you trying to get back into the dating scene but don’t know how or are scared that you will attract the wrong person? Well, have no fear. Here is some after divorce dating advice to help you jump back into the dating deepend before you know it!


Do understand why your last relationship failed

Following divorce, it’s only natural to have cold feet when it comes to finding a new flame. Whether conscious of it or not, divorce leaves most people scared of getting burned again. And there’s good reason for fear. What’s to say you won’t make the same mistakes again? If you want to prevent your next relationship from going down in flames, it’s vital to understand the reasons why your last relationship went up in smoke. With clarity comes the courage to jump again into the dating pool -- and attract your true Mr. or Ms. right this time around.

Do take notice of your repetitive mate selection patterns

Most of us have been emotionally injured during our “de-formative years.” It is these old scars from childhood that drive us to choose partners who emotionally resemble the parents who injured us so that we can recreate our old scars; not because we’re gluttons for punishment--but because we secretly hope to achieve a happy ending this time around. If our partners bring us the emotional goodies that we didn’t receive from our parents, our old scars will finally feel healed.
Sadly, this plan rarely works, precisely because our partners are limited and damaged in the exact ways that our parents were--meaning they can’t give us any better treatment than our parents did. Awareness of our old scars enables us to make a more conscious choice this time around, and head-off unnecessary heartache.

Do choose a partner who will give you your happy ending

After identifying your old scar, your next task is to become conscious of what your happy ending is. Hint: Your happy ending is the kind of treatment that you always dreamed of receiving from the parent who let you down. Your quest for this happy ending is your blueprint for your next relationship. So, for example, if you had a father who paid no attention to you, look for a partner who is present and attentive to you. The bottom line: This time around you want to choose a partner who will feed rather than frustrate your deepest needs.

Do interview candidates and be highly selective

The only way to determine if someone is right for you is to do your homework. Dating homework consists of asking lots of questions and observing your intended’s actions over time. With both eyes open, you want to be looking for a partner who is similar to you in all the areas that count, including financial, sexual, political and religious values. The more similar you both are, the more compatible you are. And, above all, you want to ensure that the person isn’t like the parent (or your ex) who let you down. Doing your due diligence is the key to preventing a repeat performance of the heartache that you experienced in your first family and in your relationship with your ex.

Do be authentic

Thirty-five percent of all new marriages are the result of online dating. But, with online dating, it’s easy to present a false mask. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Cornell University found that 80 percent of online daters lie about their age, height, and weight. So be careful! Don’t take another person’s profile at face value. Keep one eyebrow raised until you can verify the other person’s honesty. And, when it comes to presenting yourself, remember: If you paint a false picture of yourself, you’re painting yourself into a corner! And you can’t undo lies and omissions.
Besides, the more authentic you are the better your chances of attracting the right partner for you. The idea is to give a snapshot of your personality, tastes, and interests without oversharing. So you probably don’t want to talk about your recurring IBS, but you do want to offer pertinent details that will help potential partners know who you are and what you’re into.


Do not choose a partner who hates his/her mother or father

If your date is like most of the world, he/she may be looking to replay unfinished business with a parent using you as the emotional punching bag. Your bottom line is this: If someone has an ax to grind with his/her parents, run for the hills, because it won’t be long before that ax swings in your direction.

Do not choose a partner who’s a project

When you find yourself drawn to someone who’s damaged goods, that’s your warning sign that you’re on the verge of repeating old scars. Trying to fix damaged partners is an unconscious attempt to fix our parents in the hope of achieving our happy ending. If this is your case, step back from dating until your old scar is healed. Then and only then will you be ready to find a healthy relationship rather than a partner who’s a project. Remember: The way to spell heartache? Choose a partner who’s a project!

Do not delay meeting in person

If you’re new to the dating scene, or you’ve been burned and are recovering from a messy breakup or divorce, you probably won’t feel comfortable rushing an in-person meeting. But beware: Anonymous, faceless conversations play a trick on your mind, allowing you to develop an intimacy without really knowing the other person. In other words, that guy or lady becomes a blank screen you can project your fantasies onto—enabling that person to become anyone you want. Keep that going too long, and you may fall in love with a phantom. Be wary of prolonged email exchanges and never-ending phone calls and meet in person asap.

Do not choose a person who refuses to take ownership

When “interviewing” dates as candidates for a possible relationship, listen carefully to what your date says about past failed relationships. If that person blames everything on the ex and takes no responsibility for his/her role in the demise of past relationships, grab your marbles and go home! Otherwise, you will soon be losing your marbles when you find yourself on the receiving end of that person’s blame.

Do not settle

After a breakup or divorce, our self-esteems can be lower than pond scum. In this state, we don’t feel desirable, which can make us come across as desperate and needy. When our self-esteems are flying at half mast, we are at risk of settling for someone who isn’t right for us or even attracting a dating deadbeat. So, before reentering the dating scene, make sure to raise your personal net worth and you will raise the odds of attracting your Mr. or Ms. Right!


Reentering the dating scene is a wonderful opportunity to set yourself free from the childhood emotional demons that haunt our adult relationships. The key to freedom is consciousness: Know your old scars and consciously choose a partner who will bring you healing rather than heartache.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Nesting a New Co-Parenting Arrangement

Divorce is a hard process and perhaps nobody knows this better than the children of divorced parents, who can find themselves caught up in a situation over which they have little control facing an uncertain future. Whilst their emotional lives may be going through turmoil, they also have to contend with the idea that their everyday lives will change, whether that is not seeing one of their parents on a daily basis or moving to a different house or location. Historically there was usually a set plan regarding child custody. In the absence of any glaring reason not to, the mother was granted custodial custody of the children with the father being granted visiting rights. Fathers would see their children every weekend or every other weekend and perhaps for some time during the holidays. In the last decade or so there has been a much bigger shift to a shared custodial arrangement whereby the children spend almost equal time with each parent (or a substantial amount of time with the “non-custodial parent”), moving between their homes. There were many reasons for this shift including fathers being more involved in childrearing and research showing that the involvement of two parents had psychological benefits for the child. As divorce levels rise, people are becoming a lot more innovative about custodial arrangements.

When Daria and David finally decided that their marriage was over they were determined that their divorce would have as little negative disruption on their children as possible. Daria and David decided to give “nesting” a try. Nesting is a relatively new and creative idea in the arena of child custody arrangements. It is called nesting because the children stay in the home while the parents are the ones who leave and return, similar to parent birds who come and go from the nest leaving the baby birds in situ. The concept is based on the idea of shared custody. Shared custody has the advantage that both parents continue to have a close bond with their children and are involved in their everyday lives, but it has a disadvantage of a disruptive effect on the children’s living arrangements as the children shuttle between their parents’ homes. The idea of nesting is that the children stay put in the marital home ensuring their security while it is the parents moving in and out of the house when it is their time with the children.

Daria and David decided on a week each with the handover day being on Sunday. They rented a small flat near their house which the parent without the children would stay in. Daria explained, “We wanted stability for our children in a difficult time. We didn’t want the children to have to constantly pack themselves up. As it was our decision to divorce we felt that we should take the brunt of the moving about”. David added that financially they didn’t have enough money to keep their home and buy a second one which would be suitable for the children, sustaining one household and a small apartment was a lot cheaper.

The advantages for the children mean that they have a feeling of permanence, their environment does not change and they don’t have to remember all their belongings and books each time they move. The sense of routine can be extremely helpful to the children at a time of change and turbulence. It can be great for the children to see their parents co-operating for their sake, and ultimately the children benefit by maintaining a close relationship with both parents in a familiar environment. For the parents, the financial aspects may also be attractive.

However there are downsides in the nesting process. Children may find it hard to accept the end of their parents’ marriage where there is such close co-operation. It also takes a huge effort on the part of the parents to make this arrangement work. Grocery shopping and household chores can be flash points. Where the parents are constantly arguing this arrangement can be more damaging then shared custody where there is little contact between he parents. The lack of privacy can also be an issue, and where one or both of the parents finds a new partner this can make the arrangement impractical . Nesting only works where there is full co-operation between the parents. Many times couples start off wanting an amicable divorce but animosity can set in when the financial settlement is discussed which can make the nesting process difficult, even unsustainable. In any event nesting is usually for a specified time and there needs to be an agreed arrangement in place for when the nesting ends.

Daria and David worked very hard at making nesting work for their family and, although they hit many bumps along the way, they continued the arrangement for 18 months until David found a new partner. At this point they moved to a traditional shared custody arrangement with the children moving between two homes. Both David and Daria agree that although the nesting period was limited and hard, they feel that it has greatly benefitted their children as it provided them with a haven at a time of great uncertainty and change in their lives. Both parents felt that two years post-separation the children were in a better place emotionally to deal with moving between their homes. Daria added that she felt that having been through the frustrations of moving between two homes, she now understood the challenges of moving between homes. "Parents should walk in their kids' shoes," said Joseph S. Mattina a previous New York State Supreme Court justice, who once ordered nesting, with the consent of both parents, because he thought it was important for parents to understand the dislocation that kids often go through in divorce.

Nesting is an idea which takes a lot of co-operation and although there have been rare court ordered nesting arrangements (in the US and Canada) it is mainly thought of as a custody arrangement that would have to be with the consent of both parents. Despite nesting still being an atypical arrangement, as collaborative divorces and mediated divorces come up with more creative child custody arrangements, there has been a lot more interest in the idea of nesting in the immediate period post-divorce. Nesting is certainly not for all couples as it requires a large amount of give and take at a very turbulent time, but for those who can, it definitely appears to be an option , albeit for a specific period of time, that could lend a sense of security to their children during a very uncertain time.

(names and details have been changed)


Friday, 4 October 2019

Exes and O’s

On figuring out the best name for the father of my children.

What’s in a name? For me, quite a lot, as I’ve struggled to find the right word for the person who was my husband but is not anymore. The man with whom I shared a bed, a home, a life. The man from whom I am now divorced.

We have a name for that person, of course: ex-husband. Frequently shortened to ex. As in, My ex loves to surf. Or, My ex and I watched all five seasons of The Wire on his laptop, the last when I was pregnant with our son. We have names for his family members: ex-mother-in-law, ex-father-in-law, ex-brother-in-law. Long-winded multihyphenate names grown even longer, a sour mouthful.

I do not like the word ex when applied to people, not to those who are still integral to my life. Ex is a Latin word; it means “out from,” “out of,” “removal.” Applied to a person, it means “no longer.” A face covered by the crosshatched strokes of a dark pen until the features are obliterated.

Ex does not capture my relationship with the person I see several times a week, sometimes daily. He is the person I stand beside at our children’s sports games and school events. The first person I told last September, sobbing incoherently, that a family member had been diagnosed with cancer.
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In early December, my ex-husband’s father died unexpectedly. Our children’s beloved grandpa, he was a fixture in their lives and in mine. “I’ll always love you and consider you my family,” he told me after the divorce. At his memorial service, my ex-husband and I sat bookending our children. He delivered the eulogy. I was proud of how strong and poised he was, how he did justice to words that, like him, were spare, direct, and wry. I laughed and cried with the other 300 people in the room even though I already knew the jokes and heartfelt descriptions; he had given me the speech to read beforehand.

Ex-husband might feel like a poor fit, but surely I could do better than “fourth person.”

Recently, my ex-husband moved into his new house. It was not in good shape when he bought it. But when I saw it for the first time months later, dropping by with our children, the hideous carpets had been stripped away, the floors sanded and stained. The dingy walls had new colors—the hallway a brilliant sunshine yellow, the kids’ bedroom a green-blue. It is not a big house, but with no furniture, smelling of new paint, it seemed larger, at once inviting and raw. Tugging at my hands, our son and daughter excitedly led me from room to room. The back windows faced west, with a view of the ocean. I stood looking out, feeling in equal measure happy and deeply sad for all of us.

We took the kids out to dinner that night. We went early, but there was still a wait, so we went to stand outside in the sunny, windless San Francisco early evening. My ex-husband’s phone pinged: a delivery. He had to walk the four blocks back to let in the guy from the mattress store. “Ten minutes,” he told me.

Five minutes later, the hostess called out my name.

“Our dad’s not here,” my daughter said.

The hostess asked me, “Is your husband outside?”

“He’s not,” I trailed off. Not what? Not outside, and not my husband.

I tried again. “The fourth person will be back very soon.” As the hostess led us to our table, I felt a flush of shame. Ex-husband might feel like a poor fit, but surely I could do better than the awkward and bizarre “fourth person.” I remembered a former colleague’s devastating cross-examination of a government official in a criminal case we tried together years ago. “You weren’t important enough to be the primary or even the secondary agent on this case,” he said. “You were tertiary, weren’t you?” I had just made the father of my children quaternary.

Recently, I spent two weeks at a retreat in New Hampshire, working on a book I am writing about wrongful convictions and restorative justice. Restorative justice is a centuries-old practice that brings together victims and offenders, their families and the larger community to make reparations as they work through trauma and loss. At the retreat, by silent agreement, everyone referred to their significant other as “my partner” whether they were gay or straight, 72 or 22, usually without adding a gender or even a name. At first, when asked who was taking care of my 4- and 6-year-olds, I said, “Their dad.” After a few days, I tried again. “My partner,” I said. The words felt strange. Throughout our married life, we had not been partners, only two rigidly separate individuals eking out a grim coexistence. Our inability to create a partnership was why we had gotten a divorce. And yet, after breaking apart, we had stood by and with each other, bound up by tragedy and everyday life events.

The other day, I felt a rising sadness, even despair. In a flat voice, I presented my ex-husband with a list of failures. At the top was our marriage.

He disagreed. “We may no longer be husband and wife,” he texted later, “but we will forever be partners in this life.”

I stared at the word partners for a long time. “That’s true,” I texted back. “And comforting.”