Monday, 18 December 2017

How NOT to Do Christmas: Lessons From My Divorced Parents



Actress Kate Hudson and her rocker beau Matt Bellamy announced this week that they’ve separated after a four-year relationship. The couple have a 3-year-old son Bing, and Hudson also has a 10-year-old son from her marriage to Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson. According to their reps, the split was mutual, and although they separated “some time ago,” they are still great friends. And looking at recent photos of the couple attending various red carpet events together, they do look like great pals. In this festive time, it’s great to see this because the last thing kids need is warring parents fighting over who gets custody on the all important Christmas day.


I should know: My parents split up when my mom was pregnant with me, divorced when I was 3, and then reunited for a few fight-strewn years. My mom then moved in with her boyfriend of a year when I was 11 until I was 15. Meanwhile, my father remarried when I was 14. Suffice to say, instead of Christmas being a time of great joy, I always found it ├╝ber stressful.


Between the ages of 7 and 10, my mom would want me to have Christmas with her and my grandmother; our family was small (I had no siblings), so if I wasn’t around, it would have been particularly quiet. I felt duty bound to be with them, but equally I wanted to spend time with my dad, grandpa, and my aunts and uncles. They were a more rowdy bunch and there was more festive cheer going on. My grandpa celebrated his birthday on Boxing Day, so my mom used to argue that my dad should take me then. Never having much interest in how I spent my free time out of school, suddenly they were beyond concerned. It seemed to be less about what I wanted and more about what they wanted.

The feeling of being torn ruined every Christmas. As I entered my teenage years, I assumed that things would change. But no, they got worse. My dad and would-be step-father didn’t get along (mainly because my step-father dared to call my dad out on his lack of parental responsibility), so who got me for “Christmas lunch” was a war. In the end, to keep the peace, I ate two lunches. I felt sick and bloated, but hey, anything to keep the peace.


I remember escaping to my neighbor’s house every Christmas Eve where I would sit in her room and weep. I worried about not having time for my grandmother because we didn’t live with her anymore; I worried my dad was upset I wasn’t getting to his house until 4pm; I worried that I didn’t have enough pocket money to buy gifts for all of my different families. 
Instead of feeling excited and loved, I just felt stressed and unhappy. Like I could never make everyone happy. Funny enough, no one ever asked me what I wanted. They just used me in their own battles. I remember hating Christmas; willing it to be over so everything could just be normal again.

So, to parents getting all angsty about wanting to have their children all of Christmas when they’re divorced or separated, I have one thing to say: Think of your kids. No, not about what youwant, but about what they want and how they feel. Chances are they feel pretty darn torn, a little bit sad, and a whole lot guilty — like they’re ruining your Christmas if they don’t do what you want.

Let’s all take a step back and have a new perspective on the holidays: It is one day. Of course we’d all love to spend the whole day as a family, but relationships break down and people remarry and circumstances change. So be a grown up. Ask your kid what they want. 
Don’t make them feel guilty. And always, no matter if your heart is breaking, act like whatever time you get with them is enough. Cry alone, never in front of them. If possible, talk to your ex and try to work out a system of alternative years with the kids, spend it together, or split up the day. Don’t make the kids feel like they have to see all the grandparents and in-laws, or else you’ll be pissed at your ex. Try and make your kids feel secure and happy in the plans, even if you feel your ex is being unreasonable. If in doubt, be the bigger person. It will make your kids feel great.

Most importantly, remember what Christmas is really about: love, family, friendship, and remembering how lucky we are. (We don’t have Thanksgiving in the UK, so our Christmas is a mix of that as well.) It’s not about winning the battle with your ex and being the parent who gives the best gifts or spends the most money or takes the kids to the best adventure wonderland park. Kids can tell when there is a competition at stake, and it makes them feel bad.


As a kid who went through many teary Christmases (one time I ate my lunch alone, crying, as one parent was busy partying and yet had stopped me from being with the other), I wish my parents had been a bit more mature about the whole thing and made life easier for us all. Ironically, they now get along fine, and when I visit them with my own family, we all get together in the evening for drinks and all is well with the world. Why couldn’t they have done that 25 years ago?! My experience has made me determined that no matter what happens in my marriage, I will always put my kids’ needs first at Christmas.


So grab the egg nog, toast your ex, and wish them well. Don’t sweat the small stuff and no matter where your kids are, just make sure they know you’re fine and happy and will celebrate with them some other time/later that day/next holiday. Then they can have the Christmas they deserve.


Source: https://www.babble.com/relationships/how-not-to-do-christmas-lessons-from-my-divorced-parents/

15 Tips for Managing a Divorce Over Christmas


The holidays can be a stressful time for any family. Family members can get lost in a flurry of activity, focusing on deadlines and forgetting about the joy. But if your family has gone through a separation or divorce, this time of the year may have a whole new set of challenges. The holidays can turn into a very complicated and difficult time for the parents and children from separated families, and below are some tips on how to move your family towards a meaningful and memorable holiday season.

The reality is that children who have parents living in two different homes may experience some extra burdens. They may worry about which parent they will be with at what time, and they may fear that their parents will fight over how they share the holidays. As a child and family therapist, I have had many children sit in my office who told me that Christmas used to be their favorite time of the year, but now they are just dreading it. In order for the adults to help manage this season it is important to understand what turns youthful joy into anxiety and fear.

Children may worry they are being disloyal if they start to have too much fun with one parent. They also worry about the parent that they are not with, wondering if that parent is okay. Sometimes they just deeply miss the parent they are not with. The familiar traditions may be gone and this can leave the children feeling as though something or someone is missing.

Here are some tips on how to keep the season both meaningful and joyful for the children:


1. Take care of the practical stuff so your children do not have to worry about it. Have your holiday parenting time schedule figured out far in advance.

2. If you are experiencing difficulty with your ex-spouse in figuring out the schedule or other holiday logistics, keep the conflict away from the children. Managing the details and the schedule is an adult job, not a job for the children.


3. Be respectful to your ex-spouse and recognize that the children have a right to spend time with both parents during the holidays. Remember, that time with both parents is good for your children.


4. Be honest that things have changed in your family. Let the children know what has changed, and what has not. Do not try to pretend that everything is the same.


5. Be aware of your own feelings of sadness, anger or loss. Model to your children that life moves forward and you can still experience joy. This will give them permission to celebrate and be joyful as well.


6. Socialize and share holiday experiences with friends and family.


7. Find quiet times to play games and listen to Christmas music.


8. Watch your favorite Christmas movies together, and read your favorite Christmas books. No child is ever too young or too old for "It was the night before Christmas".


9. Maintain meaningful familiar traditions even if they feel different.


10. Create new traditions, and allow the children to contribute their ideas.


11. Allow the authentic feelings to arise in a natural way. If your child is sad, do not try to talk them into feeling better. Let them be sad and allow the feelings to flow. Keep the feelings moving.


12. Acknowledge the losses.


13. Remind yourself of the things to be grateful for.


14. Do something for someone else. Find a way for your children to contribute to something with meaning.


15. It is not the "stuff" that matters at Christmas, but rather the connection. Create connection for yourself and you children during the holidays and you will all experience the real meaning of Christmas.


Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/alyson-jones/christmas-divorce_b_6305438.html

Friday, 15 December 2017

He’s making a list, checking it twice






I love Christmas time. It’s the most wonderful time of the year (if the song is to be believed).

Once Halloween has passed and the supermarket displays of mince pies, sherry and tinsel start to seem less-ironic and vaguely seasonal I feel justified in allowing myself to enjoy the run up to it. I get excited, I daydream and I anticipate.

I’ve been the same all my life. As a child, the countdown was marked with an advent calendar (which to the shock of my kids didn’t used to feature a nugget of chocolate behind every door, but instead a small festive picture; a robin, a sprig of holly or perhaps a scene from the nativity to mark each passing day; very low-key). Not content with the calendar I would re-read festive books and re-watch favourite Christmas TV series’ and movies; with the skills of a marketing genius I would build myself into a frothing frenzy of festive anticipation by the time Christmas day came around.

I may have matured a little to the extent that I’m able to sleep uninterrupted on Christmas Eve without listening for sleigh bells, but it hasn’t stopped me from feeling the joy of the anticipation. If anything, the sensation is heightened now. I’ve compounded it too by banning from the house all decorations, Christmas movies and music and the consumption of mince pies and mulled wine until December 1st or later. It’s not a standpoint that has won me many fans, but my motives are positive; I want to maintain a sense of perspective, to reinforce for my nearest and dearest that if we’re truly going to enjoy the end-of-year festivities and celebrate for a few days by exchanging gifts and overeating and drinking, then surely we can confine the joy and the anticipation to just one month of the year? Better to make it one good month than a tedious two?

At risk of this descending into a ‘things aren’t the same as they used to be’ piece, I wanted to get the above disclaimer in to ensure that you don’t think of me as someone who can’t feel festive delight or revel in the anticipation of something just as much (if not more than) the event itself. Scrooge, I am not.

What I’ve been reflecting on since the Christmas season arrived, is prompted in observing the annual ritual of my kids preparing their Christmas lists.

When I was a child (there’s the statement you were no doubt expecting) I recall the challenges of compiling my Christmas list of gifts I hoped to receive. Writing it down made sure there could be no misinterpretation, and thanks to my parents who seemed helpfully to have a fast-track in getting it sent to the North Pole, ensured that at least some of the items would appear beneath the tree on Christmas morning.

As a kid, I wasn’t so much focussed on the season of good cheer, but more on the opportunity to get some new toys or to push the boundaries of my material life, to request some coveted item that would bring new meaning to my life. I can’t remember a single Christmas spent feeling anything other than delighted with the gifts I received, surrounded by love and festive joy; for that reason and many others I feel blessed for my childhood and upbringing.

As my reminiscences become wistful and my hindsight more rose-tinted it strikes me just how much the very act of preparing a Christmas list has changed. As a child, with the advent of the Internet being at least 30 years away my research was confined to toy commercials on TV, items I may have spotted in a shop or occasionally from flicking through a home-shopping catalogue. There was a logistical limit around my expectations, and on what my parents (sorry, Santa) might provide me with. It was assumed that what I wanted was available from a shop somewhere in a town near me. At a stretch, it might be something available from a shop in London (in my juvenile mind, a mysterious and wonderful place where shop shelves groaned under the weight of exotic toys the likes of which I could only dream).

Today the assumption is that pretty much any product, be that a toy, article of clothing or item of technology can be obtained for the right price and within little more than a few days priority shipping from anywhere in the world thanks to the web. Therein lays the quandary for the accommodating parent who is hoping to keep their kids’ feet on the ground when it comes to composing their list. The only limit is that enforced by the parents and their budget, and I believe the kids know and believe this too even if their belief in Santa remains intact.

I recall a particularly landmark year for my eldest daughter. She’d turned 12 or 13 that year and as Christmas loomed it was clear that she knew exactly what she wanted and expected. For context, she’s a hard worker and academically astute but like most teens, prone to taking the path of least resistance when it comes to school work. Contrast this work ethic with the time that had been devoted to writing the Christmas list that was presented to me and other members of the family and it was obvious where her priorities lay.

The list itself was truly a thing of beauty, and no small miracle of desktop publishing; A single side of A4 paper, it detailed desired items (ranging as I recall from a very specific tweed jacket through to a number of high-end make-up products) with a list of retail stockists and their web addresses, current prices and even a ranking system to ensure we understood her priorities. The finished article was rolled up like a University Diploma, and tied with string in an ornate bow. She’d even gone as far as holding initial briefing calls with her grandparents, aunts and her mother to ensure they were agreed on what each was expected to buy for her.

The arrival of the list elicited mixed emotions; I’ve still got my copy in a file-box as I want to reminisce over it in years to come alongside finger-paintings and past-school reports with a sense of nostalgic amusement. There was also a sense of slight despair though when we considered how our baby could have become so materialistic and fixated on organised material gain. The spirit of Christmas had well and truly evaporated.

As with most kids these days it was apparent just how materially focussed she had become. Far from criticising her for this (for she is a product of the world she lives in and the parenting she has received from us) I now see the same traits emerging in her younger sisters and brother (now aged 13, 11 and 8).

One evening this week, child number three (the 11 year old boy) undertook 10 minutes of maths homework with begrudging-resistance, his mantra being to get the bare-minimum done in the least time required to the lowest acceptable standard. Following this, he applied himself to a diligent hour and a half on an iPad researching and then documenting his Christmas list (the third draft) and annotating and cross-referencing the already comprehensive notes prepared the previous evening. If the work ethic applied to the two tasks were reversed I’m confident that he’d be graduating from Harvard within 5 years.

I’ll confess at this point that the rest of this article in its first draft descended into a rant over the challenge of combatting materialism in kids and how Christmas plays-to and encourages this trait. The article also reflected on the year-round frustrations I feel as a parent in response to the relative efforts my kids will apply towards the tasks that they want to do in comparison to those (e.g. homework) that they have to do.

It is somewhat ironic then that it was during a bit of lunchtime Christmas shopping today, listening to the excellent audio book ‘The Values Factor” by Dr John DeMartini that an alternative angle to this topic crystallized in my mind.

Undoubtedly modern life encourages greater consumerism in our kids who are able to identify absolutely any material product that exists in the world and which they could conceivably want. They also know that with the money and a short wait it can be theirs. I believe that social media and the cult of celebrity also tend to instil the belief that anyone can have anything they want, and no substitute should be accepted. This trait is simply a reality of modern life and it is down to the individual parent to find their own balance between giving their children the things they are able to and want to whilst (hopefully) also ensuring that the kids don’t develop a sense of entitlement or a failure to appreciate the value of things in the process.

As far as my other frustration, well when did any kid ever get on and do their homework willingly and voluntarily when faced with a choice between that and something they really want to do?

The key factor is the relationship between the task at hand and, in Dr DeMartini’s words, the child’s own higher-values. The simple and obvious aspect in each of the two scenarios that I described earlier is that my kids were doing more than just reacting to an inherent desire to accumulate more and add to their armoury of material possessions. Sure, they are kids and are allowed to be excited about Christmas and the prospect of asking Santa for new things. In each example however, they were both demonstrating this desire but in a way that brought out their passion, their values, and emphasizing and honing skills that I am sure will one day become a large part of their identities, their adult lives and their work.

In the case of my daughter, she was using her passion and skill as an artist to create a list that was not only filled with facts and information to convey her wishes, but that was also visually appealing and tastefully presented. Over-engineered certainly, but pretty, nonetheless. She is now an arts student at college and I’m sure that whatever she does in adult life, she will always tend towards the visual and the aesthetic in whatever work she produces, especially when trying to convey a subject or relay content that she is passionate about.

In the case of my son, he has a keen mind for detail and an encyclopaedic knowledge on topics that fire his imagination. He may not leap with joy at the sight of a sheet of mathematics problems, but he can relay details of the 2015/16 Manchester United Football season (and the one before it) to an impressive level of detail and he can identify and recall the key skills and signature moves of hundreds of superheroes at will. In researching the content of his Christmas list to the level of detail that he did, he was demonstrating diligence and an attention to detail on topics that align to his higher values and interests that I’m sure will serve him well in life and his career. Similarly, his skills in employing modern technology to collate his list with zero assistance and supreme focus demonstrate just how seamlessly technology and its use is embedded in him and how he thinks.

As with many things I’ve learned (and continue to learn) as a parent, it’s very easy to jump to conclusions when your child does (or doesn’t do) something. Understanding the cause doesn’t always excuse the action (or effect) but at least it can help offer an alternative perspective and aid your understanding. In some instances, like the above, it can also help you recognise the positive traits and behaviours arising from the situation which are to be encouraged, not quashed. In turn, that can help you to plan future strategies so that when you are next confronted with a similar challenge you can adapt your behaviour or expectations rather than blindly hoping for something different. That is my lesson learned for today.

I have numerous memories of Christmases past, and many that are no doubt artificially vivid thanks to oft-viewed family photos. One such memory (and possibly representing my best ever Christmas present) was of a Cowboy dressing-up costume comprising a fringed trouser and waistcoat combo made by my Mum and a Leather pistol holster crafted by my Dad. At the age of about 5, the photo of me and my sister that Christmas morning (she wearing the nurses outfit with similar home-made provenance) epitomises to me the sentiment that I want to recapture for my kids in giving them memorable Christmases for years to come.

That isn’t to say that I’ll be ignoring the lists they’ve all so diligently crafted and eschewing the crowds heading out to Black Friday sales in the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy, in favour of hand-made gifts. Or maybe I will, after all there’s that other adage about gifts and giving;

“It’s the thought that counts!”

Toby Hazlewood

Monday, 4 December 2017

The danger of living on countdown



Most kids I know are counting down the days between to Christmas with a fervour driven from the expectation of new toys, treats and tech that they’ll receive come December 25th. It’s not just the kids either; most adults can tell you how many days of work they’ve got left before a few days of festive R&R.

It seems timely then to reflect on a tendency that many of us have year-round, living our lives counting down, marking the time between now and some point in the future when we can do what we really want; 3 hours until lunch. 4 days until the weekend. 2 weeks until our birthday. 4 months until the family vacation. 2 more years until I can leave this job for something better. You know what I’m getting at.

It’s great to have things to look forward to and anticipate but the danger of this mind-set is that we condition ourselves to another of the scourges of life; believing that now is not good enough and that things will be better at some point in the future. This is more than just a lack of mindfulness that most of us suffer, or a lack of appreciation of the power of now, of being where (and when) we are. It reflects inherent dissatisfaction that many of us have become conditioned to thinking when we consider where we are right now.

There is nothing wrong in looking forwards and I’m a big advocate of focussing on the future rather than the past. We can’t change what has gone; only learn from it and move onwards, hoping for better or indeed for more of the same. Considering our higher values, visualising what we want and guiding our actions towards their achievement are inherently part of assisting ourselves to grow, develop and achieve. If we don’t know where we want to get to, how can we possibly plan how we’ll get there? I’m certainly not advocating living a life without forethought, planning or anticipation.

The danger comes when we cease to appreciate the value of what we have now, right now, here in this moment; a danger that we live in a constant state of putting off our satisfaction to some point in the future when notionally things will be better and life will be more palatable than they are at present. I’m not advocating a life spent in the pursuit of instant-gratification, taking and doing whatever we want without consideration of the consequence. I amsuggesting mindfully appreciating what we have in this moment and seeking the enjoyment or at least appreciation of that.

I remember vividly my early days as a parent. The inherent joy was suffused with inevitable sleepless nights, worry and physical and mental challenge from being tasked with keeping our exceedingly demanding new-born alive and happy. I recall (thankfully with rose-tinted hindsight) the nights spent changing, feeding, winding and pacing around the house, attempting to soothe a crying baby; during those long nights when it seemed like everyone else in the world was enjoying a deep and restful sleep, I comforted myself that it wouldn’t be this way for long. I yearned for the day when a new-born starts to settle, and an uninterrupted 6 hours of sleep wouldn’t seem like an outrageous impossibility.

With the passing of time, the challenges of pacifying a new-born baby were replaced with other equally challenging phases; teething, toddling, the terrible twos, endless colds and bugs, and a myriad of other tests that mark the passing of the early years. In each of these periods I found myself comforted by thoughts that it wouldn’t be this way forever but with hindsight I remember most, if not all phases in the lives of my kids with fondness and wistfulness, not a sense of relief at their passing.

It seems to me that in parenting and in many other aspects of life I’ve been guilty of always looking to the future as the point at which things will be easier and more fulfilling and rewarding rather than keeping myself present in the now and enjoying every aspect of the moment. That the rewards have come and that I can look back fondly on even the most testing events of the past is fortunate for certain, but I can’t help but wonder what happiness I missed out on along the way merely because I was so fixated on what was to come.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

As a child, I vividly remember counting down the days to the weekend, the number of sleeps until a family holiday and in adolescence, the number of shifts left at work until the summer break or how many semesters before graduation. In the early years of my career I was permanently fixated on the next role, the promotion that would finally endow me with the authority (and pay-check) that I desired, and the material possessions that would eventually be mine. I have been way too guilty in the past of taking my eye off the here and now in favour of considering the shinier and happier future, and it’s one of the many traits I hope not to pass on to my kids.

When the going gets tough it’s a natural tendency to remind ourselves or those around us sharing the period of challenge that things won’t always be this way, and inevitably that can be a source of comfort. Perhaps an alternative means of tackling these challenges would be to mindfully acknowledge and accept the way that things are and to consider what the lessons are we can take from what we’re currently experiencing, or even, dare I suggest it, to enjoy the feeling of taking on the challenges?

This is of course easier said than done at times. In the midst of a busy period at work or in the run up to exams or assignment deadlines at school or college it can be hard to see anything very positive about the now; rather, we focus on that point in the future when it will all be over. Perhaps though in this moment if we can elevate ourselves to see things from a slightly greater altitude, we may just take off the pressure. If we can acknowledge that we are undoubtedly in the midst of stress, challenge and even emotional, psychological or intellectual hardship, we may also be simultaneously proving to ourselves and others just how much we can handle and the circumstances within which we can thrive. Such realisations can be a great source of happiness, comfort and empowerment.

Such realisations may only dawn on us in reflection, once the time of challenge has passed and we have weathered the storm. It is this tendency that often gives us the rose-tinted hindsight that most enjoy. The lessons we can take from times of difficulty and the opportunities we have for growth in the aftermath will undoubtedly be heightened if we can not only get through them as quickly as possible, but actually be mindful of the challenges at the time and to learn and grow as we go rather than waiting until some point in the future.

It isn’t necessarily intuitive to be mindful and present as we contemplate the challenges of the now, but if we can get better at recognising quicker that we didn’t just get through challenging times, but that we thrived, grew and owned the moment then that is a huge positive step.

In mastering this skill, we can then enjoy both the big things that are forthcoming such as Christmas, but also the little things too. More joy sounds good to me!

Toby

Sunday, 3 December 2017

He’s making a list, checking it twice



I love Christmas time. It’s the most wonderful time of the year (if the song is to be believed).
Once Halloween has passed and the supermarket displays of mince pies, sherry and tinsel start to seem less-ironic and vaguely seasonal I feel justified in allowing myself to enjoy the run up to it. I get excited, I daydream and I anticipate.


I’ve been the same all my life. As a child, the countdown was marked with an advent calendar (which to the shock of my kids didn’t used to feature a nugget of chocolate behind every door, but instead a small festive picture; a robin, a sprig of holly or perhaps a scene from the nativity to mark each passing day; very low-key). Not content with the calendar I would re-read festive books and re-watch favourite Christmas TV series’ and movies; with the skills of a marketing genius I would build myself into a frothing frenzy of festive anticipation by the time Christmas day came around.


I may have matured a little to the extent that I’m able to sleep uninterrupted on Christmas Eve without listening for sleigh bells, but it hasn’t stopped me from feeling the joy of the anticipation. If anything, the sensation is heightened now. I’ve compounded it too by banning from the house all decorations, Christmas movies and music and the consumption of mince pies and mulled wine until December 1st or later. It’s not a standpoint that has won me many fans, but my motives are positive; I want to maintain a sense of perspective, to reinforce for my nearest and dearest that if we’re truly going to enjoy the end-of-year festivities and celebrate for a few days by exchanging gifts and overeating and drinking, then surely we can confine the joy and the anticipation to just one month of the year? Better to make it one good month than a tedious two?


At risk of this descending into a ‘things aren’t the same as they used to be’ piece, I wanted to get the above disclaimer in to ensure that you don’t think of me as someone who can’t feel festive delight or revel in the anticipation of something just as much (if not more than) the event itself. Scrooge, I am not.


What I’ve been reflecting on since the Christmas season arrived, is prompted in observing the annual ritual of my kids preparing their Christmas lists.


When I was a child (there’s the statement you were no doubt expecting) I recall the challenges of compiling my Christmas list of gifts I hoped to receive. Writing it down made sure there could be no misinterpretation, and thanks to my parents who seemed helpfully to have a fast-track in getting it sent to the North Pole, ensured that at least some of the items would appear beneath the tree on Christmas morning.


As a kid, I wasn’t so much focussed on the season of good cheer, but more on the opportunity to get some new toys or to push the boundaries of my material life, to request some coveted item that would bring new meaning to my life. I can’t remember a single Christmas spent feeling anything other than delighted with the gifts I received, surrounded by love and festive joy; for that reason and many others I feel blessed for my childhood and upbringing.


As my reminiscences become wistful and my hindsight more rose-tinted it strikes me just how much the very act of preparing a Christmas list has changed. As a child, with the advent of the Internet being at least 30 years away my research was confined to toy commercials on TV, items I may have spotted in a shop or occasionally from flicking through a home-shopping catalogue. There was a logistical limit around my expectations, and on what my parents (sorry, Santa) might provide me with. It was assumed that what I wanted was available from a shop somewhere in a town near me. At a stretch, it might be something available from a shop in London (in my juvenile mind, a mysterious and wonderful place where shop shelves groaned under the weight of exotic toys the likes of which I could only dream).


Today the assumption is that pretty much any product, be that a toy, article of clothing or item of technology can be obtained for the right price and within little more than a few days priority shipping from anywhere in the world thanks to the web. Therein lays the quandary for the accommodating parent who is hoping to keep their kids’ feet on the ground when it comes to composing their list. The only limit is that enforced by the parents and their budget, and I believe the kids know and believe this too even if their belief in Santa remains intact.


I recall a particularly landmark year for my eldest daughter. She’d turned 12 or 13 that year and as Christmas loomed it was clear that she knew exactly what she wanted and expected. For context, she’s a hard worker and academically astute but like most teens, prone to taking the path of least resistance when it comes to school work. Contrast this work ethic with the time that had been devoted to writing the Christmas list that was presented to me and other members of the family and it was obvious where her priorities lay.


The list itself was truly a thing of beauty, and no small miracle of desktop publishing; A single side of A4 paper, it detailed desired items (ranging as I recall from a very specific tweed jacket through to a number of high-end make-up products) with a list of retail stockists and their web addresses, current prices and even a ranking system to ensure we understood her priorities. The finished article was rolled up like a University Diploma, and tied with string in an ornate bow. She’d even gone as far as holding initial briefing calls with her grandparents, aunts and her mother to ensure they were agreed on what each was expected to buy for her.


The arrival of the list elicited mixed emotions; I’ve still got my copy in a file-box as I want to reminisce over it in years to come alongside finger-paintings and past-school reports with a sense of nostalgic amusement. There was also a sense of slight despair though when we considered how our baby could have become so materialistic and fixated on organised material gain. The spirit of Christmas had well and truly evaporated.


As with most kids these days it was apparent just how materially focussed she had become. Far from criticising her for this (for she is a product of the world she lives in and the parenting she has received from us) I now see the same traits emerging in her younger sisters and brother (now aged 13, 11 and 8).


One evening this week, child number three (the 11 year old boy) undertook 10 minutes of maths homework with begrudging-resistance, his mantra being to get the bare-minimum done in the least time required to the lowest acceptable standard. Following this, he applied himself to a diligent hour and a half on an iPad researching and then documenting his Christmas list (the third draft) and annotating and cross-referencing the already comprehensive notes prepared the previous evening. If the work ethic applied to the two tasks were reversed I’m confident that he’d be graduating from Harvard within 5 years.



I’ll confess at this point that the rest of this article in its first draft descended into a rant over the challenge of combatting materialism in kids and how Christmas plays-to and encourages this trait. The article also reflected on the year-round frustrations I feel as a parent in response to the relative efforts my kids will apply towards the tasks that they want to do in comparison to those (e.g. homework) that they have to do.

It is somewhat ironic then that it was during a bit of lunchtime Christmas shopping today, listening to the excellent audio book ‘The Values Factor” by Dr John DeMartini that an alternative angle to this topic crystallized in my mind.


Undoubtedly modern life encourages greater consumerism in our kids who are able to identify absolutely any material product that exists in the world and which they could conceivably want. They also know that with the money and a short wait it can be theirs. I believe that social media and the cult of celebrity also tend to instil the belief that anyone can have anything they want, and no substitute should be accepted. This trait is simply a reality of modern life and it is down to the individual parent to find their own balance between giving their children the things they are able to and want to whilst (hopefully) also ensuring that the kids don’t develop a sense of entitlement or a failure to appreciate the value of things in the process.


As far as my other frustration, well when did any kid ever get on and do their homework willingly and voluntarily when faced with a choice between that and something they really want to do?


The key factor is the relationship between the task at hand and, in Dr DeMartini’s words, the child’s own higher-values. The simple and obvious aspect in each of the two scenarios that I described earlier is that my kids were doing more than just reacting to an inherent desire to accumulate more and add to their armoury of material possessions. Sure, they are kids and are allowed to be excited about Christmas and the prospect of asking Santa for new things. In each example however, they were both demonstrating this desire but in a way that brought out their passion, their values, and emphasizing and honing skills that I am sure will one day become a large part of their identities, their adult lives and their work.


In the case of my daughter, she was using her passion and skill as an artist to create a list that was not only filled with facts and information to convey her wishes, but that was also visually appealing and tastefully presented. Over-engineered certainly, but pretty, nonetheless. She is now an arts student at college and I’m sure that whatever she does in adult life, she will always tend towards the visual and the aesthetic in whatever work she produces, especially when trying to convey a subject or relay content that she is passionate about.


In the case of my son, he has a keen mind for detail and an encyclopaedic knowledge on topics that fire his imagination. He may not leap with joy at the sight of a sheet of mathematics problems, but he can relay details of the 2015/16 Manchester United Football season (and the one before it) to an impressive level of detail and he can identify and recall the key skills and signature moves of hundreds of superheroes at will. In researching the content of his Christmas list to the level of detail that he did, he was demonstrating diligence and an attention to detail on topics that align to his higher values and interests that I’m sure will serve him well in life and his career. Similarly, his skills in employing modern technology to collate his list with zero assistance and supreme focus demonstrate just how seamlessly technology and its use is embedded in him and how he thinks.


As with many things I’ve learned (and continue to learn) as a parent, it’s very easy to jump to conclusions when your child does (or doesn’t do) something. Understanding the cause doesn’t always excuse the action (or effect) but at least it can help offer an alternative perspective and aid your understanding. In some instances, like the above, it can also help you recognise the positive traits and behaviours arising from the situation which are to be encouraged, not quashed. In turn, that can help you to plan future strategies so that when you are next confronted with a similar challenge you can adapt your behaviour or expectations rather than blindly hoping for something different. That is my lesson learned for today.


I have numerous memories of Christmases past, and many that are no doubt artificially vivid thanks to oft-viewed family photos. One such memory (and possibly representing my best ever Christmas present) was of a Cowboy dressing-up costume comprising a fringed trouser and waistcoat combo made by my Mum and a Leather pistol holster crafted by my Dad. At the age of about 5, the photo of me and my sister that Christmas morning (she wearing the nurses outfit with similar home-made provenance) epitomises to me the sentiment that I want to recapture for my kids in giving them memorable Christmases for years to come.

That isn’t to say that I’ll be ignoring the lists they’ve all so diligently crafted and eschewing the crowds heading out to Black Friday sales in the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy, in favour of hand-made gifts. Or maybe I will, after all there’s that other adage about gifts and giving;

“It’s the thought that counts!”


Toby 

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Coping with festive holidays when you are divorced or separated



Seasonal and festive holidays like Christmas can be really hard for parents not living with their children. When non-resident parents call our helpline around the Christmas period, they often feel jealous, lonely, sad, angry and resentful. Separated families may feel as though everyone else is enjoying the perfect family festivities, while they feel more isolated and alone than during the rest of the year.

This situation can be distressing and tense and it can really help to talk to someone about how you feel. Some non-resident parents who call us are sad that they can’t watch their children open their presents at Christmas. From a legal point of view, it can be very frustrating for non-resident parents if the resident parent doesn’t grant access
 over Christmas, but it may be possible to come to an informal arrangement.

It's usually best to start the conversation with your children’s other parent as early as possible, to give yourself plenty of time to come to arrangement about times and days to see the children. If, for example, the resident parent has the children on Christmas Day, you may want to arrange a time on Christmas Day when you can give the children their presents.

You could suggest an arrangement of alternating the years, so that you get to spend Christmas Day with the children every other year. In the other years, you could even arrange a 'fake Christmas', when you get to do all the traditional festive things you like to do with your family, just on a different day. That way, everybody gets to have a full festive experience, and the children get to celebrate twice.


Making long-term plans

Reaching a long term deal and being flexible will work to everyone’s benefit. A separated mother said: “My eldest daughter is going to be with her dad for Christmas day this year. I'm going to miss her terribly but need to be fair to her dad.

“It might sound a bit extreme, but I find it helps to plan what will happen at Christmas a year ahead. I have a rota with my daughter's dad as to who has her when. It doesn’t make it less painful not being with her when it's not my turn, but it makes it easier to plan early celebrations and visits to relatives so no-one feels they're missing out."



Seeing grandparents

This situation can also affect grandparents. The parents of the non-resident parent will be unlikely to see their grandchildren at Christmas which can be upsetting. Like the non-resident parent, grandparents could try to organise a special day, or a time around Christmas, when they could give their grandchildren presents.

One separated parent said: “I find it extremely difficult handling the upset that not spending Christmas Day together causes my daughter’s grandparents who want to see her. We've arranged to have Christmas earlier so we can all be together.”


Another said: “It gets me down that my ex-wife always has the children on Christmas Day and I have to wait for Boxing Day. Some years she has taken them away for Christmas and I haven’t seen them until New Year, which is really upsetting.”



How to make time together special

The time that you do spend with your children over Christmas should be special. Many separated parents try to outdo each other, which is likely to lead to stress and disappointment, as you often can’t live up to the expectations and may end up feeling second best. Similarly, non-resident parents sometimes feel that they must compete with their children’s other parent when it comes to buying presents. When one parent is spending a large amount on expensive gifts, or taking the children on a costly holiday, the other parent may feel that he or she can’t offer the same amount. This can lead to heartache, as parents may feel like they have let their children down if they cannot afford to compete.


Christmas present competition

A separated father said: “My ex-wife always seems to turn Christmas into a competition to see who can outdo the other by buying the ‘best’ presents. Every year I ask her to let me know what she’ll be buying the children so I can make sure I don’t buy the same thing, but she doesn’t. So I feel I can’t get them what they really want in case she’s got there first. In previous years I’ve been delighted to buy them something I knew was on their list, only to have them unwrap it on Boxing Day and say: ‘Thanks Dad, but Mum bought me this too.’ It’s disappointing for the children and means I’ve had to waste a lot of time changing presents afterwards.”

Explaining to your children that you aren’t giving them the presents that they want can be hard, but your children will appreciate your honesty. Try not to give throw-away responses such as ‘because I said so’, but instead justify yourself, telling your child that you don’t think a gift is suitable or is overpriced. You can try to compromise with older children by saying that you will contribute towards an expensive present if they make up the difference.



Parents who have to spend Christmas alone

If you will not get the chance to see your children on Christmas Day, and will be alone, see if you can make arrangements with your friends. If anyone close to you is in the same situation, why not organise to see them; volunteer or invite them round for lunch so that you will not be by yourself. Sometimes the parent living with the children can be caused stress by a non-resident parent who doesn’t want to see his or her children over the festive period, or is unreliable.

It can be heartbreaking to explain that their other parent won’t be visiting over Christmas, but it will be kinder if you remain positive, and try not to criticise him or her too much in front of the children, no matter how angry you feel.


Source: http://www.familylives.org.uk/advice/divorce-and-separation/coping-with-holidays/coping-with-christmas-when-your-divorced-or-separated/

Friday, 24 November 2017

Thanksgiving and the power of Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving! This video reflects the power of feeling grateful for all the good things in your life, no matter how small as a means of combatting fear, stress and anger. We've all got something to be grateful for, and it's good to remember this year round, not just at Thanksgiving.








Monday, 20 November 2017

Holidays Apart: A Divorced Thanksgiving (and Christmas)



Around Thanksgiving, life has always been hectic. My ex-husband's birthday falls the day after and sometimes even on Thanksgiving, and my father's birthday is a few days after. I always scrambled to plan Thanksgiving, a date night for the then-husband and myself in honor of his special day, birthday presents and cake, and more. This is the first year and first holiday that my now ex-husband and I will be apart. This is also the first holiday I will spend sharing my daughter.

Every divorce is different. Some swap holidays by the year, some split down the middle, and some parents get all the holidays because there's an absent parent in the picture. For my family, we are splitting Thanksgiving day in half, and for Christmas, I will have Christmas Eve, and he will have Christmas Day. Since we live near each other, this has been a fairly easy setup to live by. Like many modern divorces, my ex and I have a 60/40, close to 50/50 split in parenting time. Back in the day, fathers often just got every other weekend and a few weeknights here and there, but more and more people are splitting custody down the line.
People who are used to the "old divorce" model are shocked when I tell them how we split our time with our daughter.

"Don't they want her with her mother?" they say.


To be honest, it makes me feel like crap. As if I have elected to just give up half of my time with her, like, "Yeah, I don't want her— you take her," but that's not the case at all. We both made her, so we both get time with her.


Fifty-fifty or 60/40 in our case means many good things:


It means my daughter gets to have two parents, and not just a dad she sees "every now and again." And while I won't lie —sharing her kills me, especially since I was once a mostly stay-at-home mom and now work full-time and split her schedule in half — my daughter is fortunate she has a dad who wants to spend so much time with her. So many of my friends' kids have absent fathers in the face of divorce. The fact that my ex is such a present dad is a gift to our child. And a gift to me. We made her together, so we'll raise her together, even if we can't manage to stay together.


Sixty-forty means my kid gets two households. More to love, but sometimes, more of a pain. Two households mean two ways of being raised, and therefore, a child who has to negotiate which rules happen at which homes, even if my ex and I work hard to parent together in a similar manner. There are two sets of everything — that is the costly part. Last month I kept going to the closet and I couldn't find any leggings because they were at her dad's, so we figured we better double up with clothes. It means sometimes Elsa, Cinderella, and My Little Pony end up at my house when she is at her dad's. It means stuff gets lost. It means sitting in front of a calendar and trying to divvy up her time and days into two, which is exhausting. It means a color-coded calendar for a child just 3-years-old so she knows where she is on what day. She still asks us each day: "Where will I be today? What am I doing?" Some days I feel like just saying, "Here — you get this leg, and I'll get the other." It also means my little one's heart is often torn in two: it's happiness to see one parent, but heartbreaking to miss the other.


This year, we felt splitting Thanksgiving made sense since it's a major holiday and we're within driving distance to one another. A big part of me is prepared for the split. I get to see her and she gets to see both families, so it's a livable way to manage the Day of Thanks. It's Christmas that I am dreading. After 11 a.m. on Christmas Day, it will just be me. No daughter. No festivities. No food. No nobody. Just me and a pile of toys that won't be played with until she comes back to the house again. Me with a heart that will be longing for my kid.

Not having my ex-husband with me to cut the turkey and count the candles on his cake is also a big life change for me. I will still have gifts and a baked good for her dad's birthday, even if we're divorcing . . . even if my birthday went relatively unnoticed. Why? Call me crazy but, that's my kid's dad. I want her to cherish him and value him. If I don't make an effort to respect him and let her enjoy making cookies for her daddy, what kind of example am I setting? And while it makes me sad to know that everything I invested time and energy in for the past eight years is now blown to pieces, I also have a certain gratitude. Despite being in the thick of divorcing, I now know that my life is moving on. There's a clean slate, so to speak, of what the future might bring for both of us. For me. Neither one of us has to feel as if we're letting the other down or feeling the dread of wondering: Will we divorce, or will we stay together?

No. We won't. It's done. And now as rocky as this path may be, we both get to find happiness again, and that's no small gift. I'm thankful we made the best choice for everyone involved because now, my daughter will get the gift of two happy parents. If that means staring at the walls on Christmas Day crying while watching A Christmas Story, then so be it. As long as she doesn't have to referee our arguments or see two sad adults desperately trying to make it work while miserable failing, that's something to be thankful for.


The other day when I called my daughter's school, the head of the school said to me: "You two (ex-husband and myself) are doing a great job with your daughter. She's very happy and clearly very loved. We wish all parents worked together the same way."


If my ex-husband and I could pull a wishbone, that's exactly what we would both wish for: a happy and loved child. What other blessing is greater for any parent, married or divorced?


Source: https://www.popsugar.com/moms/Surviving-Holidays-After-Divorce-36146622

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Why change can be a good thing

"The bad news is nothing lasts forever. The good news is nothing lasts forever"

This video, prompted by the changing seasons reflects on the fact that change is always happening, and whether it's a positive or a negative thing based on how we feel about it, nothing lasts forever. We can accept and embrace that, or we can resist it but either way it happens.

Have a clear out of your life, shake things up, let go of the negative and cling onto (or rediscover) the positive.



Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Research Says This Is The Best Child Custody Agreement For Divorced Parents, Although It May Be Easier Said Than Done


There is absolutely nothing pretty about divorce. Even if it's for the best and all parties involved are certain to be better off. At its core, a divorce is the end of something, and it's only natural to grieve what was lost. Especially when there are children involved, a divorce is tricky territory. There are attorneys, courts, and custody battles that can often cause more damage than resolution. And while every family must do what's best for their own situation, new research says that the best child custody agreement for divorced parents is actually complete joint custody.

According to a new study from Uppsala University, Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the research institute CHESS, "preschool children in joint physical custody have less psychological symptoms than those who live mostly or only with one parent after a separation." So, while of course it is sometimes necessary for one parent to have full or primary custody of the children, if it can be arranged for parents to share custody equally, this research suggests that it might actually be better for the kids in the long run.

It makes sense not to want to change too much about a child's living situation, but this new research is the first of its kind in looking at how custody arrangements actually affect children.

In order to determine what custody arrangement was better for children, "the researchers compared behavioral problems and mental symptoms of 136 children in joint physical custody, 3,369 in nuclear families, 79 living mostly with one parent and 72 children living only with one parent," according to MedicalXpress. And in this study, the researchers depended on surveys from parents and teachers assessing each child's behavior. And the results aren't too surprising when you think about them. According to a press release, one of the study's authors, Jani Turunen said: What probably makes children in shared physical custody less stressed is that they can have an active relationship with both their parents, which previous research has shown to be important for the children's well-being. The relationship between the child and both of its parents becomes stronger, the child finds the relationship to be better and the parents can both exercise more active parenting.

Since this study was conducted in Sweden, there may be some cultural differences between families there and families in the United States, but the results seem to be pretty straightforward. Overall, children living in joint physical custody seem to be better off — psychologically speaking.

Of course, this isn't always an option for every divorced couple, so doing what's best for the children and the family as a whole is really the best course of action to take.


Source: https://www.romper.com/p/research-says-this-is-the-best-child-custody-agreement-for-divorced-parents-although-it-may-be-easier-said-than-done-2301576

Sunday, 29 October 2017

4 Ways Of Creating Positive Mindset In 2017 Using Mindfulness


Humans are hardwired toward negativity bias. We can get caught up in rumination or thought cycles, imagining and worrying about every potential outcome for our future. This leads to increased stress as well as anxiety.

I asked Katie Krimer, M.A., L.M.S.W., a psychotherapist and social worker at Union Square Practice, for her suggestions on creating a healthier mindset and letting go of the incessant worries. Here are her four practices you can do in 2017 to have fewer worries.


1. Recognize the function of the “checker”

When you have a negative thought or ruminative thought, you can remind yourself that there’s a part of your brain that acts as a “checker” of sorts–it’s there to maintain safety. But often, it’s a bit on the fritz. It’s checking in too frequently–hence the looping negative thoughts that are so hard to let go of.

Acknowledge that your brain is trying to check in to make sure that everything is safe and okay, and let it know that you are indeed alright. Give yourself permission to turn the checker off.


2. Label your thoughts

The most straightforward of mindfulness practices is to label thoughts as thoughts. We don’t tend to stop and realize that our brain is coming up with so many strings of words that it puts together at lightning speeds and that we then believe or engage with or indulge immediately.

We can start to engage with this notion: we are not our thoughts. When we label thoughts as thoughts, we give our brain the opportunity to create a necessary separation between us and that influx of information.

Just because our brain gives us the thought “I am unworthy,” does not mean that we need to believe it. We can simply acknowledge that we are having the thought, without giving it the meaning that we typically do. We can start to notice when we’re having particular thoughts, and label them neutrally and non-judgmentally, instead of immediately thinking “good or bad.”


3. Meditate

Shifting your attention by doing five minutes meditation, body scan or breathing exercise.


4. Shift your attention

Notice what’s okay and good. If your negative thoughts are on a loop, gently acknowledge them, but turn your attention to writing down five things that exist or happened that were good, pleasant or happiness-inducing. Did you have a delicious caffeinated drink? Did you talk to your best friend? Do you have a fun event coming up?

Mindfulness practice is about the “return”–this means noticing when your mind has strayed to thinking and bringing your awareness to the present, to something a little more positive–having the intention to shift your attention.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeenacho/2016/12/28/4-ways-of-creating-positive-mindset-in-2017-using-mindfulness/#5ddc2ca03702

Friday, 27 October 2017

Divorce and the Practice of Dating


Growing up, many of us learned to value and naturally imagine our futures. We fantasized about who we would become when we grew up. That included who our future mates may be and what they’d look like, and our role in caring for our imaginary children. Others fantasized about a life partner or a career while children and a family were not on the agenda. For some people, singlehood without parenthood was the path. Either way, we all hoped that when we married, our unions would be happy and perhaps lifelong ones.


Most of us, when we bond or pair with another, especially when exclusive and monogamous, want it to work. However, studies described by the American Psychological Association show that “marriage and divorce are both common experiences. In Western cultures, more than 90 percent of people marry by age 50. Healthy marriages are good for couples’ mental and physical health. They are also good for children; growing up in a happy home protects children from mental, physical, educational and social problems. However, about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.”

Childhood books, movies, and cartoons promise a certain “happily ever after.” Well-meaning parents and caregivers promise a happy and idyllic future. A stark contrast exists today. But we are adjusting to new rules in today’s world. The options for “happily ever after” have widened. Divorce is more common; therefore, more people are divorced and dating. We have included a rainbow of additional life options beyond traditional heterosexual marriage and divorce. We now accept and embrace gay marriage. We live in a culture where polyamory is a movement and polygamy is displayed on TV as a part of everyday life.


We hope that deep love, hot sex, and youthful idealism will last forever and with one person (in many cases). Even with issues raised from the start, when in a committed relationship, one must do all one can do to save the partnership or try and protect the children (if that applies). After all, when you have love, you have everything, right? No, not right. Love or sharing children is not enough to keep a marriage vital.


Since people grow and their needs change, humanity may possibly need to expand from mating with one person for life to two or more. Once divorce is a reality, we learn to accept relationship termination and lessons learned. The choice to appreciate the positive feelings, experiences, and outgrowths of the relationship (including sharing children) is always within reach.


So what do you do when you find yourself approaching the end of your marriage and welcoming a new way of life, a brand-new beginning? How do you date if you haven’t been in the dating scene for some time? When you do meet someone interesting, what messages you are sending and receiving, whether in person or on online dating? How can you navigate dating as a single person? Here are some dating tips post-divorce:



  • Go at your own pace. You know when you are ready to date.
  • Trust your instincts and how you feel when in the company of someone new.
  • Respect your personal limits and only agree to what you are comfortable with.
  • Be yourself, honestly and unapologetically.
  • Notice your patterns and improve upon them.
  • Learn from past mistakes. Allow your intuition and wisdom to guide you.
  • Be willing to be open and take safe risks in order to try new things.
  • Have fun with the process of dating. It’s a real adventure!
  • Educate yourself on nonverbal language, active listening, and reading between the lines for in-person and online interactions.
  • Trust your inner guidance system when sharing yourself or your story.
  • Learn from each person you meet, date, or relate to. See what they do, more than say.
  • Observe role models who have happy, healthy relationships: What do they do?
  • Remember that dating is the same today as it was when you previously dated.
  • Enjoy going to new places and learning about new people, their differences and similarities.
  • Keep your heart and mind open.
  • Whatever you do, do it well. After all, we are all here to love, be loved, and learn. Love as much as you can and as often as you can. Be sure to love yourself and keep on learning.

Source: https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2016/07/04/divorce-the-practice-of-dating/

Monday, 23 October 2017

5 Mistakes Women Make When Dating after Divorce


You just nibbled through an entire bar of dark chocolate. Your divorce papers are finally signed. You are 55, single and thinking about dating. The last time you had a first date, you wore jackets with shoulder pads and permed your hair. You are “out there” again, and the dating world has changed a lot since the eighties.

I’m divorced too and can empathize. Put down the chocolate; it really isn’t so bad out there. According to a recent article on Match.com, single boomers over fifty years old are enjoying the benefits of their new status. Seventy-five percent of women and 81 percent of men say that they are experiencing dating success. My advice is to get out there, but avoid these common mistakes I see women make after divorce.


Dating too soon after the divorce: I learned this lesson early. I only dated because my ex had a girlfriend, and it was my way to personally retaliate. Who did it hurt? Me! I was a dating disaster since I wasn’t truly ready. Starting to date again can be an overwhelming experience. My self-esteem was damaged and I felt stuck. I needed to work through my personal issues before I could be successful in dating. Fortunately, I had the help of a wonderful professional counselor who helped me move forward. Many women go straight to their girlfriends for advice on dating and relationships when a professional source is needed. 
An unbiased professional — someone who sees issues objectively — is a better choice. A coach will tell you the truth about your readiness to date. A well-meaning friend may not be so honest. My advice is, before you join the dating boomers, seek out professional help from a trained counselor or coach like myself. In this case, you need a coach more than you need to eat another chocolate bar with a girlfriend!

Being afraid to go solo: Solo is the way to go when you are looking to meet someone to date. Although we love being with our girlfriends, constantly traveling with a group of gal pals is a recipe for disaster. I know it takes time to feel comfortable traveling alone, so you need to practice. I suggest taking a class, going to a show, concert, movie or opera alone. Take yourself out for dinner and sit near the bar area. If you’re feeling confident, have dinner at the bar. If you spot someone of interest, catch his eye for a few seconds and smile. 
Perhaps he will come over and introduce himself. If he doesn’t, count it as practice. A woman alone is approachable, confident and mysterious. The more you practice going out alone, the easier it is. I tell clients, if you want to meet an interesting man, be an interesting woman. Remember, men are attracted to women who are independent and fun — women who have interesting lives of their own.

Being someone other than your “genuine self” on a first date: Talking about work may feel safe, but it’s not a good first date conversation. If you had a bad day, stay home unless you can bring a positive, approachable attitude along. Before going out, I put on some upbeat or romantic music, dance by myself in my home and think happy thoughts. I leave my past in the past. If you don’t have time to go home prior, dress for work in something “dateable” like a wrap dress, a pencil skirt, or a fabulous sweater or satin blouse that makes you feel pretty. Focus on a positive mood, be aware of your posture and stand tall. Add your favorite perfume, freshen your makeup and hair and smile. Your smile is always your most important beauty accessory and a welcoming appearance enhancer.

Breaking plans to date: It’s a mistake to break plans with girlfriends or alter your schedule if dating conflicts occur. Men don’t change their schedules and you shouldn’t either. Do keep doing what you enjoy and incorporate new experiences into a broadening social scene. I attend movie classes alone and add new classes each year to my schedule, no matter what is going on in my life. Men are attracted to women who have a vibrant life and who take care of themselves outside and inside. They will only like you more. Always nurture your spirit and do things that give yourself pleasure.

Burning bridges if you don’t feel “sparks”: Chemistry is elusive as you date. Be patient. Recently I went on a date and had a great evening, but there were no sparks. So what? I decided to accept a second date because we had fun together. Unfortunately, there is still no chemistry. My advice to my “dating self” was to make my date into my friend. The suggestion may offend some men, but take the opportunity to be good company. I know from experience that some men are happy with this idea. Men enjoy the companionship of a woman. There is no pressure; just friendship. Try it. You may be surprised with the results. What can start out as a friendship may even turn into romance. Sparks can disappear, but friendship is forever.

Remember, this is your time. Learn from the mistakes others have made and travel smoothly as you begin dating after divorce.


Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/terri-sloane-ms/dating-mistakes-divorce_b_1834322.html

Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Health Benefits of Expressive Writing



Putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, can really pay off.

Whether you put pen to paper or type on a computer, writing about stressful experiences or emotionally charged issues in your life can be good for your health and emotional well-being. In fact, expressive writing, which basically involves pouring your heart and mind into words, without worrying about spelling, punctuation, grammar and other writing conventions, is good medicine: In recent years, research has found that it improves symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis; helps with recovery from childhood sexual abuse and postpartum depression; and improves the state of mind in those with Parkinson's, cancer and many other health conditions.

It can even promote faster wound healing. In a 2013 study, researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand had 49 healthy adults, ages 64 to 97, spend 20 minutes a day for three consecutive days writing about upsetting events in their lives (expressive writing) or their daily activities (time management): Two weeks later, the researchers gave participants small puncture wounds on the inside of their upper arms then monitored their healing. Eleven days after the wound infliction, 80 percent more of those in the expressive writing group had fully healed compared with those in the other group.


The Magic Behind the Act

"Writing about an emotionally charged subject or an unresolved trauma helps you put the event into perspective and give some structure and organization to those anxious feelings, which ultimately helps you get through it," notes James Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at The University of Texas–Austin and co-author of the new book "Opening Up by Writing it Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain." "This can help people sleep better, feel and think better, and have richer social lives, all of which can bolster immune function and improve health."

Not surprisingly, writing about emotionally charged subjects also can improve mental health, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, major depressive disorder and even post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans. What's more, in a 2014 study involving 149 women in a residential treatment program for substance abuse disorders, researchers from the VA Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven, Connecticut, found that those who engaged in four 20-minute writing sessions (about emotional topics) on consecutive days had greater reductions in the severity of their post-traumatic symptoms, depression and anxiety after two weeks than participants who wrote about neutral topics.

The mechanisms behind these emotional benefits aren't entirely understood. One theory is that describing your feelings with words may be somewhat cathartic, releasing pent-up feelings that may be dragging you down. Another is that the act of writing can help you organize disorganized thoughts into more cohesive ones that give meaning to an upsetting or traumatic experience. It also may be that the process of writing enables people to learn to better regulate their emotions because they gain a sense of control over upsetting experiences life throws at them.

Meanwhile, a pair of studies published in the April 2016 journal Emotion found that expressive writing helps people distance themselves from a distressing life experience, which in turn makes them less emotionally reactive to it. "We think the process of creating a coherent story out of disorganized emotional memories facilitates self-distancing because this process requires people to adopt other people's perspectives and focus on broader contexts," explains lead author Jiyoung Park, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst.


Feeling Is Believing

For as long as she can remember, Erin Morris had anxiety that would interfere with her ability to make decisions. In the fall of 2015, she started writing about whatever was on her mind for 15 minutes in the morning. "The important part for me is to not stop and judge myself or my writing but to let it flow and express everything that is in my head," says Morris, 36, a graphic designer who splits her time between Costa Rica and Columbia, South Carolina. Besides easing her anxiety, the writing habit has brought a considerable improvement in her previous sleep troubles, greater energy and "mental clarity when it comes to making decisions and dealing with complicated relationships," Morris reports.

Clint Evans, who spends up to 15 minutes writing in his journal in the morning and the evening, can relate to these perks. "Expressive writing reduces my stress and helps me sleep better," says Evans, 36, a business consultant and content service provider in Austin, Texas. "I feel release when writing in my journal – my mind stops racing and slows to a calm." The writing practice helps him fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.

Most of the research has explored the benefits of writing about one's deepest thoughts and feelings about a stressful event using the first-person point of view (the "I" voice). A 2013 study from the University of Iowa suggests that assuming a distant, third-person perspective (using "he" or "she") may be even more beneficial because it's associated with less intrusive thinking and fewer physical symptoms. "Taking an observer's vantage may be vital to maintaining composure and making progress when trying to sort through a distressing or angering event or moment in life," explains lead author Matthew Andersson, now an assistant professor of sociology at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. "It's a short leap from picturing a difficult personal event from an observer's perspective to actually using a third-person pronoun, as if you're looking at a completely different person going through what you did."

Of course, "these potential pathways aren't mutually exclusive," Andersson notes, and there may be cumulative benefits. Whatever the mechanisms may be and whatever voice you choose to use, engaging in expressive writing can yield major benefits. "The beauty of this intervention is that it's cost-effective, low risk and [offers a] high payoff," notes Katherine Krpan, a psychologist who investigated the effects of expressive writing on major depressive disorder while at the University of Michigan. "People seem to like the idea of a non-pharmacological intervention. You can also do it wherever you are."


How to Write Yourself Well

To harness the power of expressive writing, Pennebaker recommends choosing a time and place where you're unlikely to be uninterrupted. Vow to write continuously about something that's upsetting you for at least 15 minutes on four consecutive days. Don't worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation, verb agreement or other writing conventions; simply pour your deepest, most honest feelings onto paper or a computer screen. "It can be related to something you're dreaming, thinking or worrying about a lot, an issue or memory that's affecting your life in an unhealthy way, or a subject you've been avoiding for days, weeks or years," Pennebaker says.

Try it for at least a few weeks and see if it helps. If it does, stick with it. Ultimately, what you do with your expressive writing is entirely up to you: You can save it for future reference, throw it away, burn it or shred it, Pennebaker says. The important thing to remember is that it's meant to be for your personal benefit and your eyes only.