Saturday, 30 December 2017

Christmas ends in divorce for thousands

Divorce lawyers will have their busiest day of the year today after the long Christmas holiday took its toll on thousands of relationships. 

For many unhappy partners, revelations of a fling at the office party could be the last straw. Other grounds for a split include abuse, lack of sex, financial worries, and disappointing presents. 

Online advice centre surveyed 100 UK law firms, as well as 2,000 people who were either married, divorced or separated. It found that nearly one in five of all marriages (19%) was on shaky ground, with partners believing it could end in divorce. 

Almost half (44%) of those surveyed said their sex lives had fallen flat, while one in 10 marriages was entirely sexless. 

Family lawyer Suzanne Kingston, of Dawsons Solicitors, said men or women often came to see a solicitor without their partner’s knowledge, to try to find out about their options. 

The ‘vast majority’ of people who see a solicitor end up proceeding with a divorce at some stage, she said. ‘If you’re not spending time together then the issues between you are not so apparent because they are disguised by what you are doing on a day-to-day basis. 

‘But over Christmas people are spending longer periods of time together. There’s more opportunity to argue. There is also the financial worry and the impact of relatives. And at New Year people often make resolutions and think about what they want for the future.’ 

About two in every five people (42%) blamed a partner’s affair for them contacting a lawyer, with almost half of all women citing infidelity as the main reason for marriage breakdown. 

More than half (54%) of those said they discovered the affair themselves, one fifth of unfaithful spouses confessed, and 4% were told by their partner’s new lover. Some 36% of men – the biggest single male response – cited lack of sex as a reason for divorce. 

More than 1.8m couples will have contemplated divorcing their partner during the Christmas period, according to the Family Mediation Helpline. And Relate, the UK’s largest provider of relationship support, said the trend to kick-start divorce proceedings in January follows a 50% surge in the number of calls over the festive period. 

Three quarters of New Year divorces are instigated by women. But according to Paula Hall, a relationship psychotherapist at Relate, this might just be because they are the ones who get around to it first. She said the New Year was an important time for people to assess thier lives, and couples who had already separated might decide to take the final step and divorce. ‘Doing the divorce is a significant step to closing the door,’ she said. 

Derek Bedlow, managing editor of, said: ‘Basically, Christmas is a nightmare for anyone with even a remotely shaky relationship. There are just so many opportunities for things to go badly – from rowing about which in-laws are coming to dinner, to disappointing presents, to discovering a loved one has misbehaved at an office party. It’s a relationship minefield. 

‘People are quicker to throw in the towel on a bad marriage than ever before. The trend is definitely to move on as soon as you know it’s truly over – rather than clinging to the wreck of a bad relationship for year after year.’


Thursday, 28 December 2017

Resilience: Saying Yes to Life

Maintaining mental health in the face of adversity

Fall seven times, stand up eight. Japanese proverb

The word resilience conjures up many images: a child getting back on her bike after taking a tumble; an Olympian crossing the finish line with a broken leg; an elderly couple flourishing with hope and kindness, despite a lifetime of unthinkable traumas. To the naked eye, resilience involves courage and perseverance. Maybe even some luck. But science paints a picture that is all but straightforward. According to Professor Raffael Kalisch from the German Resilience Center at the University of Mainz, resilience is not a fixed personality trait that one is born with. Nor can it be captured neatly in a brain scan. Rather, it is an outcome of a dynamic process of adaptation. While a lot remains to be discovered about the processes that set in motion our resilience mechanisms, researchers like Kalisch are shedding light on how humans maintain their mental health in the face of adversity. Training resilience, it appears, has a lot to do with self-efficacy (our confidence in our abilities to handle challenges), appraisal style (the way we evaluate situations and events in our lives), and our general attitude towards life.

Here is Dr. Kalisch on resilience.

Stress affects our psychology and biology

“There are many findings indicating that people undergo changes while they are exposed to stress. We don't stay the same - not only psychologically, but also on a molecular level. Sometimes those stress responses are adaptive, and sometimes they are maladaptive. For example, there was a study on US soldiers before and after war deployment. Those who developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the war showed enhanced expression of genes related to inflammation. But those who didn't develop PTSD, in other words, the resilient ones, had switched on gene networks related to wound-healing. It’s not that resilient people are simply inherently strong or insensitive to stress and thus stay the same after stress. Rather, resilience is a sign of a successful adaptation.”

Resilience can be trained

“While we need to know much more about the processes to really understand the mechanisms of acquiring resilience, you can learn to habitually appraise things from different, more optimistic perspectives. That is, you can learn to avoid overestimating the probability of negative outcomes. You can learn self-efficacy, which means you can appraise challenging situations as challenging - but not as a threat, because you know you can do something about them. Safety learning or extinction learning, for example, is also very important. If you have learned that something is dangerous, you begin to associate those stimuli with your traumatization (e.g. fireworks that sound like war noise). But when you are no longer in that situation, you learn that those stimuli don't predict danger anymore (fireworks are just fireworks). You start to extinguish your fears by learning that the stimuli are now safe. In other words, you exchange negative appraisals by more positive ones. This helps prevent the development of PTSD. This is also what we do in behavioral therapy when working with patients with PTSD. If you are good in identifying periods of safety in your life when you don't have to be stressed, you can avoid wasting your resources and use this time for replenishing them and building your relationships.”

Fine-tune your stress responses

“You need stress responses. They are necessary because they help you survive. But they need to be optimally regulated. If you experience too many unnecessary stress reactions, then your likelihood of getting a stress-related disorder is relatively high. Fine-tune your stress responses to an optimal level. Safety learning and extinction are ways to regulate stress responses, because you restrict your stress responses to those stimuli that are actually predictive of threat. If a stimulus no longer predicts threat, there is no point in being stressed.”

It’s what you make of a situation

“Let’s think about how the stress reaction comes about. You have a stimulus that may or may not be threatening. On the other end, you have the stress response. In between those two events, there is a gap where you can interpret things. It’s always what your mind makes of a situation, not the situation itself. One key to optimal stress responding is in how you appraise situations. For an optimal stress response, try turning down your overly negative appraisals where you overestimate the threat or catastrophize about the negative impact of the stress response itself.”

Be realistic and optimistic

“You need experiences with overcoming challenges to develop a realistic and a mildly optimistic (not negative) appraisal style, i.e. a positive appraisal style. That’s when after going through difficulties, you realize that things turned out a little better than you might have presumed. If, in addition, you have a generally positive outlook in life, a “say-yes-to-life” attitude, going out there and making experiences is probably the best recipe for protection against future hardships.”

One way to learn resilience?

“Live! Experience life. Develop courage and your own perspective, not necessarily following the prescribed ways of your culture, social environment or your past. If you go through life thinking there is no hope, and that things and humans are bad, then that would be difficult. But if you are open-minded, positive and curious, then you can develop your own resilience strategies.”

Look for meaning

“We humans are always in search of meaning. That’s what gives us motivation and something to live for. Meaning transcends us and our own lives. If you have a positive perspective and see meaning in life, then you can view many things that distress others in a positive light. In this way, meaning is like a defense, because it can help you create positive appraisals and to produce stress responses that are optimal.”

Write your own self-help book

“Resilience is something extremely individual. It’s fascinating to talk to people who have gone through very difficult times and have remained positive and mentally healthy. They often did not have a therapist, yet somehow, by themselves, they figured out coping strategies that worked for them. They stayed open to influences from other people, literature and philosophy. Then at the right moment, an idea or an inspiration came into their life, helping them to switch to a new perspective. I think an effective way to develop your own strategies, habits and style of resilience – even more than reading self-help books – is adapting a positive philosophy and going through life with courage and creativity.”


Wednesday, 27 December 2017

5 Suggestions for Navigating a Contentious Divorce

Any divorce is difficult, even when the split is amicable. After all, divorce is a major transition, and change is tough. When your divorce is contentious, not surprisingly, things are harder. A lot harder.

“People are often caught off guard by the enormity of the divorce experience,” said Krysta Dancy, MA, MFT, a therapist who specializes in working with couples and families in Roseville, Calif.

If your marriage was contentious, you probably see your divorce as a relief, so you might feel blindsided when your stress skyrockets. You might feel utterly exhausted, anxious, depressed and unfocused, Dancy said.

You might start second guessing yourself. You might question your ability to make good decisions for you and your family, said Amy Broz, a marriage and family therapist intern who works with high-conflict couples. This may stem from being in an abusive marriage. “Often, the reason my clients are going through a contentious divorce to begin with is because they have been [physically, verbally or emotionally] abused in some form or another.”

You might not even feel like yourself, Dancy said. You might feel out of control, Broz said. 
You might be “worried and afraid, uncertain of what the future holds.”

How do you stay sane when it feels like you’re swept up in a tornado? Below, Dancy and Broz shared five suggestions.

Create a “divorce-free zone.”

You might feel like you need to be available around the clock to deal with your divorce. Or you might feel like you need to be perpetually prepared for the latest battle. “Often, people are afraid to leave arguments unanswered because they fear their ex will score some big moral victory,” Dancy said.

Plus, thanks to technology, you’re probably bombarded with texts and emails throughout the day (and night). Many of Dancy’s clients get emails or texts first thing in the morning, during their work day and when they’re out with friends.

Constant communication means you’re constantly on high alert. Which “allows the divorce to consume your life,” Dancy said. No wonder you’re stressed out and anxious.

This is where good boundaries come in. Because as Dancy said, “You are getting divorced to have less of this person’s influence in your life, remember? [T]he more involved you are in the conflict, the more you are still in a relationship with your ex.”

She shared these examples: A “divorce-free zone” might mean setting specific hours for dealing with your divorce—a time when you’re mentally and emotionally ready to tackle the necessary tasks. It also might mean turning off your phone and muting notifications.

Identify your goals—and use them to guide your actions.

What are your goals for your divorce? What are your desired outcomes? Dancy suggested creating a list of goals and priorities—and disregarding any irrelevant drama. For instance, your priorities or desired outcomes might be: “a workable pickup/drop-off schedule for a child, a desire to see the divorce end quickly and inexpensively, or [her favorite] an emphasis on restoring peace and boundaries in your life.”

The next time a conflict arises, ask yourself: Does it “increase or decrease my chances of achieving my ultimate goal?” This way, you: a) don’t get dragged into a trivial fight (and surround yourself with more chaos); and b) save your energy for what’s really important.

Asking the above question helps you “see outside of the anger or contention of the immediate, and make sure you are still heading in the direction you most want.”

Find moments of calm.

Find practices that help you calm down and unwind anytime, anywhere. For instance, Broz’s clients like the progressive muscle relaxation exercises from the Calm app for reducing anxiety and depression. You might search for meditation videos on YouTube, which you can watch before bed. You might listen to these self-compassionate guided meditations. Or you might start attending a weekly yoga class.

Figure out which type of communication you prefer.

How you communicate is another vital boundary you can set. For instance, you might “move communication to email so that you can be mentally prepared before approaching it, and…have the chance to proofread before sending,” Dancy said.

You also might stop texting with your ex. “It is often a source of conflict and contentious communication, running through late nights and ruining beautiful moments.”

Treat your ex like a challenging colleague.

With a challenging colleague, “you have to work together, but you don’t have to get personal,” Dancy said. Which means you respond to requests and concerns in a clear, professional manner, and disregard the rest, she said.

What does this look like? For instance, along with their text about picking up the kids, your ex includes a dig or two. Instead of getting sucked into yet another argument, you only respond to the part about pick-up arrangements, Dancy said.

And remember that it’s OK to seek support, which all of us need from time to time, whatever we’re going through. Especially a difficult divorce. “It can be highly beneficial for individuals to seek out a qualified therapist to help them navigate the murky, uncharted territory of a contentious divorce,” Broz said. Because your well-being is important. And whether you believe it or not right now, you deserve to prioritize your health.


Tuesday, 26 December 2017

10 Christmas Survival Tips For The Newly Divorced

Missing your kids and feeling alone at Christmas? Try these 10 tips to lift your spirits.

I cannot think of Christmas without a vision of family. What if you are alone this Christmas? 
Not only do you not have your spouse but you don’t have your kids? The first thing I need to tell you is you are not alone; 50% of marriages split up and there are often kids in that mix. Either you or your ex has to be without their children on Christmas Eve or Christmas.

When you are newly divorced or separated this can feel like an overwhelming loss. Hauling out the ornaments and decorations may bring a flood of memories. It is common to ask yourself if the divorce or separation was necessary. Could you have worked through it? This ambiguity is heightened when you go to the mall and see couples hand in hand. You begin to wonder if you could have done something differently to make it work. Remembering the good times makes you more likely to feel depressed when you are newly divorced. Feeling sorry for yourself won’t make the situation go away.

There are things you can do to make this Christmas less heartbreaking and give you a deeper sense of gratitude. Children are barometers for parents, and if they see a parent unhappy it will make them feel sad. Don’t make your kids suffer your loneliness in your first Christmas without them. Make a plan now, and Christmas Eve will be a bit less painful.

1. Think out of the box. You don’t need to have the same traditions you had when you were married. If you are alone it is an opportunity to start over and do what really matters to you.

2. Make a plan to call your children at a particular time. Negotiate with your ex regarding what time would be good so as not to interfere with their holiday plans (the more you support your ex in being a good parent, the better chance your children have of growing up to be confident, well-adjusted people).

3. Invite family or friends over for Christmas Eve. The more you focus on serving others the deeper meaning Christmas will have for you.

4. If your kids are going to be gone for two or three days and you cannot bear being in the house alone, plan a short trip. Instead of buying gifts no one needs, splurge on a short trip you always wanted to take. People are very friendly this time of year, and most likely you will not have to struggle to make friends.

5. Allow yourself to do whatever you could not do when the kids were with you. Take a hot bath, or stay up and read until 3 a.m.

6. Watch a movie that makes you feel uplifted.

7. Do something creative. Maybe a room in the house needs to be painted. You are alone, and no one said that you cannot decorate or fix up the house on Christmas Eve. Make it your own holiday, and do what takes your mind off your loneliness.

8. Remember that divorce shatters both partners’ self esteem. This is not a good time to be looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right. Much wiser to call an old friend and ask them if they can listen for a while.

9. Write your story. The more people can write about their thoughts and feelings the quicker they can work through them and gain understanding. Who knows, you may be creating a best seller.

10. Light a candle, turn on soft music and pray. You are a spiritual being having a human experience and this part of being a human is painful.

Most people are afraid of being alone. For many the fear keeps them trapped in broken relationships an
d broken families. If your marriage didn’t work out, and you do find yourself alone at Christmas, celebrate the fact that you aren’t trapped in a marriage that was broken. Look to tomorrow, believe in the lessons you learned today. You're going to be okay.


Sunday, 24 December 2017

7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round

It’s that time of year where many people begin thinking about everything they have to be thankful for. Although it’s nice to count your blessings on Thanksgiving, being thankful throughout the year could have tremendous benefits on your quality of life.

In fact, gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that we all have access to every day. Cultivating gratitude doesn’t cost any money and it certainly doesn’t take much time, but the benefits are enormous. Research reveals gratitude can have these seven benefits:

1. Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners, but showing appreciation can help you win new friends, according to a 2104 study published in Emotion. The study found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship. So whether you thank a stranger for holding the door or you send a quick thank-you note to that co-worker who helped you with a project, acknowledging other people’s contributions can lead to new opportunities.

2. Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences. Not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health. They exercise more often and are more likely to attend regular check-ups with their doctors, which is likely to contribute to further longevity.

3. Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.

4. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kind, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.

5. Grateful people sleep better. Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.

6. Gratitude improves self-esteem. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that gratitude increased athlete’s self-esteem, which is an essential component to optimal performance. Other studies have shown that gratitude reduces social comparisons. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs – which is a major factor in reduced self-esteem- grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.

7. Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma. A 2006 study published in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11. Recognizing all you have to be thankful for – even during the worst times of your life – fosters resilience.

We all have the ability and opportunity to cultivate gratitude. Simply take a few moments to focus on all that you have – rather than complain about all the things you think you deserve. 

Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life.


Friday, 22 December 2017

Learning to Embrace Change as Opportunity, Not Loss

“If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place.” ~Lao Tzu

Two years ago my life as I knew it changed forever. No, I was not diagnosed with a disease, nor did I lose someone special or have a near-death experience. I actually gained some pretty amazing things: a new house, two dogs, living with my partner, and the chance to be a full-time stepmom to his two children.

But I did not initially view this change in a truly positive light.

After the dissolution of a long-term relationship, I had spent several years living alone in my cozy apartment.

I cherished my independence and, for a time, the solitude.

I came and went as I pleased. If I was seized with musical inspiration, no matter what the hour, I played and sang. I had quiet time to read and write.

My friends dropped by to hang out, I played shows with my band, and I regularly went out for meals and concerts.

Yes, life was pretty darned good—except for the fact that I was alone.

After interesting, humorous, and some downright sad attempts at dating, I met my partner, a wonderful man. He lived an hour and a half away, but we made it work, seeing each other on the weekends. His two children were then living with their mom in Quebec.

My weekends with my partner were like mini-vacations. We kayaked, went out for meals, and laughed with abandon. Relaxation was our default setting.

Fast forward two years, and traveling was beginning to lose its novelty, especially when poor weather made the roads dicey. Around this time, the kids asked to come and live with their dad. We knew the back and forth wasn’t going to cut it any more; the kids needed stability, so we buckled down and bought a house together.

This was a lot to take on all at once, and I knew it. I could see it written on the faces of my friends, colleagues, and family when I described our plans. But we loved each other, we were committed to each other, and it seemed like the most practical solution at the time.
I left my apartment, my partner left his house, and we merged our lives.

I soon found I was walking on air, but not in the elated type of way—more so that the familiar ground was disintegrating from beneath my feet piece by piece.

Even before the kids arrived, I started to feel overwhelmed with this new commitment, this new negotiation of space.

I was used to putting things where I wanted them, eating when I felt like it, and functioning according to my personal schedule, but suddenly I was accountable to someone else—and he had equal right to give input on everything from where the pots should go to whose sheets should go on the bed.

My relaxed state was replaced with the tension of constant compromise.

Doubt began to snake its tendrils into my mind—had I made the right choice?

The kids’ grandparents drove them cross-country at the beginning of that summer. The day, the week, they arrived is something of a blur, and all I really remember is the French (they are all francophone).

My partner, understandably, was so excited to see his family that sometimes he forgot to translate and I started to feel shut out, not only from the conversation, but from my life as I knew it.

Becoming a stepparent is not a job for the faint of heart, especially if you have no children of your own. Being a teacher, I know how to relate well with kids—in the classroom. The natural bond between a parent and child is one that builds from birth, and I was nine and ten years behind.

Also, the initial boundaries my partner set for the kids did not match up to those I would have set, had they been my children. Jumping on beds, screaming in the house, and crashing around upstairs, for example, were not activities I could live with. Quiet time for contemplation had virtually disappeared.

I sorely missed my musical outlet. Our basement was unfinished, and so the only place for the piano and my other instruments was in a little parlor room off the front hallway—a room without a door. My days of unfettered musical expression seemed over.

Important parts of my old life seemed to be moving out of reach, and I began to feel the bitter seed of resentment growing, growing, growing.

I felt like a stranger on the periphery of my own life and started to build up walls to protect the core of my essence, which I was terrified was the next thing to be taken away—“I” would disappear in this new role and new life.

Not wanting to upset the kids or my partner, or admit to others that I was struggling, I kept my turmoil private and tried to go through the motions of my new role.

My mindset did, of course, affect those I was living with, because I had become depressed and detached.

My withdrawal compounded my problem of connecting and made me feel more isolated and resentful and it became a vicious cycle.

I was miserable.

Somehow, gradually, through reading and much introspection, I came to realize that it was my attitude that was making things this unbearable. Yes, it was a totally different situation than I had bargained for, and yes, parts were challenging, and yes, some of the freedoms I enjoyed from my “old life” were constrained by the situation.

But, instead of dwelling on these things, I started to look at it from a different perspective: What had I gained?

In what ways had my life been enriched (or had the potential to be enriched) by my new circumstances? I started to make myself notice positive things each day and I wrote them in a gratitude journal.

Instead of painting myself as a victim on whom changes had been imposed, I became more proactive and vocal; I started to communicate my own boundaries and needs. There was some conflict at first, but we were able to find workable compromises.

Suddenly, my situation seemed a lot more livable, even enjoyable.

Last summer, my partner and I finished a room in the basement that is my music studio. Having a space of my own has helped me a lot, but the most powerful difference came from my mind shift.

Today I am fully grateful for the amazing life I am blessed with. It is different than it used to be, but I am so much richer for it. I have a loving partner, two wonderful kids, two dogs, and two cats that provide us with endless entertainment, and a beautiful home that now meets all of our needs.

Life in a family is never dull. There are still challenges (both expected and surprise), but I no longer let them overwhelm me. I now know that I have the power to choose my attitude toward my circumstances.

Change is inevitable. Change challenges us and pushes us beyond the edge of where we are comfortable.

How we respond to change is entirely up to us.

Instead of dwelling on what is different, or what is hard, we can choose to foster an attitude of openness and gratitude. With this change in mindset, we are able to see opportunities for enrichment and growth that present themselves and we can embrace them as the gifts they are.


Thursday, 21 December 2017

5 Tips For Dealing With Anger During Divorce

After a divorce, most people go through a myriad of emotions. Hurt, disappointment, and grief are some of the more easily recognized emotions, but underlying all of these may be anger.

Anger is a fact of life, especially for most experiencing a divorce. Since anger is a human reality, what can you do to deal with and use proactively the anger you feel during divorce?

Below are 5 strategies that will help you understand and deal with anger in a positive manner.

1. Don’t give into your anger.

Anger is a legitimate emotion, it is your heart trying to tell you something hurts emotionally. Stuffing anger to avoid dealing with it can result in depression which, in some cases is your anger turned inward. Allow yourself to explore the reasons for your anger and to express the anger in a proactive manner.

Learning to respond in a healthy manner to emotional pain isn't easy. It's the first step you have to take if you are going to keep the anger you feel from becoming destructive. Our first response to being hurt or feeling powerless is to lash out. To attempt to get revenge and regain a sense of control. When that is your response, you're feeding your anger instead of exploring and attempting to understand it.

To lessen anger and fully understand what you are feeling, you need to allow yourself to feel vulnerable and hurt. Anger gives a false sense of empowerment, vulnerability causes feelings of helplessness.

So, I get it, the first response, the one that helps us feel like we are back in control is the one most of us give into.

Anger is an emotional fraud. It's there to trick you into not fully understanding what lies beneath the anger, a lot of hurt and vulnerability. Anger hardens your heart and, if fed, keeps you from ever getting in touch with what you are truly feeling.

There is no shame in admitting you are hurt and feeling out of control. And, doing so softens your heart, leads to being in touch with your feelings and staying open to new relationships and a healthier life after divorce. Choosing pain over anger is hell in the short-term but, healthy in the long-term.

2. Don’t fear your anger.

Women especially may have been brought up to think that they should be “nice and agreeable” and not get angry. Everyone gets angry, and it is a healthy emotion, not something to be feared. Journal or talk to a friend to vent your angry feelings, so you can work through them.

Feared anger leads to stuffed anger which leads to you one day blowing like Mount Vesuvius and leaving a path of destruction in your wake. As I discussed before, get in touch with the feelings causing the anger and, explore appropriate ways to express the anger you feel.

3. Don’t worry about losing control of your anger.

One fear many people have is, if they let their anger out they won’t be able to control the rage that may be inside them. This is usually a fear with no basis in fact. Find a safe place to vent your anger.

Punch a pillow, scream, or do whatever makes you feel the release you need without harming anyone.

And, that is the key, stop fearing your anger, express it but, in a way that leads you to a reduction in the anger you feel without it causing or exacerbating conflict and harm.

4. Don’t worry about what other people will think.

If you feel anger, you have a right to your feelings. Individuals may think that it’s acceptable to express grief or sadness, but anger may bring on feelings of embarrassment or shame because it is generally frowned upon.

Anger can be an early warning system that something is wrong. Someone is mistreating you? Someone is trying to take advantage of you? Use your anger to build healthy boundaries and distance yourself from those attempting to do you harm.

5. Get regular exercise.

If you are having a hard time processing the reasons for your anger, it may be resulting from your overall situation and the frustration you feel from dealing with stress.

Taking a walk, doing aerobics or finding stress relieving yoga poses, or even kickboxing can make a person dealing with anger feel much relief.

According to, "exercise acts like a drug, protecting against angry mood induction, almost like taking aspirin to prevent a heart attack." So, instead of working out to burn calories, work out to burn off those feelings of anger.

Do an exercise that you know is safe for you, and give it your all. Check with your physician if you have any questions about whether or not exercise is appropriate for you.

Nothing contributes more to divorce turning into all out war than anger. Get it under check, explore what it is trying to tell you, and when needed us your anger appropriately to protect yourself during the divorce process.


Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Gratitude is a Game Changer

If you are wondering what you have to be grateful for, start with the small things and what you can label as the treasures of your heart.

What is meant by the phrase “game changer?” Who or what can that phrase be applied to? Most often it’s applied to sporting events or war. But what would it mean if it were applied to your life. Game changer refers to a shift in outcomes, either good or bad. If you are not pleased with the events or circumstances of your life, a change of some kind would be a game changer for you.

Sometimes a game changer is as simple as a change in attitude from one of dejection, lack, and inertia to one of gratitude, abundance, and boundless energy. Tall order? Maybe not. It is often extraordinary the kinds of changes that show up in our lives when it is viewed through a different lens. When you start from a place of gratitude, really internalizing all that is right in your life, you have affected the outcome. You have uncovered a game changer called gratitude.

If you are wondering what you have to be grateful for, start with the small things and what you can label as the treasures of your heart. Begin by filling your heart with gratitude for simply being. When you wake up in the morning what is the first and most obvious of your treasures? You woke up! Not enough to be grateful for? Then think of the many who did not wake up.

Once you begin to take inventory of your treasures, things to be grateful for, you are better able to face life from a different, more positive attitude—one of thankfulness. Gratitude becomes a game changer.

The benefits of gratitude are numerous. To start with, gratitude lowers stress, which we all know is unhealthy. When you have a sense of gratitude, you can successfully cope with the challenges that come your way, you have more enthusiasm as you face the day. It will actually prove difficult to feel defeated or depressed when you are grateful.

Gratitude helps you put life in perspective as it enhances your wellbeing. When you have a more positive, can-do perspective, success is easier to attain.

By expressing gratitude for even the small positive aspects of your life, you are likely to feel happier and more optimistic. You will feel more in charge. Wouldn’t you prefer to face the day in a more positive “I can do it” frame of mind? What a game changer that would be for so many people! Would it be for you, too?

If you are struggling with finding that place of gratitude in your life, start small. For example, when you make your to-do list in the morning or you are in some way reviewing the coming day, think of one small thing that you are grateful for. Write it down, either at the top of your to-do list or in a journal. This exercise should get easier everyday and your list should begin to grow. If it is still difficult for you to feel grateful, talk to someone who can help your through it and recommend other exercises you can try so that you can uncover your gratitude treasure.

You see, gratitude really is a game changer that can affect your life on so many levels. It affects your physical and mental health, your relationship with others and your satisfaction with your career or job. You are more likely to feel optimistic and you can better position yourself for success in whatever you attempt to do.


Tuesday, 19 December 2017

How Expressing Gratitude Might Change Your Brain

A lot of so-called “positive psychology” can seem a bit flaky, especially if you’re the sort of person disinclined to respond well to an admonition to “look on the bright side.” But positive psychologists have published some interesting findings, and one of the more robust ones is that feeling grateful is very good for you. Time and again, studies have shown that performing simple gratitude exercises, like keeping a gratitude diary or writing letters of thanks, can bring a range of benefits, such as feelings of increased well-being and reduced depression, that often linger well after the exercises are finished.

Now a brain-scanning study in NeuroImage brings us a little closer to understanding why these exercises have these effects. The results suggest that even months after a simple, short gratitude writing task, people’s brains are still wired to feel extra thankful. The implication is that gratitude tasks work, at least in part, because they have a self-perpetuating nature: The more you practice gratitude, the more attuned you are to it and the more you can enjoy its psychological benefits.

The Indiana University researchers, led by Prathik Kini, recruited 43 people who were undertaking counseling sessions as a treatment for their anxiety or depression. Twenty-two of them were assigned to a gratitude intervention; for the first three sessions of their weekly counseling, this group spent 20 minutes writing a letter in which they expressed their gratitude to the recipient, an hour in total (whether they chose to send these letters was up to them). The other participants acted as a control group, so they simply attended their counseling as usual without performing the gratitude task.

Three months after their counseling was over, all of the participants completed a “Pay It Forward” gratitude task in a brain scanner. Each was “given” various amounts of money by imaginary benefactors whose names and photos appeared onscreen to add to the realism of the task. The researchers told the participants that each benefactor said that if the participant wanted to express their gratitude for the monetary gift, they’d appreciate it if the participant gave some or all of the donation to a named third party (again, identified by photo and name), or a named charity. The participants knew this was all an exercise, but were all told that one of the transactions, chosen later at random, would actually occur — that is, they’d actually receive the cash amount offered to them by one of the benefactors minus the amount they chose to pass on (and the money they opted to pass on really would go to charity).

The researchers found that, on average, the more money a participant gave away, and the stronger the feelings of gratitude they reported feeling, the more activity they exhibited in a range of brain areas in the frontal, parietal, and occipital regions. Interestingly, these neural-activity patterns appeared somewhat distinct from those that usually appear when brain-scan subjects complete tasks associated with emotions like empathy or thinking about other people’s points of view, which is consistent with the idea that gratitude is a unique emotion.

Most exciting, though, is the finding that the participants who’d completed the gratitude task months earlier not only reported feeling more gratefulness two weeks after the task than members of the control group, but also, months later, showed more gratitude-related brain activity in the scanner. The researchers described these “profound” and “long-lasting” neural effects as “particularly noteworthy,” and they highlighted that one of the main regions that showed this increased sensitivity — the “pregenual anterior cingulate,” which is known to be involved in predicting the effects of one’s own actions on other people — overlaps with a key brain region identified in the only previous study on the neurological footprint of gratitude.

This result suggests that the more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mind-set — you could even think of your brain as having a sort of gratitude “muscle” that can be exercised and strengthened (not so different from various other qualities that can be cultivated through practice, of course). If this is right, the more of an effort you make to feel gratitude one day, the more the feeling will come to you spontaneously in the future. It also potentially helps explain another established finding, that gratitude can spiral: The more thankful we feel, the more likely we are to act pro-socially toward others, causing themto feel grateful and setting up a beautiful virtuous cascade.

However, let’s not allow the warm glow of all this gratitude to melt our critical faculties. It’s important to realize this result is incredibly preliminary. For one thing, as the researchers openly acknowledge, they didn’t conduct a baseline brain scan of the participants before they started the Pay It Forward game, so it’s possible, though unlikely given that participants were randomly assigned to the gratitude and control groups, that the participants who performed the gratitude task simply had more neural sensitivity to gratitude already, not because they performed the gratitude task. Another thing: Members of the control group didn’t perform a comparison writing task, so we can’t know for sure that it was the act of writing a letter of thanks, as opposed to any kind of writing exercise, that led to increased neural sensitivity to gratitude.

Still, neurological investigations into gratitude are in their early days, and this research certainly gives us some intriguing clues as to how and why gratitude exercises are beneficial. For that we can be, well, grateful.


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.


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.


Sunday, 17 December 2017

How to Survive Christmas After Divorce

It’s that time of year again, with the holidays looming large before us and a particularly challenging time for those who are separated, divorced or experiencing difficulties in a relationship. Perhaps this is your first Christmas alone after a long-term relationship or maybe it’s your 10th Christmas on your own. Regardless of whether it’s a new experience or an old one, you are very possibly dreading the holidays. As a counselor and divorced person myself, I by no means intend to minimize the challenge of facing Christmas without a partner, because I know first hand that it can be very difficult, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Preparing for the Holidays

It seems that no matter how much we try to prepare ourselves, when the holidays begin, many people feel like hiding in a cave. What makes it even more difficult is seeing all the TV images that show blissful people and families spending happy moments together. Messages of love, peace and joy are thrown at us at every turn. So, to you, who are now facing the holiday on your own, it might feel as if you are the only person in the world fending for yourself. But, let me assure you, you are not alone. While TV ads make it all look fabulous, the holidays are actually a difficult time for countless numbers of people even for those who may be in relationship.

How to Beat the Holiday Blues

While it may seem that you are stuck with the bad feelings surrounding the so-called festivities, there are things you can do to make the holidays a little less stressful.
To beat the holiday blues, try adopting a few of the following ideas, as they may have a positive impact on the way you move forward with your life.

1. Begin by knowing that more than likely there will be some sadness if this is your first holiday alone.

Be okay with the sadness. Remember, what you resist, persists, so if you start to feel sad, keep in mind that sadness is just another emotion, If you allow yourself to feel the sadness without running away from it, it will pass through you more quickly. Once you let yourself feel your feelings, you’ll make room for other happier feelings that will take the place of the sadness.

2. Have the courage to reach out to family members and friends. It’s okay to let people know that you’d like to spend time with them since this is your first holiday alone. Or better yet, invite them to your house and host the celebration. If neither is possible, make yourself available to those who may also be alone for the holidays, or volunteer for a charity where you are making a contribution of yourself. Giving is one of the best ways of diminishing the lonely feelings.

3. If you’re a single parent, now is a good time to start a new tradition with your children and watch it lift your spirits.

A woman I know started a tradition of reading a special Christmas story each night to her children. The kids loved it and looked forward to a new story every evening. It was such a success, she compiled the best Christmas stories ever told and had it published. Perhaps you and your kids could do something similar or possibly you could gather together and make ornaments that signify the beginning of a new life. If the children are old enough, ask them for their ideas for making Christmas a little brighter. You’d be surprised at how creative children can be. Whatever you decide, use this opportunity to “try on” new ways of spending the festive days in a more satisfying way.

4. Pay attention to the choices that have led you to where you are right now and see all the changes you’ve already made in your life. Pat yourself on the back and acknowledge yourself for all the inroads you have made. It takes courage to make changes, and you’ve proven that you have that kind of courage. Each year will bring new experiences and every Christmas will get easier and more enjoyable.

5. Ask yourself whether there are any new choices you can make that will propel you in the direction of a more inspiring future. When you get your answer, don’t be afraid to take a few chances and run with them.

Starting a new life can be very exciting, especially when you relax and allow yourself to enjoy the changes. Take a few risks and watch how good you will feel.

Bear in mind that the holidays last for a short while, so put them in proper perspective.

Instead of throwing the holidays out of proportion, remember that before long, things will be back to normal.

Why not use the holidays as a way of setting the ground work for your new beginning. Make up your mind that you’re going to show up differently in your life and your relationships. As Debbie Ford says in her book, The Right Questions, “Every choice we make leads us in one of two directions. We are headed either towards a future that inspires us or toward a past that limits us.”

Which direction are you headed? Why not use this year’s holiday season to start moving in a new direction. Move into an inspiring new year filled with joy, fulfillment and happiness by giving yourself the gift of healing your heart.


Saturday, 16 December 2017

What are the legal implications of dating during and after divorce?

Not surprisingly, new relationships are often forged between one spouse and a third party while the spouse is still married to their husband or wife. Even more often, divorced parties seek out and begin new relationships after their divorce has been brought to judgment. Most people believe that there are no legal implications to beginning those relationships, and most often they are right. However, sometimes there may be negative or even positive legal implications stemming from those new relationships.
When spouses begin outside relationships during marriage, the bulk of possible negative legal implications arise.  While 33 states currently provide (and recommend) divorce based on irreconcilable differences, the remainder of the states, and some of the states that also allow no-fault divorce, permit parties to file for divorce based on fault. One of the legal grounds for a fault-based divorce is adultery. The implications that could arise and the legal effect of an adultery claim in a particular divorce case will vary under each state’s law. In some states, criminal implications could arise when a spouse has been found to have committed adultery, although the prosecution of such crimes appears to have gone by the wayside in the past decades. As one example, if a court finds that one spouse has committed adultery and allows a divorce on those grounds, usually the legal implication extends to the issues of spousal support (alimony) and the division of assets and debts wherein the court would allow more or less alimony and assign property differently as if there were no adultery.
The primary legal significance of a person dating before or after marriage, however, arises when children are involved.  When child custody and visitation is an issue during a divorce case, or even during post judgment proceedings, the presence of a new person in the mix can be important both negatively and positively.  In every state, a divorce court is charged with ensuring that the best interest of the children is the focus, and child custody and visitation orders are based on this premise. If a parent brings a new dating relationship to the presence of the children to quickly, it could negatively impact the children because they may believe that the other parent is being replaced. Family Court judges are cognizant of the fact that many people want to move on with their lives, but they balance that right with the children’s best interests.  It is often most appropriate for a parent beginning a new relationship to introduce that person to the children slowly over a period of time.
There can be severely negative impacts for a parent that begins dating a person with a questionable history, including a criminal past. The mere possibility of a person with a criminal history spending time with children is grounds for the court to significantly limit the dating parent’s custody of the children. Conversely, in some cases a state court family law judge may consider the presence of a new person as having a positive impact on the children. For example, if a divorced father begins dating a woman who is a pediatric nurse, the inclination may be for the judge to view that in a positive light due to the possible benefits to the children. However, keep in mind that there are a significant number of cases that unwaveringly conclude that a “two-parent” household cannot be preferred over a one parent household when a judge is determining child custody and visitation orders. These rules and holdings vary state-by-state.

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