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.


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?


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.