Friday, 29 November 2019

Divorced parents who pit children against former partners 'guilty of abuse'

Divorced parents who "brainwash" their children against ex-partners are guilty of “abuse”, the head of the agency that looks after youngsters' interests in family courts has said.

Anthony Douglas, chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), warned against the danger of "parental alienation".

He said the deliberate manipulation of a child by one parent against the other has become so common in family breakdowns that it should be dealt with like any other form of neglect or child abuse.

According to Cafcass, parental alienation is responsible for around 80 per cent of the most difficult cases that come before the family courts.

Alienation can include a parent constantly badmouthing or belittling the other adult, limiting contact between the child and the targeted parent, forbidding discussion about them, creating the impression the parent does not love the child and forcing the child to reject the parent.

“It’s undoubtedly a form of neglect or child abuse in terms of the impact it can have," said Mr Douglas. “I think the way you treat your children after a relationship has broken up is just as powerful a public health issue as smoking or drinking.”

One mother, who wants to remain unnamed, described how she was cut off from her son two years ago by her ex-husband.

She said her former partner made “false and fabricated allegations” against her in order to gain custody and “manipulate my son so deeply that he now has no memory of his loving childhood with me”.

Now her contact with the 14-year-old is limited to Skype conversations and visits once a month.

“If I had been sent to prison I would have been able to see my son more than I do now,” she said. “My son is brainwashed - he is emotionally dependent on his father and behaves as if he were in a cult. My son has no idea what is going on, only that he feels angry at me.

“The more parents who stand up to this and say it is unacceptable the better. Emotional abuse is just as horrible and controlling as physical abuse. It’s unacceptable and things need to change in the way it is dealt with.”

In some countries, governments have put in place legislation to prevent such behaviour. In Italy parents can be fined, whereas in Mexico, guilty adults can be given a 15-year jail term.
And in America “parenting coordinators” are ordered and supervised by the courts to help restore relationships between parents and children identified as “alienated”.

Mr Douglas said: “There isn’t a specific criminal law that outlaws parental alienation in the UK. But we do have family law and through assessments and enforcement proceedings, we do have the ability to send parents to prison or give them community sentences.

"But this is hardly ever the case because ultimately the punishment on the parent will rebound on the child.”

However, judges in the UK are starting to recognise parental alienation, which is leading to some children being removed from the offending parent.

“But this is fraught with difficulty,” said Mr Douglas. “It’s a rocky road and a difficult process.”
Joanna Abrahams, head of family law at Setfords Solicitors, is one of the country’s few specialists in parental alienation.

She said: “The amount of enquiries we are getting about this type of behaviour is growing all the time. At the moment we get about three calls a day about this - and that’s a lot.
“It’s always been there but people are now beginning to understand more about it and how harmful it can be. You can run into the tens of thousands on cases like these.

“The frustration when you can’t see your child takes over people’s entire lives. Some kind of legislation needs to be put in place but what that is I can’t say.

“Each case is of course very different and it’s not always that someone is doing this on purpose. It might be subconscious behaviour.”

Ms Abrahams is looking to draw up a team of experts to see if a committee could be formulated to tackle parental alienation.

“It’s in the embryonic stages at the moment but it would include myself, Cafcass social workers and mental health workers - a cross-range of experts with the hope of developing something.

“I think we need to all work together to have a more joined-up approach to this behaviour which can be so damaging.”


Thursday, 28 November 2019

The 7 Lessons Life Will Teach You

An education is an esteemed commodity in our society. Rightfully so, school will teach you the history of humankind, make you a master of your field, and qualify you for work in the real world. Without a proper education, one often finds their success impeded and opportunities lacking.

But the education that school can offer fails in comparison with the knowledge that lifeforces upon us. Purposefully, life ushers us into battles that nearly destroy us... merely to fortify our strength. It knocks us down more times than we can count, if only to demonstrate our resilience to stand back up. It bends us to our breaking point to foster inner endurance and flexibility. My father used to say, “The star that fights the most shines the most.” Reminiscent of his words is the ageless truth that we must face our challenges to shine with the bold light of our authentic being. We will struggle, yes, but it is through our struggles that we will radiate ever more brilliantly.

Indeed, we will meet inevitable roadblocks as we stride along our journey. Like the multiple subjects taught in a classroom, life will instill in us seven central keys of knowledge. To pass these seven tests is to evolve from one phase of being to the next, to be promoted to a higher proverbial grade. Reflect on my seven lessons and understand how they uniquely apply to your life to conquer your challenges:

1. The lesson of give and take.

Nothing is taken from you without compensation. This means that your losses will always be atoned in one form or another. Appreciation follows loss. After all, we don’t know what we have until it’s gone, right? But also subsequent to loss is gain through different means. All you have to do is search for the window that is open once a door has closed.

2. The lesson of time and patience.

Time can be our best friend or our biggest enemy. In periods of pain, time seems to trickle by. But when we are content, hours fly by like seconds. Timing is everything, and everything in time. The interconnectedness of time and patience becomes evident when we are suffering: we want something to happen right now. Yet time drives us to develop patience, a virtue that can shift our mindset and truly bring time on our side.

3. The lesson of pain and fear.

These two emotions do not exempt anyone from their harsh lesson. They also don’t play favorites. It may be under different guises and at different intervals, but we all experience fear and pain. Pain is not to be avoided. We must work with our pain — study it, comprehend it and embrace it. Yet fear is to be avoided by all means. What we fear we draw to life, and in this way we unknowingly choose to manifest our fears instead of our possibilities. Do not be afraid to experience pain. Embrace its purpose and meaning as necessary to cultivating self-awareness. But do abandon the accompanying fear with no remorse.

4. The lesson of life purpose.

We all have a life purpose but many of us either haven’t discovered it or haven’t enacted our true calling. When we act on our talents, inherent abilities and natural likings, we notice that success comes more easily. In this way we also attach love to what we do. Then, we no longer regard work as a job but as a calling. This lesson reminds us that we have a real reason to be here that must satisfy both our life purpose and provide financial security. Integrate your vocation into what you do, whether it’s as a full-time or part-time job, volunteer work or even as a hobby you practice each day.

5. The lesson of relationships.

Relationships are our link to the outside world. More complexly, they are a reflection of our innermost issues, desires and shortcomings. In a most ironic way, relationships both play on and supplement what we lack. Your partner is meant to be the missing piece to you, but he or she will also force you to work on the pieces missing inside. By meeting the challenge of relationships, we can enjoy healthy, loving connections with those around us and, most importantly, with ourselves. We can transform ourselves by resolving the personal problems we see playing out in our relationships. Begin by acknowledging the recurring issues you experience with others, then work within.

6. The lesson of stability and change.

Stability and change must fluctuate in a fair balance. We cannot constantly endure periods of change yet stability emerges from these unpleasant shifts. Never an easy task, we are nudged out of our comfort zone by unexpected change. The key to coping with change is understanding that your comfort zone is not a set of outside circumstances but a golden place within you. Know also that change in itself is transitory, temporary, and only leads to new solid ground.

7. The lesson of progress.

The sum of all lessons, the lesson of progress teaches us that — simply put — life goes on. We may emerge hurt from our trials, but our scars act as tough, resistant guards against future damage. Progress is made when we learn from prior mistakes and exercise new actions that yield different results. If we act differently than we have in the past, genuine progress can be made. And the direction in which we progress is based solely on our decisions.

Far superior to a formal education, life is our greatest teacher, sending us down winding paths to help us gain a profound awareness of our potential. We may be tested, but by recognizing the truth of our tests and applying necessary wisdom, we can triumph over every one of life’s challenges.

To overcoming your challenges,
Dr. Carmen Harra


Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Divorce, Perception and Reality

As Dr Phil once put it, “There’s no reality, only perception” something that has been shown to be true in so many eye witness experiments.

When Princess Diana was going through her divorce and her settlement was made public (I believe it was in the millions of pounds) there was a radio discussion going on and people were calling in lamenting that the settlement was too much and saying that she needs to get a grip on reality.

But one caller came through whose words stuck with me. He asked “whose reality are we talking about here? Hers or yours?”

When I was going through my first divorce, there was one particular incident that was quite unpleasant. I was greatly affected by it as was my ex-husband.

When I went to see my then therapist the next week and related to her what had happened, she said to me, “This is a divorce. And you are both at war.”

She went on to explain that people will always behave very, very differently when they feel cornered. They will lash out in one way or the other be it physically, verbally or otherwise.

Those were the words that helped “detach” from the divorce process and really look at it for what it was. A difficult procedure that had to be endured and completed. This way of looking at it helped me feel less “personally attacked” whenever anything went wrong. It was not about me. It was all about the situation and the circumstances that called for the occurrences.

Things is, when I changed the way I looked at my divorce process, things got a little easier to bear which in turn made me more focused on the issues at hand.

His angry outbursts and name calling were “part of the process”. He was not aiming them at me as Soila, he was aiming them at the person who was at the other end, so it could have been me, Jane, Josephine or Sylvia he was just doing what he felt he needed to do for himself. I just happened to be the one on the receiving end.

Change the way you look at your divorce and things might just be that little bit easier to cope with.

Divorce is war - well the majority of them are and that is why an amicable divorce is always considered a rarity.

Divorce is a “break-up” of a once wonderful relationship. But if you think about it, most likely than not, this is not your first break-up. It’s a bigger and badder one that will drain you off every ounce of energy but just like your previous break-up, you survived and you will survive this one too - if you choose to.

Divorce brings out the worst in people - just as in war. So if you were your your ex-partner, same situation and same DNA, you would be behaving just as he/she is.

Most importantly, the divorce you’re going through doesn’t have to define you for the rest of your life or at any time at all. Just as being laid off work doesn’t define who you are.

I look at divorce as part of life’s journey. You find yourself in it. It’s hard, scary and can cause deep hurt. But you can go through it, survive it and truly grow from that whole experience.


Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Reduce the Stress of a Divorce

No matter how frustrated you may have become with your partner, the decision to divorce never is an easy one. Strong emotions often arise on both sides. But there are healthy ways to cope.

Making the Decision

The decision legally to end a relationship sets off a long and difficult process. Even without complicated legal and financial issues, the upheaval is often enormous, affecting children, grandparents, friends and the extended family. The chances are that some of the family members involved will experience a drop in their standard of living. All will face an emotional challenge.

So before deciding to divorce, make sure you have done all you can to improve your relationship. Are you certain that there is no alternative, such as separation? Think about talking it over with a marriage and family therapist or getting other expert advice and help. A consultation with a lawyer can provide an idea of the likely legal and financial outcomes. 

Often lawyers will provide free initial consultations. Look in the Yellow Pages under “attorneys” for those who specifically handle divorces, as lawyers often specialise.

Coping with the Stress of Divorce

Separation and divorce are two of the most painful life events there are. They can lead you to question everything in your life, including your own identity and your ability to cope by yourself. Divorce highlights your fears and sensitivities, so old wounds from the past might resurface. You will need to recover your self-esteem, which will take time.

Below are some coping techniques to help you take care of yourself and others.

  • Consider joining a support group, and going through mediation. It can lead to better communication and fewer confrontations with your ex-partner.
  • Rather than withdrawing socially, surround yourself with friends. Remember how important they are in providing support, perspective and practical help.
  • Learn how to balance giving and receiving. You don’t have to be perfect.
  • Don’t beat yourself up over what you should have done. Stop the negative self-talk and guilt. You can’t change the past, so try to learn the lessons the present offers, then focus on a positive future.
  • Set aside time just for yourself to help you find balance.
  • Don’t worry about what other people might think.
  • Declutter your environment. If something is too painful to look at or is useless to you now that you’re alone, throw it out.
  • Determine what most needs doing and in what order. Then break up the tasks into smaller steps that can be done in several shorter periods of time. That way larger tasks seem more manageable and you are more likely to get them done.
  • If you have been a stay-at-home mom and out of the workforce for some time, you probably will need to go back to school for training in a marketable skill. Bringing home your own money is satisfying and creates independence. It also sets a positive example for your children.
  • Work toward forgiveness and moving on. Don’t deny your anger, but don’t let it drain your energy by getting stuck in resentment.
  • Don’t be scared of going out on your own and opening up to new people.

Divorce and Money Issues

In addition to the difficulties of ending a relationship, you also will have to deal with finances. This can be particularly tricky if there is an atmosphere of mistrust because of the break-up. Many divorces actually are caused my money issues.

If your partner used to deal with all the financial matters, make it a priority to learn how to budget and manage your finances. Get advice on the financial decisions you need to make, especially if you are selling your house. Ask for help from your lawyer or an organization which supports those going through a divorce.

Most couples agree on a financial settlement without going to court, but even so, a typical divorce settlement can take over a year to finalize. Deciding on child maintenance payments can be especially difficult. Make a list of all your assets and debts, close joint accounts as soon as possible, and get advice on how your pension, savings and investments will be affected.

Divorce’s Effect on Children

While most adapt well, some children will suffer significant adjustment problems. They will at the very least be anxious about their relationships within the family and about the disruption in their own lives. A lot depends on how you handle it — you can make an enormous difference in how well they cope.

Below are some ways to reduce divorce’s emotional impact on children.

  • Give them as much reassurance as possible. Keep telling them that they are not responsible for the break-up.
  • Talk over what is happening in an age-appropriate way.
  • Be open to their questions and encourage them to talk about their feelings, but don’t force them to talk.
  • Encourage them to maintain their relationship with the other parent. Don’t criticize the other parent, demand exclusive loyalty, or use them to hurt your ex-partner.
  • Avoid looking to your children for support or guidance. Ask friends or a therapist instead.
  • Maintain normal household routines as far as possible.
  • Look for signs of distress: increasingly clingy behavior, tantrums, fear of separation, anxiety at bedtime, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, headaches or stomachaches, increased aggression or perfectionism.
  • If you observe these symptoms, let the child know that you understand they are upset and it’s OK to talk about it to you or another trusted adult. Help them express themselves as best they can and seek professional help if signs of distress continue.
  • To reduce conflict around holidays, keep expectations realistic, including expectations of yourself. Don’t make younger children decide which parent to spend the holiday with; this will cause enormous distress. Parents should not try to outdo each other, or make up for problems, with presents or other indulgences.


Monday, 25 November 2019

7 Things You Need to Know to Deal With Major Life Changes

In a split second, in a freak accident, I lost much of my sight. The reaction and adaptation to the trauma and my new disability taught me some key lessons about going through a major life change. A set of life lessons that helped me to survive and thrive. And since most of us go through changes in our lives, some drastic, some minor, these lessons are applicable to you. 
1. It’s okay to be emotional. It’s natural to have feelings of sadness, to grieve over the loss of something, to feel angry about your situation, or to place blame. You have permission to feel that way, but only for moments. You can have your pity party, but only for a day or two, and then you have to move on. If you spend too much time in that place of anger or pity or blame, you end up not being able to adapt to your change. It keeps you in a place of helplessness. And what you need to be is in a place of hope and of growth.

2. You can give yourself permission to be vulnerable: Some of us like to project an image of being strong and fearless, but sometimes it’s not the truth. The truth is that we’re scared, vulnerable, weak and in need of help. We need to allow ourselves to rely on others. And showing that vulnerability is OK. It may feel like you are exposed, but being completely exposed is not always a bad thing. There is always learning and growth that can come from it. You allow people to really see you and when they can see you, can know your stress or pain, they can help. Vulnerability is just part of who we are as people. 

3. You are never alone: Sometimes when we go through major changes we think we are dealing with something no one else can understand or no one else is going through. But there are others that can empathize with you. You’re not alone. Even if you don’t ask people to be around you, family and close friends will come to your side. You’re also never alone because you always have yourself to rely on. And ultimately none of us are separate from the Creator or separate from the universe. So the idea of being alone is a false one.

4. You have to ask for help: Often people don’t know what to say or what to do. After I had my accident, there were people that didn’t call me for several months, and these were people close to me. Some people get stuck because they don’t know what to say or what to do. Sometimes people are natural caregivers. They jump right in to help. But these are the minority. So it is your job to tell people what to say and what to do that will be helpful. What I’ve learned is that I’ve had to ask very specifically for what I need and for even, sometimes, what I need to hear. Being able to clearly articulate what you need gives people a sense of relief. In the end, people really like to be told how they can help you in very specific terms.  They need it defined for them so they can feel like they are helping and supporting you. Left on their own to guess this information, they feel helpless. And when they feel helpless they do not act. So empower them and empower yourself by letting them know specifically how they can help.

5. You can adapt to anything. Our ability to adapt is amazing. As I began to adapt to being a person with limited sight, I was continually amazed at how quickly I could figure out how to get around problems and obstacles. Necessity is the mother of invention and you will naturally find ways to solve your problems and do things in new and different ways when you’re presented with challenges. The adaptability and flexibility of our spirits and of our beings is a given. Those who cannot change and adapt have convinced themselves it is not possible. If you trust that you can adapt, then you will. And if you believe that you can change, then you will, no matter what the challenge.

6. You have to have hope for the future: I’ve been given news that there is no hope for a change in my sight and have been through two surgeries that did not improve it. Despite these setbacks, I have to believe that there is hope in the future. A belief I will get my sight back. Having that hope and having the positive perspective is what keeps me moving forward every day. If I gave up that belief it would be like letting go of a rope that pulls me forward. Believing that things can and will be different, and that you will see the light at the end of the tunnel, even if you can’t see like me, is the most important thing in getting through a change process. Knowing that there is an end in sight, knowing there are possibilities, and having hope that things are going to be better. And, ultimately, things are going to work out.

7. You will grow as a person, but you are still the same: Going through a change, especially one that is traumatic, changes you forever. It changes how you see life and deal with things. You’re never going to be the same again and that’s a good thing. Because in the midst of change is a great deal of learning, if you are willing to have vision and perspective. And if you are willing to continually ask yourself the question, “What am I supposed to be learning from this?” “How am I supposed to grow?” “How will I become a better person because of this?” In any change process, you can become stronger, and a better version of you. Just because something changes about you, even something radical, doesn’t change the core of who you are as a person. I, as now a visually impaired person, have my same mission, my same purpose, and my same values. So having something different about you doesn’t make you a different human being. If you are strong and centered and grounded, that is still who you are. Sometimes you have to remind yourself of that.


Friday, 22 November 2019

5 Negative Ways of Thinking You Need to Stop Today

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, freelancer, in management or climbing up the corporate ladder, by being negative, your worst enemy becomes yourself. Yes, you might have some “enemies” in your life as well, like the rude saleswoman who told you that dress you were trying on looked too young for you. However, it's up to you to deal with those snide comments by not playing them over and over in your head.

Sadly, most people say worse things about themselves, to themselves, than they would ever say about a friend or even a stranger. It's good to pay attention to your interior dialogue so you know when you're feeling negatively, then you can take the steps to fix it. The good news is that you’re in total control of changing how you talk to yourself. Here are some of the most vicious things we do to ourselves, why we do it, and how to stop:

1. Convincing yourself you are worse than you are.

Whether it’s fat, stupid, lazy or any other negative word, it's best to just avoid that line of thinking. First of all, those words turn what should be a verb into a noun. A person, by nature, cannot be fat. Using the “I am” to precursor any negative self-talk makes it that much worse, it makes a person own it, and it reinforces it. Try balancing it with “I feel” and “but” such as “I feel like I’m carrying more weight than is healthy, but I’m also strong.” Then make a plan of action to change if necessary.

2. Deciding you can't do something before you even try.

There are certainly things most people probably can’t do, like become Miss America if they're in their 30s, married and have three kids (they have rules, after all). However, for the most part “I can’t” is really a way of saying “This is hard” or “I feel overwhelmed.” While having a bucket list is fantastic for some, there are many reasons that it’s not a good idea. If you think you can’t do something, try asking yourself first if you really want to do it.

3. Thinking everyone has a life better than you.

Whether it’s getting their PhD, getting married, having kids, traveling or getting promotions, success of others doesn’t take away from your achievements. Everyone has highs and lows. Everyone desires different things and puts various values on different “achievements.” There’s guaranteed to be someone who’s envious of your life (and probably quite a few people). Avoid comparing your life to others and focus on the value of your own journey.

4. Believing you don't have time to reach your goals.

Everyone gets just as many hours in the day as Beyonce. In fact, time is the one equalizer: Everyone has the same amount in a day, and nobody knows when their days will run out. As such, it’s not an excuse not to do what you want to do (but it’s often used as an excuse to not do what you don’t want to do). While Life Hacker gives tips on making it feel like you have more time, the reality is that it’s still the same time, just better spent.

5. Making impossible bargains with yourself.

There are all kinds of bargains and deals we make with ourselves. Sometimes they make sense. For example, “When I save six months’ worth of income by August of this year, I’ll file the license for by business.” That’s smart planning with a feasible goal and end date in mind. However, something like “When I lose 50 pounds, I’ll find true love” is your mantra, it’s time to re-think your goals, what’s important, and your dreams.

How much of your self-talk is helping you, and how much is getting in your own way? Listen closely, and you’ll be surprised by how much sabotage may be happening.


Thursday, 21 November 2019

How to survive your first month as a single parent

When my husband and I decided to separate recently, a world of single parenting came along with it. Sounds obvious, right? But I was so focused on the end of my marriage I hadn’t really stopped to consider the whole new world that awaited me.

It wasn’t entirely foreign. I was brought up by a single mum, and I was a single mum once before for a year or so, but that was only to one child. Now there are three.
I’m outnumbered.

It’s been tough on the younger children, as they adjust to having two homes and wonder in their four- and six-year-old minds why we don’t all live together any more. We have the same conversations over and over, and I patiently explain that we think this is the best way for us all to move forward and be happy.

But it’s been eight weeks or so, and we’re beginning to find our groove in our new version of normal. Things are calming down.

The first month was a steep learning curve though. There were good days and bad days, of course, and not just for the children. Even when you know separation is what you want, it doesn’t make it easy. But I learned from the wisdom of women who have walked this road before me, and not only have I survived, I’m pleased to report I have found a way to thrive and be truly happy.

So I thought I’d share a few things I learned in that first month, in the hope they might help you, if you’re going through the same thing.

  • This is a time to focus on yourself. It’s not selfish. It’s necessary. Yes, you need to help your kids find their way in this new world too, but you can’t do that if you’re crying all the time, or feeling overwhelmed. Do what you need to do to be okay. Whether that’s seeing a counsellor, going for a run, getting a massage, eating a dozen doughnuts, or whatever makes you feel good.
  • Stop fighting with your ex. That bit is done. It doesn’t matter who was right and who was wrong. What matters now is keeping things calm and pleasant for the kids. Even if they’re still up for it, the best thing to do is smile and walk away to your peaceful home.
  • Accept help. Let friends come over and help you move furniture. Let your parents slip you some extra cash to help tide you over until things settle down. Let your bestie have your kids for a sleepover so you can have a night on the couch. Say yes. People want to help, and you need it right now.
  • Say yes to social invitations. You might not feel like going out, but your mates want to cheer you up and I promise you, it will do you the world of good. Just say yes, and then go. If you don’t feel like being there after half an hour, give yourself permission to go home. But don’t say no because you can’t imagine getting out of your sweats.
  • Make a list of stuff you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had the time. I’ve got one list for when I’m on my own and one list for when I’m with the kids. That way when I get up in the morning, I don’t get that indecision paralysis and end up sitting on the couch being glum or frittering the days away. We’re out doing cool stuff we want to do.
  • Make your house your own. Redecorate. Buy new bed linen – and make it super girly or something that pleases you in a way you couldn’t have done when you were sharing that bed. Put pictures on the walls, and set aside that corner for your morning yoga sessions or whatever it is you’re into.
  • Expect things to suck sometimes. There will be sadness. There will be feelings of loss and bewilderment. Even if you’re the one who wanted the separation. But it’s okay to experience those – be patient, ride the wave and wait for it to pass. Because it will.
  • Try to avoid the obvious pitfalls of drowning your sorrows (a little bit is cool; a lot doesn’t help anyone), wallowing on the couch watching bad TV, and hiding away at home. And if you’re sharing custody of the kids, don’t leave all the housework for when they’re away. It’s good for kids to see (and help with) housework being done.

PHEW! Okay, that’s what I’ve learned so far. How do you think I’m doing? What else would you add?


Wednesday, 20 November 2019

5 Post-Divorce Dating Tips for Dads

If you approach dating thoughtfully after your divorce and consider your children’s needs, it will pay off in the long run. Your kids may feel a mixed bag of emotions about you dating and even harbor fantasies that you will reconcile with your ex-spouse. This might make it a challenge for them to accept someone you are dating into their lives.

As a result, it’s crucial to take it slow so you can assess whether your new romantic relationship is casual or might be permanent. Ask yourself: Is my new partner a good fit for my family? After all, you might have great chemistry and compatibility with someone, but they might not be well suited to join your family.

The number one thing to keep in mind when deciding when to introduce your partner to your kids is timing after your divorce. What’s the hurry? Even if both of you are in love and seem to have a lot in common, breakups are common and kids get caught in the crossfire. Next, the setting and length of an introduction is crucial to success. Rather than planning a long visit, it’s best to have a brief, casual meeting with few expectations.

Additionally, keep in mind the age of your children when introducing them to a new love interest, because younger children (under age 10) may feel confused, angry, or sad because they tend to be possessive of their parents. Renowned researcher Constance Ahrons, who conducted a 20-year study of children of divorce, concluded that most young children find their parents' courtship behaviors confusing and strange.

While adolescents may appear more accepting of your new partner than younger children, they may still perceive that person as a threat to your relationship. Ahrons also found that teenagers may find open affection between their parent and a partner troubling – so go easy on physical contact in front of them.

Do you want your children to model their dating behavior after you? If so, you owe it to yourself and your kids to build new relationships sensibly.

5 Tips for Introducing Your New Partner to Your Children

1. Remember that your needs for intimacy may conflict with your children’s needs.
Just because you are smitten with your new love, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your positive feelings. In fact, children of divorce often feel rivalry with their parents’ love interest – especially during the first few years after the divorce.

2. Timing is essential to healthy family adjustment after divorce.

Children need time to adjust to their parents' split, and it can take at least two years for them to get over anger, sadness, and other emotions. Introducing a new love interest too soon may delay or damage this process. You owe it to your kids to take it slow!

3. Consider your children’s emotional needs.
Introducing your new lover to your kids can increase stress in the house and take energy away from your kids' ability to grieve the losses associated with your divorce.

4. Have fun dating when your kids are with their other parent, friends, or family members.
If you introduce your children to someone who you are dating casually, this may create ambivalence for them about intimacy if things don’t work out. Inform your kids that you are going out with friends, which is enough information.

5. Set an example for responsible parenting and dating.
Keep in mind that your children look to you as a model for healthy adult romantic relationships, so proceed with caution.

If you’ve been dating someone for a while (at least 3-4 months) and feel relatively confident that you are heading toward commitment, talk to your children and explain that you are dating someone who you care about and that you’d like to introduce to them. Ask them if they have any questions. Keep the first meeting short and low key. Going to a restaurant or neutral spot for the first meeting is best. Ask your kids where they’d like to go and don’t invite your partner’s children to join you on the first few visits.

Be sure not to plan an overnight with your new love interest in your home right away. If you have shared custody, it should be easy to spend an overnight with them when your children are with their other parent. Having your new partner spend the night should only be an option once you are fairly sure that your relationship is permanent.

It’s important to assure your kids that your partner will not replace their other parent or change your relationship with them. Have realistic expectations about your children’s acceptance of your new partner. The following story of Tom illustrates a blogger who didn’t have his eyes wide open and was blindsided by blending his kids with his girlfriend too soon.

Tom, a 45-year-old newly divorced dad, described his new partner Kendra as sexy, fun, and the complete opposite of his ex-wife Shana. They had been dating for a little over two months and she was head over heels in love with him. He had just asked her to move in with him and decided to call me for coaching because his teenage daughter, Abby, complained bitterly when he told her.

As Tom spoke, he was eager to share: “Kendra’s just so different from Shana, and I can really be myself with her. She has two daughters and is a great mom. I figure my daughter will like her because she’s a lot of fun to be around.”

During our second discussion, I asked Tom to make a list of any disadvantages of introducing Kendra to Abby too soon. When Tom and I spoke a week later, he was feeling distraught and disappointed that a meeting between Kendra and Abby was a disaster. In fact, Tom was questioning if he was ready for an instant family and wished he hadn’t rushed into introducing his daughter to his new girlfriend.

Tom’s situation illuminates the importance of dating thoughtfully after divorce. You can enjoy dating and support your children at the same time. It’s crucial to consider the amount of time since your divorce and delay introducing your kids to new partners who you are dating casually.

In closing, post-divorce dating can be enjoyable if you approach it attentively. Keeping your children’s needs in mind will help you preserve your bond with your kids and promote their resilience while you make a smooth transition into the next phase of your life.


Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Love Again: 6 Real-Life Tips for Dating After Divorce

Infidelity, separation, divorce—they can tear you apart. You might doubt whether you can fall in love again. In hopes it’ll help you, I’ll share what I learned after my marriage fell apart. 
Though I’m not a relationship expert, experience can be the best teacher. I had been married for 32 years and was hurt to the marrow of my bones when my husband left me. How in the world would I ever have another relationship? I knew I wanted one, but the daunting task of finding the right person scared me to death. Here are five things that worked for me when I began dating after divorce:

1. Get out in the dating world again when you’re ready.

How do you know you’re ready? If you’re still feeling extremely hurt (crying in the grocery store) or angry (throwing your laptop across the room), or otherwise not through your grieving process, you’re not ready. But if you feel like you’re moving on, you’ve regained your independence, you are happy by yourself… then take the leap.

Even if you don’t date, at least get out socially – go to a concert, sporting event, art exhibit, whatever interests you. Enjoy yourself and increase your chances of meeting someone with like interests. Going alone will give you a sense of confidence, but if you’re the kind of person who can’t go solo, then recruit some friends to go with you. I bravely made myself attend a poetry reading alone when my husband and I were separated. I even took off my wedding ring, though I felt naked. Guess what? I ended up sitting with a couple of people who’d been in a class with me, and I also met new poet friends. It made me feel good about myself again – knowing I didn’t have to be part of a couple. In fact, I am still part of that poetry community.

At one point, I looked around an online dating site. My heart was actually beating hard with the possibilities, like a teenager wondering who’d take me to the prom. I saw a few profiles of interesting men. But then I freaked out, not able to imagine actually going on a date. That told me I wasn’t ready. A year or so later, after I had lived alone and knew I was fine by myself, I started dating someone I’d met through friends. I was ready; I wasn’t needy or on the rebound. I’ll admit: Dating after being married for 32 years was weird. It was fun, too, because I was ready.

2. Catch yourself when you're comparing.

You’re naturally going to compare your new man or woman to your ex. You’ll want to run away from anyone with the same characteristics that contributed to your marriage falling apart. You’ll feel drawn to aspects of the new person’s personality that are refreshingly different from the ex, even though in the long run, those things might be negatives. For example, if your ex was shy, you might be attracted to someone who is the life of the party. But being with that person all the time might be exhausting.

For me, being with a man who was totally accepting of me—metaphoric warts and all—was a new experience, and I learned that's what I wanted. I also wanted a happy man, in contrast to my restless ex who always saw the grass as greener on the other side.

Yes, you’ll be doing a lot of weighing of pros and cons. A spreadsheet won’t reveal the answer. You must use both your heart and your head. Try to look at the whole picture: How does this new person make you feel? How might he or she fit into your life? Will it be a total disruption (maybe one that’s needed) or will the new relationship slide right into the natural course of your life? On paper, my guy wasn’t Mr. Perfect, but he was the sweetest, most genuine man I’d ever met. Don’t expect perfection – it doesn’t exist. Take your time to really get to know this new person (see number 4). Even if you’re almost 60, like I was, you have a lifetime. And I’m going to guess dating someone later in life is a little easier than when you’re in your 30s or 40s. Sure, the older candidates have more baggage (as you do), but they have learned a lot too and tend not to play games with your affections.

3. Listen to your friends… but...

Yes, your friends will be a good set of eyes for seeing things from the outside, but they cannot know the intimacies of your relationship. Only you can decide who is right for you. However, if all your friends are concerned that you’re making a bad choice, pay attention. They might see warning signs that you can’t see. Some of my friends were concerned that I fell in love again too quickly. But for me, it worked.

4. Go slowly without fear.

A new relationship is exciting and scary. It’s scary partially because it requires an investment in time to get to know someone. (When do you invest time or cut bait before it’s too late?) It’s scary, too, because the initial excitement will not last. That doesn’t mean the relationship won’t be good, but the crazy, romantic, infatuated, falling-in-love part doesn’t last – reality sets in. The reality might be fine or it might be a rude awakening. Since you can’t predict the future, the only thing you can do is proceed with wise caution and courage. Fear will paralyze you. Do as the old saying says: “Take it one step at a time.”

5. Throw out old models and create something new.

You might just want to date and not narrow it down to one relationship. That’s okay too. One of them might turn into a permanent thing, or not – whatever. As my mother told me once, “If it’s meant to be, it will be.” Allowing a relationship to develop in its natural course is always better than forcing things too soon. I have a friend who had been divorced twice when she met her Mr. Right. They’ve now been together for years but don’t live together. There are no rules when it comes to creating the relationship that works for both of you.

6. Keep a journal.

If you’ve read my posts before, you know I encourage journaling or otherwise writing down your thoughts and feelings. It helps you get them out of your mixed-up head and into the light where they can begin to make sense or be tossed away as nonsense. Here’s a poem I wrote when I was just starting to think about dating again. It kind of proves you can have a sense of humor even when life seems as scary as getting on a plane when the flight right before it crashed. The poem is in my book, Untying the Knot.

Mating Instincts

I’m not ready to jump
on the find-a-man bandwagon.
Haven’t had to since 25—
when (it’s said) my instincts chose
a mate whose genes mixed
with mine for the best offspring.
Yep, got a check-plus, gold star there.

What might I want at 56?
Rather than a handsome face,
long legs, high IQ, maybe
it’s wisdom, longevity,
no adult son
still at home addicted
to Star Trek reruns.
But some men my age look like
how I remember Grandpa
(usually dozing in his chair):
wisps of yellow-white hair, scalp
spotted, Basset jowls, ear lobes
to his collar bones.
I can still smell the Old Spice…

Yet coupling instincts run strong.
With a mind of their own,
my eyes scan the left hand
of every man,
even those least likely—
my mother’s greasy-haired,
stressed-out gastroenterologist;
the 40-ish guy in red pants
pressing the elevator button;
the sewer repairman who,
at first heart-stopping glance,
looks like the one
whose midlife crisis caused mine.

-- Karen Paul Holmes


Monday, 18 November 2019

The 5 Best Ways to Build Resiliency

Why do some people bounce back from adversity and misfortune? Why do others fall apart? Find out which character strengths make all the difference — and how you can develop them yourself.

Victoria Ruvolo was driving home from a niece’s piano recital one wintery evening in 2004 when a large object smashed through her windshield, hitting with such force that it broke every bone in her face. The object turned out to be a frozen turkey. The thrower: a teenage boy named Ryan Cushing, out for a joyride with friends in a stolen car. Ruvolo’s passenger managed to grab the steering wheel, push Ruvolo’s foot off the gas pedal and steer them onto the shoulder. After being rushed to the hospital, Ruvolo remained in an induced coma for two weeks.

When it was safe to operate, the doctors began painstakingly putting Ruvolo back together. The then-44-year-old office manager from Long Island was left with three titanium plates in her left cheek, one plate in her right cheek, and a screen holding her left eye in place. Her family was told that she might have permanent brain damage and was unlikely to be capable of living on her own.

But that wasn’t a prediction Ruvolo was ready to accept. She had survived tragedies before. Two of her brothers died in separate incidents when she was a teenager. At age 35 she miscarried a much-longed-for child. Somehow, she had found the strength to come through those losses, and she was determined that she would make it through this one, too.

With a devastated face, and a questionable future ahead of her, Ruvolo had plenty of good reasons to sink into anger and depression. But she didn’t. Instead, even as she was still undergoing a series of reconstructive surgeries, she told herself, “This moping isn’t going to get me anywhere.” And she turned her focus to learning more about Ryan Cushing, the boy responsible for her ordeal. What could she learn about him that would help her understand the accident?

Ruvolo discovered that Cushing was in the midst of his own turmoil: His father had just left his mother for another woman. He had serious vision problems that left him unable to play sports or drive a car. Months later, when Ruvolo went to the troubled boy’s sentencing, she mystified many by working with the district attorney’s office to encourage a lenient sentence.
“I just couldn’t see how locking him up for 25 years was really going to help him,” says Ruvolo. The judge agreed, and Cushing was sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation. Ruvolo’s empathy toward Cushing wasn’t the only surprising post-incident event: Contrary to her grim prognosis, she was back at work within eight months, living on her own, and speaking regularly to at-risk youths about ways to improve their lives.

Looking back, Ruvolo realizes she showed similar resiliency after her brothers’ deaths and her miscarriage. But where does this kind of resiliency come from? And why don’t more of us have it? That is a question that has kept researchers busy for decades. Why is it, they’ve wondered, that some people seem to bounce back from traumas with relative ease — even thriving after negative events — while others crack and crumble?

The answers are compelling. In his best-selling book, The Resiliency Advantage (Berrett-Koehler, 2005), the late Al Siebert, PhD, writes that “highly resilient people are flexible, adapt to new circumstances quickly, and thrive in constant change. Most important, they expect to bounce back and feel confident that they will. They have a knack for creating good luck out of circumstances that many others see as bad luck.”

Siebert also notes that resilient people are adept at seeing things from another person’s point of view — just as Ruvolo was able to do with Cushing. When we empathize with others, we feel less alone and less entrenched in pain. As a result, we recover faster.

Psychologists agree that some people seem to be born with more resilience than others. But they also assert that it’s possible for all of us to cultivate more of it. One key is adjusting how we think about adversity.

A long-term study of 99 Harvard men showed that the way people view negative life events (as fixed and unchangeable vs. temporary and subject to influence) predicted their physical health five — and even 35 — years later. But a boost to physical health isn’t this mindset’s only upside. Darcy Smith, PhD, a clinical social worker in Manhattan, explains: “Resilience refers to our capacity to deal with discomfort and adversity, but it’s not just a reactive skill set. The same characteristics that make us resilient are traits that enrich our lives.”
Want to bolster your own inherent resilience? Here, according to top researchers, are the five most powerful ways to go about it.


“In our research program, we found that the daily repertoire of emotions of people who are highly resilient is remarkably different from those who are not,” says Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, the author of Positivity (Crown Archetype, 2009).

Resilient people are characterized by an ability to experience both negative and positive emotions even in difficult or painful situations, she says. They mourn losses and endure frustrations, but they also find redeeming potential or value in most challenges.

When not-so-resilient people face difficulties, Fredrickson notes, all of their emotions turn negative. If things are good, they feel good, but if things are bad, they feel horrid.

Resilient people, on the other hand, tend to find some silver lining in even the worst of circumstances. While they certainly see and acknowledge the bad, Fredrickson says, “they’ll find a way to also see the good. They’ll say, ‘Well at least I didn’t havethis other problem.’”

She notes that this is different than succumbing to Pollyanna-ish denial. “The resilient person isn’t papering over the negative emotions, but instead letting them sit side by side with other feelings. So at the same time they’re feeling ‘I’m sad about that,’ they’re also prone to thinking, ‘but I’m grateful about this.’”

But what if this sort of well-balanced emotional response doesn’t come naturally to you? You can change that, says Fredrickson. But it will mean challenging your reflexive thoughts, and your self-talk.

“Thinking patterns trigger emotional patterns,” she explains. “So to change emotional patterns, sometimes what we need to do is curtail our negative thinking and stoke our positive thinking.

“Say you find yourself ruminating on negative thoughts,” she says. “For instance:I’ll never succeed in my career. Ask yourself, ‘What’s the evidence that I’ll never succeed?’ You might say, ‘Well, there’s this history of success and this history of failure.’ How does that add up to never? It’s a matter of getting really literal about the kinds of blanket statements we have in our self-talk.”

Because of built-in survival mechanisms, our brains are naturally wired to pay more attention to negative events than positive ones. But in reality, we experience positive events with much greater frequency. One key to building resiliency, says Fredrickson, lies in noticing and appreciating those positive experiences whenever and wherever they occur.
“What matters most is your positivity ratio,” she says. That ratio is a product of how you characterize the balance of positive and negative experiences in your daily life. 
Fredrickson’s research suggests that, at minimum, we need a 3-to-1 ratio of positive to negative experiences not just to build resilience, but also to thrive, be optimally productive and enjoy our lives.

“This means that for every heart-wrenching negative emotional experience you endure, you have to experience at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that uplift you. Three to one appears to be the tipping point, predicting whether people languish or flourish.


The more you can leverage challenges as opportunities to grow and evolve, the more resilient you are likely to be. “Pain comes to all of us in life,” says David Sabine, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Wichita Falls, Texas. “What I see resilient people do is immediately look at the problem and say, ‘What’s the solution to that? What is this trying to teach me?’ Looking at pain as an opportunity to learn and problem-solve — and building the confidence and the habit of moving toward the pain instead of running from it — goes a long way in terms of building resiliency.”

Nancy Gruskin is an excellent example. In the spring of 2009, her husband, Stuart, was crossing a one-way, Midtown Manhattan street when he was struck by a bicyclist riding the wrong way. Stuart sustained a serious head injury in the accident. Three days later, he died. He was just 50 years old and the father of then-12-year-old twins.

For weeks Gruskin remained in an emotional fog, and understandably so. After a newspaper story was published about her experience, she received a flood of calls, emails and letters from people who’d been in similar, though less severe, situations. Hearing their stories ignited Gruskin to learn more about the issue. Diving into it gave her a sense of purpose and helped transform her pain. Eventually, it even empowered her to affect broad positive change: She partnered with Hunter College and started a foundation bearing her husband’s name that’s dedicated to developing safety awareness for pedestrians in urban areas. As a result of their hard work, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a law into effect last February that requires the city to collect and keep data about bicycle-pedestrian accidents.

One strategy for cultivating a learner mindset is to use “question thinking,” a method of problem solving developed by psychotherapist and executive coach Marilee Adams, PhD. Question thinking encourages people to approach challenges and situations with “Learner Questions” — neutral, nonjudgmental questions such as “What is useful here?” or “What are my available choices?” — as opposed to “Judger Questions” like “What’s wrong?” or “Who’s to blame?”

Learner questions are empowering, and they promote more expansive thinking and acceptance. They also improve how you relate to others, and creating meaningful connections with others is yet another essential component of resilience. (For more on question thinking, read “Lines of Inquiry.”)


Being of service to others is a powerful way of stoking resilience. “In studies, researchers found that serotonin [the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness and well-being] is used more efficiently by people who have just engaged in an act of kindness,” says Sabine.

Acts of kindness, and the serotonin boosts that accompany them, have a cumulative effect. “Once you’ve added these things to your life in a consistent way, the benefits become exponential, so that in times of difficulty you’ve got this well of resiliency to draw upon,” says Sabine.

Acts of kindness can be formally organized, like regularly volunteering in a soup kitchen. Or, Sabine says, they can be “as simple as getting out there and finding people to smile at or speak an encouraging word to.”

It’s worth noting, though, that receiving and appreciating kindness from others may be just as important as offering it up, because gratitude turns out to be an important part of resiliency, according to clinical social worker Darcy Smith.

When adversity strikes, gratitude for the things that are going right in your life helps put tragedy in perspective. “I often recommend that people start a 30-day gratitude journal,” she says. “Or get a few of your friends together and start a gratitude blog. I did that about a year ago. Every day we each blog about three things we’re grateful for.”

Another strategy for building gratitude 
comes from Fredrickson. Called “un-adapting,” it involves consciously drawing attention to the positive things in your life that you may have started taking for granted.

“Our emotions typically respond to dramatic changes, but a lot of good things — a roof over your head, the ability to feed your children, a career you enjoy — are stable. As a result, they fade into the background. So what you can do is deliberately draw your attention to them.”

She cites a study in which researchers asked married couples to “un-adapt” by thinking of how they might not have met (if one had decided not to go to the grocery store that day or had turned down the blind date, for example). “Then the researchers compared the couples who imagined not meeting to a group of couples who instead were asked to tell the story of how they did meet,” continues Fredrickson. “Later, when quizzed about their satisfaction in the marriage, the people who thought about how they might not have met reported more satisfaction. Without un-adapting, the couples might have thought, ‘Well of course we met, we were destined to be together,’ which is a recipe for taking each other for granted.”

According to Fredrickson, when you take stock of how things might have beenotherwise, instead of just how they are, you’re using strategic positive thinking to increase gratitude, which then builds resiliency.


Good health — and a regular routine of healthy habits — are foundational to both mental and emotional resilience.

Just prior to the accident that crushed the bones in her face, Ruvolo had lost 60 excess pounds and substantially improved her fitness. “I was in the best physical condition I could possibly be in. I was all muscle,” she says. After she healed, doctors told Ruvolo that her excellent physical condition had certainly played a role in her almost-miraculous recuperation.

Daily habits count: When you’re caught up on sleep, eating well and keeping stress levels low, you’ll be less fragile and less likely to fall into unhealthy patterns following a serious setback or tragedy.

But our physical resilience also depends heavily on our baseline mental and emotional well-being. And one of the best ways to nurture that, says Carol Orsborn, PhD, author of The Art of Resilience: 100 Paths to Wisdom and Strength in an Uncertain World (Three Rivers Press, 1997), is to take regular mental breaks: “It could be something as formal as a regular meditation practice,” she says, “or it could simply be letting yourself daydream.”

Research shows that our brains are surprisingly active in moments when we appear to be doing little. PET and MRI images of the brain “at rest” show that, in fact, there is significant activity in the brain regions associated with decision-making, memories and the processing of emotionally significant events.

When active, this “default network,” uses up to 30 percent more caloric energy than other parts of the brain. Researchers surmise that energy is being used to process all the experiences and information we’ve taken in, and to develop new synaptic connections. In turn, those synaptic networks improve our ability to solve and respond to problems.
Mental breaks and relaxation also help keep stress chemicals at bay, reducing the likelihood of feeling, or becoming, overwhelmed and reactive.

Two other key self-care factors that help nurture resilience: Spending time outdoors and surrounding yourself with people you enjoy.

Research suggests that spending just 20 minutes outside in nice weather leads to “more expansive and open thinking,” writes Fredrickson — a pro-resiliency mindset. Other studies have shown that time in nature helps combat anxiety and depression, improves immunity, and lowers levels of inflammatory chemicals in the body.
A similarly convincing body of research shows that strong social connections increase our resilience in the face of illness. One 2006 study of nearly 3,000 nurses with breast cancer found that those with 10 or more friends were four times more likely to survive the disease than the nurses without close friends.


There’s a reason that the late Norman Cousins relied on Marx Brothers comedies as a primary treatment for his debilitating illness. It’s the same reason that some version of “gallows humor” and “comic relief” have probably been with us since the beginning of time: Laughing in the face of adversity can be profoundly pain relieving, for both the body and mind.

“Playful humor enhances survival for many reasons,” writes resiliency authority Al Siebert in The Survivor Personality (Perigee Books, 2010). For one thing, he notes, “Laughing reduces tension to more moderate levels.” And psychologically, choosing levity can be incredibly empowering. “Playing with a situation makes a person more powerful than sheer determination [does],” Siebert explains. “The person who toys with the situation creates an inner feeling of ‘This is my plaything; I am bigger than it . . . I won’t let it scare me.’”

Ruvolo credits a sense of humor with helping her rebound as well. And she thanks her mother for that: “My mom was big on laughter,” Ruvolo says. “She always said that you have to keep laughing. My mother lost two sons, and yes, she had a few problems, but she always laughed and she always told jokes. I truly believe that helps you to understand and to get through.”

Case in point: Ruvolo speaks once a month to troubled teens in a conflict resolution program. Toward the end of each session, she makes a joke about the frozen turkey that came through her windshield on a winter’s night and nearly killed her. “I tell the kids that now for the rest of my life I have to be known as the Turkey Lady. Thank God it was a turkey, and not a ham, because I would have been known as Miss Piggy.”