The Thanksgiving holiday is now in the past, and Christmas is fast approaching. This is a tough time of year for any divorced parent who is not the primary care giver. This is especially true for divorced Dads as they are least likely to be the primary care giver. Kids naturally gravitate to spending time with their custodial parent which is with whom they spend most of their time. They view their custodial home as ‘their home’ and they don’t naturally think of Dad’s place as ‘their home’. It might not seem fair, but it’s reality.
To find more time with your kids during the holidays, you must act more cohesively than ever with your Ex. You have to co-parent on holidays to get the most from your kids and get the most for yourself. Keep in mind, this is not about you, Dad. This is about your kids and what they want and what they need.
Holidays are full of traditions. Your kids likely have traditional things that they do with Mom. Maybe they bake cookies and decorate the tree while drinking their favorite cocoa. But, what traditions have you established with your kids? What have you done to create new traditions for you and your loved ones? Time is on your side and you have time to think of new ways to connect with your kids. If possible, go out and cut down a fresh Xmas tree. Go Christmas caroling with them. If you have daughters, take them to the Nutcracker. If you have boys, take them hiking in the woods or camping in nature. There are lots of creative things you can do to establish new traditions. But it starts with you.
Co-Parenting Agreements Can Help
Some divorced families stick to rigid scheduling around holidays that have either been agreed to previously, or are court ordered. While it can ease co-parenting tensions to have clearly defined dates set far ahead of time, I also believe it is valuable to have flexibility.
After our separation, the mother of my daughter and I had a detailed support agreement to rely on when issues arose. We used that as the final say, though in most circumstances we simply communicated effectively about what our needs were, what our child’s desires were, and sought to find resolutions among our choices that would best benefit our kid.
His and Her Holidays
I recommend having at least one holiday a year that is “yours” and one holiday a year that is “hers” and work to keep those traditions in line as much as possible. I would also suggest that these holidays are not the big ones like Christmas and Easter (or Hanukkah and Pesach if you’re a Jewish family).
Making permanent co-parenting schedules for minor holidays can help to ease the tensions surrounding the major ones, and also ensures you will have the opportunity to have at least one special time of year with your kids, where you can instill traditions, knowledge and that cherished feeling of family togetherness.
Family Traditions of Her Side of the Family
Thanksgiving has always been a pretty big deal for my ex’s side of the family. My daughter’s mother has a large extended family with three great aunts and many cousins. One of the great aunts had made it a tradition, years before my daughter was born, that she would visit the rest of the family every Thanksgiving.
On the other hand, while my family isn’t small, we also don’t have long standing Thanksgiving traditions. I’d love for my daughter to spend that holiday with me and could easily have argued for my rights within the stipulation agreement, where it outlines we trade holidays yearly. Honestly, the only real point in doing so would be to disrupt my ex’s family’s traditions and assert my own egotistical needs.
Instead, when we first looked at holiday times, we decided since Thanksgiving was an important one for her family, my ex would always have our daughter for Thanksgiving, and I would always have my daughter for Halloween (which happens to be one of my favorite holidays).
Special Time With Daddy’s Girl
From the time my daughter was old enough to trick or treat, until the year she graduated high school, we have had almost every Halloween together, and over that time we also established life-long friend for her that joined us in our celebrations.
Equally over that time, my daughter has enjoyed the richness of her mother’s traditions concerning Thanksgiving and will hopefully want to continue those into her adult life. Personally, I really look forward to a Halloween evening out with my adult daughter some year.
Here’s That Flexibility Thing Again
Over the course of my daughter’s life, there have certainly been one or two times when this has changed for various reasons (one year the great aunt was sick, and my sister in Texas asked if we could join them, so we switched it around that year), though for the most part, those holidays have become the least stressful of our planning year. My daughter came to expect Thanksgiving with mom and Halloween with dad, which also created ease for her.
Co-Parenting on Holidays and School Vacations, Too!
Concerning the major winter and spring holiday breaks for schoolchildren, I would recommend a flexible approach that places emphasis on raising the children with the influence of both families over time. An “every other year” policy seems to be the best, at least from what I have experienced.
Again, it is important to listen to your kids. Ask what they want concerning holidays (once they are old enough to reason, of course) and do your best to accommodate.
Bottom line: When holidays and vacations are approaching, work to plan far in advance with your ex. If you know that next spring break your side of the family is planning a reunion, don’t wait until three weeks from break to start asking your ex and your child how they feel about the vacation. Co-parenting on holidays and vacations can be stress free if you start negotiating as soon as you know about special events.
My ex and I were pretty good at scheduling on holidays and vacations. We often had our daughter’s summer schedule worked out by late winter!
Early negotiating made long term planning much easier on us both, and gave our daughter the comfort and security of knowing where and when she would be while on school breaks. My daughter was never left hanging until the last minute, and could make advance plans with other kids that live where she would be on break.
Co-parenting Conflict Resolution
No matter how carefully you plan, no matter how good your relation with your ex is, there will be times when you have to find a resolution to a scheduling conflict.
Obviously, one of you will have to give in. Let’s not make a big deal out of it, okay?
Listen, as the years go by, the important thing is your continued presence in your child’s life, and one holiday isn’t going to make the difference. Keep that in mind as you negotiate.
By the same token, it is important to give your children routines that they are comfortable and familiar with. One of these is keeping holiday schedules intact. Though it isn’t critical to adhere too strictly, it is definitely a good idea to keep a comfortable schedule your children are familiar with when possible.
The Art of Negotiation
Giving your kids routines around the holidays (and frankly, around just about any recurring activities in their lives) provides them a sense of comfort and security.
So, let’s say you both want to spend the 4th of July taking your kids to see fireworks. What can you do?
Well, the most obvious first question is; do you already have a set routine between your ex and yourself concerning this holiday?
For the sake of argument, we are going to assume that she normally has custody on this holiday. You’re disturbing the co-parenting routine with your request. So, be certain to ask yourself how important is it that you get the kids? Do you just want to spend time with them on a date you normally don’t, or is there a compelling reason to ask your ex to shift schedules (family in town, great deal on a houseboat, special activities for the kids, etc.)
If you honestly believe the children will benefit more from time with you than from their established previous routines on this holiday, then you should proceed with careful negotiation.
I feel the first fair proposal to make your ex is to see if you and she can both spend time with the kids on the holiday. This makes a huge impact over the years, when kids can see their parents interacting without malice.
If it is already established that you and your ex will not share a holiday together, then there is no point in trying that route. Concerning the children, the real question is what will make the most sense. If you know that having the kids will best benefit them, then I suggest you do your best to discuss your position with your ex. Explain how they will benefit, and be willing to make a counter offer.
Effective Co-Parenting On Holidays Means There Has To Be Some Give And Take
Perhaps if you take them for Independence Day, your ex will take them for Labor Day weekend when you would normally have them?
When working with your ex towards finding co-parenting holiday schedules that will work for the both of you, compromise is key. (Mostly, your compromise.)
Remember, the goal is to find the best experience for your kids. Though you may have ideas of how you want your holidays, you will have to negotiate in most cases. Always try to keep the conversation focused on the resolution, not your personal wants or desires.
Again, try to keep a bigger picture in mind. Swapping holidays is really pretty common among single parents, and unless you have some type of stipulation either clearly defining each holiday or clearly stating your rights, then there is going to be room for redefining your holiday scheduling.
I have mentioned this previously, and it bears repeating: The farther ahead you can plan holidays with your kids, the easier it will be on all involved.
The farther ahead you can plan holidays with your kids, the easier it will be on all involved.
The sooner you are aware of the need to change an existing schedule, the better the chances of getting it accomplished. Use your first available opportunity to communicate with your ex what you would propose for a change, and be willing to make concessions.
Remember, anything that isn’t already defined is going to be a disruption for her, so keep that in mind as you ask. If you know you want your kids for one holiday, perhaps you can come up with ways that taking them will actually look like support of your ex. Just being willing to work with her will make a difference, for you, for her, and most importantly, for your children.
How are you dealing with the challenges of co-parenting on holidays? Tell us what works – and what doesn’t – in the comments below!
Now is the perfect time to check out Melissa Ricker’s tips on Using Google Calendar for Effective Co-parenting. You won’t want to miss Sara Gabriella’s reasons why Co-parenting Agreements Put Your Kid’s Best Interests First.
Thank you for visiting Guyvorce.
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August. The dreaded time for kids to go back to school. Most kids hate it. But, you love it for the peace and relaxation that lies ahead. But, for many, August is the child support system Awareness month. Yeah, that’s right. The states have instituted a Child Support System Awareness month to educate and focus their efforts to collect child support arrears from what many believe are ‘dead beat dads’.
The Child Support System’s Child Support Awareness month was started back in 1995 by states and municipalities across this great land. But, the implementation of this plan was one more focused on funding the STATE than funding needy parents in want of child support arrears.
The truth is in the numbers, so leave your emotions at the door!
The Child Support System – Every State Wants A Piece of This Action
You can’t avoid the emphasis on deadbeat child support collections dominating the news this month, second only to the Olympics. Here are a few of my favorite headlines, filled with biased, emotionally charged wording:
– “Texas Cracks Down on Deadbeat Parents”
– “New Jersey Rounds up 1221 Deadbeat Parents Owing $25.4M”
– “New Mexico Governor Announces Crackdown on Parents Failing to Meet Child Support Obligations”
Even the Feds have a Deadbeat Parent Punishment Act to catch parents who move from state to state to avoid paying up.
News outlets revel in hyping the national tragedy of unpaid child support exceeding $100 billion. Very often though, they leave out the details behind these numbers – important details!
First, this is the total running tally of unpaid support since data was kept, meaning decades of debt. The children owed the first $1 million of this figure are likely parents or even grandparents themselves now!
Parents Can’t Pay From Behind Bars
The first article in this series covered how much of TODAY’s unpaid child support is actually accumulated by people in PRISON, who with their almost zero dollars income, are not likely to make those payments.
Even armed with this bit of common sense knowledge, the government is continuing to add up their debt while also piling on interest. Read the detailed article here.
The Numbers Will Blow Your Mind
Following the money, Part 2 of this series reveals how the National Department of Health and Human Services was responsible for the Enforcement Division of the collection effort. But wait! They also reported (through a separate division) who owed the child support based on annual income and the likelihood of collections.
Turns out, those making a livable wage owed only a small fraction of the total debt! The rest of the debt resided with those barely getting by, and this same federal agency labeled that debt as largely un-collectable! The shocking details are all here.
The Beatings Continue Regardless of Results
It’s terrible how so many parents out there are struggling to make ends meet at a poverty-level wages.
Both parents are struggling to provide for their children. Yet, instead of focusing on ways to educate parents to improve their job skills and wage potential, the authorities attack the parent who can’t keep up.
New Mexico, for example, as part of it’s annual crackdown on deadbeat parents, publicly lists the names of parents with delinquent child support.
Are banks allowed to list all those who are late with their payments? A bank would probably be slapped with a huge lawsuit, but I guess the government doesn’t have to follow the same rules.
Where’s The Money – According to Uncle Sam
So where are these agencies focusing their efforts? You can’t nail it down for all states, but the Department of Health and Human Services provides a clue about where recoverable money resides for those in arrears.
HHS reports suggest that once a parent with delinquent child support made over $20,000 per year, their debt was mostly collectable. But, only 17% of the “deadbeats” fall into the collectable category.
The rest – the vast majority- had little or no income.
The data shows that about three-fourths of the debtors have no reported income, or make less than $10,000 per year! This income group is also categorized by this same agency as one whose arrears are virtually “un-collectable.”
But hey, this is where the debt resides, so the agencies choose to focus considerable efforts towards collecting child support debt from those that can’t afford to pay it!
It’s pretty clear how bloated the budgets are for federal and state collection and enforcement agencies. The government collection agencies could pay off the total child support arrears in the country in just a few short years with only their fat annual budgets.
The government collection agencies could pay off the total child support arrears in the country in just a few short years with only their fat annual budgets.
But these agencies are getting results, and their results are widely publicized in the news. As an example, let’s look at New Mexico again.
The Poster Child For Child Support Collection
New Mexico proudly received a national child support enforcement award for the “Most Improved System”.
This year, they are on track to exceed $140 million in back-due child support collection. That’s a pretty impressive number – that leaves out the crushing impact to those who pay into the $140 million.
The New Mexico Division of Child Support Enforcement has an annual budget of $34 million, roughly 25% of the collections. So, for every dollar the tax payers put in, they received four. Sounds good, but there’s more to the story.
The problem with just showing the raw collected amounts is traced to the Bradley Act in 1986 that allowed states to add interest to arrears. So how much of that $140 million is actually money that was due to the parent versus interest that goes to the state? The answer is not advertised, but we have great examples from real folks.
A Payment Scheme Like You Wouldn’t Believe
Recently, a reader shared his story. Let’s call him Joe. His kids are now grown and out of the care of their mother. He made scheduled child support payments until he hit hard times and missed some. Eventually, Joe got back on track and made payments until his kids were grown. Now he’s making his payments for the overdue amount. Joe pays $100 per month.
Sounds good. He’s paying his debt. Right?
The story gets ugly though, when Joe shares the breakdown of his debt payments. About $25 of his payment goes to his ex. The rest? $75 goes to interest on his debt and goes to the state. Yeah, they can charge interest, remember?
Math time! 75% of that collection goes to interest…only 25% to the parent. Apply that to New Mexico’s success story.
Just Suppose …
$140 million in collections…outstanding! 75% back to the state, or $105 million. So $35 million goes to the parent that’s due. Considering that their annual budget, invested by the taxpayers, was, $34 million, the result was only $35 million to the parents and kids that needed the money, the kids that needed school supplies.
That’s pretty close to a 1 for 1 ratio, meaning the taxpayers gave the state $1 and the state gave $1 to the parent in need. After that, the state made over $100 million profit from interest. This is interest collected from people struggling to meet their child support obligations, struggling to make ends meet.
We aren’t talking about making $100 million from creating an industry that provides products and jobs for the community resulting in taxes collected on industrial revenue. This is money “taxed” on the poor.
Essentially, the states are cracking down on struggling parents to fund their programs. The states are publicly vilifying struggling parents, while crushing them with insurmountable interest and debt.
Wouldn’t the agency funds be better spent by educating parents, improving their income, and then taxing their income? The kids would have a better quality of life and the state would be funded to serve the people, not turn them into indentured servants.
There’s Gotta Be A Better Way
We must create a better system. The money invested is clearly wasted. Currently we are treating the symptom of the problem, missed payments, as criminal behavior. The state is spending countless taxpayer dollars to collect back due child support from those that can’t pay, as well as interest to pad the state’s bottom line.
We need a system to treat the cause of the problems. Unpaid child support is caused by low incomes, poor job skills, and skyrocketing child care costs.
Children of divorce will be better served if the funds budgeted for child support enforcement and collections are spent fighting the poverty cycle!
Are you fed up with the broken child support system? What is your child support experience? Share your opinion in the comments below.
Consider me frustrated, frustrated at ‘the system’ and its persistence in going after deadbeat dads and their alleged child support arrears. Don’t get me wrong. Real deadbeats are the scourge of the human race for not taking financial responsibility for their offspring. And, as the mid-term elections are grinding to…
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Consider me frustrated, frustrated at ‘the system’ and its persistence in going after deadbeat dads and their alleged child support arrears. Don’t get me wrong. Real deadbeats are the scourge of the human race for not taking financial responsibility for their offspring. And, as the mid-term elections are grinding to a close these next couple weeks, I’m sure there will be many politicians proclaiming that the increase in households living below the poverty line is directly related to the increase in children raised in single parent households.
There are numerous websites that list and profile deadbeat dads in an attempt to identify them, expose them, find them and shame them into financially supporting their offspring. This is, among other things, no better than the public stocks located in the town square of our early American pilgrimage when those that broke the covenants of public reason and law were publicly displayed for rebuke and humiliation by the local citizens.
Many of these websites run public forums, and one such site run and supported by the Canadian Government has such a public forum as well. So, I joined in on the discussion about going after child support arrears.
Everyone was applauding the site and its goal when I arrived onto the forum. I chimed in and mentioned the first article in this series (which the forum managers removed shortly thereafter, but whatever) that plainly lays out the facts behind the myth that dead beat dads are the best un-tapped source of income for children living in poverty.
Note: Haven’t read it? No prob! Check it out here.
None in the forum knew how many so called “no-loads” were actually in prison with no chance at making an income. Even with that knowledge, many didn’t care. I received strongly-worded counterarguments about the many dads who hide income to avoid paying to support their children.
If you’ve read my work, you know how much I just love broad generalities and hyperbole! So, I moved the throttles to afterburner and asked about the moms who refuse to get jobs to artificially keep their incomes low to increase their child support award. My question also had no basis in fact, but since I was “discussing” grown-up topics with folks who weren’t, why not poke the bear!?
Cutting through the emotions, a real question emerged: What about parents with past-due child support arrears who aren’t in prison? Why aren’t they paying?
An excellent question, it turns out! And the FACT-BASED answer is the purpose of this article!
Breaking Down Child Support Arrears
The reality of over-due child support is shocking. In my previous article, I estimated the figure is at over one-hundred billion dollars!
Granted, that’s the total over decades, but armed with only that knowledge, it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming we can go get that money and win the war on poverty.
The breakdown of the debt, though, crumbles the walls of that belief like a Christmas gingerbread house left out until May.
WARNING! REAL FACTS AND DATA AHEAD. IF YOU DON’T LIKE THESE, DON’T READ!
The US Department of Health and Human Services reports:
- 40% of that hundred-billion-dollar pie belongs to people with NO INCOME! No income, as in zero! It’s a difficult source from which to pull, at best.
- 30% is from individuals who make an annual salary anywhere from $1 (so that’s actually something) to $10K
- 21% is owed by those who rake in an annual sum of $10K to $30K
- And only 9% comes from people making over $30K
Remember that these individuals also need to sustain themselves!
Unfair Interest Rates on Child Support Arrears for Low Earners
I’ll save the debate on minimum wage for another series. But let’s at least consider the current system’s implications.
Some states have a higher minimum wage, but the federal minimum is $7.25 per hour. For a full-time, 40-hour-a-week job, that’s just over $15K per year or $1,257 per month.
Out of that comes food, lodging, health insurance, transportation, clothing, etcetera. There’s not much left after that. Most who live on that salary will tell you zero is what’s left over.
Our child support system is designed so that both parents are tasked with supporting their children. And both should!
For many reasons, our system built up an enforcement network over the past decades to seek out and collect child support arrears. The problem was only compounded by the Bradley Amendment of 1986 that allowed states to add interest to those arrears.
Think about that for a minute.
We have people out there struggling to get by on nothing (or almost nothing) themselves. When they fall behind in child support, we pile on interest to their debt? How do we expect them to dig out of that hole?
The Government has been very willing to attack predatory credit lenders that impose egregious interest rates on the poor. When the housing market crashed, the Government attacked banks to renegotiate the terms of the horrible loans that families struggled under.
This same Government, though, is charging interest to poor working parents who can’t meet their child support obligations. We all know what it’s like to struggle to meet our bills. For these parents, the pain never ends. It’s a constant shell game to keep creditors and bill collectors satisfied just to make it through to the next month, sometimes even the next meal.
Child Support Arrears Collection Forecast
Some parts of the Government recognize how unlikely these debts are to be collected. Ironically, the same organization, the Department of Health and Human Services, reports their estimate about how much of the outstanding child support debt will be collected after 10 years.
- 100% of the debt owed by those who earn >$30K annually will be collected
- 50% of the debt owed by minimum wage earners will be collected
- <25% of the debt owed by those making <$10K annually will be collected
I’m not presenting new math or even a new concept. The phrase “You can’t get blood from a turnip,” has been around for a long time. Yet we continue to bring up these parents as sources of income to solve the overall problem of children living below the poverty line in America. We spend a hefty chunk of change in tax dollars to go after these debtors.
How much does a federal enforcement bureaucracy cost per year?
Federal agencies don’t collect the debt themselves. Instead, they study the data and guide policy. The state enforcement agencies are actually charged with collections. So figure into your estimate another 50 collection and enforcement agencies in addition to the federal agency.
What did you come up with?
Remember how I told you the total child support arrears in America exceeds $100 billion dollars? Turns out, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement works for the same federal agency I keep harping on, the Department of Health and Human Services.
That division’s annual budget is public record and has been pretty steady for the past several years, around $4 billion EVERY YEAR!
Take that number and add in an agency for each state!
Want an example? California’s child support agency’s annual budget: $1 billion. That’s a big state, so assume most are 75% of that number. You end up with an estimate for state fiscal commitments around $37.5 billion. Add in the federal agency and you get $41.5 billion!
Seems to me that if you eliminated these agencies, you could cover the decades’ worth of debt in just under 3 years!
What if you cut the enforcement side of all those agencies completely? Take a portion of those funds and apply them to education programs for parents to help them get better jobs.
The same federal department I’m annoyed with myself for repeating shows that if individuals can earn over $30K per year, they have an almost 100% chance of making their payments.
If the real goal is to end child poverty, let’s attack it from all sides! There are 2 parents and both need to support their child.
One is tagged with paying child support. For those who can’t make their payments, help them get just twice above the minimum wage so they can. At the same time, we can help the parent receiving the child support earn a better wage and get more affordable child care while working so they can work full-time.
The result would be greater income for BOTH parents, which only benefits the children.
Assuming we only had about 15% of that annual budget, or $6.2 billion, do you think we could stand up a good program with the goal of increasing employment and eliminating (or at least decreasing) child poverty? Or is it better to keep spending our tax dollars on federal and state agencies tasked with collecting debts that THE SAME AGENCY ruled un-collectable!?
Let me know in the comments!
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When you get lemons, make lemonade. Ok, so you have a limited amount of time to spend with your child. Make the most of it when you can by bonding with your child.
Your visitation is limited by court order to every other weekend and Tuesday and Thursday. Cool, do all your chores and ‘must dos’ while he’s with his mom and have nothing to distract you when you’re with him. You might be surprised, but, you may have more time now to bond with him than ever before.
The keys words here are ‘quality time’. Bonding with your child is all about uninterrupted exchanges just between the two of you. Above all, always listen and ask his opinion. He has a voice and a lot to say.
Forget about trying to impress him.
Fancy places and expensive amusement parks are fine if you have the money for them. But, simple things like watching a movie or ball game on TV, while he’s sitting on your lap eating popcorn are more than a match.
Some ideas for bonding with your child:
- Teach him a sport and get him into it. Have his favorite snacks around the house. Don’t abuse this, but a little extra won’t hurt. Make this into a fun time that he will look forward to.
- Have a phone installed in his room so you can call him directly whenever you want.
- Take pics when the two of you are together and give them to him.
- When he is old enough, get him his own mobile phone.
- Volunteer to coach any of his sports teams.
- Agree to babysit when ever your ex needs you to.
- Don’t buy expensive gifts to impress, cheaper ones are just as appreciated
- Teach him sports, checkers, chess and judo
- Play ball with him
- Read to him.
- Cook with him.
And, don’t ever complain about your ex or express hostility towards her and especially don’t ever yell at her in person or on the phone.
Lastly and most importantly, love him and show him your love. Studies have shown that in a lot of cases, the child is better of when the parents divorce, than when they stay together and argue all the time, especially when you’re bonding with your child
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Finding someone new to share your life with after a break-up is great. You’ve moved on, however hard it was, and now you’re ready to be in a relationship again. But what about your kids? How do you introduce your new partner to them and how do you ensure that everyone gets along?
The truth is, it won’t necessarily be quick and easy. But if you approach the situation carefully and thoughtfully, respecting everyone’s feelings, there’s every chance that bringing someone new into your family unit can be a positive and happy experience for everyone.
Think About Your Kids Point Of View
Introducing a new partner to your children will trigger a lot of emotions for them, which they won’t always explain to you. They have already dealt with your break-up and more change can be unsettling.
They may secretly be hoping that you and your ex will get back together one day. Seeing you start a new relationship will make them realize that’s unlikely. They might worry that you will love them less or that there won’t be room for them in your life any more.
Younger children, under 10 years old, may feel sad and confused. Children of any age can feel jealous, anxious, angry or threatened. They might perceive your new girlfriend as a rival for your attention and loyalty to their mother can make it difficult for them to immediately accept someone else into your lives.
Don’t punish them for bad behavior or acting out without fully understanding what’s behind it. Talk things through as much and as fully as you can and reassure them constantly. For some great communication tips, check out this piece of advice.
Take It Slowly When Introducing Your New Partner To Your Kids
One of the most important points when introducing a new partner to your children is to take things slowly. First of all, wait until you are certain that the relationship is a serious one. Don’t make the mistake of introducing your children to casual girlfriends; it will be unsettling for them to keep meeting new potential partners.
Keep your relationship to yourself for a while and see how things develop. Make sure that your new partner wants to become involved with your family. And ask yourself if you’re sure that she is likely to be a good fit for you all. You need to be unselfish here; don’t press ahead when you know, deep down, that a particular girlfriend isn’t going to be right for your children. If you’re not sure, introduce her to a couple of friends first and seek their honest opinion.
Talk It Over
Ideally the first person you should talk things over with will be your ex. Explain that you’ve met someone new and that you’d like the children to meet her at some point in the future. You don’t want your children to feel they have to keep something secret from their mother, particularly if it’s something they are likely to feel anxious about.
Try and discuss it calmly and listen to any fears your ex may have. Reassure her that you will take things slowly with the children and keep her updated on how they are dealing with it. Hopefully in return she will be able to give you honest feedback about how she feels they are coping.
As far as your children are concerned, introduce the idea gradually. Explain to them that you have a new girlfriend. Mention her from time to time and answer any questions they have. Then ask them if they’d like to meet her one day. If they’re resistant, leave it for a while, but continue to talk about her occasionally. Then ask them if they would come out with you and her. Let them choose the activity if possible, and do something fun, such as bowling, going on a picnic or to play at the park.
Keep The First Meeting Low-Key
Set a time limit for the first meeting. An hour or two is enough, even if everyone is having fun. In fact, leaving while things are going well makes it more likely that your children will want to go out with her again.
If she has children too, leave meeting them for another day. It’s fine for her to mention them, but introducing too many people all at once can feel quite chaotic and there’s a risk someone will feel overwhelmed or left out.
Make sure you do something casual and fun. A formal dinner where everyone has to sit still and behave well can be awkward and not particularly enjoyable. It’s better to let everyone get to know each other over a fun trip or while playing games at the park. Make sure things don’t get too competitive though, and look for signals that your children have had enough. Say goodbye to your new partner at the venue, avoiding physical contact at this stage, and go home with your children. This will allow them to relax and chat about her and what they thought on your journey home together.
Subsequent meetings should follow a similar pattern, building up to longer periods of time, but making sure you don’t overdo it. It’s important at this stage that your children look forward to the trips. Even if they’re not overly keen on being with your new partner, if they’re going to do something fun then hopefully they will still look forward to it.
For a few simple suggestions, check out this article on encouraging family bonding.
Listen To Your Children’s Concerns
Let your children talk freely about the new person in their lives and allow them to express exactly what they think, even if it’s not what you want to hear. If you tell them they’re wrong or tell them off, there’s a risk they’ll stop confiding in you.
Don’t ask them if they like her; it’s better to ask if they had fun and what they’d like to do next time. Ask them if they feel comfortable and safe with her but otherwise don’t fish for compliments.
Take on board what they’re saying and see if there’s anything you or your new girlfriend can do to help them adjust. Make sure they know that you’re considering their feelings and that they have input into the situation.
Remember, they may actively dislike her to start with. Trust and affection are built over time and they may have many concerns which aren’t immediately apparent to you. Don’t panic. As things progress they are likely to come to appreciate and accept her if you proceed kindly and thoughtfully.
Make sure you still spend as much quality time with your children as you did before. You don’t need to go out; time spent at home with them is fine, so long as you are focused on them and communicating with them. They need to know that your love for them hasn’t changed.
Bringing Your New Girlfriend Into Your Family Home
You’ve introduced your new girlfriend to your kids, now you’d like her to come to your home. Again, start slowly with this. A meal is an ideal first introduction with a brief play session before or after, depending on the age of the children. But keep it fairly short and once your girlfriend has left spend some quality time with your children so that they can chat over anything they want.
As things progress, visits can get longer, but stay sensitive to your children’s feelings and make sure they don’t feel invaded or pushed out. Even when your girlfriend is there, there should still be time for you and them to be together.
When you think your children are ready for your girlfriend to stay the night, talk things through with them first. Set ground rules with both them and her, such as locked doors, wearing appropriate clothing, privacy and time in the bathroom. Try hard not to embarrass anyone and keep displays of affection in front of your children to a minimum.
Hopefully your children will accept your new partner into your lives and come to enjoy her company. As things become more routine, make sure you discuss what is expected of everyone. For example, discipline when you’re not around and how much of a parenting role she will be taking on. It’s easier to set rules at the beginning before habits are established.
It can be a big ask for your children to allow someone new into their lives and at times it will be hard work for all concerned. Everyone will learn a little more about themselves during the process. With kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity, even difficult situations can resolve themselves and a family unit expanded to include one more.
Ultimately, for everyone to have someone else to love and be loved by is a wonderful thing. It really is worth the effort to add a new person to your family and learning to accept and like someone new will be a great attribute for your kids to have.
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The mother of my daughter hates my guts. She doesn’t just dislike me; she loathes me with a passion
And yet, we have no choice but to learn to co-parent together. To be perfectly honest, she’s not really my favorite person in the world, either. However, strange as it might seem, it is more common than we might want to think in this world that you can share your greatest love with your worst enemy.
While she and I are barely civil to one another, we have never allowed this to influence how we set ground rules for our daughter.
This fact alone has allowed us to navigate the last fifteen years of our daughter’s life with a mutual understanding and respect, while maintaining a safe distance from one another.
I am proud to say that my daughter is a sweet, charming, thoughtful and delightful young lady who graduates high school with honors next month, and her mother’s and my early decision (we separated when our daughter was less than two) to keep our personal feelings for one another out of the parenting equation apparently had good results. We didn’t have to like each other to keep teaching our child to make good decisions. In a way, we are very fortunate that we were both raised with the same general principles, social mores and taboos, though we often have very differing opinions about them. And while there are certainly grey areas and some difficult negotiations along the way, we are both coming from basically the same place; we want our child to be happy, and we want to support her growth in learning to think for herself and make choices that will serve her best throughout life.
While we worked hard at putting aside our feelings and personal biases in discussing what is best for our kid, we’re polar opposites in the way we manage our personal lives, and we both take responsibility for exposing our daughter to both the good and the bad of our own personal choices, so that she might make up her own mind.
For instance, my daughter has been raised religiously non-denominational for the most part. This is not because her mother and I don’t both have our individual beliefs; but that they are not the same beliefs, and rather than force one upon our child, we decided to just let her make her own choices and make ours available to her. Her mother is a non-practicing Catholic who still celebrates Christmas and Easter; I am a reasonably practicing Jew. (Which is to say, I observe high holidays and try to at least acknowledge Shabbat.)
The fact of our different heritage has another interesting aspect for raising our daughter. Since Catholicism is passed down patrilineally, and Judaism is passed down through matrilineally, our daughter does not belong inherently to either religion. This oddity in our religious backgrounds actually forced her mother and I to take this issue very seriously and were probably some of the longest discussions we ever had concerning her upbringing. (The other big issue for us became medication, as our daughter was diagnosed with ADHD early in her life, and it has been an area where we disagreed on appropriate treatment, which in turn forced us to have very passionate dialogues about what was important to us.)
While this could have become a really difficult part of parenting, instead it became perhaps the most important aspect for us in learning how to parent together while separate. Because this particular aspect of raising our daughter was a bridge that could not be crossed, what we had to learn early on was how to share our differences to our daughter without making the other party out to be “wrong”.
Now, in some ways, I have to admit that this particular aspect of my parenting might leave others angry or questioning. Even from members of my own faith I have experienced a small and subtle backlash in choosing not to push my personal beliefs upon my child. Still, I am fortunate that her mother shares similar views. So we choose to focus instead on things that we both agree are important. Instead of teaching about Jesus or God (or Buddha, Mohammed, etc.) we talked about sustainability, responsibility, compassion, conservation, philanthropy and other core values we mutually consider important. These are principles that are demonstrable and have proven results. We are also pretty solidly agreed on our lessons concerning work, school, play, friends, and a host of other subjects, so in the grand scheme of “what our kid needs to know”, religion really is pretty low on the totem. We feel that we can talk about religion when she brings it up.
I believe the only truly morally responsible act to take as separate parents is for both to strive to keep the welfare of the child or children the most significant part of any communication, and to strive to create harmonious outcomes (or at least ones that are fair compromises) concerning consequences and rules.
Whenever possible, you should agree on basic principles and expectations and be consistent in both homes:
- If a behavior is not allowed at one house, for example, it shouldn’t be tolerated at the other
- If a punishment is meted out by one parent, it should be upheld by the other
- Curfews should be consistent, as well as what “grounding” means in your home.
- Don’t try and out-do one another on things like allowance and tooth fairy visits – take turns or divvy them up, but always keep them equal
- Compromise on things like healthy eating and the amount of sugar intake, have zero sugar at one house and a veritable treasure trove of gummy bears at the other won’t help anyone
While your child might seem innocent and you are confident they have been brought up well, the urge to play one parent off the other, especially when the parents hate each other and can barely communicate with one another, is just to delicious and irresistible to a child who wants something really, really bad. It becomes easy, and before you know it, they will master the art of lying and manipulating to get their own way. Don’t ever underestimate how smart they are, and don’t make the mistake of thinking they aren’t listening and seeing what is going on when you least expect it.
Don’t Forget Another Very Important Factor
Make sure your new partners respect your wishes with your ex, and are on board with your plans in being consistent. It isn’t a competition. If you aren’t in agreement with your ex, and your new partner supports you in that decision, you can escalate very quickly to a situation that is not manageable without being in a constant state of anger and frustration, or heading back down the very expensive road of court costs.
You don’t have to like your ex, but you have to work together where the kids are concerned. After all, you made them together, right? Well, now you have the responsibility of raising your kids together…and that means getting on the same page when it comes to parenting, even if in no other aspect of your relationship. You owe it to your kids.
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