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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For those new to blended families, you may find the title confusing. If you are one about to set up a blended family, you may not understand what I mean by blended family chaos when you are planning your future. After all, the kids have been hanging out and playing nicely up until this point. Your story will be different. I’m here to tell you, if you are looking for a key piece of divorce advice for men, read this whole thing! Odds are you will one day attempt this very thing.
Anyone out there living the “joy” of a blended family today? Do you find it as shown on television? The world is never as portrayed on television. The best divorce advice for men regarding blended family chaos does NOT come from the Brady Bunch! Here a man with three boys marries the woman with three girls and they all get along wonderfully, and resolve minor conflicts in less than 30 minutes. The real world laughs at this absurdity!
Several years ago, I attended a wedding that set the stage for blended family chaos. The bride’s parents had divorced when “Holly” was in elementary school. Her mother remarried shortly thereafter, and the stepfather, “Tim,” was instrumental in Holly’s life. So important that, when it was time to plan the wedding, there was no question that Tim would walk her down the aisle.
But at the wedding reception when the emcee announced the father-daughter dance, both Holly’s biological father and her stepfather walked onto the dance floor. A shouting match ensued, and it was uncomfortable for everyone. Especially the bride.
How awful do you think this made the daughter and bride feel? It’s easy for us to analyze this from the comfort of our seats and recognize the behavior was pathetic. But when you are the one in the heat of the moment, emotions are flared up, you see your ex happy with another and old feelings kick in, and you potentially have some alcohol giving you a boost, your personal decisions may not be the best. Weddings are hard enough anyway. Non-blended families have their own stresses at the wedding as discussed here. Throw in the old wounds of divorce and you have to be ready to not ruin the event for your kids.
Not All Stepparents are Evil
What did we learn from this awkward scenario? Well, the obvious lesson — anticipate these moments when planning the wedding and reception, and communicate the decisions ahead of time. But what about the subtle lesson? Not all stepparents are evil. Some even have the ability to love beyond their own progeny. Step-relationships do not have to result in blended family chaos.
Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios you might be able to visualize.
Scenario #1: Your ex remarries, and her new husband has kids of his own. The newlyweds are able to sync their custody/visitation dates together so that they either have all their respective kids, or none. When your kids spend time with you, all they do is complain about their evil stepfather and his obnoxious children. What words of wisdom do you pass along to your own kids about their new blended family?
Scenario #2: You remarry, and your new wife has kids of her own. She has primary custody of her children, and their father is pretty much out of the picture. So now you’re a stepdad, essentially raising and supporting somebody else’s kids. How do you navigate this newly blended family without affecting your relationship with your wife?
Could you be reading about anyone you know?
Exploring the New Family Dynamic
Bringing up the role of a future stepparent isn’t generally discussed during divorce mediation. But subsequent marriages and blended families may eventually happen. This could be the perfect storm, or it could be a perfect opportunity to revisit your divorce mediator, only this time to talk about issues within the new dynamic. Sometimes, it’s even a good idea to bring along the entire blended family.
In my mediation practice, I have achieved success in helping families avoid Blended Family Chaos.
Imagine you, your new spouse, and your respective children all sitting in a conference room. The kids are spinning around in their chairs, your wife is clutching her Starbucks cup with both hands, and you are nervously tapping the end of your pencil against the table top. I walk in with a smile on my face, and immediately address the kids; writing down their names and ages.
This seemingly simple tactic of writing down the name of each kid and his/her age is my way of showing that the kids are as important in this process as the adults. Next, I’ll explain the ground rules – that I’m here to listen and to make sure each person has an equal opportunity to talk, uninterrupted, with the goal of achieving some understanding.
I’m not saying this produces instant results. Kids need to feel comfortable with their counselor to even begin to open up. Kids with other mental health challenges present unique challenges. However, all kids need time to get comfortable before the real therapy begins. For you parents this means be patient. Your kids aren’t going to respond right away, that’s the one guarantee.
Not too long ago, in my very own conference room, I empowered a 10-year-old girl to express her concern about sharing a bedroom with her eight-year-old stepsister. Everybody listened to understand her fears and concerns, and then both sisters created a code of conduct about their stuff. The entire family talked about acceptable behavior and also about consequences. I took notes, and then prepared a written agreement between the two girls. They solemnly signed it as though they were entering into a contract to rent an apartment. The impact was unmistakable. And the parents took it very seriously.
Of course, there are different issues when it comes to teenagers. If the stepparent’s teens are allowed unlimited use of cell phones, computers, and automobiles, but the biological parent’s teens are not, whose rules govern? This is another opportunity for a neutral third party to help the entire family brainstorm about what is reasonable, fair, and enforceable. Once decided, the Mediator may draw up a written agreement for the entire family to sign, outlining the new rules. Naturally, after the agreement is has been signed, it’s binding, and you and your spouse must also agree to the terms, including enforcement of the consequences.
When Kids Hate the New Partner
So what happens if your new partner’s kids take an instant dislike to YOU? (Or vice-versa?)
I recently had the opportunity to work with a blended family where the stepmother’s dislike of her new husband’s 14-year-old daughter wreaked havoc on their marriage, and she was ready to file for divorce. The teenager had been in therapy, but it obviously was having no material effect on the family dynamic. The husband chose not to play the adult card with his belligerent daughter, and opted instead to seek out the help of a family mediator. Within the first 20 minutes, it was obvious that the daughter was able to open up more to me than she had in several therapy sessions. Why? Because I’m a mediator, not a therapist. Mediators are trained to listen and ask questions without judgment. In this case, the daughter desperately wanted her biological parents to reconcile. We all heard her say the words, and then I gently asked her what would happen if the reconciliation was impossible. She literally took a deep breath, sat up straighter, and began to talk about her future.
Helping people in conflict move forward is what Mediators are trained to do.
Helping people in conflict move forward is what Mediators are trained to do. Families, especially those with teenagers, seem to find something less threatening about choosing mediation over family therapy. And let’s not forget that it’s likely way less expensive.
Blended family mediations have tremendous success because all of the family members have an equal voice. It’s no surprise that many second (or subsequent) marriages fail because of the chaos caused by conflict about the kids and stepchildren.
Critical Steps for Avoiding Mixed Family Chaos
So, to avoid Blended Family Chaos, I urge you to consider these nine steps:
- Don’t show favoritism.Whether you’re obviously favoring your own children over your stepkids, or you’re over-compensating by favoring your stepchildren over your own, the kids will call you on it. And they’ll be right to point it out to you.
- Don’t be played.Your kids know just how to get to you, whether it’s by dishing out some guilt, or by acting out, or by other devious methods to “punish” you for divorcing their mom and marrying their Wicked Stepmother. Recognize it and avoid it like the plague.
- Be consistent.When you and your spouse establish new ground rules, whether with the help of a family mediator or not, make sure those rules are enforced equally and without exception. Your entire family will benefit if you and your spouse put up a united front.
- Stand by what’s important.You and your new spouse will not always agree. Often the stronger personality will win on many rules and standards for the blended home. As dads, we sometimes seek the compromise and by doing so, can force our kids into a setting that is drastically different for them. Know your key stances on home environment and don’t give in when setting the baseline with the new spouse just to get it moving.
- Compliment each kid.Find something to praise each child about frequently. I’m absolutely not suggesting that you hand out participation trophies simply for being a member of the family. Rather, I’m encouraging you to find something noteworthy and express it to each child, preferably in front of everybody. Dinner table compliments are an easy habit to establish and you’ll not only be boosting their self-esteem, but also your own ratings.
- Meet your new kids. Yes, don’s show favoritism. But you also need to get to know your step kids. This doesn’t take much, however you need to be aware of your human nature to go to your comfort zone. You know your kids. So you will naturally chat with them. Get to know the new ones…make an effort. You will likely have to remind yourself.
- Nurture your marriage.I saved this one for last because in my opinion, it’s the most important. Have regular date nights with your spouse. Remind yourselves (and each other) why you’re together in the first place, and why you’ve committed yourselves to raising this blended family in the best way possible.
- Flexible holidays. When you blend a family, you increase the number of families that have to work together. Your new step-kids have another parent, and your kids have another. At holiday time, the different groups of kids will be heading in different directions. Just remember to stay flexible. Your kids are the ones really feeling the stress of going between households. Do your best to make their time at your home low-stress.
- Go almost all-in. You’ve got to be ready to push all the chips in from the start and fully commit to the new family for any hope of making it work. However, just like Vegas, keep a chip or two in your pocket for cab money, or Uber for the younger crowd. Never forget who the #1 advocate for your children is (hint: it’s you)! If you’ve gone the full road and applied your soul to making it work, but your partner has not or it is just tearing your kids apart, you may need to use that saved chip to pack it up. Sad fact, but they come first. Don’t let them know this, or they’ll do everything to get you to depart. But you’ll know when.
Don’t Give Up On Your Blended Family
Okay, now what? You say you’ve made the effort to avoid Blended Family Chaos by following the five steps above, but your relationship with your stepchildren is still causing stress in the family, and in your marriage? Or, what if your blended family needs a tune-up because the kids are older and the issues have changed accordingly?
Find a family mediator in your community and schedule an appointment. Be proactive and you won’t have to deal with Blended Family Chaos.
Nancy Gabriel is the principal and managing partner of Mediation Around The Table, LLC., a Las Vegas-based private mediation company. Ms. Gabriel is a founding director of Nevada Mediation Group, a non-profit corporation focusing on the education and training of mediators, a volunteer for the Neighborhood Justice Center of Clark County, Nevada, a member of the divorce panel for MWI, a Boston, Massachusetts firm specializing in alternative dispute resolutions, and a volunteer at Three Square Food Bank. She is a graduate of UCLA, an avid gourmet cook and NFL fan. She may be contacted through the firm website at www.MediationAroundTheTable.com
Image courtesy of stockunlimited.com
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For you, my incredibly amazing, magnificent and beautiful daughter on her graduation from High School, I give this ‘Letter to My Daughter on Her Graduation.’ It was hard to write this then, and still hard to read today. Several years have passed since I first wrote this to you, and as I read it again, I’m struck by how true it still is! It will still be valid in another couple of years, and even more beyond that. You continue to amaze me daily and I’m struck so often by how you “have it!”
Hi. This is your father. Many things below I’ve said to you in person. But I believe important things are best backed up with the written word. Most of this letter is a bunch of stuff you may, or may not, decide is useful. I know when I was graduating high school I didn’t give my father’s advice much thought. But I promise you, if he had written it down for me, I guarantee I would find it valuable today. Hopefully you’ll find a few nuggets buried in this letter to my daughter now and later.
You’ll excuse me for overstepping my boundaries if you feel I have in writing it down. Since I can’t buy you a car for graduation or fly you around the world as a present when you turn 18 soon (both things I’d love to do, but alas, it ain’t gonna happen), what I can do is this. I can write a letter to my daughter. Sure, I can write you a letter any time, but I’ve decided to pour out what I consider to be the real morsels of truth in life. I’ve found these over the years, with most coming from pain and wrong choices. You’ll make those too, but maybe this letter will help you avoid the ones I made so you can go make your own, less painful ones.
To My Daughter
So… here’s the most important stuff (read this next paragraph if nothing else, please):
In all the time you have been on this planet, I have loved you more than words will ever express. You are my daughter, and I am amazed by you. Always and forever. I wish I had more to offer you than simply my pride and love, though I hope they will suffice in this moment. I’m truly in awe at what a smart, sweet, kind, caring and optimistic young woman you have become. You are quite simply the best thing that ever happened to me, and I’m really glad you’re here. I love you. Looking good, kiddo!
Now, on to the graduation address…
That I am sitting here writing to you on the eve of your high school graduation and a month before your official status as a young adult has me simply flabbergasted. I could not possibly have prepared for this day, and yet here it is. What I find more odd is how vivid my memories are of my own graduation and then later your birth. I can still see you as you were before school began for you, when the world is full of wonder. And now you are about to set out on the next chapter. I can’t describe the joy and sadness that swirl in my emotions.
You are a young lady now, hardly the small child of my memories. I haven’t the foggiest notion of how to really talk to you, though it is absolutely my honor, privilege and duty to keep trying, for as long as I live.
Truth told, I’ve never considered myself a very good father, and in many ways I’ve been simply lousy. I’m sorry is about all I can really offer. The older you get, the older I get, the more likely the struggles of my adult life will become things you know more about, and in so doing, will likely shift some of the distance between us, though it will never excuse the places where I failed you. For this, all I can do is say I’m sorry and ask for your forgiveness.
Of course, there are also many little things that I have had a part of along the way that have certainly helped shape the fine young woman you are today. I’d like to think that some of the adventures, people and places I have shown you had an impact, and that my family has had some positive growth for you as well.
Your mother and I made a deal a long, long time ago that no matter what happened, we would always do our best to teach you about the world as best we could without disparaging the other. I think it served you well. I hope it did. It wasn’t easy, for either of us.
Somehow, I missed the part where you stopped being a little girl and started becoming a young adult, and it definitely happened along the way. The young woman I see before me is really an amazing person, and I want to do everything in my power to help ensure she stays that way.
So, I’ve been watching you for awhile now, and I’d like to offer some insight into the world you are about to enter. There are things your father still knows that you do not. There are some pieces of advice you’re unlikely to hear from anyone else, and some of them may piss you off a bit, but if I don’t tell you, no one else will, and forewarned is forearmed.
Know that first and foremost, what I want for you is a joyous and happy life filled with love, friendships, adventures, learning and growing. I also know that there are going to be tough days. I hope you’ll count on me as a voice of reason and wisdom as you grow into adulthood.
Know also that no matter what anyone ever says, you are perfect just exactly as you are. You’re never going to be too short, too fat, too dark, too weak, too dumb, or anything else that people may come along and tell you that you are. Surround yourself with people who remind you of how awesome you are, and avoid the ones that don’t. The only person you need permission from, from now on, is you.
I hesitate to say this part, and I think it is necessary. The world is sometimes cruel and evil people really are out there. You have been incredibly blessed so far that perhaps the worst hardship you have endured is your father’s lack of presence. I’m not aware that you have broken any bones, required surgery or had any close friends die on you or really fuck their lives up horribly while you had to watch. While I truly don’t know what personal struggles you have overcome (though I do know that you have a perseverance about you that is admirable, and that simply learning itself has been a life long challenge for you, and may well continue to be), what I do know is that you really have lived a fairly sheltered life compared to what many children in this world endure. There are a great many “bad” places on this planet, and I hope you’ll steer well away from them, or enter only safely with a good guide. I mean this as much about real, physical places and people as I do about bad decisions and poor judgment, your father being somewhat of an expert on bad decisions and poor judgment.
Your conservative father is deeply concerned that you may not give enough credence to the idea that capable as you are, you are also diminutive, attractive and generally optimistic. While these are cherished things, they are also traits a bad person will try to capitalize on. I don’t want you to be afraid of the world in any sense, and I do want you to be prepared.
My second really important point I want to get through to you is this: There is a huge, amazing world out there, too. Go see it.
You aren’t in a hurry, of course, and I don’t want to see you wasting a minute of your life longer than you have to here. There is an entire planet out there, and you should strive to see as much of it as you can. My largest regret in life is that I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities presented to me to travel in my youth. I got scared and stayed put. Don’t let your fear of the unknown keep you from travelling abroad or moving out of state for college.
This point you seem to grasp really well, but I want to say it anyway: Do what makes you happy! Find your passions and do them! They are absolutely the most important real life work you have to do. When you are passionate, you energize others. When you are working with purpose, you show the way. Trust the little voice in your head when it tells you that you should make art, or plant a garden or help someone. It’s a good voice. Too many ignore it, and after some time, they lose it. I can’t imagine how different and wonderful the world might be if more people listened to that good side just every now and then. Be unique and be that one that does!
Lastly for now, (since I expect to write you again at 21 and offer you a few more pieces of wisdom that you would currently call “lecturing”), I want to remind you again of something that is becoming more and more relevant as you mature.
You are a creative person. Unquestionably. So is your dad.
So, please, help me help you.
I don’t know enough about your inside life to really know what to offer, though I am quite certain that I have some answers for you, and I don’t want to pretend I know which ones are relevant. I just hope you’ll still consider asking me when you feel you have a tough one. This old man might know some things. My life hasn’t been easy. I haven’t followed the cookie-cutter path. I’m certainly not perfect. That’s where I can help. If there is one guarantee in this life it is that you will make mistakes and you will fail at something, and actually several things. I know I have. Dealing with it is extremely tough. I can speak to you as one that’s fought through many tough times, and continues to do so. Don’t seek advice from those that just don’t know.
My dearest daughter, all I really want you to know is that you are loved and supported by many.
I am so proud of you.
With Much Love,
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Even writing the phrase ‘about the ex’ sends people scurrying for the exits, fearing expletive riddled diatribes and raging self-pity. But what about your kids, when they aren’t really kids anymore. As your sons and daughters head into their own adult lives, is there a point where it becomes okay to tell your kids about the ex?
There must have been some incredibly important reasons for you to go through the harrowing process of separation and ultimately divorce. But are there things that your kids need to know about their mum?
Young Kids vs Young Adults
You separated when your kids were younger, and honest discussions with them in those years reached the level of why they couldn’t have two packets of chips in their lunchbox like they did when mum packed it. Now that they are late teenagers, with boyfriends and girlfriends and part time work and all the things that makes up life pre-marriage, is there a time when it is okay to simply talk to them about the things that led to your separation?
Most professionals advise about the damage that we can do as parents if we fall into the trap of disparaging the ex in front of our kids. There is absolutely no doubt that one of the most important things we can do for your kids as they go through the divorce process with us is to bite our tongue and simply encourage them to have feelings of respect and admiration for their mother. Remember, they are already dealing with trying to find their feet in the lives of separated parents, two homes and readjustments.
There are a lot of things to be aware of as your young kids grow through the divorce and challenges that come with their age. There are many articles that provide good guides for what to do and what to say up to the age of 14. But, at that age your kids are beginning to desire more independence, they’re questioning parental authority, and they’re developing relationships outside the home which are even more important than their relationship with us. It is next to impossible to find advice on talking to your kids beyond the early teenage years.
But as they age they are no longer kids needing to be shared and managed between two separated parents. They are now young adults who are exposed to many adults in differing settings, and you and your ex are becoming less unique to them.
They are becoming young men, like you, and young ladies, like their mum. They are adults in secondary and post-secondary education and they are taught to think broadly, apply their understanding and their moral code to develop their own personal impressions and opinions on situations and events they experience. They will be developing opinions about the people who make up their lives, the things they like and dislike, and the things they need and detest.
You have very strong opinions about their mother which are undoubtedly a big part of why you are not together anymore.
Naturally, you want the best for your kids as they build their own lives. Don’t you need to tell your kids about the ex and what led to the divorce?
If you have a daughter would it be okay for her to never know anything of what it was that brought your love for her mother to end? Would you be happy for your son to choose the partner he will spend the rest of his life with without knowing anything of what it was that broke down the mrriage with his mother?
Tell Your Kids About the Ex
The kids probably spend a lot of their teenage years living with their mum. If anyone knows mum well, they do. They are now far more resilient and self assured than when they were the 7 or 8 years old when they just wished mum and dad still lived together. They now have seen many of their friends go through divorces with their parents, and discussing mom and dad’s divorce with these trusted friends is easier than with anyone else. These discussions likely have been going on for years, thus helping to forge their ‘critique’ of you as their dad and your ex as their mum.
So, if your son or daughter at 17 or 18 asks why you and your new partner don’t seem to argue as you did with their mum, or they raise an issue they have had with their mother, is it okay to be honest about their mum? Whenever there is an elephant in the room it is better to simply confront it than trying to beat around the bush?
So long as the discussion remains objective and has the right mix of honesty about yourself as well as about their mum then aren’t you arming your kids with knowledge that you likely didn’t have as you grew up in a generation when divorce was more rare?
Many articles point out that you may anger your children if you try to describe the process of separating as something like ‘mummy and I still love each other, just not in that way’. That’s because it minimizes your child’s maturity to form their own opinion.
Honesty is Always the Best Policy.
We have always been told that it’s best to tell the truth. It has always been drummed into us not to lie. In fact it is almost impossible to think of another area where telling the truth to your child is seen as anything but the best parenting practice.
It has become more acceptable to discuss sexuality with our kids. Thank goodness. And in the process we reinforce the importance of intimacy and feelings with the people that we choose to love and cherish in our lives.
We know we will have to comfort our kids hearts when their boyfriends and girlfriends have broken their hearts. Is it really so bad to admit that that was something missing from your marriage with their mother? Is it preferable to lie? Or won’t that go the same way as trying to tell them that you still love mummy? Your kids know you and they know when you are lying.
You have spent a lot of time talking about times past through rose-colored glasses only for the benefit of your young kids. If you have a strong relationship with your grown kids where you can speak openly and honestly about things such as your work relationships, your thoughts about the future, and your thoughts about the world, then speaking honestly about what wasn’t right about your marriage to their mum shouldn’t be taboo.
You can discuss how people change over time. It may have been a process of falling out of love with the woman you married as you discovered she was turning into someone you didn’t like. You can discuss the need to continue to develop as a person. You can talk about what it is like when someone stops listening. The kids would have similar stories in their lives already.
Part of parenting is helping your kids find the best parts of both yourself and your ex for them to emulate. In a strong marriage that endures, both partners are reinforced by the other such that pointing out each other’s strengths and weaknesses is a very normal part of life. Separation and divorce is oft times about two people who are no longer being reinforced by one another. And, as they go through the process they lose the opportunity to tell their kids the truth.
You’ve survived the break-up, the children are finally settling into their new routines and it looks as though life might be on an even keel at last. Then, suddenly the bombshell drops. Your ex has a new bow. And now you’re going to be dealing with your ex and her new partner. In an instant everything changes. You thought things were on the up and up, but suddenly you fell back to rock bottom.
This guy won’t just be in your ex’s life, he’ll be in your children’s lives, in your marital home and sleeping in your old bed. He’ll take over everything you used to own. He’ll be relaxing in your chair, cooking in your kitchen, eating food from your cupboard, smiling at your ex and listening to your children tell him about their day. Not surprisingly, dealing with your ex and her new partner will likely stir one of the most common emotions in life after divorce – anger.
Initially, it will be a huge shock. Even if you thought you were prepared for it, when your ex announces she has a new man in her life, you’re likely going to be consumed by the news. You’ll be resentful, jealous, or angry. And, you’ll be worried about the impact this guy will have on your kids.
Take A Deep Breath
Take some much needed time to adjust to the news. Don’t lose your cool. And don’t say the first thing that comes into your head. The truth of the matter is, no matter hard it is to accept, your ex was inevitably going to find someone new and start a new relationship. Keep calm. Focus on your own wellbeing and that of your kids as much as you can.
Think things through and make a list of your priorities, then you have a better chance of having a calm and productive conversation with your ex. You’ll want to know whether your children know about the new man, when they’ll be meeting him, if they haven’t already, how they are feeling, whether he’ll be moving in, or how often they’ll be in his company and a little about him. Try to push aside that image of him enjoying breakfast at your table and crawling between the sheets with your ex. Stick to practical matters. Remember, your ex loves your children and will most likely be looking out for them and doing what she believes is best for them. Even if you vehemently disagree, try to be realistic. You’re all in the process of moving on and creating news lives, and a certain amount of flexibility will be needed to keep peace. One day, it will be her turn to deal with the new woman in your life and handing her children over to you and some other woman.
Look After Your Mental Health
Be kind but firm with yourself. After the first few days of rage and self-pity, or obsessing about the injustice of it all, you’ll need to start to bury those feelings. It won’t be easy, but you need to understand that negative emotions can have a powerful effect on you physically and psycholgically.
Likewise positive emotions can affect you deeply too, so concentrate on promoting positive thoughts. If you find yourself regularly drawn to dwelling on the changes, purposely steer your thoughts to something happier. Distract yourself. Pour yourself into something you’ve been thinking about doing, or a meeting with friends or even a work project. Distract yourself from these cyclical anxious thoughts. Tell yourself, I’m not going to think about that right now, and then don’t. Focus, focus, focus – on you, and your kids.
This will be hard and you’ll keep dwelling and worrying about the same things, over and over again. But as time goes by you’ll find it easier to push negative thoughts aside. Try not to imagine his new place in your family’s life.
Don’t let anxieties about your relationship with your kids take over. Being anxious about your place in their lives is natural. You’ll wonder if they’ll like him more. He’ll no doubt spend more time with them than you if he lives with them. They’ll tell him things and he’ll give them advice. They’ll have fantastic trips together. He’ll get to do all the things that you thought you’d be doing as they grow up. Stop.
Remind yourself, they love you. You’re their dad and however big a presence he is in their lives, he cannot replace you. If they love him, that’s a good thing. It doesn’t mean they love you any less. It means they’re comfortable and happy with the people in their lives, which is how it should be. If you’re honest, you know that you wouldn’t want them going home to someone whom they don’t want to be around.
If things get too much for you, find someone to talk to. This could be a sympathetic friend, a family member or, if you’re really struggling, a trained counsellor. Just make sure that the person you’re talking to is giving you good advice. Friends are great for sounding off at, but it won’t be helpful to spend time with someone who is ready to label your ex as toxic. You’re looking for kindness but honesty. Sympathy is great, but a good friend will help you accept what you cannot change and won’t let you wallow in bitterness.
Dealing With Your Ex and Her New Partner
After you’ve got over the initial shock, make sure that you keep the channels of communication open so you can deal with your ex and her new partner. You’ll want a certain amount of information about her new partner if he’s going to be spending time with your children. You’ll need to know whether he’s moving in or how often he’ll be seeing them. Keep it civil. If things get heated you’ll miss the opportunity to find out what you want to know. And your input is more likely to be heard if you make your case calmly.
Stick to your existing routines and implement any changes cautiously. Everyone’s priority should be the kids and how they’re coping with the new situation. This article gives an idea of how to sensitively introduce a new partner into your children’s lives – and how not to.
First, know that you don’t have to meet this new guy if you really can’t face it. But, getting to know someone a little can help stop your imagination from running wild. And, it would be useful if you can pick up the children from him if your ex can’t make it or have a phone conversation with him to make arrangements for the weekend.
If you do decide to meet him, make it somewhere neutral at first. Try hard to be polite and approachable. If you find him aloof or less than friendly, stick to your guns and be the better man. Don’t steam in and start trying to lay down rules as soon as you meet him. Start with more general terms; you should at least both be able to agree that you want your children to feel happy and settled. It would be more appropriate to leave detailed rules to a meeting with your ex at another time. Then at least you can say that you have met him and given him a chance.
Over time, things should ease up and become a little more comfortable between you and he. Keep the tone of any meeting professional and try and let the children see that you are able to speak to him without animosity. If you can be civil to each other, as well as easy going and helpful it will make everyone’s lives easier.
How You Can Help Your Kids
Your children will be going through a major change in their lives when your ex finds a new partner. They will suddenly be having to share their mother with someone else and may well have to adjust to a new person living in their home.
Make sure you’re not dismissive when you speak to them about him, however hard it is. Younger children in particular may look to see how you respond to him and pick up on your feelings. It won’t help if you manoeuvre them into feeling negative about him, it will simply give them anxiety and make their lives less happy. And if they do get on well with him, they may feel guilty about it.
Your role is to be a rock for them. Reassure them that nothing will change their relationship with you, he won’t be replacing you and you will always be there for them. And then make sure you are, as often as you can be. Don’t be tempted to indulge them with treats and gifts; what they really need is quality time with you. This doesn’t have to be trips out or vacations, quality time is simply time when you are connecting with each other, over meals, shared books, games or movies for example. Concentrate on giving them a relaxed, pleasant time with you. Let them talk about him if they want to, and try and put your own feelings aside for their sakes. It won’t be easy, but if you manage it you really will be a great dad.
Throughout this difficult time, remember to look after yourself. Remind yourself that there are still good things ahead for you and that this will pass. Focus on building strong, healthy and happy relationships with your children and on creating a good life for yourself instead of focusing on dealing with your ex and her new partner. These are your priorities now, and negative emotions have no place with you.
This is without a doubt one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. Seeing your children accepting a new man into their lives and reacting with good grace can feel impossible at times. But persevere. You may be filled with negative emotions, but put every ounce of effort into putting the negativity aside while you’re with your children. In the end, this will help you too; by getting into the habit of behaving in a positive and easy going manner, you have a good chance of raising your own mood and being able to cope well with the change. As time goes by, the new situation will become easier and more comfortable for everyone and you’ll feel happier about the future as it becomes clearer that although your ex has a new man in her life, your place in your children’s lives will never be in doubt.
Most people believe strangers are responsible for the majority of childhood abductions, but national statistics say parental kidnapping is more often to blame. A family abduction occurs when a family member, likely a separated or divorced parent, takes and hides a child for some length of time. This heartbreaking and devastating crime occurs more than 200,000 times each year.
Childhood kidnapping is usually driven out of anger, frustration, abandonment and desperation. Often, emotions overwhelm personal judgment and sound reasoning. And in custody disputes, this often leads to one parent losing their child to parental kidnapping.
Often cited reasons for parental abduction include:
- Forced interaction or a reconciliation with the parent left-behind
- Spite or punishment against the other parent
- Fear of losing custody or visitation rights with the child
- Protecting the child from the other parent who is perceived to molest, abuse, or neglect the child
Are You at Risk of Losing Your Child to Parental Kidnapping?
There are often subtle and obvious warning signs of a pending abduction. The most common signals your child may be in danger of parental kidnapping include:
- Threatened abduction or attempted abduction in the past
- Suspected abuse supported by family and friends
- Paranoid delusion or severely sociopathic behavior
- Your spouse/ex has alien citizenship (in a foreign country) and may potentially flee the US
- Your spouse/ex feels alienated from or fears the legal system, and has family or social support in another community or abroad
- Your spouse/ex has no strong ties to your child’s home state
- Your spouse/ex has no job or is not financially tied to the area
- Your spouse/ex is planning to quit a job, sell a home, or close bank accounts
- Your spouse/ex applies for passports, or obtains copies of school or medical records
Pay close attention to these any and all of these potential signs and contact the family court and/or your attorney for assistance. Any direct threat of parental kidnapping must be taken seriously. The family court and law enforcement authorities should be contacted immediately if you feel your child is in grave danger.
Parental Kidnapping is a Serious Crime
Both parents are entitled to equal rights and access to a child unless an order specifically limits one parent’s rights or access to their child. Before a divorce or child custody suit is filed, either parent can take their child and maintain custody of them.
Once a custody order is in place, each parent must abide by it. If a parent without legal custody of their child violates a custody order and snatches or conceals a child, they may be potentially charged with parental kidnapping.
The taking of a child is considered kidnapping by looking at three main factors:
- The legal status of the offending parent
- Any existing court orders regarding custody
- The intent of the abducting parent
Parental abduction often violates many federal and state laws, and if parental abduction occurs, contact law enforcement immediately. As enraged as you may be, don’t take the law into your own hands. Let experienced officers use the justice system to help you locate and bring home your child. You should also contact your family law attorney, and if the where abouts of your child are unknown, consider hiring a private investigator to locate your child and to focus dedicated resources on the case.
State Kidnapping Laws
Laws vary by state, but generally parental kidnapping involves a suspect abducting a child and holding them in a location they won’t likely be found. Some states laws maintain a parent cannot keep a child more than 24 hours with the intent to conceal them. In some states, just the unlawful retention of a child is sufficient for a charge of parental kidnapping; the use of force or a weapon is not required in all states to support the criminal charge of parental kidnapping. However, many state also include a defense for any parent attempting to protect their child from real threats.
Preventing Family Abductions
Custody battles are frustrating and can be infuriating, and child abductions are not uncommon. To keep your children safe, consider following these recommendations:
- Start any child custody process immediately upon learning of your impending separation/divorce (as you need a custody order to prove your rights)
- Impose visitation restrictions, such as supervised visits, if there is imminent danger of parental abduction
- Include parental kidnapping prevention measures in the custody order such as having both parents post bonds. This will serve as a deterrent, and if the child is abducted by your spouse/ex, the money helps you with costs of recovery. For further information visit the Professional Bail Agents of the United States at www.pbus.com.
- Maintain a certified copy of the custody order at your home.
- Document any abduction threats and report them immediately to your family court and/or attorney.
- Contact the police to intervene and alert your spouse/ex of the consequences of child abduction.
- File certified copies of your child’s custody order with their schools, healthcare providers, daycare, sitters, etc. Make sure it’s known not to release your child to the non-custodial parent without your permission and demand to be notified if an attempt is made.
- Keep a record of all physical descriptive information on your child and your spouse/ex, including height and weight, hair and eye color and any distinguishing marks, and maintain current photos (6 months). List social security numbers, license plate numbers, vehicle information, and other identifiable data.
- Obtain a passport for your child, and let authorities know your child cannot leave the country without your written authorization – see the U.S. Department of State for more information.
Although it may be difficult to do, maintaining a friendly connection to the your spouse’s/ex’s family may be beneficial. It could help you avoid the trauma of family abduction, and in the event of a kidnapping, you may need their support to bring your child home safely.
What Else You Can Do
Keeping your children safe also requires open communication between you and your child. Ensure your children know as much information as possible including their full name, your full name, and full addresses and phone numbers. Make sure they know how and when to call you, and how and when to contact 911 services.
Most of all, make sure your child feels loved. Convey a message – without mentioning, or accusing the your spouse/ex of being a potential threat, and that you will always love them, look out for them and will do anything and everything to be with them.
Losing your child to parent kidnapping is gut wrenching and heartbreaking not only for you but also for your child. Fortunately, laws exist to help you get your children back. Should you ever lose your child due to parental kidnapping, turn to the criminal justice system and law enforcement for help.
Should you have any questions specific to your child custody or visitation case, or if you would like help enforcing a child custody order, contact a divorce attorney or a Father’s Rights attorney in your area for help.
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