Kids Say the Darnest Things; Parental Controls of Your Divorce

This morning I, with toddler & iPad in tow, went to the salon to have my nails done for the photo shoot this coming Friday. article-1262377-08EEBE03000005DC-546_468x544

Just your normal morning; updating and getting updated with all the local and personal gossip, living the small town USA life. While my nails are getting done the toddler is playing on the iPad and the ‘Girls’ and I are happily chatting. Until somebody mentions something innocuous about a video they saw.

Muppet looks up from the iPad and inserts into the conversation. “Dad has 2 videos on his laptop”. We all look adoringly at Muppet and smile, oh how adorable toddlers can be. “He hangs up his undies and then dances with Shelly” follows while making a thrusting movement.

Jaws drop. Dead silence.

My brain goes a million miles an hour. How to handle this? Don’t destroy innocence. Muppet has no clue what was seen. I’m speechless, yet I know I have to say something to ‘save the situation’. Say something smart, say something witty, SAY SOMETHING………..

“I enjoy dancing, dancing is fun!” Yup, a failed comeback, but the best I could come up with.

This has been a consistent problem during the divorce, the children are consistently exposed to way too much. The oldest knows about motions and affidavits. I get questions using language that even I don’t know (“Sorry hun, let me look up that word before I answer you”. English is my 2nd language), let alone what is appropriate for a 7-year-old. It is simply not fair to a child to do so, it is putting adult issues onto innocence and demanding them to grow up too fast.

It is a lack of boundaries.

A child is not your ‘brother in arms’. To protect the child you need to take actions to protect them from being exposed to conflict.

Password Protect All Things Electronic

Computers, tablets, smartphones are part of society. Kids at some point will pick up your phone, will want to play on your tablet. You may be busy cooking dinner, or finally taking that shower. Murphy’s Law, you’re not looking, or it is a really inconvenient moment.

Don’t take the risk. It is so easy to set up a password.

Set Up Separate User Accounts with Parental Controls

In this day and age, you can’t deny access to computers and internet. They need it for school, homework, and social networks. All operating systems have the possibility to set up different users, which have access to different things on the computer and internet.

You really don’t have an excuse to allow children to see inappropriate adult content or things related to the divorce. Curious minds will read. Seeing the desktop files with ‘dadsucks’ ‘momisbad’ is inexcusable.

Don’t Keep Paperwork Laying Around

While we all may at times leave paperwork and bills out on the kitchen counter, when dealing with divorce related paperwork one should be really conscientious. Seeing a bill is a totally different for a child than seeing documentation that talks about your mom and dad breaking up. It rips a wound that should be healing over time, right back open.

Hold Divorce Related Phone Calls Out of Earshot

I’ve always had all my conversations outside, out of earshot, but with the children in my line of view. A couple of month ago the oldest wanted to talk to GAL. Walked right outside, right to where I always make my phone calls. I smiled.

Just remember “Little teacups have ears”.

Don’t Use the Kids as Messengers

This should be so obvious, yet time and time again I hear it in our household, and stories from others. Put on your big girl panties or be a man, if you have to say something to your ex, do it in person, or via a phone call, text or email.

As a parent it is your duty to protect the children from harm. Being exposed to conflict, being exposed to the divorce going ons is harmful. Cherish the young years your children have, they will thank you for it later. Be that safe haven, their rock, when all around them is changing.

What Protective Parents Can Learn from WWII Resistance Fighters

Kristallnacht‘ or ‘Crystal Night‘, it sounds so beautiful, yet it was so disastrous.

-- Synagogue in Berlin the morning after the Kristallnacht

— Synagogue in Berlin the morning after the Kristallnacht

The night in which the German SturmAbteilung, or paramilitary, in a series of organized attacks destroyed synagogues, buildings, homes and stores belonging to jews. It was the beginning of the persecution of Jews in Nazi-Germany.

My grandfather was in Germany at the time, as a Dutch Officer. He left, he quit the military, he knew what was coming, he wanted no part of it. He moved home and fought in the resistance, like many other brave men and women, regardless of race, religion or political beliefs. Their courage should be an example for protective parents. Some fights just have to be fought.

1. Chose your venue wisely.

My grandfather didn’t quit the fight, no, he changed venues. The military was aligning with Hitler and his chances of preserving civil liberties in the position he was in was minimal. He went home, and started an underground resistance group.

Going full-blown into the court circus can be very challenging. And financially very costly, not to speak of the emotional cost. You see people age right in front of you. Other venues are available to you; mediation, arbitration and if you’re remotely lucky you’ll actually be able to come to an agreement with your ex yourself. If not, then……

2. Fight smart, fight strategically.

The story of an attorney representing a protective mother versus a psychopath father will always stick with me. The attorney advised the mother to give the father lots of time, she was hesitant but eventually agreed. The father was too self-centered to actually parent and sure enough, not too long after the father was fed up with the responsibilities of caring for children and the mother ended up with sole custody.

Custody arrangements very often change over time. Depending on the nature of the situation your children are in, this may not be the best solution, but it helps to think outside of the box. Build the relationship with your children first, give that a good foundation.

WWII resistance fighters did not go on (many) suicide missions. They stayed hidden and low profile, but struck when necessary, they fought the necessary battle at the right time and the right place. It wasn’t till the end of the war that the Germans realized the extend my grandfather was involved and how he had systematically resisted them.

3. Realize you’re in it for the long haul.

In 1938 nobody knew how long this was going to take, or even realized the extend of all the atrocities to happen. Likewise, custody battles with personality disordered other parents will escalate over time. Most custody situations are not over till the child reaches maturity and when you are dealing with PAS, it may be a life time.

If you have some sort of access to your children, use it as quality time. Built strong bonds with your children without letting the battle interfere with how you interact with your children. The strongest bonds between child and parent are formed with quality time, even if it is very little.

4. Never give up.

I know I have been at the breaking point. Wondering whether it would all be worth it. I have observed divorces in ex’s family; they don’t stop till they have full custody and the ex-wife is destitute. I wrote that email to dr Warshak that I thought it would be better to walk away. His immediate and stern response was ‘don’t you dare, would you give up if there was physical or sexual abuse?’.

My grandfather knew he was the underdog, but that did not deter him, nor any of his fellow resistance fighters. Thanks to them, thanks to the men and women who fought for our freedom, whether allied forces or resistance fighters, the world was saved from Evil.

When your child is in an abusive situation, whether physical, sexual, or psychological, you have to fight the fight. The road is long, the road is hard, yet when the kids are adults you want to say that you did all you could. There is nothing more devastating to a child growing up believing that a parent abandoned them, whether it is true abandonment, or perceived abandonment due to manipulations of the other parent.

Hug Me! Or What Makes Post-Divorce Child-Parent Relationships

RING RING” Phone Ringing!

(substitute with any fancy ringtone you desire)

Ostara: “Hello”

Ostara’s Mom: “Good morning. Listen, let me get right to the point. I just spoke with your Dad and he is trying to reach you. He just wants to know how you are doing, you should give him a call.”

Ostara: “Uhm, I’m 40, and supposedly an adult. I think I can manage my social agenda.”

Ostara’s Mom: “Well yes, but we are your parents, regardless of how old you are. Your Dad has not spoken to you for 1 week. Go call him.”

OK. I laugh.

If you had told me 14 years ago my parents would call each other on the phone to talk about their children, I would probably have thought you were crazy. Their divorce had just started and of course emotions ran high.

Ok, REALLY high. let’s not minimize it.

Fast forward to today. My parents each have their own lives and have successfully recovered personally from their divorce. It’s in the past. The present and the future holds their children and grandchildren. My parents support the child’s (although adults now) relationship with the other parent. Did they make mistakes? Of course! They are normal humans, not saints.

This phone conversation made me reflect about my relationship with my parents. Did it developed rather typically? Or did divorce change how I feel about each parent?

If I thought I would find an answer to this online easily, I was delusional. Enter the complicated research area of post-divorce social science. There 2 things I find problematic with a lot of the ‘popular and often quoted’ research; most studies do not take into account the developmental stage of the child and the emotional/psychological stability and health of the parent.

Both of these factors would influence the outcome or conclusions. Toddlers and teenagers act differently. As a toddler I worshipped my mother, as a teenager I did anything to defy her, which by the way, is completely normal  and healthy way of teenagers separating their identity and individuality from their parents. I would have skewed the data had I been a research subject. Children growing up with emotionally/psychologically unhealthy parents have a harder time with (maintaining) relationships too.

Ahrons and Tanner researched the child-parent relationship 20 years post-divorce and their findings are most interesting. They found that 62% of the now adult children reported the relationship with the father was better or stayed the same and 73% reported the relationship with the mother was better or stayed the same.

Gender had no influence on the change of relationship with the mother, but father-daughter relationships changed after remarriage of the father. The type of custody, joint/sole/split, or whether there had been a change of type of custody did not matter.

But wait. These numbers look familiar!

And they are. They are similar what attachment studies tell us about the child-parent relationship! Basically, about 61% of how an infant is bonded to a primary caregiver (non-gender specific!) is how they are bonded 20 years later if they had 1 or more traumatic life event.

These studies recognize that traumatic events like divorce, child abuse, loss of a parent and emotional/psychological health of the parent can change the level of bonding, or the child-primary caregiver relationship, but not in the majority of children/adults. It is the quality of the relationship prior to the traumatic event that is the determining factor.

Well, I guess my relationship with my parents is normal. That’s a relief. I had a good relationship with both prior to their divorce and today I still do. I love you Mom & Dad!

This topic is not done. While most children maintain a good relationship with their parents after divorce, there are children who do not. Emotional/psychological health may play a role, but what about Parental Alienation? 

6 Things Your Child Needs to Hear You Say During the Divorce Process

No matter what people try to tell you, divorce is an adult centered process. The Child has little or nothing to say about the huge changes happening in their life. In a previous post, I mused about the impact of divorce on children. It is the duty of the parent to support the child and make the process, the changes as easy as possible. To conquer the challenges together.

I Love You!

I Love You!

1. ‘I Love You’

It seems like an open door. Of course you tell your child you love him/her, but this can be a time of extreme emotional turmoil for kids, especially young kids. They need the assurance of your love during this time. They need to hear it!

2.’It’s Not Your Fault’

Teenagers respond different to divorce then young children, but unless they are really young, at some point they are going to wonder if they are at fault for causing the divorce. Assure your children that they are not the cause of the divorce.

3. ‘Both Parents Will Stay Involved in Your Life’

Joint custody or sole custody for 1 parent should make absolutely NO difference, the other parent will always be the other parent and as such should contribute to, and be part of the child’s life. Sometimes children (and parents for that matter too) think that because there are 2 houses, 1 parent is less important than the other. They are not! Research has shown time and time again that it is not the amount of time a parent spends with the child, but the quality of the time. Assure the child the other parent is still important, regardless of living in a different house, regardless of how much time they spend with the child.

4. “It’s OK to Love the Other Parent”

Because there are 2 houses some children think they have to choose sides. Nothing is more damaging to the long-term emotional wellbeing of children then having to ‘split’. I recently read the book by Melissa Jesperson Moore “Shattered Silence“. She is the daughter of a serial killer and despite the horrific things her father did, she still loved him. I doubt your ex is a serial killer. Assure your child they can express love for the other parent.

5. “Talk to me about your Feelings”

Just like parents go through stages before accepting and moving on from the divorce, children have stages of grief to get to acceptance. It is the parents job to help them with this. If you are too absorbed with the emotions of the divorce, it can be helpful to get the assistance of a qualified therapist. Realize that kids may express anger with you and/or your ex. Make sure the child’s emotions are reality based and don’t cultivate emotions (negative towards your ex and positive towards you) that are unjustified.

6. “It will be OK”

Their lives are up-side-down, your life is up-side-down, and you’re supposed to tell them “It will be OK”? But it will, it will be ok after some time. You can empower your children! Take this opportunity that life gives you, to teach resilience. You can teach them to overcome adversity by modeling how the negative things in life can lead to personal growth and success. When they see you succeed, they are armed with resources to overcome what life throws at them. And it will be OK, it just may take some time.

In the tumultuous time that is called divorce, parents can be a source of strength and stability for the child. You can help your child, hopefully together with your ex. Even if your divorce is high-conflict, you individually can ease the pain of divorce for your child(ren). That is what being a parent is all about, help them grow.