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The Parent Trap: Dating After Divorce

kid in the middleWith the news about how traumatic divorce is on children, as a divorcee you may be afraid to ever pay attention to anything else in life than your children. But after your wounds from the divorce heal, and after your children settle into this new phase of life, you may feel the calling to the dating realm again.

If you are lucky enough to find a person you feel a connection with, best of luck to you and this new relationship. However, luck isn’t really the component to rely on right now, especially if there are children on either side of the relationship.

Monkeys in the Middle

Divorce is difficult for everyone it even remotely touches, and that is the truth for quite some time after the divorce is finalized. Children can be affected by divorce is strange and various ways, but it doesn’t have to guide their future. Most psychologists and researchers find that the way in which the divorce is handled defines the children’s adjustment and future.

Dating does throw divorced families for a bit of a loop, but there are ways to come out of it intact and stronger than ever. The key is the continue to cultivate your children’s confidence and trust in you and the family (even if the structure is not a stereotypical one). Children of various ages tend to react differently to mothers and fathers dating, so it’s important to know what your child is feeling and how to speak to those feelings.

Timing is Everything

The dating realm is an uncertain place, of this we are all sure. So it should be no surprise that one of the post-divorce dating credos is to wait to introduce the children to your new “friend” until you’re out of the dating realm and safely in the relationship realm. In the relationship realm you are exclusively seeing each other, you introduce each other to friends as the boyfriend or girlfriend, and you foresee this person being in your life for quite sometime (if not indefinitely).

This point in the relationship is when you want to start introducing the children to your significant other. If you introduce your new partner sooner, when the relationship is just a fledgling of an idea, the chances are higher that your children will accept this person only to have them person disappear. The uncertainty of people coming and going in their life is a child’s worst fear, because in their mind, what’s to stop you from coming and going too?

Who is This?

After a few group meetings, where your children and partner have the opportunity to meet and interact in low-stress environments, things begin to get serious in the new dynamic. If your children like this new person, they might be inducted into the family. But what is their role? They aren’t stepparent, they aren’t family (yet), but they have some relation to your children.

Before uncomfortable boundaries are crossed, it’s smart to discuss with your children and your partner separately who they are to each other. This is probably the most difficult part if you have young children, because the young children are prone to attaching familial titles with unclassified newcomers. If need be, have the “you only have one mommy and one daddy” talk with your children.

The Next Phase

If things with your new significant other have progressed (over time!) to a more committed, long term relationship, then a new talk needs to take place. This talk must include the range of parental duties your partner will have over your children; to what extent is discipline allowed? Is there a limit to their parental duties? Will there be shared monetary parental duties?

So many questions and new experiences, so little time. Just remember, it’s smart to plan ahead as best you can to avoid as many bumps in the road as possible.

Why Are We Shocked By Gray Divorce?

78398457As obsessed as our culture is with youth and beauty, society has made quite a few surprising (but completely welcome) age-embracing motions. The spokeswoman/model for MAC cosmetics is a 90 year old woman, and what a woman Iris Apfel is. She wantonly said, “What’s wrong with getting old? If you’re lucky enough to get old, you should celebrate it.” Today we marvel at modern day medicine, which more than ever includes cosmetic surgery, but still have the gall to sternly criticize a person over 60 who doesn’t jump at early bird dinner specials.

Is there an age when we have to stop reassessing happiness and planning to improve our lives? The obvious answer is no, but the way we sensationalize things like gray divorce says otherwise.

The Wonder Years

In this day and age, 1 in 4 people aged 50 or older are getting a divorce, and this statistic makes our heads explode. People are wondering what has happened to our morals, our families, and our very values just because our parents have come to the conclusion that they are still very much alive and deserve to be happy. True, divorce not a very happy topic. The cause of divorce at least is not a very happy topic, but the by-products (getting out of a toxic relationship, living how you want to live, being who you want to be, meeting knew people, etc.) can be very uplifting.

You see, our baby boomers are not babies anymore. They have lived full lives, seen many changes in the world, and fostered changed offspring; however, they have also looked at the daily vitamin boxes in the face, and decided that the life they take the vitamins for is too precious to ignore anything that makes them less than thrilled to be alive. In their full lives, they might have made unions that have crumbled and been stretched too thin, and decided divorce was the best way forward. But for whatever reasons our baby boomers have decided to put an end to the Mr. and Mrs. letterhead, it’s really none of our business.

Is the Sky Falling?

Divorce, marriage, and other romantic topics are really none of the general public’s business, and my real question is why (after trying to evade time and aging) are we shocked that our parents are starring the clock in the eye and saying “I’ll do what I please in my own time”? Are we jealous of our parents for starting the age-revolution before us?

I’m not entirely sure, but one thing is for sure: We don’t quite know what to make of this age-revolution.

The Logic Fallacy Behind Iowa’s Divorce Bill

logical fallacy in Iowa divorce billIn the past month, the U.S. has seen some strange marriage and divorce legislative moves from various states. In early February, North Dakota revisited an old House Bill that would force parents to observe a 6 month waiting period and undergo counseling before finalizing the divorce. The bill had been introduced a year earlier, but it was rejected because it originally had a year waiting period.

Apparently the divorce reform is an infectious virus, and Iowa has got it bad.

The Latest Divorce and Religion Study

researchers study divorce and religionAs Sinatra crooned into the microphone all those years ago, love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage; divorce, however, rides on the back of the carriage like a footman. This sinister footman has been the topic of debate since the 1970′s saw a huge surge in divorce, and now that debate has moved onto the relationship divorce has with religion.

Previously, research held that children of divorced parents were less religious in adulthood because of the divorce. But what about all the other contributing factors in a person’s religious beliefs? This is the question Jeremy Uecker, an assistant professor of sociology at Baylor, and Christopher Ellison, a researcher at University of Texas, asked in their study called “Parental Divorce, Parental Religious Characteristics, and Religious Outcomes in Adulthood.”

Structure of the Study

The study used data from surveys from 1991, 1998, and 2008 catalogued in the General Social Surveys. The surveys were conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. 3,346 people of various faiths, between the ages 18 and 87 answered questions about their family life, religious affiliation, and personal beliefs.

After Ellison analyzed the data, Uecker analyzed the answers to the survey. The team found children of divorce do tend to avoid organized religion, but the cause may be more attributed to their parent’s pre-existing religious beliefs and practices rather than solely their parent’s divorce.

The Findings

“You have to take into account the context,” Uecker explains. “People who are less religious are more likely to get divorced. And if the parents are of different religions or differing levels of religiosity from one another, they also are more likely to divorce. So if we ignore that, we’re overstating the effects of divorce itself on religious outcomes.”

As support for Uecker and Ellison’s findings, the data proves divorce has no effect on a person’s spirituality and private religious practices, like praying.

What it All Means

As noted in the study, the majority of young adults today identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” We’re not entirely sure what that means to each individual, but it does indicate the majority of people are not spiritually destroyed by their parents divorce. According to the researchers, the leading cause of children losing their faiths is the loss of religious socialization.

After a divorce, single parents may feel unaccepted in church, so attendance drops; or, it may be as simple as a single parent’s schedule makes it harder to attend church regularly. Whatever the case, the researchers are not concerned about the children’s well-being.

In the study, the researchers state: “The emotional effects or feelings of sacred loss may well be felt and consequential during childhood and adolescence. In the long run, however, these emotional responses are less consequential.”

The relationship between humans and their beliefs is a truly complex one, which Ellison and Uecker sought to bring to light. This study is not meant to alter our perception of divorce and religion, it is just meant to correct another study’s published findings.

What are your thoughts on the complex relationship marriage, divorce, and religion?

Post-Divorce DIY Healing

Post-divorce DIY healingDivorce has a knack for making you feel angry, remorseful, hurt, empowered, confused, and so many other emotions your head and heart feeling like they’re going to spontaneously combust. Experiencing these emotions (especially confusion) rings dangerously true for the divorcees who never saw it coming. We’ve written a lot about the divorcee who benefitted and even wanted the divorce, but what about the divorcee who didn’t want the divorce? What about the divorcees who didn’t even see the divorce coming?

The Walking Wounded…

Forgive me for quoting such a chick flick, tear-jerking, sweat-pant-night movie choice, but Iris Simpkins of the 2006 movie “The Holiday” found the best words to describe what we’re talking about today:

“…there’s another kind of love: the cruelest kind. The one that almost kills its victims. It’s called unrequited love…Most love stories are about people who fall in love with each other. But what about the rest of us? What about our stories, those of us who fall in love alone?…We are the unloved ones, the walking wounded, the handicapped without the advantage of a great parking space.”

But before you join in on a chorus of “Hear, Hear!” actually hear us out. Divorce may be horrible, and being on the receiving end of a divorce petition may be more than horrible, but there is the opportunity to live a life after the divorce dust settles.

…But Not the Walking Dead

After a divorce, it’s easy to find yourself making little slip ups, like saying “My husband/wife… I mean ex husband/wife…” While these little slip ups feel more like needles and sharp knives, it doesn’t have to be your lot in life forever. What you are in desperate need of is some healing and perspective.

The most common thing unsuspecting divorcees have to deal with is the question: “How do I move on when the person I built my world around just exited my life?” It’s quite a painful predicament to be forced to live “normally” day in and day out with the memory of a lost love nagging at your brain. Like Iris of “The Holiday” said, it’s like you’re handicapped without the perks. But what we want you to recognize is that you might feel like you’re a walking wounded, but at least you’re not a walking dead.

Life is still to be lived, and you can do it joyfully.

About Face

You can take a page from the heroines from “The Holiday” and visit somewhere new for a little while, but that can be expensive and difficult to work into your schedule. So let’s discuss the ways you can about face towards a happy, healthy life after divorce.

  • Create a new space. If you can’t vacate your life for a bit to recharge and boot up the new and improved you, then it’s time to reboot your daily surroundings. Put away, sell, or give away items that bring back painful memories, and replace them with things that make you happy. Make the renovations or life changes you always wanted to make but couldn’t when you had to consider another person’s wants.
  • Exemplify your best qualities. Before your marriage, you were a person who had qualities that enticed someone to marry you. Don’t forget this, and don’t forget the person you were, are, and will be by being yourself completely. It will be hard, but by doing this you will show your children (if you have any) how strong a person can be, which is a valuable lesson. Also, by taking pride in yourself you will learn to love yourself again.
  • Redefine your relationships. While you’re cleaning house of things and feelings that hold you back, do the same with people who make you feel negatively about yourself. In doing this, you will sort out the good friends from the false friends, and also learn to value your time and company. Additionally, this will brace you to redefine your relationship with your ex-spouse. They were your significant other, but now they are another person from your past; if you have children, their role needs to change from significant other to co-parent.

Parenting Teens After Divorce, Step 1: Laying the Foundation

78430272Like any great relationship and house, you must lay down a solid foundation for your teen’s life after a divorce. The way you approach the divorce, and talk about the divorce lays the foundation for your teen’s post-divorce life. If the divorce is a heated battle, your teen’s life will be more akin to a WWII trench than, say, a mall or movie theater. While you might scoff at the idea of NOT having a heated divorce, making sure your child remains intact is nothing to even sniff at.

So how exactly do you lay the foundation for a strong life post-divorce, and foster stellar communication with your teen? In three easy, communication-based ways. There may only be three to discuss, but they require some explaining, so we’ll tackle them one at a time.

#1: Loose the poker face.

Most parents (divorced or not) fall prey to their fears of losing control of their teen, so the communication becomes very stiff and awkward. Parents want to have open, honest conversations with their teens, but cannot reciprocate the type of communication they are asking to receive.

We are not saying all parents consistently lie to their teens, but most parents cannot seem to share their feelings and thoughts with their teens. The reason, we suspect, is that parenthood is such new territory at every step of the way, parents cling to the authority role with their teens for dear life. Consequently, the parent misses out on candidly bonding with their teen out of fear of losing respect and control.

However, what parents are really doing by parenting with a poker face is distancing their teen. All children (no matter age) learn by example from their parents. So if you’re withholding and resistant to sharing information and feelings, so will your teen.

How to Lose the Poker Face

We know, nothing in life is easy, but here are a few pointers on improving the communication lines between you and your teen:

  • Firstly, when it comes to divorce, know what is and isn’t fair game to talk about. You can share that you are feeling hurt and/or angry, but you should emphasize the feelings about the divorce is ONLY between you and your ex-spouse.
  • Never bad-mouth your ex in front of your child.
  • Enter a conversation willing to listen and understand, not scold or become offended
  • Know and watch for signs of your teen being uncomfortable or shutting down. Once you spot these, its time to halt the conversation and take a breather. You can always pick it up later.

Parenting Teens After Divorce, Step 2: Consistency

86540850Children are strange creatures that are made up of 50% you, 50% their other parent, and 100% themselves. They start out completely dependent on you for food, warmth, and comfort, and slowly begin moving farther and farther away. Then one day they magically turn into a teenager, on the cusp of autonomy but not quite there yet.

Teenagers may seem like an alien species, but parents just need to remember teenagers are still their children. Remember this throughout our discussion on parenting teens after divorce, because it will be your mental saving grace.

#2: You were, are, and will always be their parent.

Daddies and Mommies all over experience the day when their little angels no longer need them for survival. This day is seen as a blessing and curse because it means the parent can take a shower without worrying the child will find its own demise, but it also means the parent starts to question their role in the whole parent-child relationship.

Parents need to realize their role as parent will never change; it’s the parenting method that needs to change. For example, when your child was a toddler, parenting meant wiping their face and making sure they said please and thank you; now that your child is a teenager, parenting means guiding them to make good decisions and providing a stable environment.

Most people think a stable environment doesn’t really go in hand with a divorce, but can we please show you a few ways to make that a possibility?

How to Keep the Consistency

It’s true, divorce has a knack for uprooting a family. But ultimately it’s up to the parents to stabilize the family and structure the new family landscape. Divorce may physically change the family landscape, but the parents can level the ground so the children have a place to stand. Here’s how:

  • The rules your teen used to abide by during the marriage should be the rules your teen abides by after the marriage. Because your teen is a boundary tester (just like when they were in their terrible twos), it is your job to make them toe the line, because you are the parent. Married, divorced, separated, single, dating, alone and loving it, you are the parent.

  • Emphasize that the divorce doesn’t mean your teen no longer has parents. Mom and dad ended their marriage, but it doesn’t mean their parenting years are over. Parents aren’t just married people, they are people with children. Your teen may not have this straight in their head, but staying consistent with your parenting will clear that up.

  • Here is the best advice for the parents who feel guilty about putting their child through a divorce: The divorce was between you and your spouse, and the divorce can remain between you and your spouse as long as you maintain your role as parent.

Have you noticed the theme here? You are and will always be the parent. Just because you are divorced doesn’t make you any less of a parent or any less of an authority figure.

Parenting Teens After Divorce, Step 3: Preserve Childhood

89585334We’ve come to our last tutorial on parenting teenagers through a divorce, and we’ve saved the best for last. Step 1 was about establishing a strong communication line between you and your teen, and Step 2 was about effective parenting during the teen years. Step 3 is all about focusing on you, so you can let your child have their childhood. At first this might seem like an direct paradox, but hear us out and all will be clear.

#3: Let Them Be Young

During and after a divorce, a parent may be experiencing such a horrible time that their child steps up and becomes caretaker, confidant, and, inadvertently, co-parent. This phenomenon has been labeled as parentified children, which basically describes a child who has assumed parental duties at a young age. The most common example of parentified children are the eldest children of large families. These children are often called upon to be mommy’s or daddy’s little helper with wrangling their younger siblings, but its a slippery slope to taking on parental duties, cleaning duties, and eventually running the household.

In divorce, children (including teens) can become parentified children if their parent is perceived to be overburdened and so distraught they cannot function without help. Divorce marks a devastating time in any spouse’s life, but if there are children involved the parents must try to avoid casting their child in a caretaker role. It can be tempting to view your new familial situation as you and your child against the world, but be careful of stripping your child of their childhood.

How to Preserve Childhood

We don’t mean to scare parents into keeping their distance from their children, we just want parents to be aware of the consequences of their actions. There are a few ways to be emotionally close with your child, have great communication, and not parentify your child. Let us show you how:

  • Don’t talk to your teen like you would your friend. You and your teen can be friends, but know the difference between the two relationships. For example, with your friend you would vent about your ex, your feeling of despair, and your deep insecurities and doubts. With your child you can convey your feelings, but you shouldn’t ever bad-mouth your ex (their parent) or put doubt in their mind about your ability to keep it together. Doing those things would only trigger anxiety within your teen and trigger parentification.

  • Don’t make your teen the middleman between you and your spouse. This essentially forces your teen to play diplomat to two feuding countries. It will also put your teen in the awkward position of having to choose between their parents. If you had two children, would you want them to make you choose who you loved more? No. So don’t reverse the role on your child.

  • Don’t make your teen the sole source of your life and happiness. It places a great burden and responsibility on them, makes them miss out on activities, and it will leave you unsatisfied. Find something you can do alone for you; become a hiking fanatic, join a book club, or take up a new hobby. Keep yourself balanced, and you’ll bring balance to your household.

A Little Lesson About Taxes and Divorce

200264112-001Oh, tax season. The time of year when you can hear the clickety-clack of calculator buttons, and smell the nervous sweat on men and women alike. The only thing that could improve this glorious season is divorce.

…Said no one ever, not even tax specialists. In fact, the only thing that makes tax season worse is divorce (or is it the other way around?). But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, taxes can still be relatively simple as long as you know the basics. Where divorce is concerned, the tax basics are: deciding on a filing status, navigating the exemptions, and figuring out the tax refund.

Find Your Filing Status

Filing statuses are fairly cut and dry, so there isn’t too much confusion or misinformation about how to file your taxes. However, there are a few options available to couples who are separating or staying together.

Generally, a person’s legal filing status goes by what their status was at the end of the tax year. If you were legally divorced, or legally separated by or on December 31st, 2012, or living separate and apart for the last 6 months of 2012, then you will file as single or head of household. If you were still legally married by or on December 31st, 2012, then you will file as married.

However, married couples do have the option of filing taxes together or separately. So if you were still legally married by December 31st, and your and your soon-to-be-ex don’t want to file together, you may file as “married filing separately.” Just note that by opting to file married but separately, you are opting out of the tax benefits of filing as married; so if you and your spouse can tolerate each other it might be beneficial to give filing taxes together one more go.

Catch a Tax Break or Exemption

The most common and plentiful tax exemptions are for married couples with children; and the most common misconception divorced couples have about taxes is that they can both take exemptions for the child. Divorced couples can divide the exemptions, but there cannot be two people claiming exemptions for one child.

Most couples choose to alternate years claiming the children on their taxes. For example, the mother would claim the children on even years, and the father would claim the children on odd years. However, the parent with primary custody of the child usually claims the child every year. If the other parent pays for the child’s medical expenses, that parent may take those deductions.

Just as a little disclaimer, one child expense that is not tax deductible is child support. The parent paying the child support cannot take deductions for the payments made because child support is considered tax neutral.

The Tax Refund Raffle

That night, after filing taxes, everyone goes to bed with dreams of a big, fat tax refund dancing through their mind. Divorce does not dissuade this pipe dream of swimming in your tax refund, but here are ways to increase your little neat refund pile. As tax refunds go, married people with children they can claim as dependents have it pretty good.

As a divorcee, you may be hanging your head, but don’t despair for too long. Divorcees can get better tax refunds if they pay alimony, if they can claim any children as dependents, and more.

Have any more pressing tax questions? Leave a comment below and we’ll get to the bottom of it for you.

Nesting Into Divorce

Nesting child custody methodDivorce may not seem like something that can evolve, but attitudes towards divorce and divorce practices are evolving. A prime example of divorce evolution is collaborative divorce, which only become a practice around the 1980′s. Well, prepare yourself for the latest stage of divorce evolution, called “nesting.”

Nesting is a child custody plan that allows the children of divorce to stay in the same house, while the parents are the ones who shuttle back and forth. Nesting requires three houses: one where the children live, one where the father lives, and one where the mother lives. The idea is to allow the children to continuously live in one home to lessen the negative impact of divorce.

A Child Custody By Many Other Names

Just to add a little more confusion into the mix, nesting is known by a few other names. However, nesting (aka aparenting, aka birdnesting, aka kids stay) is a fairly simple custody method; just think of nesting as an extreme version of joint custody.

Basically, the parents each rent an apartment or place of their own, but keep the house they lived in together during the marriage. The parents create a schedule to decide which parent stays in the house with the children for a certain amount of time. A common nesting schedule alternates the parents in the house with the children weekly or bi-weekly.

Three Homes, Two Parents, One Big Problem?

While nesting might seem like a viable option only for Birkenstock-wearing, granola-eating, peace-talking divorcees, nesting is touted to be a viable option for anyone who can manage to put the kids first. However, nesting should only be used in cases that are completely without any kind of abuse (emotional, sexual, physical).

Still nervous about the thought of having to share a common dwelling with your ex-spouse? Yeah, we totally understand that, but everyone who has successfully used nesting as a custody method gives the same advice: Just step up.

Easier Said…

The most annoying direction is probably “Don’t try, just do.” Hearing this may make your blood boil, but just think about the empowering message hidden in the condescending package. In the context of divorce, just doing it and taking each day one at a time is basically all any divorcee can do.

So the “Just step up” argument for nesting is really not so offensive or blood-boiling, especially when the pay-off is emotionally stable children.

Is Nesting That Beneficial?

While the downside to nesting includes living in a home that smacks of your ex, and having to maintain two houses, the upside appears to easily outweigh the negatives.

Firstly, just the fact that the children aren’t expected to be on the ones dividing their time and love is a giant bonus. All the negative impacts (being put in the middle, feeling unstable and uprooted, being confused about the physical family structure, feeling uncomfortable and unaccommodated in their parents’ new spaces, etc.) divorce is said to have on children would be a lot less of an issue just by trying the nesting method.

Secondly, the parents would have to come to terms with being forever connected sooner rather than later. Since this is the main hang-up for parents after divorce, nesting essentially forces them to be the adult and deal with it, and fast.

Thirdly, nesting doesn’t have to be permanent and allows the family to take their time in deciding how to handle the divorce. Nesting could be used as a transition parenting plan, it could be temporary, or it could be permanent. Nesting allows the family to avoid making rushed, emotion-based decisions.

What do you think about nesting? Does it give you the heebie-jeebies, or does it peak your interest?