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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 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.

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?

Can NC Manufacture “Healthy” Marriages

82770193There are many laws and bill in the works that would make it more difficult to get a divorce in various states. The most recent state to make motions to impose stricter divorce laws on their citizens is North Carolina. Senator Austin Allran of Hickory, North Carolina, and Senator Warren Daniel of Morganton, North Carolina are the main supporters of House Bill 518. HB 518 is also known by the monicker of The Healthy Marriage Act, which lends itself to some interesting arguments against the “Healthy” Marriage Act.

HB 518

HB 518 is some very interesting legislation that seems to be working from the wrong side of a healthy marriage. This bill proposes to make a divorcing couple observe a 2 year waiting period before any action to divorce can be taken.

The spouse instigating the divorce must file an intent to divorce with the court, and notify their not-too-soon-to-be-ex of the beginning of their 2 year waiting period. HB 518 graciously makes no demand upon the couple to live separate and apart for the 2 years; and wouldn’t you know, the provision allowing couples to have “isolated incidents of sexual intercourse” in the current divorce law would remain intact in HB 518.

However, the couple must complete a few courses during the waiting period. Firstly, the couple must complete an improving communication skills course, and a conflict-resolution course. These courses have no requirement concerning time of completion, or length of course. Additionally, the couple may complete the courses separately.

If the divorcing couple has children, then there is one more stipulation. The couple must complete a course at least 4 hours long about the impact of divorce on children.

Fostering “Healthy” Marriages?

The “Healthy” Marriage Act basically describes laughable attempts at patching up a marriage. Senators Allran and Daniel could have really benefited from the counsel of the twins from the Parent Trap. But alas, HB 518 is not some hare-brained scheme from a family frolic film; HB 518 is a real piece of legislation officials are currently considering.

I’m sure the intentions behind HB 518 are pure and from the goodness of the Senator’s hearts, but a bill that extends the waiting period so long, and allows cohabitation and even sexual relations is just too much to be believed. If the Senators wanted to make a dent in the high divorce rate and foster healthy marriages, they should put their efforts into the other end of a marriage: the beginning.

No one wants to pose restrictions on love, ideologically. But lets be adults and face the fact that marriage is regulated through bureaucracy and legislation. If we wanted to give starry-eyed lovers the best chance at marriage, we would pass laws imposing things like marriage counseling and conflict resolution courses on prospective newlyweds.

The Grandparent’s Guide to Divorce

83496521Observing family dynamics and becoming a part of the dynamic is one of the best feelings in the world, which is a major perk of marriage. However, when the marriage doesn’t quite work out as expected, extricating yourself from the family dynamic is one of the most painful feelings. After all, you were all one big happy family for so long, so it’s jarring when the family is expected to pick sides and quickly part ways like simple acquaintances.

What if we were to tell you there was a way to stay connected after divorce? Actually, what we really want to tell you is that staying connected after divorce is the best possible thing for any children there may be from the marriage. Everyone involved in the divorce wants what is best for the children, and what is best is remaining connected as (what some might call) an eccentric family.

Grandfathering in New Expectations

Divorce has a knack for dividing families and making their interactions stiff and awkward, but it just takes one person in the family to take command and set the tone of the post-divorce family dynamic. Who better than the grandparents, the sages of the family, to set the tone and foster togetherness?

Well, there isn’t anyone better, because grandparents are just removed enough to avoid being parental, but loving enough to always care.

Parenting is Forever, Just Do it Grandly

Grandparents, just like everyone else in the family, feel confused, wary, and helpless when they watch their children go through a divorce. But grandparents are not so helpless because their wisdom, love, and support are the greatest tools to deal with a divorce. So for all you grandparents out there, don’t remove yourself from the situation; your family needs you.

Grandparenting your adult child doesn’t have to be invasive or controlling, it should be more supportive, loving, and offering. Instead of telling your adult child, “You should …, and then …,” offer ideas or support, like “You look like you need a break/talk/etc., why don’t I …”

There is one more piece of advice we have for grandparents: don’t push away your ex-son/daughter-in-law just because they are divorcing your child. It’s one thing to excommunicate an absent in-law, but another to excommunicate an in-law who is still very much involved in your grandchildren’s lives. If your child feels betrayed by the continued relationship between you and the ex, just calmly explain it’s in support of the grandchildren’s relationships with all the involved relatives (after all, the ex has supplied a set of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins too).

Grandparenting the grandchildren should be as neutral and supportive as possible. The grandparents house should be like a safe haven from all the confusing changes and emotional trauma because the grandparents house hasn’t had to alter at all in the divorce. Continue the usual routines and rituals practiced in the days before the divorce, don’t shy away from speaking about or to both parents, and don’t approach your grandchildren like they are damaged packages you’re uncomfortable around.

As a little side note, don’t allow yourself to be caught up in the role of family spy. If your grandchild comes to you for comfort and a willing ear, don’t take those words of trust and confidence and use them to arm your child with ammo against the ex. If you are on anyone’s side, you are on the grandchildren’s.

Essentially, your role as grandparent is to be the rock, the constant in your child’s and grandchildren’s lives. So don’t let yourself get caught up in pettiness or side-taking, because the family will be looking to you to set the tone of the post-divorce family dynamic.

How to Travel Post-Divorce

travelingIf there is one thing divorce is good at doing, it’s knocking people down a peg, or 10. After a divorce, you are probably feeling a few of these common symptoms: Unloved, discarded, broken, over-stressed, and emotionally and financially drained. True, you may be feeling or experiencing these symptoms of divorce now, but know this too will pass.

After the divorce, and near the tail-end of the mourning period, you will feel life seeping back into you, and maybe even smile twice a week. This is the perfect time to take a little post-divorce trip.

A Post-Divorce Trip. Is That a Thing?

Post-divorce trips are gaining in popularity, but aren’t quite established life events yet; there is no manual on post-divorce trip etiquette, or a “Congrats on your post-divorce trip!” Hallmark section. However, there is a philosophy behind the post divorce trip.

The post-divorce philosophy is that life is too short to not enjoy it. After a divorce, people usually have one of two responses: 1) They feel drained, lifeless, and like life is nothing but a mess; 2) They feel empowered to live life how they want to. A post-divorce trip works to make the divorce a part of the past and to offer people a new perspective.

Post-Divorce Tripping on a Budget

If you’re reading this blog and thinking, “Yeah, go on a post-divorce trip, with what money?” then we invite you to think outside of the box. Some trips can come with a hefty price tag, but there are ways around that.

We found a great article with fantastic ideas about traveling on the cheap, if not completely free. You may not end up in four-star hotels with vaulted ceilings and canopy beds, but your experience will be just as real and rejuvenating.

Tips to Post-Divorce Tripping

The whole idea of post-divorce trips is to rejuvenate yourself and your life. So here are a few tips to prevent anything from zapping your rejuvenation and life-affirming experiences.

Tip #1: Go somewhere new. On this trip of rediscovery and wonder, choose a destination that is completely new to you. By submerging yourself in a completely new environment, it will give you the chance to make memories that are untouched by the divorce or the daily stresses. Also, by going somewhere without connections to anything or anyone, you will be able to put the focus where it needs to be right now: you and your happiness.

Tip #2: Don’t pack unnecessary baggage. During the trip resist the urge to contact your spouse. In fact, leave the world behind. Limit your phone calls, texts, instant messages, social media updates while on your trip; at home, those are welcome distractions, but while on your post-divorce trip they are just intrusions.

Tip #3: Choose your company wisely. If the prospect of traveling alone seems frightening, but intriguing, then it might be in your best interest to take the leap and learn to be your own best company. If the prospect of traveling alone seems downright terrifying, then there is no harm in recruiting a travel buddy; but, the travel buddy must have certain qualities.

The travel buddy cannot:

  • bring up painful memories

  • allow you to wallow the whole trip

  • be a pessimist

The travel buddy should:

  • make you laugh

  • be adventurous

  • have a great shoulder to support you with

Where will you go on your post-divorce trip?

Financial Life After Divorce for Women

When I was a young teenage girl, a nice older lady who was working at a grocery store got into a brief conversation with me about college education. She said, “Make sure you get a college degree to put in your back-pocket, in case you end up having to fully support yourself.” I didn’t find out the details of her life, but it’s probable that she was warning me to protect myself against a situation in which she had found herself entangled.

Rewind to about 50 years ago. The reality was most women didn’t think too much of careers or earning a living because that was, and perhaps still is in certain people’s view, the sole responsibility of their husbands. But as time went on from that point, divorce went on the rise. So has the rate of women receiving college degrees and entering the workforce.

Frequently for women, filing for divorce means more changes in lifestyle than separating from a lover– it means taking charge of their financial lives and becoming independent. These ladies are in good company, since the trend of women in the workforce is on the rise globally, divorced or not.

Bringing Home the Bacon

The cost of living is an expensive feat (an understatement for those residing in places like California or New York City). Those going through the divorce process would also agree, which is why it’s not only important to find ways to lower the cost of divorce, but also make sure you are able to support yourself as a newly single person with one lonely income.

Financial independence is increasingly important for women, who are still in the process of obtaining equal status and pay within the male-dominated work environment. They are making significant strides, as of late, and are predicted to do so even more in the near future.  Not only are 4 in 10 global workers female, an expected 1 billion more will become paid workers within the next ten years.

Educational feats provide similar and even more impressive statistics that show the increasing presence and potential for women in the economy. Outshining men within the developed world, 6 out of 10 college diplomas are earned by women. It seems the encouragement of the grocery store lady and others like her has worked.

Why Female Breadwinners Are Necessary

The continually high rate of divorce in the last of half of the 20th, and the beginning of the 21st century means women who are left single, and many times with children, are no longer dependent on men for their own sustenance. On top of this fact, it appears rare in the current economy to see even a marriage-intact household fruitfully surviving on only one income. Women are stepping up to the plate, not only for themselves but for the sake of economic progress within the American home and worldwide.

The Right and Wrong of Conflict

78057026Whether filing for divorce or not, relationships usually deal with conflict at one point or another. Anyone who has ever been in any kind of argument knows it feels good to be right, and not so good to be wrong. However, psychology research has shown that the right and wrong, or “the truth,” of relational conflict is much more relative and fuzzy than we tend to believe.

When an incident or disagreement takes place, there is almost always two, or perhaps multiple, sides of the story. Each person believes their version of the truth is right and any other is wrong. But what if all versions are right, or all versions are wrong? Or what if there is no right or wrong?

These questions are probably more frustrating than enlightening, so I’ll go ahead and get to the point now.

Cognitive Dissonance: The “I Am Always Right” Syndrome

“People selectively hear and see what matches their beliefs and experiences,” explains Christina Curtis, a leadership coach who writes for Psychology Today. “They then lace each action of the event with meaning, and seek validation from those around them.”

In psychological terms, the above theory is called cognitive dissonance, when you find or sometimes actively create supportive evidence that you are right to avoid any feelings of being wrong. It’s a self-protective defense mechanism we use to avoid those negative feelings and instead keep ourselves standing in an angelic, heroic light.

The downside of this mechanism is the way it becomes destructive in relationships, especially the most intimate, conflict-ridden relationship of all: Marriage. Playing the right vs. wrong game allows disagreements to escalate and belittle the opponent, preventing quick resolution and reconciliation that can follow under ideal circumstances.

Victim vs. Villain

Another way of terming what is right and wrong within relational conflicts is calling out the victim and the villain. The victim is the right one and, of course, the villain is the one in the wrong. In order to protect yourself from being wrong, the other person slides into a downward spiral in your eyes, as you find evidence that they’ve been wrong all along and have characteristically selfish, villainous tendencies.

The main problem with this conflict approach is the way cognitive dissonance emphasizes the negative and downplays the positive in a partner. The victim ends up ignoring certain facts while self-servingly highlighting only the facts that support viewing the other as a villain. Rather than alleviating conflict, it’s simply worsening it.

The Potential Upside of Conflict

By escalating conflict, the two opponents bypass the opportunity to work through it thoughtfully and come out the other end stronger as a couple. Researcher John Gottman “found that stable marriages consistently had 5 times more positive behaviors than negative behaviors during an exchange.”

Even though there may be negative things to express during marital conflict, or conflict that occurs while going through the divorce process, focusing on all the positive facts about the other person produces more positive results. Seeing conflict with objective, all-encompassing eyes, instead of biased, self-serving ones helps you see all sides of the story, not just one version of the truth.

How does the theory of cognitive dissonance affect your view of relational conflict?

Divorce Vows: Say ‘I Do’ to Your Future

A Huffington Post blogger recently brought up an interesting topic: vows. You took them when you married, so why not make some when you divorce? After all, divorce is definitely as significant an event as marriage, if not more.

Divorce could be considered even more significant than marriage because it is emotionally, financially, and physically wrenching. Marriage is a big change, but the joining of lives is not only a happier event, but it is less complicated than separating lives.

Happily Never After Vows

So, again, we ask, “Why not make divorce vows?” Divorce vows can help embrace this particular life change by actually creating a blueprint for your healing process, and it might even inject a little humor into the mix.

Although divorce vows might be a modern practice, at least it isn’t a public affair like the even more modern divorce party. Divorce vows can, and probably should, be done privately, with the focus of the exercise on yourself, healing, and your future.

Written From the Heart

If you’re at a loss for where to begin writing your divorce vows, take a look at the blogger’s divorce vows. She makes vows to her ex and to herself, and although she admits her vows would be different had she written them a year ago, try to make your vows free of malice and spite.

But if the divorce process is still hot, then go ahead and let your vows convey your anger and pain. View your divorce vows as goals to recovery. Currently, you are sick with pain and anger, the goal is to be healthy and balanced again.

Bringing Out the Inner Poet/Guru

As always, we have a few pointers, and we are more than eager to share them with you.

It’s all about ambiance. Don’t let writing your divorce vows be a rushed, last second event; after all, the only time frame involved is your own. Plan the day/night you are going to do the deed and prepare for it. Set the tone for the night according to your goal. If the divorce is fresh, your goal might be to work through your feelings, so the night might involve loud music that really fires you up and a (as in one!) strong drink. If you are ready to focus on healing and moving on, the night might be one of luxury, filled with your favorite meal and more inspirational music. Make your divorce vows just as special as the ones you made to your now-ex, you deserve it.

Keep your vows fresh in your mind. The whole point of a vow is to follow through on the promise you made. It’s easy to write something one night, put the paper away, and never think about what you wrote ever again. Don’t let your vows be empty words; post your vows somewhere in the house where you can gaze upon the words every day. If it helps, have the vows reproduced into a piece of art so they are something to actually behold; fancy letterhead, a painting, or even on your daily coffee mug are good options.

Don’t forget to renew your vows. Although you might be happy with your vows, and the way they look, don’t forget their purpose. The divorce vows are goals to meet, hurdles and obstacles to overcome. So every 6 months revise or rewrite your vows to be current and fitting with your evolving life.

If you have recently had to click a pen to sign divorce papers, life can be summed up in a few choice words, like “suck,” or “not according to plan.” But after 6 months or so, life might be summed up in different words, like “ever-changing,” or “surprising.” The time after divorce is a break in life when people learn the most about themselves and what they want. Divorce can be a blessing if you take the opportunity to grow and learn.

What are some divorce vows you’re ready to make right now?

Women’s Divorce Rights: Progress in Uganda

skd284550sdcAlthough there are many circulating opinions regarding divorce in the U.S., we are lucky enough to have fair divorce laws in this country, whether you’re a man or woman. Until about a decade ago in Uganda, their law made it unfairly difficult and rare for a wife to initiate divorcing her husband, while letting husbands divorce wives quite easily. Now that Ugandan laws are changing, and representatives are standing up for the rights of women, the oppression of women in divorce is finally lifting.

Change of Law, Change of Heart

Cases of women initiating divorce in Uganda have been on the rise ever since 2004, when a court got rid of a sexist divorce law. The law allowed a man to swiftly divorce his wife merely upon proof of adultery, while a woman only had a case if she could prove her husband had committed sodomy, desertion, or bestiality.

Now women can file for divorce on account of abuse, adultery, or for any other matter in the marriage that lowers their quality of life. As a result, legal officials and activists report, the number of divorce cases overall has multiplied, showing how needful the unfair law repeal actually was.

Thanks to sympathetic Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, even more progressive changes may take effect within the year. Lawmakers are working to pass a law that would solidify men and women as equals within marriage, including making marital rape an offense, and securing equal distribution of property upon divorce.

Taking a Stand

Referring to how he likes to turn his courtroom into a classroom, Ugandan court magistrate David Batema pronounces,“[t]he major aim of the lesson should be to point out to the man that marriage, as of now, is a partnership of equals.”

Batema is a forward-thinking man who, among other activists and legal authorities, is admirably standing up for women, thereby helping to create a better, more egalitarian future. Many times during feminist revolutions like this one, oppressed women are the ones leading the way. It’s refreshing to see males stepping up to the plate, defending and empowering women.

Batema believes in protecting women’s freedom of choice, saying “that’s why in my career I have never refused to grant a divorce where one partner wants it,” he said. “Marriage is supposed to be voluntary.”

Confronting Stigma

Still lingering among traditionalist and church official thinking in the conservative, East African country is that the rise in divorce is shameful. What this kind of opinion disregards as unimportant is the overwhelming instances and likelihood of abuse from which these women are rightfully escaping.

As Maria Nassali, a family law teacher and activist, emphasizes, “[w]e need to kill the stigma associated with divorce. She’s not being selfish when she gets a divorce. She’s not being immoral. She just wants to be a human being.”

When a culture teaches and expects women to be submissive to their husbands, and disables them from making choices about their own well-being, the women are deprived of human rights. Thankfully, voices like Batema and Nassali’s are being heard, and the culture of female submission in Uganda is changing for the better.