How The Parents Conflict Affects Children

Common sense tells you that the parents conflict affects children, but it is even worse when the parents feel hatred towards each.  The following article discusses an all-to-common situation that many people face after a divorce.

What’s a kid to do when parents hate each other?

Sometimes the animosity between separated parents is so thick, you can cut it with a knife. In such cases both parents deflect blame on the other while denying or minimizing their own contribution to conflict.

In some instances the allegations of both parents are unfounded. The parents are like oil and fire and simply do not get along. They both may be hurt for the demise of the relationship. They may feel embarrassed for the breakdown and need to vilify the other. Each stakes out the position of being hard done by the other thus gaining the sympathy of friends and family.

In other instances mutual allegations are founded. Both have in fact acted untoward. Both have acted poorly although not abusively. Yet, neither takes responsibility and both use the transgressions of the other to legitimize their own.

Caught In the Middle

Pity the children whose parents are so locked in mutual despise. The child becomes the battleground. Each parent begrudges the child’s relationship to the other. Even though a parent may hold their tongue, the attitude still exudes. The child lives with their distain.

The child is between a rock and a hard place. To survive they learn to mask their feelings. To avoid the disapproval of their parents they align with each parent through negative comments about the other. So when with mom the child tells bad stories of dad to gain mother’s approval and minimize tensions with her. Then with dad the child tells bad stories of mom to gain his approval and minimize tensions with him. Sadly though, the strategy only feeds the conflict between the parents as they feel more justified in their position with the new ammunition delivered by the child. Thus the parental conflict escalates and the child is subject to greater hostility.

How the Parents Conflict Affects Children

Eventually the child breaks down under the strain of conflict between despising parents. The child’s distress may take the form of school related problems, anxiety, depression, bullying, victimization and even physical complaints such as headaches and stomachaches. Because of the pre-existing parental animosity and then stories of the child, both parents blame each other for the child’s distress.

Both parents present self-righteously in their position and both parents are remarkably defensive towards any insinuation that their behaviour may be contributory to the child’s distress. Both parents present with a profound sensitivity to feeling blamed. Discussing their dynamic with one parent can trigger a defensive barrage of the issues of the other parent.

Resolving Parental Conflict

In situations like these, favourable outcomes for the child are best achieved by working with both parents.

The service provider must be well experienced in working with such high conflict situations and the dynamics as described. The approach requires expertise with clinical assessment, mediation, education and reconciliation counseling.

Eventually, the parents must be brought along to understand that their antagonistic tug of war is the toxicity hurting their child. In some situations both parents feel they must let go of the rope at the same time. In other situations some parents take the position that the other parent must go first with regard to making amends or changes. The challenge is to achieve a plan for both parents that encourages a relaxation of the animosity and new collaborative behaviour. Finally, the child needs to be brought into a session with both parents where they demonstrate their maturity by cooperating for the child’s sake and grant permission for the child to love both parents equally.

One never knows at the outset, if one or both parents can muster the maturity to take responsibility for their contribution to conflict. However, there is a secret to ending tugs of war… Only one side has to let go. The question is who is going to step up first.

What’s a kid to do? Send both parents for help!

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Goosed by the Gosselins

The Gosselins are in the news again. Don’t know who they are? The family of twins and sextuplets from Jon & Kate Plus Eight, and now Kate Plus Eight. After going through a very public divorce, the family has now settled into a post-divorce life. The family recently made headlines again when two of their six-year-old children were allegedly expelled from their school for misbehavior towards other children. And of course, the parents continue to take the spotlight by bickering over whether the children should appear on TV and by talking about each other.

Take away the cameras and the media and the sheer number of children involved and you’re dealing with a textbook post-divorce family. The Gosselins aren’t unusual at all. Few families move on after a divorce without some disagreement over finances and parenting. And most moms who are divorced need to talk about it with friends (in Kate Gosselin’s case she may be mistaking the media for her friends). Many children experience behavioral issues after a divorce and if you mix that up with how child stars fare in general, well, you’ve got a pretty clear idea that the Gosselins are going to have some difficulties.

I don’t want to bash the Gosselins – in fact, I feel sorry for them. A mom who found a way to support her unique family is dealing with the consequences of public life. A dad who has made some public mistakes is vilified. Kids who are just kids are behaving in the only way that makes sense to them. The only solution for them (getting out of the spotlight) takes away their livelihood. They’re in a tough spot.

If you find yourself living a less public version of the Gosselin story (vicious disagreements, not enough cash to go around, clashes on how to parent, and kids who are acting out), there are some solutions for you:

Get therapy. 

This is the best way to help your kids cope. Yes, they made it through the actual break up, but many, many children have reactions months and months after the fact once the new life has had a chance to settle in. Give your kid a safe place to talk and a counselor who is experienced in dealing with children of divorce. See a therapist yourself to help you find ways to cope with your own aftershocks.

Change your priorities. 

It is easy to say your kids are the most important thing in your life, but honestly, when you were going through the actual break up, you had a lot on your mind. You changed. Your life changed. Your schedule probably changed. Everything was different when you come out the other side. Stop and decide that you need to spend one-on-one time with your kids in a regular manner and you need to make yourself available to them for unplanned contact as much as possible. I’m not saying quit your job and stay home, but be there by text if you can’t be there any other way. Stay involved, keep them talking to you, and find a way to do things with them. Give up some other things if you have to.

Negotiate a cease-fire. 

You and your ex might have worked through a divorce settlement, but you haven’t cleared up all the bad feelings between you. Honestly, you probably never will completely get rid of them, but it’s time to pull together as parents. If your kids are in trouble you HAVE to be on the same side. It’s time to stop assigning blame for who failed the kids. Now is the time to be a team. You have to talk to each other, you have to cooperate, and you have to come up with a consensus on how to deal with the problems. See a couples counselor if you can’t find any other way to work together.

Accept your financial reality. 

A divorce wreaks havoc on your finances. After attorney fees, property settlements, alimony, and child support, neither one of you can have the same lifestyle you had before the divorce. It has all changed. So it’s time to stop living in the past and accept what your new reality is. What changes can you make in your life to make your money go further? Most people underestimate the financial problems they are going to have after divorce and it’s a real shock to find out you just don’t have enough to make ends meet. See a financial counselor if you’re in over your head.

Stop talking smack about the other parent. 

Yes, it’s nice to let steam off to your friends, but if you’re doing that a lot, you’re actually making the situation worse. Instead of finding solutions, you’re wallowing in the problem. Take a week and say nothing bad about the other parent. In fact, force yourself to find something positive to say. You have to change your mindset. The other parent cannot continue to be your enemy. Change how you perceive the situation and you will change how you behave, which in turn will change how the other parent behaves.

And whatever you do, don’t go on Dancing with the Stars.

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Birthdays After Divorce and My Perfect (ex) Husband

The Sweetest Reward

My son’s birthday is in the spring. It was a big deal for him because we recently moved to the Dallas area and this was his first birthday celebration in our new community. We had several conversations on the kind of party he wanted to have, who would attend and where it would be held. But I didn’t facilitate a conversation that would allow him to settle on any definite choices beyond which boys in his fifth grade class would be invited.

Unbeknownst to him, my Perfect (ex-) Husband and I already discussed exactly how we were going to celebrate. We decided on a sleep-over at a nearby hotel. Pizza, movies and snacks between swimming and games at the hotel would exhaust them enough to make the sleep-over portion relatively quite. Breakfast in the morning followed by thank-you’s and good-byes would complete the party. When all was said and done, my son had a blast with his friends, received some very cool gifts and was ecstatic with the success of his birthday bash.

Now this may seem pretty typical, no big deal right? Well, let me fill you in on some of the particulars. In making the party arrangements, I researched the nearby hotels and, based on price, proximity and amenities, decided which ones to check out. While I visited the hotels, my Perfect (ex-) Husband and I were on the phone discussing the pros and cons of each venue. When we decided on the right location, I made a reservation for him at the hotel (he lives in Florida) and checked on a couple of flights.

We then both stayed at the hotel (separate beds of course), met the kid’s parents, chaperoned the party, got the boys up and ready for breakfast, waited for all the parents to pick-up their kids and checked out of the hotel. In case you’re still a little slow on the uptake, we worked together through all aspects of the party because it was important to our son. And we were able to do it without strife, conflict or weird feelings because we have consciously decided that having a good relationship is the very best situation we can create for our son’s stability.

Now you may feel this was a bit overboard, like maybe I can’t plan a party without my Perfect (ex-) Husband’s input and approval. I assure you, with years of special event planning under my belt, the party was not the issue.

Instead of looking at it that way, consider this: we are both interested in our son having the full benefit of two parents. As a result, neither of us bears the full weight of raising a child, from deciding on the best school and appropriate dating age to being on the same page with respect to responsibilities, privileges and punishments.

You see, creating a Perfect (ex-) Marriage is beneficial to all involved, and all the work you put into it is well worth the time and effort. A couple of days after the party my son said to me, “I have the coolest parents in the world because you both work together to make me happy.” That was the sweetest reward I could image for the years it took to get to this place in our lives. Our son recognizes our effort. Later that day I called my Perfect (ex-) Husband to share that comment with him.

Hey listen, your not walking this road alone. I’ll share my pitfalls and successes with you and we will journey to the other side together. Be encouraged!

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Avoiding Uncooperative Co-Parenting

Custodial Parents, the Fight to be Right

As moms we deal with a lot of emotions when a relationship ends. Men do as well, but woman normally internalize things more then men do. We spend hours rethinking every move we’ve made. We second guess decisions that were sound at the time but now seem questionable. We question the sincerity of everything. Add massive issues like infidelity, lies and arguments and you have a very volatile situation.

Now, let’s further complicate the issue and add children to the mix. This really adds a unique dimension to the break up. You have to focus on their needs. You can’t ignore their difficulties, and that complicates how you handle your own grief. Sometimes we put our feelings to the side to help our kids deal with their struggles. You can’t lecture that things are going to get better if you have been crying hysterically in front of them all day. They look to us parents for guidance on how they should handle it, not just the words we say but our actions too.

Pain replaces logic

Moms let me talk to you for a moment: You know how we can get when we’re upset. There is very little thinking taking place. Pain replaces logic, and we get immersed in what could have been. We can be inconsolable.

Sometimes you look at your ex and in your eyes he is living his life. He even looks happy. “How dare he look like that”, you say to yourself, not realizing he is just pretending to look okay.

Eventually you figure out that there is a way to get through to him, a way that he can not avoid. You throw everything you know that is good, right and Godly out the window.

You want revenge

You want him to feel the pain that you are feeling. He calls to speak to the kids and you are “on the other line” and he has to call them back. You were not on the other line and before he calls back you turn the ringer off. He comes to visit the kids and you are not home. You “forgot” he was coming. Some of you have stooped even lower and told complete lies like: “Daddy doesn’t want to see you, I tried or daddy is more interested in seeing his new girlfriend so he does not have time for you”.

Dads you have not been saints either. You use just as many “tricks” when you are the custodial parent living with pain.

The custodial parent has an internal dialogue going on. They have found a way to justify everything they are doing. They’ve even convinced themselves that the other parent doesn’t even deserve to see their child.

Is this you? Am I describing you? You know if I am, search your heart.

If I am describing you, please listen closely. There is a major problem with your logic. You may eventually crush the other parent’s resolve and spirit but you will also crush your child’s spirit and self esteem too. Eventually they will begin to wonder what they did wrong to push the other parent away. A child uses simple logic: if I did not do anything wrong then my parent would come and see me, since they are not coming to see me I must have done something wrong.  Another foreseeable problem is,

As you afflict pain on your ex you also limit yourself.

How? Revenge is a lot of work. It’s almost impossible to prosper while you’re being spiteful. It’s time consuming to play the “I can out do you” game. You waste a lot of time plotting and you are not fun to be around either.

You know what I mean. The kids can’t mention the other parent without you going “off”. How are they supposed to feel? This is someone that they look up to, and aspire to be like and you are speaking badly of them. Remember kids emulate their parents. If you put down one of their heroes, in their eyes you are putting them down too.

I was like you once, happily in love and my marriage ended due to his cheating. I had 2 young children when I found out about the “third” affair. I was furious at him. I had enough and I left, but he was always welcome to see the kids, after all they did not do anything wrong. Did I want to see him at times? No, but they did. It wasn’t easy, I prayed a lot, but it was the right thing to do for all of us, especially them.

It’s never too late to change.

I know you feel that you are not over the break up yet and forgiving the other parent makes it seem like they are “off the hook” for all they did, but that is not what this is about. Forgiving is not excusing what they did. Forgiving is freeing you. You will be free to live your life and make decisions based on growth. Nothing will change until you decide to let go of the pain that is holding you back. If the other person is a fit parent, then they have the right to interact with their child.

Despite all of this negativity you are not hopeless because you can change this. Parents are inherently strong willed people who are used to being resilient. This is an obstacle and you can overcome it. Demonstrate to your kids that when you make a mistake you accept your responsibilities and do everything needed to make it right.

Apologize to everyone involved including you and start over. Forgive yourself; don’t keep looking back at all the time you wasted. Call you ex and work on a visitation plan that is fair and starts immediately. It’s never too late to change. Don’t let shame and embarrassment hold you back. Walk past that to your victory. John Lennon said it best: “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” He was right, he’s not the only one. I want you to join us so we can work on changing the world one family at a time.

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Handling Child Rearing Expenses After Divorce

How to Keep Divorce from Devastating Your Family Finances

Let’s face it. Getting divorced is a financial blow to any family. It is quite a touchy subject. Even in the best of circumstances there are double the housing expenses because suddenly there are two homes to support. Ah you know, two phone bills, to cable bills, two water bills and so on. When there are kids involved and split-family living becomes the lifestyle of choice for the foreseeable future, finances can get even stickier.

If you are on reasonable terms with your ex-spouse there are some ways to avoid common pitfalls of supporting your kids financially. If you are not, there are still limited actions you can take without having to involve the family lawyer, they just may not be as equitable.

Don’t use money as a manipulator.

The children will be the only ones to suffer. If you have an agreeable divorce it might be best to visit a financial planner together so that you can set up the best situation possible for your kids. It’s not about any more than simply your kids. If it is very messy, talk to someone about setting up a trust where a neutral party has control from the very beginning.

Agree on how you are going to handle day to day expenses. 

How are you going to pay for swim team, who is going to write the check? How will shopping for birthdays and other holidays be done? Will you each contribute a certain amount? Who will take them shopping? Will there be a primary financial responsible party or will you divide it based on activity? One handles medical, one handles childcare.

Establish a savings account for each child.

Agree to a set amount that you will each contribute on a regular (monthly is ideal) basis. That money will be there for those “unexpected” expenses like cheerleading camp or the band trip abroad. When those events come up, you’ll be able to consult and then just deduct the amount from the savings account. There will be no arguing. There will be no financial distress on either party. It will be there. It can be used. Depending on how you set it up this same account can pay for braces, football practice, swim team and other day-to-day expenses. See below to take this a step further.

If possible, establish a credit card that allows both parents to sign on it.

That way if there ever does come a time when you need to pay for something, you can do so immediately without having to track down the other parent to physically give you half the funds. You could also do something similar with a joint checking account for your kids that you both are signers on. Keep in mind this will only work if both parties are fiscally responsible.

Sign up for Mealpay Plus (www.mealpayplus) if your school offers it.

It’s a great way for any parent to pay for school lunches. They give notice if your child’s account is running low and then you don’t have to have your child home that night to notify you he/she is out of lunch money.

Start a college fund.

This should be separate from the regular savings account. It should be money that is not allowed to be touched. Agree ahead of time of what the funds may be used for and how the money will be shared if the purpose is not fulfilled. (i.e. student doesn’t go to college) Contributing monthly will really cause this fund to grow. To take this further you could start a mutual fund account or some other methodology for investing.

Buy savings bonds.

There are many types and methods to choose from. There are even automated methods that you can purchase them with so that you don’t have to remember each month/year to do it. They are relatively secure and they are not easily spent so they tend to last even through the penny pinching times.

Buy life insurance.

Both parents should buy life insurance that will financially cover the remaining parent should one die. You can designate the money be put in a trust for your kids to be managed by whomever you choose, or have the money go directly to your ex-spouse. Work it through the same agent so the policy is similar on both sides.

Meet with a tax advisor. 

Often times you may claim Single/Head of Household if you have a dependent. It may be worth you splitting your dependents equally or sharing them by odd and even years.

Write a will. 

There is so much more than just who will take custody of the kids. You both will really want to think about how you want your assets to be handled if you are not there to do it for the kids.

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Co-Parenting After Divorce A Cost Effective Approach

Co-parenting after divorce can be challenging, especially when finances are tight.  The suggestions below can help you find ways to save money both now and in the long run.

Recession Co-Parenting

The recession has hit all of us where it hurts the most – in our wallets. If you’re looking for ways to save money, don’t forget to look to your co-parenting agreement for ways to make some cuts.

Reduce Legal Fees

If you are currently in a divorce or are back in court arguing over an existing custody plan, think about how much money you are spending in legal costs. Your attorney is likely charging you upwards of $150 or $200 an hour. That’s a lot of money to spend on something so unpleasant as a divorce or custody fight. Obviously, getting a fair divorce settlement or a custody plan that works for your child is very important, but there are lots of ways you can reduce your legal costs: – Try to work it out.

Yes, I know you’re in court because you can’t agree, but if you point out to your ex how much money you’re throwing away over this, it might be possible to sit down in a calm and rational way and work something out yourselves. Almost every case settles before trial, so why not work the settlement out yourselves instead of paying lawyers to do it? – Consider mediation. If you can’t work it out on your own, hire a mediator to help you do it. Your net cost is going to be much lower than paying for a trial. – Hire collaborative lawyers instead of trial lawyers. These are attorneys who use a cooperative process to reach a settlement everyone can live with. They won’t appear in court and your costs will be lower.

Reduce Babysitting Costs

Instead of paying babysitters, agree with your ex that you will use each other as sitters. If you are both doing this, it probably won’t change the bottom line division of the time that you each have with your child over a month’s time. If one of you has been laid off or is currently unemployed, reduce day care costs by allowing that parent to provide the care needed. And if you’re wondering why you should provide free child care for your ex – remember, there really is only one pot of money that supports both of you and your child. If your ex can save some money, it will make it more possible for him to meet his child support and alimony responsibilities. It will also benefit your child to spend time with a parent instead of a sitter.

Even if you have a testy relationship with your ex’s parents, they are still your child’s grandparents, so asking them to baby sit benefits them and your child, and saves you a nice chunk of change on babysitting. Being polite for five minutes is going to be worth the money you will save.

Cut Down on Transportation Costs

Many parents have a visitation plan that allows the non-custodial parent to see the child every other weekend and every Wednesday. Whether you’re sharing the transportation costs or your ex does all the driving, compacting those visits down can shave some mileage and gas costs. Instead of having a week where visitation happens Wednesday and then also that Friday through Sunday, adjust the schedule so visitation happens Thursday through Sunday, removing two round trips from the equation.

Rethink Health Insurance

Many child support orders direct one of the parents to provide health insurance for the child. It’s important for your child to have health insurance, but it pays to sit down once a year and compare the plans available to both of you through your employers. If you ex had been carrying the child on his insurance, but your plan costs less for a family plan, switch the child to your plan and have your ex pay you the difference between a single and family plan. He will end up with a net savings, and you’ll be in control of managing the health insurance. This works in reverse as well. If you were ordered to provide the insurance, but your ex has a less expensive plan, putting the child on that plan and paying your ex the difference saves you money.

Likewise, be sure to compare Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) available through your employers. These plans allow you to set money aside pre-tax to pay for medical costs and day care costs. If your employee offers such a plan, it makes sense for you to pay those costs through it and have your ex reimburse you for the costs he is responsible for under your child support order.

Note that even if you both agree to make a change such as this, it is a good idea to submit the agreement to the court as a stipulation so that it becomes part of the court order and there can be no disagreement about it.

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