Thursday, April 3, 2014

A recipe for co-parenting when divorced

These days I am getting a steady flow of referrals from a new family court judge.  He'll order that a child's parents both submit to psychological evaluations and then he'll order a "Best Interest of the Child" report.  The judge often orders these evaluations during custody battles and/or if one is accusing the other of something (he is molesting our kid, she is a drug addict, he talks to himself and I think he has Schizophrenia, for real examples).

I have come to the conclusion that divorcing persons who have children should go through a mandatory training. How your divorce affects your child.  In fact, I would offer the service for free and think of it as an investment in the mental health of the very large number of children who are being raised by divorced (or split up) parents. The statistics are awful.  Children with divorced parents suffer and don't stop suffering.

There is a caveat to this.  All children with divorced parents are not created equal.

What I should really say is that not all divorced co-parents are created equal.

The recipe isn't all that complicated.  If parents want to have their children beat the odds and do what they can to prevent their children from suffering from depression, anxiety and/or difficulties in interpersonal relationships. . .

Here is the recipe (feel free to suggest more rules):

1. Do not talk negatively about your co-parent in front of your child.  You child needs to feel the freedom to love both of his parents.  By putting down your co-parent you are putting down your child.  After all, he is part of both of you (yes, even if the child is adopted).

2. Do not discuss money matters related to parenting expenses in front of your child.

3.  Do not argue in front of your child.  I mean not in person, not on the phone, and not via text.  Chances are she will be curious and look over your shoulder to read texts back and forth between her parents.

4. Make major parenting decisions together.  Don't let your child see that she can go to one parent over the other when she wants something.  Even when divorced, that same boundary and need for a unified front is still really important.

5.  Do not have new boyfriends or girlfriends come in and out of your home.  Children will have feelings about the people their parents are seeing.  They often attach to new significant others, especially if he or she is making you happy.  A child has lost enough having to adjust to their parents breaking up.  Try really hard not to have that trauma replayed for the child.  Wait until you are as sure as you can be that the relationship you are in is a keeper.

6. Do not use your child as a pawn.  So many divorces end with rage.  Some parents can be so focused on their need to hurt their co-parent that they forget about how it is affecting their child.  Your relationship with your co-parent may have ended but your child still has  relationships with both parents.  Don't make him choose sides.

7.  Allow your child to have a voice.  I have seen so many court papers describing, in excruciating detail, what the custody agreement is and what the visitation schedule should be.  In the case of my last TWO custody evaluations, parents exchange the child from one to the other at a police station. Some children don't want to miss Christmas (example from today actually) at mom's house every other year.  He may really, really want to have the holiday split, Christmas eve with one and Christmas day with the other. He may want this because dad has no relatives in the country and he really enjoys the big family Christmas he can have at his mom's house.  You may find that really inconvenient but let your child call some of the shots.  Otherwise, he is powerless.  You know what happens to powerless children?  They either internalize their feelings and act in (aka get depressed) or they look for other ways to get some power and start acting out.

Ok, now I have too many more and I wrote it was a simple recipe.  I'll stop here.

Blog back to public

If you are accessing my blog, thanks for the emails letting me know it is not set to private :)  I set it back to public today.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The fantasy lives of children

Children have complicated relationship with their parents.  At times they are the most magical of creatures, perfect in every way.  At times they are the monsters holding you hostage because they said no to a request for a sleep over.  Parent-child relationships have their ups and downs and to manage those ups and downs, children have common fantasies that come in all sorts of permutations.  Many children at one time or another fantasize that their parents are not their "real" parents.  They imagine that there are those perfect parents out there that will come and save them and they would be happy all the time.  These "real" parents would never let them down and never get angry at them. The "real" parents would understand how imperative it was to go to that sleepover and they would have let them because they'd get it.

Some of these fantasies can get quite intense.  It is not uncommon for children to kill off their parents in their fantasies. Really.  If you have been harboring guilt over having had a fantasy like this as a child, let it go.  It's normal.

Many adopted children have a more complex version of this common fantasy.  When angry at their (adopted) parents they too fantasize about their "real" parents and how perfect their lives may have been if only their awful (adoptive) parents hadn't been the ones to raise them. In their case, however, as long as their biological parents are living, there is actually another set of parents out there.

CD's play therapy, which has extended into purposeful play therapy sessions at home with mom, dad and her brothers, (we've invested in lots of Playmobil figures, accessories, a doll house and school house) has recently taken an interesting turn.

Just to back track, CD had recently "threatened" to kill me. She used the same, "I'm going to kill you" in around the same time frame toward our dog and toward J, my about to be 16 year old son.  She was in no way aggressive, in no way actually threatening to hurt us.  She doesn't know what "kill" means other than it makes someone go away.  It was her newest way of saying, "I am really, really, really angry and I just learned a new phrase to express that."

In play therapy, that very next week, she played out a maimed child being taken in by a kind couple who offered to keep her forever (the therapist plays the parts of the parents but the play is all led by CD).  In this play, the maimed, now adopted (she started using the word "adoption" in play recently) child kept running to a barn to be with baby chicks and did not want to stay with her new parents who keep asking her to stay with them.  Suddenly, another set of parents showed up (played by CD) and one said, "you thought I was dead but I wasn't!"  The play became somewhat chaotic after that, CD did not make a clear choice about which set of parents the child ended up with and she abruptly stopped the play and shifted the play toward her baby doll and a giant stuffed dog in the office (that part of the sessions is worthy of another post).

CD has since replayed similar story lines in her play at home.  It seems that CD wonders if her biological parents are dead.  At her age, dead is not a fully understandable concept.  It pretty much means "cease to exist."  CD does not understand that dead is, well, a permanent condition.  It also seems, that CD is already having mixed feelings about what the fantasy of her life would look like.  On the one hand, in some play sessions, the adopted parents save a child from "bad guys" who are trying to take her away.  On the other hand, CD wonders if she were with her birth mother, if she would have gone to Disneyland, been allowed to eat donuts for breakfast, or, most recently, (see below) allowed her to wear her Dorothy wig to sleep.

Blog set to private

With good intentions, my lawyer, who is handling an appeal for post-subsidy adoption from the state, emailed a link to a post of mine that she thought would touch the opposing lawyer.  By giving the link, she outed me to state during a law suit.  As a precaution, the blog is being set to private until the legal matter is resolved.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The birth mother card? Already?

Conversation my husband texted me while he waited for CD to fall asleep in her room last night regarding the "Dorothy wig" that my daughter wanted to wear to sleep:

Dad: You can't wear a wig to sleep.

CD: R (birth mom) let me wear a wig to sleep when I was a baby.

Dad: No she didn't.

CD: You didn't know me when I was a baby so you can't say no when I say yes.

Dad: You're right, I didn't know you when you were a baby, but babies don't wear wigs.

CD:  I wore a wig to sleep when I was three years old.

Dad: I was your Daddy when you were 3 and you didn't wear a wig to sleep.


Pulling the old. . .birth mother card??