Dating, Romance, SexKids' Issues

Introducing the Kids!

March 25th, 2015 → 5:58 pm @ // No Comments - Join the conversation!

My latest for eHarmony … Introducing the Kids!

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when to introduce kids

“The uncertainty of parenting can bring up feelings in us that range from frustration to terror.” — Brene Brown

I had a great conversation with a friend last week. I’m not sure we ever landed on an answer, but it was a worthwhile discussion that I want to share here. I would love to get your feedback and suggestions.

It’s a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” scenario! There may not be an answer, and you can circle yourself around and around the question, and still not know the “right” thing to do. Here’s the deal: my friend (never married, no kids) is dating a guy (divorced, two school aged kids). They get along really well … “opposites attract” would be a great way to describe them. By way of background, they have been dating for nearly a year and have a ton of fun together on his “free” weekends (from his kids).

Here’s the thing. He is hesitant to let her get too close to his children until he “knows this is going to work out for the long-term.” She says, “I have a hard time figuring out if this is going to work out for the long term if I don’t have a chance to get to know his kids and see what it’s like to be their stepmom.” She has met his kids, but he has kept her at an arms length. She wants to do more with his kids and really get to know them.

Do you see the conundrum? He doesn’t want her to become a part of his kids’ lives until he knows she is the one, and how can she know if she is the one until she gets to know all of him – which includes his kids?

All of this begs the question, “When is the right time to introduce your date to your kids?” My belief is that it is somewhere in between. I didn’t introduce my now-husband to my kids until I knew that we had something serious going on. I also knew that we wouldn’t be able to advance to the next level of seriousness until my kids had met him, he had met my kids, and I was comfortable with how they all interacted with each other. I was falling in love with this guy, but I also knew that if he and my kids hated each other that I wasn’t prepared to deal with that drama. That would be a deal-breaker. At the same time, he was falling in love with me. And, he knew that I was a package deal. You get me AND you get two bonus kids. He needed to be able to spend time with my kids to get to know them and confirm that he could be and wanted to be their “bonus” dad in the future.

I was so fortunate that my kids fell in love with him, just as much as he fell in love with them. He has never tried to be their dad. In fact, when he asked me to marry him, he also asked my kids for “permission,” and told them that he knew they had a dad, and he would be thrilled to be their stepdad. But, he wouldn’t have been able to do this if he hadn’t already built a relationship with them, and he wouldn’t have been able to build a relationship with them if I hadn’t given him access to them to start developing a relationship in the first place.

I didn’t grant access right away. I didn’t want my kids to ever just see me dating a revolving door of men every Saturday night (not that I ever did that anyway). I knew that introducing my kids to my now-husband was a big deal. This is why I understand where my friend’s boyfriend is coming from. As parents, we want to protect our kids. We want to protect their innocence and shield them from having to understand the complexities of life — lessons like “mom and dad got divorced, and now mommy (or daddy) is spending time with (and falling in love with) someone else.” These can be tough changes for children to understand, but it’s also real life.

Can you understand my friend’s boyfriend not wanting to introduce his kids to her right away? Can you also understand him wanting to wait until he knows they are in a relationship, and not simply casually dating (remember, they have been dating for a year)? Can you understand my friend’s perspective saying she wants to spend more time with his kids getting to know them better because like it or not, he’s a package deal now? She knows if she continues to fall in love with him, that means loving his kids as well, and she wants to love them. Being a stepmother is a tough job. She wants to get to know them and become a part of their lives – all of their lives.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? When do you introduce your relationship to your kids? When do you introduce your kids to your relationship? At the end of this discussion, here’s what I truly believe: it depends! The answers to those questions are going to completely depend on you, your children, and the person whom you want to introduce or don’t want to introduce quite yet. Everyone is at a different place – in their maturity, in their ability to handle change, and in their emotional readiness. As parents, we must best assess when the timing is right for our kids, and go from there. Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we don’t!

“I’m not a parenting expert. In fact, I’m not sure that I even believe in the idea of ‘parenting experts.’ I’m an engaged, imperfect parent and a passionate researcher. I’m an experienced mapmaker and a stumbling traveler. Like many of you, parenting is by far my boldest and most daring adventure.” — Brene Brown

What do you think?

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Dating, Romance, Sex &Kids' Issues

Danger Zone!Kids' Issues

Think Twice Before you Speak (or Text!)

April 14th, 2014 → 2:54 pm @ // No Comments - Join the conversation!

My latest for eHarmony … Think Twice!

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.”  Napoleon Hill

I got a call last week from someone looking for some advice and perspective. She saw a text on her “tween” daughter’s phone from her ex-husband’s wife. It said, “I wish I was your mom.” She asked me what I thought … because her initial reaction was one of extreme annoyance.

I wholeheartedly agreed with her annoyance.

My ex-husband would crack a gasket, flip his lid, and lose his cool if he ever heard my husband say to my son, “I wish I was your dad.”  My son has a dad. It’s my ex-husband. He’s a good dad. When I first remarried, my ex made it a point of asking me what our kids would be calling my husband/their step-dad. He wanted us to know that “dad” was taken. Of course it was! I assured him that “dad” was not going to be used, and that the kids would come up with a moniker that would be appropriate (and they have!). Being “mom” or being “dad” is an important title that is not to be thrown about loosely. It’s an honor, and it’s a commitment.

Let’s assume that all parents in this scenario are “good” parents! This young girl who fielded the text from her step-mom is put in a no-win situation. Guilt is never a good emotion, and it’s unfair for her brain to have to process this. “I wish I was your mom” conveys “I wish your mom wasn’t around.” If the girl agrees, “Yes, I wish you were my mom too,” then there’s an inherent feeling of taking sides against her mom. There’s that guilt. Regardless of the angst that many teen girls feel with their moms, there’s still an underlying level of loyalty and love. The other response is, “Not me; I’m glad you aren’t my mom.” That’s kind of mean to think, and it’s rejecting someone who just shared a personal emotion with you. Again, it creates a feeling of guilt against someone who does play a key role in this young girl’s life.

Why would any step-parent think that it’s OK to verbalize “I wish I was your mom/dad?” Whatever good intentions underlie the statement are completely lost in the delivery. While I agreed with the annoyance articulated by the woman who called, I also encouraged her to “take the high road” and give the benefit of the doubt to the step-mom. I’m sure she meant well. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. Nobody can be that clueless, can they?

“I am so glad I am your step-mom/step-dad!” How about rephrasing it this way? It conveys the same intention! It essentially delivers the same message, just in a way that is phrased more openly! It’s declaring something positive, not wishing for something impossible. The insidious negativity goes away. It removes the propensity for feelings of guilt to seep into the conversation.

Communicated this way, it honors both roles – mom and step-mom, dad and step-dad. It says, “I value my role as step-mom/ step-dad.” Phrasing it this way honors all players in the blended family. I get goosebumps when I witness my husband and my son bond over something, laugh, and share a special time together. It warms my heart when I hear him say, “I love being your step-dad.” It honors the special bond they have, yet it takes nothing away from my son and his dad.

What a difference a few words can make!

I wonder how many other things we say – perhaps with good intentions – that get interpreted wrongly or that serve to create guilt? Can you come up with any?

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Blogtalk &Danger Zone! &Kids' Issues

Kids' Issues

“Bonus” Parents

December 3rd, 2013 → 1:17 pm @ // No Comments - Join the conversation!

Here’s my latest blog post for eHarmony: Bonus Parents!

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I was on a flight a few weeks ago and couldn’t help but overhear the conversation going on behind me. Two men were talking and covering all the normal bases … Where are you headed? Where is home? Where do you work? What do you do? … and then the conversation ultimately turned to more personal topics. One guy asked the other, “Do you have kids?” I loved his response. He said, “I have two kids organically and three by merger.”

I love it! How “business appropriate.” They were speaking a language each could understand and relate to. I thought it was cute!

About a week later, I was speaking with a woman at a meeting who mentioned that her son calls her husband his “bonus-dad” as opposed to his “step-dad.” Also cute! What a great concept to refer to someone who technically isn’t his “real” dad as his “bonus” dad! It says so much about the bond they share and the important role he plays in his son’s life.

But, underneath these cute and unusual responses is a very real situation panning out in homes across the country every day. Stepparents play a huge and important role in the lives of the kids they are parenting. Stereotypically, we hear too much about the “evil step mom” or the “absent step dad” when really the women and men who step into these roles are so incredibly important.

Being a “bonus” parent isn’t a part-time job. It requires the ability to step into a routine that is typically already established, into norms that are already ritualized, into expectations that are already set, and blend into those norms without totally disrupting the natural rhythms of how things operate. It requires a sensitive blend of understanding how things work between the “real” parents, and being able to infuse some of his or her own personality into the mix of the parenting equation. Above all else, it requires being able to find comfort and satisfaction in being that “bonus” parent and carving out a unique role that builds a special bond between child, parent, “bonus” child, and spouse!

I have to say that I am so thankful for my husband and the “bonus” dad role he plays to my two teenagers. I will never forget when he told my kids that he had asked me to marry him. He asked their permission to be their step dad, and said, “You have a great dad, and I’m not trying to replace him, but I would certainly love to be your step dad. What do you think?” Five years later, I look at the bond he has created with my two kids, now teenagers, and I am so thankful for the way he has integrated into our lives, while still being respectful of honoring their “real” dad and their “bonus” mom. It takes a special man to be able to embrace all of these “additional” relationships. He thought he was getting a “wife.”  Instead, he also got step kids, an ex, a step mom, new family, extended family, ex-family, a history, traditions, baggage, etc.

Being a bonus parent is hard work. I look at my husband, and at so many of my friends, both men and women, who have stepped into “bonus” parent roles. I look at people who have lovingly embraced all of their children, whether they occurred organically or via merger, and I am so grateful for their hearts that are capable of loving their “bonus” kids so fully.

Sometimes this requires an extra dose of “grace” as people unfamiliar with “bonus” parenting, and the extra pressure it frequently brings, ask silly, naïve, and frankly “stupid” questions about how it works. “Does he tuck the kids in at night when they are at your house?” “Does she make them do chores when they visit like she makes her own kids?” “How does it work when his kids come and visit? Do you let her call her ‘real’ mom?”  Seriously people?

Bonus parents just make it work! They don’t get caught up in the “us and them,” but rather, they relish the “ours.”

As we take extra time this season to focus on what we are thankful for, I would like to say “thanks” to all the “bonus” parents out there who have stepped into the role and embraced it with all their heart, soul and might. I would like to thank my husband for recognizing that when he pursued me, he was actually pursuing an instant family! Talk about a “bonus!” He got three for the price of one! That beats any Cyber Monday deal out there

Have you thought about step-parenting and do you think you would be up for the challenge?

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Blogtalk &Kids' Issues

Danger Zone!Kids' Issues

Letting Him go is One Thing, But Sharing my Kids With Another Woman…

August 21st, 2013 → 2:59 pm @ // No Comments - Join the conversation!

Sharing my Kids!?! – Here’s my latest post for DivorcedMoms!

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Can you relate? Here’s what I read recently … “Letting him go is one thing, but sharing my kids with another woman… that I cannot do. Fine, if he’s gone. I’ll get over that. Fine if he left me for another woman. I’ll get over that. But, there is no way in heck I am going to let another woman, especially that woman, parent my children.  Never! Ever! They’re mine.”

Wow! I understand this train of thought. I think almost every mom who has someone else step into that “mom-like” role with her kids feels some version of this at some point.

Who can parent (mother) my kids as well as I can?

How come she gets to spend some time with my children when I want to be with them all the time?

I didn’t sign up to be a part-time mom so that some other woman could spend the other half of their time with them. I don’t want her influencing my kids. I don’t want her touching my kids.

Let’s keep this train of thought going …  I don’t want her soothing them back to sleep at night when they are having nightmares. I don’t want her to put on the band-aid when my son’s knee gets scraped. I don’t want her talking with my daughter about boys and dating. I don’t want her to go to their sporting events. I don’t want her to have any fun with them.

Seriously? That means that when your son falls and scrapes his knee and you aren’t there that you would prefer no one comfort him?

That means when your daughter is experiencing teenage boy drama that you want her to be crying alone in her room?

That means when your kids have sporting events that you want them to feel guilt or angst as they look in the stands to see who is cheering them on?

That means you don’t want them to have any fun with her. That feels kind of selfish, doesn’t it?

I was listening to our local morning radio show yesterday, and one of the DJ’s said she never intended to have any children.  She’s 30, and one of the other DJ’s asked her why. Her first answer was because she knows she is not “self-less” enough to have kids.  I liked her honesty.

She said she knows that you can’t be selfish once you have kids, and she said she doesn’t see that happening as she likes her life the way it is. Kudos to her for being self-aware enough to know this about herself, and for being brave enough to articulate it (especially in a society that often doesn’t support women who intentionally choose not to have kids).

She’s right. As parents, I believe we do have to become less selfish. It’s not all about us anymore, but rather many of our actions and our decisions have to do with what is in the best interests of our children.

Often, what is in their best interests can feel in conflict with what we want or what we believe is in our best interests. When this happens, do we go with what we want, or with what we know is best for our kids? It can frequently seem like a tough choice.

You may not want your children to have any exposure or to spend any time with “that woman,” but the reality is that it is going to happen.

You can’t stop it.

Why make it miserable and difficult for them? Think about the ramifications. Your children may feel guilty if they know you hate her, when they actually think she is nice.  Guilt is not a positive emotion.

Do you want to create an atmosphere where you are responsible for setting up a negative relationship? Do you want to perpetuate the “evil-Step-Mom” scenario, and create needless drama?

I am a huge advocate of putting differences aside, and putting the best interests of the kids at the forefront of the relationship. You may not like her, but you presumably do have common ground in looking out for the kids.

Make that your platform.

Learn to embrace the fact that there is another maternal figure that is there to care for your kids when you can’t be there. A simple change of perspective can be really enlightening.

As difficult as it may be, make sure you do all you can to open those lines of communication as it relates to the kids. The kids will see this, and benefit from it. It helps to put all “parents” on the same page with respect to rules and expectations. The ability to play one parent against the other diminishes when the kids know that the parents talk about them.

Nobody says you have to become BFF’s with the other woman (be it your ex-‘s girlfriend or his new wife), but you should dive deep into your heart to let go of your own anger and selfishness, and consider what is truly in the best interests of your precious children.

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Danger Zone! &Kids' Issues

Danger Zone!Kids' Issues

The Psycho Ex-Wife Blog is NOT on the High Road!

August 10th, 2011 → 9:42 pm @ // No Comments - Join the conversation!

I wrote this blog for The Huffington Post, August 10, 2011NOT on the High Road

Did you see this on “The Today Show” on NBC Tuesday? I was shocked to watch a segment highlighting a bitter and angry ex-husband who writes a blog called “ThePsychoExWife.com” in which he takes no pains to refrain from absolutely blasting his ex-wife. He describes his blog as “”the true account of a marriage, divorce, and subsequent (child) custody fight between a loving man, his terroristic ex-wife who we suspect suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder …” He goes on to describe his ex-wife as,

“… on the precipice of 40 and probably looks all 50-years of it. Imagine if you will, Jabba The Hut, with less personality. She spends her time … drinking her days away bemoaning her victim status, when she isn’t stuffing the children with fast food, buying them toys, or pushing them towards the TV or computer.”

Forget all the legal rambling about whether this guy has a ‘right’ to write and publish online any of this information. We live in the US and one of our inalienable rights is the right to free speech.

But (and that’s a huge but!), c’mon … is this really in the best interests of his two children who are the tender ages of ten and twelve? How can a father live by a moral compass that must be so far askew for him to think it is OK to write things like this about the mother of his children?

As Americans, we seem to think it’s permissible to just speak our mind whenever we choose to, and legally that is one of the things we pride ourselves on, but doesn’t it seem like this legal answer needs to be over-ruled by a more pressing moral response? Doesn’t it seem that we should allow our moral compass to drive our behavior even though that may squelch our immediate desire to do what feels right in the moment? In this case, shouldn’t the value that this father places on having his two boys successfully survive, and thrive, after their parents divorce outweigh this father’s need to blow off his anger, bitterness and hatred by writing his blog?

There are so many things wrong with this blog and thinking this behavior is appropriate!

This father is creating a difficult environment for his kids, at a stage where these poor children probably want to pretend the divorce isn’t happening, or want it to just be over already! The ongoing battle will take its toll. Add to that the fact that by virtue of what he is writing, the kids are bound to feel some level of guilt as a result of feeling pulled between both parents. And, is this father showing his kids that his is how they should deal with any level of conflict that they will face in their lives? Seriously? These are the life skills we want to emulate for our children?

I’m giving a big thumbs-up to the family court judge who ordered the blog to be shut down saying, “Your children are being hurt because you are bad mouthing the woman they love in public.” I’m not confident that on appeal this argument will be sustained, but rather presume that the father will win his argument that his first amendment rights are being violated. He is obviously onto something as the blog drew more than 200,000 visitors, and he was even able to start selling advertising on it.

Regardless of whether he ‘wins’ his legal case or not, the kids lose. It’s the kids who will suffer as a result of seeing their parents go through yet another vicious, hurtful battle. It seems like the most common sense, intuitive thing in the world to want to protect your children from harm, but then we see things like this in the media, and it goes again the grain of natural order! The fall-out for children who are products of divorce can be devastating even in the most ‘friendly’ of divorces, but we know that studies show one of the biggest indicators of ‘successful’ divorces in the eyes of children is how well their parents are able to co-parent them together. Period. There is no negotiating this point. It’s been researched and documented. Kids don’t want to feel pulled, don’t want to feel guilt, and don’t want to have to ‘take sides’ in their parents divorce.

Clearly, not the high road … not even close to high road behavior. I wish more people would quit trying to win on technicalities and rationalizations, and instead focus on listening to that inner voice, that moral compass, and that self-less indicator that highlights when we should do right for others, instead of selfishly giving in to our own desires or urges. Now there is some high road behavior we can model for our kids. What do you think?

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Blogtalk &Danger Zone! &Kids' Issues

Kids' IssuesWomen's Issues

In my house, we say, “Don’t mess with Mama Bear.”

January 24th, 2011 → 11:33 pm @ // No Comments - Join the conversation!

On Saturday, January 8, 2011 the Wall Street Journal’s Review ran an excerpt from Amy Chua’s new book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” The article, titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” attracted a lot of attention, generating more than 4,000 comments on wsj.com and around 100,000 comments on Facebook.  Here’s the link to the article:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html

Clearly the article incited a strong reaction – both in favor of Ms. Chua’s approach to mothering, and violently opposed to Ms. Chua’s opinion. To give you an example, Ms. Chua in describing her approach to motherhood provided a list of things her two girls were never (ever!) allowed to do.  They are as follows: “attend a sleepover, have a playdate, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play; watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, and not play the piano or violin.”

Now you see why there has been such a strong reaction to the book and to the article.

Rightly or wrongly, I don’t enforce any of those restrictions or requirements on my children.  But, let’s step back from the controversy for a moment. At the end of the day, Ms. Chua in calling herself a Tiger Mother is really just trying to do the very best by her kids. Based on tradition, legacy and family history, this approach may be different from others, but the net result is a strong desire to parent the kids, protect the kids, and provide for the kids in the manner in which Tiger Mother best sees fit!

In my house, we don’t talk in term of Mother Tiger; we say, “Don’t mess with Mama Bear.” If I feel that a decision is being made that is harmful to my children, or might not be in their best interests, then Mama Bear’s claws come out and my natural instinct is to do all I can to protect them. So much of “taking the high road” through a divorce is about protecting the children and patching up the family so that the kids get the best they can from both parents.

At the end of the day, call it Lions or Tigers or Bears, the natural act of parenting, protecting, and providing for your kids, often at the sacrifice of other things, should be something that we don’t fault in others, but rather something that we strive to achieve within our own families.

By the way, Ms. Chua responded to questions from WSJ readers and you can find that article here: http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/01/13/the-tiger-mother-responds-to-readers/?mod=e2tw

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Kids' Issues &Women's Issues

Kids' Issues

Being the “What” We Want Our Children To Be

January 5th, 2011 → 11:20 pm @ // No Comments - Join the conversation!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/monique-honaman/being-the-what-we-want-ou_b_790363.html

As posted in The Huffington Post on December 14, 2010:

Divorce seems to have reached epidemic proportions. Statistics tell us that the divorce rate is actually lower than it has been in recent years, but if you’re like me, it seems like the rate is increasing. I look around my neighborhood, my circle of friends, my kid’s sports teams, and it’s hard to miss finding someone who is in the midst of a separation or divorce. I’m truly frightened about the impact this is having on our children. I wonder if they are being ‘harmed’ seeing their parents’ divorce and being shuttled between two homes.

I love quotes and recently found this one: “What we are teaches the child far more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become.” – Anonymous

If you believe in this concept, then you know the importance of being a good role model for your children, and thus creates my conundrum.

So many of the men and women I speak with who are in loveless, lifeless marriages tell me that they are staying together ‘for the sake of the kids.’ I get that. But I also wonder if the ‘harm’ of seeing that kind of relationship, devoid of respect, laughter, true love and commitment, is more harmful to these children.

Case in point. I met a woman at a conference a few weeks ago. She confided that she was miserable in her marriage and was in fact ‘hanging on by a thread’ and had ‘totally checked out.’ The only reason she hadn’t left yet was ‘because of the kids.’ There was no love in her marriage. No partnership.

Another woman I met through a mutual friend confided that she wanted to leave her husband who was verbally and emotionally abusive. He also had numerous affairs. She wouldn’t leave him because she worried about the impact it would have on her children.

I asked each of these women, “Are you better off staying in your marriage and role-modeling everything that a marriage shouldn’t be, or role-modeling that you are a strong woman who won’t settle for living in a marriage that isn’t real or settle for being treated inappropriately?”

I believe the opportunity to role-model a strong marriage, a strong partnership, the strength that comes from not putting up with behavior that isn’t right, is a much stronger message to send to our kids. Our kids learn so much from watching their parents. Behavior is learned, right? I am so pleased that after my divorce my children now have the opportunity to see both their mother and their father in new marriages that truly do role-model love and commitment. I have stopped worrying about the ‘harm’ that may come their way because their mom and dad got divorced, and started focusing on the ‘benefit’ they are receiving from being able to observe a real marriage based on love, respect, laughter and partnership.

The bottom line is that divorce is tough on kids. Is observing a loveless marriage just as tough? Remember, if we are to be what we want our children to become, then we must be the role models they deserve to observe and emulate. It’s an interesting conundrum. What do you think?

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Blogtalk &Kids' Issues

Kids' Issues

All About the Kids … DC4K

August 8th, 2010 → 8:52 pm @ // No Comments - Join the conversation!

I’m a strong proponent of using any and all resources to help your children navigate through the challenges of divorce. When my ex- and I divorced, our kids were caught off guard and didn’t know what to expect. As much as we tried to answer their questions and assure them that our divorce had nothing to do with them, it was still a difficult message for them to understand.

Enter “Divorce Care 4 Kids” (DC4K). I found a local DC4K group and enrolled my kids. It’s one of the best things I have ever done. My kids joined a support group of other boys and girls ages 5-12 who were going through the exact same thing they were. They realized they weren’t alone and found other kids to talk with. The DC4K counselors were absolutely wonderful, loving, caring and committed. The time they gave to this program and their dedication to its success was incredible. I am absolutely certain it helped my kids learn to deal with this situation and their emotions in a more healthy fashion.

What is DC4K?  It is a special group to help your children heal from the pain caused by a separation or divorce. DC4K provides your children with a safe and neutral place to recognize and learn to share their feelings. For 13 weeks your children become involved in a fun, caring group at a church near you. The weekly session topics help your children learn that God’s love strengthens them and helps them turn their sadness to hope and their anger to joy.

Each session is filled with motivating and exciting activities. Games, crafts, role playing, discussion times, journaling and activity books help the children process the divorce and move forward in their lives. The music, snacks and stories and exercises teach the children to relax and rest secure in God’s love.  

My kids never complained about going to DC4K. As a mom, you know that’s a big deal! 

To learn more about DC4K and DC4K programs in your area, visit www.DC4K.org.

What do you think?

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Blogtalk &Kids' Issues

Kids' Issues

It’s summer … time for blended family vacations!

August 2nd, 2010 → 8:48 pm @ // No Comments - Join the conversation!

It’s summertime! It’s hot! It’s time for blended family vacations … which means the primary custodial parent may find herself (or himself) with a longer than usual break from the kids.  For some parents, this isn’t easy! If you have read the book, The High Road Has Less Traffic, recall Chapter 17: Spending Time Alone: Learn to Relish and Recharge, then you know what I’m talking about.

There was a timely article in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution written by  D. Aileen Dodd titled: Summer fun helps kids, divorced parents strengthen bond. The article focused on these often extended summer visits and the full text of the article follows:

On a sunny Florida beach, the miles between the homes of Kevin Batson and his 18-year-old daughter, Morgan, wash away like a sandcastle in the tide. Summer is the season when parents separated by divorce have extended time to visit with their kids, share old memories and create new ones. And exes left behind can take a well-deserved break.

The Batsons get 20 days of summer to bond as father and daughter with a blended family and embark on adventure. This week, Morgan of Columbus is sunbathing with her Atlanta family in Seaside, Fla. “For 14 years, we burned up the highway — I saw her every other weekend,” said Batson, a dutiful dad and software salesman. “But as they get older and get into high school, it becomes really difficult. They have so many activities and friends. In many cases, summer is the only quality time you get.”

Navigating summer visitation is not always easy for families split by divorce. Hurdles can get in the way of quality time between noncustodial parents and their kids. Hurdles like family reunions. Summer school. Teens with ties to neighborhood friends and summer jobs. Childhood crushes. “A lot of teens don’t want to go on one family vacation, and now, because of divorce, they have to go on two,” said Atlanta attorney Randy Kessler, chairman-elect of the American Bar Association’s Family Law section. “When you are 10 years old, you want to go to Disney World with your parent. When you are 15, you want to go to Destin with your friends.”

If divorce agreements don’t address the “what ifs” of visitation, planning summer vacation or holiday fun for both sides can be an issue. Since 2009, Georgia law has required divorcing couples to establish a parenting plan to explain in detail how visitation will work under special circumstances and how other decisions will be made. “A parent that doesn’t think about their child first may be more concerned about their own time with the child than with the child’s goals,” Kessler explained. “You’ve got to think about the future, look at a calendar and figure out any potential problems. Can Mom always take the child to family reunions? Will Dad get a few weeks of uninterrupted time in the summer?”

In Georgia, at age 14, a child can choose whom they want to live with, but they can’t decide not to visit with somebody, Kessler said. Family therapy experts say involving divorced kids in summer visitation vacation plans can make the experience more exciting for them as they get older. But moms and dads shouldn’t blow the budget and be “Disney Land” parents planning pricey getaways they can’t afford. And they shouldn’t get offended if their kids have other plans that shorten their stay or would rather bring a half sibling or friend along on the vacation.

“My feeling is children should always get their say, they don’t necessarily always get their way,” said Anda Harris-Martin, a therapist with Visions Anew of Marietta, which provides divorce resources for women. “We can ask children about the kinds of activities they like. … But often with children living in between two homes, there is less money for camps and outings. I also think parents should be considerate of the fact that teenagers are busy. They should be flexible, but I don’t think spending time with a parent should be negotiable.”

Morgan Batson brought a high school friend from Columbus with her on the trip to Seaside with her dad, her stepmother, Julie Batson, and her half sisters, Meredith, 11, and Lauren, 7 . When the Batsons went to the Bahamas earlier this summer, Morgan came alone. “It’s been a blast,” said Morgan, who is in Florida through Saturday and will soon head to college. “I took off work to come here. I have two half sisters. It is really great to see them. With my dad, just being able to see him builds our relationship. In high school, I was in competitive cheerleading. It was hard to coordinate schedules.”

Exes left behind should make the most of their time and not try to control the summer visit with demands on their ex or by overwhelming their kids with instant messages. “They shouldn’t be texting, e-mailing and calling their kids constantly when they are visiting with the other parent,” said Visions Anew founder and CEO Margot Swann, a remarried mom. “Stay busy. Do things that are fun. Get together with girlfriends.” Joy Rollins, a divorced mom in Cobb County,says she has more time to travel and exercise since her 10-year-old Torria has been visiting with her dad in Texas. “School got out on May 21, and she left on May 22,” said Rollins, a social service director. “I’ve been to Jamaica, Texas and Savannah. … I go out to eat. I go on dates. Dad has her for six weeks. It’s just enough time for me to collect my thoughts. I find comfort in my quiet time and know that she is going to be OK.”

Spending uninterrupted time with a child helps love to grow between them and their noncustodial parents, added Batson. “When you spend 10 days with your child, it’s a big difference,” he said. “At the beginning of the vacation, she is still the visitor, but by the end, she feels like part of the family.”

What do you think?

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Blogtalk &Kids' Issues