When Should the Kids Meet the New Boy/Girlfriend?
December 12, 2016 · Posted in Communication, Marriage, Parenting, Relationships, Separation/Divorce · Permalink · Comments (3)

brady250If only life was really like ‘The Brady Bunch’. An easily blended family, no exes to complicate matters, minor disturbances that are resolved with a great little moral lesson. In actuality, real life mirrors what was going on behind the scenes of the show – complicated, passionate, and sometimes stormy. So introducing a new romantic partner after divorce or death is a situation that may not go as smoothly as when Carol met Bob. It is a decision that warrants a lot of thought.

When you meet someone new, your initial instinct will be to want them to meet your children. Your kids are central, important and in many ways the main loves of your lives!  It may feel odd to keep a relationship separate from them.  It may feel sneaky.  You may be inclined to resolve this by having your new lover hang out and share in activities with your children as a new “friend”. Right? Wrong!!!  These reactions are completely understandable but remember, not all are instincts are best followed. Children are no dummies – even children under three will register the different energy present with a platonic vs. non-platonic friend. Furthermore, if there was an extramarital affair involved with this partner  your children will be aware consciously or unconsciously regardless of being told explicitly.  So don’t kid yourself.

A good rule of thumb is wait to introduce your children to your romantic interest until the relationship reaches six months of seriously seeing one another.  This guideline protects kids from experiencing the inevitable romantic ups and downs of a new relationships and of having another potential loss. Shielding your children from the early stages of your relationship will require sacrifice on your part; keeping your private life private takes energy, planning and giving up time with your new lover.  It is not lying, it is not sneaky, it is privacy – necessary privacy.

Children have very mixed feelings about new relationships. They may feel disloyal to the other parent if they have fun with this new person. They become jealous of sharing your time.  They may feel uncomfortable because the sexual energy present with a new relationship is different than that of their married parents. It is not as if kids cannot develop meaningful relationships with girlfriends or boyfriends after divorce — of course they can — but the more thoughtful consideration on your part the better the chances for your children to adapt to the new situation.

It is in your child’s best interest to wait and see if this looks like a relationship that will have sticking power to withstand the pressures of step parenting and blending families. Once the six month mark has come and gone, you are ready to begin integrating this person into your family. Inform your ex of all developments. If he/she introduces your children to a new relationship as well, try to be as generous as you can — keep all complicated feelings to yourself. Your reaction will play a huge role in your kids openness to accept this new person and to experience less conflict over loyalty.

The first kid-new-partner meeting should be activity based. Do something together, a movie, bowling, ice skating — something that comes with distinct time limits and allows your child to ease in to the meeting with focus on the activity rather than “getting to know” your new lover. Gauge your child’s readiness as you decide the frequency of these get-togethers — keeping in mind that slow is always better in these matters. In terms of sleep overs and joint vacations, especially if other children are involved, take it very slowly. No one has ever complained that they wish they had moved faster on integrating families — on the contrary, most difficulties come from rushing in with idyllic expectations. Consider yourself very lucky if all goes smoothly as life is not The Brady Bunch.

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Shared Custody: The Kids Need Time To Settle and Resettle
April 6, 2016 · Posted in Communication, K-5 Kids, Pressure on Children, Separation/Divorce · Permalink · Comments (1)

When your children move from house to house whether every other weekend or every week, there is always a “settling-in time” at each home that is challenging for kids and parents. In spite of the excitement of seeing a missed parent or a loved bedroom, the switch is a reminder of the split and a heightened jumble of feelings. Kids often misbehave during this time and parents worry it is a sign of a difficult visit with the other parent, or take it personally believing their child isn’t glad to see them. While these are possibilities, the most common cause of acting out in the transition time is because the switch is hard, plain and simple.

Here are a few tips that have helped kids and parents alike:

  • Give them space. Let them settle in and approach you.
  • Don’t ask how their time was with the other parent right away. Let this emerge slowly and more organically.
  • Create rituals. Some kids love to take a bath when they arrive, to relax, to “clear the slate”. Some like to have a snack, some need half an hour in their room.
  • Talk to your child about how hard it is to go back and forth and that you realize they might be “grumpy” or not want to talk when they first get home. Your understanding of how things look from their eyes will help them feel known, loved and soothed.
  • Meet outside for the transition between parents, for instance at the park, or at a diner, so that you and your child re-enter the house together.
  • Handle your own guilt or sadness inside so your children can have room to react without experiencing a need to care for your feelings.
  • Schedule hand-offs with plenty of time before bed so kids can really settle in before having to manage going to sleep, which is for them, another separation.
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5 Empowering Reflections During Divorce
November 10, 2011 · Posted in Relationships, Separation/Divorce · Permalink · Comments Off

By Heidi Bernstein-Krantz, Professional Life Coach

1. Although it may not be easy to envision, the challenge of divorce can be accompanied by significant opportunity that would not have otherwise presented itself. Identify one goal that you can accomplish now, that you could not have achieved during your marriage.

2. Divorce can often cause our confidence and self-esteem to waver. Recognizing your positive traits is essential at this time.  Identify one of these special personality or character traits that can show itself more clearly now than previously.

3. When we are involved in a difficult life transition, we tend to focus inward. Going beyond ourselves is an effective way to find meaning and put our issues into perspective. Identify one new strategy to contribute in some small way towards helping others or impacting the world.

4. When you want to see changes in your life, reaching out for support is an important part of the process. Identify three professionals, friends, or family members who can fill this role.

5. Developing a positive vision for yourself can be enormously empowering and can help you stay focused and goal oriented. Create this future image. How do you want to see yourself in five years?  Let this vision guide you.

 

Heidi Bernstein-Krantz, OTR, CPC
Professional Life Coach
516-313-3185
www.reinventionlifecoaching.com
www.coachheidik.tumblr.com 
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Divorced? Feeling You Have a Scarlet D?
July 1, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Marriage, Relationships, Separation/Divorce · Permalink · Comments (1)

scarletHere is some sensitivity training about divorce. To say divorce is provocative is an understatement.  Though approximately 40% of couples divorce, people experiencing divorce can still feel like an outcast. It is common for friends or acquaintances to fade away and seem uncomfortable around you – as if it were catchy.  Married friends are often frightened by separation. “If that could happen to you maybe that could happen to me,” clangs in their heads. Out of this insecurity some friends feel compelled to wax on about how great their marriage is, lessening their capacity to be supportive.

On the other hand, your divorce may cause jealousy. Your new freedom, a sense of liberation and empowerment, new romantic partners – it’s enough to drive a moderately unhappily married friend insane. Those people may want to live vicariously through you, or judge you because of the way your new life makes them look at their own.

There are of course, friends who are there through thick and thin and can manage their reactions. Acquaintances can surprise you with incredible empathy and support.  So remember, for the divorced and married alike — try not to judge and be aware of your reactions.  Life takes unexpected turns and if we can support each other the journey is much, much easier.

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Divorce Mediation at Soho Parenting
May 25, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Mental Health, Parenting, Separation/Divorce, Therapy · Permalink · Comments Off

Parents know their children best. That is why in the case of a divorce, the working out of a parenting arrangement and schedule is best left to parents – not courts or litigating lawyers. Even when the hurt, animosity, and fear involved in divorce feel overwhelming, many parents can come together and make decisions about how to set up the post-separation life of their children.

Ruth Bettelheim, a marriage and family therapist suggests a simple change in the law would have a huge positive impact on families. She writes in the New York Times Op-Ed, No Fault of Their Own, family law could “defuse tension by requiring parents to enter mediation to find a custody solution that best meets the needs of all concerned…In an adversarial custody battle, no one wins, but children are the biggest losers of all. Intelligent legislation could promote the one thing that children of divorce need most: peace between their parents.”

For years, divorcing families have come to Soho Parenting to talk about their conflicts and to find solutions to questions about their children. Even in the most contentious situations, it is amazing to see that parents can pull together and talk through, negotiate and decide on arrangements. When you step out of the archaic divorce court system and away from the sometimes combative advice of lawyers, parents do a great job agreeing about their kids with a strong but supportive mediator in the room.

Now we will be able to offer Divorce Mediation services at Soho Parenting in a more formal way.  The process includes helping couples to decide on financial matters and parenting arrangements. The completion of an agreement becomes a binding legal document. In addition to mediation, couples can meet with a child development specialist, individual therapists if needed.  Our goal, as always, is to support parents through the transitions in family life with complete regard for the care of the emotional needs of their children. Mediation provides an opportunity for parents to rise up to their best selves to make good choices for their families.

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Insurance for the Hardest Unpaid Job In The World
March 18, 2010 · Posted in Fatherhood, Marriage, Parenting, Relationships, Separation/Divorce, Work/Family Balance · Permalink · Comments Off

life_insurance1ALERT! Women are still making 77 cents on the dollar! Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an economist and the founder of the Center for Work-Life Policy has estimated that the penalty is 10% of income for every two years out of the job market, a loss that is never recouped. If a woman divorces, the Rutgers Divorce Project states, her standard of living decreases by 27% and a man’s increases by 10%. So between lower wages in general, no social security benefits for full time mothers, and divorce rates holding between 40 and 50%, what’s a woman to do?

Here’s an idea that you and your spouse can implement which takes these facts into consideration. Not romantic, but realistic and fiscally responsible planning. How about a Family Insurance Plan?  A self-made insurance policy for the mother who stays at home for a number of years. Each year you can put aside a percentage of the family income toward this safety net. We get life insurance so that our family is cared for if we die, so why wouldn’t we honor the work being done at home and protect your family financially at the same time.

Whenever this is suggested in Mother’s groups, women first get excited and then deflate- fearful about bringing this up with their husbands. Men and women alike have difficulty attaching a monetary value to being the family manager. More importantly, woman are worried that bringing this up feels like a vote of no confidence in the marriage.

On the contrary, this is a protective forward-thinking gift to the whole family. You address the financial sacrifice that women make by deciding to either decrease, or stop their work outside the home, and you protect your children from undue financial hardship. Sounds like a win-win!

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Girlfriends
November 17, 2009 · Posted in Communication, Marriage, Parenting, Relationships, Separation/Divorce · Permalink · Comments (4)

mammamiaAsk any girl-from 7 to 70- who the most important people in her life are. You will be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t answer,”my girlfriends.” Even with the phases of distance or jealousy that are usually a part of female friendships, connections with other women are like the spinal column of your body. They are the mainstay of support, strength and flexibility.

The solace and hilarity that comes from a great girlfriend is unsurpassed. The ability to deal concurrently with things of such depth and such ridiculousness is the hallmark of girlfriendness.  It is your girlfriends that will listen to the never-ending concerns about your children and your weight, your love life, work life and what shoes you get for the fall.

I asked some girls/women ages 7-72 to explain why their girlfriends are important.  Here is what they said:

7 year old

“You need to be understood, and boys sometimes don’t. They are fun to play with and it’s good because they understand what it’s like to be a girl. There’s this movie, Mama Mia, and if you want to understand more about girlfriends you should watch it!”

23 year old

“I would die without my friends.  When I just couldn’t get out of bed after my boyfriend and I broke up my three best friends showed up, dragged me out of bed, made me shower, get dressed, put on make up and go to a club.  They reminded me that life goes on! Most romances end but girlfriends are forever.”

34 year old

“My mom’s friends totally understand how strange it feels to be a parent. It’s hard for anyone else to really understand – how could we be the ones hiring a babysitter when we were just the babysitters. It’s too crazy! ”

48 year old

“It’s like we take turns now, each of us has gone through something so hard, a parent dying, a kid with depression, a divorce, losing a job. Thank god it doesn’t usually happen to us at the same exact time because we all just rally and take care of the one who needs help. Through it all we still laugh so much.”

72 year old

“We constantly say “How could we be in our seventies?” We feel the same inside, although outside is a totally different story!  The only thing that helps keep the fear of losing my keys, wallet and mind at bay is that we all don’t know if we are coming or going! It becomes a comedy of errors.”

So make sure this year you take time away from children, work, and spouse and go away for a day, a night or a weekend with your ladies.  Feed the relationship that will give back in the most unconditional way throughout your life.

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Where The Wild Truths Are
October 29, 2009 · Posted in Media, Parenting, Relationships, Separation/Divorce · Permalink · Comments (4)

header_main_wild_thingsJean and I went to see “Where the Wild Things Are” in all its glory on the IMAX screen. Our reactions and thoughts about the film were IMAX in their magnitude, as well. The film addresses the most complex existential questions in family life.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. The screenplay takes Sendak’s short book and places it in the context of a family in the aftermath of a divorce. Max, an adorable, angry, physical and creative boy, lives with his mother and sister. He has huge temper tantrum as his family is about to sit down to dinner with his mother’s new boyfriend. As his mother, with her mixture of embarrassment, anger and exhaustion tries to discipline him, they tangle in a screaming physical battle.  He bites her and runs out the house. The rest of the movie takes us into Max’s inner world.  His imaginative adventures unfold as he tries to come to grips with the reality that life, and family life in particular, will always contain measures of brutality and disappointment along with deep, deep connection and wonder.

His anger and rebellion stem from the desperate desire to know “How can I make everyone OK?” He longs for the magical power to banish hurt and loneliness, and to keep the closest relationships conflict free.  Max, his mother and his “wild things” are all of us as children and parents. The child hopes and demands that his all-powerful parents will protect him and guarantee happiness.  Watching the collision between that wish, and the disappointing truth that parents can’t excise all pain is life-altering. For parents, the movie captures that overwhelming desire to give pure, love-driven perfection to your own children. The sense of failure and helplessness when acknowledging that fantasy is not possible is devastating.

And then, for Max, for us, the rebirth and resolution as the perfect dialectic of pain and pleasure reveals itself. That we are all at once wild, destructive, and needy, creative, forcefully playful and giving– and the love that connects us as family trumps everything. No one can make everyone fine. And that is OK.

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Separation and Divorce: Don’t Pretend the Kids Don’t Know
September 8, 2009 · Posted in Communication, Parenting, Separation/Divorce · Permalink · Comments (2)

lrg5Talking to children of any age about your separation is a very scary and sad prospect. That is why parents often wait too long to fill their children in on what is happening in the family.  Children are open receptors and often know much more than we think.

Here are some examples of children knowing consciously and unconsciously, that their parents’ marriage is in trouble: A couple believes that their five year old daughter knows nothing about their pending separation. They bring her in for a play session because she is having trouble sleeping. She quietly sits down with the doll house and sets up the parents bedroom. She puts the parents in beds on either side of a wall of furniture that she builds.

Here’s another one: At a family session to help their 6 and 8 year old boys talk about their divorce the boys both tell their parents that they knew long before it happened. They heard fights late at night, knew their mom was very sad but were afraid to ask what was going on.

If you are in the midst of high conflict in your marriage and are deciding to separate assume your children know on some level what is going on. Even children as young as one or two will show their worries through behavior. Sleep difficulties, aggression in school, separation anxiety, and defiance are all signs that kids are worried about your relationship. Though you may not be clear on the future you can say things like:

“Mommy and I have been fighting a lot. It’s been a hard time.”

“We are talking to someone who helps work on these problems.”

If they ask if you getting a divorce and is a real possibility answer honestly–“Yes, that may happen.”

When you know you are separating make all the plans for it before you tell you children.  Who is going where, when will they see each parent, and if possible have the new place set up before you tell them.  Kids are very concrete and want to know what will happen to them. As hard as this is on you, your job is still stay in the adult role and comfort and guide the kids.

Separation and divorce is enormously painful, but when parents stick to the idea of “simple and honest” children can be protected from the fear and turmoil that comes with confusion. Worry about what they don’t know is still worse than the pain of what is actaully happening. Of course, this is all in a ideal situation. Most separations are messy affairs, so just do your best and remember that families can communicate and grow even through the most difficult of times.

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