By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
At our office, we frequently work with children and teens whose families are going through a divorce. While we do not engage in any sort of custody recommendations and tend to stay out of court at our office, there are many other ways that therapy and services at Thrive could be helpful.
1. Providing your child/teen with a neutral place to talk:
During a divorce, kids go through so many different emotions and experiences that can be really hard for them to talk to their parents about. As close as they might be to their parents, some feelings they are having will lead them to feel as though they are betraying one parent or the other. With a therapist, we can help them talk about and sort through those feelings in a safe space where they know no one else will hear about. This is actually a big part of the reason why we do not engage in custody recommendations… if parents and kids know that we are going to be sharing our opinions with anyone outside of the child’s sessions, it prevents the kids from sharing openly and feeling safe.
2. Giving your child/teen time to talk things through:
Often, during a divorce or separation, parents can become overwhelmed with their own experience and emotions. While this is totally understandable, at times the kids will feel lost and alone. Coming to therapy and having a therapist that they trust who spends about an hour a week just focusing on them and their experience and listening to what they want to talk about, can be enormously helpful in helping the child or teen process their experience and emotions around the divorce.
3. Providing the possibility of co-parenting sessions:
At Thrive, we are big believers in involving the whole family in treatment when we believe it will be helpful to the child or teen. In situations of divorce or separation, your child or teen’s therapist can be enormously helpful in supporting parents through the process with co-parenting sessions. Sometimes these sessions will need to be with a separate therapist than your child or teen’s, but co-parenting sessions are always helpful. Research has shown that it is not divorce itself that is harmful to children and teens’ emotionally, but the conflict that at times persists for quite some time after the separation or divorce. Co-parenting sessions can help parents learn how to work together as separate parents to benefit their child/teen and ideally, reduce overall conflict following a separation or divorce.
These are just three of the ways that therapy can be helpful when going through a divorce or separation. At Thrive, we know that parents are all doing their best to get through tough situations that arise in their families. We are here to support the whole family and love working with children, teens, and adults particularly during times of crisis like a separation or divorce.
If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy with one of us, please reach out to us either via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 858-342-1304.
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As always, thanks for reading and comments are always welcome regarding any issues around finding a therapist for teens and Family Therapy San Diego at Thrive Therapy Studio.
Tips From Professionals Around the Country
By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
For this blog, I wanted to follow up on my co-parenting blog that I posted in March, 2015 with another blog filled with co-parenting tips. My original blog can be found here. I reached out to some of my amazing colleagues from around the country and asked them to share their top tips! I’ve included what each person sent to me in their original format so that you can get a sense for each of their styles and general recommendations. Hope you enjoy!
Here they are (in no particular order):
“Children thrive on as much consistency, structure and routine as can be reasonably provided. It is important for parents to have regular discussions about their approach to parenting and different situations they encounter in order to ensure they are being consistent.”
~ Sarah Leitschuh, MA, LMFT
“Typically in a two-parent household, it can be difficult for both parents to have equal "weight" when it comes to discipline or decision making. For example a teen that asks dad if they can borrow the car, and dad tells teen to ask mom. Or a mom who tells the seven year old to take space in their room, but they refuse until dad comes to moms "rescue" and tells child to go to take space-and only then does the child listen. When I work with parents, I encourage whichever parent is more of the "heavy" to support and empower the other parent in implementing discipline or making decisions. If the "weight" is not shared between two parents, it can lead to feelings of frustration from both parents. The "heavy" can feel anger and frustration for always having to be the heavy, and the more passive parent can feel anger and frustration from disempowerment. It is important to discuss these feelings, and plan ahead if possible. For example, communicate with each other plans for the weekend so that dad can ok the teen driving the car without telling teen to check with mom, or communicating that dad will not rescue mom when she is disciplining the seven year old.”
~ Emily Gaines, LMFT #79569
“Never express frustration about one another in your child's earshot. Use a shared google account for the calendar just for the purpose of keeping your children's schedules on the same page (and some use a shared email for school/extracurricular communications).”
~ Cathy Canfield, MSW, LCSW, LICSW
“Co-parenting your children is the healthiest way to ease the transition and challenges of divorce. Co-parenting requires each parent to put their differences aside, as a once married couple, and proceed with the common goal of the child's best interest. If each parent is unable to cooperate in such a manner, individual counseling may be necessary so that each are able to disconnect from their own difficulties, as a couple, and communicate for the sake of the children. This does not mean each party has to like one another; however, each party should be able to demonstrate a united front when topics regarding their children arise. I have advised several families to create a private "Google Calendar" where each of them record visitation schedules and events. Children, of reasonable age, may also reference the calendar to increase daily predictability and decrease anxiety regarding parental attendance at functions, holiday routines, etc. It is essential that negative conversations regarding the opposite parent are not conducted around the child. Children love both of their parents; to put down the other in front of them causes emotional damage, confusion, and anxiety. The child may feel as if he needs to take sides, protect one parent, or may interpret the message as something being wrong with him...after all, he is half of the other person. Many times, children internalize a message they may hear about the opposite parent in a negative way. For example, if the mother states, "Your Dad is such a lazy loser," the child may internalize that as, "I am part of my Dad, so I must be a lazy loser, too."
Divorce is traumatic enough for children; keep adult conversations among adults. Watch what is sent back and forth via text message...little hands & curious minds will explore your phone.”
~ Carrie Kemether, LCPC
“One of the biggest tips as for co-parenting is that if you divorce or separate from your child's parent, that other parent will always be in your life. When your child has children, they will be there. Just because the two of you can no longer be together, finding away to be with them in a civilized manner is key. Never say negative or name call your child's parent. It will cause your child identity issues while they go through adolescence.”
~ Karen A Dwyer-Tesoriero LCSW
“If you and your ex can talk civilly, try to attend your child's (children's) school functions at the same time (open house, back to school, conferences, etc). This relieves your child of the pressure to split him/herself between the two of you. If things are still strained between you and your ex, try to at least take turns throughout each event, so your child can enjoy both of you participating, and neither of you feels disconnected from your child's teacher or education. Be sure to meet each new teacher and ask for notices/emails about class and school events. And be sure you keep talk positive and do not discuss disagreements at these events, this would be very upsetting to your child.”
~ Christine Gonzalez MA CDAAC
“It is helpful for both parents to recognize that each home will have different rules and a different structure. Accepting and acknowledging that there will be differences can cut the fighting down. When both parents convey to their children that they need to respect and follow the different rules at each home, the children are less successful at playing their parents against each other.”
~ Natasha Daniels, LCSW
“When it comes to co-parenting, the most valuable tip is to develop a respectful and collegial relationship with the other parent. Unfortunately, this can be the most difficult step. It's also important not to trash talk your child's other parent. This will inevitably backfire as your child begins to resent you for talking poorly about their parent. A very practical tip is to have a shared calendar. This can really alleviate headaches between parents. Custody and parenting plans age-out as children grow older, so it is often worthwhile to revisit custody plans as time passes. Divorce Mediators, such as myself, will help parents develop and revise co-parenting and custody plans, even if they are no longer or do not need a divorce.”
~ Leana Sykes, M.Ed, LPC, MFT
“When parents are going through a divorce or have divorced, they may find it difficult to communicate well with each other. As a result, the urge to use their child(ren) as a messenger may arise. It is best for parents to resist this urge and find a way to communicate directly with each other so that the kids do not feel caught in the middle. Confusion, guilt, and stress can result from being put in the middle. This is only going to add to an already difficult and emotional situation. Taking the extra steps of communication, even if uncomfortable or undesirable, will spare the children from this extra burden and help them to feel safe, loved, and valued by both parents.”
~ Marni Goldberg, LMFT, LPCC
“Work together to establish a family schedule. This schedule is the same at both parents homes. Have weekly scheduled "parent business meetings" . These should be scheduled for 15 minutes weekly. Each parent should add agenda items to a shared list (google doc) during the week. The limited time and pre-set agenda items helps take the emotion out of the conversations. These preset conversations also help each parent be able to communicate to the children when they will ask mom or dad about a specific request. No matter how conflicted your relationship is with each other choose to make affirming statements about the other parent to your child.”
~ Naphtali Roberts, LMFT
“Use kind words with your former partner and about them when your child is present. Children want to protect the "hurt" parent and defend the "evil" parent. Inevitably, they get caught in the middle emotionally. You are no longer together & the schedule is set, so there is no reason to engage in power struggles with your ex. Eliminate criticism & defensiveness from your communication. These things were most likely present at the end of the intimate relationship. When an intimate relationship with kids ends, you have to re-learn how to communicate with your ex "parent to parent" as opposed to "ex to ex." Don't feel guilty! If you felt you wanted to "stay together for the kids" and your partner didn’t want to, it's O.K. There is current research demonstrating that once kids adjust to their new situation, they don't fare any worse than kids from "intact" families when it comes to college stats, adult relationships, and drug or alcohol problems. If you're keeping drama low and teaching your child how to accept change and encouraging relationship maintenance with their other parent, they should be able to focus on their own life as other kids do.”
~ Colleen Mullen, Psy.D., LMFT
Thank you to everyone who participated in this blog and offered their suggestions! I hope you enjoyed reading :)
We welcome your comments and thoughts on these and any other marriage and family therapy issues.
By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
A large part of the work that I do with families and parents is working with people to improve their co-parenting. This is a topic that comes up frequently with almost all parents, not just those going through divorce or separation. For married couples, the issues center around the parents struggling to agree on what is best for their child/children. Typically, both parents are trying to do the best that they can to help their child, have very different ideas of what the “right” decisions are, and struggle to compromise in these areas because they are so committed to their child’s well-being. These issues become even more complicated during times of transition, separation, and divorce. Parents who present for co-parenting support following or during a divorce are generally much more emotionally raw and vulnerable due to the relationship issues they have been facing. This can make it very hard to receive and integrate feedback about almost anything, but particularly parenting because it is an area that brings up insecurities for a lot of people.
Most of the parents I work with feel that they are failing as a parent. This makes it challenging to hear feedback about their parenting because they are already primed in their heads to think that they are just a terrible parent! Therefore, anyone who is asking for support and help deserves respect just for taking such a difficult leap. I believe that it is very brave to talk to a professional about any areas you feel you are having challenges in, particularly parenting. Though parent consultation can be a very vulnerable process, it can also be very rewarding when you work with a therapist who helps you change your parenting style to improve your family situation.
The following tips are strategies and suggestions to help parents who are entering into parent consultation gain as much as possible from the experience.
The above tips will hopefully help you to engage in the parent consultation process and can make it a little less challenging.
Now let’s move onto some co-parenting tips. Remember these apply to any people raising children together (married, divorced, remarried, etc.) though some apply more to high conflict marriages or divorce.
Those are some of my basic co-parenting suggestions for situations that come up most often in my practice. Please feel free to add your own to my list! Just remember, no one has parenting all figured out but the most important thing is that you are trying your best with the information you have!
Thanks for reading!
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They become words.
Watch your words,
They become actions.
Watch your actions,
They become habits.
Watch your habits,
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It becomes your destiny."