You Fed Him WHAT? Special Diets and Co-Parenting Solutions

If you’re one of the many parents raising a child with a food allergy or special diet needs, the thought of sending your child off with your ex for visitation or parenting time may make your stomach clench with worry. Will the other parent make sure he stays away from dangerous food items? Will the other parent be as vigilant as you are to follow your child’s special diet? These concerns are real, particularly when food choices can be so confusing with so many potentially serious consequences. Follow these steps to ensure your child’s needs are met while with the other parent.

 

Educate

The very first step is to educate the other parent. Ask him to come to a doctor or nutritionist appointment with you and your child, or offer to set one up at his convenience. The most important thing you can do is have a professional stress the importance of your child’s diet and lay out all the dos and don’ts associated with food. You might be able to tell your ex everything he needs to know, but it’s all going to carry more weight coming from a professional in a position of authority. It’s very important that the medical professional tell your ex what the consequences are of NOT following the prescribed diet, so he cannot just brush off the advice.

 

Reinforce

Provide your ex with a clearly written sheet of dos and don’ts. For example, if you child is a celiac, you could print out a list from the internet detailing surprising foods that often have hidden gluten. If your child is allergic to tree nuts, a list of unexpected places those can be found would be helpful. The same goes for lactose intolerance or other allergies. A list of no-no foods is very helpful, but also make a list of foods, brands, and products that are safe for your child to eat, particularly if you have your child on a diet such as one to control or reverse autism. Remind your ex that he must be ever vigilant when eating at restaurants or at other people’s homes with your child. Teach him how to ask – and what to ask– about food that is being offered to your child. Sow him how to read labels when shopping. Give suggestions about what alternatives to offer your child when she wants something she can’t have. In the beginning, it may even be necessary for you to pack a bag with some food items to be certain your ex has some products available, just in case.

 

Follow Up

In many cases, all of this will be enough to keep your child safe. In some cases though, the other parent can make things difficult. It’s a good idea to ask about what your child has eaten while away. Red flags are statements like “My mom fed him something,” or “We just ate at X restaurant.” That’s not enough information for either of you! If you have real doubts about your ex’s ability to stay on track with your child’s diet, start a food log and send it along on visitation, asking your ex to fill it out. To make things a bit less confrontational, fill out the log for when your child is with you as well. This way it will seem like a joint effort and your log entries will provide an excellent model for your ex to follow.

 

Empower Your Child

If your child is old enough, you can educate him or her about what he and can’t eat. You are probably already doing this, but many children would not think to question choices a parent is making for them, so make sure your child understands that the diet comes first, no matter what anyone, even a parent, says.

 

Non-Cooperation

If you have an ex who either does not believe the special diet is important or who seems to be unable to follow it out of laziness or even just to spite you, you need to take action. Document what is happening (make dated notes about interference with the diet, as well as the consequences your child experiences). Then go back to court. Depending on your situation, you can ask for a few different things. Some parents just need a judge to tell them they have to follow the diet (but you may need a doctor to testify about the importance of it). It may be enough to have your custody order modified to include a directive that both parents follow the recommendations of the child’s doctor about diet. If that isn’t going to do it, you can ask to have visitation modified so that your child is not with your ex at meals or so that your ex has supervised visitation, where another responsible adult is present and can make sure the diet is being followed.

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Marital Infidelity Affects Children

photo by Arvind Balaraman

The reasons for your divorce or break up are between you and your spouse, but even if you try to keep infidelity under wraps and your divorce is not front page headlines, it still has an impact on your kids. Even if you don’t tell your kids about infidelity, they are likely to find out if they are old enough to understand, simply by overhearing arguments between parents or conversations you have with other people. Kids react in individual ways, but the following reactions are almost universal.

Embarrassment

Kids whose parents are unfaithful often feel deeply shamed by the situation. A parent has done something that deeply hurt the other parent, and which is considered a no-no by society. Kids are afraid people will talk about the situation and that by being part of the family your child will be tainted by association.

Confusion

Kids are expected to follow the rules, so why can parents break them? That is a question kids ask themselves or even you, as they try to work their way through the situation. It’s not uncommon for children to react by testing the rules themselves to see what they can get away with.

Disgust

Anything that has to do with parents and sex is just gross as far as your child is concerned and a situation that calls attention to the fact that a parent is actually having sex is beyond what any kid wants to think about.

Anger

A common reaction is anger – often at both parents. The cheating parent is easy to blame because he or she took action that ended the marriage and hurt everyone involved in the situation. Kids will frequently freeze this parent out or rage at him or her. It’s also not unusual to blame the non-cheating parent, believing that he or she could have done something that would have prevented the cheating, like being more loving, working harder to please the other spouse, etc.

Distrustfulness

When a parent betrays the entire family, children frequently experience doubt that they can trust anyone ever again. If a parent broke trust with the family, who can you rely on? Children will experience insecurity in all of their relationships. Teens may find it hard to trust members of the opposite sex and say that love is not worth the risk.

How to Help

You can’t undo what has happened, but you can get your child into therapy to help work through the issues. Be available to listen to your child. Let him or her talk and just listen. It’s also important that both parents talk about the situation, as hard as that may be. The cheating parent may be met with silence or ignored, but it is important to apologize for the hurt that has been caused and offer to talk about it with the child in therapy. The non-cheating parent is often in a better situation to have a conversation with the child. It’s hard to do, but the best course is to emphasize that this happened between the parents and does not affect the relationship and the love between the cheating parent and the child. As with all divorces, it takes time for your child to accept what has happened and move forward. Being supportive through this process is the best thing you can do.

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Teens and Divorce

Photo by Sujin Jetkasettakorn

If you and the other parent divorced while your child was younger, the teen years can present some challenges in terms of your visitation schedule.  A schedule that worked for an elementary school age child is not going to fit a teen.  And, if you and the other parent have split during your child’s teenage years, it can be difficult to devise a plan that will work for everyone involved simply because the teenage years are so difficult to parent during.

Big But Not Big Enough

The first thing to remember is that teens may look and act a lot like adults, but they aren’t yet completely mature.  They still need to have two parents and they still need to have those parents involved in their lives.  Teens are working hard at learning to be independent, and this means that they do need special consideration, but it does not mean that you and the other parent should throw up your hands and say “there’s nothing we can do.”  It can be difficult to continue to parent someone who doesn’t want to be parented, but that’s your job right now.

Flexibility Is Key

Friends, school, sports, activities, dating, and jobs are essential to teens.  If you have a visitation schedule that severely restricts your child’s ability to enjoy those essential activities, all you’ll end up with is resentment.  Instead, you need to try to create a balance in your teen’s life.  He or she should have plenty of time to do the things that matters to him, but he’s also got to make some room for spending time with his parents.

When you all lived in one house you probably did not tell your daughter she had to skip the field hockey game because you wanted to spend time with her.  You didn’t tell your son he couldn’t hang out with friends on Friday night because your spouse wanted to spend time with him.

As the divorced parent of a teen, you’ve got to flex the parenting schedule to incorporate the things that make your kid who he is.  If your spouse has visitation this weekend, but your teen has a dance to go to, the parent whose scheduled time it is should take the teen to and from the dance, and spend the rest of the available time with him.  You need to find a balance between your teen’s need to be a kid and the need for him or her to have time with both parents.

Create a Minimum

Since teens schedules are busy and your and the other parent’s schedules are also probably pretty packed, it’s important to agree to some kind of minimum time per month with the non-custodial parent. For example, decide that you’ll try to arrange things so that the non-custodial parent sees your child for at least four overnights per month and 4 other evenings or afternoons – this is the flexible way to fit in the “every other weekend and one night a week” plan into a busy life.  Fit parenting times in where they go the easiest.  Be creative with your time sharing.  Take turns taking your daughter to basketball practice.  Have one parent commit to teaching him how to drive.  Have the other parent be involved with weekend band or cheerleader activities.  Some parents have a hard time being so flexible because it feels like a loss of control.  In fact it is just the opposite – you set a minimum and then work with your child to make it work for everyone.  It takes a bit more cooperation, but in the end, you will both have a better relationship with your child and he or she will feel more fulfilled and connected.

Stay Connected

Teens are big on technology, so the non-custodial parent can maintain a close relationship with text messaging, cell phone calls, andSkype.  Non-custodial parents can have a difficult time staying connected during the teen years – teens certainly aren’t know for being open with their parents!  And, if a family divorced when the daughter was 7, she’s a very different person at 15 and it can be hard to stay in the loop.  Find out about her interests and activities and make yourself a part of them – either by showing up to cheer, by offering help, or just by asking friendly, non-intrusive questions.

Surviving the teen years requires a mutual understanding – you take your teen’s life seriously and he or she will take both parents seriously as well.

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10 Tips to Improve Communication with Your Ex

Although your marriage or relationship is over, you still have to communicate in order to arrange visitation and discuss issues involving your kids. Instead of gritting your teeth and sending mental daggers his way each time you talk, follow these tips to make communication easier, more effective and more comfortable for both of you. The less stressful those conversations are, the easier your own life is going to be.

  1. Smile. I’m not kidding. Studies show that if you force yourself to smile at times when you don’t feel happy, it actually does improve your mood. And if you smile at your ex, you immediately defuse the situation. Warring tribes used to greet each other with a handshake to show they had brought no weapons. A smile does the same thing.
  2. Don’t talk money. Money is often the root of the biggest disagreements among divorced couples. He’s not paying what he should, he doesn’t agree with you when you want more, he disputes what’s actually owed, etc, etc. Therefore, keep money out of the equation when you’re talking about the kids or exchanging the kids.
  3. Don’t take the bait. You’re excellent at pushing each other’s buttons. So be aware of that and be smart enough to keep your buttons covered. Remind yourself this is not a real conversation. It’s a game. You win by not engaging. End of story.
  4. Plan ahead. Mentally rehearse any decisions or issues you need to discuss beforehand and boil it down to a concise, simple statement or request. Have a script and stick to it. This allows you to control the course of the conversation and stay focused.
  5. Pause. No need to count to ten, but instruct yourself to just slow down all of your reactions. In difficult encounters, your first deep, primal reaction might be to slug him. You’re an adult though and suppress that and keep your hands at your side. However, your second reaction, which comes only split seconds later might be to verbally slug him. Take a second and press your lips together or take a breath so you can get past that and allow the thinking, reasoning part of your brain to take over.
  6. Be calculating. You know this guy. You understand how he ticks. Use that to your advantage. Work him to get the situation to work for you. Use whatever he responds to, whatever helps him behave rationally, calmly, and reasonably.
  7. Focus on the future. No one wins when you hash over the past. You each have your own version and that’s that. The future is there to be shaped, so focus on what you can do to make it a good one for your child. This means no fighting about who did what or any rehashing of past problems.
  8. Face the facts. Too many women waste time struggling against the truth – this guy is your kids’ father and you’re stuck with him for the long haul. Stop looking for ways to shut him out and start looking for ways to make it work with him in the picture. If you deal with him in that spirit, everything becomes easier.
  9. Complete the transaction. You and your ex are talking or seeing each other because there is business to accomplish – kids to be exchanged, a schedule to be made, a schedule change to be negotiated. Remember that’s why you’re there and that’s what your goal is. Focus only on achieving that goal. He can throw tons of other junk at you, but you’ve got to keep your eye on the final goal.
  10. Run. Not literally. But when you’ve completed the transaction, get out. This is where you get into trouble if you don’t move on. If you’re not working on a specific goal, you’ve got lots of room to pick at each other. Don’t let it happen.

NOTE: Please be sure to see the previous post for a chance to win the ebook The No-Fight Divorce Book, everything you need to know to use mediation.

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Back to School Tips for Divorced Parents

The stores are filled with binders and glue sticks so it must be time to start thinking about back-to-school. This time of year is busy for all parents, but it is particularly challenging when you’re divorced or separated. Not only are you juggling supply lists (including impossible to locate folder colors), sneaker shopping, open houses, and more volunteer events than your schedule has room for, but you’re also managing a parenting schedule, cost-splitting, and handling all of your exes “moments.” Follow these tips to keep your sanity.

 

Track Expenses. If you and your ex have an agreement to share school expenses or if your ex is responsible for all of it, you need to keep your receipts. Try to buy everything at one store if possible to minimize confusion. Keep copies of the receipts so you have a record of what you’re owed.

 

Share Supply Information. As much as school shopping can be a headache, it is a way to stay connected to your child. Even if you have agreed that you will be the parent in charge of school shopping, your ex might want to be involved. It’s not uncommon for a divorced dad to take his child out and buy the latest and greatest sneakers, backpack, or gadget. Making sure the other parent understands what the school requirements are will prevent a hissy fit by your child when the giant backpack fails to meet school specs and must be returned.

 

Coordinate Events. If you and your ex both want to attend open house, make sure he knows when it is. If you can’t stand to be in the same room together, arrange to go on different nights or at different times. If that’s not possible, most teachers are willing to do a quick one-on-one to meet one of the parents at another time.

 

Notify the School about Pick Ups. If you have sole legal custody of your child and have any concerns that your ex could try to pick your child up from school without your permission, you need to give the school a copy of your custody order and direct them not to release your child to anyone but you.

 

Think About the Night Before School.  Do you remember that sick to your stomach feeling of the night before school? Your child experiences that too and it’s important to do whatever you can to make the first day of school easier for him. If at all possible, have your child sleep at the home where the bus will pick him up most of the time. This will minimize tension and help him get settled into a routine.

 

Arrange for Separate Notifications. If your ex has the right to receive information about your child’s academic progress and school activities (most parents with joint custody do, but some custody orders directly spell this right out), he needs to make arrangements with the school to have duplicates sent to him. As the custodial parent, you do NOT want to have to be responsible for copying and sending him everything that comes home. That being said, there are times when a teacher might send a quick handwritten note or email to you alone and it would be in the spirit of cooperation for you to share it. It is also nice to share graded papers and tests that come home.

 

Coordinate Calendars. Now that school is getting revved up again, there are going to be lots of events – book fairs, sports meets, science fairs, concerts, and more – scheduled for your child. Compare the school calendar with your parenting schedule. You want to make sure your child able to attend important events. If your ex lives nearby, you can suggest he take him to events that fall on his days.

 

Talk to the Teacher. If you are recently divorced, or in the middle of a split, make sure you find a moment to talk to your child’s teacher about the situation. Children of divorce and separation often act out at school, have emotional moments, or just occasional bad days and you want your child’s teacher to know what’s going on.

 

Smile! When school portraits roll around, if you do not want to talk to your ex about buying a package of photos together, send him an extra purchase order so you don’t have to get involved.

 

Plan Projects. It’s quite common for kids to want their dads to help them with certain school projects – particularly the ones that require construction! It would be great if you and your ex could talk about this kind of situation in advance so you can already have a plan in place for the science fair project or whatever will be coming along. If your ex agrees to handle a project, make sure he has all the details, including the deadlines and specs. It’s tempting to let him sink or swim, but it’s ok to let your mom nerves take over and remind him once or twice about the deadline so that your child does not end up in a bind. Try to remain hands off as much as possible though, so your child and ex can have this experience together.

 

Remember Who School Is For. It is too easy for school to become yet another battleground where you and your ex each attempt to stake your claim – you become active on the PTO and pal up to the teacher while your ex makes calls to complain to the principal about every little injustice to your child. You’re each secretly trying to be über involved with the school so you feel connected to your child. School is your kid’s turf – a place for her to have fun, grow, and get away from the issues at home. Don’t ruin that for her.

 

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