Mementos of Your Marriage

When your marriage ends, you work through the emotional rollercoaster and come (eventually) to a place where you’ve recovered (somewhat!) from all the turmoil. You might still be fond of your ex (or you might not be!), but at some point, you move on with your life, leaving the marriage behind you emotionally. What’s left are physical reminders of the marriage that you might want to get rid of, however your children likely have different feelings about them. Here are some tips to help you navigate your way through these tough decisions.

Photographs

One thing that will be very important to your kids are the family photos. Your instinct might be that you want them out of your house and out of your life, but these are important items for your kids. For one thing, it allows them to hang onto the fact that you were a couple, and a family, at one point. Your children likely have some very happy memories that can be relived through those photos. Don’t toss them, instead save them for your kids. You don’t need to leave framed family photos scattered through the house or a photo album on the coffee table (or digital file on the desktop of your computer), but you should try to save many of them for your kids. They will want to look at them from time to time, and that’s ok. It’s healthy for them to want some visual cues to help them process what happened. You may not want to look at the photos with them and that’s ok too. Give some brief feedback and make yourself busy with something else. Plan to pack those photos up and move them out of the house when your kids move out.

Wedding Rings

You likely removed your wedding rings at some point in your divorce process and obviously don’t plan to wear them again. Some women do take the stones and have them reset into a pendant or other piece of jewelry to wear. If this is what you want to do, you should. You can always pass that new piece of jewelry on. Some people sell their jewelry and that’s an option that is good if it works for you. Be aware that your children (daughters, most likely) will at some point be curious about the jewelry. Some children feel strongly that they would like to have the jewelry or even use it for their own weddings. If you feel uncomfortable with this, be clear that it belongs to you and you can do whatever you want with it. If you refashion it into something else, make it clear that item is a piece you will pass down. If you sell it, you might buy something else with the money that can have some importance for your family. If you need the money to pay bills, that’s fine as well. There are plenty of other items your kids will be able to hang on to.

Mementos

If you’re living in the home you shared with your ex, you probably still see him or her in every corner. Many people remodel, redecorate, or at least make some changes in their home once they are divorced. So what do you do with all the stuff that reminds you too strongly of your ex? Ask yourself if these items will have meaning to your children. A collection of shells you collected on the beach as a family or a souvenir from a family trip to the Grand Canyon are things that have importance to your children. You don’t have to leave them prominently displayed in your living room, but maybe your children would like them in their rooms. These items can also be packed up and stored away until your children are grown when you can hand it all over to them and let them decide what to do with them. This doesn’t mean you should keep every single item—be selective and space-conscious. If you need to do a real purge, ask your kids for their input on what they might like to save.

You may also have notes, letters, cards, and other personal items that were meaningful in your marriage. You are completely within your rights if you want to toss or destroy these, but it’s possible some day your kids might want to see them (if they are appropriate to share). It’s fine to store them in case your kids have an interest in them, but it’s also fine to just get rid of them if you need to.

Strong Feelings about Unexpected Things

All of the things we’ve discussed so far are things that clearly have emotional meanings. Don’t be surprised if your children have strange, unexpected attachments to other things you could never have predicted. The recliner the other parent often sat in, the pile of unused lumber next to the garage, the dusty set of glass jars on a kitchen shelf—things like these can be symbols of the other parent and children can get very upset if they are moved, disposed of, or changed. If your child has a sudden outburst about something unexpected like this, take the time to talk it through. Why does this object or objects matter to her? What do they symbolize? It’s your house and you call the shots, but if there is a compromise, look for it. Would your child like to keep the item (if it’s small!) or some portion for herself? This doesn’t mean giving in and not changing a thing to preserve your child’s fantasy that you will reunite. It’s important to be very clear about that and the fact that as the adult in the house, you make decisions about the home. That being said, having some sensitivity to your child’s feelings will make everything smoother.

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Help Your Child Cope with Parental Relocation

If you or your ex are relocating, you know it is going to be hard for your child to stay close to the non-residential parent.  However, if you are the residential parent, there are many things you can do to encourage them to interact and many ways to provide support during this difficult adjustment.

Plan It Out

The most important thing you need to do when your child is no longer going to be living near the other parent is to sit down and have a detailed talk together as parents about how you’re going to make this work.  If you’re the one moving, you may have had to get court permission and a court-approved plan for visitation, but even so, there are details that need to be worked out.  It’s essential that, as the residential parent, you make it clear to the other parent that you want his or her relationship with the child to thrive, despite the distance.  You need to emphasize that you want to support their relationship.

Spell It Out

Once you and the other parent have a plan, share it with your child.  Your goal is to reassure your child that the long-distance parent is still going to have an parenting important role.  For younger children, it can help to use to a calendar to show when they will go visit the other parent.  Color that area of the calendar in or use stickers to make it stand out.  Share all the details of the different ways child and parent will be able to stay in touch in between visits.

Plan Expenses

Discuss travel expenses.  If your child will be traveling to visit the other parent, who is going to do the driving, or who is going to pay the airfare?  Arguments over these costs are the most common stumbling blocks to long-distance visitation and if you can negotiate them now, you’ll save yourselves, and your child, a lot of heartache later.  Many parents share these costs, but if there is a large financial disparity between your incomes it may make sense for the wealthier parent to pick up the cost.

Make a Tech Plan

 

Schedule regular times for calls, Skype, or FaceTime between parent and child. If your child is old enough, getting him his own phone can make it easier to stay in touch. Create an open door policy so that the other parent can call or text the child at any time.

Share

Non-residential parents often feel out of the loop even when they’re living in the same town with their children, and it can be worse if they are across the country from their child.  As the residential parent, make a point to share things that are happening in your child’s life with the other parent.  Instead of throwing out homework papers that come home, stuff them all in an envelope and mail them every week or snap photos and text them.  Forward along the school or classroom newsletter.  Email photos you take of your child and record dance recitals, plays, or important games.

Reach Out

Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone, or encourage your child to do so, to ask the other parent for suggestions for school projects, sympathy over a sprained ankle, or help with a friendship problem.  Remember that a lot of the time our work as parents happens when our children reach out to us with a problem.  The other parent won’t have the opportunity in those moments unless you encourage your child to reach out.

 

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Making Kids Go on Visitation

It happens in every family at one time or another.  You have a parenting plan in place that seems to be working pretty well with everyone’s schedules.  And then one day, your child simply refuses to follow it.  Most often this is a refusal to go on visitation with the nonresidential parent.  It can be baffling and upsetting for both parents when this happens.  The nonresidential parent feels hurt and betrayed and a bit angry too.  He or she begins to wonder if the other parent somehow put the child up to this.  The residential parent feels frustrated and worried.  He or she wonders if there’s something going on at the other house he or she is unaware of.  And both parents are hit with a sudden disruption of the schedule they had adjusted to.

So what do you do when your child won’t go?  The first thing to remember is that while it’s always important to listen to your child’s feelings and opinions, spending time with the nonresidential parent is not optional.  Your child doesn’t get to pick and choose when she is going to go or what circumstances will gain his approval.  There are days when kids don’t want to go to school, but you don’t let your child stay home on those days.  Similarly, you can’t let your child decide to just skip visitation.

Visitation is more than just a schedule.  It is a connection to both parents.  And continuing to have a connection with both parents is absolutely essential for your child.  Children are not in charge of visitation.  Parents are.  Children’s opinions are important, but not decisive.  Children are not old enough or mature enough to hold the authority to decide when and if visitation happens.  If you give your child that authority you will confuse and overwhelm him.  Your child wants and needs to know that both parents are an unconditional part of his or her life.

Now that being said, there can be real problems with visitation that lead to a child’s refusal to go.  Talk to your child and find out why he doesn’t want to go.  Often it’s just a general annoyance with the other parent or a vague sense of dissatisfaction.  This isn’t good news, but it isn’t bad news either.  You have to remember that it will pass.

If your child has solid complaints about visitation, suggest that she discuss them with the other parent.  If your child isn’t able to verbalize this, then it’s ok for you to convey the message, but you must remember that children’s perceptions of things may be skewed.  A complaint of “Dad is always working and never spends any time with me” might in reality turn out to be a case of where Dad had one project he had to finish up last Sunday night and so could not play video games.  If there is a real complaint about visitation, it’s important to remember that this problem exists between the child and the parent.  The other really should not get involved unless it is a dangerous situation.  Part of having a real parent-child relationship is working out problems together.

If your child refuses to go on a scheduled visitation and there is no real reason for the refusal, you and the other parent must present a united front.  Insist together that there is no other option.  If the residential parent gives in, he or she becomes an accomplice, making the other parent angry and proving to the child that he or she does not really respect the other parent’s role.  If the nonresidential parent gives in, this is a sign to the child that he or she doesn’t really care and is seen by the residential parent as yet another failure.  The best plan is to work together to get your child to go.  If your child refused to get out of bed to go to school, you would find a way to make him go.  You’ve got to do the same in this situation.

If your child is a teen, she may need more control over visitation than younger children are allowed, however this does not mean that she can write the other parent out of her life.  Teens need to feel some control over their lives, and need time for school, jobs, friends, and activities, but they also do desperately need real connections with both parents.

It is upsetting for everyone involved when a child refuses to go on visitation, but if both parents insist together that there is no choice, then no one will be the villain and your child will have to cope with the reality of the situation.

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Could Nesting Work for Your Family?

Instead of getting a divorce and having two separate homes the kids rotate through, nesting is a newer concept where the kids remain in the existing family home and the parents take turns staying there. Some parents each get their own new place and rarely some will share one other place that they are never actually in together. Often parents rotate on an every other week schedule, but any schedule that works for the parents is definitely possible.

The idea is that the kids remain safe and sound in the “nest” or family home. Their living arrangements don’t change and they aren’t shuttled around from place to place. It allows the kids to have a more stable environment and familiar surroundings as they adjust to the divorce. The children experience as little disruption as possible and can continue with the same school, same activities, same schedule, and essentially the same life as prior to the divorce. The benefits of that are huge.

Nesting can be quite expensive though. Maintaining the existing family home as well two additional homes is a huge financial burden most families cannot take on. Nesting can also be challenging for the parents. You’re sharing a home with your ex even though you’re never there together. You don’t actually see each other (except for planned meetings or occasionally passing on your way out) yet you’re sharing a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living area. All of the conflicts you had about not doing things the same way or disagreeing about how a household should be run will continue.

It can also be difficult to uproot yourself every other week and stay someplace else. Packing clothes, work things, toiletries, medications, and everything else each week can result in some giant mix-ups.

Another challenge is that after divorce, it’s common for the parents to gradually evolve and make some changes about who they are, what they think, and how they live their lives. This is often gradually reflected in parenting styles that can change. If this happens during nesting it can be confusing for kids who may find the parents suddenly are implementing different rules within the same home (Mom says no eating in the family room, but Dad says it’s ok, for example).

I worked with some families who tried nesting and most found that it worked as a short-term transitional method. It wasn’t something they wanted to do long-term, but they found that for a few months to a year after the divorce it was a great way to help their kids adjust and also give themselves time to figure out what to do with the family home and to find other places to live permanently.

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Coping with the Parenting Plan

Setting up and living with a parenting plan is a big change for everyone. All of you must get used to a new schedule. Working through the new plan takes time. You need to readjust your weekly rhythm and perhaps make adjustments to other activities in your life to make the schedule workable. Perhaps the hardest part though, is learning to handle how you feel about visitation.

It’s Normal

You might be totally overwhelmed with the emotions you’re going through as you adjust to and live with visitation. There is no “right” way to react. Everyone handles this in their own way and in their own time. You need to be patient with yourself, accept the various emotions you are feeling, and try to go with the flow. There’s nothing weird about you for having a myriad of feelings about the situation.

Don’t Feel Guilty

You might experience some feelings that bother you. It is normal, for instance, to have very strong negative emotions about your ex. It is also normal to sometimes feel excited about having some scheduled time alone, away from your child. It is also ok if you feel angry or resentful towards your child – for enjoying time with the other parent, for not worrying about you, or for making things difficult. Feeling or thinking these things does not make you a bad person or parent. It is healthy to feel these things and try to find a way to accept them and get through them.

How to Cope

If you feel like you’re drowning and don’t think you will ever be ok with the parenting plan, there is hope. First of all, if you don’t have a therapist, get one. Having someone to talk to who can help you work through problems and find solutions can be invaluable. It is also important to take things one day at a time. If you look ahead and wonder how you can ever cope with years and years of this schedule, you will feel overwhelmed. Instead, try to get through today and this week only. Try not to focus on your anger and resentment, instead think about what you can do right now to move ahead and get through the day in a positive way.

Dealing with Missing Your Child

As you first adjust to the schedule, and even in the years to come, there will be days when you will miss your child while he or she is with the other parent. Remind yourself that spending time with the other parent is a healthy and important thing for your child to do. Find other things to do during these times, so that you can begin to find some fulfillment, or at least distraction.  No matter how hard you work at it though, there will be times when you ache to be with your child. During those times, there is nothing wrong with calling, texting, or emailing your child. Remember, however, to keep your conversation light and do not dump your loneliness and sadness on your child.

Getting Through Anger at Your Ex

Even if your divorce or separation was handled in a somewhat amicable way, cooperating as parents can cause strains and tensions. There will be times when you will be angry at your child’s other parent. The best way to try to handle this is without involving your ex or your child. Scream and cry, unload onto your friends, throw pillows at your wall, do whatever you have to do to release steam. However, getting into a shouting match or a war with your ex will only make things worse. It will make it harder to work together as parents and it will be hurtful and difficult for your child, who will feel as if he or she is in the middle. Try to partition these feelings and keep them away from your child and as removed as possible in your dealings with your ex.

Making a New Life

A parenting plan gives new shape and definition to your life. Embracing that new direction can help you feel as if you have a grip on things. You may never completely love your parenting schedule or feel completely adjusted to life as a single parent, but you can move forward and try to put a positive spin on the situation.

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