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Happy New Year to all of the BFSO readers and your families! Let’s all thank God for carrying us through 2008. I certainly know that I could not have made it without Him!
We wish you happiness, good health, prosperity and peace in the upcoming year. A new year means a fresh start, and I hope that all of you take advantage of this fresh start. It’s a chance to do things differently; whether it be bury hatchets, react differently or simply decide to choose peace in the midst of your current circumstances. Remember, all of our feelings and beliefs are truly based on our internal thoughts and conversations with ourselves. WE ARE IN CONTROL whether we know it or not. If you are feeling overwhelmed about any aspect of your blended family, the first step to changing your attitude is changing that inner conversation. 2009 is your fresh start!
Also in 2009, BFSO promises to bring you more insightful posts, guest bloggers in the areas of relationship coaching, family law, tips on how to teach all of my blended family wives how to keep it spicy (use your imagination) and much more. In 2009, we are focusing on the entire family; from how to keep it spicy in the bedroom, to how to decorate your favorite room. From how to deal with the ex-spouse in your life, to how to maintain peace in what some perceive as an insane existence. We want you to know that your blended families’ problems DO NOT define your families. The operative word in blended family is family, and in 2009 BFSO will show you how to keep the focus on your family!
Lastly, I want to sincerely thank all of my readers! Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, which just started out as my way to vent my frustrations. I never expected it to be as helpful to others as it has been. Nor, did I ever expect to learn so much from all of you, too!
And so, let’s gear up for a fabulous 2009! No more looking back as the best is yet to come.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
From the Blended Family Soap Opera Family
I’ve talked a lot about the importance of maintaining healthy post-divorce relationships; not only with your children, but with each other. I firmly believe that children DESERVE parents who get along or at least make every effort to. As a result, I’ve been getting tons of emails from readers who claim to know the benefit of peacefully coexisting in order to co-parent effectively, but “the how” is what they lack the knowledge in. My answer is simple – JUST DO IT! You don’t have to be best friends or even friends; you just have to be civil for the sake of your children. Put your anger [of the past] away and concentrate on doing what’s best for your children instead of doing whatever gives you temporary satisfaction. Some of those same readers seem to be confused about the meaning of the word civil. Civil is not “mean mugging” each other during drop off and pick up. It’s not subtly bad-mouthing each other. And, it’s not communicating via morse code just to avoid actually speaking to each other. Get over yourself and be selfless enough to actually be civil, especially in front of your children. Be polite and learn to bite your tongue. Say hello, how are you and use the basic manners that you learned at age 5. These are things that you do every single day. Do you curse your boss out every time he or she makes you angry? What about the waitress at your favorite restaurant? Do you fly off the handle if she messes up your order? Probably not. So, I know that you can control your urge to slap your ex upside the head, too. It really is that simple. It might not be easy to do, but it’s that simple.
Before I get those comments saying “my ex is bipolar” or “my ex is an alcoholic”; let me assure you that I am not talking about those situations. I know it is difficult, sometimes impossible, to maintain a healthy relationship with these types of individuals. However, it is possible to disengage yourself from the battle. You don’t have to fight even if your ex is fighting with you.
Rule #1: Pick your battles! Life is just too short to stew over the past or fight about every little thing.
My brother taught me that sometimes it’s best to just say nothing at all. He used to burn me up when I would get so angry with him, and he would act like I wasn’t even there. But, eventually I would just move on because it’s hard to fight with someone that isn’t fighting back. In the end, you just end up looking stupid and no one wants to look stupid. Sometimes you just have to see it as that other person’s issue and move on! Let go of the past hurt for it’s the only way that you can move on. If you often find yourself consumed by anger, then you need to get some help! It’s never too late to do so. Only “fight” when you have to and don’t actually fight. Instead just communicate your concerns to your ex-spouse; which brings me to rule #2.
Rule #2: Voice your concerns to your ex-spouse!
Don’t automatically be ready to “go off.” Instead, just talk to him or her about your concerns. For example, I recently had an issue with my ex, and I must admit that I was ready to “go off.” I even contacted a lawyer; preparing to take his butt right back to court (yes, even I slip up at times). It’s completely natural to be overwhelmed with anger when someone pisses you off, especially your ex. After all, you’re divorced for a reason, right? But, I caught myself before bringing the matter to him in such a volatile and attacking way. I first led with a positive by telling him that I truly appreciate him being so open and willing to communicate with me about issues regarding our son. Then, I expressed my concern. He, of course, countered my concern, but I did the same to his. We had a disagreement and it’s probably going to happen a thousand times over because that’s what people do sometimes – disagree. It’s okay, so expect it. It’s how you handle those disagreements that matter. In the end, my ex and I talked it out and we worked it out; without fighting.
Rule #3: Practice basic manners.
Your children don’t need parents who can’t even say hi to each other when in the same room. Remember, although your involvement with your ex-spouse in regards to setting up visitation and child support will diminish when your children are grown; it doesn’t mean that you two will never encounter each other again. You’ll be at your child’s wedding. You’ll be there for the birth of your grandchildren. You’ll be there at college graduations. You will be there, together, with and for your child, so you better practice on being polite now. You don’t want to ruin those moments and memories [with unnecessary tension] for your child because you can’t be civil towards each other. So, the next time you see your ex-spouse forget about the tension and focus on just being polite. You don’t have to invite them to dinner or anything; or even invite him or her in your house. Just take baby steps and do the following:
- Say hello the next time you see your ex-spouse
- Ask how he or she is doing
- Greet him or her with a smile
- Tell him or her to have fun with your children
- Treat him or her as you would anybody else that you are trying to be polite to
Rule #4: Don’t bad-mouth your ex-spouse’s new spouse.
If you have a concern about your ex-spouse’s new spouse, don’t bad-mouth her to your ex. Remember, that she is your ex’s new spouse. As such, it will be in his nature to defend her. Therefore, you will be starting the conversation off on the wrong foot. Additionally, when your children acquire new relatives, via marriage or otherwise, it’s important to acknowledge and respect these relationships instead of dismissing them. Acknowledge, respect and encourage your children’s relationships with their step or half siblings, step-grandparents, step-aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. Remember, that society brainwashes us to believe that family can only consist of blood lines and a two biological parent household, but the dynamics of family are changing and have been changing for quite some time. Your children’s step-family is just as much family as their biological family and should be treated as such. As a matter of fact, children can only benefit from having a large loving family comprised of step, half and biological, than a two parent household without love.
Learning to act like adult parents is not as hard as it may initially feel. Once again, you have to revert back to the days of old when you first learned basic manners and being polite. Think before you speak or act. Let go of that residual anger that does nothing for you or your children. As a matter of fact, it only prevents you from moving forward and improving your life as well as the lives of your children. You may have every right to be angry [in some cases], but it serves no purpose to hang on to that hurt. Hanging on to hurt only hurts your children. Let it go so that you can create a healthy family unit for your children. After all, with over half of marriages ending in divorce the best thing we can do for our children is to make sure that they are raised in healthy families, regardless of their parents’ marital status.
A relationship between a father and child is just as important as a relationship between mother and child after the divorce. It’s no secret that relationships with fathers and children seemingly deteriorate post-divorce. After speaking with many fathers and witnessing my own husband’s anguish as a result of seeing his relationship diminish between him and his son; I now know that there are definitely two sides to every story, and every divorced dad is not irresponsible or disinterested. There are many obstacles that a father can and often does face when trying to maintain a positive relationship with his child. The constant conflict about child support, an ex-wife’s anger and/or parental alienation, maternal bias in court and much more, sometimes makes it impossible for fathers to maintain healthy relationships with their children. Through it all, once again, the individuals who suffer the most are the children. As such, they have something to say about their relationships with their fathers.
The results were taken from that same study in the last ‘what children want you to know’ article (read it to gain clarity). When both adult and minor children, of all ages, were asked about their relationships with their fathers, they had the following to say.
Some felt as if their relationships with their fathers had deteriorated since the divorce and were unequivocally upset about it. Blame came in all variations; from the divorce itself, to a remarriage, to the father, to a stepmother to new stepsiblings. Often times children feel as if they are being replaced when their father remarries. Therefore, it is essential that fathers are allowed to continue to foster their relationship with their children post-divorce. It is equally imperative that fathers continue to put forth the effort to do so. When a divorced dad remarries, jealously is to be expected. If it’s expected, then it won’t catch you off guard and you can deal with it before it gets out of hand. It is essential that you make your bio-children feel like they are apart of the family, as well as make them feel as if they are still important and special to you. If your bio-children don’t live with you, be sure to maintain regular contact with them. Call them regularly, send a little gift (it doesn’t have to be expensive, it can be a card) to remind me that you’re still there for them and that you love them. Sometimes, bio-children need some alone time as well. I know firsthand how difficult it can be to achieve this when there are step-children involved. A father must consider how sensitive the situation is for ALL of the children involved. However, an easy solution is to spend time alone with your bio-children when your step-children are visiting their bio-parent or extended family. At one point in my own blended family, my husband, sons and I sat down and scheduled date nights that consisted of alone time with both of our children and each other. Our children were happy to be apart of the arrangement, knew what to expect and therefore, didn’t feel the least bit slighted when each got their alone time. Children often times just want to be included (when possible) in on the decision making process that undoubtedly affects them in some way.
Another group actually blamed their fathers for the deteroriation in their relationship after the divorce. This group of older children reported that financial and lifestyle changes often dictated their decision to erase their fathers from their lives. Most went from houses to apartments, had to help take care of siblings because their moms had to work extra jobs to make ends meet and often witnessed their mothers’ anguish about finances. All while their remarried dad was living it up with the new family. They couldn’t understand why step-mom got to sport designer bags and clothing, live in elaborate homes and drive the finest cars, but they (his children) had to worry about money to sign up for cheerleading, basketball or other extra curricular activities. Or why their mom couldn’t afford shoes or clothing. HIS wife and their children weren’t suffering, so why should they have to? It just didn’t make sense to them, and as a result, they just wrote their fathers off altogether.
Fathers pay your child support! Just as much as your children deserve relationships with both parents, they also deserve to be financially supported by both parents as well. It is okay if you choose to get remarried, have more children and/or even father someone else’s, but don’t forget about those that you left behind. As a matter of fact, they should never be left behind; they are your children! Your children should always feel as if they can count on you, in every sense of the word.
Some of the group blamed their mothers for the change in their relationships with their fathers; claiming that their mothers’ words and fathers’ actions never seemed to add up. Their mothers would tell them or imply that their fathers’ didn’t care about them anymore, but their fathers were calling them every night (if they weren’t allowed to see them, for whatever reason), telling them how much he loved and missed them. When this group of children were allowed, usually via court intervention, to have relationships with their fathers, they quickly realized that the person that their mothers’ described was not that person at all. Most of this group was able to reconnect with their fathers when their mothers’ interaction was no longer necessary.
Some of the group members’ relationships got better after the divorce. This is the portion of the group that was allowed to maintain regular, equal contact with their fathers; spending two days a week and every other weekend with dad. I must also note that the parents of this group cooperated to co-parent their children effectively. Even when mom, dad or both remarried, the childrens’ relationships with either parent seemed to go unscathed. These children often viewed their step-parents and step or half siblings as an added bonus rather than a threat.
Limited Contact Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Losing the Relationship
There were some children who could not see their fathers as regularly as they wanted to. Often times this was due to distance; either mom or dad moving away due to a job or remarriage. However, a portion of these children didn’t feel any less connected to their fathers as a result. These children were apart of their dad’s life, had unlimited access to their fathers and felt completely loved by their fathers. Their fathers made it perfectly clear that they were interested in their lives and wanted their children to be apart of their lives. They called them consistently and inquired about school grades and activities. This group managed to have close relationships with their dads despite the distance. As a result, it isn’t always true that fathers who have limited contact with their children will totally lose their relationships.
In conclusion, maintaining a relationship with dad post-divorce calls for cooperation on both mom and dad’s part. Mothers should never prevent their children from having a relationship with their father due to their own issues. In the longrun, it only creates more issues for the children. Mothers are in a position to either help facilitate contact or make it very very difficult. It’s unfortunate that most choose the latter because these children all agreed that consistent contact is beneficial in maintaining that emotional bond that they long for with their fathers. And fathers should never give up on maintaining relationships with their children because it gets a little difficult. Although you may have to modify your relationship with your children; it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to develop meaningful relationships with them just because they don’t reside with you full-time, or as much as you’d like. Make good use of email, cell phones, online photos and even webcams to communicate consistently with your children. Your relationships with them and your children will be better as a result.
We are all taught that Honesty is the BEST policy. With that thought, I have long thought about posting on the issue of domestic violence and how it affects children. Unfortunately, for a long time, I have been embarrassed (one of the effects of DV) to speak on this subject from my own horrible experience with domestic violence, and of which, I feel that I am still struggling with 14 years after my divorce. Before I begin, I do want to acknowledge that during my divorce, my ex-husband was ordered to and did attend and complete domestic battery counseling and anger management courses, and through that experience, and from what I am told, has never violently abused anyone else and has asked my forgiveness, of which I have given and daily ask God for strength to continue my forgiveness. It is very hard to do. We have one son together and I had a child prior to our marriage; they both experienced watching their mother repeatedly beaten, bruised, intimidated, torn down and shaken to her core. They are almost 20 and 21 year old men now. Over the years since our divorce, we have had, fortunately for me, to parent our son from a distance , but even the raising of his voices still frightens me to this day.
In my own healing, as Robin Roberts often says, I have tried to make this “mess” into a “message” for others. Through working in the family law field and having researched this topic of how children of divorce who have experienced domestic violence feel about themselves and their parents’ marriage, I give you the following:
Most children who experience DV (mostly on the mother) want their mothers to LEAVE and divorce their fathers. Most children who experience DV in their lives end up with serious effects going into adulthood. My boys were 2 and 3 when it started and 4 and 5 when it ended and were able to communicate to me at 2 and 3 that they wanted to be away from daddy. But, for me, I was scared to death — literally. One day, a neighbor called the police and my ex told me that if I told them that he hit me, he would get out and kill me, and I would never see my children again. I was scared, humiliated and lost. So, I spent the following two years being further abused. I was afraid to tell my family and often told my children to be quiet about it as well. Then, the beatings got so I didn’t have to ”tell” anyone, it was made very apparent by my black eyes, busted lips, etc. It wasn’t until my oldest son was in Kindergarten and I was called to school for an emergency meeting that the I had my “light bulb” moment. The principal and the teacher sat me down and said that during recess, my son was sitting in the sand box with another student and was discussing with him how badly his mom was being beat up by his dad (which was actually his step-dad) and how he was afraid his mom was going to die. I knew that day would be my last in that house because the school told me that they had to notify the authorities if I didn’t get my son out of that situation, immediately. They were right, and it was what I needed to hear. Fear can ground us and make us deaf, and I was on the path to my children not having a mother; which was my biggest fear. I immediately filed for an emergency court hearing and the rest is history. The court granted a restraining order, no overnight visitation, sole legal and physical custody, etc. etc. To this day, that order remains in effect.
I always say, children live what they learn. In my reading and research and through my own counseling, I have learned that one-third of the children who witness the battering of their mothers demonstrate significant behavioral and/or emotional problems, including psychosomatic disorders, stuttering, anxiety and fears, sleep disruption, excessive crying and school problems.
Those boys who witness their fathers’ abuse of their mothers are ten times more likely to inflict severe violence as adults. Data suggest that girls who witness maternal abuse may tolerate abuse as adults more than girls who do not. These negative effects maybe diminished if the child benefits from intervention by the law and domestic violence programs. One third of all children who see their mothers beaten develop emotional problems. They feel shame, confusion, stress, fear or think that they somehow caused the problems that are causing their fathers to abuse their mothers.
Through my boys’ counseling, even up to the age of 12, my older son told his counselor that he was worried every single day that I would die. That was his constant fear even years later after I was out of that situation. My other son told the counselor that he had feelings of guilt that he couldn’t protect me and that he was angry that I didn’t immediately get divorced. Of course, they didn’t understand and probably still don’t understand all of the feelings one goes through, but they knew enough to know that they wanted us to divorce.
There is another stunning statistic; the rate of child abuse is 6-15 times higher in families where the mother is abused. Children with these experiences are more likely to run away, be suicidal and are at a greater risk of committing criminal acts as juveniles and adults. Children do not have to be abused themselves in order to be impacted by domestic violence.
So, part of making my “mess” into a “message” is to tell my story in hopes that any of you readers who might be experiencing this yourself or who may know a close friend experiencing this can know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that finding the strength to face the fears we have as victims of domestic violence. Our children do not deserve this tragedy and even though it is hard to put that first foot out there, it is the first step toward a more healthy life for you and, most importantly, your children. Some women will do anything to keep their families together for the sake of their kids. But I urge you not to stay in this type of marriage for the sake of your kids; instead, get a divorce for the sake of your kids.
Tuesday morning, I, Diane, was watching Good Morning America and the guest being interviewed was Alec Baldwin. He was speaking about his new book, which comes out today, entitled, “A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce.” In this book, Baldwin discusses Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), or one parent turning their child against the other. Although I believe this to be a real issue in today’s society; I will stand by the fact that some people don’t need to have children because they aren’t capable of being good parents. But for most of us, this is not the case, we just need to learn how to reconcile our feelings in order to co-parent effectively, thereby making PAS a non- issue.
Everyone knows that with a nasty divorce, more than likely a nasty custody battle follows. Often times the divorcing parties don’t take their child into consideration while engaged in such a battle, and as a result, he or she ends up caught in the middle. This type of behavior can lead to barriers being put up by one party which imposes on the other parent’s relationship with their child. Sometimes, like Baldwin, some almost give up and lose the will to keep fighting for their parental rights and in the end, the child suffers irreparable damage.
I, Kela, have watched my stepson suffer from PAS for years now. It is what motivated me to do some thorough research on the topic. Additionally, I want to be absolutely sure that I never alienate my child, even if it’s unintentionally, from his biological father. It is imperative that we understand this phenomenon so that the children caught in the middle don’t continue to suffer.
PAS is a complicated concept that historically has been difficult to clearly identify in court. Cases involving PAS are filled with accusations and counter accusations which are eventually dismissed as nothing more than hearsay. However, psychologists, therapists and other mental health professionals assert that PAS is much more than hearsay and there are signs and symptoms that one can look for in order to identify it. Below are some criteria that you can follow to determine whether or not PAS is an issue for your blended family.
Access and Contact Blocking
Access and contact blocking involves the active blocking of access or contact between the child and absent parent. Most mothers will try to defend their actions by claiming that they are just trying to protect the child. She may argue that the absent parent’s parental judgment is substandard and, therefore the child is much worse off from the visit. Access and contact blocking usually occurs when the alienator feels attacked and/or is trying to prove a point. It is a form of control that has nothing to do with protecting the child; but, has more to do with protecting their own ego.
In my (Kela) case, if my husband and his ex-wife don’t agree (which is all of the time) on a matter that pertains to their son, the first thing she does is block phone contact and visitation. There is no discussion and my husband has no control. Her claim is ALWAYS that she’s just protecting her son’s mental health. She will also appear to be trying to work towards a solution. But, while they are working towards the solution SHE determines whether or not my husband will see his child. My husband went 6 months without seeing his child and has only seen him 15 hours (5 hours per month) in the last year. Crack heads get more time than this with their children! In her eyes, they are only working together if he agrees with her.
Access and contact blocking can also come in the form of the alienator working to limit contact with the parent as well. This is often done when the alienator claims that other events (birthday parties, funerals, weddings, ect.) should take precedence over visitation with the targeted parent. The message to the child when this occurs is that the absent parent is treated less like an important family member and more like an annoying acquaintance that the child must see at times. This type of behavior can have a detrimental effect on the child’s relationship with the absent parent.
Emotional Abuse Allegations
False emotional abuse allegations is another very common form of PAS. Often times what actually occurs in a difference in opinion that the alienator frames as “emotionally abusive.” For example, one parent may let the child stay up later than the other. Or one parent might introduce a new significant other to the child before the other parent feels that he or she should. Both examples reflect a difference of parental opinion that is now described as emotional abuse by the alienator. Although these examples may seem insignificant, it is a suggestive theme of how the alienator uses difference of opinion to keep the child away from the absent parent.
Deterioration in Relationship Since Separation
The least identified, but one of the most important criteria is the deterioration of the relationship between the non-residential parent and the child since separation. It has to do with the existence of a positive relationship between the minor child and the nonresidential parent, prior to the marital separation; and a considerable deterioration, of it since then. If a father has a good and involved relationship with his child prior to the divorce, and is clearly trying to maintain a positive relationship with their child; but there has been a substantial change in their relationship since the divorce, one can naturally assume that alienation has occurred. Healthy and established parental relationships do not erode naturally of their own accord. THEY MUST BE ATTACKED! As such, any dramatic change in this area almost always indicates that the alienation process has had some success. If this puzzle piece is left out in court, the court can be easily fooled into thinking that the existing relationship is representative of the true parent-child relationship. It isn’t an easy feat to correct this perception, once it’s been determined by the court. I (Kela) believe that this is the reason why Judges often group all absent fathers into the category of “deadbeat.”
I (Diane) was guilty of alienating my son from his father. I was hell bent on trying to prove something to him because he hurt ME, not my son. Sometimes we confuse lashing out because we’re hurt with trying to protect our children. At any rate, I alienated my son from his father for 6 years. When I finally did come to my senses and realized that it wasn’t about ME, my son only got to spend a year and half getting to know his father before he (his father) was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. My son was only 10. I made a HUGE mistake by convincing myself that I was protecting my son when in actuality, I was only trying to protect my own feelings.
The above criteria can exist together or independent of each other as well. And, if all or some of the criteria is present, but alienation is unsuccessful, it doesn’t mean that the act of alienation didn’t occur.
Parental Alienation is a common phenomenon in which early intervention is essential. If allowed to continue, it can be destructive to your child’s well-being and mental health. Often times, the targeted parent (usually the father) washes his hands of the situation and walks away – gives up, thus greatly increasing the chances of successful alienation.
Side Note: PAS can only occur if the targeted parent is and has been doing everything in his or her power to maintain a relationship with his or her child. Don’t claim that you’re a victim of alienation if you choose to spend a limited amount of time with your child, call him once in a blue moon and try to avoid your responsibilities as a parent.
Characteristics of An Alienator
- They are obsessed with destroying their child’s relationship with the nonresidential parent.
- They have succeeded in enmeshing the child’s personality and beliefs about the other parent with their own.
- The child will parrot the alienator rather than express their own experiences from personal experiences with the nonresidential parent.
- Their (alienator) beliefs often become delusional and irrational. No one, especially the court, can convince the alienator that she is wrong, and anyone who tries is the enemy.
- They will often seek support from family members, friends, co-workers who will share their beliefs that they are victimized by the other parent. The alienator’s supporters are often seen in court hearings even though they haven’t been subpoenaed.
- They have so much anger because they believe the nonresidential parent has victimized them and whatever they do to protect the child is justified.
- They work so hard and sometimes succeed, in getting the court to punish the nonresidential parent with court orders that would interfere or block the parent from seeing his child.
- The court’s authority DOES NOT intimidate them.
- The alienator believes that she is protecting the child at all cost.
- The alienator will not want to read this post because the content will just make her even angrier!
REFERENCES: The Florida Bar Journal, VOL. 73, NO. 3, MARCH 1999, p 44-48
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