Navigating the Holidays with Kids after Separation: A Guide to Support and Celebration!

Planning and participating in the holidays after a separation can be challenging, especially for children adapting to two homes. It can be hard to focus on the children’s needs as both parents are also adjusting to this new reality.   

Holidays hold varied significance – while some are about grand celebrations and family gatherings, others might just be about relaxation and acknowledgment. When parents establish separate households, the constant remains their love for their children, though kids may need time adjusting to the new living dynamics.

Studies emphasize the importance of working together as co-parents during and post-divorce. It greatly aids children in navigating their own emotional journey. The underlying message should always be, “Your well-being is our priority, and we will unite for you.”

Here are some insights for co-parents navigating the holiday season:

  1. Prioritize Comfort: If you’re anxious, children pick up on it. Ensure you create moments during festive times that assure them of their importance in your life. The message to them should be, "Your happiness is vital to me, regardless of the occasion.”

Thinking about ways to support your children as they begin living in two homes and making new traditions and experiences for them and for yourself can be one way to lessen the stress of divorce. Doing this will acknowledge that a divorce impacts parents and children. Celebrating some holidays will look different for everyone, and it is important to remind each other that positive new traditions can also be made.

Happy holidays.

How Can We Make Decisions During Our Divorce When We Couldn't Make Decisions in Our Marriage?

There are many decisions that every couple has to make in the process of getting a divorce.  How will the assets be divided?  Who will keep the house and, if we don’t sell it, how will we determine the value of it?  How will we share time with the children?  How will we divide our household items?  How will we pay for the children’s expenses?  How can we make sure we both have enough money to live on month to month? 

Help in the Decision Making Process

People typically feel overwhelmed by these questions yet it is difficult to turn these decisions over to lawyers or a judge and relinquish control over the outcomes.  In a collaborative divorce, unlike mediation or litigation, there is a team of professionals to help you determine what decisions need to be made and to coach you through the process of making them.  You have your own lawyer in the room, along with the lawyer for your spouse, to make sure all the legal issues are covered.  There is a financial professional who can discuss the tax consequences of the decisions you are making along with showing the long term financial outcomes of the options you are considering.

 There is also a mental health professional who, having mediation training, is able to teach you a decision making process, something most married couples have never developed.  The first step is to define the question to be answered or the problem to be solved. Second, all information relevant to the problem to be solved is gathered and verified.  The third step involves a discussion of what is important to each person, their reasons for wanting a specific resolution.  For example, you have one orange and you both want it.  Further discussion of interests reveals that the wife wants to make marmalade and only needs the zest and the husband wants the only the juice for a recipe.  A judge would merely cut the orange in half, but in the collaborative process the solutions can be creative and based upon the interests of the parties. 

Once the information is gathered and the interests are known, the brainstorming process of generating options begins.  No option is off the table.  At this point, more information may be needed about specific options to determine their viability.  Once that is gathered, the next step is to evaluate the options by discussing the pros and cons of any that either one of the couple feels might work. Often the final solution is a hybrid of two or more options.  This discussion is facilitated by the team and leads to the final step, a decision about how to proceed. 

Lessons Learned in the Process

These discussions can still be difficult and emotional, but couples who are willing to follow the process and stick with it, will emerge with a final divorce settlement document.  The hope is that they also have learned more about how to make decisions and are better able to work together to raise their children.

The collaborative divorce process provides many couples with the opportunity to make well informed decisions. It is a supportive process where new skills can be acquired and utilized after the divorce is final. Reach out to Nancy Williger or explore our website to learn more about the collaborative divorce process.

Nancy Williger can be reached at (314) 993-4001

Website: http://nancywilliger.com

Understanding Grief in Divorce

When two people get married they emotionally attach to dreams, hopes, fantasies and plans of what their life will be like.  For some, getting and being married is a central part of their religion or spirituality.  Getting divorced forces people to let go of deeply held hopes and dreams and re-negotiate their world view.  The name for this process is grief.

The Grieving Process in Divorce

Grief is an inevitable and essential part of any divorce.  We don’t learn how to grieve, we do it automatically, whether we know it or not.    Many people associate grief narrowly with death, and while it is true that we grieve for those who have died, we also grieve many other losses throughout our life as well.

Getting a divorce involves a legal, financial and emotional separation.  Each of these separations comes with it’s own unique type of grief.  Some people fight the experience of grief, they get hung up on being right or get lost in the minutia of one particular issue.  Despite our best efforts, the deep and painful feeling states associated with grief must be felt in order for us to transition to the next chapter of our lives.  

Regardless of the degree of certainty you have about needing to get divorced, you will still have to grieve.  You may normally solve problems by “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” or finding ways to be grateful and yet, if you are getting a divorce, you will have to grieve.

There are several different states of grief.  Many people start grieving by being in a state of denial, which serves as a protective shield against the initial impact of the shattered dream.  Fear, anxiety, guilt, sadness and anger are other emotional states that are part of the grieving process, each allowing you to complete a different task so that you can acknowledge and accept the loss and successfully move forward.

Engage a Professional

It is common for people to reach out to a trained mental health provider during times of loss and transition.  Sharing your story with a therapist can be a powerful way to make sense of and eventually be free from grief and pain. 

The emotions in divorce can be difficult to navigate. Certain divorce processes are better suited to help with these emotions in divorce. Collaborative divorce is a supportive divorce process that traditionally includes a mental health professional, financial specialist, and two family law attorneys.

Dena Tranen, LCSW is a trained collaborative law professional, licensed clinical social worker and former member of CFLA. She works as a mental health coach, therapist, and co-parenting specialist. To learn more about your Missouri divorce process options give her a call today.

How To Tell Kids About the Divorce?

More goes into telling your kids about divorce than just having a one-time, prepackaged sit down and delivering the information.

The stage of development that your child is in will have a big impact on how you have the conversation about your divorce and what to expect next.

Children who are young, under 5, are very egocentric, which means everything is about them. They also have a limited ability to talk about their feelings and no capacity to understand the complexities of something like divorce.

When having the divorce talk with your young child keep it simple.

Focus on what is going to happen, like who will live where and who will be taking care of your child. Make certain they know their basic needs will be met. Put yourself in their shoes. What does a 4 year old worry about? Here is a simple question you may need to answer: “Where will I sleep, who will tuck me in?”

Expect to answer the same questions over and over as they move through this stage of development. Your child may even leave one parent’s home and go to the next with questions of, “when is mommy or daddy going to be home”? This is quite normal.

Children ages 6-11 have more understanding of their feelings but see things very black and white.

If your child is in this age group, they often place blame on one parent or the other, or may even feel that it is their fault that the divorce happened. A child of this age may think that he or she said or did something that finalized your decision to move out or that they gave you the go ahead to break up their family.

Having ongoing discussions with your child about the divorce to reiterate the important things they should know is normal and in good practice.

The experience of your divorce changes over times as they grow and have their own life experiences. When they are children it is important to let them know who will care for them and that they came from love even though you are no longer married. As they get older something that may be important for them to hear is that not all marriages end in divorce and your path isn’t theirs.

Teenagers understand a lot more as they are more abstract thinkers than their younger selves.

Keep note of how your teen behaved before the divorce compared to after. Teens are tricky because they are generally moody creatures, so it can be hard to tell if they are moody from hormones or moody from the stress of divorce. One thing is for certain, they are impacted and may play the blame game as well.

Adult information is adult information.

Every situation is unique and if you need a consult do so, but a rule of thumb is that your teen may seem mature enough to hear the nitty gritty details about how your spouse cheated or said this or that, but keep it to yourself. This information will not gain their alliance long term and WILL NOT serve them well.

Even though you are getting a divorce, do your best to at least stay united on the parental front.

The more parents can come together in the consistency of their message to the kids about the divorce the healthier the kids will be. The happier the family will be. Never try to get your child to take one side or the other because that will only tear them in two.

Collaborative divorce will offer you more of an opportunity to do this because it makes space for emotion and healing whereas litigation focuses on legality.

If you need more guidance on this subject, Collaborative Law or other issues that arise in divorce you can contact me or any professional on the collaborative website.

About the Author : Kristin Craren

Kristin is a former member of CFLA.

5 Ways to Cope with Your Feelings During Divorce

When people think of springtime, they think of flowers, sunshine, warm weather, and fun times. School will let out in the next few months. Perhaps your neighbors are planning a summer getaway and a part of you is wishing you were enjoying life as much as they appear to be enjoying it. While it may appear that people are preparing for some R & R, you may be going through tougher times whether it’s by divorce, separation, or seeing your ex bringing a new romantic partner into his or her life.

When it seems like everyone around you is carefree, here are 5 ways to cope with your feelings during a divorce.

1. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.

Anger is a natural emotion. Many people have the misconception that anger is a bad thing when it’s not. In fact, there are basic universal emotions all human beings experience: anger, sadness, gladness, and fear. Sometimes, talking with friends or family members can have its limitations. It’s time to seek the guidance and support from a mental health professional. Counselors and therapists provide guidance and emotional support for people at all levels of need. Therapy is a great tool to explore your emotions.

2. It’s ok to have a pity-party…temporarily.

There’s no timeline on how long you must feel, however, there are warning signs for when feeling sorry for yourself is more harmful than helpful. When life feels unenjoyable and you notice yourself becoming more irritable, have thoughts of self-harm, show disinterest in doing things you used to love doing, feel fatigued, feel worthless, and have trouble sleeping and eating. Consult with your medical provider to assess if you may be going through depression.

3. Boundaries.

This is a great topic to discuss if you decide to see a therapist or to contemplate on your own. You may be going through a new experience where you are figuring out who is genuinely seeking to be emotionally supportive and who is not. Take into consideration who you let into your inner circle of family and friends who are emotionally supportive and objective. Keep in mind as well that you want to maintain boundaries in the workplace. Who wants to be the topic of discussion around the water cooler at work?

4. It’s ok to have fun and be happy.

Sure, sometimes you see people moving on and moving forward without you. You may even feel that you are obligated to feel sad. You may also have feelings of guilt depending on how you’ve transitioned into a new stage of life as a divorced person or finding love again with someone new. There may be challenges ahead but happiness takes time.

5. Create a routine.

By having a daily routine you learn healthy habits such as taking a stroll in your local park, walking your dog, maintaining good health, taking your medication as prescribed, exercising, eating nourishing meals, and going to work. Some people take building a daily routine to another level and include fun activities such as spending time with loved ones on a Saturday afternoon for a date night. Creating a daily routine helps decrease feelings of anhedonia (no motivation) and increase feelings of happiness.

About The Author: Tiffany Sidney

Tiffany is a mental health professional and former member of CFLA.

Divorce and Disappointment

Unfortunately, we all face disappointment at some point.  It is a part of life.  How you choose to deal with disappointment is what often matters most.  You will face many feelings during a divorce and disappointment is a common feeling that many people face.

The Disappointment

When you focus on the negative parts of a disappointing situation, you cannot see the opportunities you have.  Being angry may cause you to take your feelings out on someone who does not deserve it.  Feeling sorry for yourself causes you to be too busy thinking about yourself.  It is tempting to strike out at the person or persons you identify as the cause of your disappointment.  Anger, self-pity, and revenge will only make matters worse.

Focusing on the Future

While life is full of disappointments, it is good to remember that life is also filled with opportunities.  To move past the disappointment in a positive way, first express your feelings appropriately.  Talk to a friend.  Write down, for yourself, what happened, perhaps in a letter.  Then, destroy the writing.  The writing is meant for you, and no one else.  Put your upset in perspective.  Few disappointments continue indefinitely.  Stop and think about all the things that are good in your life.

Implement Helpful Tactics

You might need to change your plans.  You might need to adjust your thinking.  You do not have to allow someone, or something, to control your future.  Remember, each of us is in charge of our own future, not someone or something else.  Recognizing the disappointment, focusing on the future and implementing helpful tactics will allow you to move forward in a positive way.

The collaborative divorce process often engages a divorce coach. A divorce coach is trained in the emotions of divorce.  To learn more about the collaborative divorce process or the skills of a divorce coach visit the St. Louis Collaborative Law Association's website for helpful resources and information.

About the Author : Gary Soule

Gary is an attorney and former member of CFLA.

Weathering Holidays After Divorce

The first few years weathering the holidays after a separation or divorce can be complicated, not to mention stressful, sad, and lonely. Some of the traditions your family had for years may no longer be possible and you might be left trying to figure out what to do.  It is also a time to be reflective and gracious and empowering in the creation of new traditions for yourself and your family.

But holidays can be happy after divorce. Here are some tips to help you manage.

Honoring the Change

As you approach this milestone in your divorce process, it’s important to take the time to honor the loss.  Whether the holidays were a happy and joyful time of year in your family, or a stressful and difficult to manage, it may be difficult to think about this drastic change in your life.

I can also be helpful to take a realistic view of what the holidays have been.  Many people “sugar-coat” the holidays because the spirit of the season can be so powerful – in reality, perhaps the holidays were not as joyful as you had hoped they would be, especially if you and your former spouse were in conflict.

Holidays Are About The Kids

More than anything holidays are about children and this will be their first holiday season with a new family configuration too.

Finding ways to wrap your head around the holidays is a helpful place to start.  Review your Parenting Plan, make sure it is clear and you understand the plan well.  If your Parenting Plan has not been finalized or if there are areas that seem unclear – review the plan with your former spouse to ensure you each have the same expectation of the time for each day.  Some people recommend that rather than attempting to “split the day” that one parent alternate years planning their celebration on the day before or after.  This way of planning can help families spend a whole day together on the holiday and can cut down on confusion, cause for conflict, and potential interruption to the newly established traditions. It can also better accommodate the possibility of travel.

When you have a clear understanding of the time you will and will not be with the kids it’s time to start planning.

Children, especially children over 4, will be aware of the changes to their family.  With your guidance and support they’ll be able to see this change as a chance to set up new, special time together.  If you can, let them have a few ideas to pick from so they can help share in the shaping of these new traditions.

Model the spirit of the season to your children, be kind and open about this new change.  If they know you are a little sad, that’s okay - it may help them talk about any sadness they are feeling.  Taking control of this step can also model to your children that they too can overcome sadness by creating experiences that shape their world. It is your time to develop the tradition in the direction you want.  Remember traditions aren’t just about eating and gifts – sights, sounds, smells, and activities can all be part of your new plan AND triggering these senses can also create fonder and more concrete memories in the minds of your children!

Holidays Are About You Too

Finally, think about the time you won’t be with the children.  Think about how you want to spend that time – friends, family, volunteer, quiet, movies, books, walks, trips. Taking care of yourself during this time will make this new milestone one of renewal and gratitude.  Something we all need more of.

When the holidays are over and you and your family have returned to a more regular routine take a few minutes to reflect.  What went well or felt special? What do you want to keep for next year?  Are there things you want to tweak or change?  Is it possible to reach out to your former spouse to share your observations, especially your positive ones?

Wishing you and your family happy holidays this year and in the future.

Developing Empathy: The Impact of Negative Comments During Divorce

How do you manage your feelings toward your ex-spouse when you are around your children?

If you have children getting divorced does not end your relationship with your co-parent.  So how do you keep your negative thoughts and beliefs about your co-parent from your child?  It’s tricky and it’s important.

What is Your Message?

Children understand their parents are divorcing because they no longer love each other, if they've seen you fighting through your divorce, they know you may not care about each other any longer either.

When a child internalizes the message that “Even if my parents cannot be together they can still care for and about me together” it can help that child heal from the grief and pain of the divorce more quickly and support the rebuilding of their resiliency.

However, if the message becomes “my parents are not capable of getting along, even when it has to do with something that is important as me” it can send the message that the child is unable to bridge the gap of love between her parents.

Children need to see their parents through the eyes of a child, not through the lens of the divorce.

Comparing Your Child to Your Ex-Spouse

Your child is a part of you: They may have your nose or your chin, your sense of style or your interest in how things work.   Your child is a part of the other parent too:  They may have their enthusiasm, their sense of adventure, or their sense of humor.

In her life your child may have heard similar comparisons as those above and she probably felt pride and a connection to her parent because of it.

If those comparisons turn into insults it can intensify a child's sadness and confusion. If instead of hearing a positive connection to their parent "You have your dad’s sense of humor" it shifts to "You are so slow, just like your dad" a child can translate that into a message from you about your love for her. So when a parent tells a child they are "just like their father" when talking about a disliked habit or characteristic that child's gets a message loud and clear "You don't like dad, and since I'm like dad in this way, you must not like me either".

Maybe your ex-spouse is not a good person – and you want your child to know so you can keep them from experiencing the pain you have felt.  Children need to determine their own beliefs about that parent and they will get there in their own way, in their own time (with the obvious exception of abuse or neglect). Having you as a sounding board, without adding fuel to the fire, is the best way to help that child cope with the possibility of a difficult relationship with the other parent.  Or it may be that your negative experience of your ex will never be your child's experience, that’s okay too.

Helping Your Child Transition Through Divorce

Know that a child can transition more quickly through the grief and pain of a divorce when their parents are able to manage their co-parent relationship with low conflict.  The benefit is that a child will grow up feeling loved and committed to by both parents even when they are not in the same household.

Dealing with an ex-spouse is a life-long journey.  You voyage from marriage to divorce to co-parenting.  Finding a way to make peace, even if it’s only one sided, can reduce the emotional sting these travels can produce.

Talking to Your Spouse About Separation and Divorce

You’re not happy in your marriage and haven’t been for quite some time.  You’re ready to tell your spouse how you feel and wonder how to do it.  How you begin this conversation can have an impact on whether your separation or divorce will be friendly and civil or ugly and contested.  There are a number of ways to approach this difficult conversation and to some degree which way works best for you depends on your situation.

The Do Nots

But first what not to do:  hand your spouse an attorney’s business card and say have your lawyer contact my lawyer. Do not say, "You need to move out because I’m filing for divorce." Do not announce in front of the children that daddy and mommy are getting a divorce. And do not have your spouse served with divorce papers as the first indication to your spouse that you're asking for a divorce.  These are examples of only a few of the do nots, the essence of which is to not embarrass your spouse or make your spouse angry before the process even begins.  As the saying goes, first impressions are important and the way you begin can have a tremendous effect on what is a difficult and emotional process for many people.

Mental health professionals will tell you for some people getting a divorce is like experiencing a death of a spouse.  If you’ve ever known someone who has lost a spouse, particularly if it was sudden or unexpected, the surviving spouse needs time to heal.  That doesn’t mean they get to a point where they forget their spouse, but many people need time to be able to move forward with their lives.   A person who is not aware that their spouse is ready to be divorced also needs time to adjust to be able to move forward with his or her life.  If the notion of being divorced is sprung on them it can have the same effect as a sudden death.

The Dos

So that brings us to how can you tell your spouse.  What can you do?  First, before saying anything to your spouse review the Collaborative Family Law webpage.  See that the approach is to resolve your issues prior to filing anything in court.  Understand that the benefit is to have a process whereby you and your spouse can deal with all of the issues in a controlled environment with all participants working to reach a resolution that works for both parties.  In that way when issues arise following your divorce you’ll hopefully be able to resolve them in a problem-solving manner rather than as adversaries.  Once you are comfortable in understanding the process, approach your spouse and tell him or her that you feel your marriage is no longer working.  Let your spouse know that there is a process you’re aware of that will allow you to resolve all of your issues before anything is filed in court and suggest that he or she review the webpage and speak with a professional listed in the member directory.  Should you have further questions before approaching your spouse don’t hesitate to contact someone on the member directory for additional information.

About the Author : Leonard Frankel

Leonard is an attorney and former member of CFLA.

How to Keep Your Children Out of the Middle of Your Divorce

Extensive research suggests that for children of divorce, what is most damaging is the experience of their parents fighting; how children adjust and fare after a divorce is closely linked to how their parents get along with each other.

Those children whose parents are civil and demonstrate good faith towards one another are much more likely to have an easier time with the divorce, and move forward with their lives.  When parents continue to have conflict, the children may experience a variety of difficult emotions.  Among the many feelings they may experience are fear, sadness, depression, feelings of helplessness, anger, and hopelessness.  As children mature into adolescence, these difficult feelings often lead to acting out behaviors, among them poor grades and underachievement, eating disorders, law violations, drug abuse, and promiscuity.

Kids know that their divorcing parents don’t get along and probably don’t like each other.  Knowing that often leaves them feeling as if they must choose between one parent or another.  For the child, having to make that choice is a no win proposition.   If they show any connection or affection towards one parent, they’re left feeling as if they’re betraying the other parent, and anguish over having to “choose” one parent over another.

Protect Your Children's Emotional Well-Being During Divorce

The following are some ways to think about your children’s emotional well-being:

Often parents with the best of intentions for their children unknowingly bring them into their divorce.

The following are some tips for keeping your kids out of the middle:

Make yourself available to your child; listen to them and pay close attention to their moods and disposition. Put their needs above your own, and let them know you’re there for them. Maintain as much structure and continuity in their lives as possible. Whenever possible and appropriate, offer choices to give them a sense of control over some aspects of their lives.

Remind yourself of the following:

References:

www.uptoparents.org

www.mediate.com

About the Author : Barbra Danin

Barbra has worked with individual adults and children, as well as with couples and families for more than 20 years. She holds a dual degree in Marriage & Family Therapy and in Clinical Art Therapy, and has practiced in hospitals, clinics, schools and the Family Court of St. Louis County. Barbra incorporates art therapy into treatment when appropriate, providing a non-verbal approach to understanding and expressing thoughts and feelings.