In a good-enough divorce, exes work through feelings of anger, betrayal and loss and arrive at a place of acceptance. Frustrations over the other parent’s values and choices are contained and pushed aside, making space for the Holy Grail of post-divorce life: effective co-parenting.
Co-parenting is possible only when both exes support their children’s need to have a relationship with the other parent and respect that parent’s right to have a healthy relationship with the children.
But some people never get to acceptance. They become, essentially, addicted to anger. They convince themselves that the other parent is incompetent, mentally ill, or dangerous. They transmit this conviction directly or indirectly not only to the children, but also to school staff, mental health professionals and anyone who will listen.
High-conflict exes are on a mission to invalidate the other parent. No therapist, mediator, parenting class, or Gandhi-esque channeling will make an anger-addicted ex take off the gloves and agree to co-parent.
If this scenario feels familiar, and you are wondering how you’re going to survive raising kids with your high-conflict ex without losing every last one of your marbles, I offer you this counterintuitive suggestion: Stop trying to co-parent!
Try Parallel Parenting instead.
What is Parallel Parenting?
Parallel Parenting is radical acceptance. It means letting go of fighting reality. Divorce is terrible enough, but to have a divorce that is so hellish as to make co-parenting impossible is another kind of terrible altogether.
It’s helpful to conceptualize Parallel Parenting as an approach many Alcoholics Anonymous folks use when dealing with the addict in their lives: they stop going to the hardware store looking for milk. Why are you trying to have a reasonable conversation with someone who isn’t reasonable, at least with you? Stop expecting reciprocity or enlightenment. Stop needing the other person to see you as right. You are not ever going to get these things from your anger-addicted ex, and you can make yourself sick trying.
How to Practice Parallel Parenting
You tried to co-parent so your kids would see their parents get along, and to make them feel safe. That didn’t work. Now you need to limit contact with your ex to reduce the conflict in order to make your kids feel safe — and to keep yourself from going nuts. So how do you do this?
Communicate as little as possible
Stop talking on the phone. When speaking with a hostile ex, you will likely be drawn into an argument and nothing will get resolved. Limit communication to texting and e-mail. This way you can choose what to respond to and you will be able to delete knee-jerk retorts that you would make if you were on the phone.
Make Rules for Communication
Hostile exes tend to ignore boundaries. So you will have to be very clear about the terms for communication. E-mail or texting should be used only for logistics: travel plans, a proposed weekend swap, doctor appointments. If your ex tends uses e-mails to harass you, tell him you will not respond, and if the abuse continues, you will stop e-mailing altogether.
Do Not Respond to Threats of Lawsuits
Hostile exes frequently threaten to modify child support or custody arrangements. Do not respond! Tell your ex that any discussion of litigation must go through your attorney. This will require money on your ex’s part: phone calls between attorneys, disclosing financial statements, etc. It is quite possible that your ex does not really intend to put her money where her mouth is, so don’t take the bait.
Avoid being together at child-related functions
It’s great for your kids to see the two of you together — but only if they see you getting along. So attend events separately as much as possible. Schedule separate parent-teacher conferences. Trade off hosting birthday parties. Do curbside drop-offs so your child doesn’t have to feel the tension between you and your ex.
Be proactive with school staff and mental health professionals
School staff and therapists may have heard things about you that aren’t true — for instance, that you are out of the picture or mentally ill. So be proactive. Fax your custody order to these individuals so they understand the custody arrangement. Even if you are a non-custodial parent, you are still entitled to information regarding your child’s academic performance or mental health treatment and the school and therapists want you to be involved. Talk to school staff and therapists as soon as possible. Do not be defensive, but explain the situation. When they see you, they will realize that you are a reasonable person who is trying to do the right thing for your child.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Parallel Parenting requires letting go of what happens in the other parent’s home. Although it may drive you crazy that your ex lets 6-year-old Lucy stay up until midnight, there is really not much you can do about it. Nor can you control your ex’s selection of babysitters, children’s clothing or how much TV time is allowed.
Your child will learn to adapt to different rules and expectations at each house. If Sienna complains about something that goes on at Dad’s, instruct her to speak to him directly. Trying to solve a problem between your ex and your child will only inflame the conflict and teach her to pit the two of you against each other. You want to empower your child, not teach her that she needs to be rescued.
Parallel Parenting is a last resort, to be implemented when attempts at co-parenting have failed. But that doesn’t mean you have failed as a divorced parent. In fact, the opposite is true. By reducing conflict, Parallel Parenting will enhance the quality of your life and most importantly, take your child out of the middle.
And isn’t that what a good-enough divorce is all about?
Ron Huxley Trains: I am conducting a lot of trainings around the country on “The heArt and Science of Trauma” for parents and professionals, so this video is interesting and validates the information I have researched and teach in my presentations. If you would like a free consult on bringing this training to your organization or system of care, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
More women in their late 30s and 40s are deciding to have children, a finding that researchers say may be the reversal of a trend. (Credit: “young parents with strollers” image via Shutterstock)
U. BUFFALO (US) ??? More older, highly educated women are choosing to have a family, but it remains unclear whether they are having children in addition to???or instead of???careers.
While it is still too early to be certain, research clearly shows fertility rising for older, highly educated women since the 1990s. (Fertility is defined as the number of children a woman has had.) Childlessness also declined by roughly 5 percentage points between 1998 and 2008.
???Women born in the late 1950s are the turning point,??? says Qingyan Shang, assistant professor of economics at the University at Buffalo. Members of this group initially showed low fertility. But fertility increased for them when they reached their late 30s and early 40s.
Straight from the Source
The paper, co-authored by Bruce A. Weinberg, professor of economics at Ohio State University, appears online in the Journal of Population Economics and will be published in a forthcoming print edition.
Two previous studies which examined fertility among highly educated women had limitations and came to conflicting conclusions, Shang says. One focused only on women in their late 20s and another examined fertility for women in managerial positions.
Using a sample of professional women makes the results difficult to interpret because women who have more children may switch to other occupations, Shang says.
???We did a more comprehensive study. We instead define the sample using education, which is less responsive to short-term fertility decisions.???
The conclusions are derived from data gathered by the June Current Population Survey, compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau. The researchers also used the Vital Statistics Birth Data from the National Center for Health Statistics as a second data set.
The research did not directly address what factors might be contributing to the fertility increase. ???We did list some possible explanations based on previous research,??? says Shang, including the idea of ???the learning story,??? in which decisions of previous generations inform later decisions by subsequent generations.
There has also been an increased supply of personal services that have reduced childcare expenses. Other research shows men may be taking more responsibility for child care.
Whether women are choosing families instead of or in addition to their careers is unclear, Shang says.
???We know these women are opting for families. We don???t know if they in turn are opting out of the labor market.???
The study also indicated an increase in multiple birth rates around 1990, suggesting fertility treatments may have played a role.
???The data does not include information about whether women used fertility treatment,??? Shang says. ???But we use the trends in plural birth rates to impute the share of the increase in fertility among highly educated women that is attributed to fertility treatment.???
More news from University at Buffalo: http://www.buffalo.edu/news/
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Written by Beth Arky.
This story is part of Speak Up for Kids, an annual public education program held during National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week (May 6-12, 2012).
It usually happens in the preschool years. You notice that your toddler seems to have an unusual aversion to noise or light. A teacher observes that, compared to other kids her age, your daughter is clumsy and has difficulty with fine motor skills like wielding a pencil. You’ve noticed that she is very, very picky about shoes, which are often deemed too tight, and clothes that are ???too scratchy.???
More baffling — and alarming — to parents are their children???s meltdowns over things like their faces getting splashed or being dressed. Or a child might crash into walls (and people), touch everything or put inedible items, including rocks and paint, into his mouth.
These behaviors are all signs of problems with what???s known as sensory processing, found in children who have difficulty integrating information from their senses. In its extreme form, when it interferes seriously with a child’s functioning, it’s called Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD, although it’s not recognized by the psychiatrists’ bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
Sensory issues are associated with autism because they are common in children and adults on the autism spectrum, though most children with SPD are not on the spectrum. They can also be found in those with ADHD, OCD and other developmental delays — or with no other diagnosis at all. In fact, a 2009 study suggests that one in every six children has sensory issues that impede their daily functioning, socialization and learning.
What parents often notice first is odd behavior and wild, inexplicable mood swings. For instance, a first-grader may do fine in a quiet setting with a calm adult. But place that child in a grocery store filled with an overload of visual and auditory stimulation and you might have the makings of an extreme meltdown.
“These kids’ tantrums are so intense, so prolonged, so impossible to stop once they’ve started, you just can’t ignore it,” notes Nancy Peske, whose son Cole, now 13, was diagnosed at 3 with SPD and developmental delays. Peske is coauthor with occupational therapist Lindsey Biel, who worked with Cole, of “Raising a Sensory Smart Child.”
Another response to being overwhelmed is to flee. If a child dashes out across the playground or parking lot, oblivious to the danger, Peske says that’s a big red flag that he may be heading away from something upsetting, which may not be apparent to the rest of us, or toward an environment or sensation that will calm his system. This “fight-or-flight response is why someone with SPD will shut down, escape the situation quickly, or become aggressive when in sensory overload,” she says. “They’re actually having a neurological ‘panic’ response to everyday sensations the rest of us take for granted.”
Children, teens and adults with SPD experience either over-sensitivity (hypersensitivity) or under-sensitivity (hyposensitivity) to an impairing or overwhelming degree. The theory behind SPD is based on the work of occupational therapist Dr. A. Jean Ayres. In the 1970s, Dr. Ayres introduced the idea that certain people’s brains can’t do what most people take for granted: process all the information coming in through seven — not the traditional five — senses to provide a clear picture of what’s happening both internally and externally.
Along with touch, hearing, taste, smell and sight, Dr. Ayres added the “internal” senses of body awareness (proprioceptive) and movement (vestibular). When the brain can’t synthesize all this information coming in simultaneously, “It’s like a traffic jam in your head,” Peske says, “with conflicting signals quickly coming from all directions, so that you don’t know how to make sense of it all.”
What are these two “extra” senses in Dr. Ayres’ work?
Proprioceptive receptors are located in the joints and ligaments, allowing for motor control and posture. The proprioceptive system tells the brain where the body is in relation to other objects and how to move. Those who are hyposensitive crave input; they love jumping, bumping and crashing activities, as well as deep pressure such as that provided by tight bear hugs. If they’re hypersensitive, they have difficulty understanding where their body is in relation to other objects and may bump into things and appear clumsy; because they have trouble sensing the amount of force they’re applying, they may rip the paper when erasing, pinch too hard or slam objects down.
The vestibular receptors, located in the inner ear; tell the brain where the body is in space by providing the information related to movement and head position. These are key elements of balance and coordination, among other things. Those with hyposensitivity are in constant motion; crave fast, spinning and/or intense movement; and love being tossed in the air and jumping on furniture and trampolines. Those who are hypersensitive may be fearful of activities that require good balance, including climbing on playground equipment, riding a bike, or balancing on one foot, especially with eyes closed. They, too, may appear clumsy.
To help parents determine if their child’s behavior indicates possible SPD, Peske and Biel have created a detailed sensory checklist that covers responses to all types of input, from walking barefoot to smelling objects that aren’t food, as well as questions involving fine and gross motor function, such as using scissors (fine) and catching a ball (gross). The SPD Foundation also offers a litany of “red flags.” The list for infants and toddlers includes a resistance to cuddling, to the point of arching away when held, which may be attributed to feeling actual pain when being touched. By preschool, over-stimulated children’s anxiety may lead to frequent or long temper tantrums. Grade-schoolers who are hyposensitive may display “negative behaviors” including what looks like hyperactivity, when in fact they’re seeking input.
Peske sums up the way sensory issues can affect kids this way: “If you’re a child who is oversensitive to certain sensations, you are not only likely to be anxious or irritable, even angry or fearful, you’re likely to be called ‘picky’ and ‘oversensitive.’ If you rush away because you’re anxious or you’re over-stimulated and not using your executive function well because your body has such a powerful need to get away, you’re ‘impulsive.’ If you have trouble with planning and executing your movements due to poor body awareness and poor organization in the motor areas of the brain, you’re ‘clumsy.’ Because you’re distracted by your sensory issues and trying to make sense of it all, you may be developmentally delayed in some ways, making you a bit ‘immature’ or young for your age.”
Amid this confusion, there may be relief for more than a few parents in recognizing what may be causing otherwise inexplicable behavior — and in the potential for kids to get help in the form of specialized occupational therapy and what are called sensory gyms.
“When I describe sensory issues to parents whose kids have it,” Peske says, “the usual reaction is ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s it!’ They’ve been trying to put a finger on ‘it’ for many months, even years! The sense of relief that they finally know what ‘it’ is is humongous.”
Child Mind Institute’s Speak Up for Kids is an annual public education program held during National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week (May 6-12, 2012) aimed at ending the stigma, lack of awareness, and misinformation that cause children to miss out on treatment that can change their lives.
by Rocco Landesman
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offered remarks at the first ever-convening between our two agencies in March 2011. Photo by NEA staff
Today is Children???s Mental Health Awareness Day, an annual observance that encourages communities across the country to discuss, celebrate, and raise the visibility of issues and resources around the mental health of our nation???s young people. The national effort is spearheaded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). I spoke with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to learn more about Children???s Mental Health Awareness Day and how the arts can play a part in this important issue.
ROCCO LANDEMSAN: What is National Children???s Mental Health Awareness Day and how did it come about?
KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: National Children???s Mental Health Awareness Day started as a grassroots effort in Oklahoma in 2004 when a SAMHSA Children???s Mental Health Initiative grantee celebrated community partnerships in an effort to raise awareness about children???s mental health. The idea caught on and in 2005 SAMHSA supported a national awareness day to help bring visibility to the local activities. The number of national Awareness Day collaborating organizations has grown from four in 2005 to 134 in 2012.
We use this observance each year to raise awareness about the resilience of children with mental health problems and the effectiveness of mental health services. This year Awareness Day is being celebrated with a national event in Washington, DC, and more than 1,100 communities and 130 national organizations will be involved in Awareness Day activities.
LANDESMAN: I know this is the seventh year of this program. Is there a particular focus to this year???s events?
SEBELIUS: The theme of the national event is ???Heroes of Hope.??? We define a ???Hero of Hope??? as a caring adult who provides ongoing support to a child or young person in need. This year there is a special focus on children and youth served in child welfare, juvenile justice, and education systems who have experienced a traumatic event and have thrived in spite of the challenges they face. Through dance, poetry, and spoken word, youth will pay tribute to Heroes of Hope at the National Awareness event. During the event, I will have the opportunity to present an award to Cyndi Lauper for her work on behalf of homeless LGBT youth.
LANDESMAN: How can the arts play a part in supporting the mental health of children???whether or not they are trauma survivors? And can you please speak briefly about some of the medical and scientific research that supports the positive linkages between the arts and health?
SEBELIUS: Art therapists work with youth to express their emotions when words alone are not sufficient. Creative expression of their feelings can help young people process challenges associated with trauma and conflict. Engaging young people with mental health problems in the arts can increase self-esteem and coping skills and can help them reach their full potential.
Some of the more promising work in this area was featured in a 2011 white paper The Arts and Human Development: Framing a National Research Agenda for the Arts, Lifelong Learning, and Individual Well-Being. When we released the paper with the NEA, we also jointly launched an Interagency Task Force on the Arts and Human Development comprised of 15 federal entities, including SAMHSA.
LANDESMAN: What are some practical ways in which we can support the mental well-being of our children at home or in school?
SEBELIUS: There are many ways that adults can support the well-being of the children and youth in their lives, including: spending time with them, creating positive expectations, cultivating their interests, reinforcing them with praise and encouragement, providing appropriate limits and boundaries, and building their self-confidence.
It’s a concept that parents may not be familiar with, but experts say it can explain a lot about family conflicts: Is your child’s temperament a good “fit” with yours?
For example, a stubborn child who’s a chip off the old block might have a lot of showdowns with an equally stubborn mom or dad. But contrasting temperaments don’t necessarily assure good results: A determined child might overwhelm an overly flexible parent.
Many personality traits such as these are inborn, but “temperaments can also be colored by the environment in which children are raised,” said child psychologist Brian Daly, who teaches at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
That means parents who take a step back to consider their child’s personality traits may be able to tailor their childrearing style to deal more effectively with problems.
Much of the research on child temperament is based on the New York Longitudinal Study, in which psychiatrists Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess followed a group of children from birth to adulthood beginning in 1956. Thomas and Chess, who were married, found that children’s personalities could be put in three basic categories: easy, difficult, and slow to warm up. They also identified nine other variables that measured behaviors and traits such as willfulness, moodiness, activity levels, distractibility, attention span, and regularity in sleep, hunger and other biological functions.
One finding from their research was that a good “fit” between children and parents results when adult expectations, values and demands are in accord with a child’s natural capacities and behaviors. Their last book, published in 1999, was called Goodness of Fit. (Thomas died in 2003, Chess died in 2007.)
But their theory was not just a way of letting parents off the hook by blaming kids for personality traits they could not control. The takeaway for parents was that conflicts resulting from a poor fit between parent and child might be ameliorated if childrearing practices could be changed. The theory has withstood the test of time, with psychologists and other experts who work with children and parents still using some of these concepts today.
Resa Fogel, a psychologist who practices in Montclair and Teaneck, N.J., was one of the children in the original study. “When I was little, they came to my house all the time and interviewed and watched me,” said Fogel. “They were the nicest people. I thought they were another set of grandparents.”
She became interested in psychology, an interest that was fueled when she got a job assisting Thomas in his research at New York University. She used some of the original studies for her dissertation, which looked at how children with difficult temperaments end up behaving.
“You would think people with difficult temperaments are automatically very hard people to be around,” she said. “I showed that if there’s a goodness of fit between the environment and the person, then even if you have a difficult temperament, you’re not going to necessarily misbehave. In other words, there’s hope for people who are tough.”
Difficult children “are going to be harder” for parents, she acknowledged, “but you have to have the right way of handling it. That’s what goodness of fit is. It’s like a puzzle you put together.”
Arthur Robin, director of psychology training at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, said one common problem he encounters is a child with ADHD or “a very hyper-impulsive child” who has “a passive, depressed, lethargic mom. The child is going to get to do anything he or she likes because the mom is not going to have the energy level to set down some structure.”
Another common problem is “a very rigid, willful child and a highly flexible parent,” Robin said. “The parent is going to go with whatever the child wants. The child is going to end up really spoiled or have a strong sense of entitlement.”
Sometimes problems are rooted in the temperament of the parent, not the child. “If a parent is extremely moody, and a child is not very even-tempered, the child is going to get really upset and scared, and may develop in an introverted manner because they can’t deal with the extremes of parent moodiness,” Robin said.
With willfulness, Robin says, he tries to recast the trait as “determination” and encourages parents to channel it into “positive activities to move the child ahead.” Teenagers might be encouraged “to fight for some kind of cause, or sometimes parents can get them to spend a lot of time on creative pursuits, so it’s not all channeled into conflicts with parents.” Music or artistic pursuits may be an especially good outlet for moody children, Robin said.
Daly said he often encounters families where parents have no problems with one child but a lot of problems with the other. “One child is very well-behaved and fits their parenting style,” he explained. “You could say the child’s temperament is a good match or fit. They rave about that child; the child is responsive and respectful.”
But with the other child, the parents may feel that they’re “constantly butting heads. There may be temper tantrums, digging in heels, but without an appropriate result. A lot of times parents have certain values and it can be hard to adjust those values to meet the temperament of the child.”
Choose your battles
Daly said parents who are just as stubborn as their kids often get into standoffs because “neither will give ground.” In these cases, it may not work to take a hard line approach of, “if you can’t comply with this, then you’re going to get in more and more trouble.”
It also pays to pick your battles carefully. When a little girl couldn’t get out of the house without a tantrum over what to wear, Daly counseled her parents to let her choose her own outfits even if they weren’t quite as coordinated as the parents wished.
With teens, said Robin, if they’re “sneaking out in the middle of the night,” you have more important things to focus on than whether their room is clean. “The stuff that isn’t worth fighting about, let it drop,” Robin said.
Another thing to keep in mind when a child’s personality presents challenges, Fogel said: “This is the temperament she was born with; this is how she acts, this is how you act. You try to find a way to make things better but there’s no magic answer, there’s no formula.”
The White House
Office of the Press SecretaryFor Immediate ReleaseMay 02, 2012
Presidential Proclamation — National Foster Care Month
NATIONAL FOSTER CARE MONTH, 2012
– – – – – – –
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Childhood is a time for our young people to grow and learn, protected by their families and safe in their homes. But for almost half a million children who are unable to remain at home through no fault of their own, childhood can be a time of sadness, pain, and separation. These children need and deserve safe, loving, and permanent families who can help restore their sense of well-being and give them hope for the future.
During National Foster Care Month, we recognize the promise of America’s children and youth in foster care, and we commend the devotion and selflessness of the foster parents who step in to care for them. We also pay tribute to the professionals nationwide who work to improve the safety of our most vulnerable children and assist their families in addressing the issues that brought them into the child welfare system. In communities across America, dedicated men and women — in schools, faith-based and community organizations, parent and advocacy groups — volunteer their time as mentors, tutors, and advocates for children in foster care. We all have a role to play in ensuring our children and youth grow up with the rich opportunities and support they need to reach their full potential.
My Administration is committed to increasing positive outcomes for every infant and child in foster care, and to promoting a successful transition to adulthood for older youth. We are working to increase permanency through reunification, adoption, and guardianship; to prevent maltreatment; to reduce rates of re-entry into foster care; and to ensure all qualified caregivers have the opportunity to serve as foster parents. Through the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act, we are granting States more flexibility in supporting a range of services for children in foster care, including health care and treatment of emotional trauma. And through the Affordable Care Act, beginning in 2014, every State will be required to extend Medicaid coverage up to age 26 for former foster youth.
This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the Children’s Bureau, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that carries forward a legacy of protecting our Nation’s children and strengthening families through programs like the Permanency Innovations Initiative. Over 5 years, this initiative is investing $100 million in new strategies to identify permanent homes for youth in long-term foster care, including more than 100,000 children awaiting adoption, and to reducing time spent in foster care placements.
National Foster Care Month is a time to reflect on the many ways government, social workers, foster families, religious institutions, and others are helping improve the lives of children in foster care, and it also serves as a reminder that we cannot rest until every child has a safe, loving, and permanent home. Together, we give thanks to those individuals from all walks of life who have opened their hearts and their homes to a child, and we rededicate ourselves to ensuring a bright and hopeful future for America’s foster youth.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2012 as National Foster Care Month. I encourage all Americans to observe this month by dedicating their time, love, and resources to helping youth in foster care, whether by taking time to mentor, lending a hand to a foster family, or taking an active role in their communities.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this second day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.
Ron Huxley Responds: May is National Foster Care Month. It is also National Children Mental Health Month. Last month, it was Child Abuse Awareness Month. Hopefully, we will all be more mindful about the needs of children to have a safe and forever family!