Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
I’m going to take a little trip away from talking about parent/child relationships to talking about the relationship between the parents. Just like parenthood, it is impossible for anyone to predict before entering into a relationship just what will happen next. No matter what the reason you had for building your family by birthing, fostering, or adopting children, it will, without question, change your relationship with your child’s other parent and may, at times, leave you scratching your head about whether to stay or go in this relationship.
I have personally found, and I believe it is also true for my clients, that during each stage of my own children’s development I re-live parts of my own childhood. It starts in infancy. It was when my children were infants that I looked at my daughters while rocking them and wondered, “Did my parents look at me this way? Did they feel this awe? This fierce protective feeling? Did they love me this much?” For me, for those questions, the answer was a yes, I don’t remember myself as an infant, but I know it in my soul. I have other, unanswered questions about other stages…the vast majority of us do. Our most intense questions seem to be the ones we have not resolved. People with a history of trauma tend to ask whether their child feels protected. We may compare the expectations of our parents for us to our expectations for our own children. When we pause to think about it, the questions can bubble up seemingly out of nowhere. All parents- even child therapists- wade through these swampy waters.
I can not think of a situation that raises intense questions more for any parent than when the relationship between parents is going through a major transition. The start of parenthood is a major transition. No longer do you have the option of pretending that you are not connected to each other for life. The time for walking away from each other and having the ability to completely cut ties if things go wrong is past. Even if someone seems to have walked away, rest assured, they may be gone, but they are not forgotten by anyone, nor have they forgotten. Similarly, your decision about leaving a relationship also becomes infinitely more complex as you are no longer considering only how this change would impact you but, I assume if you are reading this post, you are also someone who would consider whether that change would impact your children as well. I wish I had easy answers. I don’t, but I have, throughout the years, come across some helpful questions and observations that I use when I have a client, or client’s parents trying to work through these issues. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts to help you in your journey.
1. This first question, I’m going to paraphrase from memory and it comes from author and coach, Cheryl Richardson (her most recent book is “You Can Create an Exceptional Life*” and her radio show is call “Coach on Call” on Hay House Radio). It goes something like this: “If you decided to believe that from this moment on that your partner was never going to change a single thing about themselves, would you want to stay with them?” Let me be more specific: if they never gained or lost a single pound, if they never took you out more, nagged less, spent more or less time with the children, at work or with friends, etc. would you still want to stay with them? This is important because despite our longing to change people, we really can’t. There is no magical combination of words that will create change for a person unless they are ready to change. Take a moment to consider the possibility that your partner will never change, then think about if you still want to stay.
2. If you decide that you would not want to stay with this person unless they make changes, what is it that you absolutely require from your partner in order to stay? In other words, what are the nonnegotiables in order for you to want to be in a relationship? A little warning for this step is that this is a question that tends to bring out our inner critic. The inner critic tells us we should have known from the beginning that we needed that and that it is too late to ask for it now. After all, you decided to have children with this person so, as the saying goes, “you made your bed and now you have to lie in it,” and so on and so on. The critic can be relentless. Let me strongly encourage you to take a moment to tell your inner critic that you are not making the decision based on this question alone, only that this is a part of knowing what to do next. That being said, what is your bottom line on staying in this relationship? Requiring the absence of abuse, emotional manipulation, and dishonesty can seem like no-brainers to some of us, but, if those are things we grew up with, we can easily come to expect that they are part of life and are to be expected. Let me assure you, they are not a part of every relationship and if it is your belief that they are, please contact a therapist to begin to work on loving yourself more. I have met too many people who have said to me that they are staying with the person they are with because they don’t cheat and don’t hit. I’m going to encourage you to go beyond this. If you can’t think of the relationship you would want for yourself, think of the relationship you hope your children will have with a romantic partner one day.
3. This next one is a helpful “re-frame.” I got it from listening to Robert Holden (author of Shift Happens* and host of a radio show with the same title on Hay House Radio). He makes an important point that even if you decide to “end” what you think of as your relationship with your child’s other parent, you are really only ending one part of your relationship. In reality, what you are thinking of as an ending is actually a transition from one kind of relationship to another- from romantic, to co-parenting. If you are anticipating this change, please remember that people can act differently in different situations. I have seen parents where, if I’m being honest, I understand why the relationship ended with their partner, however, that same person can be a “good enough” parent. Sure, they may not do things the way you do them. But, just take a moment to think of every way you have ever seen someone fold clothes. Does everyone fold them the same way? Of course not! Even if the clothes are folded differently are they still folded? Yes. Sure, you may have a preference for how things are done, but your life will be easier if you stay open to the possibility (as long as the other parent is not abusive) that your child’s other parent may have an alternative and acceptable way of parenting as well. Having this attitude can improve your relationship whether or not it stays romantic or transitions to co-parenting.
4. This might be the most important of my tips. For the sake of your relationships with your child’s other parent, your child, and yourself, take really, really good care of yourself. The only thing we can control is how we react to different situations. We cannot change people with ultimatums, threats, and resentment. What we can do is to really take care of ourselves. Have you been telling yourself that as soon as your partner’s issues are taken care of you will____ (fill in the blank, lose weight, stop smoking, meditate)? Guess what? When you do that you are holding your partner up to a higher standard than you are holding yourself up to. Take time to be the kind of person you want to be with. Follow your interests, be loving, take care of your chores around the house, laugh often. When we do these things there are a few possibilities. One possibility is that you will find that you are happier and see how you may have been contributing to the unhappiness in the relationship. Another is that you will find that you are strong enough to leave the relationship if it becomes apparent that it is not healthy for you. Still another is that your partner may take notice of your positive changes and begin to make some as well by your example. I know your children will do just that also.
Perhaps the overall question of staying or going is the wrong one after all. More importantly, we want to ask, “Who do I want to be in this relationship?” If we can ask and answer that question, then work to get to be that person, then we can find happiness either in or outside of any relationship. It is when we stop looking to outside relationships to fix something inside that we find ourselves and when you find yourself to be a person you will always like, that you will always want to be with and around, that you will also find you are able to have relationships with others that meet your expectations as well. I strongly encourage anyone considering separation or divorce from their child’s other parent to seek therapists knowledgable in helping parents to create a healthy co-parenting relationship.
*You can find the links to purchase any books mentioned in this post by clicking the Amazon widgets button at the top, right hand corner of this page. See disclaimer page.
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
In the past week I have had two quotes come to visit me several times. One has been a favorite of mine for a long time, Kahlil Gibran’s quote from his poem, On Children. “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” The other quote, I had never heard before last week, which is pretty surprising to me. It comes from Mark Twain, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born…and the day you find out why.” Each of these quotes reminds us that our children are more than just our children. We each, all of us, are put on this earth with special, unique skills and talents. Our children are not here to please us but to meet their own unique purpose and to believe that we control that purpose is to tell ourselves a fantastical lie. Many parents buy into this fantasy with disasterous results. To let go of the fantasy that we control the exact ways in which our children will form into adults is to free ourselves and our children from the inevitable feeling of failure that old attitude would bring. This weeks affirmation is:
I allow my child to explore his or her own unique talents and abilities. I work on finding mine as well.
This does not mean that I must drop everything and spend all of my time and money on getting my daughter to dance class. What it means is that I am accepting of her dreams and support her in the best way I can now. It also means that I model for her through my own openness to my unique talents and abilities.
- Parenting with Affirmations (help4yourfamily.com)
- Parent Affirmation Day 5/21/2012 (help4yourfamily.com)
- Parent Affirmation Day 5/14/2012 (help4yourfamily.com)
- Parent Affirmation Day 5/7/2012 (help4yourfamily.com)
- When Your Inner Critic Hurts Your Relationship With Your Children (help4yourfamily.com)
I'm a regular reader of Help 4 Your Family by therapist Kate Oliver and one of her posts from April has really stuck with me. In the post, she describes how to respond to a child's demands. Here's an excerpt from the post, titled "End the Hassle: Tell Kids what they Deserve":
Kid: Mom, the other kids in my class don’t have to sit in a booster car seat any more!
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Get ready to laugh and tell me I’m wrong! I have heard many versions of this affirmation but the person I got it from is the mother of affirmations herself, Louise Hay. This week’s affirmation is:
Everything is happening at just the right time.
I know you do not believe me but give me a minute to talk you through it. I know it feels like things happen too slow, too fast, or at just the wrong time! This affirmation requires a little faith that there is a plan for us. Even if you are not a believer in a higher power, doesn’t it just make life simpler to believe that everything is happening at just the right time? I use this affirmation when I am running late and, I’m happy to tell you that when I use it, and believe it, everything does happen at just the right time. One time I used it recently was when I was running late to meet my daughter at school because I had promised I would eat lunch with her. I hate running late. I decided that I was going to obey traffic laws, and I just repeated to myself over and over that things happen at just the right time. I was still five minutes late, but guess what? The lunch before my daughter’s ran over by five minutes and I actually ended up entering the cafeteria at the same time she did. I also had not stressed myself out on the way there, which would require me to calm myself down before I could be present for my daughter.
You can use this affirmation for big things too. Birth, death, illness, and entering a romantic relationship, are all things that come to mind. Before you think I am trivializing any of those transitions I just mentioned, I want you to know I have experienced all of them, just like you. Carrying with me the belief that everything is happening at just the right time even if I don’t understand it, gets me through a lot and I will share a personal story to demonstrate how this affirmation has come true in my own life.
When I was a child, just about to turn nine, my older brother, who was just about to turn 12, died suddenly from an undiagnosed illness the summer before he would be entering middle school. I would never wish this on anyone, and no- there is never a good time for this to happen, but there might be a right time. Move forward in time to the night I met my husband for the first time. I was at a party and one of my brother’s friends, who I had not seen since he died, walked into the party with another friend. He actually was pretty shocked to see me and had a pretty strong reaction when he realized who I was. We started talking and he introduced me to his friend- my future husband. Had my brother lived and gone on to middle school, he and his friend would have probably drifted apart, since they were going to go to different schools. His friend might not have had the same memories of me that caused him to come right too me to talk and introduce me to his friend. My husband and I might not have had a strong immediate connection and who knows what might have happened? I can’t imagine my life without the husband and children that I have. I wouldn’t change a thing about them or about my life right now. This is one way that I make sense of the death of my brother. Everything happens at just the right time.
Even if it is hard to believe right now, try this affirmation out. Say it many, many times to yourself. Remind yourself that you don’t have to know the “why” of things happening, but that they are happening at just the right time.
While 96% of all abusers are men,* and men tend to be the focus of this article, it is important that we refrain from trivializing the role of women as abusers as well. In this article, I speak mostly about men, but the same holds true for women. Here are some tips to spot potential perpetrators or unsafe situations:
1. Look for people who are more interested in your children than their own children. For example, if you go to a birthday party and see the father of the birthday kid paying more attention to your child than their child, take a moment to listen to the words they are saying to your child. Are they trying to draw your child away from the crowd? Are they excessively flattering? Are they trying to get your child to come for a playdate even when your child seems reluctant?
2. Pay attention to any men who are overly willing to be available to babysit, especially if they are willing to put off other, adult activities to be more available to your child for one on one time. This is true for teenage boys and boys or girls that you know have issues but just like to hang around with your children even though your children are significantly younger. Kids who are developmentally younger than their chronological age will still begin sexual development at the same age and if they feel more comfortable with children their own age, they are more likely to try out sexual behavior on younger children who will let them get away with it.
3. “Grabbers” are perpetrators that take the opportunity when it presents itself. These are, for example, the in-home, daycare provider’s brother who came to visit for a week and was in the home when you dropped your child off. You can protect your children from those by asking any adult who is in charge of your child to tell you if there will be any other adults around your child. If you notice a new face when you take your child to school or child care, don’t be afraid to ask. Just do what I do and say you are an over protective parent. Own it
4. “Groomers” are people who take time to get a child (and parent) comfortable with them. They may take a long time to even begin doing anything to the child. In the meantime, they begin to seamlessly insert themselves into the family and over time, develop a relationship with the children. Listen to your gut if you get a feeling about someone, take a minute to ask your child and get curious about how they feel when that person is around.
5. Be visible. Parents who are a known presence at school and day-care are less likely to have children who are victims. Show up unannounced at child care and for school lunches if your child’s school allows it. Volunteer a few times a year so you get to know teachers and other school personnel and they get to know you. Know your childcare provider and, if you do not trust his or her decision-making, get a new one.
6. Be aware of people in your own family who you know are perpetrators. This may sound obvious, however, I have met enough people by now who allowed their child to be around the grandparent who abused the parent, yet the parent felt if they were watchful enough, their child would not get hurt, or hoped that the perpetrator had changed enough that they would not do that to their grandchild. Similarly, if you are a divorced parent and abuse was an issue during your marriage, or you knew that your child’s other parent was harming or neglecting the children, if possible, protect your child from being alone with that parent. Wikipedia reports that, “the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that for each year between 2000 and 2005, “female parents acting alone” were most likely to be perpetrators of child abuse.“ ** If someone is a known perpetrator to you, do not allow your child to be alone with them. Stepfathers and fathers respectively are the most likely to be reported as perpetrators of sexual abuse for girls 10 and older according to childabuse.org.
7. Listen to your child. Children, especially young children, often disclose information that we do not catch if we are not listening. If a child says something that causes you concern, be curious and ask them about it to clarify what they are talking about. Sometimes because our young children are so sexually innocent, they don’t even know that there was anything out-of-order with what happened and they just tell you about it.
I want to conclude by being perfectly clear, that there is no guarantee that our children will never deal with an abusive caretaker. However, the likelihood that a child will identify a problem to you sooner, so that you may take action immediately will be increased by talking to your child and being aware of the tricks of abusers.
- It’s Not Just Strangers- Part I (help4yourfamily.com)
- Chronological Age vs. Developmental Age (help4yourfamily.com)
- Teaching Young Children About “Stranger Danger” (help4yourfamily.com)
- When Your Inner Critic Hurts Your Relationship With Your Children (help4yourfamily.com)
It’s Monday, May 14th- Parent Affirmation day at Help 4 Your Family! Today’s affirmation is one I use a lot:
I give my children age appropriate time and space to solve their own problems.
This affirmation is good for many kinds of situations. One is watching our children struggle with something. This affirmation helps us to remember that there are some struggles that are age appropriate and that our children will benefit from resolving on their own because they want to learn it. Rebecca from Mom Meets Blog writes about this in her sweet post about her son that you can read here.
Another situation where this affirmation is helpful is when our children are struggling with something and do not want to learn it- but we know it is age appropriate for them to do so. A child who works really hard to get to you to give him the answers to homework assignments would be an example of a time when you can repeat this affirmation to yourself to remind yourself that you are helping, not hurting, your child by allowing them to experience the struggle.
Also, I use the words “age appropriate” purposely. I find that as parents we sometimes forget that as sophistocated as our children may seem, that there are some expectations that may not be age appropriate- expecting a 10-year-old to clean the kitchen to the same standards as an adult, or telling a child they must work things out with a bully at school who is threatening violence are two examples that come to mind.
Saying this affirmation over and over throughout the day makes it become a part of you and of your regular parenting practice.
When have you had to use an affirmation like this?
Do you have a parenting affirmation you would like to share?
Monday is Parenting Affirmation Day! (help4yourfamily.com)
Parenting With Affirmations (help4yourfamily.com)
Chronological vs. Developmental Age (help4yourfamily.com)
I Was a Cereal Killer (MomMeetsBlog.wordpress.com)
- This is your brain on attachment
- Last Chance for Two Great Opportunities
- Mother’s Retreat Weekend- It’s Really Happening!
- Stopping the Parent Shame and Blame Game
- Making Peace With Your Inner Critic
- Putting together something fun for you!
- Quick Jobs for Kids
- Staying Strong as a Couple
- Letting Go of the Parent You Thought You Would Be
- Add a Little Awe to Your Life
- Upcoming Trainings
- Older Kids with Bathroom Issues: Why Does it Happen? How Can You Help? Part 2