PicIt may feel like it should still be the middle of June and that school just let out, but the harsh reality is that back-to-school season is upon us. Co-parenting is hard enough during the summer when schedules are flexible are a bit more relaxed, but adding in the back-to-school madness creates another level of co-parenting stress. Who will shop for school supplies and clothes, who will volunteer for the field trips this year, who will fill out all the school forms, who will sign the kids up for their sports and activities? Historically these tasks all fall on the mother 99% of the time. It’s likely that your ex-husband never even realized these tasks needed to be done because it’s such an ingrained part of the “mom routine” that moms just do them without even thinking twice! Throwing in the divide of a divorce though and these everyday tasks suddenly can (and should) be divided. We can’t stress enough how vital a well laid out parenting plan is, but the simple everyday responsibilities like filling out paperwork are often missed when writing these plans. Overwhelmed and not sure where to even begin with tackling back-to-school tasks? – We blogged some very helpful back-to-school co-parenting tips here! Here’s to another great school year! It’s possible that you’re looking forward to getting back into the routine that the school year offers, yet it still brings on a sadness of another year/summer having passed. As caught up as we can get in the emotions of not wanting to see an ex at a school event or activity, it is important to remember to enjoy and embrace your children at the ages they are. Soak up every moment, and if your parenting plan allows for it try to get to as many of your children’s events as possible, as we all know the time passes entirely too quickly. As they say, “The days are long but the years are short.” How do you divide up these tasks with your ex? We’d love to hear in the comment section below.
482143431-thought-bubbles-above-frustrated-couple-gettyimagesIn an election year, we are exposed to an abundance of rhetoric.  As candidates debate and advertise to convince people to vote for them, I listen for words reflecting respect, dignity, the ability to listen deeply and the capacity to work effectively with those who may hold different beliefs. High conflict resulting in governmental gridlock puts people at risk, especially those who are most vulnerable. Yet listening to potential leaders, I hear repeated versions of  “I will never compromise.” Though this may be intended to project strength and resolution, does it not also sound rigid and contentious? What human values does this type of rhetoric represent? How expensive in time, money and emotional resources does endless gridlock become for the people depending on resolution? Divorcing parents are faced with the necessity to make many decisions affecting the future of their family. Their children are the most vulnerable family members, counting on their parents to work things out. What happens to children when their parents disagree and then refuse to compromise? When parents become rigid and disrespectful of each other, how does the ensuing gridlock impact their children? How expensive in time, money and emotional resources does this process become? Collaborative Practice is a method of alternative dispute resolution incorporating the values of respect, honesty and fairness. From the beginning of the process, clients are supported by their attorneys and by neutral professionals on their team to engage in interest-based negotiation to ensure both parents’ true concerns are heard, rather than positional negotiation that can easily lead to heightened conflict and expensive gridlock. For more information about how Collaborative Practice might work for your family, please check out the website of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota.
Late night browsing on HBO recently brought me to a refreshing and wonderfully honest documentary on kids of divorce. The 30-minute film focuses on children who have recently gone through divorce – it asks them questions and captures their honest and candid responses.  So much wonderful information can be gleaned form children. They offer unique perspectives on the realities they face. Even more refreshingly, they offer unique insights and rules for their parents. As always, children can guide parents through these tough transitions and help them move forward in ways that really matter to kids. Indeed, these little minds are often more grounded and reflective in their views than their parents. Some of the many words of wisdom from this documentary, are:
  • Keep reminding me this isn’t my fault – I need to hear it over and over again.
  • Be honest with me – talk to me honestly. I can handle it or I will le tyou know if I can’t.
  • Don’t put me in the middle, but remember I am important.
  • Don’t have me spy – get your own information.
  • There is not a big bright side of things – but try to look on the bright side. Point out to me the things that are good out of this and why I will be okay.
  • I miss my other parent in my heart. Know this and keep it in mind.
  • Give us more love than we need.
Don’t Divorce Me! Trailer
If you have children and are contemplating divorce, check out Don’t Divorce Me! Kids’ Rules for their Parent’s Divorce on HBO ON DEMAND or www.hbogo.com
520749655-man-in-mid-air-jumping-into-pool-during-gettyimagesVacations are a common part of family life.  Some families like to camp or take close-to-home trips to a local hotel or amusement location.  Other families have vacation traditions, such as family reunions or a favorite locales that they visit year after year.  And others may like to spend freely and take extravagant vacations. It is common to be concerned about vacations in divorce.  When one, nuclear family becomes a bi-nuclear family with two home bases, it may seem like a foregone conclusion that vacations will need to end.  While things certainly need to change, in a collaborative divorce, parents can work to develop a parenting plan that incorporates vacations and time away with the kids. It is common in parenting plans to provide each parent a certain number of days to take the children on vacation.  This time typically supersedes regular parenting plan – it is not a trade-off of days.  The parenting plan can outline further parameters on vacations, such as:
  • How much notice should be given for an upcoming trip.
  • Whether or not vacations can incorporate missing school.
  • Number of consecutive days allowed.
  • Communication parameters between the off-duty parent and the children while on vacation.
  • How far the children may be taken and what activities are permissible.
Parents often also work out the finances of a vacation in the divorce.  Sometimes vacation expenses are built into budgets and spousal maintenance obligations and other times each parent covers their own vacation expenses with the children. When parents work together on a parenting plan, they can come up with good resolutions about vacations and travel. A good collaborative professional can help start this process.  
157494477-redheaded-girl-in-cloud-of-leaves-gettyimagesLooking for some Twin Cities fun on a budget? Going from a duel income to a single income is not only difficult, but can bring on many emotions, especially if it leaves you feeling inadequate with providing for your children. There are so many low and no cost options out there that you don’t have to feel your children are missing out if you are on a single parent budget. Here are some of our favorites:
  • Como Zoo (free)
  • Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (free)
  • Walker Art Center (free admission Thursdays from 5-9pm)
  • Minnesota History Center (free admission Tuesdays from 5-8pm)
  • Fishing at many local community piers and parks (free)
  • Minnehaha Falls (free)
  • Three Rivers Parks District: Elm Creek Park Reserve, Lowery nature Center, Minnetonka Regional Park, etc. (free admission and many free activities and play equipment). Tip: make a list for a scavenger hunt before you go, kids LOVE scavenger hunts!
  • Minnesota Children’s Museum (free admission the 3rd Sunday of each month)
  • Outdoor concerts in the summer: Minneapolis Music in the Parks and St. Paul Music in the Parks, as well as many suburban concert series (free)
  • Movies in the Park in Summer: many area options (free)
  • Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (free admission every third Thursday of the month after 4:30 pm April through October)
  • Farmer’s Markets: many area options, check your city and surrounding areas for dates and times. Tip: If you go close to the end of the day many vendors may have reduced their prices or are willing to negotiate on fresh produce. (free admission)
  • Bike or walk the area trails. We are very blessed with many quality area trails like the Luce Line, Dakota Rail Regional Trail, etc. Tip: Another great place for a scavenger hunt!
  • Local beaches in the summer – We are in the land of 10,000 lakes, there are so many options for free swimming and sand castle fun!
  • Local art fairs, craft fairs, car shows, etc. Admission is typically free and it is so fun to walk around and look at everything.
Also be sure to check out local discount websites such a www.SaveOn.com, www.Groupon.com, and www.LivingSocial.com, where you can find deep discounts on local amusement parks, museums, the arboretum, restaurants, and more!
Your divorce probably has you feeling like everything is beyond your control. Now imagine the lack of control your children are feeling. Yesterday they had a family with two parents living under the same roof, and today their family life as they knew it is torn apart. Your children may not have any idea how things got to this point, much less have the ability to change things. While it is seemingly impossible to feel in control right now, as a parent it is your role to support your children and help them to cope with the stress of the divorce. Focusing on these four components should help to lessen the stress on your children: patience, reassurance, structure, and stability. Patience. Have the patience to answer your child’s never ending questions they may have about the divorce. Offer them a listening ear and time to vent. Patience is tricky, especially when you are going through such a stressful time in your life. This is why it becomes so incredibly important for you to take care of yourself so that you can be the best parent you can be. Do whatever you can not to take your own stress out on your children. Even if it’s as simple as locking yourself in the bathroom for 5 minutes to cool off – do it. Reassurance. Reassure your children that they are still loved by both parents, and that they did not cause this. Reassure them that it is ok to have fun and enjoy their time with each parent by not acting jealous or getting upset. Do not put your child in a situation where they are forced to pick a side, which will only cause them more stress. Reassure them that you will get through this together, and that this is not the end of their family, but rather the beginning of a different type of family for them. Structure. By providing routines kids can rely on, you remind your children they can count on you for stability, structure, and care. This is where parenting plans come into play and are so important to maintaining structure. A toddler may not know what day of the week it is, but something as simple as a color coded weekly calendar showing them what days they go to moms house at what days they go to dads house can help them to understand their routine. A preteen or teen may benefit more from an electronic calendar, where they know exactly who is picking them up from school and activities each day. Find what works best for maintaining structure in your family and stick to it. Stability. It is important to maintain structure in order to provide stability for your children. If one parent has bailed on picking up the kids for the past two weeks, that child no longer has the stability in their life to help them cope with the stress of divorce. Parents in this situation will often stop telling their children when the other parent is going to pick them up because they hate to see them get disappointed. When this happens the parenting plan needs to be addressed and reevaluated. Not only is it stressful on the parent when the other doesn’t follow through, but it is incredibly stressful on children. All of these points go hand in hand with one another. The more stability and structure you have, the more reassured your child will be. Divorce may be uncharted territory, but you can successfully navigate this unsettling time—and help your kids emerge from it feeling loved, confident, and strong.
180411776-studio-shot-of-books-stacked-and-apple-next-gettyimagesNow that everyone is back to school, here are some important things to remember for divorced families: 1. Be Mindful of the Schedule. Parents often look forward to the routine and structure of school, that is often lost in the summer months. Kids need that same sort of structure.  Depending on the age of the children, help keep them apprised of the schedule with an online-scheduler or written calendar.  Remember that changes to a schedule affect everyone – so be mindful of how adjustments will be accepted by everyone.  You have to balance flexibility and adaptability. 2. Stock up on School Supplies. Kids often display anxiety with the need to remember clothes, school supplies, or materials for extra curricular activities (sports equipment, musical instruments, school supplies, etc.).  Make sure both houses are stocked up or the kids have a good routine (with parent support) to make sure they have everything they need at both homes. 3. Start Communicating. There are so many elements of children’s daily lives that they are interested in sharing after a busy day at school. And then the school often communicates with parents via emails or handouts.  Sometimes things are learned during school pick-up or by talking to another parent.  This information should be shared — come up with a routine for sharing relevant information about the kids so that both parents are fully informed. Daily emails or texts are often an easy way to keep the off duty parent informed. 4. Plan for Homework and Activities. Kids often have full schedules afters school. Between homework and extra-curricular activities, many parents feel as if their after school hours are as busy as their work days.  Together with the children come up with a plan to manage the responsibilities every day.  It is okay to have different schedules at each home, but consider coordinating efforts or sharing your plan so both homes can best support the children. 5. Plan for Downtime. Life gets busy.  Make effort to find time for fun and relaxation as the busy life of school starts up.  Everyone deserves a break – so plan for a game night or go see a movie.  You will all appreciate a little downtime.  
108746711-pointing-to-oneself-gettyimagesCo-parenting can be challenging even in the most amicable divorces, but there are some personalities disorders that make co-parenting downright difficult. Among these include, but are not limited to: bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder. We are going to focus on narcissists in this post. Narcissists have a magnified sense of self-importance and lack they empathy for others. Narcissists insist on getting their way regardless of how it may affect others, even their own children. They may make promises to the children in order to gain compliance from the child, then refuse to honor the promises. They can be arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, demanding, and vain. As co-parents, these individuals often feel superior to their former spouse. It is challenging to reason with a narcissist, or attempt to try to get them to see the situation from someone else’s point of view, which makes co-parenting together a great feat. Sound familiar? Most importantly you must know that your ex’s personality disorder does not need to define your divorce. One of the best things that you can do in this situation is file a parenting plan with the courts. A parenting plan will outline anything from daily routines to holiday schedules. When dealing with a narcissist the more information you have laid out in writing, the more black and white it becomes. A parenting plan with help to maintain firm boundaries with your ex. When co-parenting with a narcissist you may need to keep your expectations low. You cannot expect the narcissist to tackle parenting with the same parental instincts that you have. What seems like second nature to you, may never cross a narcissist’s radar. Because a narcissist places no value on their children’s feelings, there will likely be emotional messes to clean up. Get your children (and you) into therapy and make it a regular and “normal”  part of their lives. Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. There are support groups out there, both online and in person, that are aimed specifically towards coping with a narcissistic ex. Divorce is never easy on children. Coping with a narcissistic parent makes a stressful situation even more difficult, but not impossible. Educate yourself on co-parenting through these challenging times, and also commit to self-care to provide some reprieve.
172244707-daddys-comfort-series-gettyimagesHaving recently become a grandparent for the first time, I am pondering the future with renewed urgency that my granddaughter’s legacy be one of hope and abundance. As she grows, there is no way to prevent the pain of grief and loss, the challenge of change or the regret of unfulfilled expectations, as major and minor crises are a normal part of our complicated human lives. But I want her to always know she is safe and loved, especially by her parents, as these are the building blocks of her resilience. Almost always, children experience divorce or breakup as a crisis, a challenging change, a loss. However, as I tell the parents with whom I work, it is possible to keep this crisis from ever becoming a trauma. It is possible to separate or get unmarried in such a way that your children will continue to feel safe and loved by both parents. Selecting a process that enables a divorcing couple to make the transition to effective co-parenting is an investment in their children’s future. As with other important investments, there is a need to balance potential gain with possible risk. In terms of impact on children, an adversarial divorce has minimum gain and maximum risk. A shorthand equation may be, the greater the court involvement, the greater the risk. In contrast, a process that focuses on respectful problem solving, and eliminates the need for court involvement, such as mediation or Collaborative Practice, has lower risk and potential maximum gain for children. Choosing the right professionals to guide you through the best process for your family can pay huge dividends in your children’s future.
136006968-writing-letters-gettyimagesIn the past few months, I have seen a number of people in my social network share this letter. It is a wonderfully written letter from an ex-Wife to her husband’s new girlfriend. Instead of the expected angry, hurtful, stay-away-from-my-children many people would have expected, the letter is filled with caring love for another human being and a potential influencer in her children’s lives. It is welcoming and tries to explain many of the nuances of the new family structures that arise out of divorce. Indeed, they take all shapes and sizes. This letter has been shared tens of thousands of times, because to the general public, it is unique. It is not what they expect to emerge out of divorce – it is not what society seems to expect of couples deciding to end a marriage. Truthfully, however, I see this kind of result all the time. As a collaborative divorce specialist, I loved this letter. It brought tears to my eyes as a real example of kindness and compassion in action. It is what I strive for every day when I work with families transitioning through divorce. We ground the collaborative process in mutual shared goals. If there are kids involved, both parents always want outcomes that protect the children. Regardless of what behavior, emotions or acts have led parents to a divorce, I know parents want to maintain strong relationships with their children and want their children to thrive in a post-divorce world. Many parents would even acknowledge the important role the other parent plays in raising the children. These goals are not unique – I see them all the time. And, when parents commit to an out of court, non-adversarial process, like collaborative law, the professionals in the process are as committed to these goals as the clients. I believe this letter demonstrates how important a positive co-parenting relationship is for children of divorce. That relationship lasts the rest of your life – figure out how to make it work. You do not need to be friends or call each other to talk about your day at work, but a respectful communication style to discuss your children will hugely benefit everyone. Having a strategy to embrace and face the changes that come after divorce is important as well. Statistically, both parents are likely to start new relationships – address these changes with healthy communication or seek outside support to learn how. Collaborative law is a divorce option that addresses many of the long-lasting implications of divorce and attempts to prepare families to move into a post-divorce life that allows everyone to thrive.