April is Autism Awareness Month, the two month anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and the 19th anniversary of Columbine. Why talk about ASD and school shootings in the same sentence? And why a divorce blog? I will get to that. But as a lawyer-mom, these two issues are at the forefront of my mind, and probably the minds of many parents and educators these days. We should rest assured that our kids would know what to do during a lock-down because they have spontaneous drills throughout the year, right? Ugh…what am I saying? The fact that kids NEED lockdown drills is downright outrageous! Nonetheless, I wondered what the younger kids are told and what happens during these drills. Well, lucky me, when I recently volunteered in my son’s elementary school classroom, the school had a lock down drill. And one word sums up the experience: chilling. Lockdown drills are very different from the fire and tornado drills we had as kids. I’m sure everyone remembers the fire drills – exit the classroom quickly and get away from the building. Or the tornado drills – go out to the hallways, away from the doors and windows, and cover your head with your hands. Up until about 1999, THOSE were the drills Minnesotan kids experienced. In fact, most the time, much to our teacher’s chagrin, we were laughing and joking around. A lock down drill, however, has a very different vibe. The kids must be EXTREMELY quiet. They huddle into a specific area and are instructed to remain eerily still. This had been a bustling class (and school) just moments before, but now it was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. This was a class of 30 second graders, so I was stunned at the deafening silence. Just when I thought it was over (it seemed like forever, but was probably two minutes) someone rattled the door handle. Forcefully. Not a peep from the kids, but I jumped. Luckily, they didn’t see me or they might have erupted into giggles. We had to continue to remain quiet and motionless. Interestingly, I don’t remember what happened next; that is, I don’t recall if there was a bell or another signal indicating the drill was over (I think I was sort of in shock). The kids went about their business, working on their projects, like it was no big deal. Only it was a big deal. At least it was to me and the other adults in the room. I just looked at the staff, wide-eyed, and shook my head. School lock downs are now a reality for school-aged children. It makes my heart ache. I asked my son that evening why they have lockdowns and he nonchalantly said it was in case anyone wants to break into the school. That was it. Simple enough. But as we grown-ups know, there is nothing simple about this. My son is a “mover and a crasher,” so I was relieved he made it through the drill. But I thought about the other high-needs/special-needs kids in his school. For any child who has physical needs or doesn’t cognitively understand the drill, simply can’t be quiet and remain calm, needs to move, or overreacts when accidentally bumped or touched by a classmate, what would that child do in this drill? Or, God forbid, in a REAL situation? With more and more kids being diagnosed with ASD, what protocols are in place for them? Is there a special section in their IEP about drills? There ought to be. This made me think about special-needs kids whose parents are going through a divorce. The teachers are aware of kids’ needs (or should be). So, too, should the divorce team. A child’s symptoms often reemerge or worsen when they are stressed, which could happen during parental conflict and/or separation. Child specialists can work with the parents and the child’s pediatrician and/or therapist to help create a parenting plan that is in the child’s best interests. Like it or not, otherwise fit and loving parents need to work together for there children’s sake. Fortunately, the Collaborative process can help parents really focus on their kids, by putting them in the center, rather than the middle, of the divorce process. Every family situation is unique. Every family and every child deserve a creative plan to help move them forward, restructure, and get to a new “normal.” Drill and lockdown protocols included.
In Part 1, vortex was defined as: 1) a whirling mass of water or air that sucks everything near it towards its center; 2) a place or situation regarded as drawing into its center all that it surrounds, and hence, being inescapable or destructible. The second definition provides a visual for what many think a divorce “looks like.” While the end of a marriage is emotionally tumultuous and devastating, the actual legal process of uncoupling does not have to be. But, it is critical that you choose a process that promotes healing. The Collaborative Process does just that. Collaboration is a holistic approach to divorce. It can be utilized by couples who are ending either a marriage or significant relationship, or who have a child or children together. Although some people question whether it is an appropriate process when domestic abuse or mental health/chemical dependency issues are present, many others think it can (and should) at least be attempted. If you don’t want to be another “divorce horror story,” the Collaborative Process will likely be a great fit. Collaboration focuses on the future (i.e., the relationship of co-parenting in two homes) rather than the past (i.e. the vilification of one spouse); is a win-win for both partners (rather than a court-imposed win-lose); and emphasizes the well-being of the entire family. You don’t air your dirty laundry in court, and you aren’t (literally) judged. In fact, you never set foot in a courtroom. The negotiation model is interest-based/win-win, rather than positional/win-lose. You pay attorneys to help you solve problems, not argue and keep you stuck in the past. Every family is unique, so every family deserves a unique solution. And if you have young children, please keep in mind they need you present and available. You can’t be present when you are fighting the other parent in court. In Part 3, we will discuss the various professionals in the Collaborative Process and how their expertise can help you avoid the divortex.
Although happiness can sometimes seem elusive, keeping in mind the 5 Simple Rules for Happiness below will help:
- Free your mind from hatred
- Free your mind from worries
- Live simply
- Give more
- Expect Less
In the early days of separation and divorce you may find the idea of growing from your divorce difficult to believe. You may be in a state of depression or denial wondering how your life will carry on, much less that you will grow from this life change. It may be difficult to find the silver lining, yet the simple truth is that you can (and will) grow from this. You may or may not have had much of a choice in whether or not you are getting a divorce, but you DO have a choice whether to grow up or grow down through this process. In a bad or difficult marriage it is easy to see how a person might grow from getting a divorce, but all divorces bring the opportunity for growth. Your divorce will likely change the way you view the world. Your life may be functioning completely different than before. Maybe you are having to look for a new career or add a part time job to make ends meet, or maybe you’ve been out of the workforce for years and your divorce is forcing you back in. Maybe you’ve had to move to an apartment or back in with your parents or a friend. Maybe your kids are at a new school as a result of your divorce. Maybe your entire social circle has now changed. It’s how you view these changes and react to your new normal, that promotes growth. Growth from your divorce can appear in a number of ways. Emotionally, spiritually, physically, etc. Even something as simple as learning a new skill that your spouse had always managed like trimming the shrubs, or online bill pay. Spiritually your faith might deepen or may struggle as you get through some trying times. Emotional growth may take a bit longer. There may be some dark and difficult days before you start to grow emotionally, but slowly it will happen. Your priorities will change and grow. If you have shared custody with your children you will likely start to value your time together all that much more. Some things that were priorities during your marriage may no longer hold a significance to you. Growth after divorce becomes a way to cope. Growth after divorce becomes a way to survive. Growth after divorce becomes empowerment. Growth after divorce becomes a new, better you.
Making online connections is easier than ever with modern social media apps. It is not necessary to know someone at all, let alone to know them well, in order to see their profiles and get an idea of who they are and what kind of life they lead. In times before this technology, community life and networking were very different. Getting to know someone happened face to face, and gossip was spread by word of mouth. With everyone having technology in their pockets these days, deciding who is relevant to your life seems like an easy task. The everyday interactions we have with people while out and about are often with perfect strangers, and not many of us put much effort into these encounters. Treating any person you meet with respect and dignity is a basic human courtesy, but in the midst of our busy schedules, we often forget this. In All I really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarden, author Robert Fulghum sums up relationships in communities like this:
“Without realizing it, we fill important places in each other’s lives. It’s that way with the guy at the corner grocery, the mechanic at the local garage, the family doctor, teachers, neighbors, coworkers. Good people who are always “there,” who can be relied upon in small, important ways…. And, of course, we fill that role ourselves. There are those who depend on us, watch us, learn from us, take from us. And we never know.”If you assume your neighbor is not relevant to you, you may never realize who they actually are. Paying attention to the real people that live down the street is just as important – more important – as curating an impressive list of LinkedIn connections or Facebook friends. Consider making a connection with the person behind the online profile.
Those married, and especially with children, might dream of having a quiet Saturday night to themselves, but for many divorcees, especially those newly divorced this new “free time” can be especially lonely. You might not be ready or wanting to jump into dating, but being home alone frequently can be rather lonely during those early days of divorce, whether the kid’s are at your ex’s house, grown, or you don’t have any. We put together a list of ideas to get you started to help pass the time.
- Exercise – Whether you prefer to exercise solo, or would like to make it a social activity by joining a gym or a running/swim/etc. there is no better time to get fit than on these lonely days. The endorphins will instantly boost your mood and you’ll gain extra side effects like weight loss, strength, and confidence!
- Reading – If you don’t already love to read, keep trying – surely there is something out there that will peak your interest to keep reading! Join a book club if you want to make it a social activity. Not sure where to find one look online or start one – ask friends and neighbors with similar interests if they would like to join. You can rotate the meeting space/host each month to keep it fun and interesting!
- Explore your town – play tourist in your own town, get lost in a bookstore, see when museums and arboretums have free admission days. Check into free classes and groups at your local library, many offer events like adult coloring night, crafts, and cooking. In addition to children’s activities, Community Education through the school districts also offer adult activities.
- Cook – try new recipes, or maybe just save them on Pinterest for another day. If cooking for one person doesn’t interest you, perhaps make a monthly standing date with a parent/friend/sibling where you have them over for dinner and conversation. If baking is more your style, but you don’t want all of the sweet temptations around, take the treats to a nursing home, shelter, police precinct, etc.
- Start a new hobby – maybe you haven’t picked up a paintbrush since high school art class, or dusted off that old sewing machine great Aunt Edna passed down to you years ago, but find something that peaks your interest. All the better if you’ve never done it before. Now days you can find a video tutorial for just about anything on the internet, which even makes home projects that you may have never considered DIYing possible. Hobbies like painting or sewing are difficult to start and stop when the kids are around, so those perfect projects for these lonely days.
- Part time job – if you could use the extra cash there is no shame in getting a part-time gig. Even if you don’t necessarily need the money and are just looking to fill the time, find something you enjoy doing and set the money aside for a vacation! Even direct sales can provide a fun, no pressure, no schedule way to earn some extra cash and socialization too!
- Volunteer – The options for volunteering are endless so find something that you are passionate about and look into how you can help.
Nearly every celebrity seems to have a divorce under their belt, but what about our local public figures – our children’s teachers, our mayors, city councilmen – how does the pubic feel about “those” public figures when they are facing divorce? About midway through the year I had noticed my daughter’s teacher’s name on Facebook (we have mutual friends) going from FIRST MARRIED to FIRST MARRIED MAIDEN, and I thought a divorce must be imminent. Admittedly my first thought was how a divorce might affect her teaching abilities for MY child. Selfish? Perhaps. Or are those type of reactions expected with public careers? Her private life is certainly none of my business, but is it easy to check your feelings at the door? Certainly not. The University of Minnesota is currently doing a study on the impact of divorce on a person’s career. Those results will be interesting to see, especially as there are careers can have a big impact on the public sector. Some may say that their divorce was the best thing that ever happened to their career. Perhaps work was a necessary distraction as their marriage crumbled at home. But on the other hand some people admit that they simply could not focus at work with their marriage on the rocks. Sometimes people can attribute their careers to actually being the CAUSE of their divorce. A husband that travels all week, a wife who tends bar on the weekends, a stay at home parent who never gets a break, and more often than not, simply the demands and stress of a person’s career can tear apart a marriage. Some careers are statistically at a higher risk for divorce, almost as if divorce is beyond their control. A few months later as school was coming to a close I noticed my daughter’s teachers name on social media is now: FIRST MAIDEN. Admittedly, my feelings changed from worrying about the affect her divorce would have on my own daughter to feeling horribly sympathetic towards her and her own children. As I leaned more I realized her husband holds a local political office and I began to wonder about the effects the divorce may have on his political career. It’s important to remember that everyone is human, divorce does not define a person, and even if you feel like your divorce is in the spotlight, remember that this too shall pass. Please share your thoughts about public divorces in the comment section below.
Is money a little tight and it seems you’ll never get ahead in life? Perhaps it’s time for you to invest in yourself. In fact, investing in yourself can be the most profitable investment that you can make. Three possible investment options include investing to improve your skills, your creativity and your health. To invest in your education and skills consider these investment options:
- Increase your education – get an advanced degree or relevant certification that will qualify you for a better job.
- Increase your skills – for example, become more efficient by learning about computer software or even a computer language. Take courses that provide skills which will make you stand out when a promotion is considered, such as communications and managing people.
- Expand your knowledge – are there technical aspects of your job that you just assume are someone else’s job to figure out? Take a deeper dive into the technical aspects of what your department does. Also, keep up-to-date on the current trends or advancements in your profession or industry. If something strikes a chord, bring it up at work and you may get noticed for your interest in improving your skills, the office or company.
- Take an art class such as drawing, photography or jewelry making
- Learn to play an instrument
- Take a trip and really learn about the people, their culture and history. Heck even try learning their language.
- Take up a hobby that involves learning and doing rather than buying and collecting.
- Make healthy food choices
- Make time to move – walk, bike, hike, play tennis, do yoga.
- Make time to relax. Learn to enjoy slowing it down. Read a book, take a trip, learn to meditate.
- Make time for family and friends. Learn the skill of conversation, accept and don’t judge.
- Make time for yourself. Listen to what your body is telling you.
2016 is well underway and many will look at the new year as a new beginning. While it’s important to have a positive outlook on the year ahead, sometimes the changing of the calendar year can create a false sense of promise. Pressure to set unrealistic goals such as being healed from your divorce this year, or that you will fall in love this year. Sometimes while going through the difficult path of grieving your divorce it may be helpful to consider that January 1st is nothing more than the day after December 31st. The changing of the year will bring a bit more healing and personal growth as each day passes, however it is imperative to understand that things can’t, and won’t, change overnight, which is why creating realistic expectations of the new year is essential to your healing. All the talk about new year’s resolutions, goals, “new year, new you,” that come with the month of January can leave you feeling overwhelmed, which creating realistic expectations, even if that means lowering or having no expectations at all can be a healthier way to navigate the healing process. Setting lower expectations allows you to be gentler on yourself. Creating a sense of balance in your life can be far more important than checking something off of an overwhelming, or unrealistic, to-do list. As you gradually adjust to your new normal, you may feel that everything in your world is now different, yourself included. You will have days of triumph, days of defeat, and plenty of temporary setbacks throughout the year ahead, but it’s crucial to remember that these temporary setbacks are just that – temporary. They happen to everyone and are a normal part of the process of healing from your divorce. It’s natural to have days where you hope and pray for everything to go back to the way things once were, but it is unrealistic to expect for that to actually happen. As you begin to accept your new normal, it might require a new approach to life, and maybe your biggest goal for 2016 will be to learn that approach and how to navigate it. Find the joy in life, which is more important than checking something off of a list. Reconnect with old friends, find new hobbies, look for the joy in everyday, but don’t feel the pressure to have a timeline on your healing, your happiness, your life, or finding new love.
Listening to the voice of the child is increasingly becoming a mainstream concept in family law. This is a welcome development, as careful attunement to children’s perspectives and needs can guide resolutions and parenting plans that are truly in the best interests of children. Having worked with children of all ages for many years, I am aware that the language of children has its own rhythm and cadence. Children do not always use words to express their inmost feelings and concerns. Very young children express themselves through play and behaviors rather than spoken language. When distressed, young children may temporarily regress to earlier behaviors. This is a normal process, but may need professional guidance to resolve if it becomes persistent, especially when accompanied by patterns of anxiety or angry outbursts. At the opposite end of the developmental spectrum, one of my favorite essays about teenagers is entitled “Please Hear What I am Not Saying.” Children, especially adolescents, often have difficulty expressing their feelings directly. To fully understand their child’s experience, parents need to be observant of patterns of behavior that may indicate feelings the child is unable or unwilling to express directly. Asking a child, “What’s wrong?” or “Why are you acting that way?” may not yield much information. Another approach is to express empathy and the offer of support, “It looks like something is bothering you. I’m here if you want to talk about it.” If a problematic behavior pattern persists for more than a few weeks, it might be the right time to consult with a child or adolescent therapist to get neutral, professional help in decoding the problem and helping your child find healthy ways to cope. Consulting with a neutral child specialist during the divorce process can enhance your understanding of your child’s perspective and feelings. Collaborative Team Practice is designed to provide a sounding board for all family members during a difficult time of transition.