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The Helping Hands of a Parenting Coordinator

May 1, 2015/by Diane Hesseman

As a Parenting Coordinator (PC), I often hear a plea from parties for assistance in effectively communicating with their co-parent. Many times co-parents who engage the services of a PC feel at a loss with regard to an ability to effectively communicate with their co-parent. Often times new PC couples provide me with deleterious text and email correspondence they have exchanged with one another around issues in their parenting agreement. Emotions such as frustration, anger, sadness, bitterness and hopelessness are apparent in these documents, and in their words, during our meetings. In orienting new parents to the PC process, it often seems there is a sense of relief that a third party is going to assist them to help move forward in a healthy way. Part of the role of the PC is to educate parents and to sensitize them about how a child might be internalizing feelings about being a member of a divorced or separated family where there is ongoing conflict. Children are aware of the communication patterns, or lack thereof, between their parents. They are often relieved when their parents communicate effectively and they receive both overt and covert messages that it is OK to freely love and spend time with each parent. It has been said “children are like sponges” and that is certainly the case with the children in the families who seek our services. Children pick up their parents’ covert messages and frustrations. When parents are arguing with each other or disengaging through a “cold war”, the children are vulnerable; this can be burdensome and may hinder healthy development. Children love their parents and they hope for simple things, like to go to the dentist or on a play date, without a stressful or difficult discussion. In some families where the communication is extremely strained, the child might not get to the dentist or play date at all. Together with parents, a PC can help to uncover the patterns or themes of communication that have not worked historically. In my social work training, we learned that when working with a couple or family, the interaction between the individuals becomes the client. That principle certainly is true with PC. Whether our work involves coming to the table for a joint meeting or a parallel process where parties email each other and copy me, my focus is on the interaction between them. Feedback is given with regard to how only they could know best what their co-parent’s “hot buttons” are and how can this person be approached differently on behalf of their child. Work is also done around trying to be as clear as possible in communicating with the other party so that nebulous or “what did they mean by that?” communication can be kept reduced. At times, I might make suggestions to parties around how to re-phrase something they said or wrote in an email as it might seem inflammatory or not clear. At Family Kind, we understand it is not an easy task to unbraid yourself from a significant other and child’s other parent then reconfigure the relationship into at least a “business” one on behalf of your child. Powerful residual feelings that are difficult to put aside can make effectively communicating with your co-parent seem like an impossible task. The other parent might also feel stuck in their own strong feelings and struggle with communicating with you. By working with a trained Parenting Coordinator, hopefully parents can start to recognize the patterns of communication that have not been helpful and consider new strategies with hands-on assistance. Effective communication between divorced and separated parents equals a better chance of adequately meeting children’s needs. It also contributes toward an environment around the child that is more conducive toward their overall emotional well-being. • • • Diane Hessemann, is a licensed clinical social worker and parenting coordinator. Learn more

Separation, Divorce and the Extended Family April 1, 2015/by Dana Greco and Don DesrochesOver the years, couples have been forewarned: you don’t just marry your spouse, you marry the entire family. So, does this mean when the couple divorces, they also divorce the entire family? In most cases, the answer is yes. Research shows that typically when a couple divorce or separate, the blood family of that spouse is cut off from the spouse that married into the family. Of course, the residual effects on those family members can be traumatic. In many cases, the extended family members including sister and brother–in-laws, cousins, aunts, and uncles have grown close to the new addition to their family. Many of these family members (especially if they are in the same age group) formed friendships as they shared good times and holidays during the couple’s courtship and marriage. So why, when a couple separates, so goes inclusion with the entire clan; no more good times? This question is particularly important because, in most cases, the extended family has nothing to do with the conflict that led to divorce. The grief the extended family feels for the loss of their best brother-in-law or ex-husband’s cousin is unfair. The reality is blood often trumps the union of the couple. In many cases, family exhibit loyalty to each other, and when the spouse is removed from the group, he or she no longer has rights to this inner circle and must retreat. Some family members believe that they cannot maintain relations with the ex, as they would be disloyal to their blood relatives, and make the decision to sever the bond. However, children don’t often make such decisions, and it is the children who suffer most because they lose an aunt or uncle who was either married or was a domestic partner to their blood aunt or uncle. Often these children grow up and become adults without the presence of these former family members, losing the opportunity of affection and support because of this disconnect. In-laws are also affected. They often lose the connection with their grandchildren, especially when the primary planner was one spouse who often made it a priority to have the children know their grandparents. The loss of a relationship clearly affects everyone including the extended family. Grieving the loss of the extended in-law family is not only natural but unavoidable. Therefore, it would be helpful to talk about these losses, and not pretend this family member did not mean as much as they did. Children, especially should acknowledge these feelings because, as stated before, they are the ones affected the most. They form bonds that are then broken. A child’s trust is built on reliability and consistency. When a child loses trust in an adult relationship and when that adult is no longer in the child’s life, the child may be hesitant to form new relationships to protect him or herself from getting hurt again. The child may also believe that the loss was due to their behavior. This impact also holds true, not only for the in-laws, but for stepchildren as well. If there are stepchildren involved from a previous marriage, it would be beneficial to discuss the arrangement of how the children from separate households will maintain their relationships. When the couple dissolves their union, all the half- and stepchildren who participated and formed a family may no longer see each other. How does this loss get addressed? How does the separating couple maintain the children’s relationships with each other, never mind the relationship with the extended family? These questions should be addressed by the separating couple in order to prevent an unnecessary and devastating blow to the children. In conclusion, there is a need for more interventions that help to find positive ways of maintaining connections with extended family and stepfamily members. Learning early on how to deal with the feelings associated with connecting with others and then adapting to change is an important life lesson and can be a wonderful guide for a child’s prospective relationships. When handled properly, a child can have a positive outcome during a shift in familial configuration. It is up to the parents to be aware and seek guidance on how to best manage this situation. After all, these outcomes are linked to how the couple handles their separation. • • • Dana Greco, is a licensed clinical social worker and co-author with Don Desroches of Conscious Coupling: Positive Insights for Long Lasting Relationships Shared by Two Divorce Mediators. Learn more

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