August 7, 2014

Kane County Divorce: Co-Parenting Strategies

In my practice there are many cases where a co-parenting outcome is not appropriate. Behavioral issues, parenting deficits, or mental health issues require that the fit and healthy parent be awarded the primary custody of the minor children, for the children's own developmental wellbeing. However, in some cases a co-parenting or shared parenting model is appropriate, and I have developed, in consultation with some excellent clinical co-parenting models, some very beneficial shared parenting agreements for parents.

From tiem to time, articles come along that discuss strategies for shared parenting, and Rosalind Sedacca, CCT, recently posted the following article:

" If you’re a parent, divorce doesn’t end your relationship with your former spouse. It only changes the form in some specific ways. It is still essential to create a working relationship focused on the optimum care and concern for your children. Every co-parenting relationship will be unique, affected by your post-divorce family dynamics. However, there are guidelines that will enhance the results for children in any family. Here are some crucial points to keep in mind to maximize your co-parenting success.

Respect your co-parent’s boundaries:

Chances are your former spouse has a different parenting style than you, with some conflicting rules. Rather than stress yourself about these differences, learn to accept that life is never consistent and it may actually be beneficial for your kids to experience other ways of doing things. Step back from micro-managing your co-parent’s life. If the kids aren’t in harm’s way, let go and focus on only the most serious issues before you take a stand.

Create routine co-parent check-ins:

The more co-parents communicate with one another about the children, the less likely for small issues to grow into major problems. Select days/times for phone, email or in-person visits. Discuss in advance visitation transfer agreements. List who’s responsible for what each day, week or month. Food, homework, curfews, health issues, allowances, school transportation, sport activities, play dates, holiday plans and more should be clearly agreed upon, when possible – or scheduled for further discussion. Once you have a clear parenting plan structured – follow it to the best of your ability. But allow for last-minute changes and special “favors” to facilitate cooperation.

Use an online co-parenting scheduling tool to reduce possible conflict due to misunderstandings. These tools also simplify planning and scheduling throughout the year.

Encourage your child’s co-parent relationship:

Regardless of your personal feelings about your ex, your children need a healthy connection with their other parent. Keep snide comments to yourself and don’t discuss your parenting frustrations with your children. Encourage your kids to maintain a caring, respectful relationship with their other parent. Remind them about Mom or Dad’s birthday and holiday gifts. Make time in the weekly schedule for phone calls, cards, email and letters to keep the children’s connection alive when your co-parent is at a distance. Your children will thank you when they grow up.

Be compassionate with your in-laws:

Remember that a Grandparent’s love doesn’t stop after divorce. If your children had a healthy bond with your former spouse’s extended family, don’t punish them by severing that connection. Children thrive on family attachments, holiday get-togethers and traditions they’ve come to love. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins can be a great source of comfort to children during stressful times and a sense of continuity with the past. Dissolving those relationships is hurtful to both your children and the other family. Think long and hard before making such an emotionally damaging decision.

Above all, be flexible. When you allow calls from your co-parent when the kids are in your home, they will be more receptive to your calls when the tables are turned. Remember, you are still a parenting team working on behalf of your children. That commonality should enable you to overlook the thorns in your co-parenting relationship and focus on the flowering buds that are the children you are raising."

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Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is a Divorce & Parenting Coach, founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce?

July 11, 2014

Shared Parenting Challenges and Benefits

My practice centers, in part, on complex custody litigation, sometimes involving psychological issues, addiction issues, domestic violence, and negative parenting behaviors. In some cases, I need to aggressively manage a custody case for my clients to ensure the optimum result for the client and the children. This may mean sole legal custody and restricted visitation for the other parent. In other cases, where the parents are loving, competent, and willing to cooperate, a shared parenting plan can really work out well. I have developed a number of shared parenting models that I can apply to specific family situations. While Illinois custody law does not support presumptive shared parenting (as other states do), if this is good for my client then I am going to be aggressive about creating an optimum shared parenting plan for my clients. Shared parenting can be advantageous for parents and kids, as well as challenging in some respects. The following article from a clinician discusses some of the reasons why:

" As a therapist and writer specializing in divorce, I’m often asked, “When does co-parenting get easier?” While there is no simple answer to this question, most experts probably agree that while families usually adapt to co-parenting over time, it never really gets easier. Most co-parenting arrangements, especially after an acrimonious split, can be exhausting and exasperating. Put simply, the challenges change as children grow and develop. Consequently, it’s key for parents to keep in mind that the tools necessary to succeed need to be modified considerably as children age and mature.

Clearly, research by child development experts demonstrates numerous benefits to children when their living arrangements enable support from both parents. One reason is that parents who co-parent tend to experience lower conflict than those who have sole custody arrangements. Studies show that conflict is what creates the most pain and anguish for children after parents’ split, and that keeping parental disagreements to a minimum is a key aspect of helping kids become resilient.

Co-parenting, at its best, is a wonderful opportunity for children of divorce to have close to equal access to both parents – to feel it is okay to love both of their parents. Dr. Joan Kelly, a renowned psychologist reminds us that the outcomes for children of divorce improve when they have positive bonds with both parents. These include better psychological and behavioral adjustment, and enhanced academic performance.

However, few authors mention that while co-parenting is the best decision for children, it takes two special parents to navigate this arrangement over time. Interacting with each other at drop-offs, making shared decisions, or even speaking to an ex who you’d rather forget can be a challenge.

In order to succeed at co-parenting, it’s wise to be realistic about the difficulties that may arise as your kids go through childhood and adolescence. For instance, it might be hard to differentiate between the impact of your divorce and normal adolescent rebellion.

For instance, my two children spent close to equal time with both myself and their father until they reached adolescence, when they both protested their schedule. When my daughter was thirteen, after her father’s remarriage, she choose to spend most overnights at my home, while her brother started spending more overnights at his father’s house because it was located near most of his friend’s homes. Fortunately, my ex and I agreed that it was in their best interests to revise their schedule. As a result, our kids thrived as they felt their needs were being respected.

There are numerous benefits of co-parenting for kids:

Children will:

Feel a sense of security. Children who maintain a close bond with both parents and are more likely to have higher self-esteem.

Have better psychological adjustment into adulthood. My research shows that adults raised in divorced families report higher self-esteem and fewer trust issues if they had close to equal time with both parents.

Grow up with a healthier template for seeing their parents cooperate. By cooperating with their other parent, you establish a life pattern that they can carry into their future.

Have better problem solving skills. Children and adolescents who witness their parents cooperate are more likely to learn how to effectively resolve problems themselves.

The key to successful co-parenting is to keep the focus on your children – and to maintain a cordial relationship with your ex-spouse. Most importantly, you want your children see that their parents are working together for their well-being. Never use them as messengers because when you ask them to tell their other parent something for you, it can make them feel stuck in the middle. It’s best to communicate directly with your ex and lessen the chances your children will experience loyalty conflicts.

The following are suggestions based on my own experience and advice from experts. First of all, it’s paramount that you gear your parenting plan to the age of your children and that it is consistent. Try to develop routines for them leaving and coming home when they are young. As they reach adolescence, strive to be more flexible and adapt to their changing needs.

Tips to help kids live happily in two homes:

For children under age 10:

Reassure them that they have two parents who love them. If they balk at going to their other parent’s home, you can say something like “Even though mom and dad aren’t married anymore we both still love you and are good parents.”

Maintain a cordial, business-like relationship with your ex so that your children won’t feel intense divided loyalties. It’s important not to express anger at your ex in front of your children so they don’t feel stuck in the middle

Help your kids anticipate changes in their schedule. Planning ahead and helping them pack important possessions can benefit them. However, keep items to a bare minimum. Most parents prefer to have duplicate items for their kids on hand.

Encourage your younger child to adhere to their parenting time schedule – being consistent with their schedule will help your kids feel secure. Younger children often benefit from avoiding frequent shifts between homes.

Show enthusiasm about their visit with their other parent. It’s important to put your differences with your ex aside and to promote your children’s positive bond with them.

For children over age 10 – to young adulthood:

Allow for flexibility in their schedule. At times, teens may have difficulty juggling their busy life with school, extracurricular activities, friends, and jobs if they start working.

Encourage them to spend time with their friends and extended family (on both sides). Avoid giving them the impression that being with their friends is not as important as spending time with you.

Plan activities with them that might include their friends at times – such as sporting events or movies. Encourage opportunities for them to bond with peers at both homes.

Respect your teens need for autonomy and relatedness. Dr. Emery writes, “Teenagers naturally want more freedom, but they also want and need relationships with their parents, through your adolescent may be unwilling to admit this."

Keep in mind that communicating with your former spouse is going to be necessary for the length of your children’s childhood into young adulthood. This may include special events, graduations – and perhaps even weddings. It’s important to keep clear boundaries so that your children wouldn’t harbor fantasies that you will reconcile. For the most part, this means less personal sharing and focusing on exchanging information, cooperation, and make good decisions about your children.

Finally, modeling cooperation and polite behavior set a positive tone for co-parenting. When children are confident of the love of both of their parents, they will adjust more easily to divorce.

Keeping your differences with your ex away from your children will open up opportunities to move beyond divorce in the years to come. Ask yourself this question: how do you want your children to remember you and their childhood when they are adults? "

Do The Struggles Of Co-Parenting Ever End?
By Terry Gaspard, Featured Columnist - July 07, 2014

June 4, 2014

Kane County Divorce: Toxic Narcissists and Divorce

Most people have a general sense of what a narcissistic personality is. We meet these types of people in everyday life, from neighbors, to co-workers, to relatives. However, when narcissistic personalities are involved in divorce and custody cases, I often see a toxicity, a malignancy, to these personality types that affects their ability to function as parents, to function under the stress of litigation, and to function without being abusive or toxic to the other spouse. Narcissists can make false allegations, act as parental alienators with children, and take positions in a divorce case that defy fact and logic. My job as an attorney in these cases is to assess the level of dysfunction, and manage the case appropriately so that my clients and the children, are protected.

So, what are narcissists? Melissa Schenker is a writer and consultant that offers some general background on narcissists. Melissa is the author of "Sweet Relief From the Everyday Narcissist."

Have you heard someone be accused of being a narcissist, but realized that you don't really know what that means? You know it's negative. You may think that it probably means someone is egotistical, or self-absorbed. But how do you really know if someone is a narcissist?

Here are the basics you need to know:

A narcissist is a person with a personality disorder. A personality disorder is when a limited range of certain behaviors are applied to all of life's situations, and the result is unsuccessful long term relationships. Narcissism is not the only personality disorder. Narcissism is part of a few other personality disorders (particularly sociopathy/psychopathy and borderline personality disorder).

There is a specific definition and diagnosis used by the mental health community, but most narcissists are not officially diagnosed. Those of us who live and work with narcissists need to know how to recognize them. For most of us, it's more useful to know the basic patterns of behavior relied on by a narcissist. You can use this list to help discern patterns that likely indicate the presence of narcissism in people you wonder about.

An everyday narcissist relies on these common, basic patterns:

• Initial charm; chameleon like ability to adapt in order to please people
• Quick cementing of personal relationships
• Need for attention: Prefers positive, will provoke negative
• Brings conversations back around to self
• Likes to associate with those s/he (or others) admire or finds useful
• Attempts to control people and situations
• Emotionally not attuned to others
• Lacks emotional self-awareness
• Lacks curiosity about others; is a poor listener, doesn't remember things
• Doesn't handle disagreement well
• Unskilled in navigation of complex social/emotional situations
• Sensitive to feedback; may hear criticism where none is intended
• Blames others when things go wrong, claims credit when things go right
• Makes agreements to please people in the moment, doesn't keep them if the situation changes and it no longer suits him/her, neglects to inform others of change
• Seems to feel superior to others, to disrespect them.

This is not a complete exhaustive list, but it is a useful set of behaviors that are pretty easy to recognize. If you notice these behaviors in a person that matters to you (at work or home) then you probably want to dig a little deeper into narcissism and the other basic personality disorders. Rather than jump to conclusions based on this information, it's wise to keep your hunches to yourself while you do more homework. Never call a narcissist out as a narcissist, and don't spread gossip around your workplace or family -- doing so is likely to backfire on you.

Here are a couple of other facts about narcissism that are important to know:

-- Narcissism in adulthood comes from attachment issues in early childhood. An adult narcissist is a person who did not feel safe separating from their caregiver, and who did not fully individuate. As a result, they are merged, enmeshed, with the people in their adult lives. To a narcissist, you are like that original caretaker and your purpose is to help the narcissist navigate the world, and to help them get what they need. To a narcissist, you exist as part of them, not as a separate being of your own.
-- A narcissist is not aware of having an internal framework of the world that is different from other people. (Most other people are unaware of this too, and so get confused and aggravated when dealing with narcissists.) A narcissist is not purposefully being disrespectful, aggravating or manipulative; s/he doesn't realize the effect s/he has on other people.
-- People can be temporarily narcissistic when under a lot of stress. If the behaviors listed above happen for awhile, but aren't really the person's basic way of being then it could be due to stress or a medical condition.
-- To some extent, these behaviors are developmentally appropriate during the maturation process -- even into the early/mid-20s as a person completes the work of individuation.

It can be relieving to know the source of trouble in a difficult relationship -- recognizing the patterns is a first step toward figuring out how to take care of yourself. It's useful to be aware that you are very limited in your ability to change a narcissist. Change even be elusive when narcissists engage in therapy. Once you recognize the basics, it's helpful to learn more before deciding how to handle the long-term future of the relationship in question. You may react by wanting to flee, but thoughtfulness will serve you. Give yourself the gift of learning and skill building as you consider your options. What you learn can help you in this and all relationships.

January 13, 2010

Who Could Possibly want to Adopt a Child with HIV?

Some of my clients are aware that the funds provided for initial consultations with my firm go into a nonprofit foundation account ( for the benefit of a children's orphanage in Ukraine, among other causes. I am presently coordinating with on an Odessa, Ukraine orphanage project to assist children in the orphanage with HIV.

I saw today, via Twitter, an article that was both inspirational and educational. Aside from helping kids affected by MTCT HIV, it is helpful to understand that with modern care, these kids can be as healthy and "adoptable" as any child, and they deserve a better life than that afforded by the detski dom. Here is the article:

Who Could Possibly Want HIV+ Children?
Feature, HIV + Children — By Lisa on January 12, 2010 at 7:00 am

I wrote an interesting letter yesterday. An orphanage caring for HIV+ children recently partnered with an adoption agency that was happy to work with them and eager to find families for these little ones. But then something changed. The orphanage director began to doubt the interest of the American families. Why would anybody want an HIV+ child? What motive could they possibly have? In the end, the orphanage director concluded that these children were going to be used for “experimental purposes” and would not allow them to be adopted.

I was given the opportunity to write a letter explaining why we had adopted HIV+ children and how they are treated in our family. I also included a photo of my girls with two of their sisters.

As you can imagine, I was glad for the opportunity to help, but I was also very sobered. As challenging as it is to live with the stigma of HIV in American, it pales in comparison with the stigma in much of the world. Children infected with HIV are abandoned to die because their families have no hope for them. Adults refuse to seek medical help for fear of people finding out. They would rather die than be shamed and rejected.

This concern also reflects upon the lack of hope children and adults all over the world experience when they are infected with HIV. The orphanage director could not imagine an abundant, healthy life for the orphans in her care.

So who could possibly want these children? Who would take the time to complete the paperwork, pay the fees, fly halfway around the world, and then spend the rest of their lives committed to this child? I would, and so would an increasing number of adoptive parents. In America there is nothing that can hold these children back from living life to the fullest. There is excellent medical care and nutrition to meet their physical needs. There are families to nurture them, educational options to develop their minds, and limitless opportunities for them.