3 Priceless (Yet Practical!) Tips For Co-Parenting After Divorce

Here’s some parenting advice for whatever stage of separation or divorce you’re in.

Raising kids is a huge job made even trickier when dealing with separation and divorce. Although there are no easy answers, here is my best parenting advice for rising to the challenge. This may seem like an odd question, but how many times have you heard a flight attendant say the following?

“In case there is a loss in cabin pressure, yellow oxygen masks will deploy from the ceiling compartment located above you. To secure, pull the mask towards you, secure the elastic strap to your head, and fasten it so it covers your mouth and nose. Breathe normally. Even if the bag does not inflate, please keep in mind that oxygen is flowing. Please make sure to secure your own mask before assisting others.”

You hear it every single time you fly. No exceptions.

I think that getting divorced and a sudden loss of cabin pressure during flight have a lot in common. They’re both scary and you need to take care of yourself first. Unless you’re able to think clearly and take action when it’s needed, you won’t do anyone else any good. And, believe it or not, taking care of yourself is always my first piece of parenting advice for someone going through separation or divorce. No exceptions.

Just in case you might not agree that taking care of you is mandatory for being able to take care of your kids, let’s be frank about the realities of being a single parent. Regardless of the stage of your separation or divorce, when you are a single parent, parenting has an entirely different intensity to it. When your kids are with you, you get to assume the immediate roles of both mom and dad. You’re now 100% responsible for your kids’ education, entertainment, well-being and discipline. There’s no passing off issues to your spouse with a casual “Ask your Mom” or “Ask your Dad.” You’re it—all the time—24/7.

Another reality of being a single parent is the need to get really comfortable with the idea that you’ll have less control over the kids when they’re with their other parent. Yup, that means that if their other parent decides to feed them more junk food than you’d like or let them watch movies you don’t approve of or even introduce a new sweetie to the kids there might be little you can do about it.

More reality: It’s unlikely that your ex will suddenly change their parenting style or capabilities. A client of mine is a great parent and was the one the kids always went to for help and support before the separation and divorce. Now that the divorce is final, my client is still the one the kids go to, but now she’s frustrated by her ex’s lack of parenting skills. She’s admitted there was a part of her that was secretly hoping their father would suddenly become a great parent. Intellectually, she gets that he’s not going to change. We’ve been working on her unrealistic expectations and she’s making great strides in letting her secret hope go. Every step she takes toward fully accepting that the divorce won’t make him a better parent, she reclaims more energy to channel into being a better parent herself and to move even faster past the pain of her divorce and into her new life.

Being a single parent can be a big change from the parenting you did with your ex. Put this added responsibility on top of all the changes you’re going through with just the divorce and I hope you’re now in agreement with me when I give you my first piece of parenting advice: Take care of you first. No exceptions.

My second piece of parenting advice is that you need to establish an effective co-parenting base. To do this, you and your ex need to create a workable co-parenting agreement that puts the needs and welfare of the kids first.

If you’re one of the lucky ones you and your ex were great parents. It was just your relationship that didn’t work out. What I see for my clients in this situation is that they can often have an easier time co-parenting than others. However, if your divorce is contentious, then it may change a great parenting partnership into using the kids as weapons during the divorce proceedings and beyond.

If your parenting relationship with your kids’ other parent isn’t ideal, here is some parenting advice to get a more effective co-parenting base in place.

As part of your divorce agreement, you’ll most likely create a parenting plan. Ideally, you and your ex will both approach the parenting plan from what’s best for the kids and not what’s best for you. Raising happy, healthy kids that can be happy, healthy, contributing adults is the goal of every parent I know—including me. If you’re able to keep this goal in mind as you work with your ex and the attorneys to develop your parenting plan, you’ll be taking a huge step toward helping your kids’ become happy, healthy, contributing adults.

The other main piece of a solid base for co-parenting is establishing workable communication rules. Even in the midst of the worst, most contentious divorce, if you establish communication rules for co-parenting you’ll be effective co-parents. For instance, you might choose to text for everyday communications about the kids because talking on the phone just isn’t working right now. You might save phone calls for emergency situations and have a special code word you use when you do call to indicate that it is an emergency. 

My third piece of parenting advice works best if the first two pieces are in place. My suggestion is that you keep in mind that the divorce is happening to the kids too. They need your support and compassion without using the divorce as an excuse for poor behavior on either their part or yours.

For most kids, it’s important that you and your ex tell them together about your separation and divorce before it happens. Your kids will have questions and fears that you’ll both want to deal with as honestly and openly as is appropriate. You’ll both want to assure them that they’re still loved. It’s O.K. to let them see you cry and that you’re sad about the situation too. By letting them see your emotions you give them more freedom to express their sadness and fear about how their life will be changing too.

Kids go through grief and need to recover from divorce, too. In fact, your kids might need a support team to help them get through all the changes. You’ll want to let their teachers and school know what’s going on. You’ll probably also want to let their coaches, tutors, and anyone else who sees the kids regularly know what’s going on. That way you can help provide direction on how you’d like for them to support your kids as they go through this major transition. It’s also fairly common for parents to seek out a divorce support group for children or even a therapist to help their children process all that’s happening.

When your kids travel between your home and their other parent’s home, there’s a big transition that they go through. In most cases, each home has their own rules, different sets of toys, different clothes, different responsibilities and different relationships with each parent. It’s hard for kids to immediately shift from one home to the other. Being compassionate, patient, and firm will go a long way toward helping make the transitions a bit easier.

Despite everything that’s going on with the divorce, your kids still need to have set routines and structure that teach responsibility. Obviously, make these routines and structure age and developmental stage appropriate. A mistake that I see many parents make is having the children take on the chores and household responsibilities of their ex. All this does is makes your children even more resentful of the divorce, you and your ex.

Unfortunately, many divorcing parents will naturally skip over my first two pieces of advice and only focus on their kids. This can be a recipe for disaster.

If a parent doesn’t take care of themselves first and get the support they need to work through their divorce, it’s very easy for them to use their children as substitutes for adult friends and confidantes. I know of one man who made this mistake with his daughter. At the time, his daughter felt wonderful about the close relationship she had with her dad. But after a while she became stressed out from taking care of him. She made a poor decision and turned to drugs to help her cope. Of course she didn’t know that at the time, but after years of therapy, she was able to recognize what had happened and re-establish a relationship with her dad.

If parents don’t take the time to establish an effective co-parenting base, the kids can have an extreme reaction to leaving one home for the other. I know of one case where a little boy began having hysterics every time it was time for him to switch homes. Each of his parents would regularly grill him about what was going on in the other’s home. They were also only able to allow their son to go from one home to another by parking in a public place like a McDonald’s. They’d load him up with everything he needed to take with him and let him walk alone across the parking lot to his other parent’s car. Is it any wonder this little boy got upset when it was time to switch homes?

I hope you’ll put all three of these pieces of parenting advice into practice because taken together they can help you more easily achieve your goal of raising happy, healthy kids that grow up into happy, healthy, contributing adults despite the fact that you’re going through separation and divorce.

Your Functional Divorce Assignment:

What do you need to do to take better care of yourself as you’re going through separation and divorce? Many people don’t realize how helpful it can be to have a support team help you get through your divorce. You might want to read “Finding the Right Divorce Experts for You” to give you some ideas of the help that’s out there.

How can you create a more effective co-parenting base? Is your parenting plan based on your needs or your kids’ needs? Have you established workable communication rules? If not, now’s the time to make some changes.

How can you be a more supportive and compassionate parent while not using the divorce as an excuse? Do each of your children have appropriate chores and responsibilities? Are you spending quality 1:1 time with each of your children?

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly adviceIf you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

This article originally appeared on YourTango.

Rediscovering You After Divorce

After divorce gift wrapped in brown paper and tied with a pink ribbon.

Despite stress, confusion and misery. There’s a gift in divorce if you look for it.

Have you heard the story of the frog in the pot? In case you haven’t, it goes something like this. Imagine you took one of your old pots down to your local pond on a frog hunt. Your goal is to capture a frog along with some of the pond in your pot and bring your prizes back home. After sloshing through the muck for a while, you hear a ribbit off to your right. You slog your way as quietly as you can toward the sound and there it is the source of the ribbit — a huge frog! You slowly sneak up on the warty warbling beast and capture him, his lily pad and a bunch of pond water in your old pot.

Covered with a bit of pond scum, you make your way back home with your prize. When you walk in your front door, you make your way to the kitchen where you put the pot containing the frog, lily pad and pond water on the stove and turn the burner on low. Almost immediately, the frog is contentedly ribbiting away. You head off to change your clothes and check your e-mail. After a while you notice that the frog has stopped its singing.  You walk back to the kitchen and find frog soup boiling away on the stove. Why didn’t the frog jump out of the pot?! It turns out that the water temperature was changing so slowly that the frog didn’t notice that it was becoming soup.

The same thing happens to you and me when changes are small and gradual. We don’t notice that they’re happening. For many people in a relationship that ends in divorce, that’s exactly what happened to them. They started off their partnership with all kinds of joy and the hope of living happily ever after; but over time, things changed and not for the better. Usually these changes are made to keep the peace or for the kids or to keep from rocking the boat. But the truth is, when you make changes for these reasons, you’re really giving up a part of yourself. You’re giving up who you really are.

And this is what I want you to understand. I want you to recognize that along with all the stress, confusion and misery of divorce there just might be a gift for you. The gift is having the time and space to rediscover the bits and pieces of yourself that you gave up for the sake of the marriage. The bits and pieces may be big or they may be small, either way, they’re important.

For example, I know of a woman who gave up garlic for her partner who was allergic to it. Now giving up garlic might seem like a small thing, but this woman loves Italian food and for years she made Italian meals without garlic. When they split, one of the first things she was able to rediscover about herself was her absolute love of cooking and eating garlic-laden Italian food at home.

I gave up something bigger than garlic for the sake of my first marriage. I gave up on my need for a relationship with my husband. Over the years we stopped having meaningful conversations and doing things together. I tried to figure out ways to change things, but wasn’t successful. So I accepted it and pretended that being roommates who had a joint checking account and occasionally had sex was enough for me. After living like this for a few years I finally realized that it wasn’t enough and that I missed the part of me who enjoyed having a real relationship. That was when my ex-husband and I began talking about getting divorced. We divorced about a year later.

I don’t know what bits and pieces of yourself you gave up for the sake of your marriage, but I’m pretty sure you’ve given up something that you just might be happy to find again now after divorce. Unlike the frog that became soup, you can rediscover the bits and pieces of you—the real you—that you slowly changed and gave up for the marriage. Now, you get to be wholly, completely and wonderfully you again.

Your Functional Divorce Assignment:

What do you know you gave up for the sake of the marriage? What would you be glad to have back in your life again? What could you do today to start to get it back?

You might have given up something so long ago that you’ve forgotten what it was. No worries! Just take a few minutes and think about some of the things you enjoyed as a kid. Anything you’d like to try again now? Take another few minutes and think about the things you enjoyed doing before you got married. What would you like to try again now? How can you start to get more of these enjoyable things in your life?

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach.

 This article originally appeared on YourTango.

How To Deal With Loneliness Of Divorce

Lonely woman who wants to know how to deal with loneliness.

Your divorce will probably be one of the most intense emotional experiences you’ll ever face. It sure was for me. I had all these powerful emotions hit me one after another, often in a confusing and frightening way.

Sound familiar?

The world of divorce can feel like a tornado has come through your life and wiped away all that was familiar and safe. I thought of it as being tied up, blind-folded and stuffed into the front seat of a runaway roller coaster. I never knew when I was going to be slammed to the left or right by a sharp turn and I dreaded any slow upward movement because I knew that at some point I would drop down into depths I couldn’t imagine or be thrown into a loop-de-loop or even be caught up in a corkscrew.

I’ll be honest with you. There were times back then when I thought I might be going insane.

What I’ve found out since my divorce in 2002 is that the emotions of divorce are intense and change rapidly for most people. These emotions often include denial, fear, hope, anger, loss, guilt, confusion, rejection and loneliness.

I think the loneliness was the hardest for me and that’s why I’ve developed some very specific strategies for how to deal with loneliness of divorce. Below are the top two strategies that work best with my clients and I’m hoping you’ll find them helpful too.

My 3 Strategies For How To Deal With Loneliness During The Divorce Process

First, I know this is going to sound simple, but sometimes the best solutions are really simple. It’s easy to think that your grief and loneliness are so profound that they must need a complex answer to help soothe them. But the truth is, simple is often best because you can apply these solutions again and again and again.

And believe me, it can be a saving grace to know that progress is being made, even if it feels like the loneliness is still there. If you can remember to apply these techniques every time you struggle, it will be much easier to not feel disappointed that you’re not fully over your ex. Because getting over the past takes time. That’s just the reality of grief and loss. So let’s begin…

Solution #1: Hugs

One of the easiest things to do to help yourself when you’re feeling sad and lonely is to give yourself a hug. And yes, I do mean wrapping your arms around your chest, placing your hands just below your shoulder joints and squeezing. Hold this hug for a bit and after a while you’ll notice that you’re taking deeper breaths. Continue until you sigh and you can start to feel the tension, loneliness and pain leaving your body and being replaced by a sense of feeling supported and loved.

There’s something especially comforting about hugs. I used to think that the only good kinds of hugs were from others, either human or animal, but I’ve found that hugging body pillows and especially hugging myself can have fabulously calming and comforting results too.

Solution #2: Talking it out to find perspective

One of the most powerful techniques for how to heal from a divorce or breakup is to talk about what’s going on inside of you. And I don’t mean that you have to hire a therapist or coach (although they do serve their place), here I’m speaking about the power of talking to a trusted friend or loved one who is open to hearing you share. By talking about your feelings, you can release their hold on you. Memories are incredibly powerful and by keeping your thoughts locked away, you don’t get a chance to have a cathartic release which is meaningful in gaining perspective.

Let’s face it, sometimes, the feelings inside are not 100% real. Sure you feel lonely. Sure you miss your ex. And yes, you will mourn the future you’ll never have together. But if those memories or thoughts are locked inside, the only dose of reality on them is colored by your feelings. This can cause memories to be skewed or altered to fill some longing you have about your ex or the time you spent together.

When you share your feelings with someone you trust, you have the opportunity to hear back another person’s perspective on the event. Over time, you may find, as I did, that my memories were not always accurate. Often in moments of deep loneliness, I would forget mean things he said or ways he negated my feelings or ignored my needs. My loneliness told me to be sad that he was gone, but when I shared with my friend and she recalled her experience of my ex I could start to see a more realistic accounting of my him and our story.  In fact, he wasn’t the dreamboat I recalled.

My feelings of loneliness, of being abandoned, my fear that I would never find love again or that I was doomed to die alone, husbandless and lonely, had a direct effect on the stories I recalled in my mind when I was sad.

Talking with someone you trust (especially someone who was in your life when you were married) can be an exceptionally good way to hold a realistic mirror up and look back on the truth. Not the filtered truth, the WHOLE truth.  And that can help you in moments when you’re feeling the most lost and lonely to keep it in perspective. Because you’re not really missing him, you’re missing the fairy tale version of him and that’s important to remember.

Solution #3: Acceptance

The only way to get through the loneliness is to accept that it’s a natural part of the healing process of divorce. Your life is changing in a pretty dramatic way and it’s OK to feel lonely when the spouse you shared your life with isn’t a daily part of it any more.

Acceptance means believing in your heart, mind and soul that the end is here. You can’t go back, you can only move forward. Part of that journey ahead means addressing your feelings, they are on this path with you. You can’t ignore your emotions, they have a funny way of making themselves known even if you don’t want to acknowledge them.

So here, in the world of accepting the truth about what happened means letting your emotions come up and greeting them when they arrive. If you’re sad, feel it. If you’re mad, let that in too. If you’re jealous or worried those too have a place in the healing process. And if you want to learn how to get past feeling lonely, you have to first feel your loneliness and then you can begin to interpret what it really means.

Acceptance is one of those things that can usually be helped by solution #2. In addition to talking with people who love you (like your friends and adult family members) it can also be quite wise to talk with people who are also dealing with divorce like those in a divorce support group, people who have successfully healed from divorce themselves and as you need it, a professional like a divorce therapist, a clergy member or a divorce coach. Each person on this list can help you gain both perspective and wisdom about what your future healing process holds

Here I’m being very specific about the people who are typically great at helping because I have seen firsthand the mistakes people make when they try to rely on people for counsel who are not vested in your healing.

Strategies That Are NOT Effective For Dealing With Loneliness

Unfortunately, many people think that the way to deal with their loneliness is to seek another relationship. This can have tragic results. When you enter into another relationship before allowing yourself to heal completely and become a whole person again, you run the risk of getting into a relationship with someone who is just like your ex or someone who is the exact opposite. Usually, this doesn’t work out so well and I can tell you from personal experience that breaking up with a new boyfriend before you’ve healed from your divorce can feel especially devastating. (I felt like a double loser when it happened to me.)

Even worse, people sometimes deal with the loneliness of their divorce by talking with their kids about it. They’ll tell the kids their fears under the guise of being honest, but the truth is they just need someone to talk to and the kids are an easy audience. Kids aren’t cut out to be an adult friend to either one of their parents during divorce and the long-term effects on both the kids and the parent-child relationship are just too costly. Believe me, it’s worth finding someone else to talk with.

Loneliness is a normal part of divorce recovery. If you’re ready to stop fighting this and embrace it as part of the natural progression everyone must go through, I have your assignment to help get through your loneliness quickly.

Your Assignment For How To Deal With Loneliness:

Give yourself a hug right now. I’m serious. Go ahead and try it right now. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how good it feels. Be sure and continue hugging yourself until you sigh – that’s how you’ll know you’re allowing yourself to relax and be comforted. (It’s OK if you start to cry on your way to sighing.)

Are you relying on the right person or people to talk to? Think about who you have been relying on to support you through your loneliness as well as the other emotional upheavals you’re experiencing? Are these people serving your needs? Are they helping? Hurting? Asking the right questions? Making you feel overall better or worse after you talk to them? Based on the suggestions above, can you say that you’re relying on the appropriate people to support you? Do you need to look for another way to get the support you need?

And I want you to know you don’t have to continue going through this alone. I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor, and I know what you’re going through because I’ve been through it too. I specialize in helping people heal from divorce and breakups and get on with their lives. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

Here are two more articles to help you cope with loneliness:

Healing From Divorce: Overcoming Your Loneliness

How You Can Break Through The Soul-Crusting Loneliness Of Divorce