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Separated - How to Reach Out to Kids?


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#1 of 28 Michael Martin

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Posted December 07 2004 - 01:12 AM

Last week my wife and I separated. It's what we're calling a "structured separation," in that we're going to have joint counseling, the separation is definitely for a limited duration (meaning within a certain amount of time we'll either be reconciled or moving to end the marriage), and I am seeing the children on a regular, consistent basis.

We have two daughters, ages 8 (will turn 9 next month) and 7. Because of work and weekend commitments (my younger daughter takes ballet has in rehearsals on Saturdays and Sundays), my time with them is limited. I'm talking to my wife and the girls on a daily basis; while they ARE expressing their feelings (not pretending to be happpy or OK with things), I'm feeling very clumsy in my attempts to talk to them when I am with them for more than a few minutes.

I'm wondering if anyone here with direct experience (either as a parent or child of divorce)can give me some ideas as far as open-ended, conversation-friendly questions to ask, and maybe give me an idea of how they are experiencing this sad, painful time. I'm not trying to fix or take away their feelings, but I want to do what I can to understand them, give them the freedom and safety to express them, and try and establish healthy communication patterns.

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#2 of 28 Jon_Gregory

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Posted December 07 2004 - 02:53 AM

As a person that grew up in a divorced family, I can give you some type of advice. Your children are at the age where they are trying to find their place in the world. This is going to be one of the most trying times for them. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to spend as much time with them as physically possible. My parents divorced when I was five. My dad stayed around for about one year then moved about 8 hours away. I am now 22 and I see my dad maybe once a year. He has made another life for himself away from me and my younger sister. While he has not done anything terribly wrong, he has just not been there throughout our life and I have never forgiven him for it. Be involved in what they like to do. Try to let them know that there is nothing wrong with their mother. Bitter divorces only make matters worse with children. Whether most parents realize it or not, they use their children to get to the other person alot of the time. Don't ever say anything bad about their mother to them. This will only confuse them more and make matters worse. They will soon find a niche with the separation and learn that this the way things are going to be. If you and your wife get things worked out, that's great, if not, make sure that the children come first with anything you and her decide. It is very important that you are there in their life as much as possible.

Talk to them about their everyday events, what they did at school. Talk to your daughter about her ballet lessons. They are going to want to ask you many questions about you and your wife and they will want some type of explanation. Don't try and lie to them at all. Let them know what is going on. I always wondered what was going on with my mom and dad, but they just kind of kept it to themselves until they had something bad to say about each other.

The biggest advice is to just spend as much time with them, doing some of the normal things that they did before the separation. Think back before the separation and what did you and your daughters talk about? Talk about these things. This will make them and you feel at ease somewhat I think.

#3 of 28 LanieParker

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Posted December 07 2004 - 04:53 AM

I'm sorry that you are going through this hard time. My advice would be to keep the lines of communication open with your children and even though there is tension between you and your wife, keep the lines with her open as well. Spend as much time with your kids as you can and make sure they know that you will always be there for them.

My parents split up when I was in 6th grade. My dad moved away and I hated my mother. The two of them stopped speaking, even to my sister and I and things just fell apart.

Make sure that you and your wife keep things as civil as possible and don't fight in front of the kids.

I'll keep your family in my thoughts.

#4 of 28 Elinor

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Posted December 07 2004 - 05:15 AM

Free advice is worth what it costs. Here's mine.

Stay married. Do it for the kids. Act like adults, don't fight around them, and gut it out until they are eighteen.

It makes me sick to hear of some folks' (not you, just some folks) self-serving attitude that it's "better for the kids" not to see parents unhappy together. That's a crock, IMHO. It's better for the parents who want to go off and find happiness elsewhere. Not for the kids.

What is best for the kids, and what they want, and what they had every right to expect when they were brought into the world, is two parents together raising them. That's what people owe their kids.

So you're going to be unhappy for a few years? ... So what? If parents split, the kids are going to be unhappy much longer. So, is it a matter of "Hey, better them than me" or is it a matter of providing what you owe them as parents?

When they become adults, go ahead and split. Find your bliss. Just don't do it at their expense.

#5 of 28 Erik.Ha

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Posted December 07 2004 - 08:23 AM

I agree with Elinor. If things aren't so bad that the marriage is not OBVIOUSLY over (physical abuse, you're going to kill each other,etc.) then you both have to put your issues aside until they're older. Since you are seperated and seeking counseling, then the issue is not "obvious".

As adults, you two volunteered to be with each other. The kids had no say in the matter.
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#6 of 28 ChristopherG

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Posted December 07 2004 - 01:35 PM

More of what you probably don't want to hear...
I'm gonna have to go along with Elinor and Eric on this. Walking away is the easiest thing in the world for folks to do but you have kids and easy is no longer an acceptable option (abuse issues aside that is). Find a way to compromise in your relationship - I will assume you have tried counseling already, perhaps a different counselor will help - I've been there and know there is a huge difference there that can make or break the success of counseling.

I have convinced myself several times over that I want a divorce in the last ten years (married for 18+) but when I look at my kids (10 and 7) and then look at what I know divorce does to children - I always find a way to try again to work on my marriage. I hope things work out for you and your family.

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#7 of 28 Steve Schaffer

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Posted December 09 2004 - 04:41 PM

As a child of parents who stayed together too long for the sake of the kids I could not disagree more with Elinor, Erik, and Christopher. My parents did not constantly fight or badmouth each other during the time they were staying together for our sake. They thought we were totally unaware there were any problems with their marriage, that we didn't notice the silence between them or the obvious signs that they no longer cared for each other. Staying together for the kid's sake is just plain dishonest, both to the parents and even more so to the kids.

I do agree that couples with children should make more of an effort to stay together than those without, but once it's obvious they are miserable together they are not doing the kids any favors by pretending otherwise.
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#8 of 28 Michael Martin

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Posted December 09 2004 - 04:51 PM

Steve and others, thanks for your post and sympathy. We had our first counseling session last night, and it was unbelievably hard and painful.

Frankly, I'm more than a bit angered by some of the posts here. I didn't ask for parental reminders about what I should or shouldn't do. None of you know the reasons for my separation, and I'm certainly not inclined to post them here. I posted for something specific: experienced viewpoints and suggestions for helping and supporting my daughters. I'm aching and incredibly sad for what my children are experiencing; they didn't ask for this, and they can't fix it.

If you have something useful and on-topic to post, I would be grateful. If you're just interested in finger-pointing and lecturing me, start your own Divorce Is Evil and No One Should Do It thread.

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#9 of 28 TimDoss

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Posted December 10 2004 - 01:20 AM

The hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life was to tell
my seven year old son that I was moving out of the house...
thinking about it four years later will still bring tears to
my eyes.
What I did was immediately start calling him every single
morning before he went to school and every single night before
he went to bed. For four years now, I have rarely missed
either call. And although I wanted to see him as much as
possible, what they need is consistency. Set up a schedule
that you can adhere to... whether that be every other weekend,
every wednesday and thursday nights, or some variation thereof, and stick to it religously. I think that the
consistency is more important than frequency. And I would not
hound him about it, but I asked him frequently if he had
any questions and if he understood what was going on and why.
I tried to explain things in a manner he could understand...
they don't really understand the husband and wife thing, so I
tried to use examples of friends or neighbors that I knew he
would get tired of seeing all the time or get in fights with.
The more he understood the easier it got for both of us.
Another piece of advice... in case things don't get better
for you and your wife... even your temporary living arrangements, get a two bedroom apartment, give your kids
their space. Don't let them think of it as "visiting" dad,
make them think of it as going to their other home.

I'm sorry you have to go through any of this, I definitely
know how hard it is, but you can get through, and children
are very resilient to change if you can help them
understand it and stay in their lives as much as possible.

#10 of 28 John Alvarez

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Posted December 10 2004 - 01:50 AM

I will tell you to stay in touch as much as possible. Let them bring things up in their own way som they don't feel pressured. I have a son 17 and twin girls 16 now and they have their own lives so getting with them is much harder. I'm about to have a baby in March with my new wife and wonder how that will affect my older kids.
Sorry to get off topic. Just be a normal dad like you were.

#11 of 28 Cees Alons

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Posted December 10 2004 - 02:14 AM

Michael,

It's almost impossible not to sound like lecturing if you reply to a question like yours. That may be the reason some people hesitate to answer, like I do too. But I'll take the risk.

But first about those other posters, and sorry, this will sound like lecturing too.

I think it is not only unjustified to be angered but it's highly unfair too. People are giving you advice from the bottom of their hearts and based on their own bitter experiences. Granted, it wasn't the advice you wanted to hear - it may not have been the topic you were asking for. But so what?
They were NOT "fingerpointing and lecturing you or starting a Divorce Is Evil and No One Should Do It thread". They honestly believed they could say something to help you and your family. Perhaps they were more emphasizing you kids health, as they see it with good reasons of their own, instead of your puzzlement. But they tried to be of help. They didn't have to do that!

Please read their posts again, perhaps with a little less pre-occupied and defensive mind. And, again, it's highly unfair to ask ask something and then bitch if people react, but it doesn't come out exactly as you envisaged. If there's something you cannot use: so be it, but don't attack those who believed they could mean something for you.


Michael, I felt I needed to say that, but you were asking how to talk meaningfully to your daughters.

First and most important seems to be: make more time. And take that time from your own (not by having your kid "make time" for you).

Second: try to think what they would like to talk about. Is it ballet? Then study that subject, become a ballet expert so to say Posted Image. That way you can discuss it with her (on her level and what she finds important). Is it possible for you to be present at some of the rehearsals? Fine, you will have a lot to talk when you walk back home.
Of course this specific example may not be applicable, but it's the only subject I can use as an example (the other would be: school). You will be able to find other and perhaps much better topics. Bottom line is: be genuinely interested in their daily life and what they want to talk about.

Third: just be with them. Make more quality time available for them (see 1), and do things together, like reading or playing. It will automatically provide you with stuff to talk about.

Fourth: when they go to sleep is an important time for talks. Children love to ask things when laying in bed being tucked in. It postpones the moment the light goes out and the have to sleep and, also, all sort of things come to their little minds.

Fifth: you don't have to talk with them all the time. Let them play alone or together or with friends. Be present, so they can address you while doing your own thing, they will start the conversation when they're ready for it. At those moments, you just sit there being what they have a right to expect from you: a father.


Cees

#12 of 28 DaveGTP

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Posted December 10 2004 - 08:05 AM

Child of divorced family. I no longer speak to my mother (who was actually the custodial parent) due to her blatant neglect of me and my sister. My sister speaks to her only to get something out of her.


This junk about "stay married for the kids" is a big line of bunk (sorry). Yeah, it works if you have no real issues going on in your marriage. You think it does kids good to see their parents yelling and fighting with each other on a regular basis? You think it does kids good to learn that you should hang onto a marriage/relationship, no matter how unhappy one/both of the parents are? Yeadh, that's healthy. Posted Image Geez.

We don't know the OP's personal situation, and he didn't choose to ask about whether he should seperate from his wife or not.


IMO if you are going to post, address the question and not what question you would prefer to answer.

I think Cees had some very good advice.

Being basically estranged from my mom (and happy with it that way), I would advise you that, most importantly, as they get older, you make sure to maintain your children's faith that you are listening to them, and are truly interested in their interests/beliefs. It soon became apparent when my parents got divorced, even though our mom was the "good parent" when they were together, how much happier and more relaxed my dad was when they were finally apart. It soon became apparent that my mom was merely pretending to care, or only cared when it was convenient for her, whereas my dad actually cared. There's a big difference, and children can see it even more clearly when they have two seperate parents to compare.


I think Cees had good advice about getting knowledgeable about their interests.


A good every-other-weekend parent can be better than an iffy or bad every-day parent. It's the quality that counts, not the quantity. If your wife is a very excellent parent, then it might be harder for you.

Make time to go to some of their school activities. Remember when you get busy that some things are more important than others, and make the sacrifices to get time off to get time with your kids, and to participate in their lives. (I understand being busy...work fulltime/school fulltime). Prioritize what is important and what is not. Remember, you can't do it again.
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#13 of 28 Elinor

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Posted December 10 2004 - 08:30 AM

>"You think it does kids good to see their parents yelling and fighting with each other on a regular basis? You think it does kids good to learn that you should hang onto a marriage/relationship, no matter how unhappy one/both of the parents are? Yeadh, that's healthy."

I said that the parents shouldn't fight in front of the kids. As adults, they have the choice in how to behave. If they can't control their behavior, then they need counseling. Badly.

Yes, I think it does kids good to see parents who stay together and work things out. It teaches them COMMITMENT.

People think that they'll just emphasize to the kids that they are the most important thing, and that mommy and daddy love them most of all. That's what their words say. Their actions say, their own (parents) happiness is what's important, and they love themselves most. And that's what they believe (and it's what's true).

It's hardly junk theory. Anyone with any degree of knowledge about human psychology understands that divorce is hideously damaging to children.

I would say your own overwhelming hostility and usresolved issues with your family are some evidence of the damage that divorce does.

To the OP, who was saying something about some of the responders being anti-divorce, I believe I made it clear that my position is that divorce is just a lovely idea after the kids are 18 or so. I'm not anti-divorce. I'm anti-selfish-parents-messing-up-their-kids.

#14 of 28 DaveGTP

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Posted December 10 2004 - 08:58 AM

I'm not going to respond on the topic of whether parents should get divorced or not anymore, and perhaps I shouldn't have said anything. It's offtopic, and not what the OP is looking for. My aplogies for helping to lead the thread offtopic.
Matheson- "There are probably some who'll say that by doing this, we are interfering with their culture."

Gideon - "Probably. Screw them."
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#15 of 28 Steve Schaffer

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Posted December 12 2004 - 11:53 AM

I won't go into all the details of my experience as a kid whose folks divorced, it was a long time ago and it was a very complicated situation. In retrospect I can see a lot of things were going on that I was not aware of at the time, so my view is much different now than it was at the time.

Lots of mistakes were made, I did lose touch with my mom (she was not the custodial parent) and to a large extent that was as much my fault as anyone else's (I was 16 at the time of the divorce).

The one aspect of behavior on the part of my parents that I will remember forever (I'm 54 now) is that my dad never ever had a bad word to say about my mom throughout the entire period, and with the knowledge I have now I know it would have been very easy for this not to have been the case.

I also have some past experience as a step-dad in that my first wife had 2 children from her first marriage and was the custodial parent. One of the things I remember best about that whole situation was the fact that she and her ex never ever had a bad word to say about the other in the presence of the kids. Their dad couldn't always take them on "his weekend" but lived very close by and often saw them at other times, and talked on the phone with them often. He was always welcome in our home, and I actually came to think of him as a sort of "brother in law". He always had an interest in their activities in school and such and involved them in projects at his house. The kids benefitted very much from the fact that they knew they could contact him any time, and did not have to rigidly stick to visitation rules or the like.
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#16 of 28 Ted Lee

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Posted December 12 2004 - 02:15 PM

Quote:
Stay married. Do it for the kids. Act like adults, don't fight around them, and gut it out until they are eighteen.
bad idea. that's all i'll say on that.

---

it sounds like you're already doing the right thing michael. you're clearly aware that it's important to consider the kids and *their* feelings.

there's some good advice already given. i really like the concepts of routine and open communication -- but i think sometimes we make this thing harder then it needs to be.

simply put ... just be the same dad you've always been. love your kids, be with them, spend time with them, laugh at their jokes, take an interest in their lives, teach them right from wrong, give them a hug once in a while, etc.

your life with your wife may (or may not) be over...but does that really change anything about the kids?

good luck with everything bro...

Posted Image
 

#17 of 28 Chu Gai

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Posted December 12 2004 - 06:15 PM

I only want to add one thing to this discussion and it comes from having several friends whose parents were divorced (male and female) of both of my sons over during the time that they were much younger. Some kids were happier while others were not but all of them noted, when they became older and I guess felt more comfortable or able to talk about it, is that to various degrees they were able to play one parent against the other in order to get certain things. These things might be money, clothes, gifts, a 'looking of the other way' at things, and so forth. Whether the parents were too ignorant to realize this or whether they were looking to one-up the other parent, I don't know. Parents need to be able to set firm limits for their children and practice, where necessary, tough love and that means no is no. So I just think that one of the things you want to keep in mind is the potentially manipulative nature of children. In a separation, where the communication between both parents is strained to the utmost and in fact, often deteriorates, its also important to keep the lines of communication going with your wife or ex-wife so that you can steer your children correctly. You'll have to talk and support her decisions and she, yours. If you find that she's being overly permissive despite everything, then IMO you should not look to outdo here but rather be the parent with the more level and sensible head. A child or even a young adult playing in an overly large sandbox or forest can easily get lost. Help them find their way.

#18 of 28 John Alvarez

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Posted December 13 2004 - 04:11 AM

Quote:
If you find that she's being overly permissive despite everything, then IMO you should not look to outdo here but rather be the parent with the more level and sensible head

Unfortunatly it this has caused a seperation with my children. At their ages you can't force visitation on them. It doesn't help that their mom bad mouthes me too...Posted Image

#19 of 28 Michael Martin

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Posted December 14 2004 - 12:57 AM

I've been on a business trip, as well as just seeing how the thread develops.

I wholeheartedly agree that the parents should strive to present a united, supportive front to the children. It not only makes parenting easier, it's emotionally healthier for the kids. Children should never be the people parents vent to about each other.

Cees, I appreciate your whole post. Some of my anger was the result of hearing some of the same things from my own family - instead of asking if I needed help or how the kids were doing, they immediately went into comdemnation mode (and they know precious little more than what I've posted here). Right now my patience for people who want to preach at me without knowing any circumstances is pretty thin. And while I do appreciate their sentiment - sacrifice and maturity - it's presumptive that simple mantras can cure or act as crutches for a bad situation.

My older daughter has moved from sadness to anger; noth that she's done expressing her sadness, but she's being open about being angry that I'm not there. I can easily say that talking to my daughters during this time has been heartbreaking, and it's been very, very difficult not to immediately move back home. Except that won't solve what's brought my wife and me to this point, and without hope, trust, and some kind of plan, we'll be back to where we were before separating.

The tough thing is that right now I don't have a home that's mine, so getting time together is a bit tough. I pick them up two days a week to take them to school, and my wife has agreed to let me come over twice a week to put them to bed (something I always did when I lived there). Weekends will be crazy until January, due to some extracurricular activities my daughters are in and they are traveling the week before Christmas.

Someone above talked about just having "hanging out" time; when possible, I am trying to do that. One thing I am workig to avoid is being the "fun" parent, where time with me is just playing activities. I try to make the time with the girls as natural and organic as possible; sometimes we see a movie, sometimes we play a card or board game, and sometimes we hang out at the house, reading or napping and just being near each other.

"You know, God has some really weird kids, and I find it hard to be in their company most of the time."
--Paul "Bono" Hewson

#20 of 28 Matt Butler

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Posted December 14 2004 - 03:53 AM

Michael,
I dont have anything productive to say other than I agree with the notion that staying together for the kids is a bad idea. I cant speak from experience but I have heard stories.

Sorry to hear about the situation. Good luck and I hope things work out for the best.
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