Tag Archives: Children

Easing Transitions Between Homes for Children of Divorce

Photo By: Detta Mellema

Photo By: Detta Mellema

I’m thrilled to introduce you all to my new guest columnist, Susan Rutherford, Psy.D. mother of my friend Molly Yarnell Skyar, who is the brainchild behind the blog: Conversations With My Mother. Dr. Rutherford is a wealth of information for parents with a masters degree in psychiatric nursing and a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. I asked Molly and Dr. Rutherford to address the stressful period for divorced parents that I call the holiday hand-off—when one parent must send the kiddos off to celebrate the holidays with their ex. It’s never easy, but there is hope for smoother transitions and less stress for the children who are caught in the middle. And at the end of the day, the best gift for our kids is letting them feel joyous during the holidays. Here’s some expert advice to help us all get there:

NV Question: Holidays can be really hard on children of separated or divorced parents. Many friends comment on how anxious their children get before leaving home to spend the holidays with the other parent. How can parents help lower anxiety for kids during these transitional holiday periods? (Note: many newly separated parents are often still in the divorce process and not officially talking with one another… so direct communication among the separated parents may not be feasible). Even so, what can one parent do to make life easier for a nervous child?

MOM: This is a real big issue every year at holiday time. Partly it depends on how recent the separation or divorce is.  There are a couple of things you can do to help the kids adjust. One is to talk to the child or children ahead of time about what the plans are for them: how long they’re going to be at the other parent’s house, when they are going to come back… Share with them the details of what their lives will look like during this time period.

The other thing is that I think it’s important for the child is to have permission to call the absent parent whenever he or she wants to while at the other parent’s house. This is so that they can keep in contact if they feel they need to.  This may really help to reduce the anxiety for the child.

Another thing you can do is to tell your kid that you know they’re going to have a great time at the other parent’s house and why don’t they remember everything that goes on so that when they come home they can tell you all about it. This helps the child to feel more integrated.

The problem with kids and separated homes is that they feel fragmented. They have a life in the mother’s house and they have a life in the father’s house, but they don’t have a cohesive life. Each parent stays in their own house all the time, so they don’t quite have the same degree of anxieties when their children are absent as the children might about traveling from house to house.

It’s really important that the kids feel that they can talk about anything with each of the parents about what goes on at the other parent’s house. That means each parent has to take a deep breath and be open about it. The most important thing is that they listen and try not to be critical of the other parent.

MOLLY: That’s gotta be super tough especially if the other parent is behaving badly.

MOM: It is, but once you’re critical of your ex-, the child will shut down and stop talking about that parent because they will automatically feel they have to defend the other parent no matter what. The best policy is not to ever criticize your ex-spouse to your kids.

MOLLY: I guess that makes sense especially if you want your kid to talk openly about what’s going on, but I still think that’s gotta be pretty hard sometimes.

MOM: You want to be sure to be empathic to your kid about what goes on at both houses and about how hard it is to go back and forth from one house to the other, especially at holiday time.

Sometimes parents can’t talk to each other about this but they can email each other or text each other with logistics. Like… “This is my plan, this is what I think might work best for Johnny during this time, and I hope that you are on board.” Even if the other parent isn’t on board, if they’re still angry or refuse to cooperate, you can still do the same program for your kid when they are at your house.

MOLLY: Would you want to set up a time every day for the child to call the other parent?

MOM: That actually would be very helpful. It might not work out perfectly in the other person’s house and that’s why it’s good to email and ask the ex- if Johnny can call at 5’oclock, or 6’oclock, or whenever you set it up together. That way the kid can look forward to that time and make regular contact with the other parent.

MOLLY: Should you do that all the time? Not just on the holidays?

MOM: Absolutely you could do that. There might be less need for that when it’s not a holiday but they should do it anyway. Children should have access to both parents all the time. I don’t mean in the middle of the night, of course, but it’s good to work with the ex- to set up a regular time, because the ex- will be busy, too, and has other things to do.

Sometimes kids will get anxious when they go to school and will want to call their parents when they’re at school. The way to deal with that is a similar thing, that the parent should set up a time, (especially if the parent works) that the child can call the parent after school – lets say three-thirty in the afternoon – and then the child can save up everything that happened at school that they want to share with the other parent. The interesting thing about setting up a regular call like that is that it can significantly reduce anxiety levels because the child knows they will have contact with the missing parent at that time.

MOLLY: Would keeping a journal work? Or is that better for older kids?

MOM: I think that would be only for older children. Really, I don’t think the journal is the issue, I think the issue is the contact with the parent. Verbal contact.

This really works well when there’s a regular separation – not just during the holidays, but every week when there’s a change that occurs.

If the kid knows that there’s a time that they can talk to the other parent, their anxiety significantly decreases and over time, the need for it will also decrease.

MOLLY: What if the other parent says, “We’re busy over here, I don’t want our child calling you on my time.”

MOM: Well, then you’ve got a real problem. I’m not quite sure how you would deal with that. It would be very unfortunate although it could easily happen. I know that some separated parents are like that – they want the child to have no contact with the other parent because they themselves don’t want to have contact with the ex-. It is not a healthy thing to do. That is in the interest of the parent, and definitely not in the interest of the child.

MOLLY: Maybe that’s what they could say then: think of our child first.

MOM: Yes. And then it works both ways. That might help the other parent. When the kid is at the your house you make sure he or she can call the ex-, too. It goes both ways.

Doing Too Much For Your Kids?


Do you do too much for your kiddos? I know that I am guilty of this from time to time, but didn’t realize just how much I do that I shouldn’t, until I tried to stop this week. Let me explain. I read an interesting article from EmpoweringParents.com last week entitled “Why Fixing Things For Your Child Does Not Help”. (It’s a great article that I highly recommend.)

In the article Sara Bean, M.Ed. explains why doing even the smallest things for your children, such as picking up their clothes or toys on a regular basis, robs them of the ability to learn how to pick up after themselves. 

“In order for children to learn how to do hard things, you have to let them go through hard times. There is no way to truly master something without experiencing it,” Ms. Bean wrote.

She then outlines other traps well-intentioned parents often fall into, such as writing or typing up homework assignments.

Well, luckily, I’m not doing that just yet. But I decided that I’d no longer pick up the towels on the bathroom floor; clothes thrown in the corner; juice boxes; snack bags; various papers; toys and socks strewn across the den. The first day went well, but during the day, when my boys were in school, I had to keep reminding myself NOT to pick up their items. When I picked up my oldest (who is the worst offender) I had to point out everything left as it was thrown, and force him to pick up, throw away, put in the laundry bin, etc. Boy did he complain!

Four days later, after starting this new campaign, I look around me as I write and see a coat on the couch, a Reese’s wrapper on the floor, a Vitamin Water bottle on a chair, and toys strewn on the floor. It’s an endless endeavor to get kids to pick up after themselves. It’s clearly not an easy fix. My son literally has the knee-jerk reaction to throw things, leave things and not put away anything. But, I’m determined to break him. And, it may just be time to re-introduce the dreaded allowance.

In the meantime, I get to nag more and to point out the messes like a drill Sargeant— but hey, at least it’s good for my child, right?

Can anyone relate?

A Mother’s Legacy: Music and Memories

A rare event: mom playing piano for an audience in 1999.

My mother escaped in her music. I imagine that it held magical qualities for her. It lifted her up out of her life. It gave her a voice when she didn’t allow herself to speak. It gave her eloquence. And it was private. She played at home, preferably alone.

If you’ve ever seen someone play piano by ear, you might have an idea of what I am describing. It’s amazing to hear and watch a person completely transformed while they play. But again, with mom, it was immensely personal and I always knew it was how she communicated best, or worked out her feelings. My mother rarely said she loved you without crying, for instance, so it wasn’t an every-day thing to hear. As her child, you knew she loved you, but she just couldn’t speak it easily. She also rarely talked about intensely personal things. She did so through her songs—most from the Big Band Era. Not only could she play by ear, but she would get into a trance-like state and would free-associate by playing one song with a meaning that led perfectly into another that carried that meaning a bit further until she seemed to come to closure or have had a complete conversation. I so wish I had recorded some of her “sessions.”

When she was going through her divorce and I had taken a bit of time off college to stay with her, I felt privileged to listen to her play. Some evenings after work I would tiptoe into the house if I heard the piano so she wouldn’t stop. She might play for 30 minutes and had no idea I was there. She played dramatically with an emotion that you’d never see her display anywhere else. I could even hear her nails clicking the keys she was moving so fast. I’d sit in my old room upstairs and listen as she played old musicals that might lead into a Tommy Dorsey tune and then surprisingly to a pop melody of Lionel Richie‘s, as long as they held a key element of a similar message. Anything she heard on the radio, she could play perfectly, as she only needed to hold the melody in her head to translate it to the keys. She didn’t like to “perform” and rarely played for others. I was therefore, really shocked when she played piano at my wedding. Every song had “baby” in the title (as I’m the youngest of her four children). I don’t recall all of them, but “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby” and “Take Good Care of My Baby” and Dorsey’s “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” were some of them. I don’t think anyone, outside of family, knew how emotional it was for her to play these songs in front of a crowd and the photographer caught her shy feelings of love perfectly. I was touched beyond words.

As Alzheimer’s grips your loved one, you sit by helplessly as they slip away. When living in London, I flew back each summer between 2005 and 2008 for a few weeks or longer each visit. I’d notice that she had a harder time with the piano by 2007, but would continue to play. Although sometimes, she’d have a harder time with verbal conversation and would still play perfectly. Alzheimer’s is funny that way. By the time I was really going through the ringer with my husband, my mom was in the moderately severe stages. She got easily upset and I hid the fact that I was going through Hell from her. Even though she might not remember specifics the next day, I knew she was a sponge and would absorb my sadness and would worry about me every time my name was mentioned. Somehow that worry would carry over. She might not know why she was worried, or couldn’t remember my soon-to-be ex-husband‘s name, but I only wanted to bring her happiness when I visited. I swore my siblings to go along with me and not talk about my separation with her. Well, in July 2010, I was far from happy. It was incredibly hard to visit and pretend everything was ok. I had my then one and a half year old with me, who was sick a lot and had a hard time sleeping. I was barely 100 lbs from grief. My soon-to-be ex had left me for another woman in September of 2009, less than a year after we had moved back to the States when I was pregnant. He was back and forth with his emotions and his behavior was erratic when he was back from Europe. But at this point, I’d been a single mom for almost a year. I had just dropped the older son with relatives in Tennessee for a camp before coming home. I don’t want to use this blog to post sorted details, but suffice it to say, I’d been through a year with broken promises and many attempts to reconcile, and I was now trying my hardest not to show any of this mess to my fading mother. Southerners can be excellent actresses—and I’m the queen of being able to ‘fake it till you make it’ for the most part—but this was going to take an amazing feat. I pulled it off, remarkably, for most of the week spent on walks with the dog or visits with the neighbors or in her garden. One evening, however, Jamesy just would NOT sleep. He cried most of the night and I was at breaking point. My mom came down the stairs at 3 a.m. to the room where we were. She was having a remarkably lucid moment. The kind of moment that loved ones pray for. For a year I knew I had angels helping me survive and I guess one came on this trip too. As mentioned, I didn’t tell mom anything about what was going on in my personal life. She adored my ex and I didn’t want to give her one more heartbreak. But she saw I had been crying and she calmly took Jamesy’s hand. They walked into the living room and she played this song. It’s not the best performance of hers, but out of her entire repertoire, she chose: “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”  (For those of you who aren’t well-versed in 1930’s Broadway tunes, it was also performed by Judy Garland, Benny Goodman (one of Mom’s favorites) and Louis Armstrong.

I’m convinced that she was trying to help me with Jamesy and send me a message of comfort at the same time. Somehow, she was able to break free from the entangled plaques crippling her mind and play once again. It was a miracle that I caught it on tape as I never seem to have the camera at the right time. I’m so thankful for this moment as I haven’t seen her this lucid again. Happy Mother’s Day, Annie. And yes, I’m finally finding my way to the sunny side of the street. I wish you were here with me, but I know that you are, somehow, in spirit.

Grab Your Zen

SO … I’m just going to start off this post saying that I haven’t always believed that you could just choose to be happy. I mean, when you’re dealt some crappy cards, maybe you can muster a poker face and “fake it till you make it”, but really, how can you just choose to be happy? Well, it might start with baby steps that involve taking care of ourselves. If you’re a single mom who doesn’t get much relief or family help, like I am, it can seem especially hard to do. But really, it can begin with one commitment. Even if you have to force fitting it into your day, do it. You’ll be on your way to seizing your happiness. Here’s what it looks like with me on an especially chaotic day, such as today. (And I’m sure many of you single moms know exactly what kind of day this is.)

6:10 a.m. Three-year-old wakes me up by hitting the cat when crawling in bed, then crying because “I don’t want the sun to come up!” To this I reply, “Ok, so go back to sleep. Pleeeassee.”  “NO!!”

6:20 a.m. – 7:45 a.m. Re-edit and then re-print oldest son’s biggest report of the year, while keeping boys from killing one another as they fight over who gets to pull paper out of the printer. Breakfast, feed cat, feed fish, etc.

7:50 a.m. – 8:15 a.m. Yell at boys to get dressed, brush teeth, change a huge poopy diaper (Is there a potty-training fairy out there??), rush to the car. At school, realize oldest son has report, but doesn’t have violin for practice.

8:15 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. Try to calm down 3-year-old who is now screaming because big brother didn’t kiss him goodbye. Race in to get violin. Get back to car (oh, still wearing jammy top with stretch pants) and smell more poop. Get baby out of car seat, change diaper, yet again, put him back in. More screaming over not being able to buckle the seat, then go to school to deliver violin. Then realize that I owe someone an edit of a big proposal, so we rush back home.

8:30 a.m. – 9:15 a.m. Edit proposal with bullets for changes, send emails to editors, cancel appointment with accountant, wash face, freshen up. As I start to go to the car, remember the f***ing valentines! Go back up with the youngest to put together 15 Buzz Lightyear valentines for his party.

9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Mommy and Me class with youngest. Dance, sing, make valentines crafts, give away valentines … and almost go postal on a special needs child from a different class who hits my son over and over again on the playground. Not one teacher intervened, so after he tried to bang my son’s head into a play structure, I lean in and say, “NO. You don’t hit. You’ve lost your playtime” and walk my son over to the other side of the playground. As I play with Jamesy, I see this kid hit at least 5 more kids and no one stopped him. I’m starting to wonder about their discipline strategies. Go back in for circle time, listen to some younger moms babble about botox and leave early….For me.

11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. I race to take Jamesy to daycare and run like mad to make a community yoga class. While I’m racing to get there, I actually feel a twinge of guilt for taking the time out. But the minute I put my mat down and see my smiling instructor, I instantly know I’ve done the right thing. (Insert wind chime, Hindi music here.) The topic for the class: Choosing Happiness. How marvelous. We smiled through the difficult poses and it seemed a metaphor for my life. Instead of ruminating about a proposal from an attorney, or the surmounting work with demands from the kiddos and my own deadlines, or the fact I haven’t slept-in or had a break in a loong time … I took a time out. For one hour, I sweat, I breathed deeply and tried to hold insane poses. During meditation I focussed on lightness, happiness, and letting anger, stress, anxiety, jealousy and other ego-centric issues holding me down, lift up in a balloon and sail away. Leaving that class I was at peace and ready to race on with the rest of my madness:

1:30 p.m. Pick up oldest from school. Race to the high school for his honors strings performance rehearsal that I’m helping to coordinate.

2 p.m. – 4 p.m. – Assist the strings teacher with all the children, which included kids from five elementary schools, one middle school and the high school. The music is overwhelming. (I’m so proud of my son for making this honor’s orchestra. I found myself in tears at the back of the performance hall—overwhelmed with pride and gratitude.)

4 p.m. – Race with son to find white shoes for his orchestra performance uniform. (It’s harder than you’d think!) Buy more Sudafed for the nagging allergies.

5 p.m. – 8 p.m. Pick up youngest from school. Race home to start dinner and oversee math homework with oldest, while trying to keep youngest entertained. (Oi! Math is getting harder.) Struggle to get meatballs finished before both boys nosh their appetite away. Take picture of 3-year-old eating a huge meatball and send it to my godsend of a friend. Email a Syrian friend and former London classmate of my oldest son’s to see how his family is doing. (Long discussion ensues about Syria, The Middle East, democracy, etc. with oldest son.)

8 p.m. – 9 p.m. Bath, (resulting in water fight soaking all towels and bathroom floor with youngest peeing on oldest…I know…) books, teeth brushed, thankful lists said, and more water, before bed. (Why do kids have to have more water just after they get under their covers??)

9 p.m. – 10 p.m. Gently try to get youngest to fall asleep. (STILL having sleep issues.)

10:15 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. Clean up kitchen, do two loads of laundry, send an editor two pitches as promised, wash face … and … write this.

Why, you might ask, am I venturing to write this when I’m obviously sleep-deprived?? Because it’s a reminder to me (and perhaps to some of you too) that even when you are overwhelmed with responsibilities—take a moment for yourself. Doing so allows you to continue with this lovely chaos that remarkably means the world to your children. It’s essential for our health and mental sanity. It helps us be better parents.

And, over time, it might just help you to believe that you can, in fact, choose happiness. What do you think? Is happiness a choice? Maybe it is something you have to seize. Perhaps happiness is something that us single moms have to realize involves putting ourselves on the mounting To-Do list. We deserve a moment to take care of ourselves because our work is never, really done. I challenge all of you single parents out there to force yourself to take one hour a day, three days a week, for some exercise such as yoga. Get back to me and let me know how it goes. And, for those on a tight budget, check out community classes at your local studio as they’re much cheaper and usually for beginners.

Nameste, y’all.

Happy Holidays Contest!

I’m thrilled to announce my first contest to win fabulous parenting products! And I’m doubly excited as these are really amazing, high-end items from a Baby Brezza baby food processor— to an Evolution Robotics automatic floor cleaner.  I’m SO glad to be able to give back to you all—as this community has given me so much support over the past four months since launching NavigatingVita.

To enter, just subscribe to my blog by midnight December 30th and you’ll be entered to win some amazing prizes! If you are already a subscriber, don’t worry, you are registered. I’ll draw the six winner names on New Year’s Eve. Below is a description of the cool items, all but one, given to me by Dr. Drew’s Lifechanger’s show. Best of luck and Happy Holidays!! xo

NavigatingVita’s Happy Holiday’s Prizes:

Evolution Robotics Mint automatic floor cleaner   (worth $200.00)

timi & leslie Black Charlie II Leather Diaper Bag (worth $159.00)

Baby Brezza Baby Food Maker (worth $100.)

gogo Kidz Travelmate system  (worth $90.00)

Sleepeasy Solution DVD  (worth $24.99)