Adolescence, Teens and Divorce: How to Get Through — Part One

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Question: I am the parent of teenagers. Their father and I are beginning the divorce process. Everyone’s emotions are running high in the house. How do I know if my kids’ reactions are due to the divorce or to normal adolescence? What can I do to prevent the adverse effects of the divorce on my children?

Response: Parenting a teen can be challenging even in the best of times. It’s a harder task during a divorce.  Twenty percent of teens do not fully recover from their parents’ divorce without emotional scars. Of that twenty percent, about one third continue to struggle 5 years post-divorce. So what can parents do to help get their teens through two of the most challenging transitions in their life: divorce and adolescence?

Adolescent years are about development and growth. Physical, emotional and behavioral changes all occur at a time when the demands of school, family and community may be simultaneously “ramped up.” Add to the mix, family transitions and structural changes that accompany a divorce, and that’s a pressure cooker.

Adolescence is a time of “identity formation.” Teens want to become independent, separating themselves from others including their own family. For most teens, this is a powerful urge driving them toward maturity. Sometimes, however, teens engage in “at-risk” behaviors while not fully understanding the social, emotional or legal consequences of such behaviors.

Teens living with two parents, who set rules and boundaries in the home, see their parents as role models. During a divorce a teen may begin to distrust his knowledge of relationships, love, and security. They may begin to distrust their parents as role models. This can become a very confusing, frustrating and depressing experience.

When divorce occurs during adolescence, the teen may see one parent leave the home and the teen may feel abandoned. Others experience the parent’s departure as a reason to mature since both parents are no longer around to take care of him/her.

Some teens feel worried or anxious about the stability of the family after the divorce. The teen may feel obligated to take charge of the household and assume adult responsibilities, especially if there are younger siblings or the teen becomes the caretaker for an abandoned parent or a parent suffering from addiction or depression.

These teens become “parentified” and become overburdened with emotional and/or physical responsibilities which he/she is not capable of handling. These teens miss out on appropriate developmental experiences like hanging out with friends, dating, sports involvement or maintaining a part-time job.

Divorce can make a teen feel like the “rug he has been pulled out from underneath.” The values of “family” and “stability” have changed. The lack of “parent-promised” security can prompt feelings such as depression, anger, tears, anxiety or frustration and risk-taking behaviors such as sexual promiscuity, vulnerability to domestic violence and delinquency. If any of these behaviors arise, the teen may benefit from professional counseling.

Parents can take proactive steps to promote positive youth development and teen resiliency by encouraging and building upon the teen’s innate emotional and physical strengths. Both parents should remain involved in the teen’s daily activities, interests and school if appropriate. Consistent and frequent contact with both parents is important as long as it is safe.

 Parents who work together for the benefit of their children can help a teen recover from the divorce. Parents can use the services of a mediator, an advocate, attorneys or each other to develop a carefully constructed, “teen-friendly” parenting schedule that provides for predictable opportunities for the teen to be cared for by both parents. The parents must consider the teen’s personality, her developmental stage as well as extra-curricular activities and responsibilities for the teen to maintain during and after the divorce.

Parents should be mindful of their own household rules and behavioral expectations for the teen. Consistency between the parents in the areas of boundary setting and parenting style can be comforting to some teens. A social life separate from family is also important to a teen and helps with development.  A healthy and safe social life can help a teen to judge character in others and seek out positive role models. Parents should permit their teens to have a balance between time with friends and time with family

 It is important for parents to remember that their role before, during and after the divorce requires setting structure and respectful limits for their teens in order for the young person to experience the best outcome possible after the divorce.

• • •

Jenny Psaki, licensed master social worker, mediator, parenting coordinator, and STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) educator.

The Search for Mr. or Ms. Right: The Unspoken Realities of Marriage

Wedding 520 pxWith Valentine’s Day right around the corner, love is in the air. Lots of couples will get engaged, so sure that each has found his or her “one true love” and forever soul mate.

But what happens after we snag the “Prince or Princess,” get the beautiful ring, plan the very expensive “fairytale” wedding and jet off to a beautiful locale for a honeymoon? Real life sets in. Suddenly, the person you thought was “Prince or Princess Charming” is leaving crumbs all over the counter, dishes in the sink and wet towels on the bed. What happens to marriage when the dust settles after the enchanted wedding? How do we learn “to do marriage”?

A new installment of The Bachelor premiered and my 12-year-old daughter and her friends are all talking about it. Recently, they’ve developed an interest in romantic comedies. This show is yet another that entertains certain ideas about romance. Twenty-five women are vying for the affections of Bachelor Neil. These women hope that after a mere 2 months, they will fall madly in love and be chosen to become engaged. I watched it with my daughter completely horrified. When the show first aired, I watched it and enjoyed the fantasy. But now that I have an impressionable daughter, the notion of twenty-five young women competing for the affection of one man they just met is not something that I want her to witness.

Reality shows and romantic comedies can be a beautiful escape, but how do we separate fantasy from reality for our kids? There seems to be more bombarding messages about the fantasy like the perfect somebody as the other piece of your heart lifted from Snow White. More messaging exists about your actual wedding day and how to be the “perfect bride” rather than resources on how to be a good partner.

Why aren’t we talking about what happens after the wedding? The hard work that comes with marriage, the compromise, the communication, and what the reality is like when the honeymoon ends? We are taught many subjects in school, but not about love and communication and the dynamics of being part of a family.

Last week I was in a nail salon and overheard a bunch of young women talking about one woman’s upcoming wedding day. They discussed the details of the day: the dress, the food, the music, and the big decision over hair style. It all sounded lovely but I couldn’t help but wonder if they had any idea about the essence of a marriage beyond the fun of the magical day. It begs the question: is this something that we can only learn on the job?

As we contemplate love on Valentine’s Day, here are nine rules about marriage to consider.

  1. Marriage is forever. It may not be, but to endure the relationship deserves the biggest commitment. Prioritizing the important part of the relationship and letting go of the little things that used to be endearing and are now downright annoying takes practice. Feelings of forever may seem overwhelming.
  2. Marriage takes work. You can’t get married without a commitment to working at it. Marriage takes sacrifice, compromise, and constant examination of yourself and your spouse. Being complacent can cause the relationship to falter.
  3. You will not always see eye to eye. You will not always agree and don’t expect to get your way all of the time. Marriage requires compromise on both sides.
  4. Sex will change. Busy lives, kids and daily stressors change your initial passion and spontaneity. Marriage takes work to keep intimacy a priority in the relationship. Sometimes you’re better friends than lovers.
  5. You will never be able to change or control your partner. The only person who can change or adjust is yourself.
  6. You will have conflict. Every relationship experiences conflict. It’s inevitable. Learning how to disagree respectfully with your spouse will help you and your spouse move through arguments.
  7. You will both grow older, change and evolve. As your physical appearance changes from the beginning of your relationship, so do many of your attitudes, ideas, and priorities.
  8. You may fantasize about greener pastures. When things get tough, there may be thoughts of trading in your old model for something new. Just know that the new model will get rusty and breakdown at some point, too.
  9. Children will become the center of your life. Do not underestimate how much a child will change every aspect of your relationship.

• • •

Jane Romeo is a Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) educator.

New Year’s Resolution: Learning to Pause May Be Just the Trick

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It’s the time of year for summing up, for taking stock of our lives and making resolutions for the coming year. Why not put on next year’s to-do list a resolution that will not only strengthen your quads, or make more time to go to the beach, but make sure you increase your success — and peace of mind — as a parent. By LEARNING TO PAUSE, we can do just that.

Let’s make LEARNING TO PAUSE a New Year’s resolution we learn to do as parents, for the sake of our children.

If you’ve ever lost control over a threatened loss of connection to your kid, you know what it  can mean to NOT be able to pause. The trigger could be your ex suddenly demanding an additional weekday that she spends with your child. It could also be a request to increase your child support payments knowing the extra work hours will cut into your parenting. Aimed at you after a stressful workday, you lashed out, which unfortunately — again — cost you the chance to talk it out. And given your experience appearing in court of late, not being able to talk it out has made your stressful job seem easy!

Getting angry can give you relief in the moment but set you back as a parent. However normal and healthy it can be to express anger, when done unconstructively it can take your choices away to parent as you would like. And even if your ex gives you a heads-up before she gives you the news, venting your anger, undisciplined, can be quite difficult to avoid.

I’ve been there myself. Parenting two kids across three households the past 18 years, I’ve had those moments where my anger boiled over and the words flew out…or not. The difference has been my ability to pause — to NOT REACT when feeling provoked. Avoiding that reactive moment with my ex meant not only that she could talk freely, but I could buy the time needed to work out solutions that supported me as a parent.

Pausing may sound like simple but it’s not easy. You have to notice the moment when you’re ABOUT to fly off the handle, so you can do otherwise. Just when your brain is screaming to react, you have to catch yourself. Placing your attention elsewhere — a small but significant mental engineering feat — will do the trick. It will also become a resolution that will renew yearly, reaping multiple benefits!

Here are three things you can try as you set your intentions for the new year:

  • Put your attention on sensations felt in your body — heat, tension, vibration, pain. Anger can be felt if you listen for it. Notice the physical sensations long enough for the anger to subside.
  • Notice your breath. You can feel it as it enters you, where your abdomen rises and falls, or you can sense the entire flow. Stay aware of it for a few seconds or until the anger begins to dissolve.
  • Affirm, speaking silently to yourself, that you are OK, that you are a good parent, that you listen well, or whatever positive statement will reduce the urge to retaliate.

Although these practices can seem difficult at first, a few rounds of practice can build the mental strength needed, and then come the benefits! Pausing is a worthwhile resolution to stick with. Buying yourself time before speaking by pausing, whether it’s a few seconds, hours or days, can make a big difference!

May your new years resolution to PAUSE be one that will reap many years of happy parenting ahead!

• • •

Peter Shapiro is a mediator, trainer, coach, and author.

How to Teach Your Children Generosity During the Holidays

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The holidays provide a great opportunity to teach your children the gift of giving.

Parents can easily become transformed into “personal shoppers” for their kids, especially after receiving emails, tweets or Instagram pics with specific links to the exact color, shape and size of items on their wish lists. The sharing, giving component of the holidays seems to get lost.

If it feels like your child is displaying the “I want, I need and I have to have” gene, don’t fret. Children can actually have characteristics of self-centeredness and generosity at the same time. These behaviors are not mutually exclusive.

If we want our kids to feel good about “giving,” they must be guided by the adults in their lives — you! Lead by example. Teach children empathy and compassion by modeling these behaviors in your every day life, not just around the holidays. Show your children that the holidays are so much more than just getting gifts.

Try sharing some of these experiences:

  • Prepare a meal with your child and deliver it to a homeless shelter or food bank.
  • Encourage your child to help you shop for another child. Provide your child with a budget. Then tell him to think about what another child might like. Bridge the connection that many families are not as fortunate as your child is.
  • Ask your child to help gather up old coats for a coat drive or go through unworn clothing to donate to a shelter.
  • Invite a neighbor or relative who is alone to have dinner with your family. You can even extend an afternoon invitation for just cookies and egg nog.
  • Hold a family meeting and choose a charity that everyone would like to support.
  • Teach young children to be gracious and say, “please” and “thank you.” For older kids, teach them to write thank you notes.
  • Have your child get used to accompanying you on a trip to the store for errands that doesn’t include buying something for him or her. Every trip to the store does not always have to include a treat or present.

Teaching your children the gift of giving around the holidays is very important. But spending time with your children and giving them focused attention is equally important. Highlight the spirit of the season and the importance of family through activities such as ice skating, watching holiday movies, baking cookies and decorating the house for the holidays. Kids love this special time to create family traditions for years to come.

Tis the season for giving and sharing. Why not start giving the gift of compassion and empathy to your kids this holiday.

• • •

Jane Romeo is a Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) educator.

Hollywood: Throw Some Tinsel to Kids of Divorce (and Their Parents)

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I’m just as upset as everyone else: the era of Brangelina has come to the end. I, too, lauded their commitment to global causes and co-parenting six kids. Despite tabloid fodder, I have no idea what caused the breakdown of their marriage, but it can’t be easy. It doesn’t matter; it’s over.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have joined the statistics that continue to suggest about fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. Hmmm. Just like average folks.

As a matrimonial lawyer/mediator, my curiosity is piqued to learn how they will approach this life transition as they separate their lives financially and parenting-ly. Maybe they had a prenuptial agreement to facilitate the division of their finances. Doubtful they could envision separately co-parenting six kids, I’m guessing. How will they tackle that monster with the emotions that accompany separation? What words will/did they use to explain to their children what was happening? What services will/did they access for themselves or their children to heal emotional wounds?

Here’s a great opportunity for divorce and separation to bust out into the open. Brad and Angelina, do us one last solid: let us in on how you’ll handle this life transition on behalf of your kids. The oft used pleas for “privacy at this difficult time” let us know that you want to protect your kids because they are what really count. I want to know how you will work together to eliminate parental conflict that is so damaging to children? If you’re choosing an alternative to a litigation battle a la Kramer vs. Kramer, let us know! Too many times, the briefcase battle is how people think they need to resolve these very personal differences.

See that’s the problem. Divorce is still shadowy. Perhaps it’s not the dirty word it used to be, but how people do it still is when it comes to securing help for themselves and their children during this time. People think of supportive services surrounding divorce and separation as something they need to keep quiet about. Oh, like the best kept secret. Why don’t we hear more statements like, “I benefited from a parenting education class when I filed my case. Why didn’t I know about this sooner?” Or, “we went to a professional who helped us work on our co-parenting communication because we were fighting in front of our kids.” We do hear that in our work with parents going through the same challenges as Brad and Angelina.

I challenge Hollywood to play a role in this, too. There’s a reason when you see a product prominently displayed in a movie. That brand paid good money for its placement in a scene. No blurry circle covering the product’s identity. So, how about including a scene with a parent attending a parenting education class for divorcing or separating parents? A number of states across this country have already passed legislation requiring that separating and divorcing parents attend these classes.  Or, how about a mediation session if you can insert it into a scene with credibility. We can’t deny the influence that Hollywood has on our culture. Just think Star Wars products, folks. Subliminal or overt. We’ll take all the help we can get.

So, the next time a high powered Hollywood couple with children separates, please let us know how you’re doing it. Can you be a beacon to help change the culture of divorce and separation in this country? And you, Hollywood, with your influence, help legitimize and normalize a movement. Put a positive spin on the way parents dissolve their relationships to one that’s best for their children. Go ahead and drop some hints in movies. Sprinkle a little alternative dispute resolution scenery in some of these movies.

Consider it a Blockbuster.

• • •

Shari Bornstein is an attorney and mediator.

Mothers and Fathers: The Same or Different?

Question: Making generalizations can be risky. At the same time I can’t help but notice that fathers behave differently with their children than mothers do. For example, I often see fathers holding their babies high above their heads, and the baby reacts gleefully. Fathers tend to let their toddlers take modest risks, letting go of their hand and allowing the child to explore his or her surroundings, while keeping a watchful eye. Mothers are more cautious and seem particularly sensitive to their child’s need for comfort when her child is distressed. Do fathers have a different parenting style than mothers?

Response: No generalization about gender similarities and differences always holds true; however, research indicates that fathers typically provide excitement, react less predictably in their interactions with their children, and tend to support them in exploring new challenges. Mothers are generally more predictable. They tend to calm their children, are sought after when it’s time for bed or when soothing is needed after an accident or injury. When children are playful, fathers may be more open to having their body climbed on or they may engage in rough and tumble play with their children. Mothers tend to use their bodies to nurse and comfort their children.

While much attention is focused on the mother-child bond, interest and research also highlight the different and important contributions that fathers make to their child’s development through their own parenting style. As we learn more about a child’s attachment with each parent, research points to a mother’s comforting response to her child’s stress. The mother’s response helps the child develop a sense that its environment is predictable and safe. The child manages stress through the security of the mother-child bond.

Alternatively, fathers tend to sensitively challenge the child who often responds with excitement. With the father’s monitoring, the child moves toward controlling excitement and behavior. Children feel encouraged to explore and learn to feel more in control of their excitable responses.

Clearly, warmth, responsive care, and setting limits are important benefits to gain from each parent.

Mothers and fathers are more than fill-ins for one another. Each makes a unique contribution to their child’s development and sense of security in the world.

• • •

Betty Gewirtz is a licensed clinical social worker and psychoanalyst in private practice in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and a parent educator in FamilyKind’s STEP program.

The Sunday Night Project

After enjoying the weekend, many people experience dread on Sunday nights in anticipation of all that Monday brings: the start of the workweek and the hectic routine that goes with it. Parents of school aged children experience their own form of dread. Too often, there is an issue with a child not completing a school project that’s due on Monday morning. For parents who live apart and transition their children to the other parent on a Sunday night, completing school projects becomes a lesson in Stress 101.

Too often the co-parenting dialogue sounds like this:

“You’re just the fun parent.”

“You leave all of the hard work for me.”

“My time is so limited as it is.”

“If you told me about the project instead of being so nasty, I would have worked on it.

“Susie/Johnny never told me about the project.” 

When parents are torn between the grind of daily life or enjoying time with their children, who wouldn’t opt for spending as much fun time as possible with their kids? But parenting is not just about “fun time” and doesn’t reflect real life. Just like adults, kids have responsibilities, too. Homework assignments have to be completed even if they interfere with precious playtime. These projects are learning lessons. School projects often expand knowledge about a subject matter. They also teach time management, an invaluable skill for the grown up working world.  Many children who transition between parents’ homes learn this lesson early so that they can prevent the eruption of conflict between their parents.

Homework assignments that are not completed during weekend parenting time become the subject of motions to modify. Parents who enjoy a full weekend of parenting time with a return to school on Monday morning don’t want to lose precious parenting time because of an allegation that schoolwork is not taken seriously.

Parents must create a learning environment during individual parenting time and avoid adding stress to the co-parenting relationship.  Below are some suggestions to help.

  • During the week, talk to your child about short-term and long term homework assignments so that you can arrange your weekend parenting time accordingly. These conversations keep you engaged with your child and set a good example for time management. Check your child’s backpack or assignment notebook for information. They usually contain a lot of information, especially for younger children.
  • Many schools now have an app or website that allows parents to stay on top of assignments. Check it frequently to keep yourself up to date with your child’s daily school routine. This can be very helpful for parents who don’t see their child every day because of the parenting plan. Communicate with your child’s teacher and let the teacher know that you want to be made aware of assignments. There is no better compliment a parent can receive than a teacher reporting that he can’t tell from which home the child arrives at school because assignments are completed in a timely manner.
  • Use a weekly email agenda with your co-parent to record school information and projects that will involve attention from parents in both homes. If you have an alternating weekend schedule, put the information in the weekly email to alert your co-parent as soon as you become aware of it. Write whether you will purchase supplies or how you will address payment. Include information about when you will work on the project with the child during your parenting time. If you can’t finish the project with your child during your parenting time, do as much as you can and let the other parent know in a business like text or email what remains to be completed.
  • If you possess a particular skill or tools that would help your child complete a project, offer to assist even if it is not your parenting time. Perhaps your co-parent would be open to modifying parenting time for this. Highlighting a parent’s skill is also a good way to compliment your co-parent in front of your child. There is no financial sense buying two sets of tools when they might sit idle and never be used again. The money can be put to good use for something else for your child.
  • If your child is not transitioning to the other parent’s home before the project is due, take a picture of the completed project and have your child share it with the other parent. There’s nothing better than co-parents sharing pride about a project well done.

We all have to live with deadlines and that is stressful enough. Don’t turn your child’s project into a battleground with your co-parent.

• • •

Shari Bornstein is an attorney and mediator. 

Living Together After Divorce

 

New York is expensive. Rent or a mortgage can be exorbitant, and creating two homes after divorce only doubles those costs. To afford life after a separation or divorce, some parents decide to continue living together for a period of time and to co-parent their children under the same roof. Mediating a divorce allows the couple to be more creative in their outcome than if they pursued a traditional litigated divorce through the court system. For example, they can work through how long they will continue to live together and the process of physical separation.

Living together for a period of time after divorce can be beneficial not only financially but also for the children, because they will have access to both parents on a daily basis. But it requires some extra planning before, during and after the period, in order to be successful.

Here are a few issues to consider if you intend to cohabitate after the final judgment:

Privacy. A possible situation might have the children sleeping on a middle floor with each parent in their own space on a separate floor above and below them so that each parent can spend time with the children on their own. Things may get a little more difficult when new partners enter the parents’ lives. These arrangements do not typically last more than a few years but can be so helpful in those first years when children require stability and continuity.

Parenting Time. When parents participate in mediation, they often create two parenting plans: A Plan A for how they will parent their children while living in the same home and a Plan B to delineate how they will parent their children in separate homes. It requires creativity on the part of the parents in order to come up with a satisfactory parenting schedule that allows for time with the children on an individual basis while respecting the rights of the other parent to enjoy time with the children as well.

Finances. When parents live together after divorce, a traditional child support order may not be appropriate since both parents are contributing to the expenses of running the household. Therefore, parents who co-habitate in one home after divorce often create a different financial arrangement. For example, they may retain or create a separate bank account into which they deposit money based on their percentages of income to share the children’s expenses or to share home costs, such as mortgage and utilities.

Communication. Parents who are most successful living together after divorce are able to communicate their needs and interests to the other parent in a respectful manner. They are able to minimize conflict in front of the children and model good behavior by acting civilly as they co-parent during what can be a time of stress and financial transition.

Catherine Canadé, Esq., is an attorney and mediator.

Pass the Sunscreen

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Family vacations are filled with excitement. The anticipation of the upcoming adventure fills the home along with suitcases that beg to be packed. Vacationing families create life long memories and traditions that are the subjects of scrapbooks and reminiscing around the dinner table. Remember that time at the beach house when…?

For parents who live apart from their children, vacation time nurtures the parent-child bond. Suspended is the grind of daily life. No laundry or homework to be done. Grocery shopping and cooking are optional depending on the destination. The regular parenting schedule with its weekly transitions is now uninterrupted. Ahhhh.

Sometimes, it takes a bit more interaction with your co-parent to launch a stress-free vacation with your children if you no longer reside together. Below are some tips to consider:

  • If you are in the process of drafting a court order, consider including the date that you will tell your co-parent when you want to take your vacation. Consider whether vacation time will be scheduled around summer camp or company shut downs? Will your vacation weeks be taken back to back or will they be spaced out over the summer? Will one parent’s choice trump the other if you both happen to choose the same week (unlikely, but it does happen)?
  • If you have a court order, hopefully it includes answers to the questions above. Once you decide which week(s) you want, send an email to your co-parent with the dates of your vacation. Ask your co-parent to confirm receipt of your email so that you can complete travel plans without cancellation fees (flight, hotel, attraction tickets). Don’t assume that your co-parent doesn’t already have something scheduled during his/her regular parenting time. Sometimes, an early morning flight may require a change in the parenting plan. If you would like the children to sleep in your home the night before you have to leave early to head to the airport, include this request in a business-like email. Include a travel itinerary, especially if you are flying. Don’t wait for the last minute for any of these details. This  has nothing to do with your co-parent controlling you. It has to do with productive co-parenting communication and avoiding conflict that can cast a shadow over the excitement of planning and enjoying your vacation with your children.
  • If your vacation plans require that the child bring special clothing, bicycle or special toy, politely ask your co-parent in an email to get the items ready when the children transition to your care for vacation. Do not ask your child to be the messenger for this information or be responsible for remembering the items.
  • Before you leave for vacation, discuss how your co-parent will have contact with your child while you’re away. Will you pick a certain date and time? Will they speak on the phone or FaceTime/Skype? Because it’s your uninterrupted parenting access and everyone wants to make the most out of this time, you might be unavailable during a predetermined time, say Wednesday at 5:00 because you have a chance to stay late at a park. As soon as you know this, contact your co-parent and offer another time for your child to speak with your co-parent.
  • Make sure that you pack your child’s passport if you are traveling outside the country.
  • If your child requires medication, pack it in your carryon luggage if you are flying or in a place that you can easily access it. It is important to anticipate flight delays or other instances that might unintentionally delay your return (or: Oh, no. My insulin pump was in my bathing suit pocket when I jumped into the pool). Request a vacation override with the insurance provider to ensure that you have a sufficient supply of medication and supplies, just in case.
  • Send a picture of your child enjoying vacation time. If your co-parent was nervous about your child going away, your child’s smiling face will take care those fears. Hopefully, you’ll receive the same back while your child is on vacation with your co-parent.

Now pass the sunscreen.

• • •

Shari Bornstein is an attorney and mediator.

The Journey and Adventure of Being a Stepparent

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Very early on in my relationship with my now-husband, we went hiking in the Berkshires. Not only did this become an annual fall foliage trip, but it is also the place where we spent our “mini-moon” and where we celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary and every anniversary since. When we go on those trips, and many others we are fortunate enough to be able to take, we enjoy a good hike.

It had occurred to me during one of our earlier and more challenging hikes that the adventure was representative of our relationship. I tend to follow my husband while we’re hiking, but every once in awhile, I lead. And when the terrain allows, we walk side by side. He always looks out for me, offering an outstretched hand when an obstacle is just a bit too steep for me to step up on my own. While there are times that I feel insecure in my abilities to confront the challenges ahead or when I feel like I’m going to fall, he always makes me feel safe. And when we reach the summit of our journey, together we say, “We made it.”

On a recent hike that I considered to be on the challenging side, I had another realization of how hiking reflected my life — this time as a stepparent. I do best when I just think about the path right in front of me. If I think about how long and difficult the journey is going to be, I fear that I might not make it — that I’ll want to give up and turn back around.

That family vacation I really don’t want to go on?  That’s the not-so-shallow creek in the woods that I have to cross and try to not slip on the stones. When my stepson says to his sister right in front of me, “I miss Mommy.”? That’s that big steep boulder for which I have to muster all my strength in order to conquer. That feeling of being alone even when I’m surrounded by my new family? That’s when we can’t find the next trail marker and panic that we won’t find our way out of the woods. But we do. Every time.

I may trip, I may slip, but I persevere and I feel incredibly accomplished that I didn’t give up. And through it all, my husband — my hiking partner, my life partner and the very reason I am even on this journey of stepparenting — is right there leading me, following me and walking by my side.

When you are experiencing the inevitable ups and downs of being a stepparent, and there are myriad, it might help to think of it as a journey. Think about your life as a stepparent the next time you hike or bike or run a marathon or have some other hobby that may seem difficult yet is satisfying in retrospect. Think of the challenges, the journey, and the adventure. You may get scared and you may feel like you’re going to fall, but if you look at what is right in front of you, you will get there. And together with your partner, you too, will say, “We made it.”

• • •

Linda Paul is a stepfamily educator.