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YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
Research shows that the human brain is about 90% developed by the age of 3 and recent studies have shown that the brain continues to grow and develop and undergoes a growth spurt in the teen years, with full development around the age of 25 or 26 (https://www.sharecare.com/health/brain/when-human-brain-stop-growing).
The brain growth spurt was alive and in action in our most recent Family Workshop Teen Group! In this program, the teens learn skills, strategies and techniques to better communicate with their parents and to better manage themselves within their families. They offered a profound message to all teens who are experiencing a family separation or divorce.
If you have a teenager, please share this message. If you have a child of any age, please pay attention.
What are the teens who created this poster saying to the parents in their lives?
This may be surprising to you, but children oftentimes blame themselves for their parents’ divorce and/or behaviors. They do not typically say this aloud, but it is an unconscious thought that lingers and eats away at their emotional well-being. And sadly, many parents who have been divorced for years, continue to argue like when they were married. Why is this? Younger children have no idea but wish every day and every moment that their parents would stop arguing and would just get along. This message is heard loud and clear through our Family Workshop program theme “Your children want you to put your differences aside and be kind people in front of them, if not for you, for them”. These are not the words of this writer but instead are real words that children in our Family Workshop told us.
Honestly, if parents think that their decisions and choices to remain in and continue conflict with their children’s other parent is not impacting their children, we hope this blog will shed some light on a new reality. When parents are divorced and they continue to argue, fight, be mean to each other or say bad things about each other, it is harmful to the emotional well-being of their children.
Shifting back to the teens, their wish is the same as the younger children, but their message is stronger. Teens think their parents like arguing with each other and really wish they could get along when they are together in front of them. When together at events, teens in our programs want their parents to get along and if they can’t, the teens want their parents to fake it for them so they don’t need to be embarrassed by their parents’ behaviors or feel like a jumping bean going from one side of the room to the other so they get to be with both of their parents.
Again, this is real! If you think we are making this up, take a look at the poster the teens created for other teens.
“DEAR OTHER TEENS… YOU ARE NOT ALONE! None of this is your fault and you will get through it!! Stay strong!”
I reflect and wonder… Why do teens need to tell other teens that they will get through it? What are they needing to get through and why do they need to be strong?
Divorce is an adult decision to no longer be in an emotional relationship, to no longer live in the same home, to no longer gather together with friends and family, to no longer parent your children under one roof. When done well, parents live in two homes, they adjust their quality of living to a new reality of the family income now needs to pay for two of everything, they hurt and grieve but share their feelings with support systems other than their children, they silence themselves and others so there are no negative words being said about their children’s other parent, they collaborate on the custody time and are flexible when needed, they attend their children’s events (no matter what) and they grieve, forgive and move on.
When not done well, parents get stuck. They continue to refer to the other parent as an “ex”, representing the emotional connection with someone they were intimate with at some time, they sometimes bad mouth the other parent, and oftentimes, their anger grows instead of diminishing. Many ask us, “Why is this happening?, Why are they doing this?” The honest answer is I don’t know. But from our experience, divorce has stages and many parents tend to skip them. The first stage seems to be the decision to separate and divorce, the second stage is filing the papers and beginning the legal process, the next few stages include moves, new homes, new schools for children, lots of decisions and experiencing the many losses that arise but were unanticipated. Losses? The loss of one’s social support system, as married couples tend to lose interest in their divorced friends or they just can’t decide who to be friends with, so they choose neither. The loss of extended family. The loss of family dinners. The loss of good night hugs and bedtime routines with your children. The loss of morning activities. The loss of your children for half the week.
Divorce may be a painful process but may be a little less complicated and easier on your children if you go through the process with grace, compassion and gratitude. Easier said than done, but very important! As the teens are telling other teens, we share a similar message with parents, “Dear Parents, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! You will get through your divorce by feeling every feeling, accepting your losses and moving through your grief to forgiveness and acceptance. Take the time to be good to yourself. Nurture yourself and remember to be your best at all times, if not for you, then for your children. And remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! If you need support, Reach out to Kids’ Turn San Diego. We’re here to support you!
The Reality of Co-Parenting
When parents attend our co-parenting programs, they hope to reduce conflict and increase their communication with the other parent. They hope the other parent will learn skills that will make them easier to deal with and that co-parenting will be easier. These are very common thoughts that are shared by parents attending both our Family Workshops for Separated and Divorced Families and Cooperative Co-Parenting Programs.
Here’s the thing about divorce. . . YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THE OTHER PARENT! You have no say so about what happens or doesn’t happen in their home, how they communicate with you or how they treat you or behave in front of your children.
Here’s another thing. . . YOU CANNOT CHANGE ANYONE ELSE, ONLY YOURSELF!
This said, attending a co-parenting program can be mind-changing and transformational, BUT, you have to put in the work, the energy and the time. To be honest, no matter your wish or hopes, the other person is not reading this, only you are.
Here are some thoughts to ponder. . .
and tips on managing them. . .
If you find yourself saying, “Our child is failing in school because my co-parent doesn’t oversee homework at their house.”
At the end of the day, your child is responsible for their success in school. Parents can help and support, but they cannot get inside their child’s brain.
EXAMPLE: The teacher keeps emailing us that our child is behind in homework. I do homework at my house, but my co-parent doesn’t make our child do homework at their house.
REALITY: Homework is assigned so children practice what they learn in school. The idea is that we learn concepts, but practice turns the concept into a skill (if you attended our programs, you may have heard this message). This said, there is not a lot of time in our weekdays after school. Having downtime and family time is important for children’s development. Instead of spending your time blaming your co-parent for your child’s failing in school, consider that your child is failing because your child needs help understanding the concepts. Talk with your child to understand (use Active Listening) and then talk with the teachers. Schedule time for you and your child to talk with the teacher(s) and work with them to help your child be successful. Remember, teachers do not need to know your life story, you’re meeting with them to help your child tell their story around homework and to help them create a plan that will work for them. Here are some questions you can ask to get support for your child while they are in school.
Is there a homework club? Are there tutors? For homework time, could your child do the first and last problem on every math sheet instead of all of them? Could reading be done for shorter time spans or during the weekend instead of daily?
State to the teachers that you are only able to help with homework when your children are with you. Do not blame or point fingers, and do not talk about your co-parent. They are not in the meeting so neither should references to them. If your child is in the meeting, let them take the lead to problem solve with the teacher. If they are not in the meeting, be proactive and wonder how you are able to help with your child’s homework success on the days they live with you. Regardless of who is or isn’t helping with homework, make a plan with the teachers that will work in your home. Encourage your child’s learning by making it fun and less stressful and remember to praise and encourage your children for their successes .
If you find yourself saying, “My co-parent doesn’t communicate with me and signs our child up for activities that sometimes fall on my days.”
You have no control over what others do or say.
EXAMPLE: My co-parent signed our child up for sports and some of the practices and games are on “my” days with our child. A common go to thought is “No, I’m not giving up my time for something they scheduled.”
REALITY: Children benefit from participating in team sports and activities. Whether it is soccer, ballet, art classes or karate, children learn about rules, respect, teamwork, problem-solving, integrity and commitment. These are all traits that help children grow up into good students and employees. The reality is that your children are learning from you first. This said, if you
choose to not allow them to participate, you are teaching them that commitment to your team or others is not important or valued. Instead, control what you can control. Go to the coach, introduce yourself and ask to be added to the parent communication list so you get the schedule and all the communications directly. Then, take your child and support them. It may not feel like it at first, but when you are your child’s biggest cheerleader, even if your co-parent is present and your child visits with them briefly during the event, your relationship with your child will be even stronger than it is now. Make it about your child!
If you find yourself saying, “I need them to…”
When you need someone else to do something, accept the reality that it is NOT the job of others to meet your needs.
EXAMPLE: My co-parent is always late. I need them to be on
time because I have plans.
REALITY: Your co-parent is probably always late. It is who they are. Take control of your own needs and stop making plans around transition times. If your co-parent tends to run an hour late, schedule your plans to begin two hours after your scheduled transition time. Who cares if they are late, enjoy the extra time with your children!
If you find yourself saying, “My co-parent never listens to me and when they respond to my messages, the messages are like 5 or more paragraphs long.”
What you say may be important, but others are not required to listen to you. You have no control over what they do.
EXAMPLE: We use a communication application that the judge court ordered us to use. But, my co-parent still sends nasty messages, writes mean things and accuses me of anything and everything you can imagine. Every time I read the messages, I am triggered and it distracts me from whatever I am doing.
REALITY: Control what you can control. Do you have notifications turned on? If yes, we invite you to immediately turn them off. You can choose when to check the app or your texts/emails. Court orders typically require you to respond within a time period. The time period is typically not immediately and you usually have at least 24 hours to respond. After turning off the notifications, you get to choose when to read the messages versus being controlled by them. If every message is a story, stop reading every word. Skim the message for question marks and then read that sentence. You may need to read the sentence right before it for context. Also, skim the message for the names of your children or the word children if that is how your co-parent typically refers to them. Read the sentence with your child’s name and determine if it is informational or if it requires a response. That’s it. No need to read the nasty or mean words. Control what you can control. If you have feelings about the message, respond, “Thank you for your message. I’ll get back to you xxxx (give a time frame).” You have complied with your court order to respond within a time period. If you say you will get back to your co-parent, follow through because that is what you expect them to do for you. If there are no questions or anything that actually requires a response, a simple “Thank you” or thumbs up emoji works. If the message does require a response. Draft it but do not send. Walk away and come back the next day (if you attended our programs, this is the skill of responding versus reacting). Edit your message to remove emotion, defensiveness, or your personal justifications about anything. Ask yourself, would I send this email to my boss or co-worker? If the answer is “No”, do not send it to your co-parent. Once you are divorced, consider yourself being in business with your co-parent with the business being to raise your children to be kind, caring and compassionate people. Keep it unemotional and businesslike
Co-parenting dynamics follow your dynamics of when you were together. The divorce paper does not mean the dynamics go away. Here’s a fact – IT TAKES TWO TO HAVE CONFLICT! If you are in a conflictual relationship with your co-parent, we encourage you to look at your own behaviors, words and actions. You may not be starting the conflict, but you may be helping it continue. The reality – SUCCESSFUL CO-PARENTING IS NOT EASY. It takes time, skills and
commitment to reduce conflict and improve communication. Kids’ Turn San Diego is here to help and support you on your journey. YEP, IT’S A JOURNEY. One that includes grieving, forgiving, letting go of what didn’t work and finding a new common ground – your children. When you see your child’s other parent as your “ex”, that is about an intimate relationship between two adults and when you are no longer together, that relationship is over! It is important to grieve the loss of that intimate relationship and forgive yourself for any possible ways that you contributed to the loss (yes, this is part of the journey). When you begin to see the parent of your children as your co-parent, now you are in the business of raising happy and healthy children. Two parents (co-parents) who looked into the eyes of their children on the day they were born and who fell in love. Divorce doesn’t change this memory or love. Kids’ Turn San Diego honors you as a parent and we believe you will be the best co-parent possible, when you choose to be.
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The True Meaning of Holidays
I oftentimes find myself saying, “Holidays are not a date on the calendar, they are about family, tradition and whatever meaning they bring to you.” Parents nod and maybe they get what I am saying or maybe not. Then, the week before Thanksgiving, a parent told me that they were celebrating Thanksgiving the next day because their child will be with their other parent on Thanksgiving and when the parent and child were talking about it, the child said, “Oh no. We have to celebrate Thanksgiving together. How about we have it tomorrow?” The parent thought quickly and said, “Yes. Let’s do it.”. Within 30 minutes, calls were made to Aunts, Uncles and cousins, Grandparents and some family friends. On a Sunday, they were gathering with 22 family members and friends and the parent and child were having so much fun decorating their home with paper plate turkeys.
From a personal perspective, my daughter is 22 years old and works full time at a residential treatment facility. I anticipated that she would be working on Thanksgiving, as she works on Thursdays from 3-11pm. We talked about having Thanksgiving on Sunday when she is off. On Thanksgiving day, she called on her way to work. We had a great conversation but afterwards, my heart felt empty. Even though I knew my daughter was working, it didn’t change the fact that I missed her. We have been together for 21 Thanksgivings, and as a parent, we expect our children to be with us on the holidays.
When you get separated or divorced, one of the biggest challenges, especially in the first few years, is managing the holidays if your children are with their other parent. Remember, the holidays are not a date on the calendar, they are about family, tradition and whatever meaning they bring you.
As I sat at our table on Thanksgiving, I thought about our daughter and hoped she was having a nice meal. I missed her but when she called on her break, all I said was “Happy Thanksgiving”. I wanted to know about her meal. I wanted to tell her how much I missed her. BUT. . . our daughter was working and being a responsible adult. She is not responsible for how I feel! Thinking about it, she was probably missing me and her family too. . . after all, she called during her break. Then I thought, hey, I guess Thanksgiving is important to her, she doesn’t usually call and today she did, twice. We may not be together but she was thinking about family and tradition.
Fast forward, our daughter came for dinner on Sunday and we had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, full of tradition, fun and family. She asked about our Thanksgiving meal and wanted to know what we ate and how we spent the evening. I answered all her questions with joy in my heart. I didn’t ask her questions about her day. I figured she would tell me what she wanted to tell me, if she wanted to.
So, I reflect. Whether your child is 5 or 22, it doesn’t make that much difference. As a parent, when you’re not with your children on a holiday, your heart feels a bit empty. That is a fact! But, it doesn’t have to mean that you miss the holiday. It just means you could enjoy the holiday with others on the calendar holiday date and then, be creative with your children. They may think it is silly at first, but they will learn to value the holiday as family, fun and tradition, regardless of the day it gets celebrated!
From my home to yours, happy holidays!
P.S. Today is Giving Tuesday, a day of giving for non-profit organizations. If you enjoyed this blog or appreciated attending a Kids’ Turn San Diego program, we invite you to make a donation and help us help other children and families. Thank you!
Taking care of yourself and supporting your friends can make the difference between a good day and a not-so-good day. Try out these tips for taking care of yourself so you can be your healthiest and happiest.
10 Self-Care Strategies for Teens
- It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Focus on what you can CONTROL, like your breathing, staying in the present and disconnecting from all forms of media.
- Spend time outside, even if you’re avoiding crowds. Wear a mask and social distance.
- Engage in mindfulness activities, such as starting a gratitude journal or preparing your favorite meal without distractions.
- Reach out and connect with someone supportive in your life.
- Practice self-care in whatever form works for you. This could include exercising, reading, listening to music, meditating, or getting adequate sleep.
- Make a list of your favorite songs or movies, and share the list with your friends. Maybe even create a throwback song list and listen to it together or with your parents.
- Challenge negative beliefs about change.
- Find new ways to connect with your friends. Social distancing should not mean social isolation!
- Make your space comfy and cozy with a soft blanket, relaxing lighting, and objects that make you happy or remind you of happy memories.
- Set boundaries with your media consumption and use your extra time to engage in meaningful conversations.
Teen Apps for Self-Care
- Try out the self-care tools and resources on GritX
- MyLife offers over 400 activities for managing stress, sleeping better and finding calm
Mental Health Resources
National Suicide Prevention Line
Crisis Text Line
- Text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained counselor for free
- 1-855-845-7415 available 24/7
- A non-emergency resource for anyone seeking emotional support
The Trevor Project
- TrevorLifeline: 1-866-488-7386
- Text TREVOR to 1-202-304-1200
- TrevorChat: via thetrevorpoject.org
National Domestic Violence Hotline
- Text LOVEIS to 22522
- Resources for teen dating abuse
Child Abuse Hotline
- 1-800-344-6000 available 24/7
- If you or a friend is being hurt or neglected
- Define your network and your plan to stay safe
- Strategies to help cope with stress and anxiety
The new year brings new beginnings and opportunities to enjoy the present and provide hope for the future! The past holds memories — both good and bad — that can be remembered and cherished, but must not overtake our lives.
In order to live in the present, we must stop clinging to the past. If you entertain bitter thoughts, happy thoughts cannot find a place. As much as you have been hurt in the past, clinging to those memories can hold you back.
Forgiving the past is one way to release both yourself and the memories. Forgiving does not mean accepting. The act of forgiveness takes place in our mind and allows ourselves the opportunity to find peace. It has nothing to do with other people.
So, let go of the past and design your life in the present! Try reading and repeating these forgiveness affirmations every day to help live in the present and forgive.
- I live for the present and future and the past is gone.
- I am human and forgive myself for any mistakes I may have made.
- I move beyond forgiving myself and others and move towards compassion and kindness for all.
- I am forgiving, loving, gentle and kind.
- Each day is a new opportunity. Today is the first day of my new life.
The important thing is to take responsibility for your own life. No one else can do this for you! Each one of us designs our own life. We each make a decision—conscious or unconscious—about our thoughts and behaviors. Only you can control these! Sometimes we think others are controlling us, but ONLY YOU have control over your own thoughts and feelings.
Forgiving is not easy. It means letting go of things that didn’t go as planned. In a divorced family, it may mean letting go of your thoughts of “happily ever after,” your wedding vows, your vision of a lifetime of family being together at parties and holidays, or kissing your children good night every day. Forgiving is saying, “Even though my dreams didn’t happen, I am okay. My children are okay, my life is okay, and my past is okay.” Forgiving means moving forward, embracing your past, and accepting what was and what will be.
It’s your choice! You could choose to be stuck. You could choose to be angry at your co-parent forever. You could choose to hold a grudge for the end of your marriage or relationship. You could choose to engage in hurtful and unkind communication in front of your children. These are your choices, but they will have consequences. If you are a parent who chooses to be angry or engage in hurtful and unkind communication with your co-parent (or their new partner), this may damage your child’s long-term relationship with you and relationships with others. When engaging in these behaviors, you teach your children how to have ineffective and unhealthy relationships.
Forgiveness also means that you make positive choices. You can choose to be respectful with your co-parent and their new partner. Role-modeling respect teaches your children to be accepting of others, regardless of how you may feel or think about a situation. You can choose to prioritize your children and accept that they need both parents in their lives. You can choose to promote positive parent-child relationships, regardless of how you may think or feel.
As a divorced parent, feeling good is a choice you make. If you need help with it, seek the guidance of a friend or professional therapist. Your children, regardless of their ages, are not your friends or therapists.
As 2020 is upon us, take charge of the new decade! Make a resolution to forgive yourself and let go of the past. Embrace the present and be open to restructuring your concept of family and your dreams. As you walk the path of forgiveness, life becomes a new, clean slate on which you can be the best parent and co-parent possible.
We at Kids’ Turn San Diego believe in you and wish you a wonderful year!
In Honor of Veterans Day: The Experiences of Military Families
Members and families of the United States military have a strong commitment to serve. Service members work long hours, and families experience constant moves and deployments.
Transitions may lead to tension, disconnect, and conflict between parents. About 75% of military couples get divorced. When a family breaks up, parents and children of all ages feel helpless, sad, frightened, guilty, and angry.
Children can’t wait until the day their mommy or daddy is home for good. Everything will be great then! But many children are left sad and don’t understand why parents begin to argue or ignore each other, why they are not playing games or having family dinners, why their parent who was gone for so long now doesn’t want to talk with them or attend their sporting events. They are confused, wondering why this parent just sits in front of the TV or is always working on the car or keeps talking to themselves or struggles to walk due to an injury in combat.
At Kids’ Turn San Diego, our goal is to change family relationships in positive ways so children experiencing family separations and military transitions are happier. In our programs, both children and their parents participate. Children realize for the first time that they are not alone in their family situation. They finally feel “normal.” They learn new ways to express their feelings and realize that their parent’s behavior is not their fault, freeing them from self-blame. Parents learn communication tools, coping skills, and ways to put their children first in family decisions
In celebration of Veterans Day, spend the day with your children! Here are some ideas:
- Visit the Veterans Museum at Balboa Park
- Take a tour of the USS Midway
- Go to a Veterans Day Parade in your community
- Visit the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum at MCAS Miramar
- Talk with your children about the history of our country
- Put a flag out to honor Veterans Day
- Wear a red poppy or yellow ribbon to show support
More interested in hanging out at home? Try some of these ideas:
- Put your cell phone down and do something fun with your child. Younger children enjoy imaginative play like tea parties or superhero adventures. Children ages 7-12 tend to enjoy board/video games, and older children like to listen to music, play video games, or simply hang out—without parents asking questions or giving advice. Children of all ages feel important and cared for when you pay attention to them.
- Encourage your children by using phrases like:
- “You’re so much fun to be around!”
- “Can I put this on the bulletin board at work or on the refrigerator?”
- “I’m so lucky to be your parent.”
- Try to catch your child doing something good and notice it aloud.
- “You are such a good big brother/sister.”
- “I love how you are teaching your younger sibling how to…”
- “I saw that you got an A on your math test—great job!”
- Encourage your child’s relationship with their other parent or grandparents. One way is to help them make birthday cards or Mother’s/Father’s Day cards. Things that are handmade are oftentimes the most treasured gifts we receive from others.
- Listen to your children without giving advice or trying to solve their problems.
Being in the military is a family commitment. In honor of Veterans Day, Kids’ Turn San Diego salutes all military-connected family members. Thank you all for your commitment and service!