A Lesson From Philomena

I intended to be one of just a handful of patrons attending a recent performance in Delray Beach, FL of the new BBC film, Philomena. Philomena. This film is a moving story of the search for truth, and hopeful reunification between an Irish toddler, taken from his teenage mother forced to live at a convent and sold to American adoptive parents.

Compelling? I listened to remarks floating around me, in the theater, following the movie’s end. All were elderly. All understood those times when teen pregnancy meant embarrassment, seclusion, guilt and shame.

I listened for those comments which might identify those whose children were taken, as mine were. No, not as Philomena’s — a pregnancy resulting from an impulsive, carnal act between two unmarried teens. No. Mine were lost through the effects of divorce, when children are alienated against one parent by the other. Or, when children are so frightened and hurt by the parents’ fighting and separation, they choose estrangement.

Can we forgive? Can we forgive when our children are torn from us? When a parent so spiteful and willfully steals the child’s loyalty and preaches abandonment by the other parent? Can we forgive when a judge cannot understand that a child will best thrive when time shared with both parents is maximized, not minimized? That where there is proof of alienating behavior, there must be interventions that are enforced by court orders?

I believe these are significant questions, which must be asked in conjunction with the following statistics.

1. There are more than 1,250,000 divorces per year in the United States affecting over 1 million children under the age of 18. (North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service Report on Divorce)
2. 40 percent of public school children are from single parent households. (Federal Department of Health and Human Services).
3. Children who are prescribed behavior modifying pharmaceuticals averages from two and four percent of public school children in some communities to as high as 80 percent (Rachel Klein, “Are We Over-Diagnosing ADHD in Our Kids?” January 2004, New York University’s Child Study Center Report)

Is it not time to examine these connections? Is it not time to support those efforts to help parents cope with marriage and relationship change? Is it not time for the courts to acknowledge the research demonstrating that the healthier children have loving and nurturing parents in their lives? Is it not time for the courts sober up to their responsibilities?

Sadly, too, major funders loathe to fund the programs necessary for protecting children. The Toby Center has reached out to many, many who have replied that though the services for helping families as psychotherapy, visitation, and support are essential, there isn’t the money to help.

The absurdity is that, unfortunately, funders have not been able to connect these dots, nor have we found upon surveying that many are interested. Yet, research has found that nonresidential fathers see their children only 4 times per month following divorce and about 20 percent of children have no contact with their fathers 2-3 years after divorce. ( Kelly, J. B., & Emery, R. E. (2003). Children’s adjustment following divorce: Risk and resiliency perspectives. Family Relations, 52, 352-362).

Returning to Philomena, recognize that she is a real mother, who accepted her loss. But she never willingly abandoned her son. She wanted that message to be heard. Similarly, parents who are being alienated have frequently given up, surrendering to the ill intent of the alienating parent.

That needn’t be, especially in today’s world. Florida is among the few states which encourages and mandate higher rates of co-parent involvement and I am proud to be a family mediator and educator here. Yet, parents as I still suffer from the injustices that Courts have made historically, to separate the issues of parenting from child support. In the words of the former Director of Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, “Child support is more than financial, it is also emotional.”

Philomena is the story which, for me, has brought triumph to understanding, triumph in accepting what must be. This is a most difficult process, though, for parents of alienated children. it remains a most difficult task for the targeted or alienated parent to be heard when trying so hard to repeatedly know on their children’s proverbial door and to invite reconciliation.

How might the aforementioned statistics be reversed? When you become an advocate for such change. You, the reader, regardless of vocation, can and should consider the opportunities to speak out in your communities with this information and with your personal concerns for communal considerations.

Become an advocate for children, particularly when parents suffer the absence of their child. Find the ways to help parents and their children preserve their ties when the parents separate.

This is an easier task than may first appear. It truly is.

Article written By Mark Roseman for the Huffington Post. See article here.

One Choice, Two Parents: A Summertime Planner

I remember when, during the last weeks of 4th grade in May, 1960, as a youngster at Nathan Hale School, I could feel the heat of the summer sun radiating through the old windows from the back of the classroom. I thought only about the end of homework, late morning sleep-in’s and running through the water at the end of a garden hose.

Summer vacation was now easily in our reach.

I envisioned mom and dad taking my sister, Janet and I to Ocean Beach in New London, like last year! Lake Compounce in Southington! Maybe I was now the ‘right’ height to go alone on the ferris wheel, the teacup, or, even the roller coaster!

Boy, Mom and Dad sure knew how to give you a great time!

Mom and Dad. They are gone now. Through their absence, I am now even more conscious of how much they have truly been an important influence in my life. I know what seeing them meant to me every day. What I could expect from them. How they spoke to each other. How they spoke to me. How Mom would yell at me for fighting with my sister. How I yelled at her to leave the bathroom light on so I wouldn’t be sleeping in total darkness. How Dad would come in and see if I had fallen asleep yet. How I would ask for a glass of water to delay sleeping. But also, to test if they loved me.

Many of our public school children do not have the same experience, or expectations.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the number of children from single parent households has doubled since 1960. That’s one third of children who are living without a father in the household and 1/6 living without a mother in their household. According to Sarah McLanahan in “Growing Up With a Single Parent” (Harvard University Press), these children are twice as likely to drop out of high school when a biological parent, particularly the father, is absent from their life. It then becomes an imperative to maintain contact between children and parents, regardless of distance.

Parents most often live in different towns, perhaps different states, perhaps different regions of this country. But, unlike most of the year with cookie cutter visitation arrangements, the summer means even more scheduling, more agendas. Also, more stress for the child and for the parent who has agreed to this co-parenting arrangement.

When a parent lives many miles away from their children, the longer summer visitation will present itself with the added and expensive burden of traveling, of social and emotional costs. The stress of reconnecting with this parent, whom they may have spoken to regularly, is still, so different when actually contemplating the living conditions, lifestyle adjustments and other adaptations with the other parent’s home.

Summer visits with the other parent can be experienced with accompanying sadness, anger, and emerging hostility for a reexamination of the cause for their parents’ separation and divorce. The child may be subject to jealousy because of the non custodial parent’s new ‘blended’ family or a new, replacement for significant other.

For young teens, they haven’t yet been able to actualize their role of son or daughter of their given age. They may want to act older than they are, feel responsible and confident for their maturity, but feel very confused and even scared because of expectations, impositions of new rules, adjustment to new routines and also, a new community.

Children will continue sharing time between their parents which is court ordered and often specified by a mediated parenting agreement, if not railroaded by an overbearing, aggressive attorney who advocates for the best interests of his client. Yet, there is a roadmap which needs be followed, unless the parents should agree otherwise based on their needs, their social desires, their change in work or school schedule.

As a child custody specialist, I find many parents and even the courts will look to the parenting agreement as a mechanical roadmap for scheduling child visitations, arranging for the physical child transfer and exchange between the parents. But, in many agreements, the calendars for many are poorly designed, based solely on both parents’ efforts to control their child’s plans rather as a contractual stipulation in time sharing than a child’s necessary downtime to chill from a hectic and draining school year.

Regardless of where dad and mom are residing, they are driven by love for their children, and will require, if not, appreciate, the help of others to protect the best interests of their children. Find a specialist to help you craft or modify your parenting agreement to account for your child’s safe travels and especially, a most rewarding and fulfilled life’s journey.

You will all then find your summer as enriching and joyful as the expectations of the eleven year old child at Nathan Hale School.
The Toby Center is a unique, holistic model for divorcing parents and children. This model offers custody consultations, supervised visitation, therapy and support for those requiring family strengthening, communication skills and co-parenting guidance.

Article written By Mark Roseman for the Huffington Post. See article here.

The Kitchen, A great Place to create and heal. (Supervised visitation in the kitchen)

I am a novice to supervised visitation. I claim no personal experience, my children were older when I divorced. But I do know what anger does, and how displaying that in front of the children can be damaging. I’ve been guilty of saying things I wish I could take back. It is true, hurt people, hurt people. We want to strike back and have someone take our side, but Please God, not the kids. My children have carried some of those memories throughout their adult lives, and sometimes I hear their disdain for what they witnessed. Now that I am in greater awareness, I would do everything in my power differently. Herein lies a great opportunity to give back.

One thing that did not escape my children is that they have wonderful remembrances of rolling dough for kreplach, the deliciousness of expectation, waiting for a pizza dough to rise, and so many dishes I cannot begin to count. It doesn’t not matter if it’s a salad or a chocolate pudding. I am compelled to offer a healing space near and dear to my heart for children and their parents.

I have worked in various kitchens throughout my life. One thing I am absolutely sure of, the kitchen is a healing place. It is the HEART of the home. And isn’t this all about healing the heart? Memories of baking chocolate chip cookies, eating them right out of the oven, the glorious mess, and the smiles knowing something good is coming, creates a warm, and comforting atmosphere. Maybe it’s a favorite holiday meal, it brings back something good and grounding and a sense of belonging. However, it takes some skill and planning. Here are some of my tips for creating that sacred healing space in the kitchen:
Intention: Establish with parent and child the intention to make this a fun and bonding experience. The kitchen is where some real magic can happen.

Mise en Place: This is the term, literally means, “Everything in order”, having all the ingredients and tools available and ready for use. It’s all there and ready to go, eliminating the stress of looking for the pans, the bowls and the food. Agree beforehand on a choice of two dishes or desserts that the child chooses.

Ground rules: The kitchen has to be a no criticize zone. In other words, if there is a mess up, there is to be no criticism, period. Our words carry power and they can either hurt or heal. Example: Child “I just dropped the eggs on the floor”. Parent, “no problem we can get another one”. There are no gaffes in the kitchen that can’t be fixed, and besides I think spills actually add to the fun. Make it fun, mom or dad!

Praise and celebration: I can’t stress enough how important it is to praise both parent and child. “Great Job! “Goes a long way! Perfectionism is not important, spending quality time together is. Celebrate the food by sitting down to the table and enjoying your creation.

Plan a goodie bag! : A special little goody bag to take home to share is a gesture of peace and speaks louder than words.
The Kitchen is a place of nourishment beyond food. Cooking together builds families, and that is something you can bring to the table.

By Laurel Herman
The Inner Kitchen


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