3 Things Every Family Needs

Family – at least the construct traditionally defined as two opposite-sex parents and their biological children – was considered the norm (and by extension, the “best” for kids) for most of the last century. But no longer.

The notion of family has moved away from rigid structures and defined roles, morphing and expanding significantly. From step to extended, blended to adoptive, gay to single, multi-cultural to co-parent…what makes a family the best one for children is one in which there is the greatest amount of three vital ingredients: love, safety and acceptance.

And it doesn’t matter which adults that love and acceptance comes from. Of course kids need what “parents” can do and contribute to children, but you don’t need a “mom” and a “dad” to take optimum care of children and give them what they need to become healthy adults.

I’m not saying traditional families aren’t valuable or sound, but its not the only way to parent intentionally or effectively. No matter your current situation, it’s always a plus to invite other people into your family circle – through your community, church, school or other affiliation – who can help you create the type of family you know is best.

I tell my kids all the time – still – that the rest of the world can say all it wants about them, but they can count on the fact that our family will always be the safest place on earth for them.

And just for the record, our family isn’t just the 4 of us.

For starters, it’s me, my 3 young-adult kids, my ex-husband and our two extended families, which include stepsiblings. Add to that my ex’s wife, her parents, my boyfriend and his family, plus a coterie of adult friends and their kids who have been welcomed into our family (and us into theirs) over the years, and you get a sense of just how broad my notion of family has become.

Here are a few real-life examples of how that works:

Because of my ex-husband’s schedule, he was unable to attend our youngest’s recent parents’ weekend at college. So his wife joined me instead and the 3 of us had a great time exploring the campus and town together.

Then there’s our holiday plan. Since there is a finite amount of time all 3 kids can be together over the winter break, we’ve decided all of us, including the kids’ father and his wife – will go on an unbelievable cruise to Antarctica together! 

This one I just love: A couple of years ago, my youngest son Quincy and I were at an event and we were introduced to a gentleman. When he found out my son’s name was Quincy, he said, “How unusual! You’re the second ‘Quincy’ I’ve heard about this week.” It turned out that Quincy had sent his stepmom an email requesting donations to a charitable organization with which he was engaged. She had forwarded it to her father. “Grandpa” not only made a donation himself, but he forwarded the email to his vast list of contacts. The man at the event? He was one of those contacts and he, too, made a donation to Quincy’s cause!

So if you feel constrained by society’s once-meager definition of family – broaden it! For sure, kids need what “moms” and “dads” can do and give to them – but those roles needn’t be defined by gender or biology. So go ahead and welcome in trusted people who will model and bestow the love, safety and acceptance every child needs to become a loving and accepting adult.

There is so much in life we cannot control – but we can control who we let into our children’s lives and our homes. The best part about it is that we each get to choose who’s in our family, making sure our kids get the maximum amount of love, safety and acceptance available.

Now that’s a family I want to be a part of.


My First Podcast

I had the great privilege and pleasure to join my friend, Teri Turner from @NoCrumbsLeft, to do a podcast on parenting. Teri is an extraordinary food blogger, chef, and mom; she shares so much of herself through her Instagram stories, her blog, and her podcasts. I was invited to join her to talk about my practice, my philosophy about Intentional Parenting, and our shared paths through divorce to effective co-parenting and more.

I hope you will take the time to listen in!

Click the link below and select the “Intentional Parenting” podcast.


Four Issues that Call for Co-Parenting 2.0

So here you are. You’ve been divorced for several years…the kids are growing up and doing well…and all’s well with co-parenting 1.0, right?

My guess is that like most divorced couples, your co-parenting arrangement underwent a bit of tweaking once you started living the realities of the plan you made in the mediator’s or attorney’s office. A co-parenting arrangement that worked for a couple of toddlers doesn’t always meet the demands and desires of school-aged kids with busier lives filled with extra-curricular activities. Then there are those unexpected life events that require an on-the-spot adjustment, like grandparents or good friends who announce a surprise visit on a weekend you don’t have the kids.

In healthy relationships post-divorce, co-parents willingly extend flexibility and consideration, especially when the “ask” is in the best interests of the kids. In fact, that’s the most important tenet of any co-parenting relationship: the mutual and agreed-upon desire to keep the kids front-and-center whenever there is a decision or alteration to be made.

Coparenting 2.0 issues generally fall into four categories:

1. Custodial

2. Medical

3. Financial

4. Relational.

Let’s take them one by one.

Custodial.  Healthy co-parents know that in terms of attachment, in terms of feeling safe, in terms of learning to trust…it is in the best interest of children to have a healthy relationship with both parents. After all, a child’s relationship with his or her parents is the fulcrum on which many of their adult decisions will rest. So when it comes to changes to who-stays-with-whom-and-when, every parent should advocate for an arrangement that considers the long-term effect on kids if they don’t have substantive time with both parents.

Problems can arise when co-parents get confused between what’s right for them versus what’s right for the kids. Even if your desire is to have the kids 100% of the time and your ex is fine with it – reconsider. Obviously parents need to assess their feelings about their spouse’s competencies as a parent. But simply because one parent was working while the other cared for the kids is not reason enough to insist on primary or sole custody. The “working” parent, with some coaching and trial-and-error, will likely turn out to be an effective parent.

If you and your co-parent are struggling in your relationship, I know it can be challenging to respond fairly when the unexpected arises. And yet I’m going to be emphatic here: Do not let your personal ill feelings or a punitive mindset affect your decision-making.

Let’s say your ex wants to take the kids on a fun camping trip, but the only weekend he could reserve a campsite is for one of your weekends. If you’re still smarting from a real or perceived slight, you may think refusing to accommodate is punishing your co-parent. But it’ll be the kids who bear the brunt of the punishment – not your ex. The question is not, “Why should I go out of my way for him?” but rather, “Is what my ex is proposing a good experience for my kids?” Deal with your feelings with your spouse – by all means — but don’t let them get in the way of making the right choice in the end.

Medical.  When it comes to the health and safety of our children, most co-parents get on the same page stat in an emergency or with a life-threatening illness; there’s just too much at stake to quibble. There are a couple of outlier situations that can arise, however.

The first has to do with parental decisions regarding important but non-emergency medical interventions such as physical or occupational therapy, vaccines, or other elective interventions. These issues can be challenging even for married couples whose values may not align, but are often exacerbated post separation.

The second issue is when one co-parent’s religious or other beliefs radically change post agreement, resulting in them no longer believing in treating even grave illnesses and/or preferring an untraditional (or unproven) approach. Since the ethics and repercussions of such decision can be far-reaching, co-parents may need to work with a mediator or even the courts to come to a sound decision.


Financial.  There are two reasons that can make finances a source of friction for co-parents:

1.    Money is a fraught topic for many – married or not

2.    Kids get more expensive every year

Co-parents generally agree on the big buckets in their initial agreement: spousal support; living expenses; gift buying; college funds. As kids age, however, they often uncover unique talents, expensive interests or develop special needs, all of which begs the question: Who pays for what?

Then there are issues like these:

·      Your ex gets a new job or a big bonus payout, is it appropriate that he or she pick up more of the extraneous childrearing expenses?

·      Your parent dies and leaves you a larger-than-anticipated estate. Do you owe any of that to your ex? Or should it impact your contributions to expenses?

These are a few of the financial reconsiderations scenarios that may affect your co-parenting agreement as time passes. If you can hash them out with your ex over a cup of coffee, that’s great. If need be, though, a conversation with a mediator or therapist can be helpful – particularly if, as with all things co-parenting, you keep the best interests of your children top-of-mind.


When your kids become teens, sometimes even co-parenting 22.0 won’t help. At 16, kids can vote with their feet (or request an Uber). In truth, parents need to honor teens’ desires to make decisions about where they want to stay. If they’re responding to a packed high school schedule and simply can’t afford the time to schlep and readjust at parent #2’s house, give them some slack. But if they’re being intentionally injurious to the other parent and can’t or won’t work with you to figure out a plan to deal with their feelings, then it’s likely time for a therapeutic intervention of some sort.

Be mindful of your own projection, too. One client believed she was “supporting her kids feelings” when they didn't want to go to their father’s for the agreed-upon weekends. To her credit, she eventually realized that it was her own rejection of her ex that was motivating her.

The other huge relational variant is when one or both co-parents begin dating. A 2.0 agreement setting some basic parameters you can both agree on can be really helpful in avoiding surprises. For example:

·      If kids are younger than X, no partner visits or overnights when the children are present

·      No introducing partners to the kids until 6 months into relationship

·      “My house, my rules” rules

Sometimes non-dating co-parents feel badly when their exes start to see other people. Here more than ever, whenever you’re faced with a decision be sure to ask yourself “Who’s interest am I really thinking about…mine or the kids?”

While it can be hard to believe in the first few years post-divorce, I know many people who have become friendly with their exes once again – and who even like and appreciate their ex’s new partner (myself included).

If you keep a few basic truths in mind when in discussions with your co-parent, I promise it will be best for everyone:

·      Treat your co-parent with respect – just as you want to be treated

·      Even if you can’t stand your ex, remember that you both love your children and want the best outcome for them

·      Know your kids are watching you and developing their values about relationships by your actions

·      Don’t trash your co-parent in front of the kids. I guarantee you’ll never regret not telling your kids how you suffered in the marriage

Being a co-parent can certainly be more logistically complicated, but when you are mindful and intentional about your decisions and actions, everyone fares better. 

Top 4 Parenting Resolutions for 2017

Somewhere in the melee that often accompanies the holidays, I hope you will find a few minutes to consider how you can develop your parenting skills to have a more fulfilling family experience in 2017.

My Top 4 New Year’s Parenting Resolutions have the potential to make you more intentional, confident, tolerant and grateful parents.


Resolution #1

Ensure You and Your Co-Parent (Married, Cohabiting or Divorced) Agree on Core Parenting Values

There is no job more significant and challenging than becoming a parent. And yet…what is a bumpy ride in the best of circumstances will feel like a rollercoaster off the rails if co-parents don’t agree to the core values by which they’ll parent and make decisions.


Here are some examples:

·      As parents, we will be kind, honest, respectful and supportive of one another and our children – and we will teach our children to do the same.

·      We will not undermine our parenting values in front of the children. If there is a conflict, we’ll go behind closed doors and discuss the situation.

·      No hitting. By anyone, of anyone.

·      As parents, we have the final say; family rules must be respected.

·      Our home will be a safe place, where diversity of opinion and personal needs are valued and honored.


If you’ve been parenting for a while, you may believe you’ve established and agreed on your core values, albeit tacitly. I promise that making the process explicit will enervate your collective resolve to parent more effectively and collaboratively.

Obviously you and your partner won’t agree on everything. Some discord is to be expected; after all, you’re unique individuals. But you do need buy-in on the values that matter most. On less-critical topics related to preference or temperament, you can work out how to accommodate the other’s needs. For example, a stay at home parent might be able to tolerate a lot of noise during the day, but is happy to ensure that home is more serene after the workday for a breadwinner who prefers a quieter household.

Naturally, the parenting conversation will continue as your kids age. But don’t wait too long to think through potential problems. I’m a huge proponent of proactively anticipating how you’ll navigate certain issues.

It’s not necessary to determine in Year 1 what you’ll do (in the unlikely event, of course!) that your son or daughter will come home drunk at 15. But when kids hit age 12 or so, that is the time to anticipate, discuss and agree on how you will react if and when it occurs.

Oh – and make sure you communicate your values and red rules to all your frontline caregivers, including family and paid help. They don’t need to agree with your values, but they do need to abide by them.


Resolution #2

Spend Less Time Negotiating Rules and Engaging in Verbal Tugs-of-War with Your Kids

If I see one more mom crouched in front of a 5 year-old trying to understand his or her “feelings” in the middle of a tantrum, I’m going to lose it! When we indulge an out-of-his-mind child in a conversation about feelings, we think we’re meeting his needs, but we’re not. What that child needs isn’t, “Use your words.” He needs support and containment.

Likewise with trying to get your kid to agree that your decision is final. Remember Mateo, the precocious child in the Linda, Linda, Listen video? It’s clear who runs the show in that household – and it’s not Linda.

Bottom line, parenting decisions do not require explanation, convincing, clear rationales, justification or proof of fairness.

 “No” is a complete sentence. “Because I said so” is, too.

 I’m not advocating being tyrannical. Certainly there are multiple age-appropriate opportunities for conversation about the family rules. And when my kids need an explanation of why, for example, they couldn’t have a cell phone at age 8, I explained why. What I didn’t do was try to convince them my position was right.


Resolution #3

Tolerate Mistakes – Yours, Your Co-Parent’s and Your Kids’

One of the most important lessons you’ll teach your child is to accept their imperfections – and to own up to their missteps when they make them.

All of us make mistakes. Sad to say, it generally takes time – and more than a single infraction – to learn how to moderate and modulate our behavior. That’s where kids need our modeling.

A typical “Dana” mistake is overscheduling. I usually pull it off, but sometimes it comes at a cost. What’s important is owning it – and making sure they see me make better decisions about what I put on my plate.

A frank admission from a parent who errs goes an extremely long way toward helping a tween feel understood. It can be as simple as, “I blew it; that was the wrong call. I’m so sorry. I’ll be more thoughtful next time.”  The more we can model how to own and learn from our mistakes, the more our kids will have the opportunity to do so themselves.

As our kids enter their teens, the stakes get even higher. At that point, our job is to help our kids think through – and avoid -- what could be catastrophic consequences of their inevitable gaffes. If your teen is the rare one who will never pick up a drink, post an unfortunate picture, or have sex, mazel tov. But since most teens will experiment in those areas, I made sure my kids understood several things:

·      If you’re going to drink – don’t drink and drive

·      The internet does not have a reliable delete button

·      If you’re going to have sex – use condoms or take birth control

·      Speaking of sex – don’t do it at a party where someone can videotape you

Tolerating the mistakes of our partner or co-parent? Not so easy, I know. It’s much easier to tolerate one’s own shortcomings – or that of a beloved first-born – than your wife’s or husband’s. What helps is remembering that we love them…and therefore they deserve the benefit of the doubt, too.


Resolution #4

Enjoy the Ride

Parenting is the most important job we’ll ever have. Personally, I think there’s nothing better. And I know there’s nothing more challenging.

The ride begins the moment we find out we’re pregnant, start the adoption process or hire the surrogate. That’s often when the fantasy about how our child’s life will unfold begins.

It’s a trap. Truth is, we cannot map out our kids’ lives. There isn’t any advance warning – like the Waze app for drivers – that prepares us for upcoming jam-ups and detours. But the ride can be enjoying and even thrilling all the same.

Some bumps are easy; others…devastating. Imagine a 2nd grader who’s not reading. A 5th grader who is being harshly bullied. A 17-year-old diagnosed with bone cancer.

It’s hard when your child doesn’t following the same trajectory as their peers. Incredibly so. The way to be a fully present and intentional parent is to do all you can to understand the new normal. Live it fully. Accept that it will be a roller coaster. You may not know when the next twist may come, but you know there’s going to be one.

There is no straight line in parenting…and no right way either. When that reality is acknowledged it takes the pressure off.  Perfection is an illusion and the Instagram and Facebook stories we are inundated with are a lie.  We all have those magical moments when everyone in the house is happy and if our lives could be a reel of those isolated moments strung together (oh yeah, that is Facebook!), we would all think life is grand.  But real like is messy and in truth it makes it more fun…and helps to build more resilient kids that can tolerate the inevitable bumps in the road.

I believe that if you do the things that make you a more thoughtful and intentional parent, you’ll feel more confident and enjoy the ride.   



What I Did on My Summer Vacation OR 20 Things I Learned About Divorce Mediation

Here I go, with a riff on that age-old middle-school essay.

As a divorced mom and parent coach, one of the things I feel passionate about is helping divorced couples co-parent to the ultimate benefit of their children. So among the many things I did this summer was to take a week to focus on my own education before I hustled to launch my three young-adult children on their individual academic adventures.

In short, I took the Divorce Mediation Skills Training Certificate Program at Northwestern University.

It having been quite a few years since I was a student, I was a tad trepidatious. I remember joking with my kids about my anxiety and attention span, but ­­­­I’m happy to report I found the experience to be enlivening and enlightening. I am particularly grateful to our two outstanding teachers, the terrific coaches they brought in to work with us and my talented cohort group.

So, what did I learn? Quite a lot! Here are a few things that people going through a divorce – and the many people who know them – might find helpful.

1.     Divorce is complicated. Of course you know that. What you may not know is that divorce isn’t just a family issue. There are actually three (count ‘em, 3) systems involved in every divorce: the Family system; the Legal system; and the IRS. Divorce is the process of navigating those three systems and negotiating the boundaries between them. Make sure your mediator helps you end up with a parenting agreement that doesn’t raise red flags in any of those areas.

2.     Fighting makes everything worse. Speaking of flags, keep a white one handy. I don’t mean surrender your rights or your wishes, but surrender fighting about them. Fighting not only kills any vestiges of family spirit, it can lead to depression, withdrawal from parenting, drug and alcohol abuse, and at its worse, even spousal or child abuse.

3.     Make sure your mediator is neutral. A mediator’s job is to ensure that both parties have their voices heard and understood. The mediator’s role is to help co-parents collaborate so they can come to agreement – not to be vested in any particular outcome.

4.     Informed decision-making is key. Divorcing couples are making extremely critical decisions at a super-fraught and emotional time in their lives. Co-parents need to be fully informed, which is why many people opt to engage lawyers and or financial experts to vet issues even as they participate in mediation.

5.     Mediators are trained to reflect your “interests”, not your rights. Mediators are not attorneys. The legal system stipulates legal rights for both parents and children in a divorce. Don’t confuse your mediator’s role and expertise with your lawyer’s.

6.     Something can be inequitable, but still be legal. There’s the rub, right? The axiom that life isn’t fair typically plays out at some point during every divorce. As best as they can, divorcing parents need to focus on the big picture the wellbeing of their children, themselves, and their former spouse. Do make sure your mediator understands that equity is relevant and important to you.

7.     Lawyers get a bad rap. Lawyers see the world through a very precise prism. From their point of view, equity isn’t relevant under the law (see #6). Sometimes they have the tough role of sharing those facts with their clients. That said, select your divorce attorney wisely and well. Most important, if you plan to engage in mediation, make sure your attorney is a willing partner to the process.

8.     Mediation is a delicate balance. Mediators are called on to make things better for one co-parent without making it worse for the other. But sometimes the best decision for the children may also happen to be easier or better for one parent versus the other. If you’re the “other,” try to keep your children’s well-being top-of-mind.

9.     Enough with the venting. I get it. Divorce sucks. Maybe even your spouse sucks. But unregulated venting in mediation is counter-productive. Mediators aren’t therapists, so they can’t cure your sense of hurt or injustice or whatever. Vent to your friends; get a therapist; join a gym. But in mediation, stay focused on the goal – an agreement that’s in the best interest of your entire family.

10.  One partner is always further along than the other. It stands to reason that the partner who initiated the divorce is more at peace with the process. Or one partner is simply better at regulating his or her emotions. One’s position relative to the other will likely shift during the process. When you’re the “further along” one, let your mediator do the work of bringing your partner along.

11.  Emotional uncoupling is a process. An extremely difficult one at that. Everyone needs to acknowledge and validate the reality that emotionally uncoupling a marriage and a family is a roller-coaster for everyone. Compassion for yourself and your family as everyone meanders through it is essential.

12.  Mediators are people, too. While many mediators have been through conflict or divorce, those who have not may come across as insensitive or surprised at a co-parent’s difficulty with the process. If that happens, acknowledge the infraction and move on.

13.  It’s not the mediator’s job to solve your problems. You and your spouse created them, so the two of you are responsible for resolving them. A mediator is there to help guide you through the process. Period.

14.  Mediators are bound by ethics of confidentiality. But be aware that confidentiality laws can vary state to state and contract to contract. Be sure you understand the confidentiality of the mediation process. Be thoughtful that the more transparent you are in the process, the more likely you are to achieve a successful outcome that protects your interests

15.  Co-parenting is not the same as parallel parenting. Obviously, co-parenting – when parents put their children’s needs first – is optimal for kids. But as it relies on regular and at least decent communication between divorced people, for some parents it’s just not realistic. Sometimes, “parallel parenting” is the only option. If that’s the case for you, make sure that is reflected in your parenting agreement by establishing clear boundaries and putting systems in place for how issues get resolved without direct contact.

16.  “Be brief; be informative; be friendly; be firm.” That’s the essence of collaborative law, and it’s part of the training for mediators. Don’t expect to become chummy with your mediator. They have an objective job to do, and that’s what you want them to focus on. It’s not a personality contest between you and your co-parent.

17.  Be as positive as possible. When going through divorce, it’s easy to focus on what you don’t want or what you won’t tolerate. But that’s not very informative to the mediator. Focus on what you do want for your kids. You’ll end up with a much better parenting agreement that way.

18.  Listen to understand, not to react. That’s the mediator’s primary job. But divorcing spouses would be wise to take such counsel. Really listen to what your spouse wants for your children; don’t be planning your response as he or she is speaking. You just may be surprised at what you hear.

19.   Focus forward. Divorce is (generally) permanent. You and your co-parent are going to continue parenting for decades. Keeping a forward focus is a constructive approach that can inhibit you from getting mired in inane arguments about issues that will only matter for a short time.

20.  No parenting agreement is ideal. But can you live with it? Does it offer the best support, consistency and safety for your children? Are you getting most of what you need? If the answer to these questions is Yes, do your kids a huge favor and sign it.

How to Support – and Set Limits - for Toddlers, Tweens and Teens Post-Divorce


In a previous post I outlined the top four reasons co-parents need to be extra vigilant post-divorce. To recap… co-parents ought to do whatever it takes to make the period immediately post-divorce as secure and protective an experience for our children as we can.


As vulnerable, anxious and upended as your children’s lives may be, divorce isn’t an excuse for bad behavior.

I can practically hear you thinking, “Really?”


Many newly divorced feel guilty that the marriage didn’t work – and even guiltier that kids have to pay part of the price. But tough times…even as tough as divorce…don’t give your kids the right to process their feelings and emotions in ways that are disrespectful to you or their siblings, break house rules, or, well, break anything.

Here’s a news flash: Your divorce won’t be the last emotionally negative experience your kid has to endure. Bad things happen in life all the time. As parents, our job is to help our children develop tools that allow them to navigate difficult times. In fact, research shows that not only do most children of divorce have healthy adulthoods, it’s how you parent post-divorce that makes the biggest difference in how your children recover…not the divorce itself.

In this post, I wanted to outline the key behaviors your Toddlers, Tweens and Teens may exhibit post-divorce, as well as several ways to support them and, ultimately, your family, through the process. 



The most resilient of the three age groups, toddlers can easily adapt to the new normal because they don’t have mindful reference points for pre- and post-divorce. What they may notice is that Daddy or Mommy isn’t around as much, and they may experience separation anxiety regarding the more-absent parent.


There are two basic signposts your toddler is feeling stressed: Shifts in sleeping and eating patterns, which you can address in your customary ways, and tantrums. Given their undeveloped prefrontal cortex, anxious or stressed toddlers often simply lose it.


What to do?  Offer your teed-off tots their “angry bear” or “angry pillow” so they have a tangible object to be mad at. And make it clear that hitting one’s brother or biting sister isn’t an option.  Be especially mindful that transitions can be challenging for toddlers, so consider that when planning the custody schedule.



School-aged children tend to be the ones who are the most surprised, scared, and worried when you tell them you’re divorcing. They don’t know what to expect, and even if they did, they have little agency to affect it.


Tweens are also more likely to be highly vigilant about your feelings – and act accordingly. If they feel Mom is vulnerable, they won’t say they’re scared for fear it could make her more upset. Walking on eggshells becomes their go-to method for navigating what feels like shaky territory. You may also notice them isolating from both family and friends, as well as some changes in their sleep, eating, and energy habits.


What to do?  Validate their feelings. Give voice to their concerns. Make sure they know you’re aware they’re having a difficult time. Invite them to share their feelings. Encourage them to visit friends and engage in favored activities.


It’s important to keep the conversation going, because you never know what you’ll learn. For example, when I divorced 8 years ago, talking to my school-aged kids revealed they were particularly worried about their Dad, who had moved out of our family home. I reassured them it wasn’t a betrayal of me to check on their father.


Cautionary note: Don’t let your issues be their concern. Take the opportunity to share your emotional experience with measured, age-appropriate honesty. It’s possible to tell your kids you’re sad without revealing the level of devastation you may be feeling. For example, I remember those first few weekends they were gone I missed them terribly, but I didn’t tell them that.  I dealt with it with my friends and my therapist– and then happily listened to them recount their exploits when they came home Sunday evening.



Your high-schoolers will likely be the least surprised of all. In fact, your announcement may just validate their felt-sense that all was not well with your marriage. But often their “aha” moment is accompanied by anger at feeling deceived.


More emotional outbursts and rebelliousness than “normal” – as well as a dip in academic performance - are telltale signs your teen is feeling the stress of the family rupture. And don’t be surprised if your friends-focused teen becomes even more so. They may even find a special comfort in their BFs – and their BFs’ homes.


What to do?  It’s crucial teens know that you and your co-parent are there for them. Assure them they can speak their mind, as well as have a little distance from you if needed, as long as they do so in respectful and agreed-upon ways. All kids, but especially teens, need to know they have a right to feel badly, but not to act badly. If they weren’t allowed to swear at you before your divorce (and let’s hope not!), they don’t get a pass to do so now.


BTW, post-divorce is a time when all kids should have the opportunity to talk to a therapist if they need to – or if you think they need to. In the latter case, even just a few sessions offer a safe and private place for kids to share their truth with an objective adult.


My kid seems to be doing fine. Should I be looking for signs of trouble?

Each child comes to terms with divorce differently. Some will be immediately sad, while others may need more time to process the information. Denial, sometimes coupled by the fantasy that Mom and Dad will reunite, is also a perfectly normal response.


Another cautionary note: A muted initial response doesn’t mean that things will stay calm or good. There are a lot of transitional moments post-divorce, and feelings and reactions can be delayed.


Naturally, no one would advocate divorce as a life-skills “teaching moment.” But in my personal experience and with my coaching clients, when co-parents stay alert, present and in good communication with their kids and one another, divorce can be a situation from which the entire family recovers.


Four Reasons Why Co-Parenting Post Divorce Matters More Than Ever


Like many of you, I’m a co-parent…collaborating with my ex-husband to raise our three kids, who were under the age of 13 when we first separated. Just like parenting with a live-in spouse or partner, co-parenting has its joys – and its challenges. In my view, though, co-parents have an extra responsibility to their children given the family rupture. Here are four reasons why effective co-parenting matters more than ever.


Kids are acutely vulnerable post-divorce, so their security and attachment needs must be paramount.  Let’s face it: Separation and divorce mark an unprecedented transition for children. The ground underneath their feet has shifted irrevocably, and it’s impossible for them to know that things will work out – no matter how much you and your co-parent reassure them. Your child’s reasoning goes something like this: “If Mommy and Daddy can stop loving one another, they can stop loving me.”


Kids can’t wait until the dust settles. Immediately post divorce, especially the first six months, everyone is raw. I’ve had parents describe feeling as if they’re drowning – and utterly incapable of keeping anyone else afloat.

But keeping your kids above water is non-negotiable, because they are more vulnerable than ever as they try to figure out the new normal for their lives – now that we’ve changed the rules.

I’m not saying your needs don’t matter. I believe parental self-care matters big-time. I often tell clients that you cannot take care of your children at the expense of yourself.   Divorce is an emotionally wrenching experience, and you may need to turn to therapists, family and friends for support more than usual. On the other hand, you cannot and must not take care of yourself at the expense of your children. You are entitled to your feelings – but they cannot be your children’s problem, nor can they supercede your childrens’ needs.

As co-parents, we have to learn how to deal with our personal crisis on our own time – and find ways to manage our feelings and emotions when we’re parenting so we can be there for our kids.


You only get one chance to do this right.  Here’s the Truth with a capital T: When it comes to the transition immediately post-separation or divorce, you don’t get a second chance to provide much-needed stability for your kids.

Their lives have been upended – physically, emotionally, familially. Your kids don’t necessarily believe what you say – they believe what you do and what they experience. So be particularly vigilant about the following:

·      Try not to add anything or anyone new to your lives at this juncture; there’s plenty “new” to attend to

·      Do not use your kids as a go-between for communicating with your co-parent

·      Do not argue or fight with your co-parent in front of the kids – or disparage her or him in any way

·      Establish clear expectations and limits your kids can depend on, no matter what (more on this in a moment)

No one is expecting perfection. You and your co-parent will make mistakes, but if you make effective co-parenting your priority, you and your kids will recover from them.


Kids need clear expectations and limits – immediately post-divorce more than ever.  Kids can thrive in tough environments, but during times of strife they need even more consistency, external structure and limits. Here are some priorities in this regard:

·      Agree on the “red rules” that stem from the core values you share - rules both co-parents follow at both households

·      Make the big decisions – e.g., medical issues, religious celebrations and school concerns -- together as co-parents

·      Be consistent in how inappropriate behavior is addressed. Letting behavior slide that pre-divorce would not have been tolerated is detrimental to your kids’ stability

·      Eliminate worry and anxiety for your kids by establishing and sticking to a routine for household and “stuff” transfers


Parenting can be hard for everyone on the best of days. When co-parents stay aware and alert to their children’s needs post-divorce – ensuring they are well-adjusted and feel safe – life is easier and more stable for everyone.


Newly separated or divorced? Please feel free to ask me a parenting question