By Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
As I drove by the streets in the city and noticed human beings sleeping on the ground with a blanket wrapped around them in the cold, the man on the corner staring blankly as if there was nothing left in his soul, and the woman dancing in the streets with no music playing; I began to ponder how this happened. I know some people say, “it’s drugs”, “these people are…”, “they chose to live this way”, etc. I wanted to look at this more closely and better understand why there are people living on the streets, with no place to go staring blankly. All these people share something in common; they are homeless, possibly on drugs, or possibly have mental health issues (or both); they are also a son/daughter, sister/brother, mother/father, friend, cousin, grandma/grandpa, they are ‘somebody to someone’. These people are human beings who have feelings and a story to tell. So, I began sitting down with them to hear their stories.
A woman described her story where she escaped domestic violence, left her children behind because she felt he would have killed her and their children. This woman had the courage to leave her children behind to save them and herself. She was not being selfish, she was not thinking about herself; she was thinking about her family and leaving the man who tried to kill her. She stated, “he can hit me all he wants, but I refuse to allow him to continue to beat me down emotionally; I am a good person.”
Another man lost his job making six figures after he came home and found his wife with another man. He started to drink every night to heal the emotional pain, he started to slack at work, drink more alcohol and dabble with other drugs; and eventually lost everything. His eyes were blank, yet he wanted help so he could find himself again. He still had a small twinkle in his eye to find hope.
A male talking to himself and others telling people the FBI is after him and he needs to get to the post office before they find him. People stared at him strangely and his paranoia increased. He was begging for help, crying and yet he was ignored and laughed at.
A female in her 30’s was dancing in the middle of the streets appearing to be clueless others were watching. She was in another world, one may say. When she came to the sidewalk. I inquired about her life. She reported hesitantly she once had a husband and three children, with a big house and white picket fence. After she and her son were in a serious car accident where a semi truck side swiped her small car, her youngest child died at the age of 3, and she was seriously injured. She recalls this time to be blurred and painful. As she suffered in pain, both emotional and physical, she could not get past the death of her three-year-old son. She was discharged from the hospital three months later with 80 pain pills and some physical therapy. She and her husband grew apart and her two other children were distant from her. She didn’t know how to cope so she lived on pain pills and slept. Once the pain pills wore off, her doctors refused to provide anymore; so she found heroin. She hesitantly said, “I was not one of those drug seekers, I was in pain both physically and emotionally, and a skeleton of myself. I was no longer there, rather an existence of myself.” She reported the heroin took over and she used methamphetamines during the day so she could care for her children and “get by.” Her husband had thrown himself into work and she was home.
I sat down with a 70 year old man who I could barely understand because he spoke gibberish, but I understood he had served in the Navy during Vietnam, he had a PhD in Engineering, he lost his wife and children in a house fire and had recently been beaten while sleeping outside. He had a kind soul, laughed at his whimsical nonsense, and his eyes lit up when he spoke about a warm plate of food. He said he had been living on the streets for 30 years and was always moving to stay warm and safe. Although he was an honorable veteran (he showed proof of his DD214 that read ‘honorably discharged’; he still lived on the streets and his demeanor and speech was like talking to a 10 year old in a 70 year old body. His sleeping bag and bag of items were next to his bike and he gracefully requested that he needed to leave so he could find his ‘bed’ for the night outside. He politely said “thank you” and rode away on his bike.
These stories are real, these are human beings who have a story and reasons why they are on the streets homeless wondering around trying to find something to bring them a moment of peace. People are too busy looking at them, making a judgement rather than a hand up or simple prayer, staring at them while they act strangely or stay away because they are dirty. What happened to our community where people cared for others, even strangers and offered a helping hand or a kind word?
I may not have the answers to the questions above, rather than a reflection about how every human being deserves a chance. These streets that I drive on and see people of all races, sexual orientation, backgrounds, socioeconomic status, etc. have a story to tell. Majority of these people did not intend to end up homeless, on the streets, and some participating in illicit drugs to make the days go by easier. Rather, they ended up on the streets because of life circumstances. Every individual and family I spoke to had a story to tell. Some were waiting to be housed, possibly the 780th in line for housing. Other ones were waiting for treatment, or didn’t know where to seek help. While others reported, they keep trying to find help, work, etc. and unable to locate the resources. As many people said, “I find a job easy, but cannot hold the job because they don’t have an address, reliable transportation, an alarm clock, trespassed in the area, and the list goes on. Rather than thinking about what movie they are going to watch, or what they were going to eat for dinner; they worried about where they were going to sleep for the night without being beaten, frozen, trespassed, or have their stuff stolen.
After many weeks spending time speaking with individuals and families who were homeless, I reflected about my own misjudgments about people who were living on the streets. They were not monsters; they were human beings trying to survive on the streets. They had life circumstances that negatively impacted their lives, made wrong choices, lost their jobs, turned to drugs and alcohol, had mental health issues, etc. I know I have had my share of negative events in my life and thankfully have a roof over my head, food to eat, and a family to go home to. As I reflected about the people I met and how they ended up homeless, I realized how important it is to enjoy every moment, through the good and bad; and not take life for granted.
I did not write this article for negative comments or judgements, I wrote this article based on my experience meeting people who are homeless in the greater Seattle area and listened to their stories. I wanted to share my experience with others and what I learned. Thank you for reading. And may we humble ourselves when we walk or drive by someone who is homeless, especially during the holiday season and cold months, and remember they are human beings who have a story to tell.
The 5 Do’s and Dont’s about dating after separating/divorcing from your partner especially when you have children. And, when is it the ‘right’ time to introduce a new partner to your children?
Written by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
Let’s admit, dating after marriage or being together for a long time is difficult and scary. This applies to everyone including those who are not married. Adding children into the picture and the the dating scene seems even scarier and sometimes “too much work.” How do you know when it is the right time to begin dating post divorce? The ‘rule of thumb’ to begin dating after your marriage ends is for every year you were married, allow yourself one month to heal. For example, if you were married for ten years, allow yourself ten months before dating. I know, some people say, “that’s too long” or “that’s not long enough.” This article is just a guide; please follow your own path on what feels right to you and when you think you are ready.
1. Do allow yourself to heal after your divorce and allow time to find yourself. Allow yourself to be alone and allow yourself to grieve the divorce. Yes, many couples will say ‘our marriage was over a long time ago and I am over her/him.” Yes, you may feel this way, however, is this really what is going on inside your emotional psyche? Be honest with yourself and give yourself time to be a single parent, spend quality time with your children and yourself. Find a balance in your life for work, children/family, alone time and time for friends. No need to rush into the dating world; it’s most likely changed since you were dating.
Don’t begin dating right after you separate or divorce. Don’t bring another possible love partner into your children’s lives right away, allow the family to find their new normal and healthy balance. The children do not need to be involved with your dating life; that may set everyone up for more chaos.
2. Do begin to date after you feel you are in a good place in your new life. Do check in with yourself to ensure you are healthy and have allowed time (use the ‘rule of thumb’ or another gauge) to heal. Do look at the new single scene (a lot may have changed since you were married), and possibly sign up for a dating site (make sure to read the site reviews and what the dating site is about – some dating sites are merely for ‘hooking up.’). Do go out with friends when your children are with the other parent (or a babysitter/family/friend if the other parent is not around). Do go out in groups of people or meet people out in public such as a park or restaurant.
Don’t meet someone you have met online or never met before alone in a secluded place. A great rule to make is to always meet up with someone new (regardless if you know them casually) with a group of people or in a crowded area. Make sure your children are not around and only know you are going out with friends.
3. Do enjoy dating. Dating is challenging at times and it is best to keep it light and friendly. Beware of the men and women out there who are pushing for a relationship or wanting more (like sex) right away. Watch out for the red flags (ex. they are in love quickly, they call or text all the time, too good to be true, etc.). Slow down and get to know people. Do let the people you are dating know upfront you are not ready for anything serious and just in the initial dating phase. Do allow yourself to be content with dating and allow your voice to be heard. If the person just texts, let them know you want phone calls so you can get to know them better. It’s difficult to get to know someone through texting. Here is an opportunity to be selective and see who is out there. There is no need to rush.
Don’t rule out quality people for a dating partner who may be shorter, taller, larger, skinnier, not gorgeous, etc. Get to know someone by email and phone before going out in the first date. You may be surprised the person you like isn’t what you would have normally chosen. Don’t have sex on the first five dates and even then evaluate whether you are truly ready for this next step. Possibly sex is sex to you or them, but sex can bring a whole new element into the relationship. Don’t allow someone to come on too strong; checkmate them at the door and let them go. Be patient…it takes time. You may date many people before finding someone who you connect with on a deeper level.
4. Do allow yourself to like someone. Once you have selected someone you may be interested in more than a ‘casual fling,’ do begin seeing them more regularly without the children. If this feels right, and you are checking in with yourself regularly, and this person has the same level of interest; possibly the two of you will discuss what the next steps are. Do you continue to keep it casual or become exclusive? Remember there is no rush and you have time to get to know someone. Yes, it feels enlightening, warm and fuzzy when you like someone, enjoy this time. No need to rush!
Don’t rush to have your new love interest meet your children. Keeping your children out of the dating scene is very important. If you have found someone you want to be exclusive with, make sure they feel the same way. Some questions to ask yourself (check in moment); Do they have children? How long have they been single since their last relationship? If they don’t have children, how do they feel about being around children? Are your children prepared to have another adult person brought into their lives? Have you discussed (age appropriate) possibly dating with your children and if so what was their reaction(s)? Listen to your children and decide whether they are ready to meet your ‘special’ friend.
5. Make sure you are over your ex. If you are still wondering what your ex is doing, missing him/her, thinking about your ex, you are not ready to date!
Don’t begin dating to fill the empty void after separating from your spouse. This is the time for personal growth, exploration and putting your goals into action. Fill the empty void with devoting time to yourself, children, family and Friend’s. Begin accomplishing your goals and build your self esteem. Remember healthy people attract other healthy people. Find your new normal healthy balance.
These five Do’s and Don’ts about dating after your marriage ends is only a guide. You know yourself and what is best for you. If you are still struggling after one year (or less), find a relationship coach our therapist to help you move toward a fulfilling life (might be a good choice anyways). You deserve to be happy and finding ways to execute this is finding your new normal balance.
I am here to answer questions and provide the best possible answer based on my expertise, knowledge and experience. I will answer one to two questions per “Ask Rochelle…”. Please keep your questions coming at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to answer your questions. Thank you and always remember you matter!
*Please remember I am not an attorney nor do I act as an attorney regarding any legal issues. I am licensed in the state of Washington and adhere to their guidelines as far as state laws and mandates. I will answer questions based on the knowledge I have learned throughout the years and what works and doesn’t work in my practice.
Question: I haven’t seen my kids for 284 days even though there is a parenting plan in place and my ex-husband has been found in contempt twice by the courts. We have two children, 8 y.o. And 12 y.o. My ex-husband continues to use the children as a way to hurt me. With this Corona virus, he now uses this and the courts are closed. We have 50/50 joint custody and the children state “they hate me and never want to see me.” We had a counselor, however, he was making the situation worse (in my opinion) because he didn’t hold the father accountable for having the kids available for their appointments. I would show up and their father would always have an excuse. Now there is a shelter in place and the therapist is only doing video and my ex will not allow the children to engage in video. Any suggestions?
I want you to know you are not the only one going through this. There are so many parents going through this right now and have been suffering for years. There are support groups online you can join to help with this endeavor as you seek to see your children.
Your ex-husband has not been held accountable and will continue to act in this manner until he is held accountable AND even then he may justify in his mind he is doing the right thing. Without knowing all the details and how you got here today (there are so many potential factors), it is hard to provide guidance without the facts. However, generally speaking you have been an involved parent with no abuse history, substance abuse issues or mental health concerns (without taking you medications/treatment); this may be a case of parental alienation or something around those lines. Provided the information provided it is hard to tell. Parental Alienation, whether covert or overt, is hard to prove in court. Your odds are better finding an expert working with these type of cases and having the expert outline the recommendations. It has been a long time since you have seen your children and based on what the father has told them, your actions (or inactions), they may be mad or hurt and their guard is up. This is very frustrating as a targeted parent because you are stuck especially with the ‘shelter in place’ order.
Please note the shelter in place order does not prohibit parents from following the parenting plan. This is deemed essential and parents are following an order by the courts to see their children. 1. Reach out to the therapist you are working with and request that you see your children. 2. Are the courts open for contempt motions or motion to compel? If so, you may want to note this matter as URGENT and see if the judge will hear this matter because it is an emergency. If the courts deny to hear your motion now, keep the motion in place for when the courts re-open. 3. Follow the parenting plan and court orders. Call the children when you are supposed to, video chat with them per the orders and if there is residential time and no restrictions, request by email (preferably using an app such as talking parent, my family wizard, etc) to the father that you will be following the parenting plan and will pick the kids up at this time on this day. If he doesn’t respond or responds “we are busy” or “have plans” or whatever, politely state with no emotions, you will be picking up the children for your court ordered residential time, phone calls, etc. Remember to document everything (date, time, etc.) and show up or call for the times even if the father denies access or your children state they don’t want to see you.
Question: The custodial parent is denying my residential time with our children during this pandemic. I only live 10 minutes away and our family is healthy.
Ask Rochelle: The shelter in place order is for non essential people and businesses to not travel or be out other than going to the grocery store. The parenting plan set in place is considered ‘essential’ and there is a court order set in place. Both of you must follow the parenting plan unless both parents agree to deviate from the plan and are truly concerned about the children’s welfare because someone in the household is sick with the virus or other reasons. However, if it is your residential time, you are the parent to decide whether you feel the children are safe or not. With you living only ten minutes away there should be no reason not to see your children. Every state seems to have addressed this issue and some parents are getting in trouble for withholding the children for no reason. Look at your state laws and whether the courts are open. Best of luck to you.
Overall, do what you can to co-parent with the other parent. Hear their side and possibly they have some valid concerns. Communicate as business partners and keep the emotions out. Hopefully the other parent will listen to you as well. Talk to your children if they are old enough (over 12) and see (age appropriate) how they feel during this time. Open and honest communication is truly what is best for your children.
Send your questions to email@example.com. I look forward to your questions. Take Care of You, love yourself and others and forgive the ones who hold you from moving forward.
Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
Take Care of Yourself And Decrease Unnecessary Stress During this time…
We are all living in the time of uncertainty. Our world is going through an ever evolving learning curve on ways to handle this pandemic known as the COVID-19. Many people are rushing to the stores buying vast amounts of toilet paper, cleaning products, papertowels, medicine for colds and flu, thermometers, water and various other products. Our country is watching other cities and countries battle this pandemic. Depending where you live, majority of people are on self-quarantine, optional quarantine, state lockdown, country lockdown. People are reacting in their ‘flight or fight’ (response is a physiological reaction that occurs to a response during a perceived harmful event (Gross, 1998) mode. Some people are fighting and others are fleeing, (i.e hoarding products and food (fight response) or staying in their home with very little contact with the outside (flight)). Regardless, stress levels are on the rise and their mental health is decreasing.
Stress is known to decrease the immune system (McLeod, S.A. 2010). The main stress hormone is cortisol (built in alarm system, ability to control your mood, motivation and fear). When cortisol is released during a stressful response, the immune system is unable to regulate our body and neurological system. When we are stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses and other medical conditions. Hence, we become more susceptible to infections. Stress is linked to headaches, infectious illnesses (flu, colds, other viruses), cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma and gastric ulcers. Does heightened stress also increase the chances of being infected with or worsening the symptoms when positive for COVID-19? Research indicates, yes.
Since we know stress may increase the chances of getting sick, what can we do during this unsettling time?
- Be mindful – stay in the present moment, enjoy the moment and little things in life.
- Limit media exposure and computer screen time (pop ups occur) to 30 minutes a day. Pinterest and online shopping is always a fun way to spend time.
- Get outside, even if it is in your front or backyard.
- Keep in touch with friends and family either via Skype, FaceTime, phone calls, texting, etc. Isolation is unhealthy.
- Keep going to counseling via tele therapy – no reason to stop.
- Exercise inside or outside. Exercise is vital for stress regulation.
- Give yourself plenty of forgiveness tokens – yes you will get stressed, you may cry, shout, sleep, etc. Allow this, however not for too long. Make sure to check in if this continues for more than a day.
- Family time is important, play games, go for walks outside if permitted, watch funny movies, cook together, etc.
- Declutter the house and organize.
- Stick to a routine, normalize your life as it is now. This too will pass.
DO NOT PANIC, PREPARE! “It is important to not let fear control your life” (McGuire, J.F., 2020). Do wash your hands for at least 20 second, practice social distancing with the public, do not touch your face with your hands if they are dirty and other safety measures. In the mental health world, some individuals are already diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This pandemic is providing majority of our world to have this temporary diagnosis. If you are a sufferer of pre-COVID-19, please ensure to be in touch with your therapist regularly. OCD can be debilitating and during times like this even more so. If you did not have this diagnosis prior to this pandemic, and find yourself cleaning over an hour a day, washing your hands to the point of them sloughing, stressing too much, etc, please reach out to a therapist.
Not only is OCD a concern, so is depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. Please do not ignore symptoms of these issues; for example sleeping for hours on end, eating to comfort, loss of energy or motivation (if not sick), panic attacks, suicidal thoughts/actions, cleaning for hours, exhausted for no reason, etc. If you are feeling this way, DO NOT WAIT! Contact a therapist immediately and a friend/family member. You are not alone!
On a positive note, this is an opportunity to spend time as a family (if you have one living with you), find new activities you enjoy, enroll in online learning, declutter your home, catch up on reading and find a new way of enjoying your time. Change can be difficult for some, especially forced change out of your control. Control what you can and roll with the ever rolling changes. This too shall pass.
Written By Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
What exactly is parental alienation? “Parental alienation when one parent alienate the affections of the children so the child does not want to be with or spend time with the other parent.” (Darnell, D. 2007).
Parental Alienation is not for those parents who have been estranged from their non-favored parent due to domestic violence, abuse, un-treated mental health issues, substance abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, etc. Parent Alienation occurs when parents who were once involved in their children’s day to day lives, has an emotional connection with their child(ren), does not present any of the above issues and were close to their child at one time in their life; especially during the first seven years of their lives (Bowlby, 1998).
High conflict parents (HCP) already struggle with co-parenting and/or parallel parenting. When parenting alienation occurs, either overt or covert, this shuts down the communication further between the HCP. Unfortunately, children and teens are left in the trenches of this psychological trauma. Children love both parents and should feel free to express their feelings and emotions towards either parent, unfortunately this is not the case when parent alienation is present.
Some signs parental alienation is present:
1. Children (includes teenagers) state they are ‘scared’ of their non-favored parent, however unable to articulate the reason(s) of this fear. They outwardly show disdain and hatred toward this non-favored parent, not fear to speak to them. For example, I had a 10 year old and her mother in my office working through their relationship when the 10 year old stated she was scared of her mom and then five minutes later this same girl who said she ‘feared’ her mom began screaming and hitting her mom stating how much she ‘hated her mom.’ When children are truly afraid of their parent, they do not act like this.
2. Children erase the good memories and distort or remember only the bad memories. When children are shown pictures of their non-favored parent enjoying their time with their children, children make statements such as “he/she must have cut and paste this picture,” “this event never happened,” “see how crazy they are to create made up photos,” etc.
3. Children parrot (repeat) their favored parents wording and explanations as to why they do not ‘like’ their non-favored parent. For example, a 7 year-old may say “My mom has schizophrenia and is not taking her Haldol as prescribed so she is not safe.” Or “My dad killed our cat so he is a psychopath and scary.” What 7 year-old explains their reasoning this way? Few, if any. However, when professionals interview the favored parent, the same comments above are made during the meeting. These are big adult wording, not from a 7 year-old. Additionally, when children are asked to explain more about the situation, they usually say “I just know” or repeat themselves. There is very little substance to the child’s allegations.
4. The residential parent provides a non-working phone number, a message only phone, does not allow any communication between the non-favored parent and child. This also includes throwing away snail mail, deleting messages, blocking the other parent from any communication. However, it may look like the favored parent is supportive of communication and just doesn’t understand why the non-favored parent doesn’t contact their children.
5. The child/teen asks to change their last name because they don’t want to be associated with the non-favored parent.
6. The child/teen has no interest in staying in touch with your side of the family; i.e. grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. This is especially true when the child/teen was once close to your side of the family and now they don’t talk or want to see them.
Ways To Cope With Possible Alienation:
1. Seek Legal consult with an attorney well-informed of parental alienation immediately.
2. Continue to see you child/children if you are ‘allowed’ to. Don’t give up. Continue to write to them, call them, and/or begin a blog on the web so they may see it and help you feel part of their lives.
3. Seek professionals to help yourself and children. Make sure the professionals are educated in high conflict child custody. Ask questions about their professional background and methodologies working with PA (parental alienation).
4. Try not to let this go on too long. The longer the child/teen goes without contact the less likely the child/teen will want a relationship with their non-favored parent. Unfortunately, family court may take awhile so do your best to have assertive patience (be patient, however ensure the process is moving forward).
5. Self-Care. Take care of yourself, seek out self help groups, counseling for you, exercise, sleep, taking a walk, journaling, drawing, seeing friends/family, whatever soothes you. Stay healthy mentally and physically. This is not an easy time, some say one of the hardest. Self care is essential!
Remember if your family is suffering from PA, the children are the ones in the middle. These children are not the ones to blame or get mad at, these children are in pure survival mode. These children have learned to appease their favored parent and not ‘rock the boat’ with them or there will be conditions/consequences they will need to deal with if they go against the favored parents wishes.
Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
- Serve and return. (n.d.).
- Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development. New York: Basic Books.
I was recently asked by a Commissioner, “Ms. Long, would it be fair to ask, in your opinion, should parents focus more on their children’s needs and desires rather than how much parenting time they receive?” Since I was acting as an expert witness on this case, I provided a standard answer, “The children shall be the center focus, and the decisions made are based on the children’s best interests.” After leaving the court room I began to ponder more about this question, and explored what the true meaning of “best interests of the child.”
Although there does not appear to be a definitive answer for what “the best interests of the child means”, the ‘best interests’ concept derives from the courts determining several key factors (child welfare.gov):
1. The emotional ties and bonding between the parent(s) or caregivers, including siblings.
2. The capacity of the parents to provide a safe environment, with adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical.
3. The mental and physical health needs of the children.
4. The mental and physical health needs of the parents.
5. The presence of any past or present Domestic Violence within the home.
6. The presence of any subastance abuse issues.
7. The child’s wishes (depends on age and maturity).
While the above listed key factors are obvious and shall be taken into account when determining parenting time, we must review some other relevant factors that may be possibly secretly denied by the courts or argued by the attorneys/parties. Children do not come with a price tag, nor are children up for sale. Parents who argue about 30%, 50%, 70%, etc. of parenting time and negotiate who decides what the children can and cannot do is potentially dangerous to these children. Parenting plans are considered legal binding and if they are not followed as written, one or both parents may be in contempt of law. Contempt, in layman’s terms, is a legal order that is not being followed and a Judge may issue all sorts of penalties, including jail time and financial payment. Parents argue all the time in court, disagree on what the parenting plan says, do not follow the parenting plan as written, etc. What about the children? Where is their voice? And what about the developmental stages; a three-year-old has different needs than a twelve-year-old; and a sixteen-year-old is more interested in their social, extra curricular, education, etc. You get the gist of what is being discussed and parents still argue amongst themselves regardless of the needs and wants of their children/teenagers. Just stop for a moment and reflect (if you really care about your kid); what is the best interest my child?
Courts are looking to professionals to make recommendations for the children and teenagers. Family courts are beginning to sway toward the children’s needs and wants especially when they are older. Family courts are even providing more guidance toward adding different stages in the parenting plan due to their ages and development. Additionally, courts are finally recognizing the importance of extra curricular activities and social aspects of the children’s lives. So, parents, if you are truly interested in the best interests of your children; truly hear them and do your best to incorporating their wishes into the parenting plan.
When I testify in court again and the Judge asks me about the best interests of the children; I will provide a more detailed answer based on the child and their family history. We need to listen to the children and teenagers out there going through these tough situations. It has nothing to do with the amount of time each parent receives, it is about the quality of time and allowing the child to grow and prosper.
Written by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
Owner and Founder of Long Counseling and Evaluation Services, PLLC
Written by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
Parenting children and adolescents with intact families where there are two parents in the same household is challenging as it is. Parents who are no longer together (or never were) and going through custody battles takes parenting their children to another layer of potential complications. The decisions being made about where the children will reside majority of the time, decision making, education, medical, extra curricular activities, vacations, holidays, child support and so much more is now consuming these families.
Majority of parents (approximately 80% depending on the research you read) going through child custody issues resolve their issues fairly quickly and move forward so they can begin their ‘new normal’ lives. These parents are able to resolve their issues and find ways to co-parent for the most part with some bumps along the way. This is absolutely the best for all parties involved especially for the children. Why can majority of parents figure this out and the other 20% of parents are unable to see past their own beliefs?
These other 20% of parents are considered to be high conflict custody cases plaguing the family law courts. These parents have difficulty seeing past their own beliefs, challenging to see the best interests of the children and most importantly keep fighting in court, spending enormous amounts of money attorneys, mental health professionals, parenting evaluators, court appointed evaluators (Guardian AdLitems), etc.
For the past 19 years I have worked with several hundred high conflict custody cases and have found there is no ‘co’ in co-parenting. Co-Parenting is when both parents are able to communicate effectively for the sake of their children, put their personal feelings aside and discuss what is best for the children. Co-Parents use the parenting plan as a guide, not the ‘bible’ nor do they threaten ‘contempt’ or ‘court’ with every email, text or communication. Of course co-parents have their disagreements, however, they learn ways to overcome these obstacles for the children’s sake. Parents who are considered ‘high conflict’ are incapable of co-parenting due to many reasons. However, if you break down the main reason high conflict parents are unable to effectively co-parent is the challenges of getting past their rigid beliefs about the other parent. Additionally, it may just be one parent creating the conflict and the other parent on the ‘defense’ trying to work with the difficult parent.
What can these parents who are on the defense do when trying to ‘reason’ with the difficult parent? Some professionals will say ‘nothing.’ Yet, I have found the following techniques to ‘help’ when going through these ugly custody battles and dealing with the difficult parent:
- Do not respond to an email or text when the context is blaming, threatening, etc. If there is something that needs to be answered, ONLY answer what needs to be answered with no emotions attached…business only!
- Keep all emails and text messages brief, clear, concise as if you are responding to a business colleague. Stay on point and do not stray to other topics.
- Use the 24 (minimum) to 48 hour rule before responding to an email or text that needs attention, however is upsetting to you. If the email/text needs immediate response, wait as long as you can and then run it by a friend, family member, professional, etc. to make sure you are answering without any emotion. Write the context in word or another document so you can read an re-read your answer. Then copy and paste when you believe you have provided a brief, clear and concise (BCC) message.
- DO NOT PROVIDE MORE AMMUNITION THAT CAN AND WILL BR USED AGAINST YOU. Always be professional and use the BCC method.
- Document everything – keep your notes, documents, everything organized where you can easily find.
- Have an email account just for this parent so you have a reference point and can stay organized.
- Communicate only by email (sometimes text if need be). This keeps the emotions out of the communication and provides extra time to respond.
- Do not deviate from the parenting plan set in place (if there is one). If the other parent does, make sure to document – do not threaten the other parent. If you plan to take action, speak with your attorney and see the best plan of action. Court may not be the answer.
- Try to resolve the custody battle sooner than later. Go through arbitration rather than mediation. Try to avoid trial if you can.
- Keep focused on your children. DO NOT SPEAK NEGATIVE ABOUT THE PARENT “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
- Spend time with your children, laugh, have fun and be a parent to your children. Try not to focus on the ugly custody battle going on when you are around your children.
- SELF CARE
- Seek a professional counselor who is trained in this area to help keep you focused on what is important.
- Remember the difficult parent is doing whatever they can to make you look BAD…keep living your life, move forward and keep your personal life (such as dating) away from the children while going through this custody battle. You do not want the other parent to know anything about you. The difficult parent will question the children unfortunately so keep your focus on the kids. DO NOT QUESTION YOUR CHILDREN!
- When the kids ask hard questions, answer them age appropriate. Try to keep the courts out of your relationship with them except on a need to know basis such as if there is a court appointed evaluator (GAL, parent evaluator, etc.) and letting the children know what to expect (not what to say).
Again, these are simply guidelines I have used in my practice and have implemented in my model when working with high conflict families. These guidelines have appeared to help calm down the high emotions and sometimes assist parents in resolving their high conflict issues rather than running through the vicious cycle of going to court and feeling like you didn’t get anywhere. Taking the emotions out of the equation and treating the other parent as a business transaction may work in many of these cases. If anything, it helps one or both parents to keep their emotions in check when corresponding with the other parent.
Give this a try and let me know if this works in your situation or practice. Working with high conflict parents is already challenging, so assisting them with anything that may help is a positive in my opinion.
Written By Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC
Rochelle has years of experience working with high conflict families and helping them find what works for their family. She thinks outside the box and has helped many families settle out of court.
Many families ask, “how did we get here, and why doesn’t the Commissioner/Judge see it my way?” Couples are divorcing and/or separating that have children is approximately fifty percent (apa.org, 2016) and most professionals agree the percentage is most likely higher because not every couple is legally married. Majority of couples are able to separate on ‘decent’ terms and co-parent (make joint decisions as it relates to their children, and do what they feel is best for their children). These couples rarely, if ever, attend court, and usually settle at the ‘kitchen table’ (among themselves) or attend mediation to help make decisions as it relates to the divorce, assets, and children.
The other group of couples separating and/or divorced with children (approximately 20% of separating couples with children (apa.org, 2016)) are considered ‘high conflict couples.’ This article pertains to the HCC (high conflict couples), and the possible reasons for the high conflict.
There are many reasons why couples end up in high conflict battles over their children. This article will review the most common reasons. Ending a marriage and/or relationship when children are involved is painful. Not only are the ‘adults’ affected; the children are affected too. In fact these children are in the ‘middle’ of their parents high conflict custody battles, and feel torn between both parents. Let’s face it, children love both parents, are half of both parents, and have a need for both parents.
Victims (whether male or female) of DV may leave their partner and find that a form of PA is involved which has been termed Domestic Violence by Proxy (DV by Proxy), a term first used by Alina Patterson, author of Health and Healing. DV by Proxy refers to a pattern of behavior which is a parent with a history of using domestic violence or intimidation, uses a child as a substitute when she/he no longer has access to the former partner. Parental Alienation may give us an idea of what is happening but perhaps is not strong enough to convey the criminal pattern of terroristic behaviors employed by the abuser.When the victim leaves the abuser, abusers often recognize that the most expedient way to continue to hurt and control the partner is via legal rights to control the victim’s access to their children. By gaining control of the children, an abusive partner now has a powerful tool which allows them to continue to stalk, harass or physically abuse an ex-partner even when the abuser has no direct access. Moreover, by emotionally torturing the child and severing the bond between children and the target parent (TP), the abuser is able to hurt the intended victim, the target parent (TP), in a way the AP can’t escape.
DV by proxy is scary for most, and our family court system does not recognize this type of domestic violence.
If you or someone you know is going through this, please let them know they are not alone. This is a scary place for most and no one shall walk this journey alone. Reach out to us because we understand DV by proxy and can guide you along the way.
Self Care is Mandatory while working with High Conflict Families…Why?
Working with high conflict families going through child custody battles is not an easy task. Professionals in this field easily burnout and need to take care of themselves first so they are physically and mentally prepared to work with this population.
I was working on a challenging high conflict custody case a few years back and noticed I was tired more than usual, not as motivated, didn’t enjoy work or other activities, cranky and overall felt blah! This is not my usual self, nor do I normally have these days consecutively. I kept pushing forward until one day I remembered what a professor once instructed in class about life lessons. He asked our class if you ever begin to notice the following it is time to re-evaluate your life path:
- Have you lost your compassion for more than seven days?
- Do you find yourself just going through the motions?
- Do you feel overwhelmed and walk away from your tasks?
- Are you enjoying what you are doing?
- Is what you are doing working for you?
- Do you feel motivated and ready for each day?
- Do you have energy or are you tired most of the time?
Written by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC