Monday, October 17, 2016

Ten Rules for Effective Co-Parenting

By: Christine Hammond, LMHC

As if things weren’t bad enough before the divorce and during the divorce, now the hard part of co-parenting begins. Co-parents are the legal parents/guardians of a child. There are many combinations of co-parenting. A biological parent with a grandparent guardian, two biological parents, or adoptive parents are just a few examples. Whatever the situation, having a few guidelines for moving forward can save time, energy, and money spent on future meditation.
1.       It’s all about the kid’s best interest. One of the things parent fail to recognize is the importance of the other parent in the kid’s life. Even if the the other parent is incompetent, it is better that a child know who that parent is. Otherwise, the child is likely to imagine the other parent as some magical fairy-like godparent who will rescue them from their current parent. There are special circumstances in which this rule does not apply such as abusive behavior where the child’s safety is at risk.
2.      The rules should be the same. This is a difficult one as more than likely one of the issues leading to divorce was differences in parenting. So the recommendation is not about specific discipline but rather general expectations. For instance a couple of house rules could be: be respectful, be kind, or be patient. These expectations should apply to all members of a household including parents and step-parents.
3.      Plan ahead. Most parenting plans include specific guidelines for the transition of kids, days of the week schedule, holiday, and vacations. But kids forget these things easily and usually don’t look at an online calendar before asking their parents. To reduce frustration, have an annual calendar with the days clearly marked as to where the child is staying. This should be in both parent’s homes.
4.      Communicate via internet. Even simple matters escalate unnecessarily when divorced parents communicate. There are several on-line co-parenting websites such as which allows all communication to be recorded including changes in medical, time sharing, or school matters. This is a useful tool for everyone especially if issues need to be mediated in the future. Parents should resist the urge to verify things verbally, always confirm with an email or text message.
5.      Keep kids out of the middle. There are several ways that parents unintentionally encourage kids to be in the middle of a divorce. Kids already feel this way organically which sometimes results in them taking on adult-like responsibility which is not good from a developmental perspective. Parents should be careful not to use their kids to communicate with the other parent even for simple matters. Most especially, they shouldn’t tell the kids they can’t talk about the other household. Kids are a product of both parents and as such, they can’t divide themselves in two.
6.      Avoid false hope. Parents should not confuse kids by letting them believe that their parents will reunite. Kids already secretly want this because they feel divided, not divorced. Giving kids false hope backfires as the only lesson a child learns is to not trust the parent who is making the claims. If the parents do reunite, the kids shouldn’t be told until things are completely resolved and the reunion is coming to fruition.
7.      Be honest. Depending on the age of the child and the nature of the divorce, eventually all kids want to know why their parents separated. Parents shouldn’t lie or avoid the conversation. Rather, answer only the question that the child asked in its simplest form. “We divorced because we were not able to agree on key issues,” is an example. Regardless of the fault or innocence of either parent, blame should not be assigned. As a child ages, more information can be given but only if they ask. This is also the perfect time to reinforce the notion that the divorce had nothing to do with the child. “You are not responsible for the divorce,” needs to be stated as many times as possible without irritating the child.
8.     Be cautious of who is introduced to the child. Eventually, one or both parents more forward with life and begin to date again. However, this process is for adults only and not children. Kids can attach onto an adult very easily especially when that adult is presented as safe and inviting. If the relationship deteriorates, a child will have a hard time disconnecting with the new person. In some cases, this can feel like a mini divorce. When the adult relationship becomes serious, introduce them as a friend first to ensure compatibility. Parents who continue to date someone whom the child dislikes will face defiant behavior in the future.
9.      Step-parents are assistant parents. The word step-parent carries a negative connotation thanks to Disney movies such as Cinderella and Snow White. The name is also not role specific and leads to confusion over the boundaries of parenting. Rather, when the term assistant parent is used that immediately identifies exactly what the new parent’s role is in the family unit. They are to assist the legal parent in whatever fashion is requested. In other words, the assistant parent does not make parenting decisions, the legal parent does. This simple guideline eliminates many of the frustrations of a blended family.
10.  Act like an adult. There will be many times that both parents, assistant parents, new sibilants, and extended family will have to be present at the same time. This includes sporting events, graduations, and weddings. Notice that this does not include birthdays which are often best celebrated separately. When a parent has to be in the presence of the other parent, it is best to see this as a business meeting of sorts. It is not unusual to have business meeting with people who are untrustworthy, incompetent, or unreasonable. Pointing these things out however, is unproductive. Parents should make a decision ahead of time to act professionally in front of the other parent.
Kids learn more from what a parent does rather than what is stated. All of the above guidelines are beneficial for other relationships in the future. Parents who treat co-parenting as a valuable life lesson will reap the benefits of a healthy adult relationship later.

To schedule an appointment with Christine Hammond, please call our office at 407-647-7005.

'Image is Everything' or Is It?

By: Christine Hammond, LMHC

Back in the 1990’s, tennis pro Andre Agassi said “Image is everything,” for a TV camera commercial. While Agassi was merely reciting a line, the phrase stuck a cord with audiences and soon it was integrated into American culture. Coaches, marketing experts, media relations, and politicians all adhere religiously to this standard. And there is no clearer demonstration of this impact then the proliferation of social media.

The Problem. But just because something is accepted in a culture, does not mean it is right or even useful. The problem is that a projected image allows a person to disassociate their true self from the exterior. The result is a generation who hides their inner thoughts and feelings from others, subsequently concealing their true being. This eventually becomes habitual as a person assumes new roles in society further alienating their true identity even from themselves.
Think of the image that most people project on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Pinterest, Twitter, or any one of the dating sites. This false self is frequently a projection of how a person wishes to appear to the outside world. It embodies the “Image is everything,” attitude while the true self remains hidden. When a person hides something away long enough, they tend to forget it until one day it implodes.

The Current Result. Eventually the house of card’s image falls apart because it lacked the substance of a true self. There are several other names used for a true self: ego, soul, inner child, identity, true being, psyche, or real self. Whatever the name utilized, it can be defined as who a person is. This includes their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, fears, insecurities, personality, and values which when combined define a unique being. When these things are separated from the true image, the false image becomes a fa├žade.
Sometimes this implosion results in a mid-life crisis in middle age or it can manifest in immobility in younger years. After all, what is the point in getting a job and living up to indifferent and unrealistic standards just to be able to post about it on social media? This is especially true when a person can post and present an image without the effort of any real work.

The Ideal Outcome. Ideally, the goal is for a person is for their true self to be the same persona as their public image. When the two are consistent, there is harmony within a person. There is no need for pretending, hiding, or falsifying an image because it is the same. The synchronized self or rather a transparent self can reduce anxiety, apprehension, depression, frustration, feelings of guilt, exhaustion, and even confusion. 

So in actuality, ‘image’ is not everything. Rather, ‘image’ is an illusion. It is a mask of what a person wants to be which may or may not have anything to do with who a person really is. Masks are disposable, removable, and able to be discarded. A person cannot do this with their true self no matter how hard they try. Instead, cohesion is everything. It is only through a untied self that a person can be honest with themselves which translates into sincere relationships at home and work.

To schedule an appointment with Christine Hammond, please call our office at 407-647-7005.

What's Behind a Narcissistic Rant?

By: Christine Hammond, LMHC 

The conversation begins so normal. There is good flow from one person to the next with each hearing and understanding the topic at hand without any indication of stress. Then out of nowhere, it dramatically shifts. The conversation becomes one sided almost lecture like, the words towards others are harsh and biting intertwined with statements of self-praise, and there is an absence of one discernable topic. It has divulged into a narcissistic rant or better known as verbal vomit.
Sometimes the narcissist is aggressive with the attacks like: “You are an idiot,” “You can’t do anything right,” or “You never back me up.” Other times it is passive-aggressive like: “No one shows me love,” “I’m all alone,” or “Nobody cares what I think.” Sandwiched in between are statements like: “When I compare myself to others, I’m better,” “You don’t know how good you have it with me,” “I’m right most of the time,” or “I’m a good person.”
The person on the receiving end is caught off guard and fearing even more retaliation, they sit in silence quietly dying. This can go on for minutes or hours depending on amount of sewage being spilled. By the end of the rant, the narcissist feels better and relieved, even believing they have effectively communicated. They seem to have gotten a “high” of sorts and are often shocked when others don’t agree or feel the same way. 

What’s behind this? Simply put, the narcissist has unmet needs which they expect the person on the receiving end of the attack to fulfill. Narcissists must have attention, affection, adoration, and affirmation from others in order to validate their self-grandiose ego. This need is never satisfying which frequently exhausts the other person who receives little to none in return. When the other person does get some attention, it is often because the narcissist wants something. It is rarely given for free or without condition.  

Can’t the narcissist get their needs met from somewhere else? Yes, and frequently they do. For some, work is an excellent place for validation, a dotting parent or grandparent who believes the narcissist can do no wrong, or community organizations such as a charity or church where the image conscious narcissist can shine and be recognized. However when any of these fail to meet the needs of the narcissist, they take it out on immediate family or close friends.

What’s the solution for the narcissist? Everyone has a need for some attention, affection, adoration or affirmation. These things are not inherently bad; rather they are a necessary ingredient for a healthy self-image. Think of a two-year-old and the amount of attention they need and demand. However, as a person ages or matures, these needs should be met internally not externally. A healthy ego appreciates attention from others but is not dependent on it to survive. Getting a narcissist to this place is possible usually with the help of a professional counselor. A significant other is not able to assist in this area because that will only create more dependency on the other person to meet the narcissistic needs. 

What can the person on the receiving end do to self-protect? There are several options a person can do in the middle of a rant: walk away, be silent or ignore, distract or interrupt, dissociate, retaliate later, or match verbal assaults with more verbal assaults. However, there are consequences for each one. Walking away can result in the narcissist hunting the person down. To be silent or ignore means the narcissist is unaware of the hurt they are causing a person. Trying to distract or interrupt might prolong the rant. Dissociating from the conversation leads to a huge disconnect in the relationship later. The narcissist might not be able to connect the dots when the retaliation comes at another time. Matching verbal assaults makes the other person no better than the narcissist.

Nonetheless, each of the above mentioned can be useful depending on the circumstances. The other person should pick one and stick with for the whole rant. For instance, if a person chooses to be silent, then be consistent. Don’t switch to matching verbal assaults.
To further highlight the hurt experienced, address the comments approximately 24 hours later. This allows some time for the other person to cool off and the narcissist to settle down from their ranting high. This can be done in writing or verbally (don’t text it as this is way too important of an issue for a casual text message). Be as specific as possible about what statements were painful. Remember to sandwich those complains in compliments for a more effective method of digestion.
Most importantly, the other person must be diligent in NOT internalizing the verbal assaults of the narcissist. Many times the narcissist doesn’t even remember what they said and believes they came across well. Part of having a personality disorder is the lack of a perspective of self and others. The narcissistic perception is not accurate. The other person should say this as a mantra the next time they are confronted with a rant.

To schedule an appointment with Christine Hammond, please call our office at 407-647-7005.