Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Psychological Storm Surges- Managing emotional damage from natural disasters by Dwight Bain, LMHC

Consider that everyone has a capacity for how much stress they can handle in a crisis, (think of it like a balloon inside), and that every major change builds up more internal pressure. So how long can an average person go without "popping" emotionally after a natural disaster like a hurricane, tornado or earthquake? What about a person who is more fragile and susceptible to traumatic stress like an elderly adult or a very young child?

It is likely that we are going to see people experiencing an unusual kind of emotional condition after Hurricane Katrina that I call a "Psychological Storm Surge." This is an emotional reaction which in some ways is similar to the actual storm surge that occurs when a hurricane makes landfall and slams into the coastline with a wall of cold sea water, sometimes over twenty feet high.

Two Types of Damaging Storm Surge

The difference between the two types of storm surge is significant because the damage to life and property when the actual tidal wave of water hits is often the biggest cause of death and destruction from a hurricane. This is the actual physical damage, however, the mental and emotional distress comes the psychological storm surge. This surging wall of emotions build in intensity a few days before a hurricane makes landfall, or after a storm like the four major storms in 2004 in Florida. This is because of the stress, panic and anxiety that builds during the days before a major storm makes land-fall from the fear of the unknown. This stress is further complicated by dealing with the many challenges after the storm, including damage to property, loss of utilities, loss of control of schedule, lack of access to resources or supports and the financial losses from additional expenses complicated by the loss of income by not being able to get to work.

People have a normal need to feel in control of their surroundings and monster storms, like hurricanes or tornados take away all elements of control. You lose control of just about everything during major disasters like these have been. Like the loss of feeling secure in your own home. Loss of stability because you can’t find basic necessities like gasoline, water or ice without having to wait in line for hours. Loss of safety in playing with your children on the beaches or recreation areas that Florida is internationally famous for. Loss of strength in believing that you have the power to keep your personal world focused and balanced. These waves and waves of Loss after loss pile up and leave people feeling completely overwhelmed.

Psychological storm surges from storms like this one bring most of their damaging stress ahead of time, then at a heightened level for as long as the crisis event lasts. For instance, Hurricane Frances packed a five day psychological storm surge, since many of the 3 million people who evacuated ahead of this Texas sized storm system left days ahead of the storm making landfall. This hurricane gave this country something that we have never experienced before in dealing with critical incidents; a disaster that actually grew smaller in physical size and destructive power, while growing ever larger and out of control in our minds. There’s where the stress has built up to crisis proportions for many people and that's why the pressure will continue to grow long after this destructive hurricane season has become a distant memory. Psychological stress can create damage to people and businesses for months to years after a major disaster. Knowing what symptoms to look for can help you manage the stress, instead of becoming overwhelmed by it.


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Psychological Storm Surge

The rapid build up of emotional pressure associated with impending danger from a natural disaster. Peaks when the actual impact of the storm is realized, and then gradually diminishes over the course of the recovery and rebuilding time in returning to normal daily activities. This condition is worsened if there are multiple disasters or losses to deal with, for example, consider the stress and pressure that people who had loved ones as passengers on the high-jacked airliners that were crashed into the World Trade Center or loved ones already at work inside the buildings on the morning of 9/11/01. They had to deal with a massive personal relationship loss on top of a catastrophic national disaster. This condition is usually temporary, although the traumatic stress related
damage can last for months to years longer.
~ Dwight Bain, Crisis Counselor
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Emotional hurricanes spin questions and confusion

In over twenty years as a crisis counselor I've never experienced disasters quite like these killer hurricanes because they have put millions of people into an emotional state of crisis reaction four times in a six week period. This emotional pressure has affected people, (and their concerned family members around the country), by leaving them reeling from a continual state of limbo and emotional confusion about what to expect next. Picture it as sort of a swirling hurricane of emotions inside, with continual questions spinning through people's minds before the storm hits, then during the storm and then long after the storm passes.

Questions like-

What answers can I tell my kids when I don't have any myself?
How much longer will this go on?
Are the dangerous winds coming yet and what about tornadoes?
Will it ever get here and when will this ever end?
What will happen to me- what will happen to my family?
Can I even afford to pay for all this survival stuff?
How long can I miss work and still keep my job?
What about school and work schedules next week?
How long will we be without electricity again?
How can I help others in my family when I can’t even help myself?
Do we have enough food, water and ice to make it?
Where will we get groceries now that so many stores are damaged?
When will there be more generators and the gasoline to run them?
Will my home and possessions survive the storm?
How can I protect my home from looters without a phone to call 911?
How much longer can I hold on?
Dear God, help us because we can’t take much more!


Killer Storms waiting in the Shadows

Some people described these storms in a very personal way, like a killer lurking in the shadows that you know is there in the darkness, but won't come out. It just stays there, watching and waiting for you to drop your guard so that it can strike when you are the weakest. So you get your defenses ready, you flex your muscles, you tense up and brace for the fight; and then when the fight doesn't come you have a bigger fight to deal with-the fight inside your own head and heart. Your head says to stand your ground and to be firmly focused on the facts of the situation; while your heart considers the feelings inside yourself and the loved ones around you. Feelings like fear, stress, doubt, sadness, anger, confusion, depression, anxiety, panic and the helplessness of being in such an out of control situation.

When you have a prolonged wait in the readiness mode of facing a crisis head-on but then have to keep waiting, the challenge changes from the enemy on the outside to the enemy within. You have to deal with your own challenges of managing resources, energy, time, and emotional strength to just handle the pressure and realities of daily life. When you can face your own challenges and take control of your own emotions you have solved one of the enemies that drain your ability to cope with a crisis. This allows you to protect your supplies of energy to have the stamina to hold on to face the monster that is coming because you still fear that if you let up for even a minute, the monster will destroy you.


The Multiplier Effect of Storm Stress

While these feelings are normal for everyone trapped in a disaster situation like this one, they are multiplied by the number of relational connections that you have tied to the crisis event. For instance, if you see a news story of flooding in the Midwest where homes and businesses are destroyed, you don't react much. You don't know those people or what they experienced when they went back to their homes to find everything they owned ruined by rain and mud. You can't imagine the powerlessness they feel from not even knowing where to start in cleaning up. It's just a news story to you and that's okay. However, if you change that situation to a flood in the small town your parents live in, the same town where you grew up, and everything takes on a life or death level of urgency. That's normal. You only get emotionally involved in the stories that are connected to your life; otherwise you might stay so overwhelmed with the needs of those living in third world countries that you would never have enough emotional energy to deal with your own life.

Stress is dramatically multiplied when your loved ones are involved in the crisis event along with you. A concerned mother has enough stress to deal with, like being scared about the big oak trees around her home; having enough baby food and bottled water on hand to last for days; and getting back to work and school next week. Then you add the sometimes impossible task of keeping her children safe and secure in a prolonged situation that doesn't allow for travel outside of the home and you have doubled the stress on the caregiver of that child. But the multiplier effect of psychological storm surge doesn't stop there. You factor in every relationship that she might be feeling distressed over.

For instance, a woman might be worried about her firefighter husband- who is on duty protecting the public during the storm, her three young children at home and her elderly parents, who evacuated to a hotel in Savannah. This woman is feeling the stress of seven, because you have to consider the emotional and psychological pressure on her and from the six others that she is strongly connected to in her family system.

Emotional Explosions Growing Stronger

When you begin to consider the pressures on people in Florida who waited days for these storms to arrive and then felt trapped in their homes by curfews and forced evacuations while these storms mauled the state from one direction and then another. It is no wonder that people are already experiencing dramatic levels of emotional explosions and reactions. You probably have seen people shouting at each other in public places, or getting suddenly sick with severe colds or flu, or curling up and feeling like a zombie, of feeling completely and totally exhausted with so much to do, but no energy to do it, or over spending on supplies that aren't reasonable to the situation, (like the people who bought chain-saws but don't even have any trees), These emotional reactions are elevated because of the storm stress and likely will continue and get worse over the next few weeks until the effects of the Psychological Storm Surge subsides.

The warning signs of emotional distress following natural disasters like these hurricanes come out in four areas of life. Physical, Emotional, Behavioral and Cognitive. The presence of these symptoms in you, or in a loved one or coworker indicates that the internal pressure has built up to an overwhelming level. When you see many symptoms in any one of these four areas, it is wise to seek professional help from a qualified medical or psychological practitioner to stabilize the situation and prevent things from getting worse.

STORM STRESS RESPONSES

Physical
Fatigue
Sweating
Shortness of breath
Loss or increase of appetite
Nausea or Diarrhea
Elevated blood pressure
Tightness in chest or chest pain
Muscle fatigue or weakness
Insomnia or Hypersomnia
Increased cold or flu symptoms
Pacing
Heart Palpitations
Shallow breathing
Fainting
Abdominal pain

Emotional
Anger
Stress
Anxiety
Tension
Apathy
Fear
Panic
Guilt
Uneasiness
Alarm
Numb inside
Impatience
Depression
Shame
Nervousness

Behavioral
Restlessness
Impulsive
Avoidance
Edgy
Rapid speech
Tense muscles/neck
Easily startled or jumpy
Hyper-vigilance
Withdrawal from others
Accident proneness

Cognitive
Easily Distracted
Poor concentration
Forgetfulness
Errors in judgment
Mental Fog
Decreased decision making
Reduced creativity or mental focus
Diminished productivity
Loss of objectivity
Self-consciousness
Confusion
Fear of losing control
Frightening visual images
Fear of injury, death, pain
Flashbacks-nightmares

Remember that these symptoms can occur in a young child or elderly adult, and that you have to be more aware of their symptoms since they may not be able to tell you exactly how they feel. The more symptoms you see, the greater the possibility for damaging stress to harm you, or someone you love. Take action to talk to the person in need and offer to sit down with them to review the issues and seek treatment options, which begins just by talking about how the storm impacted them. Just talking about the storm and how it affected you will release a great deal of pressure and may be the only action that many people will need to take to help them refocus on the task at hand. However, if the symptoms continue, or worsen or the person takes on more of a “zombie” like flat facial expression, seek medical care immediately since this may indicate a more serious physical condition.


Stages of Storm Stress- moving from feeling panic to finding your way back to “normal” again

The psychological storm surge happens before the storm, followed by nine other levels or stages of “getting back to normal”. Those levels are listed out below as a guide to help you identify and then set up systems or strategies to move through that level and then on to the next in the process. These stages of storm stress will be discussed in greater detail in an upcoming special report, however for now just personalize this list as a beginning point to boldly move forward in finding greater strength after the storm.

Once you assess your position in this process of rebuilding, then it is wise to think about the people closest to you at home or at work. Many people may come through a natural disaster like a hurricane and not feel overwhelmed, but if the people closest to them at home or work are seriously impacted, then the psychological storm surge will continue to build and their lives will continue to drown in wave after wave of storm stress. Consider the level they might be at by noticing the emotional, physical, cognitive or behavioral symptoms that you have witnesses during the storm stress cycle. Understanding and identifying these stages will help you to best determine what to do next to rebuild your personal and professional life and help when you can in rebuilding the lives of those that you care about.

Disaster Phase:

Storm level

Safety level

Survival level


Recovery Phase:

Stressed level

Support level

Structure level


Rebuilding Phase:

Stability level

Security level

Strength level


While we won’t ever know just how desperate some people felt because of the damaging effects of stress after these four hurricanes, we do know that the psychological stress impacted millions of people. When we were finally able to stop holding our breath about what might happen it allowed us to exhale and think about picking up the debris after this killer storm marches past.

Also, it is important to note that the extremely elevated stress after Hurricane Charley had not completely dissipated before Hurricane Frances hit Florida. Then the clean up after Frances had barley started when Hurricane Ivan closed in on the state and just days later Hurricane Jeanne slammed into the Florida coast, almost exactly where Frances had come ashore just a few weeks earlier. These back to back natural disasters are further complicated by the fears of even more damage from the storms yet to come during this overwhelming 2004 hurricane season. The bottom line is that no matter what else happens, there is a cycle to rebuilding your life after a natural disaster and if you flow with that cycle, you can grow stronger on the other side of the storm. Study the chart below for more insight


Disaster Stage
Recovery Stage
Rebuilding Stage


About the author:
-Dwight Bain is a turnaround expert on finding success after a crisis
-Nationally Certified Counselor and Life Coach, in practice since 1984
-Founder of The LifeWorks Counseling Group in Orlando, FL
-Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Expert- Orange County Sheriff's Office, Orlando, FL
-Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Law Mediator
-Life Coach specializing in crisis communication for business professionals-Lifelong resident of Orlando, Florida where he lives with his family and their Yorkie, “Sugar-dog”

Redistribution Notice
The author has given you permission to copy and pass along this material in print or electronically if you believe that it will help others in your family, workplace, church or community; providing that you leave the authors name and contact information attached. For more information about strategies on solving conflict, managing major changes or rebuilding after a crisis, contact the LifeWorks Group in Orlando at 407.647.3900 or visit http://www.dwightbain.com/ Thank you.

72 HOUR EMERGENCY KITS Written by: WILLIAM D. PERKINS, BOARD OF DIRECTORS TACDA

A FAMILY 72 HOUR KIT WILL SERVE YOU WELL IN ALMOST ANY TYPE OF DISASTER. THERE ARE MANY PLACES YOU CAN FIND A LIST OF WHAT YOU NEED TO BUILD YOUR OWN 72 HOUR KIT. YOU MAY ALSO PURCHASE A KIT FROM A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT VENDORS.

THE RED CROSS AND THE HOMELAND SECURITY WEB SITES HAVE SUGGESTIONS FOR WHAT TO PUT IN YOUR KIT. I USED THESE AS WELL AS A NUMBER OF OTHER SOURCES TO BUILD MY KIT. REMEMBER, EVERY FAMILY WILL HAVE SPECIAL NEEDS.

I RECOMMEND A SMALL KIT FOR EACH CAR, AND A LARGER HOME KIT. THE HOME KIT SHOULD BE IN A DUFFEL BAG OR BACK PAK. IF EVACUATION IS NECESSARY YOU CAN TOSS IT IN YOUR CAR AND EVACUATE QUICKLY. ( in some cases minutes can make the difference)


AUTOMOBILE KIT: 3 DAY FOOD BARS(type that are coast guard approved)
BOTTLE WATER - FIRST AID KIT – FLASHLIGHT –
EXTRA BATTERIES – MAPS – GLOVES – PONCHO –
SPACE BLANKETS – TOOL KIT – WHISTLE – KNIFE –
DUCT TAPE – FOLDING SHOVEL
Optional items: fire extinguisher – tow rope –


HOME KIT: FOOD: CAMPING FOODS OR MRE'S ( 3 meals per day)

WATER: BOTTLE WATER OR 5 GAL CONTAINERS
( one gallon per person per day)
FIRST AID: ENHANCED FIRST AID KIT (size depends of size
Of the family) include special medications and extra
Eye glasses.
WARMTH: SPACE BLANKET PER PERSON, EXTRA CLOTHS
SOCKS, GLOVES, 18 HOUR HAND WARMERS

SATITATION/HYGIENE: TOOTH BRUSHES, TOOTH PASTE, SOAP,
PLASTIC BAGS, TOILET PAPER,
SMALL BOTTLE OF BLEACH, FEMININE
SUPPLIES, SEVERAL SMALL HAND
TOWELS, PACKAGES OF TOWELETTS.
COMB/BRUSH



PAGE 2



LIGHT: 2 FLASHLIGHTS ONE D CELL AND ONE AA, EXTRA BATTERIES
FOR EACH, MATCHES (in water proof container)

COMMUNICATIONS: AM/FM RADIO, WEATHER RADIO, EXTRA
BATTERIES FOR EACH. PAPER, PENCILS
(optional: cb or ham radios)

TOOL KIT: SMALL/MED/LARGE FLAT AND PHILIPS SCREW DRIVERS,
6" ADJUSTABLE WRENCH, 8" WIRE CUTTERS, 10" CHANNEL
LOCK PLIERS, VISE GRIP PLIERS, CLAW HAMMER, SMALL AX,
50' CORD OR SMALL ROPE, ELECTRICAL AND DUCT TAPE,
HACK SAW BLADES WITH SMALL HANDLE, KNIFE.
MANUAL CAN OPENER

SEWING KIT: SM/MED/LG NEEDLES AND THREAD, SISSORS, THIMBLE
SAFETY PENS

PET SUPPLIES: FOOD, WATER, LEASH,PLASTIC BAGS, VACCINATION
RECORDS, MEDICATIONS.


GENERAL: MAP AND COMPASS ( PLAN MORE THAN ONE EVACATION
ROUTE) CASH INCLUDE COINS,(banks will be closed)
LIST OF PHONE NUMBERS AND E-MAIL ADDRESSES,
ID CARDS, INSURANCE CARDS, BOOKS, GAMES FOR
CHILDREN.


THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS TO AID YOUR FAMILY IN SURVIVING
A DISASTER OF ANY KIND ARE : HAVE THE BASIC SUPPLIES YOU NEED
AND HAVE A PLAN.

WHAT YOU DO IN THE FIRST FEW HOURS BEFORE A DISASTER (if you
Have warning) AND THE FIRST HOURS AFTER ONE CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE IN SURVIVING.

SOMEONE ONCE SAID, "WHEN THE TIME OF NEED ARRIVES, THE TIME FOR PREPARATION HAS PASSED.”

BABY BLUES OR SOMETHING MORE SERIOUS by Linda Riley, LMFT

Many new mothers feel sad and tearful after childbirth. Because this is so common (80-90%) we call it the Baby Blues. It usually is considered a normal reaction to hormonal changes and the stress of adjusting to motherhood. The symptoms are rather mild and typically last for only a few days to a week and are usually gone after a couple of weeks. However, it is important not to confuse the Baby Blues with a more serious condition called Post Partum Depression. This is a type of Major Depression that affects about one in ten women sometime within the first year following childbirth. Having a baby is considered by society to be a wonderful experience and it is often over idealized considering the number of women who experience low mood and emotional liability. This over-idealization can promote unrealistic expectations that result in disappointment.
Many times a new mother feels inadequate and doesn’t have a supportive husband and family. It can be difficult adjusting to all of the changes a baby brings into one’s life. Postpartum Depression often goes undiagnosed and can have very long term and damaging consequences for the mother, the baby and the partner.

To avoid these negative long term affects it is important to be aware of PPD and its symptoms. The symptoms are: sadness, excessive crying, feeling worthless, anxiety, lack of energy, irritability and guilt. Usually there is a loss of interest in activities including sex with accompanying feelings of hopelessness and despair.
Women can feel like they are going crazy. They may perceive that their partner, family and friends are only interested in the baby or start to think that they are a bad mother. Inability to sleep due to depression or nursing adds to the problem. Women who experience PPD are extremely anxious and often preoccupied with negative thoughts and feelings which often results in marital tension.

It is paramount to recognize PPD to prevent the long term consequences. Research has shone that untreated or undiagnosed PPD adversely affects the mother’s mental health, the mother-infant bond and the marital relationship. It is therefore important for women to be aware of the psychosocial risk factors that make it more likely for a particular woman to develop PPD. Some of these stressors are: traumatic deliveries or birth complications, health problems of the mother or baby, job loss resulting in financial worries, poor marital relationship and conflict between the woman and her family. A family history of depression is a significant risk factor or a history of sexual abuse.

Depressed people have distorted thinking that contributes to their depression. Therapy can help people examine their negative beliefs and change their thinking and perception. Therapy can also address relationship issues that contribute to depression. Women suffering from PPD need to be encouraged to get evaluated and treated.

What you can do to help yourself or someone you know struggling with PPD:
Consider seeking therapy
Socialize more- have lunch with your partner or a friend
Relax more by trying relaxation techniques
Journal
Laugh more because it minimizes stress-rent funny movies
Reach out to supportive family and friends
Positive self talk
Read spiritual or inspirational books
Exercise
Get relief from constant child-care

Remember untreated depression usually does not remit on its own, so be sure to get help if you need it. It is important to detect PPD and have early intervention to prevent the severe negative impact on the family. Successful treatment often involves the use of medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both.

Friday, August 18, 2006

HOW TO TALK TO CHILDREN ABOUT DIVORCE by Linda Riley, LMFT

1. Explain to them you are getting a divorce and will no longer be living together.

2. Let them know you both will continue being their parents.

3. Tell them it isn’t their fault and they didn’t cause it.

4. Assure them that you both still love them

5. Explain the custody arrangements (where they will live)

6. Allow them to have a full relationship with both parents

7. Make sure they realize they are not losing a parent

8. Keep them out of the middle of the conflict.

9. Don’t make them choose sides

10. Avoid letting them experience much of the conflict

11. Talk to them about the divorce and the realistic changes it will bring into their lives.

12. Encourage them to talk and ask questions.




For more tools & resources on Children & Divorce Contact:
The LifeWorks Group, Inc.
1850 Lee Rd. Suite 250, Winter Park, FL 32789
407-647-7005, www.lifeworksgroup.org

We’ll Never Divorce You, By Hanoch and Meladee McCarty

“What the heart knows today the head will understand tomorrow.”
—James Stephens

Dear Grandchild:

Grandma and Grandpa know that you’re hurting right now because Mommy and Daddy are breaking up. It’s called “divorce” and you probably know some other children who have gone through this, too. It happens a lot, more than anyone would like, but we want you to know that you’re not alone. When you’re at school, ask around, and you’re sure to find lots of other kids who have been through what you’re going through. And they are surviving. You’ll survive, too, although Grandma and Grandpa know that you probably don’t feel that way right now.

It’s no fun at all, is it? Just a little while ago, things looked fine, everything seemed to be just right, and now everything seems to have fallen apart. We really wish we could somehow ‘kiss all the boo-boos’ and make everything right, but, sadly, Honey, we can’t.

We want you to know that this time is difficult for us too. It makes us very sad to see the hurt and uncertainty in your eyes. When we sense that you are hurting, we hurt, too.

Mommy and Daddy have found that, for whatever reasons, they can’t go on living together. You must known that Mommy and Daddy still love YOU very much even if they are having problems with each other.

We want you to know several important things, things that we hope will help you to go through this scary and difficult time.

The first thing that we want to tell you is this: IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT! You know, whenever divorce happens, almost all children think that they did something that made it happen. And we want to promise you this—that is almost NEVER true! Mommies and Daddies who break up are doing so because they are having some big problems in their relationship. And you are not to blame. If you are blaming yourself, even a little bit, please let us know. Talk to us or write us and we’ll be your special friends and listen to your feelings.

The second thing we want you to know is that YOU PROBABLY CAN’T FIX IT. Lots of kids imagine that they might be able to find just the perfect thing to say or do and, magically, Mommy and Daddy will start loving each other again. We’re sorry to tell you, that also almost never works. Sometimes mommies and Daddies DO get back together again, later, after a time apart and some time for healing, but that happens because THEY found their own reasons to do so.

The third and maybe the most important thing Grandma and Grandpa want to tell you is this: WE WILL NEVER DIVORCE YOU! We will ALWAYS be there for you when you need us. Sometimes we may be far away, but sometimes you can call us or write us. We’ll answer as soon as we can. And you can always talk to us because we promise to be the very best listeners we can for you.

You need to know that we won’t ever take sides between your Mommy and your Daddy. The only “side” we’re going to be on is YOURS. Instead, we’ll be a good listener and we’ll also help you find good things to do and great ways to spend your time. We’ll search for fun and we’ll make some of our own, too.

You might think that you’ll never be happy again or that things will never feel right again. We can understand those feelings. But we want you to know something that we’ve learned because we’ve lived so long and seen and experienced so many things- you WILL laugh again, it WILL get better. You’ll laugh and grow and experience joy again. Good things will happen. You will have many good times with Daddy and many good times with Mommy again, we assure you. It won’t be the same as it was but your life will be a good one. And the love that surrounds you --from you parents and from all of your grandparents and from the rest of the family and all your friends -- that love will heal and help.

Now here’s a list of things you can count on:

Nothing you can ever do or ever say will make us stop loving you. We’ll love you forever. While we’re in Heaven, we’ll still love you. There ARE things you can count on now, when the world seems so shaky, and one of them is our love for you.

We’ll be good listeners for you. Share your feelings, both good and bad. It is a healthy way to help yourself get past these rough times.

And we’ll give great hugs and warm, long back rubs.
And we’ll still make your favorite foods whenever you ask us.

You can contact us easily. We’re enclosing a card with our address, home phone number, cell phone number and e-mail address. So, no matter wherever you are, you’ll always be able to reach us. If you have to, you can call us “collect.” I have also included a pack of stamped postcards addressed to us. So you can always send us a card. And there’s a stack of stamped addressed envelopes for when you have longer things to write or a nice picture to send us.

Honey, you’re not alone. Your Mommy and Daddy still love you, even if they are breaking up. And we’ll always love you, no matter what. And remember:

WE WILL NEVER DIVORCE YOU. NEVER.

LOVE,
Grandma and Grandpa

http://www.grandparentsoul.com

The Divorced Dad’s Burden by Gail Sheehy

The cliché is the Deadbeat Dad. The newer reality is the deadbolted Dad-locked out of his children’s hearts after divorce.

It isn’t happy Father’s Day when dad has to return his progeny by 6 P.M. on Sunday, like rented videos, knowing that his next chance for “take out fathering” won’t be for two weeks. Most of us still assume that divorced dads come in only one variety- those who walk out, ignore their children and balk at paying child support orders- and more than a million women can attest to this painful reality. But for many men, the situation is just the opposite.
Close to four million divorced fathers in the United States do pay child support. In many cases, these are men who have fought for joint or full custody, and lost. Even when they demand more time with their children, they find that little attention is paid to enforcing or honoring their visitation rights.

On a recent cross-country book tour I was struck by the numerous stories I heard from such men-post patriarchal New men who are deeply attached to their children- about the biases they face in the courts, day care centers and their children’s schools, not to mention from punitive former wives. A Southern talk show host said he has nightmares that his former wife is “padlocking” his children’s hearts and that when he tries to “come home again,” he will find the locks changed.

That nightmare came true for Mike, a 36-year-old financial planner from Virginia. He found a surprise message from his wife on his office phone: “I’ve taken our son and gone back to my parents’ place.”

Mike made the 800-mile round trip to see his wife and infant son every few weekend was led to believe they would reconcile. Six months to the day after she left, his wife sued for divorce. Because she had established residency for their child in another state, she now had a more sympathetic environment in which to demand full custody.

“My life has been a nightmare ever since,” Mike told me. This Deadbolted Dad has traveled 15,000 miles in the last year to see his baby son, compelled by court order to limit “contact” to 29 hours a month. Its not anger one hears in Mike’s voice; its agony.




His child did not choose to have only one parent. Growing up with a “hotel father” is bad enough, but this son has also lost half of his extended family. “There are 30 other people-grandmother, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins- who could have a positive impact on my son’s life,” Mike said. “I’m not a Deadbeat Dad, but I am getting close to being a Beat-Dead Dad. It’s heartbreaking.”

The political posse that began chasing Deadbeat Dads in the 1980’s did achieve major social reform. According to the most current Census Bureau data, 76 percent of the nearly five million women due child support receive at least a portion of what they are owed, a total of nearly $12 billion a year, according to the most recent figure.

The greater role fathers are taking in raising children is one of the strongest shifts in the manly ideal. “There has been a fairly consistent increase in the proportion of fathers acting as primary child care providers during the last decade, among both married and divorced parents,” said Martin O’Connell, chief of fertility and family statistics at the Census Bureau.

More and more men whose wives work and who have preschoolers are now acting as the primary caregiver- 22 percent in 1994, up from 17 percent in 1988, Mr. O’connell said. Think about it: a quarter of the men in this category-1.4 million fathers- are taking up much of the responsibility for dressing, feeding and diapering their babies. And many more men who don’t label themselves as Mr. Mom sill shoulder a significant share of the responsibility

It sounds like the sort of sensible role fluidity that progressives have long advocated, right/

But what happens when the traditional dialogue between the stay-at-home mom and fast-track father is reversed- when it is the working wife who says, “I’ve grown and you haven’t-sorry but I want out”?

These Mr. Moms may be stunned when they face courts still operating under old stereotypes about the inviolate mother-child bond. Their claims to custody are seldom recognized- even joint custody is not easily won. To shut men out of their children’s lives as a consequence of divorce not only robs the child and parents, but it also fails our society.

Larry Pollack, a New York matrimonial lawyer for a quarter of a century, described a typical case in which his client is the husband. When the wife received a hot-shot job offer in New York, the couple moved from the South, where the husband had made his living buying and selling real estate and fixing up houses. She became the breadwinner, while he took on the role of soccer dad.

When the wife asked for a divorce, Mr. Pollack said, the husband believed the courts would recognize his wish to continue being the hands-on, day-to-day parent. Mr. Pollack is trying to persuade the father not to fight, because he won’t win. Even though the other intends ton continue her demanding professional life by hiring nannies, she will almost certainly win custody, Mr. Pollack said, because it is seen as a social disgrace for a mother to lose custody of a child.

Some courts do recognize fathers’ rights when both parents are reasonable. The phrases “shared parenting” and “time sharing” are gradually entering the legal lexicon, promoted by groups like the American Coalition for Fathers and Children. But the key to making such arrangements work is not the courts; it is parents who are grown up enough to sacrifice their revenge fantasies for the greater good of the child they created together. Some, at least, can manage to clear this difficult emotional hurdle.

A Massachusetts research scientist named Roger, divorced at 50, was furious to have to give up his rights as a full-time father. In spite, he planned to move to California, get a condo, dye his hair and start dating. The children could visit when it was convenient.

“But I forced myself to think long term,” he told me, and that meant sticking around the same neighborhood and convincing his former wife that allowing him to continue fulfilling the fathers role was essential. He sees his children several times a week, not in a hotel or at McDonald’s, but driving them to the dentist or doing homework together.

“It grounded me,” Roger said of the approach. Otherwise, he said, he might have done a lot of silly or self-destructive things to make up for the emotional hollowness.

So much of the concern previously shown by courts in deciding the lives of divorced parents and their children has focused on monetary connections. That neglects the long-term issue of maintaining the continuity of a child’s relationship with both parents.

Roger’s solution, while a compromise, suggests a new model-and a reward that is priceless. After seven years of involving himself in the daily details of his children’s lives, this unbolted dad says proudly, “They really like to see me- and now I’ll never lose them.”



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