(As reprinted from the Gilroy Dispatch, Jan 01, 2017)
Living through Divorce
CLINIC HELPS THROUGH TOUGH TIMES
The end of a marriage is a life-changing event-all the more so when there are children involved. After the divorce you're left with the daunting challenge of getting your life back on track. but where do you start?
The Divorce Care program is a great first step. This ongoing 13-week program addresses the important questions asked by those navigating their lives back to a sense of normalcy.
The program is available in Gilroy, at both New Hope and South Valley community churches.
Gilroy residents Ray and Diane Evenson, facilitators at the New Hope program for the past four years, empathize with program participants, as they both experienced divorce before finding one another nearly 10 years ago.
"What I would recommend is to seek out divorce groups, Diane Evenson said, adding,
"We have it, South Valley has it. Because it helps. The people we have coming through our Divorce Care really want healing, they really want help, they really want knowledge on "How do I get through this?"
Transitioning into a new way of life is difficult enough, but dealing with this transition during the holidays, where family rituals may be altered, or disappear altogether, can be devastating to a child.
To minimize the impact it's important to sustain those routines in each
home and, if possible, to have a similar structure in both households.
"The child has less transitions for them, and it's an easier transition, and the same applies to holidays; said Morgan Hill marriage and family therapist Kimberly Shannon.
According to Pete M. Collom, a Gilroy-based marriage. family and child therapist. the holiday season is an emotional tug of war for the children who are expecting the family traditions to continue.
"They're used to things being a certain way," Collom said. "So, what you really do is, you try and help them by preparing them ahead of time, 'this is how it's going to be."
He suggests you begin preparing and talking about the holidays a good three to four weeks in advance.
What could also prove beneficial for the child is including him or her in establishing the new home and new traditions.
In Evenson's experience with the Divorce Care program, as well as her own personal experience with her two sons, she's come to believe that how children handle the divorce depends on how their parents handle it.
Throughout the divorce process, and after, Shannon instructs parents to follow one simple rule: "Put the children's feelings first."
Another key point to keep in mind, especially at family gatherings parents should refrain from making negative or derogatory comments regarding other family members in front of the child, and ensure that extended family members follow their lead.
"It's super important for the emotional well-being of the child that there be neutrality," Shannon said.
Collom believes in trying to emphasize the positive during this time of transition, explaining to the child that maybe now there will be more peace in the family than there was before the divorce, and more one-on-one time with each parent.
As exciting as the holidays can be, they can also be a traumatizing time of year for them, according to Shannon, who compares the child's reaction to divorce, to that of the grief felt with the loss of a loved one.
"It's a loss. It's the loss of the family unit," Shannon said.
The child will need to go through the stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining and depression, before reaching the acceptance stage.
What adds to this loss is when parents continue to exist in conflict after the divorce.
"It's not about you, its about the child," Shannon said. adding, "And what's in the best interest of the child."
Collom believes that especially during this time of transition, making time for your child is crucial. one of the biggest things that people don't realize is what a child sees. no matter what age, even as an adult, is really what I call abandonment," Collom said.
"If you can leave mom, and mom can leave you, you can leave me, and so (the child) runs for cover, they run to protect themselves. They begin to cover up, because in their own head they're saying, "I can be left, too."
Collum suggests making "dates" with the child or children. "Make sure they ave two or three times during the week, where a half an hour, it doesn't have to be a lot of time, but a half-hour minimum, is just spent one-on-one with that child."
With today’s busy lifestyles, whether it’s kids playing sports, performing in theatre or active in 4H and parents working late, traveling or PTA, it is difficult for many families to have a family dinner together. And yet, it is at mealtimes when so many healthy dynamics can occur.
Eating meals together, especially dinner, is an important way for family members to share the good and bad of their day, eat healthier and more balanced meals and to reduce the risk of destructive behaviors for the children (e.g. drugs and alcohol) while increasing your child’s self-esteem and further develop positive family relationships.
Family meals need to focus on relaxing and healthy dynamics in which everyone is equally involved in the conversation. It is important for each family member to feel comfortable and safe to engage in conversations at the dinner table. Having the television on, answering phones or using any electronic devices during mealtime will distract from the family bonding and convey that the family is not important, thus sabotaging healthy relationships. Equally important is to keep the atmosphere at mealtime pleasant by avoiding conversations about politics, money or joking/teasing a family member.
Family mealtimes are important because by eating with your children, they will eat a nutritional meal. Studies show that families who eat together are far less likely to have teenagers that abuse prescription drugs or illegal drugs, reduces the likelihood of adolescent eating disorders and teenage pregnancy. Keep family meals light and fun by asking everyone to share a piece of their day, by talking about future family activities and/or vacations or to share memories about family time together. Encourage and support your child’s desire to help plan and even prepare the next meal. The learning and enjoyment that comes with family mealtimes are invaluable.
New Year’s Resolutions
By Kimberly Shannon, MA, MFT
The holidays are behind you now, and like many others, it is a time for new beginnings known as New Year’s Resolutions. Resolutions are promises that an individual makes toward change of habits that are more advantageous and most often made at the beginning of the new year. These promises are often derived from introspection of the previous year and turns into plans of change, most notably self-improvement and subsequently a make-over of yourself.
The most popular of the New Year’s Resolutions include losing weight, sticking to a budget, paying off debt, saving money, enjoying more quality time with family and friends, romance, quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol, reducing stress (overall and at work), getting a better job, getting fit, eating right, becoming better educated, traveling, volunteering and getting organized.
As you can see, the list is quite long, however, it is important to keep in mind that many resolutions can lead to frustration and failure because unrealistic goals were set. It is important to make a resolution to change one thing at a time as this will make you healthier as you are able to fulfill this commitment.
It is important to try again as we all make mistakes and break promises, such as resolutions, so start with a positive approach and don’t discourage yourself with negativity. Keep your resolutions simple by not making too many of them. Be realistic and set attainable goals by choosing resolutions that you value and then sticking to it. Keep in mind when you try to please others you are doing just that and sacrificing yourself, so make your plan and write it down in accomplishable increments remembering that in writing your goals down allows you to track your progress. Involve family and friends so they can support your efforts and motivate you to keep your goals.
You may find it necessary to enlist aid from a trained professional as the emotions you may be feeling, like anxiety or depression, will need the attention of psychotherapist or doctor. Research suggests that anxiety disorders are the most common of mental health issues in the USA and of those issues, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is most common. GAD is marked by chronic, exaggerated worry about everything in your daily activities with symptoms that persist for at least six months and include a variety of health issues such as tiredness, muscle tension, headaches, stomach upset and excessive worry.
The research indicates that while the majority of individuals feel confident about achieving their goal, the numbers are quite low as to those who actually achieve their goal. Hence, it is important to set realistic and measurable goals and enlist the aid of family and friends to experience the success you are looking for in the coming year.
Surviving Holiday Stress
By Kimberly Shannon, MA, MFT
Managing the holidays and all the expectations that can be placed on you, or that others place on you, can leave you feeling stressed out. Frequently, the holidays are a time when we easily over commit, having difficulty saying no to social gatherings and family demands. It is important to set healthy boundaries and priorities for yourself keeping the holiday spirit of gratitude and giving the center point of the season. However, when you do so, it may not be met with acceptance and applause, rather with pressure and guilt.
In order to keep physically and emotionally healthy during the demands of the season, it is important to focus on what you cherish most about the holidays and even establish new holiday traditions. Here are some guidelines that will be helpful to reduce stress.
Graciously say NO to social gatherings, thanking the person who invited you for thinking of you. You do not need to justify yourself with lengthy explanations, rather keep it short and sweet.
Don’t over indulge. When enjoying too much holiday spirit, whether it be alcohol or food, it not only taxes your bodies physically, you may find yourself sadden by the things you said or did while tipsy or when you step on the scale.
Set limits on holiday spending. The stress of feeling obligated to give lavishly to everyone can be stressful not only during the holidays, you will continue to feel stress with the bills in the new year. Establish new traditions around gift giving and the memories that are being made simply from giving to others from the heart.
Spread the workload. Ask others to bring their favorite dish. Not only will you have made this person feel special, you have decreased your workload. And, of course, allow everyone to have a part in the preparations and clean-up!
Suggest out of town guests stay at the new hotel in town. Having more bodies in the home can add to the expectations and workload which equate to stress. Everyone feels most comfortable in their own surroundings as expectations are greatly decreased.
Keeping emotionally healthy by decreasing the stress and depression are paramount. Many families have cherished “Norman Rockwell” family memories and the holidays are very pleasant. Others, though, have terrible memories and struggle with the shorter, colder days of winter and often some form of depression. Just as you need to set realistic guidelines for yourself, as noted above, you can divert holiday stress and depression with the following tips.
Acknowledge and talk about your feelings. Not only is it okay to share your feelings, you may feel better afterwards.
Get support through family, friends, church or in the community. By getting involved in activities, you can feel better and reduce anxiety, depressive symptoms and martyrdom.
Set realistic expectations. As family dynamics change through the growth of your children or the loss of a family member, so will the traditions. Be flexible!
Set aside differences for another time and accept the person for who they are. Hanging on to the “should be or should have” in relationships further raises the stress meter.
Keep healthy habits such as exercise, eating and sleep. Exercise in 30 minute intervals at least five days a week. Eat regularly and healthily during the season and try not to over indulge. Sleep is crucial as our bodies replenish itself and prepares us for the next day.
Keep New Year’s resolutions realistic and obtainable. Enjoy the success you feel from keeping goals.
Seek professional support when needed. Even when you set healthy boundaries and take care of yourself, you may still find your self feeling anxious and depressed. Often times our bodies exhibit physical and behavioral symptoms that will require you to see your doctor or a mental health professional. It is important to seek the help of trained professionals to complete the entire well being for your body.
Understanding and accepting the realities of the holidays for you in your particular situation, be it stress, etc., is the first step to enjoying the holiday season.