Posts tagged #relationships

Divorce and Children

The wedding was beautiful. Growing old together sounded like an amazing adventure. Having children was beyond what you could have been imagined and the dreams of growing the family together .... even better. One SNAG. One Mount Everest sized snag. There is a divorce coming. All of this is about to change. Amongst the financial and relationship logistics, there is the potential impact of what all the decisions to come may have on your children. No matter who initiated the decision for divorce, it is a wildly difficult concept with layers of grief to process for both parents. And each child has their own emotional experience and reaction to the news that their life is about to change in a big way. As parents, all that we can do is take steps to minimize the stress surrounding the process of divorce as best as we’re able.

Telling Your Child(ren)

The very first step is to tell your child. Tell... Your... Child... three short words which may carry huge emotional weight and bring up fears and the worst images our brain can conjure up. Sometimes our brain is the movie reel of our own personal horror film.  It is naive to think telling a child their parents are divorcing won’t come with some heartbreaking reactions, whether it be in the immediate moment or after they have had time to process what it means. There may also be reactions after they try to work out all the questions they have about how it will work when their parents no longer live in the same home. However, it is unlikely that the response will be as challenging as the horror film playing in your mind. While telling your child when you have a solid plan is beneficial, it is also okay to tell your child if you don’t know everything just yet.

Once the plan for parenting time and the many other aspects of the separation have been developed, present it to your child(ren) together. Be united in how the plan will occur and present it as a mutual decision. This may help your child not feel like they have to pick sides or that it is someone’s fault. Regardless of the reasons for the divorce, it is an adult decision in which your child should not be included. Divorce planning conversations may include many abstract concepts that children may not be equipped to understand. Their job is to be a child, let them be a child. As the adult, be clear that your child is not responsible for the adults’ feelings. Be clear that it is the parents’ job to help your child manage their emotions and support them in the road ahead. It’s okay for you to be emotional when you tell them. Permit them to cry, be angry, and ask questions. When necessary, it is okay to answer questions with: “Those things are for adults to take care of (discuss, decide, etc) and not something for for us to involve you. We are doing our best to make decisions to keep you safe and take care of you.”


Base your plan on your child’s personal needs. Some important aspects include:

  • Who is moving, when are they moving, and where are they moving?

  • What is the temporary parenting plan?

  • How will they stay connected with one parent while they are with the other? (phone calls, dinners, FaceTime, Skype)

  • What school will they be attending?

  • Where will they keep their belongings?

  • Will there be any changes as far as caregivers (babysitters, daycare,etc)?

  • If your child is moving, will they and how will they see their friends?

  • How will they see family other than their parents?

Your child’s schooling or ability to see friends may seem like things that don’t need to be addressed if they are not changing. However, your child’s daily life is about to change in a big way. They may wonder if EVERYTHING is going to change now. Reassurance of the aspects of their life that will NOT change is helpful. Outlining what will be happening in the near future helps them know what to expect and to trust that the adults will handle how to move forward. Consistency will be the key to reinforcing this trust.

Sticking to the Plan

Make the plan black and white, and stick to the plan without exception. Many co-parents want to be flexible, make exceptions, and assume they will be able to do so with each other without an issue. The reality is, divorce can be an emotionally charged situation, especially when it comes to kids, and things which the two parents were agreeable to prior may become a bone of contention later. Being specific and consistent can take the fight out of little things. This means keeping to a specific parenting time schedule including specific dates and times for exchanging the children, being clear regarding who pays for what costs, etc.  Avoid the fight over little things. The more you can outline in this plan, the less that needs to be discussed in the future. Take the fight out of the future. Create a transition for the kids that is clear and without conflict.


Transition is a difficult event. If your child is moving between two different family dynamics with different sets of rules, they have to re-adjust each time they change places. There are a few things that can help provide some relief during this time. Keep the transition a routine. Include in this routine a run down of the rules of the household. It’s not easy for children to always remember the rules of one house; now they have to shift between two sets of rules, remembering which rules apply to which home. Incorporate a transition item. A transition item is an item of comfort that your child can take back and forth between households. It is usually a blanket, stuffed animal, toy, book, special pajamas or any item that your child can use to self-soothe and maintain a connection to while they’re gone.

The issue regarding your child taking items between homes can be a touchy one for many people. Whether one parent purchased the item or really likes a certain outfit or toy, in the end, your child was given these items and they belong to them. Would you give a friend a gift and tell them they can only use it when they come over or on certain days? Of course not. Yet, many times children of divorce are told they can not bring their belongings to their other home or are pushed to bring certain items back. Moving between homes is hard enough. The additional pressure regarding which home is where the items belong, the feeling of not having ownership of their things, and having to remember what they need to bring back may increase their emotional chaos. Their belongings are their belongings. Period.

 Parenting Time

When considering parenting time, keep in mind that frequency is just as important as length of time. One potential way to maintain frequency is to schedule a mini visit for one parent while the kids are with the other parent. This could look like each parent having a dinner with the kids one night during the time the children are scheduled to be with the other parent. Encourage your children to have phone calls between households.

 Communication between Parents

Keep adult conversations adult conversations. Your child does not need to know the details of the divorce, the faults of the other parent, or current frustrations with the other parent. Venting about the other parent or seeking advice from others to manage difficult interactions should remain amongst adults as well. Hearing negative perceptions or dislike of a parent can inadvertently put your child in a position in which they feel they need to choose and align with one parent. Also, save arguments until another time. (Easier said than done.) When a relationship has reached the point of divorce, it is reasonable to believe there has been a lot of fighting already. Commonly, by the time divorce is an option it is in part due to being tired of fighting, so why fight more? Modeling conflict resolution for your child is important for their future relationships. There is research to support that children have physical distress reactions when exposed to fighting amongst those in their immediate environment. They don’t just hear it and walk away unaffected. It is easy to think a child is so engrossed in their electronics or play date that they aren’t listening. Children are often more perceptive and tuned in to what is happening than we give them credit. Let’s do our best to reduce parent alienation and parent conflict for the sake of our child.

Arguing makes it hard to communicate. This includes communicating about the children. A back and forth book facilitates clear communication and keeps each parent up to date while minimizing the need to navigate a conversation in an emotionally charged situation. A back and forth book is a book in which each parent journals any issues that arose during their parenting time. Pertinent issues may include emotional struggles, medical issues, extracurricular activities, consequences for acting out, and anything else that impacts your child in a way that both parents need to be aware. This helps maintain consistency and also prevents your child from taking advantage of the situation. A back and forth book is significantly important when it comes to medical conditions to document medical concerns, medication given and last dosage given.

Doing Our Best

In the end, whatever your struggles are with your spouse, it is important to remember the impact on your child.  And then do your best at the time.  Remember the first paragraph above? We do the best that we’re able.  It’s possible that you’ll make mistakes just as if you were parenting within a stable marriage. There is no play book to follow. The “best” answer is not always available in each separation or divorce.  For instance, it has been found that children do exceptionally well with divorce when they stay in the same home and the parents transition between homes. This is financially and emotionally difficult for many parents which, more often than not, rules this out as an option. So, we do our best. As long as your children are the primary focus in this situation, they will do as well as possible.

Hopefully, these suggestions provided some guidance for a difficult time.....

Check out our short sheet here

The More “Subtle” Domestic Violence

 The More “Subtle” Domestic Violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. We want to help bring awareness to this topic due to a chronic underestimation of the number of relationships impacted by Domestic Violence and to increase understanding of how to identify Domestic Violence.

This underestimation and need for education of the public is due to a number of dynamics related to this issue, including:

Secrets, Control and The “Subtle” Signs

Due to the heavily secretive nature of the relationship, others may not be aware of the violence. This secret is often maintained by fear of retaliation, shame associated with the victimization, a belief the victim is unable to survive without abuser, or fear the victim will not be believed.

When people are charged with Domestic Violence or a victim discloses, how many times do you hear:

“I couldn’t believe he/she would do such a thing”


“He/she is so kind and laid back, that's impossible”?

Looking beyond the surface, how likely is it one would get involved in a victimizing relationship if they knew the person was violent or they would live with domestic violence? How could the perpetrator avoid interference by those outside the family if they were to outwardly present as someone who was angry, controlling or abusive? Partners who have a pattern of controlling behaviors have a belief system rooted in entitlement, selfishness, superiority, possessiveness, and confusion of love with abuse (i.e. “I am jealous because I love you so much”, “I can’t stand the thought of losing you”). Outside intervention would be unacceptable and would challenge the legitimacy of their belief system. There is a lot about the perpetrator and their self-serving behavior which requires an investment in preventing any knowledge or suspicion they are perpetrating abuse. 

For many victims, abusive behaviors have been normalized for them in the relationship through a slow build up of controlling behaviors. The build up is introduced in such a manner it often goes unnoticed until it is extreme. Initially, there may be abuse followed by a “honeymoon” phase where the abusive partner is apologetic, kind, promises to change, and extremely loving. Overtime, this phase slowly disappears.

The main focus of this article is to SPEAK LOUDLY about the more “subtle” behaviors that may go unnoticed and not recognized as domestic abuse.


Not all abuse is physical, and the presence of Domestic Violence is not only determined by physical abuse. It includes all forms of control and forms of abuse. The Colorado Department of Human Services offers a wonderful training book to their Caseworkers which outlines a variety of forms of abuse which constitute Domestic Violence which are often overlooked.

Below is a shortened list of their comprehensive descriptions (for a checklist identifying the presence of Domestic Violence, see our resource page):

Psychological: unwarranted and persistent jealousy, instills fear with tone or invasion of space, isolation (interference with communication with supports, picking fights before and/or after seeing or communicating with outside supports to make doing so not worth the trouble), humiliation, destruction of property, relentless attempts to prove the victim is crazy or incompetent

Spiritual: misuse of religious text to justify abuse, forceful conversion, degradation of beliefs

Medical: withholding medical care, preventing medical care, withholding necessary medications and medically related assistive devices

Legal Harassment: Threatens CPS or legal reports to maintain compliance with control, threatens removal of custody of the children, threat or actual retaliation to prevent cooperation with the abusers legal involvement, ignoring court orders including child support and contact orders, persistent frivolous legal battles

Deprivation: prevent sleep to argue, denial of basic needs, interference with supports

Sexual: forced sexual contact or unwanted sexual acts, sex in exchange for privileges, withholding of love if sex is not provided, sexual degradation

Economical: restricts or sabotages employment, full control of finances and financial decision making, declared ownership of shared assets

Stalking/monitoring: constant surveillance of electronic devices, monitoring of daily movements (unknowingly or with required check ins and immediate response to their attempts to contact)

Exploitation of Children: put downs of the parent to the children, interference with or undermining ofparenting, threatens harm to children for the purpose of controlling the other parent, use of children to monitor or provide information regarding the other parent


If you or someone you know is impacted by Domestic Violence, safety is priority. Contacting a professional to help formulate a safety plan is imperative. This can be a counselor, victims advocate, child welfare caseworker, or Domestic Violence shelter.

Other resources are:

Family Tree DV Hotline – (303)420-6752

Mountain Peace Shelter – (303)838-8181

National DV Hotline – (800)799-7233

SafeHouse Denver Inc – (303)318-9989

If you know of a child who is being exposed to Domestic Violence, make a report to the Colorado Department of Human Services Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline:




- Alison Atkins, MS, LPCC

Learn more about Alison here

Learn more about Alison here

Posted on October 19, 2017 and filed under awareness.

Why validate feelings?

Validating feelings for ourselves and others is extremely important for mental health and emotional stability. Validating feelings does not mean we agree with the reasoning or feel the same way (as another person), it means that we can genuinely tell others that we understand how they are feeling.  Validation does not encourage unhealthy emotional responses or behavior; on the contrary, acknowledgment reduces shame and avoidance of feelings and often allows feelings to diminish on their own.  Allowing people to feel “okay” with having their feelings promotes self-awareness and an improved ability to cope and problem solve. 

How to validate someone’s feelings?  Listen, reflect what you heard the person say they are feeling (e.g., “it sounds like you are frustrated”), genuinely state how you imagine it must be to be in that state (e.g., “it must be difficult to feel that way”), if appropriate normalize or praise having feelings (e.g., “I understand how you could feel that way”, “good job identifying your feelings”), offer support (e.g., “is there anything I can do?”).  Do NOT judge, minimize, shame, or give advice!