Posts in Co-Parenting
How To Talk To Your Child About An Absent Father

Every two weeks I answer anonymous questions to an exclusive segment of my list. This week's question, however, was important enough that I wanted to share the answer more widely. (If you'd like to be on this exclusive segment of my list, you can sign up here.)

An anonymous reader asked:

My son often asks for his daddy. I don't know what to say to him. It breaks my heart because I've done everything I can to bridge the gap and encourage his father to be a part of his life. But he's totally absent. Only visits maybe 20hrs a month sometimes less. Can you give me any advice on what to say to my son about where his father is? Why he isn't here etc?

First of all, let me say that these kinds of questions break my heart. According to Psychology today, "...24 million children live in biological father-absent homes— in the United States alone. And 1 in 3 children grow up without a father." What this means first and foremost is that you are not alone. 

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An Open Letter To Your Ex

Many moms tell me that their ex simply won't collaborate with them. It breaks my heart to see people who are otherwise mentally stable, intelligent people refuse to put their own resentments aside in service of what might truly be best for their children. 

{I also have a lot of women come to me who are divorcing malignant narcissists, and this letter absolutely doesn't apply to them.}

If your ex is a mentally stable person who's having a hard time letting go of resentment and blame and it's affecting your kids, I wrote this open letter for you to share in hopes that it might move the needle towards greater collaboration in service of your children.

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The Truth Of What It Means To Be A Stay-at-Home Mom—If You Get Divorced

When I became pregnant, I had just lost my job managing a successful fitness studio that was being financially mismanaged. I was also an actor, and while I still had to have a day-job (as most of us do), I’d been doing pretty well in theatre and television most of my life.

I started my acting career when I was about 3 years old, when I became one of the regular kids on Sesame Street

Being raised by actors in New York City, I had access to some pretty insane opportunities. By the time I was 12, I had the kind of career most actors would kill for.

When I was 23, I had my picture in almost every newspaper and magazine across the country because of a highly controversial TV movie I starred in (we had the second lesbian kiss in TV history. In 1994 that was a BFD, even for HBO).

All this to say, I had a career, and not an insubstantial one.

But pregnant, I wasn’t exactly taking Hollywood by storm.

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How To Do Holidays In Divorce

Holidays in divorce can suck holy hell.

There's the loneliness factor, the confusion factor, the "Fuck-do-I-really-have-to-collaborate-with-the-one-person-who-stresses-me-out-the-most?" factor. There's the who's-traveling-when factor, the "But-will-I-still-get-to-see-my-in-laws" factor, the "Who-do-I-buy-presents-for-now?" factor. And the worst factor of all: Will I wake up alone on Christmas morning?

While I can't answer all of these questions for you specifically, there are a few ways you can make the holidays somewhat less hellish for yourself and your kids.

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Are You Staying In Your Marriage For Your Kids?

One of the most common reasons people stay together is for their children. Depending on your unique situation, this might be the best reason to stay together, or the worst.

We're told over and over again that we have to stay for our kids; that children from "broken homes" (I hate that term) do less well in school, are damaged, and grow up to have poor coping and relationship skills. So we try. And we try harder. We bend ourselves into pretzels trying to make this square peg fit in this round hole come hell or high water, because if we don't, our children will suffer, and we will have failed.

I call bullshit.

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How the Litigation System is Designed to Screw You

Whether your split is amicable or not, if you're separating from a mentally stable, otherwise reasonable person, there are steps you can take to keep it from going completely off the rails. Conversely, there are ways that the system is set up to be sure that it does... and all those ways benefit the system itself.

When I first split from my husband I consulted a divorce attorney—a litigator. I wanted to educate myself on my rights before going into the process. California is a no-fault state, so no matter who did what to whom, the laws are pretty clear: 50% of all assets or debts incurred during the marriage would be mine. The state even has a calculating program called the DissoMaster for figuring out support based on percentage of custody and the incomes of both parties.

Makes sense, right? My ex made more money than I did (I was a stay-at-home-mom, so he actually made all the money), so he would have to pay me child support and spousal support for a time.

Except then the litigator began to show me that if we slid the custody bar of the DissoMaster over, my support would increase. More custody for me meant more money from my ex. When I told the attorney that I wanted my son to see his father 50% of the time, that he was a great dad, and that I didn't want to take my child away from him, he scoffed.

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Four Steps To A Harmonious Divorce

This is my 4-step process for having a harmonious divorce. This is not magic, nor is it possible in all cases. It will require hard work, but if both parties are willing, this process can be collaborative, rather than combative.

Step 1 - Find a good coach or therapist

I once met a man who had been separated for about 2 years. He and his ex-wife had no children and one day she up and left him with no warning and no explanation. Two years later, when I asked why he thought she’d left, he said, "My best guess is that she had a psychotic break." I was dumbfounded. He hadn’t taken the two years after his separation to figure out what might have been missing in his marriage, to examine what it was he hadn’t seen. He'd simply decided that she had had a psychotic break.

Divorce is fertile ground for self-realization and growth, and while it may seem like you don’t have it in you to deal with your personal growth simultaneous to dealing with the actual divorce, believe me when I tell you, now is the time.

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How To Be An Effective Coparent in Divorce

Let’s face it, co-parenting in divorce can be a bitch. I mean, you divorced this person, right? Which means that you likely had a really hard time communicating, sharing values, not scratching each other’s eyes out with a can opener at every disagreement…

And now?

You’ve finally found your escape and your freedom—or you’ve been left holding the bag and you’re pissed as hell—and now you’re supposed to spend the rest of your ever-loving life collaborating with this person?

Yes.

If you are lucky enough to be divorcing someone who is as dedicated as you are to your children, and who isn’t dangerous or mentally ill, then yes, you most certainly are.

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Yes You Are Doing More Work and Yes There Is Something You Can Do About It

A common complaint among working moms is that their husbands don’t carry their weight in the house and with the kids. 

The good news/bad news is that scientific research has validated our feelings.

In an op-ed in the LA Times from Mother’s Day 2015, Amanda Marcotte, citing a study done by the Council on Contemporary Families, writes:

“The council collected a number of studies that, taken together, squelch the idea that modern marriage is a wonderland of equality. Among the findings: Married mothers do more than three times as much cooking, cleaning and laundry than married fathers. Men have more than an hour more leisure time a day than women. Men and women both — no doubt trying to feel good about their relationships — overestimate how much housework men actually do.”
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In Defense of Dads

I have spent a good portion of my career advocating for and working with Single Moms, but I have a few choice words to say in defense of dads, because I am sick and tired of watching them be disenfranchised—by our society, and worse by their exes.

(That’s us, mamas.)

I am sick and tired of dads being seen as half the parents their counterparts are.

I am sick and tired of dads being treated as if they’re stupid.

I am sick and tired of dads being treated as if their relationship with their kids isn’t just as important as a mom’s.

Sure, there are deadbeat dads out there, and to those, I give a giant “F*^k you”—as I give any parent, male or female, who doesn’t fully understand the weight and value of the job at hand.

But those aren’t the dads I’m defending. The dads I’m defending are all the rest—the majority, in fact: those who see their kids 50% of the time, or more. Those for whom every breath is taken so as to care for their children— who eat, sleep and breathe fatherhood.

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