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Getting Everything in Focus

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Photo by Jenna Hamra from Pexels

 

What happens when you lose your focus? If you focus too much on the wrong things or if unexpected life events rob you of your energy and time, you will find that your other responsibilities get neglected. When that happens, everything can become very chaotic.

Sometimes losing focus cannot be helped. For example, when my aunt became sick I had to put some things on the back burner, but she was my mom’s only living immediate family member so I thought it was important to take my mom to visit as much as possible. My aunt lived out of town so we took time every weekend to visit her, including one weekend that we stayed for four days because she was not expected to live through the weekend. She did make it through and actually lived another couple of months. What a fighter she was!  It was worth neglecting things on the home front.  Since then, both she and my mom have passed and I can look back without regret.  Imagine if I had decided that housework and yard work were more important!  Yes, during that time some things were ignored. Laundry piled up, the dust gathered, and the yard work did not get done, but I had my priorities straight. It was important to spend the time with my aunt and meet my moms needs, too.  I knew that the chores could get done later. No big deal.  Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do.

What about times when you lose focus on what is important and then the important things get ignored? For example, I have a friend who obsesses over what her ex is or is not doing. She needs to clean up certain aspects of her life that are causing her grief, but she never gets around to cleaning those things up. She has a boyfriend, who thinks she is fabulous, but instead she alienates him by talking about how much she hates her ex husband. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on building this new relationship rather than lamenting the past?  Consider where it is you want to put your energy and who you want to put your energy into.  Exes are exes for a reason.  The past is the past.  Leave it there and live in the here and now while you plan for the future you dream about.

I know a man who has a wonderful family, but he is a workaholic. His employer could live without him there 60-80 hours per week, but he thinks he must work that hard to get rewarded. Truthfully, companies rarely reward you with more than your salary. Ask anyone who has been laid off. Companies will always act in their own best interest when push comes to shove, and to hell with the employees. Especially when the economy is bad! The workaholic is missing out on his children growing up and being the kind of man that his children can count on to be there when they need him.  As it is now, when his wife needs him or his children need him, he is never available. He is always at work. I don’t know what his future holds, but what I do know is that if his life were to end, his wife and children would most likely wish that he had given more to himself than to the company, or maybe, this is sad to say, but maybe they wouldn’t miss him much.  If they are not used to having him around, the days after his death may be just a return to business as usual.  When it comes to your family, don’t take them for granted.  Be the kind of person who leaves a huge void when you are gone.  Nothing is more important than family.  Trust me, I work with people who have taken things for granted and lost them.  It is a hard thing to watch someone go through and even harder to be the one going through it.

When not focused on the right things, your life can spin out of control. You can also miss opportunities and events in your child’s life.  You may miss important moments that you can never get back.  To make sure you don’t, here are some tips:

1. Make a priorities list
Take some time, whether an afternoon, a day, a week or whatever time frame you need to figure out what parts of your life are most important to you.  Once you have set realistic priorities, live it.  Short of a temporary emergency or out of the ordinary situation, stick to your priorities.  You will be glad you did.

2. Put yourself at the top of your priorities
Put yourself at the top of your priorities list.  If your love or energy banks are depleted you don’t have much to offer others.  Eat, get plenty of sleep, and put together a good support system.  Most importantly, do not be afraid to ask for help when you are struggling with something.

3. Set realistic goals.
Whether you have big dreams or just daily life expectations, be conscious of what it will take to meet those goals.  Remember that some things are accomplished by taking small steps and that is okay.  Meeting the goal is the important thing, but you have to make sure that it is an attainable goal.  When goals are too lofty, you can end up disappointed.  At the end of each day, think about the progress you made and recognize even the smallest advances.  If you did not make progress toward your goals, forgive yourself when unforeseen circumstances or emergencies get in the way and then get right back to it tomorrow.  If you need to, break big goals into smaller goals that will lead to the same thing.

4. Take time to relax and have fun. 
This is something you really have to allow yourself to do.  Many people deny themselves and believe they are not worthy of a break.  It is not true.  Life is about balancing what you need to do with what you want to do.  The world will not fall apart because you took your eyes off from its desires for you for a short while and remember, you are not in control of the world.  Worry about what is your responsibility and don’t take on something that is not your concern.

5. Don’t feel guilty!
There really is nothing to feel guilty about.  People who learn to say no usually get much more joy and fulfillment out of life than those who do not.  If you don’t want to help your friend move, say no.  However, if you want to help your friend and maintain the friendship, be confident explaining to them that you cannot do it that particular day, but maybe you could help in a different way.  Maybe you help for a couple of hours or maybe on a different day (if they can arrange it).  Maybe you offer to help unpack things and arrange things after the move.  When you say no to people you care about, make sure they know that you are not saying no because you don’t want to help, you are saying no because you are not available at that particular time.  If they are a good friend, they will understand.  Try not to say no to your spouse or children though, unless it is an absolute must!

6. Use To-Do lists!
It helps to write down the things you need to do and have a plan of action.  It also helps to cross each item off the list when done.  That way, you see that you have accomplished things and it keeps you motivated to do more!

7. Separate work from home life.  Bringing work home with you, even if it is only the bad mood the boss put you in, puts your focus on the wrong things.  You are likely not getting paid when you are not at work so why put your energy into that?  Get rewards at home, such as the smile on your family’s face from receiving your full attention on them.  Work is for work and earning an income to support your family, but home is where the heart is!

8. Schedule tasks that you don’t like to do, but know you have to do.  Does the garage need a good cleaning?  Pick a day and stick with that.  However, the garage is part of the house so enlist family to help.  You get to spend time together, sharing, while doing something that is a benefit to the family.  It is also teaching your kids how to cooperate and share, even when it may not be the most fun thing in the world!

9. Balance together time and alone time
We all should be making time for the important people in our lives, but we all need some time to ourselves, too.  You may also want to spend time with friends and family as a group, to best utilize your time, but also, connect with each person individually as well.  People need to know that you are interested in them as a person and if you only spend time with them in groups, it can create a wedge.  Make time for you, for individuals and for group activities also, and do not forget how important couple time is for a couple who has children.  Mommies and daddies need to connect without kids to keep their connection strong for sharing the kids.

10. Make it more about positives than negatives.  Focus on what you have done, not what you were unable to get done.  Focus on the few minutes you spent with your kids today, rather than the hours you did not get to spend with your kids today.  Remember, tomorrow is another day and we never get to have every day go exactly as we plan or as we’d like!  Before you go to sleep each night, reflect on what went right and what made you feel good.  You will sleep so much better when you think in the positive!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What is Parallel Parenting?

 
Image courtesy of digitalart at freedigitalphotos.net

 

Even the most skeptical of parents think that once the legal paperwork is all signed sealed and delivered, everything will be fine and they will move beyond the relationship they had before the divorce.  During the divorce process, professionals likely assured them that they would be able to co-parent and share in parenting responsibilities and continue the relationship they’ve had with their child or perhaps even build a better relationship.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. 


Co-parenting requires parents to communicate regularly and frequently.  Given that life can change on a dime and schedules can sometimes get interrupted by things that are beyond our control, the best of divorced parents are able to be flexible with their schedules and adapt to changes without much difficulty or make adjustments to their plans and the distribution of parenting responsibilities as they need to, but few families can really achieve that level of commitment or cooperation when the divorce is over.  For a high number of parents, the fighting they experienced during the divorce process does not end with a decree and sometimes, it ramps up. Even though they previously drafted carefully worded agreements on how they would manage parenting responsibilities and different conflicts and scenarios, the agreements do not work when the parents try to put them into practice.  Either one of the parents will not follow the agreement or each parent has a different interpretation of what the words on the paper actually mean.  On top of that, some parents find their co-parent uses information against them or tries to manipulate the parenting time schedule by scheduling appointments, activities and play dates on the other parent’s time without permission.   It is beyond frustrating to live that way.  So what can be done to change it?

Parents who struggle with co-parenting can try a style called parallel parenting. For those whose interactions are moderately or highly conflicted, parallel parenting can be a way to move forward when co-parenting proves to be too difficult for them to manage successfully. Unfortunately, court professionals rarely suggest parallel parenting as an option.   Some professionals want to push you to co-parent no matter what because it offers your child the best chance for success in the future, while others naively think that the contention will die down once parents put the legal system behind them. It is naive to think that relationship problems or significant communication problems will magically disappear and foster cooperation if they have never been addressed.  It is also fairly common to find professionals out there who have never heard of parallel parenting.  If the professionals you encounter have no concept of what parallel parenting is, how can they explain that it is an option to you? They can’t, and that is very unfortunate because parallel parenting can help parents move away from conflict to keep their child out of the middle of it.


So what is parallel parenting anyway?  Parallel parenting is a style of parenting that allows parents to disengage and reduce the frequency of interactions they have with each other.  It allows each parent to operate independently of the other and manage their own day to day parenting responsibilities.  Parents will still need to communicate about important issues that are related to their child, and make major decisions together, but they will only communicate when necessary. Typically all communication will take place in written form, such as via email.  


Parallel parenting is not ideal and it tends to put a higher burden on the the child to adjust to two different sets of households, routines and rules so that the parents do not have to make adjustments that they are not ready or willing to make, but it does not have to be a permanent arrangement.  Sometimes, parallel parenting is used only until both parents have come to terms with the situation or while they take measures to work through hurt feelings following contentious legal battle.  However, some parents will continue parallel parenting until the children are grown and there is nothing wrong with that.  While it is best when parents can co-parent and work together to parent their children after divorce, if they cannot, parallel parenting is better than always being in a state of conflict, arguing over who is right, being disrespected or having to rely on someone you learned long ago was unreliable and it protects children from being caught in the middle of the battle.

Parents are humans.  Humans have different ways of coping and managing disappointments and hurts.  It’s just the nature of the beast that some humans have the skill set to be resilient while others need significant time to heal, deal or feel.  You cannot put a time limit on grieving the loss of a relationship, nor can you decree it be done.  You also cannot make someone cooperate with you or communicate well if they do not want to.  Co-parenting requires a good faith effort on the part of both parents and an ability to separate their own feelings from the feelings of their child.  It also helps when parents have good communication skills and maintain healthy boundaries.  Still, the odds that a couple held all those qualities and ended up divorced seems illogical.  Most relationships break up for a reason and that reason has be set aside or forgiven in order to form a successful co-parenting relationship. When not set aside or forgiven, parents need to find other ways of sharing their children peacefully.

What are some of the reasons to try parallel parenting?

  1. One or both parents still holds highly negative feelings about the other.
  2. One or both parents have boundaries issues.
  3. Communication between parents is ineffective, hostile, or disrespectful, or the parents are unable to stay child focused when they interact with each other.
  4. One or both parents is unable or unwilling to work together to meet the child’s day to day needs or make decisions together.
  5. There is a moderate or high level of conflict.
  6. Each parent has a vastly different parenting style from that of the other and they fight over which one is right.

 

How does parallel parenting work?

  1. Parents disengage from each other and do not interact during child exchanges or school events.  They may alternate attending school events or not sit together when in attendance at the same time and they will schedule separate parent-teacher conferences if the school will accommodate such a request (most schools will).
  2. Parents communicate only in written form (except for emergent or time sensitive matters) and do not communicate about routine, day to day issues.  Communication is kept to a minimum and is typically done via email or an online communication tool, such as Our Family Wizard.
  3. Each parent is responsible for the day to day care and parenting during their parenting time and basically mind their own business when the children are at the other parent’s home
  4. Routines and discipline decisions may vary from house to house
  5. Parents do not attend medical, dental or counseling appointments together, but divide up who has responsibility and when. 
  6. Parents are responsible for accessing information from school, doctors, dentists or other professionals in the child’s life without relying on the other parent to provide routine information.
  7. Parents do not share personal information and may use a neutral location for child exchanges or have a neutral person do the pick ups and drop offs.
  8. Parenting time schedules are rigidly adhered to and are very detailed as to times and exchange locations.  A third party may be in place to address parent disputes or situations that are unclear or were not covered when the schedule was created.

 

Parallel parenting can offer families some much needed breathing room that opens to door to co-parenting in the future, but if it doesn’t, it provides something better than the conflicted situations that cause tremendous amounts of stress to families and it gets children out of the middle of hostile situations that put their healthy development and well-being at risk.