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How to Help a Friend Going Through a Divorce (aka the Best Divorce Care Package)

Divorce is one of the most stressful times in a person's life, and knowing how to be a good friend to someone going through a divorce can be hard, especially if you live far away.

Saying "I wish there were something I could do," or "let me know if you need anything," is very kind, but in reality a person going through divorce is totally overwhelmed and they need most everything - especially if they have kids. Plus, they're so emotionally exhausted that even figuring out what they need help with is a monumental task. 

Here's a list of ways you can help your divorcing friend take care of herself and her kids, so you can really support her (or him) through divorce:

1. Hope-Filled Greeting Card (or Something Funny)

I'm a huge fan of Emily McDowell - I have one of her art prints and love how totally real she is about life. I love this divorce greeting card, which offers hope in a really dark time. You can also go the direction of humor, which is always welcome.

2. Help with Dinners

In the midst of a really stressful time, figuring out how to feed yourself and your kids day after day can be totally overwhelming. A gift card to a food delivery service like Munchery takes a really annoying task off your friend's to do list. If you're local, you can also make extra of your meals or prepare an extra casserole or two to drop by.

Divorce can also be a financially precarious situation. My aunt gave me a gift card to a local grocery store, which was totally unexpected and really helped when I was running out of money.

3. Gift Card for a Massage Place

Self-care almost always goes on the back burner when you're going through a divorce, and an hour of "me time" is priceless. A gift card to a local massage place is really kind and thoughtful. 

4. Divorce Books for Your Friend & the Kids

Just like every relationship is different, every divorce is different. Some people have an amicable split, and others are dealing with the horrors of divorcing someone abusive or manipulative. In either case there's a lot to process, and good books about divorce and the divorce process can be very helpful. Here's a list of the best books for both parents and kids going through divorce. Add one or two to your care package.

5. Distractions

Distractions - especially good movies and books that are hilarious or uplifting - are great for after the kids are asleep. An Amazon gift card for books or a subscription to Netflix would be much appreciated for zone-out time. Even better? Pair your gift with a list of suggestions for where to start, because a divorced person's brain will probably have a hard time figuring out what to watch. This exhaustive list of the 50 Funniest Movies of All Time is a great place to start for movies. 

6. Something to Ease the Guilt of How Divorce Will Affect Her Kids

Most parents going through divorce are barely keeping their heads above water, and the guilt of what the divorce will do to their kids is devastating. On top of that, transitions like divorce are really hard on kids and often cause fear and bad behavior, making life even harder for the parents. One of these divorce custody calendars or routine charts will help the kids, and in turn help your friend. Sometimes it's hard to know what to do to help kids through the transition, and tools like this are really helpful. 

7. House Cleaning Groupon or Gift Card

Nobody likes cleaning the house on a good day, let alone when you've got a million other things to do. But a clean house can go a long way for your state of mind. If you're not local, a place like Merry Maids offers gift cards and has locations all over the place (or search Yelp for a trusted local provider).

8. Entertainment for the kids

Every day is about survival, and sometimes that means excessive screen time for the kids. Toys for the kids, movies, or an iTunes gift card — anything that will give Mom or Dad a break for a minute — will be much appreciated. 

9. Child care

We love our kids, and sometimes taking care of them is so tiring, especially if they've been acting out (which is likely, since divorce is a scary time for kids). If you're local, offer to take the kids somewhere fun for an afternoon, so your friend can relax for an hour or two. There are also a lot of things that need to be done during a divorce that kids aren't invited to, like mediation or court, so offering to take the kids or pick them up from school on important days would be a godsend. 

10. Your support.

Divorce can be a lonely and isolating time. Friends and family get uncomfortable with divorce, don't know what to do, or flat-out judge. Knowing someone cares is indispensable, so if you want to be a really good friend, just check in with texts or phone calls so your friend knows you're thinking of her. That being said, being a sounding board can be exhausting, so make sure you take care of yourself too - and make sure you suggest your friend find a therapist (because that's not your job).

Divorce is one of the most stressful things a person can go through, and watching your friends or family members go through it can make you feel helpless. Any of the items on this list will help, and your friend will be so grateful. Thank you for being so caring - your friend is lucky to have you. 


Picture Books for Troubled Toddlers: Separation Anxiety, School, and Divorce

When my daughter was small, I amassed quite a library of books for anxious toddlers. A few of them are great, but most of them were less than unhelpful. Some of the better-known books (like the Invisible String, for example) are aimed at older kids. Overall, it’s pretty slim pickins out there, lemme tell ya. 

I debated whether or not to review each book in its own post – I think each book deserves a few words to explain the rating. It seems, though, like it would be too hard for people to wade through individual posts. 

The star ratings aren’t so much about the quality of the book, but more about its appropriateness for this age group (1.5 -2.5 years).

 


1. When Mama Comes Home Tonight, by Eileen Spinelli & Jane Dyer.

Topic: Separation Anxiety. 5/5 stars. Ages 2+ (note, also in a version for dads)

This book is fantastic. The book starts with, “When Mama comes home tonight, dear child, when mama comes home tonight, she’ll cover you with kisses. She’ll hug you sweet and tight.” The book talks about all of the wonderful things Mama will do when she gets home from work. I love that it reinforces the idea of a routine and helps a child know what to expect. In fact, I love every single thing about it – a must for working moms! Side note: the inscription from the illustrator makes me cry.



2. The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn.

Topic: Separation Anxiety/School. 2/5 stars. Ages 3.5+

While the idea behind this book is great (Mama gives her baby a kiss on his hand, which stays with him all day), it’s just too complicated for little kids. There are too many words, and the concept of a nocturnal animal is something for older kids. I had to paraphrase a LOT with this book so that C could understand it, which made it hard for me to read. I don’t think C found the story very helpful.



3. Llama Llama Misses Mama, by Anna Dewdney.

Topic: Separation Anxiety/School. 4/5 stars. Ages 2+

I love the Llama Llama books – they’re so fun to read! C understood this book – which is about starting school and missing Mama - a little before age 2. It helped her process her BIG feelings about going to school. I first realized how the book made her feel when she started ripping it apart (this one and “Owl Babies” both got torn up), which made it good for talking about “big feelings.” Though there are a lot of words (the only reason I’m not giving it 5 stars), I think the pictures help illustrate what’s going on. Poor little Llama looks really sad.



4. The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst.

Topic: Separation Anxiety/Divorce/Death/ Fear of Being Alone. 2/5 stars. Ages 3-4+

This book is very well known and is often recommended for kids experiencing divorce. The book is about twins who wake up in the middle of the night because of thunder. They want to be with their mom, who explains, “even though we’re apart, our hearts are always connected by an invisible string.” It’s a great concept. Like the Kissing Hand, though, it’s too advanced for little kids. C didn’t know what “invisible” meant when she was 2, and even the concept of twins is a bit much. There are too many words for toddlers.



5. Little Monkey’s One Safe Place, by Richard Edwards. 

Topic: Trust in parental figure. 3/5 stars. Ages 2+

Little Monkey is asleep by himself when a storm wakes him up and scares him. He finds his Mom, who tells him that he always has “one safe place.” He spends the book trying to find his “one safe place,” and at the end the reader discovers his one safe place is in Mommy’s arms. The concept itself is good, but I’m not sure how I feel about Little Monkey having only one safe place. Parts of the book were a little scary too (the places he looks are scary, with a crocodile in one place and scary eyes in another). C understood this book, but I don’t know if it made her feel any better. I will say, though, that it helped her talk about how scared she felt all the time.



6. Hug, by Jez Alborough.

Topic: Separation Anxiety. 4/5 stars. Ages 18 months+

This book has only three words: Hug, Mama and Bobo. The entire story is told with pictures, which makes it ideal for younger kids. The book follows Bobo the monkey as he looks through the jungle trying to find his mom. He sees all the other animals giving hugs to their babies, and he really wants his mommy. This book was really hard for me, because it covers a topic that I had a lot of fear about as a child and I know C does too: not being able to find your mother. As the story goes on, Bobo gets more and more panicky and sad, and is so relieved when he finds his mom. The book brings up feelings, so it’s good to talk about them (“Sometimes little kids are scared when they don’t know where their mommies are, but Mommy is always there. Mommies always come back”). I admit to being a little uncomfortable with how long it takes Bobo to find his mommy, and there’s no real explanation for why she was so hard to find, which seems kind of scary (this is why I knocked off a star).


What You Need to Know When You're Newly Separated or Divorced

A letter to you, on the day you decided to leave your marriage:

Congratulations. You just made a really, really hard decision. It’s something you probably agonized over for months, maybe even years. You likely shed thousands of tears. If you have children, you laid awake in bed at night agonizing over which would scar them most: a divorce, or a miserable marriage.

The day you leave is officially the first day of the rest of your life. My wise cousin told me, about a month into my separation, that my life hadn’t begun yet. Everything up until this point, she said, was about creating my daughter. Everything from this point forward is about creating my life. She was right. And I believe that’s true whether you’ve been married two years or twenty.

Today is the day you begin living for yourself. And, if you have them, your kids. Always put them first, and you’ll never make a wrong turn.

I’m not going to lie to you. This is going to be a hard road. At times, it will be incredibly liberating. Other times, it will be so miserable you will wonder if leaving was worth it. But you’ll know, even as you ask yourself that question, that it was. Absolutely, 100% worth it. You are brave. And, as they say, fortune favors the brave.

I have a lot of wishes for you. Things like confidence in yourself and your choices. The strength to not jump into another relationship until you learn how to be alone. Faith in yourself, your intuition, and a higher purpose. The ability to forgive and appreciate the gift that this experience is, no matter how awful it can be. And patience with the process, because it’s going to take awhile.

But you’re not ready to hear those things yet. This is your journey, and you won’t get to things like forgiveness until the very end.

So for now —pardon my language— fuck forgiveness. Be angry. After all, anger can be empowering, so long as it doesn’t go on for too long. Just don’t allow yourself to become a victim.

Learn how to make boundaries and stick to them – you’re not going to get over this unless you commit to yourself. You are no longer committed to your former partner. It is his or her responsibility to take care of him or herself. Take the space you need. Say what you want, and stick to it.

Call a therapist. If you don’t love that therapist, deep in your gut, call another one. And another one, until you find your therapeutic soul mate. No excuses. You can find yourself a sliding scale therapist. Commit to therapy for at least a year. Realistically, two, three, or even four years. Because even after you’re over this, you’re gonna love that therapist and you're gonna see your own potential.

Accept help from the people who love you, because you need help. I know it’s hard. You don’t have to accept help from everybody. But please, accept it from somebody.

Don’t rush the process. I know it is awful. It really is. But you can’t rush art, and that’s what this is. You are transforming yourself into something new and beautiful, and that takes time.

I have so much to say to you, but mostly, I just want to say this: Congratulations. You took the first step of a long journey, and I know you can finish it. Keep your head up. I’m on the other side now, and I can tell you this: it’s worth it.

So much love to you.

Sara


5 Tips to Teach Kids Responsibility

As adults, we know what responsibility is - after all, we wake up every morning with a household to take care of and bills to pay. Kids, on the other hand, get to play all day, act silly whenever they want to, and - last but certainly not least - they can nap. As their parents, we don't want to take the fun out of childhood...but we also want little kids that grow up into big kids who do their homework, help without being asked, and care about their future. So how do we help our toddlers and preschoolers turn into responsible grown ups? Here are 5 easy tips you can start today:

1. Start Young

Have you ever heard the term, "it's easier to build strong children than mend a broken adult"? Here's where we start building strong children, and you can start when they're toddlers. You can't suddenly spring responsibility on a crabby teenager and expect them to be open to it. Teach your toddler and preschooler how to get their own snacks, and you'll end up with a pre-teen who helps make dinner.

Photo courtesy ThreeIfbyBike on Flickr

2. Let Them Help You

Having a small child help you with the laundry or the dishes definitely makes it take longer, but it's worth the extra time. When kids are invited to participate in jobs around the house, they think it's fun - and they feel a major sense of accomplishment when they're done. They'll want to help with all sorts of tasks - and eventually they can take ownership of smaller tasks like setting the table.

3. Put Them in Charge of Themselves

Kids learn responsibility (and gain self-esteem!) when they know they're trusted to perform age-appropriate tasks on their own. Toddlers can get themselves dressed, set the table, and get their shoes ready in the morning. Preschoolers can do all that, plus go potty, brush their teeth, and set the table. The only problem is remembering what to do (and in what order). Set them up for success with a Routine Chart, like this cute magnetic one from Mighty and Bright:

 

4. Praise Them

Kids - especially little kids - love to help. And even more, they love to please you. Give them lots of positive feedback in the form of "I'm proud of you!" and "Thank you!" Make sure to praise them for specific actions, like replacing the toilet paper roll or setting out silverware at meal time.

5. Teach Common-Sense Consequences

Rather than time-outs, teach consequences that make sense to a kid. For example, institute rules that you can easily enforce (and stick to them!), which will help your child develop a sense of responsibility for his or her actions. For example, if your child wants to take out another project or toy, he or she must clean up the last project first. If they don't clean up, playtime is over. It's hard at first (oh, the tantrums!) but the more you enforce the rules, the more likely your child will clean up without being asked (or at least without whining about it too much). 

No one is perfect - especially not little kids, who are just learning. But with patience and a commitment to the task, one day you'll end up with a kid who brings you breakfast in bed. Or at least, one can hope!

Featured Image courtesy Donny Ray Jones on Flickr


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