From the 2 Home Kids Program Director's Desk

Hannah's House regularly receives phone calls from parents who have questions about the rules, guidelines, laws and expectations of progessional providers of supervised visitation:
1  How close should the supervisor be on outside visits, like a park?
2 Do supervisors have to have special insurance to transport a child in their personal vehicle?
3 Is the supervisor responsible to stop inappropriate video games, or movies, or other screen content?
4 What kind of cellphone use is appropriate for a Supervisor during a supervised visitation?
5 Are supervisors allowed to make recommendations to custody evaluators or to judges?

Here are some of the basic guidelines we offer to our staff on addressing these common issues that occur during supervised visitation:

  • Stay close to the child/ren throughout the visit - the standard is 100% eye-shot and earshot
  • Scan frequently visually for all parties to your visit to ensure safety and security - if a parent is not close enough to a young child walking along a street or across a street to ensure safety the supervisor must intervene with the parent
  • NO parent/child interaction is allowed to be out of 100% eye-shot and earshot of the Supervisor - it is the supervisor's responsibility to ensure that nothing is missed
  • NO cell phone use by clients during visits except in an emergency and it must be pre-approved with the Supervisor - this includes the children and the grown-up
  • ANY use of a screen of any kind that is going to be shown to a child must be within full site of the Supervisor at all times - pictures/videos from the past can only be shown with pre-approval by the supervisor and the other parent
  • If you are too far away to hear an adult on your visit speak in a low voice (or a whisper) then you are too far away - there is never an excuse for missing what is said during a visit

It is important to know that many supervisors use their cell phones or small tablets for documentation purposes while providing services, especially when offsite.  Some Clients tend to think sometimes that Supervisors are playing on their phones or texting when in reality they are documenting or communicating with other staff regarding breaks, or questions on how to handle a situation at that particular time. 

As a consumer, you should inform yourself about the laws (Family Code 3200.5) and rules (Administrative Rules of Court 5.20) that your supervisor is required to follow.  If you believe that your supervisor has behaved unprofessionally; unethically; or conducted him or herself in a biased manner or engaged in a conflict of interest on your case you may file a formal complaint with Michael Roddy, the San Diego Superior Court Administrator.  michael.roddy@sdcourt.ca.gov.

From the Program Manager's Desk

Learning to let go... and be healthy

There are stages in infancy and early childhood when children have trouble letting go of their primary caregiver. It's a normal part of the developmental process and a sign that the child is doing well. He or she is attached to a loving caretaker. Sometimes the caretaker has a hard time letting go of the child and allowing the child to have the normal and necessary developmental experiences of coping with anxiety, learning self-soothing, and internalizing the constancy of the caretaker who always returns. When this occurs, the parent may be so stressed by his or her own sense of insecurity as a parent that they are unable to allow the child these critical opportunities for development. If the parent is unable to address his or own anxiety in a healthy way, the child may end up with disturbed attachment relationships which sets the child up for a lifetime of challenges and unhealthy relationships.

Here is an example of one such mother's struggles:

I remember when my daughter was little that I just wanted to go to the grocery store without her being there so I could make it a fast trip. You know in and out in 10-15 minutes versus taking her with me, getting her out of the car seat, putting her into the shopping cart and being distracted while I shop and end up at the store for an hour. 

But she would cry if I were to leave her at home with her dad or her sister. So I devised a plan that I would sneak out of the house. I would put my shoes on the front porch when she wasn't looking and then later I would put my purse on the front porch and then finally when she was in the other room enjoying her time I would sneak out and jump in my car and run to the store to get the few things I needed and come right back. It worked on some occasions, but there were those times that she would catch me right when I was walking out to the car and she would press herself against the front screen door and cry out with desperation "MOMMY!!!" I would feel so guilty that I would reluctantly go back in the house and bring her with me only to come home an hour later from my shopping trip. 

In reality she would have been fine. She wasn't in any harms way and it would have been good for me to have those few minutes alone, some quality me time, if only for 15 minutes. Problem is this did not end at the toddler age but continued on until preschool. Wherein I found myself staying at the school volunteering instead of going home because I was so worried that her feelings would be hurt if I left.

Okay so how does this apply to you?  And how does it apply to Hannah's House and our work with parents and children? For you moms and dads of young toddlers or even preschool-age children you may find it hard to encourage your child to go in to a visit or exchange when they appear a little reluctant to leave you. Please trust  our staff that, much like a preschool teacher, have the best interest of your child at heart.  

Most of the time when we have a fussy reluctant child who appears to be afraid to go with the staff -- and there is an encouraging parent who tells them it's okay, I will be right back, I'll see you in a little bit, I love you -- that child appears reassured and once they see the other parent they are fine. The child has a good time and when they return they're happy and are able to learn to trust that mommy or daddy will return like they said they would. This is healthy parenting and helps a child grow up to be healthy too. 

The research on shared parenting is compelling. Even when high conflict is taken into account, children do far better when they have the love and care to both parents, than children who lose a parent during a family breakup. If you are having a hard time allowing your child to have a relationship with your coparent, consider taking a coparenting class where you can learn about the negative effects on children when parents are unable to share the child.

Our Family Resource Center offers a FREE Coparenting Class once a month. In July, we will be meeting from 10 am - 12 pm in our Community Room (100D behind the building) on July 15. You will receive a certificate of attendance. Email FRCHHSD@gmail.com today to reserve a spot. Seating is limited.

From the Parent Coach's Desk

Too Much Talking by Parents if Ineffective - the Love & Logic Approach to Parenting

Some refer to it as the ‘Lecture Lobe.” Most of us have one… a part of our brain devoted exclusively to lecturing kids about being more responsible, eating green stuff, getting a good education, staying away from all things that might “put your eye out,” etc. For most folks, this part of the brain remains dormant… asleep… until we become parents or teachers. Then it activates! Have you ever been amazed at how easily and automatically a good lecture rolls off the tongue?
 
As they say in physics, every action has a reaction. When our lecture lobes swell, kids’ learning and listening lobes shrink. Indelibly etched into my memory is the little first grader I lectured about his chronic hall-running. “You could slip and get brain damage, “was the theme of my speech.
 
We’ve learned a lot from our own mistakes… and those made by others. We’ve learned even more by watching extremely effective parents and educators. Over the past thirty years, we’ve noticed that really successful ones understand the following concept: .
 
The more words we use when kids are misbehaving or acting irresponsibly, the less effective we become.
 
Kids test us to see if we will love and accept them regardless of what they may do.
 
Questions do two powerful, important things. First, they show others that we can and want to understand their viewpoint. Secondly, they force people to do plenty of thinking. Questions create a lack of closure deep in the psyche. Humans yearn for closure and sort of go nuts when they don’t have it. Even when our kids don’t answer our questions verbally, their subconscious minds can’t resist the urge to give them plenty of thought. Some examples include:
 

•  What do you think about how you’re doing in school right now?

•  What are your ideas on whether bikes like your new one ever get stolen?

•  What are your thoughts on kids experimenting with drugs?

•  How do you think some kids put themselves in danger while chatting on the internet?

 Listening to our youngsters’ opinions… even when they’re silly, strange, or downright scary… dramatically increase the odds that they’ll listen when it’s our turn to speak.
 
Let’s think about this. Do children have control over whether they listen to us… even when we don’t give them this control? You bet! Do stubborn kids know this? Yep! Whenever we pretend to have control over things we clearly do not, it erodes their respect for us… and creates a battle they cannot resist.
 
Here are a few tips to experiment with in talking to your kids about important matters:
 •  Have plenty of short discussion rather than a few long ones.

•  Ask thoughtful and sincere open-ended questions.

•  Ask permission to share your thoughts.

•  Describe potential consequences using the “Some kids worry…” routine.

•  Provide a positive expectation.

•  If they refuse to talk, don’t fall into the trap of trying to make them.

We all know at least one child… or adult… who just has to learn life’s lessons the hard way. Despite all of our gallant attempts to endow them with our wisdom, they choose to take the rocky road to maturity by making plenty of mistakes and experiencing their consequences. Isn’t it interesting that the hardest lessons learned are usually the ones that teach us the very most!

From the 2 Home Kids Program Director

Parent questioning during shared parenting time, whether supervised or not, can either engage a child or drive him or her away. 

At Hannah's House, our 2 Home Kids professional monitors are trained to listen for questions that may violate a court order, FC 3200.5, or Administrative Rules of Court 5.20.

So which parental questions are OK, and which are not?

In general, questions should be asked in a way that does not limit the Child’s response to giving only specific information OR require the Child to provide details about the other parent's life/home!

Some of the examples below are based on the non-residential parent already having some information which they may have gotten from an administrative staff person during scheduling or from the Child during a phone call or during a visit, or from approved communication with the other co-parent:

 OKAY (general & child-oriented)            

How is school? What is your favorite subject? Did you have a good week at school? Did you have fun with your friends at school today? Are those new shoes - they look great?! Did you have a nice vacation? Did you doctor's appointment go okay? Hey, did you get a haircut - I love it?! Have you had breakfast/lunch/dinner yet - I thought we could eat?!  

NOT OKAY (specific & detail-oriented)

Where do you go to school? What is your teacher’s name? Who brought you to the visit? Who gave you those shoes? Where did you go on vacation? Who went? How did you travel? Who cut your hair? Where did you eat lunch? What doctor did you go to? Who are your friends at school?

Children can initiate any topic they want during a supervised visitation, including information they should not give!! The Supervisor will try to redirect but sometimes the child's sharing happens very quickly and it feels completely normal to the child to speak freely to a parent. 

If one parent has sole legal custody, we do not allow the Child to give any details about school, dentist, doctor, coaches, troop leaders, teachers, etc. even if the Child is the one initiating. This is critical when there has been domestic violence and the protected parent and child/ren may be at risk if detailed information is provided during a supervised visitation.

We gently but quickly interrupt the Child to prevent the disclosure. If Child discloses info, we write a note to the sole legal parent about it and pass it at end of visit to ensure safety and security.

In general, parents probably ask their children way too many questions. The very best way to engage a child and learn about his or her life is through play and activity together. Shared experiences build connection, trust, and emotional closeness. This is why we have family rooms at Hannah's House that encourage interactive play and activity. Games, art, sports, imaginative toys create opportunities for natural and spontaneous connections for families. So do things with your child every day! Play, imagine, create!

 

From the 2 Home Kids Program Director

THE SUPERVISOR IS THE VOICE OF THE INFANT/TODDLER

Since Mom and Dad don’t talk to each other about the food, sleep and toileting behaviors of their child, the supervisor needs to pass that information each way.

At the beginning of the visit, we ask the parent who is dropping off if s/he has information to pass to the other parent about food, sleep, toileting, teething, toys, behavior, scratches, bumps, bruises, immunizations or anything else you can imagine an infant would want somebody to know about to feel safe, nurtured and loved!

At the end of the visit, we prepare a brief verbal statement about food, sleep, and toileting or anything else that was significant. Sometimes we need to make a written note as well. We make sure that everything we pass on to the parent picking up, whether communicated verbally or in writing, is noted on the Activity Report for that visit.

We do not assume that just because a young Child can verbalize that they will be an accurate reporter of what happened. Children from age 2 - 4 sometimes respond with inaccurate information and it is the responsibility of the grown-ups to keep pressure off the child.

Our professional supervisors work hard to keep the burden off the Child and share the basic co-parenting information necessary with both parents.

From the 2 Home Kids Program Director's Desk

ABDUCTION PREVENTION

Polices and procedures for the prevention of child abduction is an important function of supervised visitation.  The 2 Home Kids Program at Hannah's House has several Safety and Security measures in place that assist with preventing abduction, which include:

•                 100% Eye Shot and Ear Shot Supervision

•                 Closed Circuit Camera Surveillance and Recording

•                 Communication Procedures for Staff

•                 Guest Policy Carefully Enforced

•                 One-Family, One Supervisor

•                 Outside Privileges Procedure: Keys and ID

•                 Security Cards and Phone Lists for Staff

•                 Security Doors

•                 Strictly Enforced No-Contact Policy

•                 Observation of Vehicles and Pedestrians Who Appear to be Approaching or Watching the Visit During Outside Activities

Each one of these measures is designed to act as a deterrent. So far, they have worked. Hannah’s House 2 Home Kids Program has never had an abduction occur.                               

While we work to identify high risk cases, the truth is that there is truly no predicting what type of person will abduct because there is no type. So all of our Staff members are trained to be vigilant about adult behavior throughout each visit, as well as at the beginning and the end.

The majority of abductions in the US annually are family abductions. Moms and Dads abduct equally. What they all have in common is that they reach a point where they are convinced that abduction is the only way to resolve the pain and conflict in their co-parenting situation.

While we have never had an abduction with any active family here at Hannah’s House, we have had cases where the children are abducted immediately after a new court decision to remove the requirement for supervised visitation, or when an order changes from supervised visits to supervised exchanges. For this reason, we encourage families to ask about the variety of individualized support and transition services we offer to parents and children to ensure that changes in court orders go smoothly for everyone!

From the Parenting Coach's Desk

Parenting is a challenging task for any parent and particularly so when a parent has a newborn and no experience with parenting. It can seem like a huge challenge. Every parent can benefit from a parenting class no matter what their situation. The Transitions Family Program (TFP) at Hannah's House offers an Infant Care Parenting Class that is designed to assistparents to address all the special concerns of the new parent with a very young infant to care for, and help them develop the strategies and skills necessary to get on track with infant parenting.

The class is an individualized approach to infant parenting skills. 

‚     Learn the Health & Safety Basics of Infant Care

‚     Learn the Developmental Stages & Tasks for Your Baby

‚     Learn to use the Stress Management Tool Box for Parents

‚     Find the answer to the question:

                “Is It Normal for My Baby To ...”      

‚    Understand Healthy Boundaries and Learn Techniques to Establish Positive Parenting Routines for You & Your Baby

‚    Develop the skills to Coparent Your Infant

Infant care is especially critical when parents of an infant live separately. This class can help both parents navigate the challenges of shared parenting for your 2 home infant.

From the Family Resource Center

In January of 2017, Hannah's House officially opened the Family Resource Center. The Center's mission is to improve quality of life for families struggling with difficult transitions. The response to the new service has been gratifying. Here are some examples:

  • Several clients have told FRC Staff that they're currently unemployed or are having their unemployment checks run out "within the next month or two."  To these clients Staff have either pointed out the ever-rotating, always-updated FRC bulletin boards for upcoming job fair information & employment resource centers OR email them direct job leads, in their field of interest..  Each of these clients have been enthusiastically grateful for the personalized attention to their needs.
  • The majority of our clients, who fill out FRC questionnaires, are looking for therapy services (either individual or family therapy).  Our Staff always hear comments like "Wow!' "Awesome!" "Free?  Really!?!" when they learn about the FREE Support Group flyers from our Transitions Family Program at new-client orientation.
  • Staff have spoken with several (at least a half-dozen) clients who are currently sleeping in their cars or at a "friends house."  They seem highly motivated to find stable housing and seem very relieved to be able to talk with our FRC staff about where they are now and where they want to be.
  • Many of our clients have legal questions ranging from child support questions to restraining order questions to reducing their felonies to misdemeanors (under the new laws) and are very interested to hear about the Self-Help Legal Clinics throughout the County.
  • One time (in April 2017), Farmers Insurance was doing a car giveaway to "a veteran or active military person in SD County with a compelling story."  FRC staff notified one of our clients about this vehicle giveaway.  FABULOUS opportunity for that client!!
  • The Free Co-Parenting Workshops (held once a month at HH) are creating a GREAT deal of interest among the clients.  Since the workshops were put on the questionnaire starting in April 2017 several clients every month have requested the workshop schedule.

These are just some of the ways FRC is working everyday to help the parents and children in our multiple programs. 

From the Program Director's Desk

Choices and Personal Growth

Parents who become involved in the challenges of contested parenting time (custody and visitation) cases in our Family Courts face demands on their resources of time, money, emotional well-being, and psychological health that can deplete them very quickly. Parents experience overwhelming feelings of sadness, anger, hurt, betrayal, and, in many cases, shame. Moms and dads are often stunned when they discover that the judicial response to their requests is not as straightforward as they expected.

Family Court is still an adversarial process which results in winners and losers. The courts listen carefully to parents, weigh the evidence, and, ultimately, make an effort to make the best possible decision. These decisions must be made in the context of several conflicting principles:

  • Protect the constitutional rights of the adult parties to parent their children, 
  • Prioritize best interest of the child
  • Consider determinative law – clear and predictable outcomes
  • Respect the approximation principle – what was shall be (status quo)
  • Gender equality - human rights and non discrimination

Judges have an extraordinarily difficult job of determining the weighting of each of these 5 principles and then making judgments that come as close as possible to following that weighting in each individual case. In San Diego, judges rotate onto and off of the Family Court bench every 2-3 years. Many judges say that they leave the bench in Family just as they have fully achieved competence and confidence in the intricacies of the law and the dynamics of families.

This process can leave parents feeling as if they have no choice.  This is particularly true when the parents have chose to take a litigation approach to seeking resolution of their family conflicts. Regardless of the choice of approach a parent has chosen, there are pros and cons that complicate the process of breaking apart a family from living together in one home to living separately in two homes.  Any family breakup can leave people feeling helpless and powerless.

There are almost always choices.

There are almost always choices because there are almost always people who are willing to help us become a better person, a more capable mother or father, a more positive human being. Hopefully, that is what we want for ourselves and for our children; to keep becoming more truly and completely who we are capable of being every single day of our lives.

For over 29 years, Hannah's House has been dedicated to two things:

Protecting children during the breakup and reorganization of the family

Improving the co-parenting relationship

We do this through 4 comprehensive programs that provide a multitude of services that can be individualized to meet the needs of each particular family. No matter where you are in your family reorganization process, we can help. 

There are almost always choices because there are almost always people willing to help. Our staff at Hannah's House is dedicated to helping parents, children, and extended families find peaceful resolutions to family conflicts.

From the Executive Director's Desk

I have just finished my 5th day of conference attendance this week. Monday and Tuesday in Boston, Massachusetts filled my mind with the research of some of the leading experts in the field of shared parenting from 24 countries around the world at the International Conference on Shared Parenting. Next, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in San Antonio, Texas provided food for thought offered by a variety of supervised visitation providers and researchers at the annual conference of the International Supervised Visitation Network, with the theme: Many Voices - One Shared Vision.

And now I percolate! Hannah's House is a research-to-practice program and I have much work to do as I process all of the thought-provoking information I have gathered over the past several days. 

For example, how do I integrate the research outcomes on joint physical custody vs. sole physical custody: outcomes for children independent of parental conflict and income? How can our work be better informed by the research on shared care for very young children? One particularly interesting presentation was on research that strongly suggests that shared parenting may cause better outcomes for children. 

One study asked the question: Does overnight parenting with dad harm mom’s relationship? The outcome suggested that overnight parenting with dad was associated independently with benefits to the mother/child relationship. Another outcome of that study was that optimal father-child relationships were achieved with equal overnights at age 2; and optimal mother-child relationships were achieved with any number of overnights with mother age 2. This study indicates that there is a linear relationship between overnights at age 2 and better emotionally close relationships with fathers at adolescence and young adulthood. While the evidence does not establish causality, it is consistent with causality.

There was some fascinating research presented on attachment. Infants form significant relationships with both parents at about the same time late in the first year even when mothers spend 3-4 times more time with them. Babies of eighteen months tended to protest separation form both parents. Infants are securely attached about two thirds of the time to their mothers and to their fathers in about the same proportion. Infants are often securely attached to one parent and insecurely attached to the other. A secure attachment to one parent tends to offset an insecure attachment to the other. A baby needs just one secure attachment. The question that was really the most thought-provoking in this presentation? How does anyone know which parent the child will become securely attached to? The research strongly suggests that babies should have both parents in their lives.

I will probably be writing about these important issues for the next several days. Stay tuned!

Notes from Day 2: International Conference on Shared Parenting

The morning started with an address by Dr.h.c.Jean Zermatten, Chariman of UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Switzerland, on Parenting and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The four general principles are:
• that all the rights guaranteed by the Convention must be available to all children without discrimination of any kind (Article 2);
• that the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children (Article 3);
• that every child has the right to life, survival and development (Article 6); and
• that the child’s views must be considered and taken into account in all matters affecting him or her (Article 12)

194 countries have ratified this human rights treaty. Three (3) countries have yet to ratify the treaty: Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States.

Dr. Zermatten spoke of the importance of recognizing that the separation of parents with children is not a dissolution but a reorganization of the family. He emphasized that the child must be that red thread that weaves its way through the whole family as they reorganize from living together in one home to living separately in two homes. The consistent thought of the parents must be that while they are no longer life partners,they will always be mother and father.

Dr. William G. Austin gave a compelling presentation on Parental Gatekeeping and a Social Capital Analysis in Child Custody.  Parental gatekeeping is a medical, scientific and practical concept, which refers to how parents’ attitudes and actions affect the involvement and quality of the relationship between the other parent and child, both positively and negatively. Dr. Austin discussed the three (3) primary approaches to gatekeeping: facilitative, restrictive, and protective.

Restrictive gatekeeping creates conflict. An important part of the forensic custody evaluator role is determining if restrictive gatekeeping is justified or unjustified. Gatekeeping is a critical factor for analysis because children of divorce show the best overall adjustment when they have quality relationships with both parents. The best scenario for children is two parents who are supportive of each other with both performing facilitative gatekeeping. Gatekeeping has the greatest impact on social capital which refers to the psychosocial resources that a child derives from the important relationships and experiences in his or her life.

Professor Patrick Parkinson presented some research from the University of Sydney Australia on Relocation and the Indissolubility of Parenthood, a 5 year longitudinal study of 80 adults involved in relocation cases in the Australia Family Court.  He referred to relocation as the San Andreas Fault of Family Law, where tectonic plates collide. The plates? Divorce/dissolution that promises adults a new start and the ability to move on; and the indissolubility/permanence of parenthood.

Findings include an almost universal concern among the children about leaving friends. Children of school age who were close to their father (usually it's moms who move) were troubled by the thought of leaving dad behind.

Overall, children who moved adapted to new schools and made new friends, and there were some who adapted well because of advantages in the new location. However, children with close relationship to father did NOT adjust well to that loss with reports of missing dad, wishing the parents could live close to one another, wanting equal time with each parent, and feeling a loss of closeness. One little girl, age 8, reported missing her father ‘thousands time more than the universe’; and a 9 year old boy said he was unhappy that his parents had ever separated (dad had been primary caretaker).

Of the mothers who stayed, the majority accepted not moving and had a fairly positive attitude toward the future. Some of the mothers said there was no improvement, a few were ambivalent, and a few were bitter.  Two-thirds of the mothers who stayed reported that there children were close or very close to their fathers. 

Professor Hildegund Sunderhauf, Lutheran University of Applied Sciences in Nuremberg, Germany presented on Legal and Social Development of Shared Physical Custody in Europe. She presented an overview of the history of change throughout Europe with a particular focus on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights:

Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 8 is considered to be one of the Convention's most open-ended provisions. Professor Sunderhauf spoke in detail about Resolution 2079 (2015) which addressed Equality and shared parental responsibility: the role of fathers. 

Professor Sunderhauf predicts that the principle of shared residence following a separation will be introduced into the national law all over Europe soon.

Dr. Malin Bergstrom, Karolinska Institute, Sweden, presented a preliminary report on an ongoing research project related to Shared Parenting in Sweden 3-18 Years Old. She presented a summary of some of the interview responses from a study of parents of 0-4 year old children.

A few of the responses follow:

  • Why should they live more with one of us when they are children to both of us?
  • Both parents should be as important for the child.
  • One cannot make a lifelong commitment to always to be neighbors. But we kind of have the ambition to at least live nearby. Especially when he is older.

The ongoing research project measures cooperation, support, confidence, conflicts, and agreement on custody between the co-parents. The Elvis-project has conducted studies on school children since 2011, preschoolers and their parents since 2015, and are planning upcoming longitudinal studies.

Dr. Michael Lamb, Cambridge University, UK, presented a Critical Analysis of Research on Parenting Plans and Children's Well-being. He addressed the key issues related to parental separation: (1) Risks of maladjustment higher when parents have separated; and (2) Maintaining relationships with both parents minimizes those effects. The important research question he addressed in his analysis: Does overnight shared parenting affect infant-mother attachment or child adjustment?

Dr. Lamb gave a brief overview of the important aspects in attachment formation to include:
1   Emerges around 7/8 months
2   Usually to both co-resident parents
3   Sometimes to others as well
4   Can develop without co-residence
5   Regular responsive interaction caregiver to child is the key
6   Children can form attachments later when opportunities weren’t available earlier
7   Secure attachments to both parents promote adjustment

Dr. Lamb suggest that there are three (3) important questions to ask when evaluating research on attachment formation: (1) Are samples representative? (2) When did parents separate? (3) Did circumstances pre-separation allow for attachment to both primary caregivers?

And this was just the beginning of the day! What an amazing opportunity to learn and collaborate with professionals from all over the world who are focused on the best interest of children from the research perspective.

Notes from the International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017

This two day conference in Boston Massachusetts is the accomplishment of two organizations: National Parents Organization: Preserving the Bond Between Parents and Children; and International Council on Shared Parenting

National Parents Organization (NPO), founded in 1998, is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charitable and educational organization based in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. NPO is the largest organization in the United States advocating for science-based reform of the family courts for the benefit of children. It recognizes that preserving a strong bond between children and their parents is critically important to children's emotional, mental, and physical health, and seeks to apply scientific research to how this knowledge can best be applied to conflicted, separated and divorced families.

The International Council on Shared Parenting (ICSP), founded in 2014 and based in Bonn, Germany, is an international association with individual members from the sectors science, family professions and civil society. The purpose of the association is first, the dissemination and advancement of scientific knowledge on the needs and rights ("best interests") of children whose parents are living apart, and second, to formulate evidence-based recommendations about the legal, judicial and practical implementation of shared parenting.

As Day 1 of the conference draws to a close, I am saturated in the best way possible with statistics, conclusions, and ideas for new areas of research. Researchers in the social sciences from 24 countries are present. The presentations, discussions, and conversations are robust and stimulating.  

Surprises so far:
* number of studies supporting shared parenting; much higher than I realized
* number of studies that confirm parental conflict as the most important issue; much, much lower than I thought
* research on attachment and overnights with fathers for infants and toddlers; it is essential

Validation so far:
* children need both parents
* parental warmth and positive parenting are critically important for 2-home children
* communication skills and conflict resolution skills protect and enhance resilience in children

Many of the researchers told stories today that have renewed my hope; stories of favorable outcomes; and tales about pathways to success for more families. Hannah's House is a research-to-practice program and the ideas are already percolating! This exchange of ideas at the professional level with such a diverse group is inspiring and empowering. I look forward to Day 2!

From the Therapist's Desk

COPARENTING DILEMMAS: Truth and Lies

People lie. Adults lie. Children lie. When grown-ups are asked to record their own lies, they admit to about one lie for every five social interactions. Adults lie about once a day, on average, and college students are double that. Most of these lies are white lies. They are meant to make others feel good or to prevent others from feeling bad or to avoid embarrassment.

Unfortunately, our white lies help our children become comfortable with being insincere, disingenuous, and dishonest. Most of us end up teaching our children -- through our own white lies -- that honesty can create conflict/discomfort, and dishonesty is an easy way to avoid conflict in social situations.

Children at a very young age know the difference between a white lie and lying to cover their own misdeeds, or exaggerating their own accomplishments. Obviously, grown-ups know the difference, too. But we teach and model how to tell a white lie far too often. And that teaching/modeling lays the groundwork mentally and emotionally for lying. It gradually becomes easier for the child to lie to the parent.

For children who are figuring out how to navigate the uncertainties of living in 2 homes between parents who may dislike, disrespect, and mistrust each other, the child may learn to rely on white lies to cope with the fear of disappointing a parent. Very young children are fearful of hurting a parent so they will tell the parent what that parent wants to hear. In other words, the child learns to take care of the parent who is anxious by creating a story that will sooth the parent and help the parent stay emotionally connected to the child. Children learn quickly that they need to reassure the anxious parent how much that parent was missed by the child; how often the child thought about that other parent while they were gone. And it often isn't true.

At Hannah's House, since 1988, we have had a magic door. On one side of the door the child tells a parent "I don't want to go." The Staff say "come on kiddo, it's time to go" and the child goes with the Staff, sometimes appearing reluctant. The door closes. The child glances back, then at the Staff, then begins to relax. Some children begin chatting, smiling, happy and relieved. Many children actually hurry or even race down the hallway to reach the other parent, anticipating the reunion. That freedom from the pressure of the observing parent is inspiring and can be heartbreaking. Our job at Hannah's House is to protect the children from the burden of those adult pressures so they can delight in the joys of having 2 loving parents.

So how do parents of 2-home kids handle this reality? How do we help our child tell the truth? Slow down. Listen and observe your child. It is a basic parenting skill: Listen Actively! Children love their parents - both parents. Children will forgive parents who make mistakes. Give your child permission to love both of you. Make that a consistent message. We both love you and we always will. Say it over and over again. Only a parent can give that child racing up the hallway joyfully but in secret the permission and the freedom to be who they are...a child who craves, needs and deserves the love of both parents.

Don't question your child about the other parent or the other parent's house or the other parent's family or friends or boyfriend or girlfriend! When you child returns to you, greet them with open arms, a big smile, a loving heart, and an immediate immersion back into life with you. Let's go play! Let's go get something to eat! Let's go to the library. 

Parents have a responsibility to help children learn to be genuine, to have permission to just be himself or herself. That means allowing the child to love, enjoy, and desire time with your coparent, that person with whom you chose to co-create this amazing child!!

Don't set your child up to lie by making demands or asking questions that are a set up for a lie. "Who gave you that?" "Did your father give you a bath?" "Did your mother remember to send your medicine?" Parents sometimes ask these adult questions of the children rather than talking with their coparent. Don't put your child in that position. If you are the returning parent, proactively offer important coparneting information briefly and directly either verbally when appropriate or bullet point in a text, email, OFW post, etc.  

Children sometimes say surprising things about your coparent when you least expect it. You may have a strong emotional reaction and immediately want to ask questions to learn more. Don't pretend that you don't really care about the answer to a question to your child when you are really desperate to know the answer.  You are being disingenuous so the child thinks they can be, too.  If the child can tell you are really upset and you demand the truth, you have put them in a very scary situation.

Stay calm, and tell them the truth about your own reaction. "Wow! That really surprised me when you said that. Let's talk about it." What matters is the teaching, the values, the lesson, the morals, the quality of the connection between two people.

Dishonest behavior distances us from others. Too much pretending cuts us off from those we love. Help your child stay connected by being genuine yourself, exploring that urge to hide the truth, to be insincere and to be dishonest in our closest relationships. Slow down and talk about it. Try to understand. And do that together.

Pay attention today to your own truth telling, your own genuineness. Alan Watts translated a Chinese idiom as follows: "We discover who we are by acting naturally." Challenge yourself to find ways to manage your child's transitions back to you and away from you without putting your own needs and expectations on them. Allow them to act naturally. Allow them to have the joy of anticipating something fun and good and exciting.

Work on yourself and your own feelings about your coparent and your own insecurities about your attachment to your children! We are never to old to learn how to be more genuine, to discover more about who we are.

From the Coparenting Coach's Desk

Are you pulling your hair out because of a high conflict co-parenting relationship? Are you tired of hearing people tell you: (1) it's going to get easier, (2) time heals all wounds, or (3) sometimes it just takes a while, and so on? 

Are you tired of it because you absolutely know beyond that there is little hope for change or improvement in your coaprenting realtionship? 

If so, you are definitely not alone. How else do you explain the library full of self-help books on crazy ex-spouses and "How To..." deal with them without losing your own mind, let alone your dignity? But does that really help, either? To know "you're not alone." Sometimes that is just not enough. So what does help?

For starters, take a good long look at yourself. The reason this person is in your life is because you made a choice or a series of choices at some point that didn't turn out the way you planned. That choice part is your responsibility. There are probably some shared responsibilities between the two of you as well, but you can only accept your part and you can do absolutely nothing with the part that belongs to your co-parent.

Next take a look at your child. Your contribution genetically is one-half which means the other half is irrevocably and undeniably contributed by your co-parent. Which half of your child are you hating, feeling angry with, wanting to scream at, or just hoping will drop dead? These thoughts should make you at least a little uncomfortable. You don't really hate half of your child or secretly wish that half of your child didn't exist. 

If a co-parent hates their co-parent more than they love their child, the child is essentially living in a war zone where every day means hoping you are alive at the end of it. Depression, fear, anxiety, terror, withdrawal, isolation - survival mode. This is not to say that your co-parent isn't difficult, maybe a high drama person who creates chaos everywhere they go and in everyone whose life they touch. What it does mean is that you have to find a way to parent sanely, consistently, and lovingly during your time with your child. 

Sanely. It only takes one reasonably sane co-parent to stay calm, grounded and focused on the needs of the child to have a huge positive impact and compensate for/overcome the shortcomings of the chaotic co-parent. If you are co-parenting with a high conflict person, you need to make a commitment to your self and your child to be the sane one and then follow through with whatever you need to stay sane. Be the calm in the middle of the storm. Resist the seductive pull of the chaos and drama.

Consistently. Daily routines provide the scaffolding on which to build a family structure that feels safe, secure, and nurturing to each family member. Your child needs to know that they can count on you to be stable, predictable, and fully present in the moment. Your child needs to know that the people you include in your inner circle are stable, predictable and fully present in the moment as well. Your child needs to know that each day with you will start pretty much the same way, that meal times will have a familiar pattern and that activities during the day occur with a rhythm that feels fun and interesting with just the right amount of challenge. 

Lovingly. Thoughtful and targeted parenting actions are the right of every child. It is through hundreds of tiny parenting actions every day that you show your love and care your child. Focus on your parenting. Think about how you will protect your child today. Plan all the ways you can listen actively to your child today. Create opportunities to nurture your child through words and actions and touch. Notice those teachable moments that emerge spontaneously when you are with your child and teach the values, concepts, and attitudes that are important to you.

Bottom line. Identify what you can and cannot control in your child's life now. Take responsibility for what you can control, and do it. Seek help from a professional to figure that out if you feel lost in the chaos. You owe it to yourself and you owe it to your child.

Can parents' tech obsessions contribute to a child's bad behavior?

Even in low amounts, interruptions to parent-child time caused by digital technology are associated with greater child behavior problems, a new study suggests

Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

VIDEO: Dr. Jenny Radesky, M.D., a child behavior expert and pediatrician at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, recommends three tips for parents to unplug with their kids.... view more

Credit: Michigan Medicine

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Fatigue. Hunger. Boredom.

Those are often on the list of reasons parents mention if their child whines, has tantrums or acts out.

Researchers are now asking if such negative behaviors could be related to something else: parents spending too much time on their smartphones or tablets.

A small study from University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital and Illinois State University found that heavy digital technology use by parents could be associated with child behavior issues. The findings were published in the May 2017 online issue of Child Development.

Researchers analyzed surveys completed separately by both mothers and fathers from 170 two-parent households. Mothers and fathers were asked about their use of smartphones, tablets, laptops and other technology -- and how the devices disrupted family time (a disturbance that lead author Brandon T. McDaniel coins 'technoference.') Interruptions could be as simple as checking phone messages during mealtime, playtime and routine activities or conversations with their children.

Might a few stolen moments used to check a couple text messages have a deeper effect?

While more research is needed, the study suggests it might: Even low or seemingly normal amounts of tech-related interruption were associated with greater child behavior problems, such as oversensitivity, hot tempers, hyperactivity and whining.

"This was a cross-sectional study, so we can't assume a direct connection between parents' technology use and child behavior but these findings help us better understand the relationship," says senior author Jenny Radesky, M.D., a child behavior expert and pediatrician at Mott. "It's also possible that parents of children with behavioral difficulties are more likely to withdraw or de-stress with technology during times with their child."

But she adds "We know that parents' responsiveness to their kids changes when they are using mobile technology and that their device use may be associated with less-than-ideal interactions with their children. It's really difficult to toggle attention between all of the important and attention-grabbing information contained in these devices, with social and emotional information from our children, and process them both effectively at the same time."

McDaniel, who designed and carried out the study, says researchers hope to learn more about the impact of increasing digital technology use on families and children.

"Research on the potential impact of this exposure lags far behind," says McDaniel, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Illinois State University.

"It's too early to draw implications that could be used in clinical practice but our findings contribute to growing literature showing an association between greater digital technology use and potential relationship dysfunction between parents and their children."

Parents in the study were asked to rate how problematic their personal device use was based on how difficult it was for them to resist checking new messages, how frequently they worried about calls and texts and if they thought they used their phones too much.

Participants also were asked how often phones, tablets, computers and other devices diverted their attention when otherwise engaged with their children.

On average, mothers and fathers both perceived about two devices interfering in their interactions with their child at least once or more on a typical day. Mothers, however, seemed to perceive their phone use as more problematic than fathers did.

About half (48 percent) of parents reported technology interruptions three or more times on a typical day while 17 percent said it occurred once and 24 percent said it happened twice a day. Only 11 percent said no interruptions occurred.

Parents then rated child behavior issues within the past two months by answering questions about how often their children whined, sulked, easily got frustrated, had tantrums or showed signs of hyperactivity or restlessness.

The researchers controlled for multiple factors, such as parenting stress, depressive symptoms, income, parent education as well as co-parenting quality (how supportive partners were of each other in parenting their child), which has been shown to predict child behavior.

The study joins other research and advocacy groups contributing to a larger debate about technology and its effect on child development.

Some professional societies, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Zero to Three, recommend "unplugged" family time. But they haven't tested whether lessening or changing digital technology use during parent-child activities is associated with improved child behavior.

McDaniel and Radesky advise parents to try to carve out designated times to put away the devices and focus all attention on their kids.

Reserving certain times of the day or locations as being technology-free -- such as mealtime or playtime right after work -- may help ease family tensions caused by the modern blurring of outside worlds with home life, they say.

"Parents may find great benefits from being connected to the outside world through mobile technology, whether that's work, social lives or keeping up with the news. It may not be realistic, nor is it necessary, to ban technology use all together at home," Radesky says. "But setting boundaries can help parents keep smartphones and other mobile technology from interrupting quality time with their kids."

My Friends and Family Don't Understand

Family breakups are not all the same. Most parents are able to regain some sanity and normalcy within about 3-6 months of the parental separation. These are parents who decide they do not want strangers (attorneys and judges) making agreements and decisions about their children. These are parents who are able to place the needs of the children as a high priority and recognize the need for collaboration with their coparent.

Some parents just can't seem to find a sense of sanity and normalcy even 1 year or more after the parental separation. They battle, blame, denigrate, manipulate, destroy, diminish others, and seem to thrive on the infliction of pain and stress and indignities on their coparent. These are parents who find meaning in the battle and the need to win at all costs. Unfortunately, winning means proving they are the superior parent, the moral authority, the best, the most, and the greatest. There is no defense that the targeted parent can mount that will stop the battle. And the children have little or no protection from the battle.

Most people don't know that Family Court can be a crap shoot. The rules are different there from the court rooms and judges we see in criminal dramas where difficult cases are resolved in an hour, two at the most. Instead, it may take years just to get a divorce. It's not uncommon for the divorce to take 2-3 years and 7-8 years is far more common than it should be. 

Parents who end up in Family Court are shocked to discover that they can lose contact with their children for 3 months to 1 year based on allegations made by the other parent with no apparent evidence. That is because Family Court rules are "preponderance" not "beyond the shadow of a doubt." A 5 day trial can take up to a year to complete because there are not enough resources allotted to Family Court to conduct a trial on consecutive days so there is a day here, a day there, and so on.

The challenges of Family Court leave many parents involved in High Conflict family breakups isolated and unsupported because friends and family members get burned out because the stress and uproar just doesn't seem to end. Or, friends and family members begin to suspect that "where there is smoke there is fire" and turn on the parent or just pull away because they just cannot imagine that a parent could be diminished in their parental role when there is no real basis for it.

The Support Groups in the Transitions Family Program at Hannah's House hear these stories every week. Some of our parents have been in the groups since they began in 2013. Parents involved in High Conflict family breakups need long term support. If you are one of those parents or have a friend or family member who is facing these challenges, tell them about the help that is available.

Our Dads Group meets every Wednesday night from 6-7 pm. Moms Group is every Friday night from 530-7 pm. We also have an Arts and Animals Children's Group that meets every Friday night from 530-7 pm.  

Keeping Your Child Out of the Middle

Parents living together and raising children together in 1 home talk with each other nearly every day about the behavior and well-being of their child - it's called coparenting. Parents living in 2 homes with a child going back and forth do not - it's still coparenting.  That daily conversation ensures both parents are sharing and learning about the child's fears, challenges, accomplishments, and needs. 2-home coparents need to make an effort to create those opportunities for information exchange. Children have a unique relationship with each of their parents and so the conversation between the parents brings an important focus to all of the child's needs, not just some of them.

The breakup of an adult relationship with children is a breakup of the whole family. Children are shaken by the sudden understanding that life can change dramatically and love can, too. If mommy and daddy can quit loving each other, can they quit loving the child? The child may feel responsible for the breakup or just long for the family to live together again.  These tumultuous feelings influence the way the child sees the world in dramatic ways. 

Children know when parents actively dislike each other or do not accept or respect each other. The pressure this places on the child can be unbearable. Children begin to tell each parent what they want or need to hear. Honesty and spontaneity are no longer safe. Children make this change for emotional survival because they feel so scared and overwhelmed by all the negative feelings swirling around them. 

Sometimes children complain about one parent to the other regardless of the family living situation. Almost all parents who coparent together in 1 home have experienced the child who, suddenly and without reason, will only allow mommy or daddy to do something, Some of those battles are worth fighting to assert parental authority and require the child to cope with the reality that they are not the one in charge. Some of those battles are not worth fighting and the parent just complies.

This same behavior happens with parents who coparent in 2 homes but they often don't deal with it together or talk with each other about the behavior. It is essential that they have these conversations. The potential for a negative split between the parents is high, especially given the adversarial approach to family decisions practiced in our family courts. This places the child squarely in the middle with too much responsibility and too much pressure. 

If parents are unable to have regular conversations with each other about their child's needs, it is important to find someone who can help facilitate such meetings. This may require a professional: a pastor, a teacher, a trusted elder family member, or a therapist with coparenting expertise. Keeping your child out of the middle requires thoughtfulness and commitment from both parents.

Screen Time with Young Children

Coparents living in separate homes face special challenges when trying to figure out a healthy and consistent approach to screen time for young children. It's important that the coparents are talking with each other and reaching some basic agreements on how to handle screen time in each of the homes. This is especially important because of the impact screen time can have on sleep and behavior for young children who need routine and consistency to thrive in both homes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has some excellent resources to help parents make good decisions about screen time with young children.  The AAP policy statement on Media and Young Minds offers a review of the current research and literature with an overview of the areas of concern parents need to address. There are no absolutes for every single child or every single family. Rather there is an overview of the critical areas for consideration in developing a family media plan and approach. Multiple sources identify the importance of interactive media use for young children. Mayo Clinic also offers some ideas for parents looking for information about how to guide their young children in developing a healthy relationship with digital media.

Unstructured playtime is more valuable for the healthy development of young minds than electronic media because there are no limits to the imagination and exploration that emerges in such play. Pay attention each day to the balance in your child's playtime between unstructured playtime both indoors and out. Richard Louv coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder and he offers valuable information to parents about the importance of time in nature that can add more ideas for balance for your young child.

An article from the Washington Post reviews the importance of unstructured playtime for young children and offers some examples of approaches from other parts of the world.

Coparents can best help their young children develop a healthy approach to screen time through dialogue and collaboration. If you are in a coparenting relationship without communication or with conflicted communication, you might consider initiating a facilitated coparenting process with a Coparenting Coach.  Transitions Family Program at Hannah's House offers this service as part of the specialized services developed for coparents raising 2-home children; and the Family Resource Center at Hannah's House sponsors a free 2-hour coparenting workshop monthly.

 

From the Therapist's Desk

MORE ON RESILIENCE

The research tells us that exposure to even chronic traumatic events, like an entrenched Family Court battle, does not have to predict a negative outcome! What predicts a negative outcome is how we think about and talk about the event(s). For a child, what predicts a negative outcome is how parents teach them to think about and talk about traumatic events.

In other words, resilience can be taught. We can learn how to be less negative, less emotionally reactive and extreme. The key is in what we tell ourselves -- and our children -- about experiences, emotions, and thoughts in response to a potentially traumatic event.

When we are children, we process emotions in this order: feel, act, talk, think. As adults, hopefully, we have learned to process emotions in this order: feel, think, talk, act. Emotional development including emotional intelligence is a complex and long-term project! The two most important jobs for parents beyond basic safety and security are guiding our children in the development of self-soothing and self-control skills.

Parents teach children how to respond to stress and to the unexpected. For example, parents who rush to the aid of a child every time they fuss or cry, who make every fall, bump and bruise catastrophic will probably raise children who are not very confident and not very resilient. The child learns that discomfort means emergency. Discomfort means threat, danger, loss. Emergency = anxiety and fear. Action = flight or fight.

Parents who hear the fuss or cry, or see the fall - - and wait to see what happens next - - are more likely to raise a competent, confident, and resilient child. Why?

The first parent rushes to the child, stress on their face and in their voice and exclaim: ARE YOU OKAY? ARE YOU OKAY? ARE YOU HURT?

The second parent probably stays where they are, face calm, voice tone calm, waits a little bit, and says: You're okay. You're okay. You're fine.

The first parent has intervened in the child's own processing of the experience so quickly and with such intensity that the child probably didn't even have a chance to notice his or her own reaction to the event. Instead the child is likely to take on the parent's perception: I'm hurt, this is awful, I can't take care of myself, I'm not in control.

The second parent allows the child to have his or her own experience of the event. Hmmmm. What happened? How does that feel? Am I okay? Mom/Dad seems to think I'm fine. Am I fine? Huh! I guess I am okay. I can do this. This isn't so bad. I can figure this out.

In a difficult family break up and challenging family restructuring, parents have multiple opportunities to teach their children how to process chronic stress. Some high conflict coparenting struggles are so prolonged and intense that the child grows up in the equivalent of a war zone with armed conflict (intense verbal and sometimes physical battles between Mom and Dad) and the equivalent of Improvised Explosive Devices (litigation maneuvers, CPS reports, disparaging declarations, false or exaggerated allegations) as the back drop to life.

If parents are immature and undeveloped, without mature self-soothing and self-control skills, it is impossible to help children develop those skills.We cannot teach what we have not learned.

Parents must learn to frame adversity as a challenge, not as a disaster. Parents can then become more flexible, more likely to face the challenge, deal with it, learn from it, grow and move on with more skills and more depth and more understanding. Parents then model and teach these vital competencies to their children.

Hannah's House offers a full range of therapy and coaching programs through the Transitions Family Program and the Bridges Family Program. Transitions offers comprehensive therapy services specifically developed for parents and children involved in Family Court. Bridges designs home and community based coaching and other support services to meet the needs of all families coping with the challenges of a family break-up.

From the Coparenting Coach's Desk

SOLE LEGAL CUSTODY to....Mom....or....Dad....

Those words spoken by a family court judge are devastating to the parent who has just lost their right to make decisions about critical aspects of their child's life:

1  Child care/preschool
2  Education: K-12
3  Medical health
4  Mental health
5  Dental health
6  Religious/spiritual education
7  Enrichment activities

The parent who loses legal custody will usually still have access to records about their child in each of these life areas. Sometimes the judge allows the non custodial parent to access records directly from providers, and sometimes the judge directs the custodial parent to provide the information. There are circumstances where the judge orders that the non custodial parent have no access to information about any legal aspect of the child's life, but this is more unusual.

It is important to know that an allegation of domestic violence is extremely serious. A Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Order, when granted, results in immediate award of 100% legal and physical custody to the protected parent. Such a finding may also result in the judge dealing with records access in a more restrictive way because of concerns about health, safety, and welfare.

Specifically, if the judge finds that a parent has committed acts of domestic violence against the child, the other parent, or the child's siblings within the past five years the judge, by law, must presume that the parent who committed the domestic violence cannot have joint or sole legal or physical custody of a child.

Permanent restraining orders require special protections for a longer period for the child and the custodial parent. This is why legal custody cannot be granted in a case where domestic violence has resulted in such an order.

It is critical that non custodial parents understand their rights and responsibilities in the realm of legal custody. If the judge has granted you access to records, you have the right to directly contact providers to request information about your child. 

However, if you contact a provider with an attitude of entitlement, anger, and demands you will very likely end up losing your right to directly contact providers. And you should. That is where the word responsibility comes in.

You have a responsibility to behave appropriately with any provider who has a direct relationship with your child. Every word you say and the way you say it will effect your child's life. Take this responsibility seriously and prepare yourself for contact. Understand that the other parent will probably have let the provider know about the legal custody situation. Don't be surprised and hurt by that. You would do the same if you were the custodial parent. In fact, that is the responsibility of the custodial parent.

When you contact a provider and discover that the provider does not understand that you can have access to records then politely ask the provider how they would like to receive a copy of the order so that the provider is confident they are complying with the law. Reassure them that you understand their position and that you want to work with them to ensure a good relationship for the sake of your child.

What if the custodial parent won't give you the information about the child's providers? If you don't have the information, you must get it from the custodial parent. That is the only choice you have.  Any attempt on your part to investigate or interrogate will likely be experienced as harassing or stalking. Don't do it. Instead, use legal channels to get the information. Seek help from an attorney or the Family Law Facilitator's office at the court house. Read your orders carefully and make sure you understand what is and is not allowed.

If the custodial parent won't give you information about the providers in the life of your child, it can be very tempting to coax the information out of your child. Don't do that to your child. Legal custody is shared between adults and the child will feel the improper nature of your inquiry even if the child isn't old enough to understand what you are trying to do. Don't put your child in the position of coparenting with you. Don't put your child in the position of telling you secrets. Don't put your child in the position of choosing between mom or dad. It is detrimental to the child and can damage that child's relationship with both parents. 

Your child can talk with you about anything that they want to and they need to be able to with an absolute sense of trust and confidence.  Children should not be asked by either parent to keep secrets as that is a terrible burden for the child. Treasure the openness and spontaneity of your child and treat them with respect. Don't take advantage. Don't exploit your child. Communicate with your coparent with appropriate coparenting information in a timely manner and keep the child out of the middle.

If you are frustrated, feeling helpless and powerless because of your custody situation, reach out for support. It exists. You don't have to go it alone. You don't have to burn out your family and friends. A word of caution though. Some support offered to parents is divisive and has a goal of reinforcing the battle, the competition, and winning. If that's what you want, you can find that kind of help. But that is not what is best for your child. Your approach to support and counsel needs to be child-centered. 

If you want a positive future for your child, peace in your family, and a loving coexistence for your child between his or her two homes, then find support that is balanced and respectful of the needs of your child. 

The Transitions Family Program at Hannah's House offers free support group for parents and offers facilitated coparenting meetings for coparents.