Friday, June 17, 2011

Fathers’ Day Giveaway and Guest Blogger: Christina McGhee of Divorce and Children, LLC

This coming Sunday is Fathers’ Day here in the US. Last month we celebrated moms and how special they are. This month, it’s our turn – dads. It takes a special man to not only be a participant in the conception of a child but also in the raising of that child. And this weekend we celebrate all the wonderful fathers who embrace this role of a lifetime.

It’s a privilege for me to introduce a great friend of mine to our readers. When I launched The Upbeat Dad last October, one of the first persons I connected with on Twitter was Christina McGhee of Divorce and Children LLC. Since then, we’ve correspondent quite a bit and I just love her passion for families affected by divorce when kids are involved. This is her life’s work and through her organization she has touched so many lives.

Christina is the author of Parenting Apart: How Separated and Divorced Parents Can Raise Happy and Secure Kids. I’ve read the book and it’s really filled with nuggets to help parents navigate the unchartered waters that are presented when divorce hits home. I wrote a review of the book and highly recommend it to dads and moms who want to raise happy, healthy kids from separate homes.

I’m honored to share this post by Christina on keeping special days such as Fathers’ Day special for kids although their parents live separately. I strongly encourage you to not only read it, but also to pass it on to others who would benefit from it.

I’m excited to say we’re doing a giveaway of the book! Many of our readers and followers are dads who have been impacted by divorce and separation. So I think that this book can be a useful resource to help both dads and moms learn how to effectively raise happy, well-adjusted kids even when their relationships don't quite work out.

Now here’s how it works. Just simply post a Happy Fathers' Day greeting to your dad, your husband, brother or that someone special and we’ll submit your name for a random drawing. If you’re reading this after the special day, then that's fine as well. What matters is your kind thoughts and words and celebrating the wonderful dads in our lives.

Please make your submissions by one on the following:

-          leave a Comment to this post here on the blog
-          send a tweet to @theupbeatdad
-          post a message on our Facebook page

Be sure to leave your name with your submission - just your first name is fine. We’ll close the submission period on Tuesday, June 21. Then on Thursday, June 23, we’ll announce the winner in the Comments section of this post. We'll also announced it by Twitter and on our Facebook page. If you're the winner, please send your mailing address to: We'll then get the book to you ASAP! 

Do send a greeting in this giveaway because I believe that they encourage each of us to celebrate the special dads in our lives. Remember this is a random drawing - not a competition - so feel free to send a greeting to your loved one as we celebrate Fathers' Day.

Enjoy reading this post by Christina McGhee. And I hope that you and yours have a wonderful Fathers’ Day.

The Upbeat Dad

Little things matter: keeping special days special for kids
by Christina McGhee, author of PARENTING APART: How separated and divorced parents can raise happy and secure kids. 
“It’s not always the big things we do for our children that make the most difference.  Sometimes it’s the subtle things we do over time that reflect integrity in our children’s eyes.”

My husband is an amazing Dad. So when Fathers’ Day rolls around I usually get just as excited as my kids about making the day extra special. The thing I love most about Father’s Day - that indescribable mixture of self-pride and excitement my kids get when they give my husband that special something they either created or picked out. The days before Fathers’ Day are usually just as rewarding.  Our home becomes filled with secret whispers, sneaking around and a multitude of not so subtle hints. All the grandeur of this occasion is typically followed by a tremendous amount of boasting about how their clever plotting and planning left Dad totally clueless (wink, wink).  For them, doing something special for Dad matters a lot.

As Fathers’ Day approaches here in the states, I can’t help but wonder how many children will lose the experience of making their Dad feel special simply because their parents don’t live under one roof anymore. Professionals regularly remind us of the big boxes to tick, “Don’t fight in front of the children,” “Don’t speak badly of your ex” and “Always put your children first.”  Yet, what about those smaller boxes such as special days and family events? What do you do about those?

It’s not hard to understand how those special days can be quite painful for us as parents. For some, they serve as agonizing reminders of old hurts or stir up heartbreaking feelings of loss.  While it’s easy to get caught up in the “I don’t owe my ex anything” mentality, keep in mind you do owe your kids something – the opportunity to love and cherish both of their parents.  Certainly it’s not to say that those feelings aren’t justified or that you’re not completely entitled to feel them.  However, remember it isn’t about your ex; it’s about your children. 
No matter how you slice it, separating your feelings about special days from the needs of your children is important.  When you commit to staying focused on your children, you have the opportunity to:
          Send a clear message that it’s okay to love both of parents
          Support the importance of family in your children’s lives
          Teach them the meaning of doing for others
          Help them embrace change while maintaining values

Tips for keeping special days special for kids
Plan ahead
Some parents already have arrangements in place regarding how special days will be handled.  If you don’t have something worked out, consider talking to you ex about the situation.  Take out a calendar and make note of where special days fall during the year.  Consider what’s important to your kids and think through what you could do to alleviate possible tension around those dates.

If it’s important to your ex to be with the children on their birthday, then offer to switch days or adjust the schedule.  If Fathers’ Day is on your weekend, suggest making arrangements for the children to spend the day or weekend with Dad. It might also be helpful to think about situations that involve events with extended family such as Aunt Marge’s annual summer barbeque or Grandpa’s family reunion.

Follow your children’s lead
Talk with children ahead of time about what they would like to do for Dad/Mom on their special day. Listen to their ideas about how they would like to honor their parent and follow their lead.  Remember, it’s okay to set appropriate boundaries around what you can and can’t do. 

Be mindful that younger children will need more guidance about how to make the day special.  Although older children are more capable and independent, they will probably need a reminder and your support.  Consider asking what their plans are for that day and if they need any help.  Although it may not seem like much, in the long run, it will mean something to your teen.

Keep gestures appropriate
Make sure you are supporting good choices and keep gestures for the other parent appropriate.  If your children want to buy Dad a shirt, don’t help them pick out the ugliest, cheapest shirt you can find and wrap it with glee.  Likewise don’t go to Macys and help your children pick out something for Mom that’s two sizes too small.  Fantasize about it all you want but for your children’s sake, steer clear of temptation.

If money is an issue, consider lower budget options such as helping children make homemade gifts, framed photos, special cards or baking Mom or Dad’s favorite dish.

If your ex isn’t supportive
Unfortunately no matter how hard you try to do right by your children, you have no control over the choices your ex makes.  If your ex isn’t willing to help the children, you can still offer them the chance to feel good about the day. Plan a trip to the zoo, declare you require an obscene number of hugs for Father’s Day, take kids shopping and let them help you pick something out or cook your favorite meal together. 

If your ex won’t adjust the schedule or there’s significant distance between your two homes and you can’t be with your children on the day, let kids know you will celebrate the next time you are together.

Over the next week, I invite you to think about how special events have been celebrated in the past with your children.  What can you do this year to help special days stay special for your children?

If you have a story to share about how you’ve handled Father’s Day, please leave a comment. We’d be delighted to hear what worked for your family. 

Christina McGhee, is the author of PARENTING APART: How separated and divorced parents can raise happy and secure kids and co-creator of the award winning children's DVD program about divorce, Lemons 2 Lemonade: How to handle life when things go sour between Mom and Dad.
Learn more about her at divorce and children or follow her on Facebook and Twitter

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Blended Family Tip: Plan Activities Around Kids’ Schedule with Other Parent

This week my 12 year old daughter left to spend the summer with her mom in the northeast. The school year ended last week so she’s free to just relax and enjoy life – as carefree as ever. She’s very much looking forward to some downtime the next couple months.

Last weekend, before she left, our family had a getaway – a mini vacation of sorts. We went to the west coast of Florida and took a little break to spend some quality time together. It’s as good a time as we’ve had in quite a while.

That got me thinking about something. What if we took that same trip this coming weekend - after my daughter already left? It certainly wouldn't be the same. Then I wondered about other families like ours - those that have a child who's a member of 2 households - and particularly when the households are in different states. How do you include the kids in your family activities when they're often away with their other parent?

When my former wife and I divorced almost 10 years ago, our daughter became like so many other kids who have seen their happy home become two homes, with her going back and forth between both of them. Because our divorce was a very unpleasant process, I knew the importance of letting our daughter know that despite what happened between her parents, she has always been and will always be loved and cherished.

Over the past several years since the divorce, quite a number of life changes have occurred for our daughter: my ex-relocated to her home state with her; then our daughter came to live with me; then I got remarried; then our son was born. You can read about how it all came together in The Story of My Blended Family. But these are significant changes and she had to adjust to each of them.

Through it all, I’ve done my best to ensure that with all the changes taking place around her, my daughter would always feel loved and very much a part of each of her households. So as much as possible, I try to plan special activities around her schedule. Special family getaways like the one last weekend are timed so that she can be a part of them.

Understandably, there are times when that's not feasible but it's an ideal to aim for. For example, with her away for the summer (till August), if we have a July 4th Independence Day activity, it would happen without her. But as much as possible, we try to plan special activities with her in mind. My wife and I talked about having a Labor Day barbecue in September after my daughter returns, where we’d invite family and friends. If we do it for the 4th of July holiday, she’d miss it. It’s all about making her know that she’s a priority in all we do.

Why do I share this? Because I believe that kids from blended families are particularly vulnerable. It's easy for parents to take for granted the fact that the kids have to adjust to the changing circumstances. Since I went through the divorce, I have tried, as much as possible to have our daughter have as normal a life as one could have - even with divorced parents.

I recall times when she would say, "All my cousins have their mom and dad at home; why do I have to go back and forth between two homes?" What's a dad to say in response to that? Well, here we are years later and her perspective has changed so much. She appreciates the collective efforts by her mom and me to make her life as smooth and carefree as possible. Interestingly, last weekend while we were on our trip she said, "I'm the luckiest girl alive! I have 2 homes where everybody loves me. I’m here now having the time of my life and I’m going to my mom next week to have more fun." What a difference in perspective!

If you're a parent of kids who have 2 homes, please do your best to create the environment where they feel that they're an integral member of each household. Plan your family activities around their schedule as much as possible. Let them know that their happiness is your top priority. If they feel insecure about the changes taking place around them, encourage them with kind words and follow up with kind deeds. Be consistent in displaying your love for them. That does wonders for their self-esteem.

Kids are a joy and a wonder. And those of us who have the privilege of being parents are fortunate. When our marriages and other relationships don't quite work out, let's remember that our role as parents is the role of a lifetime - nothing can undo that. Let's do our best to assure them of our unchanging love - both by our words and deeds. By including them in our activities, that lets them feel valued and appreciated. And that's what parenthood is all about.

Enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad