Sunday, March 6, 2016

Navigating your child, when conjoint reunification therapy has been ordered. Kendall Wagner, MFT

Divorce and Custody cause great pain to all involved. What ever the reason for the change of status the children risk losing a parent. In some cases, this is unavoidable: domestic/child abuse, incarceration, geographic challenges.
Many parents find ways to stay involved or connected to their children. Some of these options are phone-calls, Skype/Facetime, and letters. It is up to the primary parent to set the tone for contact with the non custodial or possibly absent parent.
The challenge to not talk negatively about the other parent is overwhelming, many times parents will share the faults of the other parent.. It makes the child feel they have to take sides, sometimes this occurs naturally but other times children align with the present parent out of a need for security.. They understand to share a desire for the absent parent will cause distress in their own home and even risk losing the love and support of the parent they still have.

Many times once the absent parent is released , returns or re-engages, the court will often require the first contact be thru reunification therapy. This allows the parent and child to re engage, talk thru past pains and (possibly) begin to forge a new and honest relationship. This can be very scary for all involved. The primary parent has both valid worries and concerns, the child is both afraid to hurt the primary parent and angry at the absent parent for leaving (whether by choice or not) and afraid to open up and be let down again.

So as the primary parent how can you help? First, make sure you have your own support network(therapist, friends, religious) second: have an open line of communication with both your child's therapist and the conjoint therapist. Third, send the message that it is ok with you for your child to see the other parent.. This is so difficult, but so important for the mental health of your child.
Finally, understanding that your child's reluctance to see the other parent is not only out of not wanting them but fear of losing them again. This helps you not re-enforce the negative.. Comments like, I know how hard it is.. It is hard to trust again, It takes time... What can I do to help? are all supportive and therapeutic.
What not to do? Do not ask the following? Do you want to see your parent this week? How hard was it? Sorry you have to do this? We only have to do this a few times. Was your parent still (fill in the blank).
These all send the message to your child" You must not like him/her.. here is the answer that I want."

There are many cases where the reunification therapy will not take place for lack of co operation of either parent.. It is then that the child is re abandoned.. vs. forging a relationship (in some capacity)  with both parents. The therapist meets will all parties before ever starting the therapy to lower the risk of re-abandonment and trauma when possible..
This is a very brief overview of just a few issues that arise during reunification therapy.

Kendall provides reunification therapy at the Carlsbad Counseling Center.
If you have questions or are looking for a conjoint reunification therapist please contact us.