Parenting After Separation

Parenting After Separation is a free, three-hour information session for BC parents — and other family members, such as grandparents, or guardians — who are dealing with child custody, guardianship, access, and support issues. The course explains the effects of separation on separating parents and their children and demonstrates effective ways to communicate and solve problems in parenting situations. Any separating parents can choose to attend this course. For more information, see the Ministry of Attorney General’s Family Justice website.

Parenting After Separation and Provincial Court

In some communities, where the Provincial Court is “designated” under Provincial Court (Family) Rule 21 to promote settling issues outside the courtroom, separating couples must attend Parenting After Separation sessions before the registry staff will set a first appearance date for their cases.

Important: In urgent situations, you can apply to the court to skip or postpone this step.

If the course is mandatory where you live (see below for a complete list of communities), Provincial Court registry staff will give you a referral. When you’ve completed the course, you will receive a certificate of attendance that you must file with the registry before they will set a first appearance date. Both parties must attend the course on or before the first appearance date. You can choose to attend a Parenting After Separation course if you want to (and one is available in your community), even if it’s not required.

Tip: It’s a good idea to find out as soon as possible if you have to enrol in a Parenting After Separation course — sometimes the waiting list to get into a course can be quite long.

You don’t have to attend this course if you:

  • have attended the course already within the past 24 months;
  • are not fluent in any language in which the course is offered;
  • live in an area where the course isn’t offered; or
  • can’t attend because you have serious health problems.

If one of these situations applies to you, complete and file a Parenting After Separation Exemption Request (Form 31) (Word) at the court registry instead of the certificate of attendance.

Note: On October 1, 2010, the Parenting After Separation program was expanded to Provincial Courts in Campbell River, Courtenay, Penticton, and Vernon. People going to Supreme Court are now also being encouraged to participate in the program.

The Parenting After Separation Program is mandatory in Provincial Courts in:

  • Abbotsford
  • Campbell River
  • Chilliwack
  • Courtenay
  • Kamloops
  • Kelowna
  • Nanaimo
  • New Westminster
  • North Vancouver
  • Penticton
  • Port Coquitlam
  • Prince George
  • Richmond
  • Surrey
  • Vancouver (Robson Square)
  • Vernon
  • Victoria

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Article courtesy http://www.familylaw.lss.bc.ca/resources

Home & Travel Resources for Single Parents

home and travel resources
Whether you’re a man or a woman, you may find yourself in the role of single parent, for a limited time or permanently. Here are some resources on how to deal.

It doesn’t matter if you are a single parent because of separation, bereavement, your partner having to work away for extended periods of time, or any other reason, you’ll still face the same practical challenges.

You have to make the day-to-day decisions by yourself, things like picking up the kids from day care, school and sports activities, as well as the mundane (yet trying) decisions like what to have for dinner.

Help is out there

An Internet search on “single parents” yields a surprising number of dating sites, several of which are rather cheesy. Two sites offering information, helpful articles and networking beyond dating are the Single Parents Network and Lone Parents.

At Single Parents Network, members have shared web sites, articles, books, friendship and support since 1997. Some of the content reflects individual opinions, and some is rather moralizing. But if you can get past that you’ll find good, objective tips and articles, written by educators and other professionals, on various aspects of single parenting.

In the UK, Lone Parents aims to put single parents in touch with each other, globally, nationally and regionally. This network has around 10,000 members and has been around for eight years. Communication is through a members’ only forum and chat room.

There’s also a separate members’ only dating forum. One of the things I like about Lone Parents is that they offer links to a variety of other resources relevant to single parents, including Job Centre (a government-run nationwide job search site), a national child care web site, a counseling directory and much more.

single parents

Single parents traveling

I’ve traveled as a single mother since 1988, when my oldest daughter took her first flight at 11 weeks. (Tip: The best way to calm a baby down during flight, especially for take-off and landing, is to breastfeed.) My youngest daughter was born in 2001 in China. Her first flight was on her first birthday, traveling to her new home in Norway.

Back in 1988, before the Internet, the only resource I had was the first edition of Travel with Children, by Lonely Planet co-founder Maureen Wheeler. Though not specifically intended for solo parents, I’ve found much of her advice very useful.

She discusses how children want familiar food, while parents are eager to sample local fare. Her idea: why not do both? First, let the kids have their meals, then go to a local restaurant afterwards. When my oldest daughter was 4, we travelled around South-East Asia for a while and I found this advice to be brilliant. It meant I didn’t have to eat a single hamburger. Also, when she was no longer hungry, my daughter was curious about my food. At the end of our trip, she no longer wanted hamburgers either.

Today, there’s so much information available on traveling with children, choosing what to read can be a chore. Below is a list of good resources for traveling single parents.

North America

Single Parent Travel was created in 1983 by Brenda Elwell, a single mom. In 2001 she published The Single Parent Travel Handbook, and brought Single Parent Travel online. The site is currently run by single dad John Frenaye, travel communist for msnbc.com.

Their trips section is rather heavy on cruises and resorts in the Caribbean. (Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruises and Beaches Family Resorts are among their sponsors.) They also offer a horsebackriding vacation in November. If this interests you, have a look at (or subscribe to) their monthly newsletter.

UK

Travel companies catering to single parent travel abound in Europe. Here are a few in the UK:

Responsibletravel.com was the world’s first dedicated travel agent for responsible travel. They select only travel companies with low environmental impact, and offer 8 trips specifically designed for single parents in destinations such as Croatia, Finland, Turkey and Egypt.

Mango is run by two single parents. They organize single parents’ vacations in the UK and abroad, including skiing holidays and Serengeti safaris. Their trips focus on parents and children spending quality time together, so they don’t offer kids-only activities.

Small Families claim being single with kids is no barrier to a good holiday. From weekends in Cambridge to weeks in the Galapagos, their trips have been featured in various UK newspapers.

single parentsPhoto by limaoscarjuliet

For 10 GBP per year you can join the Single Parent Travel Club, which aims to link together anyone traveling alone with children (not just single parents). The club is run by members for members and has been around for almost 20 years. SPTC organizes all sorts of trips, from meeting up in the park to traveling around Australia.

Australia

The Australian travel magazine Holidays With Kids contains information and reviews on various types of single parent travel, including camping, lodges and working on conservation projects. The magazine also organizes an annual single parent getaway. You can sign up for their single parent newsletter.

My number one piece of personal advice

Depending on their age, let the kids participate in decision-making. Respect their input on where to go, what to see, and where to eat, even if it might mean more swimming pools and junk food than you care for.

In many ways, traveling with a child is not that different from traveling with another adult – whether that means traveling to Thailand, or through life together. Your desires are of equal importance. If you want to hang out together, you have to compromise and it has to feel fair for both.

Experience has taught me that being a single parent is as easy, or as difficult, as I choose to make it.

Halloween Safety Tips from the Canadian Red Cross

With witches, goblins, and super-heroes descending on neighborhoods across Canada, the Canadian Red Cross offers parents some safety tips to help prepare their children for a safe and enjoyable trick-or-treat holiday. Halloween should be filled with surprise and enjoyment, and following some common sense practices can keep events safer and more fun!

  • Costumes should be light-colored and flame resistant with reflective strips so that children are more easily seen at night.  (And remember to put reflective tape on bikes, skateboards, and brooms, too!)
  • Costumes should be short enough to avoid tripping.
  • Remind children to keep away from open fires and candles. (Costumes can be extremely flammable.)
  • Use face paint rather than masks or things that will cover the eyes.
  • Remind children to walk, slither, and sneak on sidewalks – not in the street.
  • Explain to children that calls should be made along one side of the street first and then the other, and that it’s best to cross the street only at intersections or crosswalks.
  • Remind children to look both ways before crossing the street to check for cars, trucks, and low-flying brooms.
  • Provide yourself or the children with a flashlight to see better and to be better seen.
  • Have children plan their route and share it with you and the family.
  • Trick or Treaters should travel in groups of four or five.  Young children should be accompanied by an adult.
  • Visit homes that have the porch light on.
  • Make sure children know they should accept treats at the door and must not get into cars or enter the homes or apartments of strangers.
  • Remind children not to eat their treats and goodies until they are examined by an adult at home.  And candy should not be eaten if the package is already opened. Small, hard pieces of candy are a choking hazard for young children.
  • Make sure you and your children know where the Block Parent houses are located in the neighborhood.
  • Set agreed-to boundaries with your children.  Explain the importance of staying within them and arriving home on time.

Injury is no accident. Prepare! Stay Safe! Survive! To learn more about safety, injury prevention, and first aid, get trained with the Canadian Red Cross. Visit www.redcross.ca.

Children of Parents with Mental Illness

Parental mental illness has a profound impact on children.

dad and baby
“All family members are affected by a loved one’s mental illness. The entire family system needs to be addressed. To assure us we are not to blame and the situation is not hopeless. To point us to people and places that can help our loved one. The impact still lingers on.”

Based on research with children and other family members, I’ll discuss the shared family burden, the special vulnerability of children, and the impact of parental mental illness on their early years, their legacy for adulthood, and their potential for a resilient response to this catastrophic family event. I’ll explore the needs and concerns of children, along with their coping resources and services. Finally, I’ll offer some suggestions.

Shared family burden

The disruptive force of mental illness is often referred to as a family burden. This burden has a subjective component, which consists of the emotional consequences of the illness for other family members, and an objective component, which consists of their everyday problems. At the core of the subjective burden is a powerful grieving process. Family members may mourn for the relative they have known and loved before the onset of the illness, for the anguish of their family, and for their own losses. One adult child wrote about “my loss of a healthy mother, a normal childhood, and a stable home.”

Another mentioned other losses: “I lost self-confidence. I lost a sense of knowing who I am, of what I wanted. I lost the ability to set my own agenda, to control my own life. I lost sight of my own needs. I lost the ability to care for myself properly. I feel out of sync with the normal developmental rhythms. I have been saddened in a chronic way.”

In addition to their subjective burden, family members are confronted with an objective burden — the daily problems and challenges that accompany the mental illness. Family members must learn to cope with symptoms of the illness, with caregiving responsibilities, with the limitations of the mental health system, and with social stigma.

This man describes the impact of his father’s mental illness on his own life:

“My father’s paranoid schizophrenia meant we moved frequently, because he felt the conspiracy was closing in on him. He battered my mother, because he felt she was part of the conspiracy. I was too frightened to go to her aid. I couldn’t have friendships with peers because my father felt they might ‘poison’ my mind against him.”

Special vulnerability of children

Young family members are especially vulnerable to disruptive or traumatic events such as the mental illness of a close relative. Compared with adults, children have more limited coping skills and strategies, are more dependent on the other people in their lives, and have fewer psychological defences. Moreover, early development accomplishments provide the foundation for later ones, and delays or disruptions in development may have long-term consequences, including a residue of “unfinished business” that reverberates through future years.

Our research with adult siblings and children suggest a significant relationship between age at the onset of a relative’s mental illness and its impact. In essence, the younger the family member, the greater the potential impact. Here is one child’s account:

“ I became the perfect child to spare my parents more grief. I was forced to become responsible. In many ways it forced me to accomplish things in my life I might not have otherwise done. But I have spent my life trying to run away from this problem. Feeling guilty and helpless, the unending sorrow for not being able to help. I have not felt entitled to be happy most of my adult life.”

Impact on childhood and adolescence

Mental illness has a pervasive impact on children during their early years. For example, young children may become enveloped in their parent’s psychotic system, with lasting consequences for their own lives:

“My mother has been sick practically my whole life. It is hard for me to decipher which of my experiences are ‘normal’ and which are not. I had many difficult times and often have a great deal of anxiety.”

As the illness consumes their family’s energy, young family members may feel that their own needs have been neglected or that they have grown up too quickly. Their family relationships are also affected, and children may assume a parent role that places heavy responsibilities on their immature shoulders. One adult child wrote: “I feel like I missed out on being a kid.”

Children may be subject to a “survivor’s syndrome” that exposes them to feelings of guilt for having been spared. In addition, there may be adverse effects on their academic life and peer relationships. For instance, children may experience a sense of social deviance, have difficulty straddling the different worlds inside and outside their family, and be reluctant to bring friends and dates to an unpredictable home environment. Some of these concerns are described by the following adult child:

“Very much of my young life was affected. I had trouble concentrating in school, was afraid Dad would appear at the school grounds when he was sick. I could not bring any school friends home for fear that they would not understand. Mom was busy working full time to make ends meet. Not much time was spent helping me get prepared for school.”

Legacy for adulthood

Even after they have left home, children carry a legacy that permeates all the crawl spaces of their adult lives. This legacy has personal, interpersonal, occupational, and family components. Their personal legacy colors their feelings about themselves, and they may experience problems with identity and self-esteem that leave them unsure of themselves and uneasily dependent on the approval of others. They may also develop an excessive need for perfectionism and control to compensate for their chaotic and unpredictable family situation. Often they have concerns about their own mental health:

“As a child, I tried desperately never to have a problem because our family had so many. So I became perfectionistic and hid my fears, concerns, and needs from everyone. On the outside, I always appeared strong, self-assured, and able to handle anything. But I developed a lot of shame, felt that I was going crazy too. I always had tremendous anxiety that someday, somebody would find out that I was a fraud.”

Their interpersonal legacy imprints their adult relationships. Possible problems include feelings of social alienation and isolation, difficulty with trust and intimacy, inappropriate continuation of a caregiving role in close relationships, and reluctance to make a long-term commitment. Some of these problems were experienced by this multigenerational family member (someone who has both a sibling and a parent with mental illness):

“I have spent the last 25 years trying to find confidence, love and acceptance. I am extremely sensitive and weep easily. I avoid intimacy but crave it desperately. I want more friends but fear to trust.”

The occupational legacy of children often influences their career plans. In our research, many participants told us they had been drawn to a career as a professional caregiver in the fields of mental health, health care, or education, which offers a familiar and satisfying role. Others may flee from such a career to avoid experiences that echo their painful past.

Their family legacy has many elements. Adult children may enter an early marriage to escape their troubled family or may delay or avoid marriage in light of their unresolved issues. When they do marry, children may worry about the mental health of their own children and are likely to struggle to balance their commitments to their own families. Almost universally children worry about their caregiving responsibilities for their parent. Here are the words of one woman:

“When I was 18, I became my mother’s caretaker. My mother lived with me until she died. I married, had children, and took care of Mother throughout my whole life. That placed our family under severe emotional stress. Every stressful life experience precipitated a crisis in which Mother’s hallucinations or delusions were exacerbated.”

Risks and resilience

Certainly, parental mental illness is a catastrophic event for their children. In addition to the family burden, children are at risk for a traumatic reaction that causes intense emotional and physical distress or even for a posttraumatic reaction that persists for many months or years. Posttraumatic symptoms may include heightened fears and anxieties, recurrent images or thoughts, intrusive flashbacks, emotional numbing or constriction, loss of interest in normal activities, and withdrawal from other people.

Aside from these risks, however, it is also clear that children have the potential for a resilient response to this tragic family event. Resilience is the ability to rebound from adversity and to prevail over the circumstances of our lives. In the words of one family member, “I can now say that, like that old aluminium foil ad, I am ‘oven-tempered’ for flexible strength.”

We found evidence of resilience in our own research. A large majority (86%) of our participants reported some positive consequences as a result of the mental illness in their families. Adult children told us they had become better and stronger people. They described greater empathy and compassion more tolerance and understanding, healthier attitudes and priorities, and greater appreciation of life.

Resilience comes at a high price, however, and is usually accompanied by intense feelings of anguish and loss, as the following family members attests:

“My adolescent years were filled with a hollow dread. I felt somehow that I was responsible. I felt incredibly angry, resentful toward my mother, unable to escape and very guilty. Gradually I have come to see my mother’s mental illness as just one part of my life. I have my life, dreams, and goals. Her illness has caused me to develop tremendous strength, discipline and personal stability.”

Needs and concerns of offspring

In our research we asked adult siblings and children to rate the relative importance of various needs during their childhood, adolescence and adulthood. At each developmental phase, they share three central needs with other members of their family. First, children need information about mental illness and its meaning for their family. In the words of one adult child, “Knowledge has kept me from the depths of hopelessness.” This knowledge also facilitates the process of “naming and taming” and illness that is often incomprehensible and frightening to family members.

Second, children need skills to cope with the mental illness and with its impact on their own lives. For example, they need to learn to deal with the symptoms of their parent’s illness and with their own anxiety and stress. Third, children need support for themselves. As one family member remarked, “The isolation was profound.” Potential support is available from family and friends, from professionals and other service providers and from NAMI (formerly the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill). This adult child offers some suggestions for meeting these needs:

“Make sure children are informed that this illness is an illness that has a name and that many people have. It has nothing to do with their actions or their parents’ displeasure with them. There are treatments and medication for it, just like a heart problem. Tell them what behaviours they can expect and what to do and say if those behaviours are exhibited. Encourage them to discuss it.”

In addition to their needs for information, skills, and support, many offspring face a special challenge–to recognize that their needs and desires matter. So often they deny or minimize their own needs in their effort to meet the needs of their family:

“I am just learning, at age 49, that I can be me. I have only just begun to identify what I want and who I really am. I adapted my behaviour at home totally in the interest of keeping the equilibrium in the family. I felt responsible for making everyone happy. I took on emotions of others as something I had to fix. I developed a pattern of putting others before myself, lost my identity in relationships.”

Adult siblings and children share many other concerns. The following were cited most frequently in our research:

  • concern about caregiving for their relative (94% experienced this concern at least sometimes)
  • family disruption (83%)
  • difficulty balancing personal and family needs (81%)
  • a sense that their own needs had not been met (79%)
  • feelings of helplessness and hopelessness (75%)
  • poor self-esteem (75%)
  • guilt feelings (74%)
  • psychic numbing (70%)
  • problems trusting (69%)
  • problems with intimacy (69%)>
  • a sense of growing up too fast (67%)
  • personal depression (66%)

Coping resources

We also explored the coping resources of adult siblings and children, asking them to rate the relative value of various resources during their childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Resources included their personal qualities; their family; their friends; NAMI: a support group for adult siblings and children; mental health professionals; clergy; and unique resources, such as creative activity.

Based on average ratings, our participants evaluated no resource as “helpful” during the first 10 years of their lives. In fact, when we examined the overall availability of resources during the three developmental phases, we found that children had the fewest resources available to them. Thus, during their period of greatest need, offspring have limited resources to assist them in coping with this cataclysmic event. In the words of one family member, “I don’t think anything has helped.”

As adolescents they found just their personal qualities helpful. Only as adults do they benefit from other coping resources. Nevertheless, in spite of their struggle, ultimately most offspring do adapt to the mental illness in their family, often developing impressive qualities along the way:

“I feel that being a concerned family member has helped me become a better person in many ways. I learned to become self-sufficient at an early age. I am gratified that I helped my mother. I am a person who enjoys being alive, despite having had the trauma of an adolescence with a severely mentally ill parent.”


Diane T. Marsh, PhD, is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, PA.

This article originally appeared in Family Connections (Spring 2000), published by the BC Council for Families.