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The Joy of An Ex - Jewish Family & Child Services: A Full Service Department Store

18th January 2012
By Jackie Rahmler in Divorce
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Copyright (c) 2011 Jackie Ramler

Mom confirmed what she had suspected for months: Dad was having an affair with his 23- year- old secretary. With pursed lips and a voice to match, Mom marched over to Jake, age 6, and blurted out, "Your dad's moving out tomorrow." Jake burst into tears and screamed, "You're stupid".

Don't underestimate the impact of separation and divorce on all family members. David Elkind, author of the The Hurried Child says that only a parent's death causes more stress to a child than divorce.

Jewish Family and Child Service is a non-profit agency that serves all religious and cultural groups, with fees for service on a sliding scale. Our Changing Family programs were developed to assist the whole family through the very difficult transition of divorce.

We recognize that divorce is not a one-time event; rather it is a lifelong process. Because the needs of the Changing Family change continuously, family members require different kinds of support throughout the process, from before the actual separation all the way to remarriage.

To understand the philosophy of our Changing Family series, it is helpful to consider the analogy of a department store. Throughout the divorce process, all family members remain within the same Changing Family department store, but family members get off the store escalator at different floors according to their changing needs. There is a floor to meet the needs of Adults, another to service Parents and one to address the concerns of Parents and Children together. The services on the various floors are provided through a variety of techniques: short term groups, workshops and individual counselling.

In the case of groups, members meet over a period of weeks with a trained facilitator. This setting provides members with the opportunity to connect with others in a similar situation as well to learn from each other. In contrast, psycho-educational workshops present participants with information about various divorce related topics. This kind of information is very effective in relieving anxiety and in helping participants move forward after divorce.

To understand how our Changing Family department store works, let's go back to Mom and Jake. Had Mom been able to anticipate Jake's needs and reaction to the news of the imminent separation, she likely could have handled the daunting task of informing him about the upcoming separation more effectively. To meet this need, it would have been helpful if Jake's mom had entered the Changing Family department store even before the physical separation took place, and had stepped off on the Parent's floor. On this floor, there are two workshops that would have been very useful to her when she was still in shock about the unwanted separation. The workshops When You're About to Separate: What to Tell the Kids and Developing a Successful Parenting Plan help parents learn how to focus on their children's needs in the early stage of the separation.

It is important that Jake's mom recognize that her own understandable distress may be making it impossible for her to be the strong parent Jake needs her to be. In the same way that an empty well is useless to someone who is thirsty, a depleted parent has little emotional support to give to his/her child. Jake's mother may have benefited from services on the Adult floor of the store. Our group, Surviving Separation and Looking Ahead provides a place where adults can safely discuss how their very real, overwhelming feelings may take control of their lives. Support from fellow group members enables participants to weather such an emotional storm. As the intensity of their feelings subsides, their emotional resources are replenished and parents are then better tuned into their children's needs and feelings.

Had Jake's mother's own feelings been sufficiently under control, she could have chosen to bypass the Adult floor and instead move directly to the Parent and Children floor, where we offer two programmes in which children are directly involved.


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