What To Do With an Angry COD (Child of Divorce)

What To Do With an Angry COD (Child of Divorce)

by Bill Schacht, MS, LSCW

On our free monthly pod cast this week for members who have taken our KIDS-IN-A-BREAK: Providing the Necessary Support for Your Child of Divorce seminar,  POD member Tara shared that her 10 year old son is exhibiting an intermittent pattern of anger and tantrum in a variety of situations including when he wants something, when he does not want to do what is asked of him, when he does not get what he wants, and in certain performance situations.  She asked, “What can I do, Bill?”

Any useful answer requires careful consideration of the many factors that are causing her son’s angry mood and correlated behavior.

Anger issues are present in many families that divorce.  Tara shared that she and her ex engaged in many anger-fueled arguments that her son witnessed.  So, knowing something about anger is a good starting point.

Anger is an emotion.  But, it is not a primary response.  Anger is usually either fear turned outward, misdirected passion, caused by hormonal change, or a combination of these.

When a dog becomes frightened, it will do one of two things.  It may cower or roll on its back in a submissive position.  It is communicating to the attacker, “Don’t hurt me.”  Or, the dog will convert its fear to anger and growl and show its teeth in an attempt to keep the threat at a distance.

Humans, when frightened, will many times do the same.  They will non-consciously convert their fear to anger and express that to the scary person or situation.  An example of this is when a person gets cut off on the expressway by another driver in a way that an accident in barely avoided.  A knee-jerk reaction of rage response is a quick conversion of high level fear into an anger response.

COD’s have many fears in family separation situations.  And, many suppress their fears.  Then, it squirts out as anger.

So, one way to effectively respond to child’s or adult’s anger is to ask, “Is there something that is frightening you?”  This simple question will many times deflect the anger and cause the person who is angry to get to the primary cause – something that is frightening.

Anger as “misdirected passion” is when people are not experiencing enough positive stimulation.  They are just not having enough fun.  All humans require stimulation; we need to be aroused.  What we get from arousal is releases of dopamine, adrenaline, and endorphins – all neuro-chemicals that get us to feel good.  When we do not generate enough arousal through healthy and fun activity, the human system can begin to seek arousal through creating mischief.  And, getting angry is one way to get a significant shot of adrenaline up our spine.

When a couple in relationship counseling begins by telling me that they “fight all the time,” I immediately ask, “Can you tell what the two of you have done together in the past two months for fun and pleasure?”   In 90% of the couples the response is, “Not much,” and many declare little or no sexual activity.

So, with an angry son or a battling spouse, it is good to ask if that person is having enough fun – getting the positive arousal they need.  I see many COD’s expressing anger when their parents are not playing with them enough or just not doing enough fun stuff with them.

The hormonal factor of anger can be a rapid fluctuation of estrogen (menstrual cycle related in women) or a build-up of testosterone in a male (not enough sexual release).  We’ll eliminate this in Tara’s son’s case.

If Tara’s son did observe many episodes of his parents fighting with dad or both parents in a high anger state, we can hypothesize that his behavior is simply learned.  If children see that adults respond to not getting what they want, trying to get what they want, or to avoid responsibility or natural consequences by becoming very angry, they will come to believe that anger is the appropriate response in those situations.

Next time you are feeling angry, ask yourself…

Is there something frightening me?

Am I not having enough fun?

Is it my cycle or not having sexual release?

If your child is angry, check the first two and ponder how much anger and fighting your child may have been exposed to in your family.  Please share your wisdom and experiences with the rest of the Association.

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Adult POD Children, Holiday Complexity

“Adult POD Children,  Holiday Complexity”

Family separation and divorce bestows upon the involved children unforeseen, complex, life challenges for most of their remaining lives.  These inevitable situations many times get dumped into the laps of the kids with the divorced parents oblivious to the negative impact on the children’s lives and relationships.

There is no manual for these situations; no protocols, no “right way” to go about it.  Even as adults, these children are afraid to seriously discuss such situations with their parents.  And, when they marry, their spouses often adopt that fear and avoid addressing the issues, even when they cause serious problems within their marriage.

As members of PEOPLE OF DIVORCE – The Association, our value to each other is to report and discuss these complex situations.  This allows the membership to share what remedies they have tried that have succeeded or failed.

Consider the current situation of Elisha and James.  This married, 30ish couple has two young children.

James’ parents divorced when he was 8 years old.  But, the family was always very close and spent much time together.  Even after his mother and father remarried, gatherings in both new households continue to host weekly family interactions. Elisha will say that there is so much socializing within James’ family that, if unchecked, every weekend and some week nights would be spent in the company of his mother’s or father’s extended families.

Elisha’s parents married young and have a solid marriage of 40 years. Her family gets together, but not nearly as much as her husband’s.   Elisha’s family members enjoy their interactions, but are they are not as close and interdependent as James’ family.

James’ wants to spend as much time with his family as possible.  Elisha says she fights all the time with James for time to spend with him alone, together with their kids, and with her family.  The amount of time they spend with James’ family also has reduced their socialization with other couples and friends to almost zilch.

So, where is the real complexity?  Christmas.

James asserts that, because his mom and dad have different families, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day time should be split 1/3 – 1/3 – 1/3.  Elisha demands that this time be a 50-50 time divide between her family and his two.  Elisha asks James why her parents should be penalized by losing time with their grandchildren at Christmas for maintaining a happy marriage. She asks James to consider if her parents were also divorced and remarried, would he not be agreeable to splitting the holiday 25-25-25-25 across the four parent households?

Neither will budge on the issue.  Lack of resolution has resulted in other aspects of their relationship to break down.  The problem extends to children’s birthdays and other holidays.

Because  James and Elisha refuse to discuss the issue with their parents, they are clueless to the impact of it on their kids’ marriage.

Elisha is to the point of believing that, if James’ cannot “let go” of his family a little bit and they don’t crack this nut, it could cause them to divorce.

Imagine that two more kids could end up becoming children of divorce because their parents could not agree on with whom they will spend Christmas!

Sounds silly, doesn’t it?  But, it is a real example of the unintended consequences and natural complexity of POD children.

If you have had a similar experience, post a comment.  Share what you have done to remedy such situations.  What do you think should be the protocol in this circumstance?  Let’s talk about it in the POD community and help Elisha and James work it out!

Co-Parenting & having “the talk” with your kids

Parenting collaboratively from two household is difficult and complex.  This story illuminates that reality.

When Tomas, a divorced dad of a 12 year-old daughter, Anna, had Saturday placement, his daughter had her first period.  She chose not to tell her father – not a peep.

The next day, dad rode with the mom to drop Anna off at camp for a week.   When they were alone on the drive home, mom shared with dad what had occurred at his home the day before.  Suddenly, the blood stains on Anna’s bed sheet made sense to Tomas.

Dad chose not to ask mom why she did not call him on Saturday with a heads-up after Anna called her with the announcement.  Mom suggested to the dad that Anna may have been too embarrassed to tell him or talk about it with him.  Tomas asked mom what “product” Anna was using so that he could make that available in his home.  Mom said that Anna was given product and not to worry, suggesting again that Anna may be hesitant to discuss the topic with Tomas.

Tomas pondered the events and process that just occurred for his POD family.  Tomas knew this was a big deal in Anna’s maturing process and, somehow, he felt on the outside looking in.  He was not being viewed as a valuable resource to Anna in the situation and, without notice, was not included.

This is sad.

Not that it is always so, but within an intact family, there is more opportunity for mom to immediately inform dad of Anna’s development and to collaborate how to discuss the issue with her from numerous perspectives.

Parents tend not to discuss sexual issues with their “of-age” children nearly enough.  Being in two households makes it even easier to avoid the discomfort and work of deciding what to say, what to teach, and when.

To Tomas’ credit, he wrote mom a letter declaring that he wanted to be more involved with Anna about her physical maturity.  He wrote that he would share with Anna that now he knew and to inquire with Anna into what she had learned about the actual physiological purpose of a woman’s menstrual cycle and, even more importantly, what having her period now meant to her sense of self.

In the actual conversation, Anna shared that she knew her body was going through a “monthly cleansing” and Tomas was able to add more facts about how her body prepares itself for egg fertilization and regroups through the menstrual cycle when no pregnancy occurs.  Anna was not shy or uncomfortable in the conversation and told Tomas that her period signals that she is “growing up” and is now capable of becoming pregnant.

Tomas asked Anna to consider that the arrival of her period should have her reflect upon the ability that God has given her to grow one of her fertilized eggs into a baby.  And, that she should always honor and respect her body within that miracle potential.

Anna seemed to welcome her dad’s interest and appreciated his insights. Anna and dad agreed that, within the coming years, they would have many conversations about her growing up, sexuality, and dating.

Effective collaborative parenting requires awareness and the willingness to collaborate on a level with parents and children who reside in one home.

Please share your collaborative parenting successes and failures on the POD community social network.  We can learn so much from one another!