Retrouvaille for children

Last year, my wife and I went to a Retrouvaille, which helped us overcome a divorce threat and strengthen our long-term marriage commitment. It also helped us share our feelings with each other and grow closer and more loving in many ways.

Since then, we’ve had our fifth baby, and our children, especially the older ones ages 5-11, have been causing more fights in our family than I ever had with my wife. They scream at each other at the top of their lungs, sneak food when we’re not looking, make sarcastic comments about chores, mutter insults under their breath, and they hate it when their siblings are happy. My wife and I learned how to keep the peace by sharing our feelings and being compassionate, but try explaining that to kids who are so selfish.

So, are there any programs out there like Retrouvaille for parents who want to divorce their kids?

Unfortunately you are probably reaping what you sowed with your marital issues. Try Ray Guarendi’s books on parenting.

2 issues you might be missing.

Children always have mixed emotions to a new baby. Jealousy, curiosity, possessiveness, etc. With as many children as you have, acting out any emotions escalates easily. Deal with it in a practical way. If the kids are separated, they cannot fight. When something really unacceptable is done (throwing a glass of milk, screaming, hitting another, etc), send the offender to his or her room or to a small area of the living room, etc. Keep sending them out until all are gone and it’s just you and the baby if necessary. Tell them they are to be quiet and calm down and think about what they did for 5 minutes.

The other thing, when your spousal relationship changes, in this case improves, the entire family dynamics change. Children don’t like change because they wonder if it might be a threat. They sense you have some greater intimacy and sharing, what is that? Let’s try to disrupt it or get Mom and Dad back how they were before. We will not let Mom and Dad change; we will control them. We will demand all the attention and drive them nuts. NOW PLEASE I do not mean your little ones are deliberately thinking that. It’s just a reaction. It will be short lived if YOU DO NOT start falling for the manipulation and freaking out over their behavior. Let them see you are calm and can handle it.

If your older ones are 11 and 10, or 11 and 9, they are likely getting the second taste of their pubertal hormones (boys get their first testosterone shot about age 4). Is the 11 year old a girl or a boy? Not that both genders aren’t very difficult at 11, but girls may be a little more moody and grumpy, boys a little more combative.

How are they broken up into their rooms? Are the older kids having to share their rooms with much younger siblings? As kids move into their teen years, they want more privacy and they lose patience with the little kids always wanting to be around them and handle/lose/break their stuff.

I have a program that can be used for kids, I am not all mushy when it comes to conflict, but this had some good techniques to help teach empathy. It’s not specifically Catholic.

Young Peacemaker

But you and your wife need to work out some rules for your kids, some bottom lines, and set up consequences for breaking the rules. Such as “No screaming, no hitting, no insults. The penalty for each of those is losing X privilege for X days.” Don’t make it complicated but make it consistent, and then respond each and every time they break the rules. Not getting upset yourself, simply enacting the penalty. Another challenge to overcome - a test to see how you guys can work together for the betterment of your children. Chances are good you two weren’t working together and the kids may have gotten away with stuff they shouldn’t have, and now it’s noticeable to you. Or they may sense the change in atmosphere and be responding by acting out.

At any rate, you need to make a plan and respond. Also, if there’s been a lot of stress in your household, take the kids out for errands with you, one at a time, so you can have special time with each, to open the door of communication again. Please plan to have fun as a family as often as possible. Your kids love you both and need to know you love them too, even when they are obnoxious. I know that you do, or you wouldn’t care what they are doing.

Dear Abraham,

My husband and I inflicted much pain on our children (16, 7 and 5) during our time of misery, which we deeply regret. After our Retrouvaille Weekend we asked and received forgiveness from all three. The two older children marveled at the change in us and NEVER gave us a bit of trouble after that. Our youngest, however, was very bitter and angry for years; slamming doors and screaming at us was the norm.

Because conflicting discipline techniques were a big thing with us, we used the Conflict Resolution several times to come to a solution on how we would TOGETHER deal with her unacceptable behaviors. We stood firm and most of all TOGETHER. We used feeling words to describe how WE felt when she misbehaved and in true Retrouvaille fashion we tried to describe our feelings to her in ways that she would understand! We plasted on the refrigerator house rules…a paraphrased version of the biblical definition of Love: Today…I will be patient and kind and not envious of others (of course, we had to explain envious to her). I will not brag about what I have and what others do not have. I will take pride in all that I do and say. I will honor others by treating them the way I want them to treat me. I will not yell or shout at others. I will try to use words to express my feelings. With God’s grace I CAN do all these things.

As for the part that says that Love keeps no record of wrongs, we didn’t dwell on the negative behaviors – ignored them pretty much, but rather affirmed her for the positive ones. We were blessed in that she was a very academically gifted young lady, so we had LOTS of opportunities to affirm her.

Halfway through 6th grade and much to our delight she just changed. EVERYONE noticed it and the school counselor said that our daughter finally felt secure in her position in the family and in the fact that we WERE a LOVING family and that we would STAY a family. By this time we had been working in the Retrouvaille ministry 7 years…that’s how long it took for her “come around.”

We have both come so far in our relationship with each other and with others because now we have rule and the communication tools we learned through Retrouvaille. Presenting the program has also been a blessing for us…going on 21 years now!..because it forces us to walk the talk. We can’t expect other couples to do what we do not…and that include daily dialogue!!

Don’t know if I’ve been of any help, but you CAN apply Retrouvaille principles in your relationship with your children. Some couples have even dialogued with their children. You might try a question like: What was the most positive thing that happened to me today and how did I feel at that time?

  1. Spend time with each kid individually. If you can’t find a neighbor/friend/older adult to take them for a day. When a kid gets there emotinal needs met they won’t be so hateful when they see their sibilings getting that. I have a feeling part of what they’re resenting is that YOU and DAD have your emotinal needs met.

  2. Make sure you’re not pusing the elder ones to conform to family roles. Do you expect the eldest to pick up slack? The middle to make trouble and the youngest to be cuddly? Once a child is 7/8 they should do chores for the same leingth of time. If the older chore is harder, sobeit. But the 11yo shouldn’t be doing 2 hours of chores if the 9yo is doing 30 minutes.

  3. Let them fight it out. Make it known you’re not going to refree unless there’s blood. So many parents want to step in. This destroys sibiling bonds especally among boys. With my brothers we’d “bicker” it drove my mom nuts and she constantly tried to separate us. But we actually LOVED our witty, quick, discussions. If she actually spent time to listen to us she wouldn’t of been so quick to condemn it, and seen that it was great for our future careers. We sharpened our ability to think logically on eachother.

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