Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS Divorce etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica.
T.H.: Welcome everybody to the Divorce etc… podcast. We have Jen and Brandyn here from Parent Team. We kind of crossed paths and I think someone introduced us and so on and so on, and we connected with Jen in particular. She was telling us about all the support that they’ve built to help families navigate through the divorce, co-parenting, custody, tips for how to work with your ex, and really how to manage questions from your kids. We welcome you guys to our show.
Jen: Thanks for having us.
Jessica: Thank you for taking the time to be here today. This is such an important topic, and so we’re so curious as to all of the expertise that goes behind all of this.
T.H.: Well, when we spoke with Jen, we were talking about parenting classes that are required in many states. Can you start with that? I did not run into that in New Jersey, and maybe it’s not required in New Jersey, or maybe that’s the only thing I didn’t do in my four-year divorce and sign up for.
Jessica: Or maybe it’s only in certain circumstances that it’s required?
T.H.: It would have been my circumstances. Explain to us the good, bad, and ugly about it. What does it mean? Does it mean you’re a bad parent?
Jen: Yeah, and definitely not that you’re a bad parent necessarily. I think the really cool thing about some of the aspects of when families are going through a divorce, our legal system is somewhat catching up with the times and providing more support and trying to be, as much as they can be, proactive instead of reactive. I think one of those methods in which they’ve implemented this are these parenting courses that tend to be state statute when that pertains to that particular state because just as you have noted in your experience, you didn’t run into that. And so we have been able to link arms with different counties across the country and individuals can take our course to satisfy some of their parenting class requirements in the process of their divorce when they’ve got kids.
Brandyn: I think too it’s a great question that you asked is does it mean I’m a bad parent? – And absolutely not. Because all of us–I mean, I’ve worked in children’s mental health for 20 years, and I have kids, and I’m like, give me it! I need more tools! And so when we go through a divorce, it’s a huge restructuring of our family. When you have children, it’s a giant transition. And so looking at that adjustment and saying, what additional support can I get that are out there? And the other piece that’s really interesting is a lot of these courses that counties–so a lot of counties have different options. There’s an online option, there’s an in-person option, there’s a six-week “knock it out”, there’s a three to six-month “get the course done”, or there’s just a couple courses where there’s one course for two hours. And so when you think about when you’re going through a divorce, there are a lot of emotions. You’re not at your best. And so when you think about if I’m taking a course, and I need to learn, and I need to have that signed off by the time I get my divorce, like my signatures and my divorce is complete, I’m not in my best headspace. And so one of the reasons why we created Parent Team and our online course for co-parents is that you can take that and you can get your certificate that you can then give to the family law courts, but then you can go back. You can go back six months, 12 months, 18 months later when your well-being is hopefully coming back, and you’re grounding back after you’ve been through this huge life transition. You can come back and you can go, what was that module that Jen and Brandyn were talking about? How do I do this? How do I set up two homes? And then you can come back to it and really restructure your life when you have just a better head on your shoulders because it’s hard during that transition.
Jessica: What are the circumstances, to your knowledge, where a couple would be told that they have to complete a parenting class? I mean is it that in certain states or counties, anybody getting divorced has to do it? Or are there particular custody issues or arguments that warrant that?
Brandyn: What we have found, I think, throughout our state and throughout the counties is it’s everyone. It’s everyone who is going through a divorce who has minor children, where you’re going to have a parenting plan, you are then required. If you do go through what’s called collaborative divorce, which Jen and I are both practitioners in collaborative divorce – I’m a mental health neutral, and she’s the financial neutral – it’s very collaborative, and I help parents write and guide their parenting plans. They don’t have to because, through that entire course and process of their divorce, they’re getting co-parenting work woven in the entire six months of their divorce. That’s a little bit different, but my understanding, just from our counties and some of the other counties that we’ve worked in, is that they’re all required to take a course. But in some states, they’re not.
T.H.: I love that everyone’s required, so then you don’t feel like a bad parent. You don’t know what you don’t know. That’s why we created exEXPERTS because you don’t know the questions to ask. When you’re going through a divorce, you don’t know what’s going to come your way. I had three kids under eight at the time that I separated. Each of my kids was their own individual being. It was three separate projects, it wasn’t the same. Then times three every time they went to their dad’s, and then times three every time they came home, and then so on and so on. I appreciate you defining it as tools for everyone. I mean, wouldn’t it have been great if we got a whole guide for half of the shit that we have to do as parents, let alone be in a marriage? Like, these are things to look out for. And this means maybe your marriage isn’t working. That would have been nice to know in advance so that people don’t feel guilty and be like, god! This is a gift. I kind of see it that way for parents, because you don’t know what you don’t know. Knowledge is power. Maybe one of those nuggets from Parent Team and their class is going to resonate, and you’ll be like, oh yeah, I think I did that. Do they get a seal of approval? Do they pass a test? I know it’s like two hours or a day or in person or whatever, but overall, what kind of questions are in that class?
Jessica: Well, and not just questions, what are they learning? What are the practical takeaways that you guys are giving to them in that class?
Jen: I think one of the things that we also uncovered was that there’s a lot of the course material in these other parenting classes, and it’s a lot about the statistics. Or they’ll tell you like, “You want to prevent your child from being put in the middle.” Well, that’s all great in theory but tell me how. Or people miss the mark a bit of the things they’re unintentionally doing that they didn’t even realize that would be an action that would inadvertently put their child in the middle. And so that’s what we wanted to be really intentional of when we created the course, that it’s not as much about statistics. It’s evidence-based of course, but it’s more about the implementation and the unpacking what it is that you need to try to implement, and not for perfection, but practice and put into procedures so that you make sure that you’re doing as much as you can from even just your side of the equation as a co-parent, to remove your child from the middle.
Jessica: What are some examples, like specific examples of tips that someone’s going to take away?
Brandyn: I mean, I would say in one of our first modules we really talk about–so a lot of the classes we found focused on the parent-child relationship, and our world is flooded with parent to child. There’s not a whole lot out there for parent to parent, whether it’s in one home or two homes. Our next project is in one home, parent to parent. How the heck do we get along and parent these tiny people if we have our own childhood stuff and our own experiences?
T.H.: And if you don’t like each other?
Brandyn: Yeah, or I really disagree with how you’re parenting. How do we get on the same page? My husband and I, we have very different childhoods, very different views on things, but how do we come together to parent, right? And then if we’re in two homes, then what do we do because you have all this complexity? We really created this. I think one of the examples is early on, sitting down, how do you actually have the conversation about separation or divorce with your kids? Our course really takes you from step one – we’re just contemplating, all the way through to setting up your home, we’ve transitioned, we’re 18 months later, whatever it is. But really, how do I actually have that conversation without throwing the other parent under the bus? How do we get on the same team? Remember Mad Libs?
Brandyn: That’s from the ‘90s. We made Mad Libs style, okay, so you can just write a narrative and practice it as co-parents together. Then we walk you through how to have that family board meeting, family business meeting with your kids, or we do Mad Libs style. We’re writing it for you because you’re in such–I call it the divorce fog. I remember when I went through a divorce I was just like, what? What’s going on? Where’s life? And so I need some help, take my hand, and guide me. Our Mad Libs style, you just fill it in. You fill it in with what’s true for you, and we walk you through that. That’s an example of the “tell me what to do”, and what are the strategies and tools? Then we also talk about some evidence-based practices like emotion coaching, developed by John Gottman out of Seattle. So really, how do I emotion coach my kids through this when they come to me and they’re really frustrated at what mom did, or what dad did, right? And how do I not throw my co-parent under the bus? Because that’s their sacred relationship with their parents, but how do I validate their feelings and help with what might feel confusing? Those are some really tangible things that are in there. Yeah, there are a few hours of that.
Jen: And I think it’s also the ability to help co-parents create the plan so that they’re not left to default. Because when we put a plan in place, and we’re given tools to lay that out and the framework, we hear oftentimes transition days are really difficult, both for the parent that’s dropping off and then receiving back. And so being able to lay out the wireframe of how to make more of a seamless transition day so that everybody benefits from a smoother transition. Again, having that framework laid out so then it’s more plug and play. Then you’re not just left to default. That’s where typically a lot of the conflict that arises is when people don’t know what to expect. They’re thrown for a loop. And so we’re really throughout the course allowing individuals to take the time to pause, and as a co-parent thinking through the plan so that there’s less communication back and forth, because everybody knows what’s to be anticipated, and then just plug and play.
Jessica: I’m curious. I know that if it’s a state or county that was requiring a parenting course, that in theory, both sides are taking the course. But as we all know, there are people that take online courses and they’re half-assed. It’s like in one ear and it’s out the other and everything. I just think some people probably take it more earnestly than other people. And so what is included in that to help so that both parents are really paying attention and implementing the strategies and the tips that you guys are giving so that it’s not like one parent blowing it off? Or are there strategies on what to do if the other parent is not really in it?
Brandyn: Yes. So for those parents who come wholeheartedly to the process, and they’re like, I really want to learn how to be a great co-parent, but their co-parent doesn’t want to, we wrote the course and we weaved different tools and strategies in saying if you’re here alone, and your co-parent’s not at their house taking the course as well, here’s what you can do. Here’s how you talk to your kids. Here’s how you do this. That’s woven in as well. But there’s a little bit of a safety net there because Jen wrote the quiz for our course, and it’s pretty hard. You have to have really taken the course and not only just checked the boxes for the 12 questions or whatever it is, but you have to understand and be able to articulate what you learned. And so there’s a quiz at the end, which then generates your certificate of completion, which then we have families take that to the family courts.
Jen: And the cool thing that I just get really jazzed about, because I don’t think we really anticipated this, was we created this and we decided the price point. It’s $99. Currently, with that, you get your accessibility. When you first sign up, it sends you this generic email with your login. Then we included this paragraph that you can copy and paste to your co-parent that’s in really generic lovely language from our amazing copy-write individual that encourages them, “This would be super helpful for Bobby”, “Here’s your free access” where both parents can access the course for $99 with their separate logins. When you purchase it, you’ve got two logins. The cool part is to date, we have had about 75% participation from the second parent that’s getting this from their co-parent. That to me is pretty incredible.
Jessica: Right. Well, I mean, if they have to take it, so what’s their other option? They’re not even going to take the free code and they’re going to register themselves?
Jen: No, not necessarily.
Brandyn: This is just like a co-parent Googling “I need a co-parent course–”
Jessica: So people who aren’t even required to take it, who are doing it, and then their co-parent is participating?
T.H.: That’s what I was going to ask you.
Jessica: Yeah, it’s available to everyone.
T.H.: Because it’s just an awesome resource anyway for any parent. We get questions all the time about how we handle things and questions our kids ask. Like I said before, this is like a “get ready, here’s your toolkit”.
Brandyn: Whereas anybody can go Google parentteam.com and purchase the course. We really looked at the research. What the research shows us, I mean, it’s obvious, but it’s nice when you have data to back it up, is if both parents engage in co-parenting education, then kids thrive.
T.H.: Of course.
T.H.: You have two interested partners who both believe that this is important and that they don’t know it all.
Brandyn: Yes. We built a system for that. We said you know what? We’re going to give the other parent it for free because we believe so strongly in wanting to get this information out to co-parents.
Jessica: I’m curious what are your top two or three tips when it comes to probably some of the most common questions or complaints that people get? We often hear either they can only communicate through their lawyers, there’s really no communication between them, or no matter what they do, the other parent will never listen and can never get on board with them. What are some of your best tips?
Brandyn: I think one that I get a lot and just spend all day with a whole bunch of co-parenting groups is setting up really structured communication. They’re like, we text about this, we email about this, we talk, we don’t want to talk, or we only talk through our lawyers. Okay, I’m hearing that it’s not working for you. Let’s set up when and why we text, and when and why we email. Here’s the big one, you got to be human to each other. If you can, and I always start with where people are, so I have co-parents that I work with and they’re like, I’m not going to be in the same room. I’m not going to be in the same room, even with me in there. I say, okay, that’s where we’re going to start, but are you willing to work? And after a year and a half, they’re in my office together. Setting up structure, and I get it, you don’t like this person. That’s okay, but you have little people that are depending upon you being able to communicate. So really, I would say communication structure. A lot of people use different tools. That’s fine if that works for them. But what I hear is a lot of these things that people are doing over and over and over and over, it’s not working for them. Let’s change it. Setting up really good structure, what I do is I have a reboot, and we always work proactively. Here’s what we’re going to text, here is where we’re going to email, here’s how we’re going to do it, either a phone call, Zoom call, or we’re going to meet in person. If you want a neutral third party, I will be there for you. But I want to work myself out of here because you guys have got to be able to do this. We’ll work for a few months, maybe about six months, and we’ll set up an entire structure for them. Every month, they’ll meet in person. They’ve got to hear each other’s voice. You’ve got to hear that inflection in each other’s voice. It can get heated, but if it’s more of a heated co-parenting dyad, I’m in the room with them. I’m supporting them and helping them to hear why does that matter so much to you? So I would say communication structures and we have that in our course. That’s probably one of the big ones.
Jen: Yeah. I think sharing the story just with the–we kind of talked a little bit about the how to tell your kids, but then even individuals that maybe didn’t know about our course, that they’ve already let that news [out] and have shared it, I think Brandyn you do a great job of talking about the reframe and being able to undo what some of the things, because when you don’t know, you don’t know, and sharing that. Maybe highlighting that and then the “who’s paying for what”, I feel that’s one of those things where the kid is unintentionally put in the middle of. You’ve got a kid that comes to mom and says, “I’ve got a field trip. I’m going to need 25 bucks for that.” “Well, I paid for that last time. Go ask your dad.”
Jessica: What’s your answer to that?
Jen: Which is not an uncommon thing to do, but that is one of those things where you’re unintentionally putting the kid in the middle. Instead of saying, “I paid for last time, go talk to your dad,” saying, “You can keep the kid hat on. That’s something that your dad and I are going to discuss, and I’ll get back to you with an answer. When do you need the $25 for the field trip?”
T.H.: You take the responsibility off of them. Something else that I did, and I was in a very high conflict divorce, I made a list of my questions so I wouldn’t get emotional. I would stay on track. If I had a piece of paper with everything written on it framing the conversation, even if it was money or whatever it was, if I had it written down, then I can just stay focused on what’s written down and get off before I start getting reeled in a bad place. I also had something at the top that my therapist told me to do, to just remind me not to listen to the noise. So if there is noise coming at me, just say, okay, number two is…and keep going through your list. Those were two tips that worked for me. It sounds like that’s part of your framework. I just want to share that because that was real experience. I was with someone who was just–there was just no communication unless it was about how it was my fault. In order to stay on track and focus on the kids, that worked for me.
T.H.: But I really love that you guys have this out there. And so we started this podcast thinking about these required parents classes, but the truth is anybody going through a divorce with kids, lucky you if you both have to take it, but maybe it’s not such a bad thing even if he or she doesn’t want to take it, that you do because it’ll help you manage your ex. It’ll help you manage those conversations so that you’re prepared. You can’t always prepare for everything but–
Jessica: Like when T.H. and I went through it, so she said she had three kids under eight, and my kids were two and four. Her kids are grown-ups now, and mine are almost 16 and 18. So in this course, while I’m sure a lot of the tips are relevant no matter what, I’m curious, is it more for people whose kids are younger? Or is it the same if you’re getting divorced, and your kids are older teenagers? Because even though it says someone with minor kids, it’s like if my kid’s 17, it’s going to be different strategies than if my kid’s four.
Brandyn: True. Yeah, totally, no, we do both. The example I gave of how to talk to your kids, there’s a Mad Libs for a four-year-old, and there’s a Mad Libs for a 16-year-old.
Jessica: Ah, okay.
T.H.: It’s all-encompassing. That’s awesome.
Brandyn: Yeah. In my work, for 20 years I’ve worked in children’s mental health, 80% of my clinical practice is with kids with two homes. I specialize–they sit on my couch and they tell me the stuff that’s really hard for them. From five years old, up to 17, 18, I see young adults too. And so we really use over 20 years of hearing these stories, right, what’s hard for them. We wanted to make sure that we make this for if you’re a parent of a two-year-old or a 17-year-old.
Jessica: Right, okay. So people, if they are forced to take a course in a county where yours is offered, then that’s how they would obviously find the resources. But for other people out there who are listening, who are interested in taking this course, what’s the best way to find it?
Jessica: [Laughs] easy.
T.H.: We’re also going to feature you guys on our website and stuff like that. Everyone can find the links to these amazing ladies on exEXPERTS as well as in the show notes for this podcast. And Brandyn, you also sound like you take individual clients where you’re working with people who are dealing with parenting struggles and things like that, like on a one-on-one basis?
Brandyn: Yes, so I do work with–I mean, I have co-parents all over, because I’m not diagnosing, so I can coach anywhere. And so we have parents all over North America, international and national clients. It’s really nice to be able to support all over the place, right? Now after COVID, we’re all used to this. We’re all comfortable with this. Really, I see clients all over the place and maybe it’s just a consultation, or maybe they want to meet once a month and have me in the virtual room with them. But that’s the bulk of my work as well.
T.H.: Do you do support groups? Do you have kids that you think could support one another meeting?
Brandyn: So I do different kinds of groups like DBT groups. That’s a great idea is kids with two homes groups. That’s an awesome idea.
T.H.: We’ll sponsor that.
Brandyn: Yeah. That would be incredible.
T.H.: You can find that at exEXPERTS also. Coming soon!
Jessica: Well, I mean, listen, we could unpack so much more of it. There’s plenty to be said. I’m definitely interested in, as you said, your “next step” course because I feel everyone who’s gone through the first one can always benefit. T.H. and I always talk about we’re 14 years out, and we’re learning new things every day. We’re huge advocates of the continuing process. Even if people think that they covered something a while ago, it doesn’t mean that it’s over. Thank you guys so much for taking the time today. And like T.H. said, I mean, you can go on to exexperts.com and find their experts, Parent Team, and it’ll have the links to their website, and you can look up their program that way. We’re going to have it on our exRATED page, which is our page of recommended products and services that we know are going to help everyone in the exEXPERTS community. Thank you girls so much. We really appreciate it.
Brandyn: Thank you for having us.
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