Having kids switch back and forth between parents and homes is challenging, no question. And if they’re very young, you may feel like you’re constantly missing out on many important moments. It was this exact challenge that inspired Fiona Kong to create the Home Sweet Homes journal, which is specifically designed for children and co-parents. Hear how this ingenious journal can help make co-parenting much easier!
- A picture is worth a thousand words, and those words won’t always be a good story. If your content is available to the world at large, your ex will find it and use it against you.
- Social media is a huge part of our lives now, and it’s hard to escape it, but if your goal is to be finished with your ex and move on with your life, these are the small sacrifices that you have to make.
OUR GUEST – FIONA KONG, creator of the Home Sweet Home Journal
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 today’s podcast. I’m thrilled to have Susan Guthrie here today. She’s a family law attorney and mediator, and I found her by listening to the Divorce and Beyond podcast. Welcome to the exEXPERTS podcast today.
Jessica: Welcome to today’s episode. We’re super excited to have with us today Fiona Kong who is the founder of Home Sweet Homes: Co-parenting journal and planner, which is a creative and super helpful way for divorced parents to stay on track when the kids are moving back and forth between homes. Welcome to the podcast, Fiona.
Fiona: Thank you both so much for having me.
Jessica: This is obviously a very common situation for divorced parents having to keep things in check when the kids are moving back and forth. I’m curious to know how this idea came to you. Were you looking for something and you couldn’t find it? What was the situation behind that?
Fiona: Yes. When we separated, my son was two and a half at the time. It was three and a half when I first noticed him–they’re being more aware, they’re able to communicate. I just felt he needed something to help him as he went back and forth between homes. I really wanted more communication with my co-parent about what he was doing because all these little things in their lives matter so much, even when they’re pooping, what they’re eating, you want to know. I actually didn’t even have a clue what I wanted to make. It was just I had this problem and it just sat with me and I was looking online for really anything that could help. I was like, wow, there’s nothing out there made for kids. There are co-parenting apps made for parents, there are books, but there wasn’t anything made specifically for children. It just sat with my heart and I was like, I don’t even know what I’m going to do. One day, I was at a dollar store and I saw this little planner. I’ll show it to you. It was like $2 and I was like, okay, this is cute, I’ll buy it. I started writing in like a little memory for the day. I asked my co-parent if he would also participate and do the same, just a way for us to stay connected and stay in touch. Luckily, he said yes and it just became this really useful tool for us. I started adding in stickers when my son did great things and it just evolved to a diary, a planner, and just such a useful tool.
Jessica: Let me ask you, obviously, especially if you’ve got a two-and-a-half or three-and-a-half-year-old, the parents are the ones that are writing in the book. But is the idea that as the child gets a little bit older, they’re contributing to it, they’re reading it? Is it being read to them? Because the idea is that it’s for the kid to be able to know what they’re doing and where they’re going. What’s the involvement on the child level?
Fiona: Yes, I’m actually experiencing that right now because my son’s four and a half now. Every night, it’s part of our routine now. He pulls out his journal and we talk about what was the best thing about today? He’ll say something and there’s a feelings exercise, and I was like, how did you feel today? Sometimes he’ll circle happy or mad, and so it really grows with the child I think. He’s not able to write by himself, but he’s able to draw. Those things are all captured here, which I’m like this is so beautiful because it becomes a memory book in the future.
T.H.: I’m just being devil’s advocate here because I didn’t have the kind of relationship that you have with your son’s father. Certainly, you need to have good communication with the other person, the other parent, in order for this to work, because you don’t want your child to see things that they shouldn’t see, and obviously, you’re going to look at it first. But I remember that my ex-husband and I went to see somebody to coach us, like, what happens when he has the kids all weekend? What do I do? She said, ‘You’re non-existent’, which, by the way, I don’t agree with but that was the advice that I was given. So it’s all on him. He does everything. It’s his time. That’s it. Now there are all these co-parenting apps and so many other great tools like what you have also and what you have is tangible, which I think is really important. But it was also I felt like a helicopter mom because I really was a single parent for my child for many years before we even separated. It was like a control thing, like, wait for a second, you’re taking them, and you need to do this and that, and A, and B, and C, and blah blah blah blah blah. Do you have outlines in your journal that almost coach you on what to say so you don’t put too much information out there and you don’t put all of your issues in the journal? It gives you hints, like, any food allergies this week, any birthdays this weekend, any activities this week? Do you frame it so that you can control the amount of information that goes in there? Eventually, your son’s going to be reading it. He might go back and read what you guys wrote?
Fiona: Yes. Yes, thank you for bringing this up. I think it’s a very important topic because I don’t feel like this is for everyone. If there’s a situation where your co-parent–or things will be used against you if you’re in court maybe, I feel you don’t want to have stuff written down. I do say keep in mind this is for your child. This is not for you to air out your stuff at all. This is just for your child. Whatever dates are in here, it’s for everybody. I do have some guidelines and I do say you should talk to your co-parent about having some general rules about maybe no negativity, keep it positive. But then I think I’ll also have like a week-by-week email to everyone that purchases it, just talking to them through how to use it.
Jessica: That’s really smart. Tell us a little bit about your own background because again, as T.H. mentioned, and as you said before, your co-parent is totally on board and willing to do this. You clearly have somewhat of an amicable situation. Can you give us a little bit of background?
Fiona: Yes. Well, on our co-parenting relationship? Or just my child?
Jessica: On your story, because I think that when people are listening, it’s like it’s relatable. It helps people understand where you are coming from and they may be like, oh, that’s totally where I am too and understand it all.
Fiona: My co-parent and I, we had dated for five years, and we ended things I would say it wasn’t on the worst of terms. We were in therapy and that’s kind of where we decided to part ways, so it was mutual. It was very businesslike. That was how I would characterize our relationship. We weren’t having the best communication right off the bat. It was not like that at all. I think it took time where we both had to reflect on what had happened and really come to terms with our role in how things ended.
Yeah, I do think that it definitely takes a lot of work. Just like a marriage does, being a co-parent takes a lot of work.
Jessica: For sure. In a lot of ways, almost more, because now you have to divide it all up and you have to figure out how not to micromanage. I totally can relate to what T.H. is saying. I think that it’s probably fair to say more moms feel that way than dads. But I was literally having a conversation last night where I was talking about when my kids were a little bit younger, I had found out that not infrequently, they were being permitted to have sleepovers with friends on school nights when they were with their dad. When I found that out, I was like, no. I mean, just no. That’s a hard no for me. I could not understand the other families that were letting it happen either. I remember my ex, Aaron, being like, look, the kids are with me and I’m going to decide what they can and can’t do when they’re with me. It was a hard pill to swallow for me to understand that I can’t micromanage what’s happening when they’re at his apartment. A lot of times I would find things out after the fact. I love the idea of the co-parenting journal because I feel it would also give a parent insight into what’s going on. Whether you want to try to control it or not is sort of irrelevant, but just to know what’s happening on those weekends without you and those days without you.
Fiona: Yes. You still want to stay involved in your child’s life even though whatever percentage of time you have. I want to know as much as I can regardless of whether they’re with me or not.
Jessica: Right. Have you found anything surprising in your interactions through the journal that you wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise expected?
Fiona: My son is not overly communicative, but as I said, having the daily feelings exercise where he is able to circle how he feels has really moved him up in emotional intelligence because he already knows what he’s going to do, what he’s going to circle, and he’s ready to talk about it. Of course, I encourage him and say, whatever you feel is fine, but he talks about when he’s mad, and I love that. And also having the affirmations in there, like, each month starts off with affirmation. One of them is mistakes helped me learn and grow. He’s been able to say things in his real-life where I once told him like, Mama made a mistake on something, and he’s like, it’s okay. I was like, wow, this is where he got it from. There’s definitely a lot of development on his end, which I’m really proud of.
T.H.: That is really critical, because my kids were eight, six, and four when I separated, and now they’re old. We didn’t have these kinds of tools. It was like, are you sending your kids to therapy? Or, like, one of my kids was having serious panic attacks at night and I took her to a neurologist. I was like, well, I just need to make sure she doesn’t have a tumor. But meanwhile, it’s the stress of it all. Now there are so many great tools like what you have here, to allow kids to start understanding their feelings and knowing it’s okay. You can be mad, you can be angry, you can be happy, and you can be mad at me and be mad at him, but we do have to talk about it. Because otherwise they just suck it down, and I know that was a big problem for me with my relationship in my marriage: ‘If you don’t acknowledge it, then it doesn’t exist.’ But don’t be fooled, it will come out. Jessica and I had a conversation, I think just in the last two weeks about kids really being serious collateral damage when a couple separates. ‘Oh, great, I’m free. I can start again. I’m going to get a job, great life, and blah, blah, blah, blah. The kids are resilient. Kids bounce back. It’s not a problem.’ It is a problem actually.
Jessica: It can be a problem.
T.H.: It can be a problem, right. It’s not for everybody. It can be a problem. Just their ability to recognize their feelings so that they can communicate, I mean, in its simplest form, you just can’t keep masking it. I think that your prompts, and your check-ins and your validations and stuff like that, that you have in this book, are already going to teach them, hopefully, at a very young age, how to do that. They don’t want to upset mommy, and they don’t want to upset daddy, and they want to go to both of your homes, and they’re going to be like perfect little angels as best they can be in each other’s homes. But that’s so not always the case. Not every day is great, and not every day do they feel happy. I think this is a really great tool. Can you take us through some of the rules that you started to talk about? Then also I want to hear what a day’s entry on that journal is?
Fiona: Oh, yeah, I would love to. Some of the rules that I have just established for who can see this journal. I think it’s really important that the child feels like they have a safe space to talk about what they want to talk about and not worry about you’re going to show this to sister or grandparents. I just think that there’s some level of privacy and respect on all ends that needs to happen. Then this is where I think it gets tricky. The parents need to have a conversation about this. I just feel going in blindly like we’re just going to write in stuff, that’s not the best idea. There’s always going to need to be ground rules about like, as I said, one of the rules in ours is just we focus on the positive. We never write anything that’s negative, I guess. We talk about that in person. But I guess just always keep in mind that this is for your child. Your words mean something. Whatever you write in here, just always keep that in mind that it’ll always be in here. It’s written.
Jessica: Is the idea for the kid to go back and read the entries?
Fiona: I do. I look back at the entries, and it’s really fun to see them in this first journal. When I look at our very first entry, my co-parent wrote, ‘Emile did kaka on the toilet. It’s the size of a cherry.’ He was just learning to be potty trained and that’s the stuff we talk about. Those are the kinds of things, the little details, but they matter.
Jessica: But now he’s a little older, what are the entries like?
Fiona: August, we congratulated him on finishing preschool. We congratulated him on starting his new big school. We say we’re very proud of you. At the end of the month, I actually have some pages and I actually made a little scrapbook for August. I put in some pictures of him at his old school on his last day and a picture of his new school, and we both will write a note for him. Journals are so open-ended and there’s no wrong way of how to use them. That’s the beauty of it.
Jessica: I’m curious to know if any part of it is the schedule. I remember for my son when he was younger, one of the things that I learned about him when he was probably about four years old was his need to know what was coming next. He didn’t react that well if I was like, okay, time to clean up, we’re leaving now. I think actually through T.H., I learned that over the course of maybe half an hour before we were leaving, I had to keep going in and giving him five-minute prompts to get him prepared for whatever was coming next. We had a nanny that we’d had since my son Jake was born. She was like the steady-going back and forth with my kids, that consistent presence in their lives between mine and their dad’s apartments. But it was also my kids go to school in the morning and they don’t know it is Tuesday. They don’t know it is Friday. They didn’t necessarily always know in their own heads where they’re going after school? What’s happening with that? I’m curious if the journal lays that out so the kids themselves know what their routine is going to be?
Fiona: Yes. The weekly format, obviously, if you’re listening to podcasts you can’t see, but each day has its schedule. It says ‘Today I am with,’ and then we just write it down here. Every day we try to fill it out in advance so he knows. But he’s the one actually filling it out now and he’s able to reference it by himself.
Jessica: Can you show us some of the other sections?
Fiona: Yeah, so each month starts with the affirmation, ‘I am loved’ and then there’s a parent-child reflection. The child activity would be ‘I love myself because…’ and then the parents would be ‘we love you because…’ Both the parents can participate or one of them can, or you can switch off the weekly spread. Then, in the beginning, I just want to show you really quickly, it begins with ‘I am unique.’ Then have their favorite little tidbits about them.
Jessica: It actually is almost like–I hate to age ourselves, [it’s a memory book] it’s like a baby book.
Fiona: Yeah, yeah.
T.H.: You’re making him write part of it, which is so much better.
Jessica: So much better.
T.H.: So much pressure. By the time I had my third kid I was like, oh my god, this book’s empty the first four pages. I’ve got to go back and fill it in. Samantha’s got like four baby books, Ally’s got two, and Jason’s got half of one complete.
Fiona: Oh my god, I know. I haven’t been good at that. But there are sections where they can keep lists of the birthday wishes. I really want to just show you, there’s their medical history, emergency contacts because I was thinking, I was like, what if my kid doesn’t know what to do? He needs that information too. We leave it up to the parents, but I’m like, no, my son needs to know all these things about himself.
T.H.: Especially if he has a food allergy or something to say I can’t eat nuts. Let him say that 100 times.
Jessica: Let’s be honest, not all of the parents always know all of that information. My ex would call me and be like, wait, who’s their pediatrician? Who’s Jake’s allergist? It’s great to actually have all that information there so if they are at the other parent’s house, they have all of those resources literally at their fingertips.
Fiona: Yes, and the fact that it goes with your child, it’s like your child and the parent will always have it. That was the thinking because I struggled to keep everything in one place. I think if parents do, they leave out their child in that process.
Jessica: For sure.
T.H.: Tell us how long does the journal takes you through? Is it six months? Is it a year? And what’s the right age group to use this journal?
Fiona: Yeah. It is an undated planner so it lasts for a whole year. The OG version we started when my son was three and a half, but I think four is more appropriate to start. Obviously, parents will do more of the writing. I don’t really know when kids start to write. We’re not there yet but–
Jessica: It could be years.
T.H.: But they can draw, and they like stickers and colors.
Fiona: He’s actively participating right now even just thinking about it. I don’t think it’s too young for a four-year-old. I think it’s great for four-year-olds.
T.H.: And it’s quality time. You’ve created an activity for each parent. Sometimes the other parent is like god, I don’t even know what to do today with whoever. You’ve given them an activity: let’s fill in your feelings, let’s fill in your whatever, let’s go do something great and come back and write about it. You’ve created a thing for them to do together to help them bond.
Fiona: Yeah, there’s like weekly activities that relate to the affirmation too. One of them is ‘I’m kind to all” and then we list out all the kind things. I’ll always go back if I know there’s an affirmation for it because you can always go back and you’re not just limited to that month, and we just collect all these memories into here.
T.H.: Then in our last conversation, you said you might be working on something for older kids. Is that still in the pipeline?
Fiona: I’m going to see how this works first. This has been a whole monster of a project just doing it as a single parent. I would love to. I don’t have a teenager, but I’ve been asked already, like, would you have one for teenagers? I would love to think about that. If I cross that bridge, I would love to help solve that problem for single parents with teenagers.
T.H.: Or they might have to just wait eight or nine years as a teenager so they can go through it and then identify better what the needs are. But I think this is just really a great resource. I know when we first spoke before the podcast I was asking you why aren’t you doing this on an app. The more I hear about a tangible, something to hold, something to carry with you, a project to work on because when it’s all online, it kind of disappears. I mean, it’s somewhere on your phone. It’s somewhere else. It’s not sitting next to your bed, and it’s not in your backpack. The more I think about it, I think it’s awesome to have something to hold on to, especially for younger kids showing responsibility, taking care of this, it’s important, where did you put it? You’re teaching kids so much and you are also really coaching parents on how to co-parent without drama.
Jessica: And how to communicate because you’re in a sense being–I hate to use the word force because it’s such an aggressive word, but you’re being forced to be able to relay the stories and the anecdotes and the details of how your weekend or how your night went with the kid for the other parent to hear. It’s so nice to be able to feel like you’re looped in and you know what they were doing when they weren’t with you. It really is just a great resource.
Fiona: Thank you. Yeah, I also think it holds us to a higher standard. If you know your co-parent is reading this–I’m not trying to show him up, or it’s not a competition, but we are both accountable for the things we do with our child. It’s in here and I want my co-parent to know I’m doing my best. Even though it’s hard, I’m doing my best, and I expect the same from him.
Jessica: Yeah, it’s really wonderful. We appreciate that you created it. We love the idea of people taking situations in their own lives and using that as a learning experience and moving forward and paying it forward which is exactly what you’re doing which is exactly what we’re doing at exEXPERTS. We’re using that divorce experience to share with others and help create solutions for it. Thank you so much for that. Thank you so much for taking the time. Anyone out there listening, the Home Sweet Homes journal and all Fiona’s information is going to be on our website on the exEXPERTS page. Go check it out, and you can buy one directly for yourself. Thanks, Fiona. Thank you both, T.H. and Jessica.
T.H.: Thank you.
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