FULL TRANSCRIPT – SEASON 3, EPISODE 33
DIVORCE TIPS FROM KIDS with Grace Casper
T.H.: Do you wonder when the right time is to have certain conversations or do certain things with your kids when you’re getting divorced, like what to say or not to say, and when to introduce them to a new partner? Well, you’re going to hear what the kids really think from someone who has been there and knows, and get all the tips from kids in today’s episode of the Divorce etc… podcast. We’re the exEXPERTS, Jessica and T.H. We focus on helping you navigate your divorce and successfully moving on with your life. Please follow us on all social media at exEXPERTS, and check out www.exexperts.com for tons of free divorce related resources. Let’s bring in today’s guest.
Grace: Hi guys.
T.H.: Grace Casper, that’s who just said hi to all of you guys. She created Divorce Tips from Kids. She just wrote a book called Dear Parents: Notes From a Child of Divorce. She is a child of divorce, and like us, she is not afraid to speak up. The more we talk about the things and the struggles and the challenges, it’ll diminish some of the fear. It’ll help you get along. We’re all here to ask Grace some hot topic questions. Welcome to the show.
Jessica: Thanks for being here.
Grace: Thank you. Absolutely. I’m so excited to dive into this.
Jessica: I want to just set the stage for everyone. Really quickly, you don’t have to tell your whole story, but how old were you when your parents got divorced? And how old are you now, just to give some context?
Grace: Sure. Yeah, so my parents got divorced officially when I was in third grade. I was eight years old. I’m 24 years old now. I still talk to my parents. They are not remarried. Neither of them is remarried, but they both dated post-divorce, long term relationships and short term. And so I have experience with the whole dating thing, and I’d love to talk about that as we get into this.
Jessica: Yeah, definitely. I mean, we obviously get a lot of questions from people in the exEXPERTS community, and we have a lot of conversations about the conversations to have with the kids, and when and what to say, like I said in the intro, what to say or not to say at different times, because it does change. But when it comes to dating, there’s no reason not to start there, do you feel as a kid of divorce, that there is a right time, whether it is age related, or whether it’s length of time your parent has been dating this person?
Grace: Mm-hmm. Yeah, so I have a chapter in my book about this. The main thing is just to consider your kids while you date, to remember that they didn’t choose divorce. This is your choice, or this was your co-parent’s choice. They’re just along for the ride. And so having these new people brought into their life that they are not romantically in love with, and that are strangers to them, is a scary daunting thing. And so just considering that and reminding yourself of their perspective of like, wow, okay, I’m bringing in this stranger that they have no connection with, that they are not romantically attracted to, they don’t have the history that I have with this person, and it’s going to be a little bit weird. Something I talk about in the book is first just communicating with your kid about your status with dating. Let’s say that you decide, okay, I’m ready to date again. I would communicate that with your child to let them know, “Hey, I’m seeing other adults right now.” Saying something along the lines of like, “Hey, guys, I just wanted to let you know that Mom is seeing other adults right now, and hanging out with male adults, or female adults, and figuring out what dating looks like for me. But I want you to know that you are my first loves, and you are my priority. I will not bring somebody into our lives unless they really, really matter to me, and I think that you’re going to enjoy them, and I think that they’re going to bring value to what we already have.” Prefacing it by letting your kid know, because I’ve interviewed kids on my podcast—I have a podcast called Divorce: What I Wish My Parents Knew, where I interview other children of divorce. I’m not just saying this from my perspective. I’m saying it from other kids that have spoken to me. There’s a spectrum, but some people wish that they would have known that their parent was dating. Some parents are like, “Oh, I don’t want to them to get involved. So I’m just going to keep this a secret,” which I get. That’s good intentions. But if your child is older, let’s say they are 12 years old and up, they’re preteen or teen, they know what dating looks like. They know that that’s something that adults do. They’re going to be wondering, is Mom or Dad doing that? Are they hiding it from me? Then to bring in this person randomly and go, “Here’s my boyfriend of six months,” and they’re like, “What? This has happening behind my back the whole time?” And so I think having a general conversation of “Hey, I’m trying this right now. But I won’t introduce anyone to you guys until I feel like it’s properly fit for us.” I don’t like to give a set timeframe for that, because that is dependent on your family and your situation. But my main parameters in giving advice to parents is saying only introduce the kids when you really believe that this has long term potential, like if you really believe me and this partner, things are going well, we have the same core values, I really see long term potential in this person, then yes, introduce them. Because I always say that, and I talk about this again in my book, that with my parents dating, whenever they would break up with that person, it almost felt like a miniature divorce because you get attached to that person—
Jessica: You get attached to that person.
Grace: Yeah, and like, “Oh, I like them.” That’s good that your kid likes them. You want them to like your partner. But then what happens if y’all break up? Then the kid’s like, “Wait, what? So now I have to process that I can’t be friends with them anymore, and they’re not in our life anymore? We have these memories with them.” I don’t know, it’s really, really odd. I could talk about this for a long time, but I want to stop right there.
Jessica: Yeah. Yeah, but I mean, I also wonder, okay, you tell your kid that you are starting to date—
Jessica: You’re not going to maybe bring someone home—
T.H.: And that’s a scary thing, by the way. Can we just stop for one second? Because everybody’s situation is unique.
T.H.: I mean, for me and mine, my ex was already engaged to somebody else. She came right into my children’s lives.
Jessica: Well, she already knew them.
T.H.: Right, she did know them. But now I knew that she was out in my kids’ lives, and nobody had regard for that. So I felt like, well, I definitely am not getting into this muddy mess. Whatever I do personally, I’m shutting my mouth and keeping it quiet. My kids don’t need anything else going on. I think being sensitive to where your kids are, but also, from a parent’s point of view, dating is for you. Dating isn’t for your kids. That’s for me. That’s for me to go out and feel pretty, and someone buy me a drink, and have fun, make new friends. It has absolutely nothing to do with my kids. So until such time that it does have something to do with my kids, I didn’t tell my kids about anybody I was dating.
Jessica: Well, not in the very beginning. But I mean, when you started dating Frank, even before he met the kids—
T.H.: No, but even before Frank, Mark in Connecticut, I was going to Connecticut on the weekends and every other weekend. They were with their dad, so it was irrelevant. They’d sometimes be like, “Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with?” I would say, “I’m out for a—I totally lied. I lied all over the place, because I didn’t want to explain it. I was with somebody, and this was all about me. I felt uncomfortable sharing that with them because that sounded super selfish. So how do you not sound super selfish with your kids? Honestly, I don’t regret the way that I did any of my relationship kids-meeting situations for me and my kids. But when you come out of a marriage or a relationship that’s not working, as an adult, you’re desperate for something—some connection, some validation, some kind of “rescue”. And so that’s our perspective on it. I totally hear you. But I would never tell my kids that I’m even looking to date until there was someone to introduce to them. Otherwise, they didn’t know that I was dating, honestly.
Jessica: But before Grace answers, I want part of the answer to also be around—you’re talking T.H. about you’re dating someone, let’s say for five months. You haven’t said anything to your kids, and now you’re getting to a point where you feel it’s significant enough that you want to introduce them to your kids. Your kids have heard nothing about this person.
Jessica: Versus your kids know you’re dating someone for a period of time, and then you’re ready to introduce them. I almost feel bringing them out of the blue is like in such a short time like, “Oh, I have a boyfriend, and I’m bringing him home this weekend.”
T.H.: Well, I wouldn’t do it all at the exact same time. There was lead up time to it. But I kind of felt like, why am I telling them that I’m dating somebody? I might not introduce him for another year. You know, who the hell knows?
Grace: That’s why I think it’s not “I’m dating somebody,” it’s “Hey, I just want you to know that I’m in a position now where I’m ready to date.” So they know Mom might be dating right now, Mom may not be dating right now. It’s not “Hey, I want you to guys to know I’m dating this mystery man, and it’s been going on for three months, and you’re not going to meet him yet because you’re not ready.” Because that’s just—
T.H.: Well, I’m not ready. It’s not just them not ready. As the mom or the dad, I wasn’t ready to introduce him.
Jessica: Well, obviously, you’re not going to introduce anyone to your kids until you’re at least feeling ready, and then you work on the process. But Grace, do you feel like the kids—continue what you were saying, that you’re dating—
Grace: I just mainly mean that kids are smart. I’m mainly talking about the kids that their parents got divorced when they were in middle school or high school, and they’re that kind of age. They want to know if mom or dad is seeing people. It doesn’t matter if you’re like, “I’ve been seeing the same one for this amount of time.” Just let them know, “Hey, I’m seeing people right now. You will not meet anybody until I feel like we’re both ready for that.” It could be as simple as that. But just not leaving them out of the blue and saying like, “Of course I’m not dating. Oh, my gosh,” and like that type of line. I get the line T.H. that you’re talking about. Yeah, they didn’t need to know you’re in Connecticut seeing this guy. But at least not lying if they said—
Jessica: They know now.
Grace: Yeah. At least not lying if they say, “Are you seeing anybody?” and you’re like, “Of course not. No, no, no, no, no.” You could say like, “Yeah, I’m seeing different people right now. But don’t worry. I won’t bring anybody into our lives until I feel like we’re ready.” Do you know what I’m saying?
Jessica: I do, and I have a follow up question to that, and then we can move on to a different topic. My kids were only two and four when I got divorced. Obviously, I wasn’t talking to them at all about dating. The first guy that they met, I had been dating for a year. We eased it in as like he was a friend. I mean, they were so little. But now they are 19 and 17. And so for the last couple of years—and I live in New York City, so my kids are pretty savvy, so they knew that I was dating. I was open with the idea that I was dating. But they knew for a period that I wasn’t specifically dating one person. I wasn’t in a relationship, but I was going on dates frequently to meet new people. There were some times where my daughter—sometimes my kids are obviously with me, sometimes they’re with their dad. But there were times, it might be like one of the five day weekends or something, and my daughter, maybe I was on the phone with her one night when she was at her dad’s, and she knew I was going on a date. Then the first night she’s with me, I’m going on a date. Then two or three nights later, when she’s still with me, I’m going on a date. There were times where I wouldn’t be honest about going on a date. Because I’m like, to a kid who doesn’t maybe understand really the concept of dating, does it seem like I’m dating a zillion people? Is there a stage in which a kid might be like, “Oh my god, they’re going on dates all the time”? I was worried sometimes about the appropriateness of how it looked from their eyes if I was going off three nights a week and not with the same person.
Grace: Absolutely. There are boundaries within the child and parent relationship, and your child does not need to know all of your love life details. I totally agree with that. I think boundaries are important, and they keep us safe. They keep us in a place where we can love each other in the best way. And so again, you know your child best. Jessica, if you felt like that your child to be like, “Mom, whoa, you’re a serial dater,” then that probably was smart to keep that detail away from her. It’s not that you’re lying.
Jessica: “I’m going out with girlfriends.”
Grace: Right. It’s not that you’re lying. It’s not that you’re hiding. It’s that you’re protecting her and her view of you, because you know that she would maybe think that that’s crazy. But she doesn’t know what it’s like to be a woman your age trying to find somebody to be with. That’s a hard thing to do. And so again, just acknowledging where your kids are at mentally and trying to figure out okay, what can they handle and what can they not handle. Again, they’re still your child. They don’t need to know all the details. It’s not going to help them. Yeah, I’d say the only time to share details is if they explicitly ask. Let’s say they come up to you and they’re like, “Are you going on a date tonight?” Like, if they just straight up—
Jessica: That’s what she said. Sometimes I would be like, “No, I’m having dinner with Judy.”
T.H.: She’s like, “I just saw Judy with her friend.” They were already on a date.
Jessica: Yeah, there were some little white lies there here and there. Because again, I just felt like just because I’m meeting someone for a drink, and I’m going to be home in an hour, and doing that a few times a week, I’m like I don’t—
Grace: I’ll just say this, I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from talking to other kids is it’s not the “Mom’s always out dating,” it’s the “Mom’s bringing home people all the time.” It’s the constant meeting of these people. It’s not that you’re going out and doing this and I don’t know about it. It’s the I’m always going to my mom’s house wondering who am I going to meet this weekend. Or like, “Oh, do I have to meet another guy? Oh, who are you dating this time, Mom?” This constant I never know who’s in your life kind of thing, because I’m always meeting them. But if you’re keeping them away from me, I don’t care if you’ve dated five guys in the past month, because I’ve never met them before. They’re not any of my business. But if I’m meeting them all the time, and you’re like, “Can I bring him to your high school dinner tonight? Can I bring him to this?” that’s so intrusive. That’s crossing boundaries. I don’t know this man. You’re my mom, I’ve known you for my whole life, and this stranger’s coming to my high school event? No, I don’t want that. So I think that’s the main thing that parents should know. The other stuff that you were talking about is the nitty gritty, where it’s like it just depends on the child. It depends on your relationship with them, and I can’t give direct advice to that. Does that make sense?
T.H.: Yeah. It totally makes sense. I have a question for you also about like asking your kids direct questions. But first, we’re going to take a quick break, a quick pause here. Because we know it’s hard to get honest and reliable information about your divorce and life in general, so we’ve done the work for you with exEXPERTS and our Divorce etc… podcast. Jess and I had one another to ask all of the questions and figure out the answers, and now you have us too. We are your no bullshit, no nonsense girlfriends through divorce and beyond. Ask us anything about life and all that comes with it. Be sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get exEXPERTS in your inbox, and find out all the updates on the latest episodes of Divorce etc… podcasts. Don’t miss out on information and tips you really need to know going through divorce. If you want some one on one time with us, you can sign up for a private session. Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Because the real work really starts when your divorce is over. You can connect with us and get all of this information at www.exexperts.com. We’ve lived it, so we get it. So my question, do I tell my kids, “Grace, how do you feel about me dating?” “Grace, how do you feel about me going back to work?” Grace, coming to you, I didn’t do that. I waited for my kids to come to me. But I think that a lot of people do. They’re checking in with their kids like, “Grace, are you cool? We’ve been separated a little while. Are you cool with me dating?” I mean, in my mind, there’s an automatic answer. But what do you even think about that scenario?
Jessica: Well, you’re also putting them on the spot, so it’s a great question.
Grace: So I have two parents, and they both did different things. My mom did the, “What do you guys think of me dating?” My dad did the never ask us what we think, and just state, you know? I think—
Jessica: Did you ever ask him? Since he wasn’t—like, “Are you dating?”
T.H.: “Are you dating?”
Grace: No, it was obvious because I mean, I would come over and he’d be like, “So I’m seeing this girl. We’re going to meet her for dinner tonight.”
T.H.: Okay, so he railroaded you a little? Yeah.
T.H.: Okay. But us asking you pointed questions, what’s your opinion about that?
Grace: My opinion is it depends on your parenting style and how you view—so my mom viewed my brother and I as a team, like we are a unit or team. And so she thought to herself, what I do for me, I do for us. Now she’s an empty nester, and she doesn’t really know who she is without us. So keep that in mind. You know what I mean? Whereas you guys I think have healthy boundaries where you’re like, “I’m still an individual. I still have personal needs outside of my kids.”
Jessica: Right, getting too attached. But I do you think that’s probably pretty common. Because I think that part of it is they need the kids as a security blanket to help themselves process it.
Jessica: Being the mother hen, like just wanting to make sure that you’re taking care of everything. But you’re right, that’s a conversation that T.H. and I need to have for a podcast another time, like how do you make sure that you maintain your own separate identity. But continue.
Grace: But I would say what’s beautiful about that question is, it’s telling your kids, “I care about your opinion. I value your perspective in this. I want you to be a part of my life.” And so while you might hear their answer, and their answer might be like, “Mom, I don’t want you to date at all,” then it’s like—
T.H.: That’s the problem.
Grace: But it’s like, okay, you heard them out, though. You heard their perspective, and you say, “Okay, I hear that. I totally understand that. But I’m still human, and I have needs,” and so it’s not their answer is going to determine your decision. But you asking them is simply just telling them, “I see you, I want your opinion, I love you, and I want you to know that I value your words.” But then it’s okay to still stand in your decision and say, “Okay, I hear you in that. However, X, Y, and Z,” you know? Because every time I was asked questions by my parents of like, “What is it like for you experiencing this?” or “What is it like going from house to house?” It was like, oh, you’re actually wondering what it’s like for me. It’s not just you’re in this tunnel vision of like, I am the mom, or I’m the dad. You’re curious about what is it like to be the kid, and that’s really loving. Even if they didn’t agree with my answer, that doesn’t matter. The whole point was, oh my gosh, they’re asking me, and that really makes me feel loved.
T.H.: Right, because you’re being heard.
Grace: Yeah. You can still validate your daughter in her saying, “I don’t want you to date,” and saying, “I totally get that. That probably feels really awkward. But here’s the thing, I’m going to do it anyways. I promise that I won’t bring in somebody that’s bad for us. I promise that I won’t be bringing in new people every single day. I won’t bring a random dude to your event that we’ve been planning forever.” Setting these rules to tell them like, “I still have to do me, but trust me, I’m not going to try and damage your life.” Does that make sense?
Jessica: Yeah, it does. I actually —
T.H.: Yeah. My kids actually, I did probe them at certain times, because they would come—I don’t remember, honestly. It’s been a while. But I just know that at some point during my dating process, when I probed them, they were really saying they were afraid they were going to lose me to whoever I’m dating. They could say, “I don’t want you to date,” and then you can say, “Well, what is it that you’re worried about with me dating?” Then you can resolve a bigger issue that literally has nothing to do with you dating. But my kids didn’t have their dad in their lives for so many years. And so they were angelic kids for him because they didn’t want to upset him. Then they would come back to me and be freaking devils.
Grace: Because you’re the safe parent.
T.H.: Right. So this is something that we really need to address in this recording in this interview, because it’s not always about what you think it’s about. We don’t really know what you guys are thinking.
Grace: Oh my gosh, T.H., I love that you’re talking about this.
T.H.: Okay, so let’s go.
Grace: I love that because it’s so true. I talk about it in my book, but my mom, I had such an emotional reaction to her dating. I felt so personally hurt by it. It was like this attack on me.
T.H.: Like you’re not good enough, right.
Grace: Yeah. But what it was, was actually, me and Jack felt like her protectors. Because it’s like, okay, Mom is single now, and we don’t want her to be back with someone like Dad who hurt her so much. And so we thought we are her protectors, and we can’t protect her from all of these people. So it wasn’t we didn’t want her to date. It was like we don’t want her to marry someone like our dad again, and then it goes back to what it was. Then she’s silent again, and she doesn’t know how to say no. We didn’t want that version of our mom to show up again. So we didn’t even know what it would be like for her to date somebody safe. But our immediate thought is dating looks like being with Dad again, but a different person, because we’d never seen her with anybody else. And so we were like, no, no, no, because we’re thinking that’s going to be our version of Mom that we don’t like. But we didn’t know that Mom could date safe people, and Mom could still be the version of Mom that we enjoy right now. Does that make sense?
Jessica: Yeah, I think that is so profound, honestly. I hope for everyone listening, that you really hear that. Because the idea that what your kids could be thinking is that if you were in a bad relationship, maybe they saw you unhappy all the time, you’re miserable all the time, you’re fighting and arguing and whatever all the time, I your kids perception of you dating could be just exactly what Grace said, that you’re going to transition back into that person that wasn’t happy and free. It really does have nothing to do with—
T.H.: Nothing to do with what you think.
Jessica: Right, that hits so deeply.
Grace: It’s true. We didn’t want our mom to not fall in love. I want her to find love. I want her to be taken care of. But we just didn’t want her to fall into that trap again. We felt like we had to protect her for some reason.
T.H.: Yeah, because I feel like, and you’re going to correct me, the example right now, I’m with my man, my favorite man ever, his ex wife is not dating anybody. So his kids feel like they need to protect her, like surround her. They’re always with her when all of us are together, which is really nice. My kids definitely did that for me when my ex was with his fiancee, now wife. And so it is, it’s almost like nature has taken course. The kids will flock around the mom. I don’t know if they do it so much for the dad, regardless of the dating situation. But kids and their moms who are like solid in their lives, they will stand up and are just literally physical protectors. We all went out to dinner, they’re all surrounding her. You can’t get near her. We’re on the other side of the table, which is totally fine. But it’s very interesting how that happens when you do all come together and kids feel this innate need to protect and stand and yeah.
Grace: And it’s weird. I love that you told me that, because I always thought it was just Jack and I. But then the more I talked to other kids of divorce, and I even hear that story, I’m like, that is so true. I don’t know why it’s just this thing of like, grrr!
T.H.: Yeah, it’s true.
Grace: But I would say though that it would also be the same in reverse roles if Dad was single, Mom’s dating, and we’re like, “Oh, poor Dad. We’re going to sit by Dad, because Mom has her boyfriend.”
T.H.: Right, he’s alone, or she’s always alone.
Grace: He’s alone. We’re going to sit by him at dinner, because like, “Oh, poor Dad.”
T.H.: Yeah, it’s true. And you know what? It’s very sweet from my perspective. I love to be with my kids. I also appreciate the buffer at the table. But I just wish there wasn’t pressure to do that. It has nothing to do with anything we did. It’s the nature of the circumstance. I love and totally appreciate the buffer, as I’m sure every parent does. But it’s unfortunate that you have to do that.
Grace: It was never explicitly assigned to us. I try to tell people about like, I don’t blame my mom, because my mom was never like, “Guys, I really need help with you guys vetting men for me. I really need you to protect me.” She never said that. But for some reason, Jack and I assumed this role unintentionally, subconsciously, that I wasn’t even able to name until being a grown ass adult now, you know?
Jessica: Yeah. What you’re saying, like I said, I mean, I think that it’s a probably a very common theme for so many kids around divorce. Listen, we’re going to have to have you back because there are so many issues—
T.H.: Yeah, we’re going to have to do a series, I think.
Grace: I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!
Jessica: —and ways to have conversations with kids. I really feel like this could be an ongoing series or something. But thank you so much for taking the time today. You know how much we love you. We wrote an excerpt for Grace’s book. You have to check out her social and her podcast. For those of you listening, if you enjoyed this episode of the Divorce etc… podcast with the exEXPERTS today, then please help us girls out. Because when you subscribe, rate, and review, it helps us get the word out so we can support more people like you going through divorce and beyond. Check the show notes for more info on Grace and her new book. And of course, share with anyone you know who can benefit from listening. Have a great day.
Grace: Bye guys.