Empower Kids with a Co-Parenting Calendar During Separation + Divorce



Jessica: Are you worried about how resilient your kids will be through your divorce and beyond? Do you wonder what you can do to ease their fears and concerns through it all? That’s exactly what we’re talking about 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 at exEXPERTS, and check out for tons of free divorce related resources. Let’s bring in today’s guest.

T.H.: Sara Olsher, first of all, is like all the colors and all the excitement around her, like her smile.

Jessica: The energy.

T.H.: It is. It’s true. There are certain people that just have this magic zing. When I spoke to her, she totally has it. She’s the founder of Mighty and Bright. I’m just going to let her explain what that is. It is mighty and bright, and she is mighty and bright. We’re super excited to have you here with us today.

Sara: Thank you so much. That was an incredible introduction. Thank you so much. Yeah, so I started my company Mighty + Bright because I was in the middle of a horrible divorce. Just absolutely brutal.

T.H.: Welcome to the club. Yeah.

Sara: Yeah, I thought for sure there is no way we’re going to get through this on the other side where we could even be in the same room together. My daughter was just a year and a half old and had terrible anxiety. She was afraid of everything. I’m talking shadows on the ground and sand and other kids. I had been working at home and I went to work for like, through my divorce—I shut my business at the time down. Her separation anxiety was so bad that I would get home from work and be told that she did not stop crying at daycare. It was one of the worst things that I’ve ever been through.

T.H.: Heart-wrenching

Sara: Yeah, absolutely awful. And so at that point, by the time I realized I couldn’t handle the situation, she was two. I found a trauma informed therapist for her at two. My ex-husband was like, “What is a therapist going to do for a two year old?” I was like, “Listen, dude, I don’t know. But you’re paying for half of it, and we’re figuring this out.”

T.H.: Did she have this kind of anxiety when she was with him too? So it wasn’t like it was only with you?  

Sara: Yeah. She was starting to show signs of it before I left, which is part of why I left. I thought this is a sign that we have got to get into a more peaceful household. My background’s in psychology, but I studied grownups. And so going to that therapist made me realize just how fascinating kids are. I just dove headfirst into researching them and child development and all this stuff. The big thing that I came out of this with was that my daughter had no idea what was going on. The therapist went on vacation and she pulled out this hideously ugly Dora the Explorer stickers on a piece of construction paper that she’d made a calendar on. She was saying, “Normally I see you this day, but I’m not going to see this day. I’m going to see you this day instead.” I said, “Okay, just let’s stop for a second because she’s two. She doesn’t understand the concept of yesterday, today, and tomorrow—”

T.H.: Or even now. Yeah.

Sara: Yeah. This does not seem like this is going to be necessary. She said, “Oh, no, it’s really important. It’ll erode trust between a therapist and a child if we miss a session and don’t talk about it.” And so the whole way home, I have the wheels spinning in my head. I’m thinking, if it erodes trust between a child and a therapist they barely know, to miss one appointment that happens once a week, what does it do that all of a sudden our lives are: she’s with me some days, some days are school days, some days she sees her dad, some days she sees her dad for an hour, other days she goes to his house. This must be really stressful. And so I went home and I took some illustrations that I had done of our family, and I just made this really crazy looking calendar on our wall. When I tell you it was night and day with her anxiety, I’m not exaggerating.

T.H.: Wow.

Sara: I think the thing is it is so simple to visually show this to our kids, that most parents are like, “That isn’t going to solve our problem. Our problem is gigantic,” and like, “That’s cute. Nice work. This is going to do anything.”  

Jessica: But I feel so many people listening can relate in even other ways that will make them understand this. I didn’t necessarily have that—my son was younger—and we realized when he was very small, somewhere between three and five, that he needed preparation to transition activities.

T.H.: Yeah, my son too.

Jessica: So he was working with an occupational therapist. He had sensory issues. I live in New York City, and they’re very on top of that stuff. He had a physical therapist and an occupational therapist. One of the things that they taught us was if we’re leaving in 20 minutes, we need to say we’re leaving in 20 minutes. But he has no idea what 20 minutes means. So we’ve got to go back in in 10 minutes and say we’re leaving in 10 minutes. It’s been 10 minutes. And then it’s five minutes. Getting him to understand—

T.H.: You’ve got a clock for that.

Jessica: —that we’re going from one activity to the next activity. Also, I would think I’m going to be taking him wherever. I don’t need to give him the schedule of the day. But I did need to say to him “These are the things we’re going to do today.” You’re right, I think as adults, we don’t think that it matters and that the kids are really absorbing it. I’m hearing you talk about this with the calendar visually, and me having been through what we went through, it 100% makes sense.

T.H.: Yeah.

Sara: Yes. From a developmental point of view, kids cannot keep information in their minds. It’s not even a matter of they don’t understand the concept of time. It’s that when we tell them something, they don’t have the brain development to keep that information in their head. It’s literally in one ear and out the other. That’s why so many parents of younger kids, especially, are being driven insane by hearing “Mom, mom, mom, mom,” over and over again. They’re like, “If I could reduce the number of questions this child asks by even 2%, my sanity would be so much better.” But to your point about transitions, there are little transitions, and there are big transitions, especially for kids going through divorce. Many kids, especially those that are anxious, like my daughter was, struggle with those types of transitions you were talking about. For those that are listening, I’m holding a clock that is called a Time Timer, and they have an app for your phone that’s free. Basically, it’s a visual timer where you can see— 

Jessica: That would have been a game changer when my son was younger. 

T.H.: Jessica would have taken it out and been like, “Jake, look! Look! Look!”  

Sara: Yes, and it shows time shrinking. And so also to your point about routines, making those visual as well really empowers kids to understand their own lives. The daily routine chart and the weekly calendar together really empower kids and make them feel like life isn’t always happening to them. They’re actually an active participant in it.

Jessica: Right. They have a sense of control, a sense of ownership over what’s happening.

T.H.: Or at least have a voice in it.

Jessica: Right.

Sara: Yes.

T.H.: Right, they’re a participant for sure. I mean, my son also, probably not even—like maybe even last week, and he’s 19, “Don’t forget you have the dentist tomorrow.” Now he sets his alarm on his phone. I said, “You need 30 minutes to drive there. So if you want to wake up and get in the car, that’s fine. Or if you want coffee, whatever, but you need 30 minutes to get there on time.” So he sets the alarm on his phone. Honestly, he’s been away at school, and he shows up to class as far as I know.

Jessica: Somehow.

T.H.: He got good grades, he showed up, he had attendance, and so it does actually work. But if I think back—my kids were eight, six, and four—I would prepare my kids the night before for what was happening the next day. “Okay, so today you have school. What do we need?” Well, make sure they have all their stuff for school, and then their dad would always pick them up from our house. But my one daughter liked to have everything packed in advance. We would actually pack it the night before so she wouldn’t have to come home and pack it and stuff like that—“I really want to wear this dress to this party.”—especially if they were gone for the weekend and there was going to be a birthday or something. It was really the night before we kind of went over what was happening the next day, for each of my kids, and it was three different things for each of them. But it’s actually nice to know as adults too, like, what’s going on tomorrow?

Jessica: Yeah, I’m a calendar crazy person. It’s color-coded, and I tell people if it’s not in my calendar, it’s not happening.

T.H.: It’s not happening.

Sara: Right, absolutely.

Jessica: We talk so much with people about divorce, about exactly what we’re talking about, but from a larger scale, like organizing and the logistics, you’re a huge advocate of kids having their own calendar. 

Sara: Yeah. I don’t know about you guys, but when I was going through my divorce, everybody kept saying put the kids first, put the kids first. But nobody actually defined what that meant. And so after 10 years of doing this work, for me, it’s about just putting yourself in your kid’s shoes and asking yourself if I were this kid, would I be comfortable in this situation? Or would I feel like people are fighting around me? Or would I feel like I have no idea what’s going on? All of these apps that are recommended are fantastic to help parents coordinate schedules. People think, “Oh, well, we’re doing a great job because we’re not fighting in front of the kids, and because we have a custody schedule that we’ve agreed on, and we’re communicating about it.” But nobody’s talking to the children. And this is their lives that y’all—we’re all like puppeteers of these kids, and they’re just expected to go along and have no clue what’s going on. And so by putting the kids first, it means you’re saying, “Okay, if I were in this situation, I would not like it if my boss were the one that was just constantly telling me, ‘Okay, you have to go to that meeting now.’”

Jessica: That’s right, exactly, exactly.

T.H.: But it’s a sense of pride. I’m sure when they have their own calendar, they’re like “You have yours. This is mine.”

Sara: But also, it makes life make sense. It makes life make sense to them. And so often I call it a connection calendar. Because the way that I designed this is it’s a metal calendar with these glass magnets. Then they have stickers that go on and off of them. So each week, you’re sitting down with your kid and you’re planning out the week together. You are showing them: “In this coming week, we have Dad on this day, Mom on this day. We have a doctor’s appointment on this day. These are the school days.” Then you’re giving them an opportunity to connect with you, but also to ask questions about what’s going on. Because they may not even have realized until you sat down and had that opportunity to slow down, that they’re actually worried about something, or they’re excited about something.

T.H.: What age range is this calendar really for? 

Sara: So I feel people will be shocked that it can work with a two year old, but it absolutely does. So two all the way up until probably nine or 10 with the stickers. We moved to another state last year, my daughter is 12, and I don’t know what I was thinking. I was like, didn’t unpack the calendar, right? We’ve got boxes everywhere, and we’d been there for maybe two and a half weeks, and my daughter started crying and like, “Mom—”

T.H.: “Where’s my calendar?”

Sara: “Where’s my calendar? I have no idea what’s going on. You do this for work. I’m a kid. I do not understand what’s happening.” And I was like “Whoa.” She’s been using the same thing for years. So it really grows with your kid. Then once they can read and write and feel like the pictures are too babyish or whatever—she uses a wet erase marker and just writes in what she’s doing each week.

T.H.: That’s awesome. We’re going to take a quick break right now guys. Because we know it’s hard to find 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 our latest episodes of Divorce etc… on the podcast. Don’t miss out on information and tips you really need to know going through divorce and beyond. If you want some one on one time with us, you can sign up for a private session. We know that the work really begins when the divorce is over. You can connect with us and get all of this information at We’ve lived it, so we get it.

Jessica: So the calendar’s genius, and I’m sure for people who are watching, I’m sure that’s what’s behind you on the wall. It looks magnetic. But you also have a series of books?

Sara: I do.

Jessica: Tell us a little about those.

T.H.: Well, I want to go back to one thing about the calendar that I was thinking about, even as they get older, even like nine or 10. Forget about even divorce; let’s talk about over-scheduling our kids in general, right? You’ve got soccer, then you’ve got a tutor, then you have homework, and we have dinner, then you’re back in bed. You have no time to do anything else anyway. It doesn’t matter whose house you’re at. My kids like to know, and liked to know the schedule, because they wanted to make sure they had time to play with their friends—“Which days do I get with my friends?” and look at it and be like, “I’m not doing all this.” They were sassy at 10, especially my—

Sara: love that though. That’s advocating for themselves, right?

Jessica: I literally remember the stories about that. “It’s too much, Mommy. It’s just too much.”

T.H.: “It’s too much. It’s too much.” And then I’m thinking, “You know what? Then let’s not go to swim for every day for four hours and all weekend long.” But I didn’t do it. She left on her own, and I’m very happy that she did. But yeah, it gives kids an opportunity when you see it, just like any of us, when you look at a calendar you’re like, “Holy shit. I don’t even have two minutes to work out, or to go for a walk, or to take a nap.” So anyway, I just wanted to get back to that. Because, yes, this is an essential tool for divorce, but also as they’re starting to have their own friendships and build their own lives, they want the freedom to have freedom to do with their friends. So also that visual is really, really helpful.

Jessica: We love the idea of the calendar thing. But you also, like I said with the books, because a lot of parents are looking for books, kids of young ages—how to get through the messages to them. Talk to us about that.

Sara: Yeah. My first book was actually about cancer, because I was diagnosed with cancer as a single mother five years after my divorce—super fun.

T.H.: It’s good? You’re good now, Sara?

Sara: Yes. Yes, I’m good now.

T.H.: Okay.

Sara: But I think in writing that book, I realized how difficult people find really hard conversations and that there are certain things that kids need to know about, stuff that maybe aren’t being addressed by what’s out there, or maybe we don’t realize we should have covered something. The other thing about it is it’s not just a matter of telling a story about something that happened and then relating that to your own life. Kids sometimes just need the facts. They need to know how what is happening affects their day-to-day life. What I decided to do was basically write a book about divorce that is just straightforward. Like, this is what divorce is, and it means that our parents are going to live in two different houses. You can look at it on a calendar and understand what is going to happen. It’s not your fault. Like, all the things that kids worry about.

T.H.: Yeah, and we forget to say sometimes. Those are really good prompts for us, because we are in emotional distress, whether you’re happy about the divorce or not. The process, the business side is hard; helping your kids is hard; forget about yourself even.

Sara: Totally.

T.H.: And so I really also look at those books as really helpful guides for parents. You can’t remember it all. There’s no such thing as the perfect situation or the perfect parent. Your books really help you come across in a way that you have open communication, you are here for your kid, and it just has really positive prompts in it to help us have better communication with our kids about what’s going on.

Sara: Yeah, and to that point, I have a guide on my website, and actually, I can give you guys a code so you can get the guide for free. You can just use exEXPERTS.

Jessica: Great. Awesome.

Sara: It’s an ebook that you can download and basically tells you how to have this conversation. The number one thing to remember in any conversation you’re having with your kids is just what you just said, which is it doesn’t have to be perfect. None of us is perfect, and it should be an ongoing conversation. If you mess it up the first time, no pressure. You can go back and just be like, “I wish I had said something different.” or “I should have said this.”

T.H.: Right, “I screwed up.”

Sara: Yeah. That’s the other benefit of having that calendar hanging on the wall, is it’s a reminder to your kids that you can talk about this. This is not a taboo subject. If they have questions, you’re there. So it really helps a lot I think in a bunch of unexpected ways. 

Jessica: We always talk about obviously the importance of communication with kids throughout. I always say how I feel like I totally did it wrong. My kids were two and four when I first got divorced. I brought it up every now and then, but very sporadically over the over the years. They’re 17 and 19 now, and I wish that I had been—I was one of those people who was like, well, if they are not asking, if I bring it up, am I going to upset them? I don’t want to wake the beast. So no news is good news. I just think that I would have done things differently with everything that I’ve learned since then. But yeah, I mean, having the opportunity to know that it is an ongoing conversation, and it needs to be, and it’s going to be a completely different conversation. Even if you think you did it perfectly the first time that conversation is still going to completely morph—

Sara: Yes, absolutely.

Jessica: —over the years based on the ages of your kids.

T.H.: Right. They have different perspectives, different ideas, all of that. So what do you think parents overlook when it comes to divorce and their kids?

Sara: That’s a great question. I really think often parents are overlooking just how important it is to have that ongoing conversation and to really just show their kids what’s going on. Because I think, just as adults, we don’t understand. Unless you’re deep into child development, we don’t understand what kids understand. I think a lot of the time we don’t give kids enough credit. They understand way more than we give them credit for. They’re capable of a lot more than we give them credit for. I remember my daughter being five years old and somebody had mentioned to me that you could have a five year old take a shower by themselves. I had a girlfriend come over and she was like, “Did your kid literally just go take a shower by herself, like turn the water on and everything?” And I was like, “Yes.” It was like in a wave in our friends group, like every kid was showering by themselves all because one person was like, “Hey, by the way, your kid’s not three anymore.” They develop really quickly, and it’s hard to keep up sometimes. But yeah, they can understand a lot and do a lot.

Jessica: Yeah, well, I mean, the calendar, the books are really great. We are appreciative for you making them and sharing them with the world. Because the messaging, as we said in the very beginning when we were first talking to you, I think even before we started recording was like we feel your messaging is so reminiscent to our messaging as well, the whole mighty and bright, and thriving and surviving through divorce and other kinds of trauma and events in lives. You can come out on the other side stronger and being able to see the opportunity. It really is about resilience, not just for the kids, for us too. We have so many people who come to us and are like, “Oh my God, but it’s so hard for the kids.” I’m not dismissing it, but we are often like, it is, but the kids are watching you as the example. So if you’re acting like this is the normal, this is the way that we do it and not make a big deal out of certain things. Your kids are going to be able to flow much better with all of it. How old is your daughter now just out of curiosity?

Sara: She’s 12, and I think—

Jessica: You said when you were moving. That’s right.

Sara: Yeah. I think that it really makes a big difference to just say it’s okay if this is hard. It will not feel like this forever, because our kids don’t have the same perspective that we have as grownups. To them, if they lose their lovey, it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to them. It really is the worst thing that’s ever happened to them. So if we’re able to support them and hold their hand through this stuff, it makes a big difference.

T.H.: And be human. I mean, I was so happy to be out of my divorce, out of my marriage and my divorce, but primarily my marriage. I remember that he just made the divorce process incredibly difficult.

Sara: Been there.

T.H.: I think I just got super overwhelmed. We were at my parents’ house in Florida, and I went to my room and I was crying. It was just like too much that day. I remember my two daughters walked in and they were so scared. “Why are you crying?” I literally said to them, I’m like, “It’s hard for me too. It’s hard for me too.”

Sara: Yep. I love that.

T.H.: You know? And the truth is, I wasn’t crying over him.

Jessica: Yeah, right, exactly.

T.H.: I was crying over what it was doing to me.

Jessica: Just the emotional weight.

T.H.: Like, leave me alone and move on already, you know? Just let me go.

Sara: But that right there is age appropriate communication, right? Because that’s what putting your kids first looks like. It’s being honest, but not telling them every fricking detail.

T.H.: No. Right, “Oh, your Dad did this and that.” No, I wouldn’t.

Sara: Yeah, exactly. No, “It’s hard,” that’s all they know.

T.H.: “It’s just hard.”

Sara: That helps them to see that when it’s hard, it’s okay to cry. Then we pick ourselves up and we keep going.

T.H.: Yeah, and we hugged each other and that was it. They know that they can cry to me. If I cry, it’s not the end of the world. It’s all right. That’s all. It’s all right.

Sara: Totally.

Jessica: Yeah. Yeah. So all right, well, thank you again, Sara. We really appreciate it. As she said, you can use a code exEXPERTS to get the ebook, which we will have all the information in the show notes. And if you enjoyed this episode of the Divorce etc… podcast with the exEXPERTS today, then please help us 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 out the show notes for more info on Sara her books and calendars. And of course, share with anyone you know who can benefit from listening. Have a great day.

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