OUR GUEST – Just Us: T.H. & Jessica
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: Hi, everybody. This is another Just Us episode, just me and just Jess, answering questions that you may not know to ask. We are just going to give you answers to questions really around your kids, how to help them, and be the best parent that you can be going through this process. I think that we forget a lot, or just maybe need to be reminded that it’s a great new opportunity for us as adults to start again once we get separated and have a divorce, but your kids are still hanging out there in the wings. They can’t just start again. We have some top tips of things that have worked for us and things that didn’t work for us so that we can help you through this.
Jessica: Yeah, I mean, look, the idea’s really just advice, friendly advice from people who’ve been through it. As you know, we’ve lived it, so we get it. It could be based on questions that you guys have, or not, or things you haven’t even thought about, things that may not be relevant to you right now based on the ages of your kids, but that will become relevant for you later. That’s where we’re going to start with our jumping-off point. Do you want to start off with your tips? Okay, go ahead.
T.H: I have been through a lot of parenting therapy because my son suffers from anxiety and depression. When he was 11, it all came to a head. But for many years, we didn’t know what it was. He was only four when we separated so I was like, whatever, he doesn’t know any different. He’s only four. The anxiety and depression, by the way, are how he is hardwired. I am happy to say that he’s a thriving, amazing, compassionate young man who has just turned his life around. But what I learned as the most important thing with him going through this, which I learned many years after my separation, and it would have been helpful to know it when I separated, is to listen. Just close your mouth and listen to your child. Don’t say ‘but’. Don’t say ‘if’. Just sit there, let them cry, let them scream, don’t let them hit you, but if they are upset about something, they just really want to be heard. And so the best way for you to hear them is not to already be preparing your response and not actually listening to what they’re saying, which I was the ultimate fixer, and which I am no longer. Just give them a hug. You don’t have to even say a word. I promise you this works in most cases. It still works for me with my kids now, and they’re in their 20s. It works for a lot of relationships that I’m in with friends or anybody. Just zip it up and open your ears and listen to what your child is saying. Don’t be preparing a response that may not have anything to do with what they’re actually upset about, by the way, because if your mind’s already racing, you’re like, do you want water? Do you want to go for a walk? Do you want candy? Shut the fuck up, that’s my best advice if your kids are upset and struggling with anything really. But really in divorce, my daughter was having anxiety attacks at night. I took her to a neurologist because she was having crazy headaches. I didn’t know anything about this and I figured a doctor’s going to fix this. I was the doctor, and I just needed to be the best mom that I could be and be supportive of her because she was terrified of what was going to happen. It’s good to know that she was healthy, but listening is critical.
Jessica: Agreed. I would say one of my top tips when it comes to kids and divorce and separation and especially in having conversations with them is you have to decide how truthful you want to be with them when you first start talking about it. I’m not in any way advocating lying to your children or raising them in an environment where they’re surrounded by lies, but as any parent knows, there are conversations that are age-appropriate and conversations that are not.
When you get divorced, regardless of how young your kids maybe, they’re going to start asking pretty quickly, but why are you getting divorced? Why are you and daddy getting divorced? Why are you and mommy getting divorced? My kids were two and four when Daren and I first separated, and the conversation was fairly easy. Literally, I remember the scene in the living room where Jake was on a rocking horse, he was four and Zoe–
T.H: Just so everybody knows, Jake is older than Zoe.
Jessica: Jake is older than Zoe. Jake was four at the time on a wooden rocking horse in the living room. Zoe was just sitting on the floor, I don’t know, playing with dolls or something. We were talking to them and every so often they would look up at us. I don’t even know if they heard what we were saying, although, the interesting thing is they’ll tell you now that they remember that day. There’s no way they remember that day. But it was a few years before Jake started asking why we got divorced. I used to just say in the beginning we’re just better off as friends. We love each other like friends, and we were just better off not being married and better off as friends. Jake didn’t really accept that answer all that well. I could always see him looking at me, giving me the side-eye, like, hmm, that doesn’t really make much sense. But that was really all I thought that he needed to know. A huge part of it, and look, I’ll take the shit that people are going to throw at me for it, but I have always been extremely protective of Daren, despite the circumstances of our divorce. I never wanted to be even one iota responsible for my kids being in a situation where they didn’t respect their dad, or didn’t trust their dad, or thought that he was a bad person for having had an affair. I will also admit and take all the shit that comes with it, that I was the one that ended up telling my kids about it when they were older. I will admit it was not my finest moment. However, it still wasn’t done in a malicious way. And it certainly wasn’t done in a way to try to turn them against him. But I definitely did not feel that was part of the truth that my kids needed at age two and four, and not for many years after that. I think that you and your partner have to decide, regardless of the circumstances, what does that conversation sound like and both of you understand that that conversation is going to continue. It’s going to evolve and change over time as your kids are more mature and recognize that they don’t have the whole truth.
T.H: I totally agree. Jessica, she’s encouraged me to share my story, but I felt like it was his infidelity, not mine, and it was not my story to tell. When my oldest daughter started asking questions, I said you need to ask your dad. And I honestly did that because I knew it would make him extremely uncomfortable, and I was hoping maybe he would take responsibility. She at eight years old was pushing the questions on him and I was sitting with her. He of course was giving me stares like he was going to destroy me, but it wasn’t coming out of my mouth. This is his dirty work. I’m going to sit there and I’m going to watch him tell her. And he did. My younger daughter, not my best moment, another thing to be aware of, your children are always listening. They’re always listening.
Jessica: That’s right.
T.H: You want to make sure you’re in your car or your house is empty before you say any shit about anything because it will only come back to you. Anything bad that you have to say about your ex, you’ve got to save it for private time because it just makes you look ugly. That’s how my younger daughter found out because I was on the phone with somebody and I was being too loud. I shouldn’t have been talking about it while they were in the house anyway. And then my son, I think knows. I’m not sure, but if he were to ask me today, I would suggest that he speak with his dad. His dad is now married to this woman and has a child so this woman has been around for my son’s entire life. I never told a lie to them. But first of all, if they had a question and you don’t have the answer, I would say, you know what, I just don’t have the answer for that. You can ask me anything, but I don’t have the answer. If they were asking me something that I felt was inappropriate, like it’s none of your business, I would say this is a grown-up conversation. If you want to ask it later on when you’re older, we can address it then. But it’s not for us to talk about right now. And I would also tell them some parts of this can get ugly and there’s no reason for you to know that. If you know your kids and your relationship with your kids–
Jessica: But no, what I was going to say is I actually think that it’s okay to be able to say to kids in a not patronizing and non-condescending way, there are things that you understand as a grown-up that just don’t make sense as kids. And so there are some things that it doesn’t matter for you right now with regards to that question because you really just won’t understand it. It’s such a grown-up issue. I think that that it’s okay to be able to basically tell kids at some point, you’re too young to understand what this is if it’s said in a nice and loving way. But one of my other tips, which I was going to say, and what you just hit on is knowing that anything that you say to your kids, anything, is going to come out of their mouths in front of your ex.
T.H: And other people.
Jessica: That’s right. It doesn’t matter what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s good, it doesn’t matter if it’s bad, or it’s non-discriminatory, anything you say is going to come back out of their mouth in front of them.
T.H: They’re like little messengers.
Jessica: That’s right. And by the way, you’ll reap the benefits of that as well because your kids will come back and– you should never ask your kids and try to get information about what happened when they were at the other parent’s house or what they said because–
T.H: But of course, we both were like, oh, so how was your weekend? What did you do?
Jessica: Well, I think you can ask things like that, but I don’t think you can ever ask questions, which I didn’t, like did you and daddy talk about this? Or what did dad say about this? Kids are really smart and they know when you’re fishing for information. Just don’t do it. But it is interesting for when your kids come back, they could be with your, I call them the out-laws, the ex-in-laws. They’re no longer the in-laws. Now they’re the out-laws.
T.H: Meanwhile, you’re closer with them now than you were when you were married.
Jessica: Only during that part. I was close with them in the beginning, and then we got engaged and got married. And then after when we started getting divorced, yes, we got closer again. But I digress. The things that are said about you by your outlaws and by your ex, that stuff is going to come back to you eventually too. You don’t have to worry about trying to give your kids the third degree when they come back to your house because that shit is going to come out. They’re taking a bath, or they’re sitting down doing homework–
T.H: They’re going to sing a song about it.
Jessica: That’s right. That’s right.
T.H: They’ll play with their dolls and there’ll be grandma, and grandpa, and mommy and they’ll all be acting it out.
Jessica: That’s right. So you’ll get it. But really, you just have to know that anything that you’re saying can and will be used against you when your kids go back to your ex’s house. So just zip it!
T.H: The other thing is really if you end up being in a difficult custody battle, it will come back and hurt you in terms of valuations and parenting time. Because if a third party asks your child, did mommy ever call daddy this, or daddy ever say this about mommy? Your kids are going to be honest. Because my other tip is never to ask them to keep it a secret. Never, ever, ever. If it’s supposed to be a secret, then don’t tell them. Never put them in that position.
Jessica: It’s not even about telling them. It’s don’t do that with them. Don’t bring them somewhere that you don’t want your ex to know that you brought them.
T.H: There are so many people I know who really make their kid their best friend through this.
Jessica: It’s such bullshit.
T.H: And the kid becomes the adult and the caregiver of the parent because the parent is falling apart. I would just say please go get the support you need. Don’t rely on your child. It will be damaging in the future and they might resent you. I’m not saying they will, but they might. Don’t. They are our children. Let them enjoy as much of their childhood and normal life outside of the divorce and separation that they can. Never, ever, ever ask them to keep a secret
Jessica: 100% And another thing I would say, another tip that I have is in regards to if and when you do choose to decide to start dating again or to start looking for a new relationship. When it comes to when it’s okay for your kids to meet someone new, my blanket answer is there is no one uniform rule about when kids should or should not meet a new potential partner. It 100% depends on their ages, on the emotional maturity of your children, on what your personal divorce experience was. So like, how traumatic was that for your own kids? Again, my kids were two and four so they had already met the woman, unbeknownst to me, prior to that.
T.H: Right, but she takes on a different role now than when they had met her.
Jessica: Right, but there was nothing I could do at that point, but for myself, I really wasn’t comfortable introducing my kids to anybody before I felt it was a very significant relationship. And even then, I initially had waited like a year. I remember being disappointed after Daren and this woman broke up when he was dating other people. Now my kids were older, they were at the end of elementary school, beginning of middle school, and they met a lot of women that he had gone on dates with. I remember being let down and disappointed my kids are going to see this parade of women all of the time. Now my kids are in high school and I don’t think that it’s as heavy for them. My kids legitimately ask me questions about when I’m dating and who I’m dating. I think they’re happy about the idea that I could be out meeting people and they think that would make me happy, and so they’re happy about it. And if your kids are college-age or older when you get divorced, obviously, you can choose to have conversations with them about the realities of the fact that you’re dating. But I think that when you introduce your kids to someone new, it has to be based on whether or not you think that there is any potential longevity with that partner and whether or not you think your kids are emotionally in a place where they’re going to be able to actually accept that new partner. Because if your kids are young enough, they may by default hate whoever you bring home. It doesn’t matter who they are, or how nice they are, or any of the things that you think make that partner wonderful, your kids just may not be ready to like a new person that you like. They may be afraid it’s going to take time away from them. They may have been secretly hoping that you and your ex are going to get back together. They’re just a million variables. It has to be an individual decision. But I do suggest being careful in the sense that if you introduce people too soon, then you potentially set yourself up for being in a place where your kids will meet multiple partners of yours over time. You have to decide early on is that the look that you want them to see.
T.H: And also, it complicates your life. I mean, the truth is the more your kids know about your personal life, now, if you’re out on a date, they could be calling you. Are you out on a date? Where are you? When are you going to be home? What do you this? What do you that? I mean, again, this is a personal preference. I have friends who introduce somebody right away. I was like, holy shit. For me personally, I was really happy to have the opportunity to get divorced, but I was very upset for my children. She was around like, right away. Three months later, she was at visiting day at camp. It was for his purpose, not for my kids’ benefit. I just felt like they’re going to enough because he’s going to keep her around. She lives here now so I’m not going to complicate their lives. For me personally, I kept all that for me. And honestly, it was almost like a gift for me. It was a nice secret. I had Wednesdays and every other weekend off. I felt like I was on vacation.
Jessica: Hells yeah!
T.H: And whether it was Jessica and I going out, or girls’ night or I had a date, or I didn’t have a date, that was my time. I didn’t have to share that with my kids. My kids were eight, six, and four when I separated. But again, it took four years so then I’m talking of 12, 13-year-olds, and so on. I can’t do the math right away. But just do it for you. Dating is for you. It’s not for your kids. It’s not to replace their parent, mother, or father. They’re always going to have that other person as their mother or father unless there’s obviously an extenuating situation. My advice is to keep it for yourself and you’ll really enjoy it a lot more because you don’t have to report in, and whoever you’re going to go on a date with has to respect the fact that you have kids. I’ll see you next weekend, or two weekends from now, or Wednesday night. That’s what works for me. Then the other thing I would say is we kind of said it about not bad-mouthing the other spouse. Jessica and I have plenty to say, [laughs] but we say it to each other. Your kids won’t forget that you said something horrible about their parent. It’s not their father or their mother. You said something terrible about their parent. And one other little thing, but to my daughter, it was a big thing. Can you stop calling him father? He’s dad. Father is like really mean. I was mad. I liked calling him your father. But the tone of my voice changed almost like it did now. And it took everything to be like, um, is your dad coming soon? Ugh. But I wouldn’t have known if she didn’t tell me. Having open communication with your kids and letting them know, listen, I’m not perfect. This is new for me too. Let them know that you’re human. Like I said, as relieved as I was to be getting a divorce, the process was paralyzing for me. And so I was crying. And I was upset. And I tried to hold it together when my kids were home, but sometimes I couldn’t. And then they worry. What’s wrong with you, mom? What’s going on? I’m like, you know what? I’m human. You get upset, you get sad, me too. Don’t try to hold it in. You’re human. Trust me, they’re upset, they’re sad, they want to cry, and it’s totally okay. They want to scream, they want to hit something, give them a pillow. I boxed through my entire separation.
Jessica: You should see her arms.
T.H: My arms were sick back then. They’re not now, but I’ll start that up again. But do what you need to do to relieve stress. But let your kids know sometimes I get pissed, and sometimes I’m happy, and sometimes I’m really sad just like you. And give them a hug. Give your kids so many hugs.
Jessica: I just want to end it with, look, at the end of the day you have whatever thoughts and whatever feelings about your ex because things ended however they ended. But everybody knows that if you want to have well-adjusted kids, the best opportunity for them is for them to have fulfilling productive and loving relationships with their parents, with both of their parents.
T.H: Even though they’re going to look very different.
Jessica: That’s right. But it’s not ideal for kids to grow up in a home where they don’t have a relationship with their father. It’s not ideal for kids to grow up in a home where they don’t have a relationship with their mother. You may not be able to stand your ex, but what I always like to say is love your kids more than you hate your ex. Because you’re doing your kids a benefit if no matter what the circumstances are, you’re still able to have somewhat of a partnership with your ex about being able to parent together.
T.H: That’ll be another conversation by the way.
Jessica: It will be. But I’m just saying when it comes to your kids and answering questions to your kids about your divorce and what happened, and all of the things that we’ve been talking about, at the end of the day, my top tip is you guys are still a team. When you get divorced, I think people have the mistaken idea that, oh, I’m done with this person. I’ve gotten rid of them forever. No, you fucking haven’t. If you have children with them, you’re still somewhat married to them every single day for the rest of your goddamn life, or at least god forbid until your kids aren’t around anymore.
T.H: Handling business.
Jessica: That’s right. You’re going to have to be able to handle it. You’re going to want to celebrate. You have just as much right to be at those kids’ birthday parties, at their sweet 16, at their graduations, at their wedding, at the birth of their children, at all of the important events for the rest of your lives. You don’t want to have to be the one that’s going to ruin it. We’ve all heard the stories of parents who can’t get along and can’t be in the same room. She didn’t have her dad walk her down the aisle because the relationship was so fractured. Whatever it is, just give your kids the gift of being able to have loving relationships with both parents and be able to be the bigger person to allow your kids to have that. I just think that’s so crucial. It goes a lot to my protectiveness over Daren and always defending him and always telling the kids that he wanted to be there and wanted to be around. I will say my kids have an amazing relationship with him. I’m proud of that because at least I don’t have to worry about, well, how fucked up would they be later if they ended up having an absentee father because I created ruptures in that relationship?
T.H: And if there are ruptures, don’t let it be on you. You can’t control the other spouse and you can’t discourage a relationship.
Jessica: Well, that–
T.H: I mean you can but–
Jessica: I have very strong feelings about this topic and so actually, we should do another Just Us about it. But I feel it’s easy for kids when they don’t understand what’s going on when they’re children, and they’re 10, or 11, or 14. They’re like, I don’t want to go to mom’s. I don’t want to go to dad’s. I don’t want mom at my music concert. I don’t want dad to come to my parent conferences. And as the other parent, in my opinion, it is your responsibility to say this is what the schedule is, this is how we do it. Yeah, I’m sorry if you don’t feel like going to dad’s right now, but you’re going to dad’s because tonight is dad’s night. You can call me and we can FaceTime, and we can do something great when you come back tomorrow or whatever it is next weekend. But I believe fervently that it is your responsibility to encourage your child’s relationship with the other parent. Because then I do think that you are somewhat to blame later when your kid has issues as an adult because they have mommy issues or daddy issues because you were like, I can’t make them go to your house. I can’t make her let you come to her birthday dinner.
T.H: Right. It’s your responsibility by being a co-parent to co-parent and be in a partnership or an agreement. For me, it’s less emotional than it is for Jessica with her ex. Mine is business, so the terms of our co-parenting, I followed. This is your dad’s night, have a great time. What do you have planned? And then; how’d you do? What did you do? Did you have fun? I just did it. And honestly, it makes your life easier. But what I was trying to say is that you can’t control the way the other person is. Each parent is going to be as good a parent as they’re willing to be and there’s nothing you can do about it. You could encourage them and stick to the schedule and the kids go with their dad, and this holiday with me, it’s this holiday with him, whatever that is, but you should just try to be the best parent that you can be because you’re a role model for them. Like I said at the very beginning, the cream rises to the top. Don’t stoop down to a level that you don’t want to be at as the parent of your child, and even just as a person. It doesn’t feel good to be at that level. You just be a lady or a gentleman and frickin rock it, and your kids will respect that. I mean, our kids are so much older now and some of the things that my kids say to me, I was like, god, I can’t believe that it actually worked.
Jessica: That’s exactly what I think. I feel back in the day, I would think to myself I would keep my mouth shut, and I would think one day I pray that these kids will wake up and understand what was going on and what we went–
T.H: And appreciate.
Jessica: That’s right. And it’s literally all coming to fruition in real-time right now. I promise you, if you’re out there, it really will come around. Do the right thing because that will benefit you in the end and your kids will recognize and appreciate that.
T.H: Totally. Good luck! Ask us anything.
Jessica: See you next time.
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