Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS Divorce etc… podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica.
T.H.: Welcome everybody to the Divorce etc… podcast today. We have two amazing guests. Wait to hear what they’ve done. They have created two films. One is already out, called SPLIT, and they will tell you about it. But spoiler alert, it is about kids, and it is about divorce. It’s going to really enlighten you because it’s from the voices of the children. They are coming out with another version of the film, these kids 10 years later, I believe. It’s called SPLIT UP: The Teen Years, so interviewing those same kids and following their journey, as their families and parents have been along the journey as well. Welcome, Ellen Bruno. She is the filmmaker and the creative mastermind behind both of these in particular. And Christina McGee, she is a divorce parenting expert, author, and coach. They are both real-life experts in different ways. They have their own experiences to share. Welcome to our show.
Ellen: Happy to be here.
Christina: Yeah, I’m excited.
Jessica: We’re so excited to have you guys here. T.H. and I are always talking about the importance of, obviously, the children and transitioning. What you guys are doing and have done is so powerful and impactful. We are absolutely thrilled to be able to talk to you guys about it and give you more exposure to it.
T.H.: So Ellen, why don’t we start with you? How did this start? And…how did this start? [Laughs] It’s huge. It’s just so big. I don’t even have another question around that.
Ellen: Okay, well, when I was a kid, when I was 12, my parents got divorced. I was in a small Catholic town, and nobody was divorced. At that point, people felt the best thing they could do for us kids was to not mention it. And so there were the four of us who were totally in the dark about what was going on. We knew there was some trauma happening in the family, and both parents were upset. What happens when you don’t talk about frightening things is they become more frightening. And so they really became the monsters under the bed. Kids have very active imaginations, and so I for one really ran with it. Actually, I was convinced that I was dying. That’s the story I came up with to make sense of my parents’ grief. Because I would ask what’s wrong, and they wouldn’t–they’d say, everything’s fine, everything’s fine, and then they would be really nice to the kids. Clearly, something was up. Then 30 years later, when my kids’ dad and I separated, I realized all of this time has passed, yet there’s a way that we really haven’t confronted the dragon for our children. We haven’t really looked under the bed to see what the monsters are under the bed. Kids still are afraid, and they still are kept out of the conversation in a large way. And so the real motivation was to invite kids into a conversation, to encourage kids to share their feelings, and to give the opportunity for kids to hear other kids who have been through it and have survived. That was really the motivation for the film.
Jessica: I just want to say I had goosebumps when you were talking about how the decision at the time was to not talk about it at all, and how those kinds of decisions are what make things seem so much bigger and scarier than they are. Just thinking about over the decades how things have changed, and that today’s society is all about trying to be transparent, and trying to be open, and honest and have these conversations with our kids, I literally can’t even imagine what it must have been like to have been a part of that where it was all being hidden, because it’s scary enough and hard enough for kids even when we are talking about it. It’s amazing that you had such a healthy view of it that you realized rather than being scarred by it, you were going to do something productive with it.
Ellen: But that doesn’t mean that the conversations are easy. I think Christina will speak to that in a way too. I mean, with her professional work coaching families, these are very difficult conversations to have. The beauty of having a film to look at or share with children is you don’t need to dive into the child’s emotional reality right away. They can look at another child’s experience and use that as a point of reference and as a way to begin the conversation to say, oh, well, I really liked when Jonah did this, or I really thought it was sad when that girl said this. All of a sudden, the conversation can get started, talking about kids other than your child. That distance is a very comfortable place for both parents and children to really begin to open up the conversation.
Christina: It is. It is so much easier for kids to talk about it. It takes that focus off of the intensity, the edges of getting that conversation started, by taking a look at a book or a film, or using it as a jumping-off point for diving into some of those deeper feelings.
But even though we are a society that shifted into being more transparent and authentic, there are still a lot of pitfalls. Because parents, in my experience, tend to fall into two different extremes where they under-talk and they don’t share information, and they’re not having conversations with kids because they want to protect them sometimes. That’s the motivation. Or the flip side, they overexpose kids and give them too much information in this effort to be transparent. We’re just spilling out all of this information and details.
The bottom line is how do we guide our children? How do we help them make sense of how this family is changing? How do we provide them an appropriate context for processing their feelings, for keeping the conversation going without overwhelming or keeping them in the dark? It’s a difficult balance to strike. It’s hard.
Jessica: For sure, especially when different children at different ages have such different needs. I mean, my kids were two and four, and T.H. had three that were all under eight. I know even our conversations were different with our children. But I vividly remember sitting in the living room with my husband at the time and my kids. My daughter was not even two and was sitting on a wooden rocking horse. My son was sitting on the floor playing with some cars. My daughter said recently that she remembers the conversation. I’m like, there’s no freaking way that you remember that conversation.
T.H.: But she may remember the way she felt.
Jessica: Maybe. But it’s like I don’t even–
T.H.: She may not know the words but–
Jessica: Neither of them were even barely listening, versus you can be talking to kids that are five or six years old, or eight or nine years old and older, and it’s such a different conversation. To figure out, juggle, and balance, especially when you have kids of different ages, it’s a huge challenge. But Christina, what was your personal experience with divorce in your life that brought you into this as well?
Christina: Like Ellen, my parents divorced when I was a teenager, so I was a little bit older. But I had a very different experience. Yes, we weren’t talking about it, but we weren’t talking about it because the past is in the past, and we’re going to move forward. I remember having one therapy session, one very awkward therapy session, where I was sitting in between one of my sisters and my mother, and there was a lot of crying. There was a lot of intense emotion, and it was so overwhelming. Then my youngest sister was sitting on the floor, and she was playing with cars like your kids because she was really young. I was thinking I’d love to trade places with her, right? But after that one big conversation that we had, it was then no more conversation. We’re not going to talk about it anymore. I really, I think growing up, minimized the impact that divorce had on my life. I just did, like a lot of kids, navigated it on my own. Then when I got married and I became a bonus mom, because my husband had two children from–
T.H.: I love that.
Christina: –a previous marriage.
T.H.: You’re a bonus mom.
Christina: Yeah. I wasn’t at first. We grew into that because we used step language and it just never felt right for us. I was actually teaching a class of divorcing parents, and one parent said, well, in my country, we don’t use the word step. We use the word bonus. I went, gasp, oh, gosh, I love that, right?
Christina: Because bonus is an extra. It’s something unexpected.
Ellen: It’s good.
T.H.: Right. Step is like the wicked stepmother or the wicked–it’s never good.
Jessica: It has a negative connotation.
T.H.: –really good. Yeah. My kids are now 22, almost 21, and 18. It’s very interesting, and we’re interested to hear what you’ve seen in the progress of these kids in your film. Because in my own kids, it wasn’t one conversation, and it wasn’t one conversation with all three children, it was three different conversations with three different children. My oldest is not a good communicator, even to this day. She would rather basically revert back to when she was eight and get under the covers and pull it over her head. My younger daughter is not afraid to speak to anyone about anything. She will call you out on all of it all of the time. Then my son is the negotiator between everybody. He’s more worried about everyone else than himself. But as far as divorce, as soon as stuff comes up, it almost brings them back to when they were eight, six, and four, and they are no longer young adults. It just brings them back to a time when I–and I really want to hear what you guys think about this, but it was trauma. It was trauma in their own way of defining trauma. I don’t know, I mean, that whole conversation could go on forever. What did you learn watching these kids? What made you go from film one to film two? What made you realize we needed to do a check-in?
Ellen: Well, what happened is right out of the gate people started asking for a film for older kids, because in the first film, it’s six to 12-year-olds sharing their experiences. And as time went on, I watched the changes in my kids as they got older and thought, well, maybe it would just be an interesting thing to go back to the same kids and see how they’re doing, just really do a check-in with them. What you’re saying is really interesting about how kids are so different. As parents, I think we really need to take that into account as to who are we talking to. It’s like, parent the kid you have and pay attention to the kid you have when you’re having these conversations. But what’s nice in the film is that these are not just a bunch of extroverted kids. There are shyer kids, there are kids that are clearly a little more inward, and kids that are very gregarious. And so I think that kids can relate to a whole range of personality types in the film, which makes it really effective and really comforting for kids to watch. As the kids get older, I think it becomes clear that one of the things I learned both as a parent and as a filmmaker was divorce isn’t something that happened at one point and then it’s finished. Even in the best of circumstances, it’s a pretty major game-changer for our kids. We need to honor that. In very high conflict divorces, it’s probably going to be a more traumatic experience for kids. But even in the best of circumstances, it’s a game-changer. The family, as these kids knew it, their story has changed radically. Yeah, you could say it could change for the better. That does happen, and I think that’s certainly true of some kids. It creates a better experience for them. But there is a thing, and I joke about it with my sisters a lot, one will say, you think mom and dad are going to get back together, 40 years later. It’s kind of a joke, but it touches a truth in that there is this child in all of us. There’s this very–
T.H.: Yeah, there’s a little piece of you that’s like, ooh.
Jessica: Still hoping maybe…
Ellen: It’s the fairy tale, right? It’s the story we were raised with. It’s the way things happen. It’s the idea of the ideal in a child’s mind. It’s something that is in a child’s mind, but we carry it through our lives, this idea that somehow things will be whole again.
Jessica: What were some of the biggest surprises that you found from the first movie? Because I’m wondering if some of those threads transitioned through to the second one, or if things had really changed in a major way, based on the kids’ ages?
Ellen: Christina, do you want to jump in on that one?
Christina: Yeah. Oh, there were so many. There were so many things. I think one of the stories we tell ourselves as parents, as adults in children’s lives, is that as time passes, this is going to get easier–
Christina: –and it’s not really going to be such a big deal. The truth is that the struggle stays. I found it very interesting when you’re talking about the different developmental ages, that kids have different responses. They absolutely do, but their personalities come in to affect how things unfold, and how parents continue to relate to each other. It has a huge impact. I think for me, one of the really striking revelations was the struggle that kids have over trying to keep things fair and balanced between parents behind the scenes. If you think that your kids aren’t worried about keeping things fair, you’re missing it. Because kids still–one of the girls, one of the young women in the film talks about how she views her time as a pie chart. She’s like, 25% with this parent, 25% with this parent, and this much for my sister. Kids are really divvying it up. A lot of that comes from, as parents, when we treat children’s time between households as a commodity. Like, this is my time, that’s your other parent’s time, we’re going to be 50/50, and we’re going to keep it fair, instead of focusing on flexibility. Kids internalize that, and it creates a lot of anxiety for them. There are still–I mean, divorce is a part of how life is for your kids, and it’s going to stay. It’s a thread that runs through their lives. But how it becomes a part of their life, you have a lot of control over that by how you engage with them, that you keep the conversation going, and that you validate their feelings, and you try to remove those unnecessary stressors. Because even as they get older, in some ways, it’s harder because there are no guidelines for how we’re going to spend holidays. A lot of times, parents will say, well, where do you want to be for Christmas? Oh, well, of course, you’re going to be at the house for Thanksgiving, because we don’t really have a structure we’re following anymore.
Jessica: I think that one of the really challenging things that you’re hitting on is the fact that as kids get older, especially I think if they were very, very young, when it first happened, like my kids, they seem to be really well adjusted. I definitely think if I really look inside myself, I’m a person who’s like, I don’t need to rock the boat, right? No news is good news. If they’re not saying anything, and they’re not necessarily seeming troubled about something, I don’t want to bring it up, because I don’t want to all of a sudden stir the pie. So it’s if everything seems to be going okay, then I’m going to ride that wave. I feel like I listen to what you’re saying, and I’m like, I’ve done it all wrong.
Ellen: Well, I think something that parents really aren’t fully clued in on, and hopefully this film will help, is that our kids are doing an awful lot of work that we don’t know about in order to manage the situation they’re in.
Ellen: It really asks a lot of kids in terms of growing up, becoming independent, learning to manage schedules, learning to manage the emotions of their parents, and mediating between their parents in an informal way. These kids are doing a lot of work. Not to mention that they’re often being asked to uproot themselves every three or four days or every week and move their entire reality to a new place. Yes, of course, these things build skills for our kids. These things make our kids more resilient and strong.
Jessica: They’re so resilient!
Ellen: What’s that?
Jessica: They’re so resilient!
Ellen: But we need to be careful in how resilient kids can be because anybody can adapt to anything, and human beings are unbelievably resilient. What do we want to ask of our kids? And how can the way we behave as co-parents create a much less stressful and less work-intensive reality for our kids? I think that that’s one of the main takeaways I got from talking to these kids 10 years later, is that parents have an incredible opportunity to move through this in a way that makes their kid’s experience so much better. It’s unfortunate how few parents take that opportunity and frame this change in a positive way. Luckily, we have one boy in the film who is the poster child for, I think, a good divorce, whose parents get together on holidays with their new partners and never speak badly of the other. Okay, well, that may be a bit of an extreme, but it is so clear that these kids want to know that they came of love, that their parents were in love, that they were made of love, and that they weren’t some mistake. It’s amazing how many kids wonder about that, was it their fault? Were they really want wanted? How could they be wanted when their parents are in such conflict continuously? How can they imagine that they came of love? And so while they can’t look forward into the possibility of their parents getting together 99% of the time, allow these kids to look back at the fairytale that was their beginning. It wasn’t a fairy tale, it was the reality. The fact is most of these kids did come from love. They were born at a time when their parents were in love. Allow them to have photos of both parents. Talk to them about the time they were born or the good times that you shared as a family. Don’t have any conversation about the time when you were together with the other parent as being taboo. Allow the child to know that there was love and that they came from love. That is so incredibly healing for these kids.
T.H.: I recently moved. I’m sorry, there’s a noise behind me, of course. I recently moved, and I keep everything. I have their pictures, report cards, everything from the minute they were a thought. And as I was going through stuff, I was sharing stuff with them to see, because they probably have no idea. I said, what do you guys want me to do with these pictures, because I had one huge one of me and their dad. My oldest said, “Those are not my memories. I don’t care what you do with them. They’re your memories, mom, not mine.” Then my younger one is like me, she wants to keep everything. We limited it. I had already gotten rid of a bunch of stuff. Then my son said, “I don’t ever remember you guys being together, so I don’t even know what those pictures mean.” He was four. What my oldest daughter said to me is totally–it’s so true. They’re my memories. She’s looking at a picture, and it had nothing to do with her. She wasn’t there. She wasn’t anything about it. But I did keep the album and I kept the quick recap from our wedding. I kept pictures where I was smiling because it was hard for me to think back to when I was happy. But what I was going to say for these kids, which was a struggle for me, is I didn’t like him. I couldn’t remember being happy. No adult getting divorced wants to keep talking about divorce. It’s almost like self-preservation, like, I’m trying to get through the day, guys. We’re moving forward. Then my oldest one was having panic attacks at night. I didn’t know what to do. I was forced to talk about it again. But that was a learning process. I just wanted to focus on today, like, you guys are going to school, you’re good, you’re with your friends, you come home, you’re in bed, you’re safe, love you. But there are physical things that come out for kids that you can never expect. Then you are forced to have that conversation. I think to your point, parents, yes, the conversation continues. But if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t have a good conversation with your child because you’re in too much turmoil. There will certainly be days. I told my kids, and I’m like, mom’s just having a really bad day. That’s fine because I’m human. But tomorrow, we will talk about it. And don’t forget to talk about it tomorrow, because they’re waiting for tomorrow.
T.H.: But I just wanted to bring that up. It’s easier to say, but we’ve all been through it. You can’t help someone if you’re not helping yourself. That’s my message to the parents so that they can have what you guys are saying, and be able to hear these kids and do something with it.
Christina: That is such an important point. I mean, I just want to put a pin in that. Because when you don’t deal with your stuff, when you’re not processing it, when you’re not taking care of yourself, it just spills over onto your kids in so many ways. I think that the film, the sequel, definitely highlights that. It’s really clear in some of these children’s stories where parents didn’t make peace with the past. They didn’t find a way forward. These kids are still carrying around the burden of that. Realizing that their story is not your story, deal with your issues. If you don’t like your co-parent, if you are in that situation and it does happen where you can’t think of a good positive thing to say, then focus on how your children see that other parent. Reinforce their positive experiences. Oh, I remember this time when your dad did X with you, and you were so happy, and you were so excited. Focus on those things. Or when they’re talking about the other parent, be in a space where you’re not–so many kids, they share information about the other parent. When they’re in the moment, we don’t say anything, and we just go quiet. Like, I’m just going to keep my mouth shut, and I’m not going to say anything and bite my tongue. Well, kids pick up on all those subtle signals, and they can be really powerful. Just being mindful of how are we showing up for our kids, that’s so, so important.
T.H.: And it’s okay. It’s okay. Forgive yourself if you couldn’t hold it together. Because trust me, they would come back and bring home all these gifts, and they had this, and they went to this fancy place, and whatever, and literally, there’s nothing I can do about my body language. I can keep my mouth shut, but my body’s feeling sick as I’m hearing about it. What I started to do later, and it took a few years, so we’ve already got a little bit of damage under our belts, it took a few years, but then I would go back and be like, I just realized something. Just take ownership of it when you can. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. Nobody’s handling divorce perfectly, because you’ve never done it before, so you’re not an expert in it. But that’s why we’re all here. I really think that these movies are icebreakers. We’re already disarming the situation, because look at what these kids are giving you, a gift. You guys are giving people a gift that they would never have, and to take away the power and the burden of these situations. Ah, alrighty. Alright, so we watch the movie, and now I’m in a better place.
Jessica: Well, tell us a little bit more specifically about the movie, some of the things that the kids said that you found really powerful, or things that were really disarming or that would bring people to tears. I mean, for people to hear you guys talking about it and wanting to go see it because of the messages that are coming out.
Ellen: Yeah, I think that there’s so much. These kids cover so much territory.
Jessica: Maybe a few of your favorite moments? So your favorite–
Christina: I can tell you one that really stands out for me. This is the kid that we referred to earlier in the film. It’s such a powerful statement when he talks about his mom and how she feels about his dad. Dad wasn’t very involved in this kid’s life. He talks about how at one point they used to be “the couple”. You can tell that she hates him, right? She just says things, and that hate, hate, hate. He’s like, she doesn’t think we get it, but we get it. To add another layer to it, he looks like dad. He said, I know she’s looking at me, I look like him–
T.H.: Yeah, that’s always a big trigger.
Christina: Like, just, ugh, it just gets you right there. I think the other piece in the film that I find really powerful is there’s a young woman who talks about her place at the table. Before her dad re-partnered, she had a certain seat at the table. Then when they blended as a family, she didn’t get to sit in that seat anymore because her new family members came into the picture. She had a younger step-sibling who chose her chair. It’s so easy as parents for us to miss that kind of stuff and think it doesn’t matter – you’re older, they’re little, get over it kind of – but it does mean something to our kids. Feeling that sense of belonging and significance that I’m important and I have value in this family, I think a lot of kids feel displaced, especially as they get older because it’s just not on our radar. I certainly don’t want this to come across as beating parents up. This is hard. When you said we don’t get it right 100% of the time, that happens whether you’re married or divorced, and this isn’t just divorced parents that struggle with this kind of stuff. We all struggle with this. That’s why I think having these conversations, listening to podcasts, and the support you offer to parents is so, so important because if we don’t expose ourselves to these kinds of ideas, those things aren’t going to pop up on our radar. We’re not going to see them. It’s like opening our scope of vision a little bit more broadly so that we can see our children’s experience.
Jessica: So the first film, I think you said was ages six to 12. Was that right? So this one now, they’re ages 16 through 22?
Ellen: That’s right. Yeah.
Jessica: Did you feel that there was–I think I would imagine, to some extent, a lot of common threads for all of them. What were the biggest lessons in that regard, like, here’s something that you feel with your expertise that all kids of divorce are going through, that we might not know about?
Ellen: Well, I think nothing is universal, but there certainly were things that emerged. One of them was this notion, which I hate to have to say I’m a little embarrassed to say felt kind of new to me, which was the degree to which the kids take care of their parents and take care of everybody. It’s this caretaking, which is lovely, and it’s a generous response, and it’s building compassion and empathy in our kids. That’s the good side of it. The difficult thing, and several kids mentioned this, is that they need to now learn how to take care of themselves and put themselves first. One girl, the girl that was spending a lot of time managing the “pie” of her time to make sure everybody gets a piece of her and everybody’s happy, was going off to college. She said, I’m going to be on my own, and I’m going to really need to learn to take care of myself first. She said it’s like when you’re on the plane and the oxygen mask falls. You need to take care of yourself before you can really take care of others like you were mentioning earlier. And so that was very touching to me, the degree to which these kids really are spending a lot of time and energy managing things. The downside of it is they’re not putting themselves first. That’s a skill they need to learn as they move into teenhood and young adulthood and move out of the family. The other thing that I found particularly touching, and probably not surprising, was that in very high conflict situations, kids get really battle weary. When they’re just hearing a lot of negative stuff, or they’re always holding the tension between their parents and it’s very difficult at special events to have parents in the same space, kids are incredibly sensitive to that kind of energy. It’s very stressful to kids, and they have to manage it. Well, in high conflict situations, it seems that there are quite a few kids when they have the opportunity to choose their own schedule and have more control of their own lives and where they spend their time, these kids tend to really move from one parent or another to get out of the line of fire. There does seem to be this in high conflict situations when parents tend to fall off the radar a bit more. And so that’s a bit of a cautionary tale, I think, for parents that if you really want to keep your kids in the game, so to speak, and in your life in a significant way, voluntarily, once they have the option to choose, don’t make it running from one battleground to another. Just really try to do the best you can with where we are, of course, we’re all human, to just make that easier on our kids and disengage from negative talk about the other parent. If it just means zipping your lips, that’s a good step in the right direction.
Jessica: Did you find if they were pulling away from one parent and more inclined to go with another that it was the more contentious parent that was the parent they’re pulling away from? Was that the pattern? Because in some ways, I would think that the more contentious parents, sometimes it’d be the one fighting harder for like, you have to do this, and you have to be with me, and so sometimes if the kid is battle-weary, they’re like, okay, okay. It’s like, alright, I’ll go there because I can’t deal with the arguing otherwise, versus like, common sense would say, yeah, they want to be with the less argumentative parent because it’s like a safer, quieter, more pleasant environment.
Ellen: I think it’s a lot more complex than that. It really has to do with so many factors in terms of really, again, it could really fall down to which parent the child thinks needs more help or support.
Ellen: I mean, it could be any number of things, or it could be I’m staying away from that parent because it’s just all negative energy and it’s too exhausting for me to hear terrible things about my mom all the time. There’s no easy answer for that. I don’t want to–
Jessica: That’s okay. What was the format when you–oh, go ahead. Christina, you were going to say something?
Christina: I just wanted to add to that. I think it’s also that as kids get older, some kids also develop a preference because it’s just a better fit for their lives. They need flexibility. What worked when they were three doesn’t necessarily work when they’re 13, or 14, or 15. Again, when you’re in a married relationship, we are flexible, we change, and we adjust with our kids. However, when divorce enters the scene, it’s like, well, we’ve got to schedule. You’ve got to have this much time at this house, this much time at this, and kids are uprooting their lives. A preference doesn’t necessarily mean there’s less love. It just means that at that point in time, your children have certain needs. And so how, as parents, can we make it about them, and not about us, and not personalize it as our kids are pulling away from us, or the other parent is influencing them? It just maybe they have different needs. As Ellen said, it’s not cut and dry. It’s complicated.
Jessica: When you’re talking to these kids, I mean, they knew you to an extent because you had interviewed them 10 years prior. But what was sort of the format in terms of getting them comfortable enough to open up to these most intimate, sensitive feelings and be comfortable telling you their inner secrets and their thoughts about this? I mean, it’s such a sensitive topic.
Ellen: Right, I think I really saw this as a collaboration, and I invited kids in, in that spirit. And so really, the idea of the film was you’ve gone through this, you’re a survivor, so to speak. You’ve had all these experiences, and you probably have a lot of advice that will be really helpful to kids that are just starting out. This is your opportunity to share what you learned. You can talk about whatever you want to talk about. If I ask you a question and you’re not comfortable, just say I don’t want to answer. But really, it really became a conversation. I think it was really helpful for these kids that I could frame certain questions with, well, when I was a kid, this was my experience, or I know my kids are having this experience. They know I’m sort of on the inside, so to speak, of that, of those experiences. But really, I think in any conversation, certainly in film, but it’s probably true in therapy and a lot of other situations, you provide the platform, you invite people in, and it becomes very clear right off the bat, the story they want to tell. It really evolved that way. However the conversation begins, it’s just like sitting down with a friend in a coffee shop. Within two minutes, they’re going to start talking about what’s up for them. That was certainly true of the kids.
Jessica: They weren’t afraid knowing that this was being filmed and their mom’s going to see it, and their dad’s going to see it? I feel that’s the part that I’m so impressed by, that you’re able to get to the raw truth without them being afraid of telling their real feelings.
Ellen: Well, I think it was one of the first times that some of these kids really had the opportunity, because the deal I made with them and the parents are we’re going to have this conversation, the parents are not going to be present, and that was the ground rule. We’re going to have a conversation, I’m going to show you a cut of the film, and if there’s anything that you or your parents feel uncomfortable about, that’s fine.
Ellen: For the most part in the first film, there were only two pieces in the end that I really took out. One was about a substance issue with one of the kids, and the other was actually quite a silly thing. I mean, it was he told the story incorrectly. It was like no, it wasn’t noon. It was later in the day. It was something totally insignificant, so whatever. What was interesting coming back to these kids is I thought how many of these kids are going to be really interested in participating in the next film? It turns out that it was a real game-changer for a lot of these kids because they felt real pride in participating in this. It was really so gratifying for them to understand how many kids they helped and how many families they helped by sharing their experience. They all refer to the film in their older selves. It was almost like when you’ve seen a film so many times and you start quoting the–they sort of understood the significance of their participation in that, and they were quite proud of it. It was a game-changer. After the initial screening, the opening of the first film, Christina was there, the kids were there with both parents, all of the kids, I get so much feedback from parents on both sides saying, wow, that was a game-changer. Because they both wanted to sit with their child in the theater, right? So for a lot of them, it was the first time that they were willingly participating together in something relating to their kids, and they realized they could do that much more successfully than they would have imagined. There was a way that the film brought the kids together, not just through what they shared and how that was opening their parents’ eyes, but just in terms of it became a family event. 11 of the 12 kids participated in the sequel. The twelfth didn’t because he had such a small part in the first one, and he didn’t feel like he really had much to offer. So that was fine. They’re equally brilliant and articulate, and absolutely normal kids.
T.H.: I think that you also gave them an opportunity to be heard. They probably felt they were never really heard, like, I get it, okay, let’s go. Alright, you’re good? Let’s go. Do you want to talk about it? Okay, and mom or dad are looking at the–you gave them a platform where they could just speak, and people would care about what they had to say. They could get it off their chest.
Ellen: And they weren’t telling their mother’s story or their father’s story.
T.H.: This was their story to be heard, right.
Ellen: I think that was significant.
T.H.: That’s a huge sense of pride for anybody. Everybody wants to be heard. Just really, I just feel so happy that we’ve met you guys. We are all about paying it forward, as is the mission for exEXPERTS. But really, if you can do this for our kids and help us help our kids, I don’t know, that’s the most important thing in the world.
Christina: I know.
Jessica: So give us a status update on when SPLIT UP: The Teen Years is going to be available?
Ellen: Yeah, at this point, June 1st at the absolute latest. The film will be available on the website. Both Christina and I wrote a really, if I may say so, a fabulous workbook that goes along with SPLIT. It’s really helpful for parents to give parents language to have these conversations. Both the original SPLIT, SPLIT UP, and the workbook is available on the site, which is splitfilm.org. It will be there for streaming as well, as soon as it’s uploaded. We’re really at the tail end, and we’re pretty excited about it.
Jessica: Tell me about the workbook.
Christina: The workbook is a companion guide that is divided up into chapters that follow the course of the film. We designed it in a way to give parents just enough information that they could really process and take action with their kids. In this section, here are some points, background information, and things you need to be mindful of as you’re moving forward. We also scripted question prompts, because a lot of times we want to approach these conversations, but it’s like, what do I say? What do I not say? We were helping parents out by just scripting questions. Here are some things you could ask. Here are some tips on how to prepare the best environment for watching the film with your kids. What do you need before you show it to your kids? – we always recommend that parents watch the film on their own before they watch it with their children, for a number of different reasons, right? One, you want to know what to expect when you’re showing it to your kids. Where might there be jumping-off points for conversations? Where might they connect with certain materials? But also, you want to be emotionally grounded and prepared so that you can responsibly deal with your feelings. Because some of what these kids have to say in both films, it hits hard, it hits deep, and we need time to process it. If you plop down on the couch and you watch it with your kids, and it hits and you emotionally fall apart, what are your kids going to do? They’re going to want to caretake you. They’re going to focus on your feelings and how you’re reacting instead of how they’re feeling and how they’re reacting. We always recommend that parents prepare for sharing the film.
Jessica: Okay, good tip, good tip. Well, thank you guys for everything that you’ve done on behalf of us at exEXPERTS, and everybody else listening, and everyone out there who’s seen the film and who hopefully will go and see the next one. We are really looking forward to it. Honestly, just thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about it today. We think it is such an important topic and it’s such an important mission, and are just so happy for you guys. I can’t wait to get it out.
T.H.: We are going to shout it from the rooftops. We want to be a part of this when this launches. I would love to have my kids see it and take it in, and then let them be ambassadors for it. We really want to be a part of it. And everybody listening, it’s going to be all over exEXPERTS. You’ll have an opportunity to see it and get the workbook and see the first film too so you can watch the progression and how these two amazing women just created the most valuable tool for families whilst they’re going through a divorce.
Ellen: Thank you both for what you’re doing on behalf of families, really.
T.H.: Thank you.
Christina: Yes, we are so grateful for the support. Thank you.
T.H.: We’re doing it together!
Jessica: That’s right.
T.H.: We can’t do it alone. We’re all in this together. So let’s just make a difference and change it so it’s not the way it was for us. Thank you, guys.
Ellen: Thank you.
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