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October 8th | CO-PARENTS: THE CEOs OF THEIR CHILDREN’S LIVES
In divorce parlance, the term CEO stands for Co-parent Executive Officer. Parents are decision-makers and problem-solvers of their children’s lives, says Seattle divorce coach, co-parenting expert, and author Karen Bonnell, who coined the phrase. Rick’s show guest explains that parents need to form an alliance when they co-parent … one centered around clear agreements, schedules, sharing costs, and resolving and reconciliation at the end of the month, You and your ex need to be very clear on rules and responsibilities, says Karen, who is also trained in divorce mediation. If that sounds all business and the kids an after-thought, it’s anything but. It makes life easier and predictable for everyone – the kids included, says Karen. Planning activities and coordinating family schedules is centered on the kids. It minimizes conflict … and conflict, says Karen, is the #1 reason that children suffer and develop scars for the rest of their lives. Listen in as Karen discusses setting up short and long range plans that help parents stay synced, keep the kids informed, close miscommunication gaps, and don’t leave room for stressful surprises on holidays and other special occasions because everyone knows what’s going on in advance in their 2-home family. [smart_track_player class=”goldberg_track_player” url=”//securemedia.iheart.com/media/station_content/676/2016/10/mp3/default/divorce_talk_radio_0_1476275885.mp3″ title=”CO-PARENTS: THE CEOs OF THEIR CHILDREN’S LIVES” artist=”October 8th 2016 | Rick M Goldberg” image=”https://www.rickmgoldberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/player_picture_rick.png” color=”#454545″ social=”true” social_twitter=”true” social_facebook=”true” social_gplus=”true” view=”mobile” social_email=”true”]
Rick: Good morning everyone and welcome to Divorce Talk with Rick Goldberg. If you’ve been impacted by divorce either as an adult or as a child, you are definitely in the right place.
I recently have been doing some reading and I was shocked to discover that literally more than one million children in the US will be affected by divorce this year, literally one million children. I couldn’t believe it. I mean it makes me sad to think that so many innocent children are having to cope with the consequences of their parents’ divorce on a daily basis.
The good news though is that divorce doesn’t have to wound or scar your children especially if you can commit to putting their emotional and psychological needs first when making crucial decisions. And unfortunately, there are a lot of misguided parents out there that are still angry and resentful and hurting and mistrusting and they just don’t realize what they’re setting their kids up for and the painful outcomes that they’re putting in front of them.
So, remember that every decision you make regarding your divorce is going to have some type of impact on the well-being of your children. And the challenge is that when you’re in it, when you’re in the thick of this divorce, it’s almost impossible to see what you’re doing and it’s impossible and super challenging to see the emotional scars that you and your spouse might be creating.
And so, today’s show I’m really excited about bringing a guest with me all the way from Seattle, Washington, Karen Bonnell. Am I saying that right, Karen?
Karen: You are, that’s great. Thanks, Rick.
Rick: You’re welcome. But Karen has joined us this morning all the way out from Seattle. So she’s up bright and early. And she is the author of two really insightful books, The Co-Parents’ Handbook and The Parenting Plan Handbook.
And Karen has over 25 years of experience working with individuals and couples and families that are facing divorce, transition, loss, stress, and all kinds of change. She works as a divorce coach and also as the designated mental health professional in a collaborative divorce. And we’ll talk a little bit more about that.
But Karen, I just want to welcome you to the show this morning.
Karen: Thank you so much. It’s my pleasure to be here. I love talking to parents.
Rick: Awesome. Well, we have plenty to talk to this morning. Thousands of people are here in town listening on our podcast which they can hear at KPRCRadio.com or even on my website, RickMGoldberg.com.
But Karen, can you tell our listeners how you became interested in co-parenting?
Karen: I sure can. And I think that life is often our biggest teacher, right? And so, back in the late ‘90s when my children’s father and I had made the decision that we were going to create a 2-home family that he and I were going to end our relationship, that was at a time when there weren’t divorce coaches, Rick. And even though I was a psychotherapist that everybody would argue, “Hey, you must have known exactly what to do and how to do it.” I’m here to tell you, I was just like any other parent, adrift and lost as I faced the legal system that kind of marched me through divorce with lots of things I didn’t expect or anticipate very skillfully.
So after recovering from that back in 2006, I had a couple of people walked in my office and say, “We understand that you can help us get divorced.” Now, I had never done that before. And so, that’s how I got started. That marched me right off to Northwestern University to get trained in divorce mediation and then to get very involved in clubs as well as community and it’s what I do full-time is I work with parents as they anticipate that family restructuring, that transition starting right from the beginning, how do we tell our kids, how do we begin our co-parenting relationship, how do we uncouple. There are so many steps. So that’s what I do all day now.
Karen: And yes, I’ve written a book.
Rick: There are a lot of steps. And one of the things that you said that I found really interesting because I’m a big believer in being really impeccable with our wording and I love how you said, when I was younger, I wasn’t divorcing, I like how you said, “I was going to create a 2-home family,” which is just some great words to use as far as how to now define what you’re doing. Instead of saying, “Oh yeah, now …” you know the lingo, right?
How did you develop that? Just that terminology, because it’s simple but I think it’s just brilliant.
Karen: You know what? It’s beginning to shift away from what’s happening to me and my former spouse or soon-to-be-former-spouse to who are we going to be as parents. I recently heard or read someone saying, “You know, the part of our marriage vows, the part that said until death do we part, yeah, that’s about co-parenting.” If we have a child together, that’s the part that will stay intact until death do us part. And it’s not a question of whether we’ll be co-parents. It’s a question of how skillfully we’ll be co-parent.
So when I let go of the fact that yes, I’m ending my marriage. I’m ending our spousal relationship. We’ve made that decision. But I’m not ending parenting. So for my children, I want them to have a 2-home family. I don’t want them to feel like they have two different worlds that they have to every day as you pointed out at the very beginning, Rick, to have to navigate between two different worlds and be disadvantaged by the fact that me and their other parent couldn’t keep our marriage together. That’s not their fault.
Rick: In your book, Karen, you talk about how as a co-parent you become a CEO, a Co-parent Executive Officer. Can you share with me and our listeners exactly what that means and how you develop that concept?
Karen: Right. So oftentimes, as we’re ending our intimate partnership, there’s just a lot of emotion, right? And sometimes that emotion can be, “Finally! I’ve done it. I’ve made the decision to leave and I’m relieved kind of emotion.” But more often than not, it’s more complicated than that. And for the person who is being left particularly more complicated.
So, in all of that emotion, it’s very difficult sometimes to solve problems and be constructive. And so, I help parent adapt a business language. So CEOs, Co-parent Executive Officers are the problem solvers for their children’s life. They’re the decision makers. We’re going to have joint decision-making about education, about healthcare, about those all-important extracurricular activities, we’re the executive teams.
We’re in fact the C-suite because we’re also the Co-parent Financial Officers by the way because the things that our children need are going to need to be paid for so we’re going to need agreements about that and how those costs are shared and how effectively we resolve that reconciliation at the end of the month or of the quarter.
Rick: So are we each a CEO and a CFO or are picking one or the other?
Karen: We are each a member of a co-CEO, co-CFO because we’re both going to be involved in those decisions. We’re both going to be involved probably in some way, shape, and form of paying for those activities and decisions that we’re making for our children until they’re young adults and adults themselves.
A couple of years ago, my 28-year-old daughter, now 30, got married. Our job as CFOs and CEOs was not over. Just because she went to college and graduated, there we were pulled back together to say, “Here’s this amazing lifecycle event that we were going to navigate together.” Right? It’s until do death do us part.
Rick: I got you. Probably the last significant event that my ex-wife and I shared was my daughter’s wedding. And it was really fun actually collaborating on that and working together on that. And it’s a little sad that now that that’s literally 5 or 6 years, we had a lot of interaction and it was very healthy during that period of time.
But now literally, we may get together and talk just a couple of times a year because there’s really nothing that brings us back together anymore. My daughter is 27, not too far from yours. So yeah, so it’s really – it’s endearing to know and I have a lot of gratitude for knowing that I personally stepped up and parented in the way that I could really be proud of and that my daughter would be proud of.
Karen: Exactly. And so, everything that I began to teach parents who are making that decision to separate and divorce, every step right from the beginning, such emotion, that possibility, Rick, that possibility that one day whether it’s 8th grade graduation or college graduation or a wedding or a baby naming or baptism, all of those pieces are still in front of us. All of those pieces matter to our children. And the more we develop the skills today to set that in motion for tomorrow.
Rick: We have a couple of minutes before we’re going to go to our first break, but can you share some of those decision-making skills that you talked about in your book?
Karen: Sure. So, one of the things that parents get tripped up about if they create a 2-home family is how do – what do I let go of and what do I hold on to in terms of what do we both do the same in our houses? Just as an example. We always say to parents, “You know, the conflict that you might have over whether somebody each gold fish crackers and the other parent only has organic broccoli. That conflict is harder on your children’s immune system than whether they eat gold fish crackers.
And so, I’m going to ask you to really sort out what’s important. There are going to be some things that are important and there are going to be a lot of things that you just going to let go of. That’s the kind of thing that I start to want parents through to say, “Hey, conflict we know for sure is harmful. We know it for sure. That disadvantages children. So, what’s the 80-20 rule? What’s the 20% that’s important? What’s the 80% I’m going to let go of? I want to minimize conflict.”
Rick: Don’t sweat the small stuff, right?
Karen: Don’t sweat the small stuff, my friend. Absolutely.
Rick: We are up against our first break and I want to let our listeners know that coming up in the next segment, I’m going to talk to Karen about the tri-annual co-parent business meeting that we have to have co-CEO, co-CFO. So don’t go away. We’ll be right back.
Rick: Welcome back everyone. This is Rick Goldberg and you’re listening to Divorce Talk Radio here at KPRC 950. What an absolutely brilliant, beautiful day it is this Sunday. Yesterday, I was in Waco, Texas. And literally, there wasn’t a football game going on in Waco and you could not get a hotel room. We were so lucky that we booked the rooms a couple of weeks ago. I was doing a large focused group on a different kind of a case, not a divorce related case but related to the explosion that took place. Quite interesting.
Well, if you’re just tuning in, we are talking with Karen Bonnell about co-parenting and how you can really form an alliance with your spouse and create a co-parenting paradigm that is sort of business related so that it could be very clear of what the rules are. And so, I’m pleased to have Karen with us this morning.
Karen, welcome back.
Karen: Thank you.
Rick: And by the way, if you have a question for Karen or I, you can call us here at KPRC 950 at 713-212-5950. So Karen, before we left off in the last break, I was asking you a little bit about what this tri-annual co-parent business meeting is all about. So, I can’t wait to hear about it. So tell our listeners what they can expect if they implement this type of thing.
Karen: Sure. What we’ve learned, Rick, is that if we can focus and be deliberate in our decision-making, it makes it easier for everyone. Life becomes more predictable. And the more predictable things are for kids, the more secure they are, right?
Karen: And so, I ask parents to sit down in August to some point go to a coffee shop in the neighborhood, sit down together, get that school schedule that is now being released, grab your parenting plan, and I want you to sit down and I want you to look how does your parenting plan match with the school’s schedule, the kids’ break, the holidays. Are there exceptions? Is there going to be a special event that’s coming up that we need a residential schedule adjustment for? Do we need to make a change? Are you going to be traveling for work? Do you have a conference you need to attend?
We’re going to sit down and look at all of those things. We’re going to make sure someone is on deck for scheduling those dental appointments, right? We got to get that dental hygiene taken care of or any other healthcare-related concerns. Is this year we’re starting orthodontia? Well, if we are, that’s a project, right?
So again, as co-executive officers, the C suite of our children’s lives, we’re going to sit down and do that planning for the first semester school. In January, we’re going to sit down and do it for the second semester school. It’s that same thing.
Rick: OK. So August, we’re going to talk about the upcoming school semester. January, we’re going to maybe recap a little bit of what worked, what didn’t work, how well we did, and then we’re going to look ahead to the next part of the year, right?
Karen: That’s right. That whole second semester school is going to get covered, all the spring breaks, the mid-winter breaks, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Memorial Day weekend, all of that is going to be looked at and addressed to make sure it’s going to map beautifully.
And then in March, right around beginning March, we’re going to sit down and do summer. And we’re going to make sure our vacations are chosen. We’re going to make sure we started planning kids’ camp and activities and if we plan little league ball, how is that going to work, because that’s how kids’ lives run. And the more we target and are intentional, the less – first of all, we have to interact on a day-to-day basis making those decisions as they come up because we’ve anticipated them and we’ve made them. And things are smoother and there’s less opportunity for conflict.
Rick: So how did you develop that? I mean it makes so much sense. It’s almost like, “Oh, why didn’t I think of that?” How did you come up with that?
Karen: I could honestly tell you that I’m not sure. But I think that just really experience was part of the teacher. And I’m a nurse by background, Rick. I don’t know if you know that. And so, there are a couple of things that really that experience informed me, not only the co-parent planning meetings but also the transition reports.
So for parents who share their children that maybe they have their kids a week on, a week off or maybe there are 5 days with one parent and then they go and they spend 8 or 9 days with the other parent, how would that work out?
Once we’ve had our children for that length of time to be able to sit down and again, go through a template, what’s important, what does my co-parent need to know so that when my children go back, they can just pick the ball up and continue it down the field? So, what were the important experiences my children had? Was there any emotional issue that might be helpful to know? Any academic concerns, behavioral kind of concerns? What do I need to share so that when you receive our kids back, you just hit the ground running?
You’re not spending that first hour when they come home going, “Well, so what did you do when you’re with your mom? So, well, did you have any problems with your stomach?” When parents do that with kids, they think, “Oh, I’m just catching up.” Imagine what it feels like to a kid when you go, “OK, sweetie. Well, I understand your tummy is feeling better and you got to see Madeline on Saturday. You went to her birthday party. I think that’s fabulous.” Think about how that is for kids? “My mom and dad talk about me. Not about anything else, just about me.”
Rick: I have a text message that just came in with a question for you, Karen. It’s from Jonathan here in Houston. And he says, “I have so much friction with my ex. I can’t imagine a sit down with her. What can I do to make this happen?”
Karen: Jonathan, great question. When I’m teaching people about those co-parent planning meetings, I’m often encouraging them, in the first couple of them just sit down with a facilitator. And I know there’s a cost associated with that. But I got to tell you, the cost of conflict is always higher.
So to get a third party who can simply facilitate that meeting, help you take notes, get in the – kind of get in the swing of things, and maybe just help a little bit with some uncoupling because keep in mind that that conflict, that on-going bitterness or on-going snippiness, that’s leftover spousal stuff. It’s not actually parenting. It might come up around parenting now because that’s how we’re doing but I am certain that if I got you and your co-parent in a room, you would both tell me that your children are the most important people to each of you so it doesn’t make sense that we’re skill-sniping and in a lot of conflict about it. You just have to learn to do it better.
Rick: So I know that you probably have a lot of great stories and successes around negotiating, helping to facilitate these couples, but do you have one of those disastrous stories that you could share to that where you tried to do everything. You led them to the water but they just wouldn’t drink. Is there anything like that come up for you?
Karen: Absolutely. And I have to tell you, I’m one of those people is so tenacious and so I’ll really go to the mat with high conflict parents. But there is a point where I recognized that if I am not able to help them break out of conflict pattern, we need to get a parent coordinator involved. We need to get a third party decision maker. I don’t fill that role.
But there comes a point where I will say to parents and I have had this happened, “The level of conflict that you continue to display is harmful to your children and I can’t participate in that any longer or act as if I’m making a difference when I can see that I’m not. And so, I’m going to move you on to a parent coordination situation.”
This is destructive. I’m going to name it. I’m going to be really direct because of all the things, there are only a handful of things that actually harm children when parents get divorced, but on-going chronic high conflict is at the top. Tied for first is losing a parent, a parent leaving, abandoning, or parent being alienated from the children or the children being alienated from a parent. Those are the things that children will live with the scars of for the rest of their lives. And that’s important.”
Rick: So, conflict with the other spouse, losing a parent, if that parent basically just leaves the relationship all together, or one parent alienating the targeted parent. Really, really good stuff. We are about halfway through with our show right now, Karen, so stick around. And for you listeners out there, when we return, we’re going to discuss Karen’s communication guidelines for co-parenting. So don’t go away, we’ll be right back.
Rick: Welcome back everyone to Divorce Talk Radio with Rick Goldberg. I’m visiting with Karen Bonnell, an expert in the topic of co-parenting and just literally a super nice person. Karen is joining us real early this morning from Seattle, Washington. And if you have a question for Karen, you certainly can call us here at KPRC 950 at 713-212-5950.
Karen, a lot of our listeners are in like really strained relationships. In fact, those were the kind of relationships and divorces I work on in my practice. They don’t like each other. They’re strained. They’re contentious. They’re ugly. And eventually, they get there. But when I have them, they’re nowhere near there. And they’re probably wondering, how can they communicate with their ex when they’re in the thick of heavy litigation?
So, what do they need to know and what can you do – what can you offer them to help them out?
Karen: You bet. Great question. During heavy litigation, as you pointed out, it’s really, really difficult to be skillful and at the same time you’re going to do the best you can. We’re going to talk about those skills in just a moment. But litigation ends and what’s really, really important is that that parents are able to separate out what happened to them as adult in a spousal relationship from the fact that they are going to parent children together for the rest of their life.
And I know I’ve said that before, we call that uncoupling. When I’m able to work through and grieved and work through the anger and the anonymity and the loss that I feel about what you may have done to me or what you’ve taken from me or how unfairly you have treated me as an adult, I have to work that through in order for that not to bleed into and bleed all over my parenting relationship.
That work is hard but it’s very important. It is the single biggest gift that divorced parents give their children, is to be able to separate that what I call Volume 1, I call going through litigation Volume 1, they need to separate Volume 1 from Volume 2. And Volume 2 is what we’re starting today, which is we’re going to parent these children the way they deserve to be raised and parented and loved. Period. There’s just no negotiating it.
How do you do that? Well, that’s a little trickier. We’re always using healthy boundaries. Know where your side of the street is. Don’t climb over that tennis net. It’s not how it works. You want to be able to communicate effectively like you were talking to your boss. It’s respectful. It’s civil. It’s targeted. It’s problem-solving oriented. Leave the commentary out. How you feel about me, not relevant. Leave it out, right? So, we’re being respectful.
We’re communicating about the things that we’ve agreed we’re going to communicate about. If we’re going to make joint agreements about extracurricular activities then I’m going to communicate about that. If I want to sign my kid let up for a football, I need to talk to his dad first and make sure that that’s OK, that sort of thing.
So those are just a few of the things that we’re going to do life-long. We’re going to communicate with each other in a civil manner. We’re stuck but with healthy boundaries. No commentary.
If an email is more than 200 words, look for commentary. You’re probably sliding into emotional, what I want to call blah, blah, blah. We want to pull that out so we stay problem-solving-focused, child-focused, right? We’re talking to an important person, our child’s other parent.
Rick: Yeah. Would you agree that if you look back through the years when there was really only an opportunity to have telephone communication or face-to-face communication, usually if there were some issues with your spouse, you wouldn’t really write them a letter and mail it and wait for them to get it through four days later?
So I mean in my opinion, the thing that has like fueled more trouble and more bad communication is text messaging and emailing, because it is so difficult to get the tone that you really have inside of you properly communicated through text or an email. I mean I tell my clients just don’t text and don’t email at all when you’re in the middle of all of this and you should only use it to convey relevant times and dates and things like that.
Well, what kind of experience have you had and what can you offer some of our listeners with regards to technique and emailing and texting especially during the middle of a divorce where new evidence is actually being created every day when you’re doing that? So, what can you offer in that regards? I’m sure our listeners would really be interested.
Karen: Rick, you’re absolutely right. When you’re putting something in writing, I always say to my clients and my guess is you tell this too, “Please don’t put anything via text message or email or otherwise that you wouldn’t like to have read in front of the judge.” That’s a really good litmus test. As long anything I’ve written I would be proud of in a courtroom in front of the judge then I’m probably in fairly safe territory.
If that very same information is really accurate about my children and it’s problem-solving about my children, I’m probably in excellent territory and I would actually like that to be used as evidence of my parenting. If it doesn’t meet those three criteria, don’t write it. Don’t communicate it.
Don’t write or communication when you’re triggered. And what I mean by that is when you’re emotional, right?
Karen: That we’ve got to have our level head on. I always say to parents, “Make sure you’re sitting at a desk and that you’re sitting up straight and that you haven’t had any alcohol and you’re not really tired.” Because those are the times when we are likely to spout off things that we regret and they were unnecessary even if we don’t regret and they were unnecessary and uncalled for.
So remember, when you were growing up, Rick, you were probably taught this. I think we probably all heard it more than once. You do unto others as you want others to do unto you. And yet during a divorce, we somehow think it’s a license to really behave poorly if someone behaves poorly toward us. And that’s just not the case.
The start of getting the ball rolling in the right direction starts with me. I’m the first one who has to clean up my own act. You are no excuse for my behavior. So, it starts right here. I know what I need to do and the reason I’m doing it honestly, it’s not for you, by the way. It’s not for you ex-spouse. It is for my children and for my children only because they deserve it.
Rick: Karen, I have another text message that came through from Shelly over in San Antonio. She wants to know, “How can I tell if my ex is going to be a good co-parent or if I’m going to be a good co-parent?”
Karen: Well, you can’t necessarily know if your ex is going to be a good co-parent but you are fully in control of whether you are going to be a good co-parent. And what I mean by that is if you’re following respectful boundaries and you’re being respectful of your children’s other parent, you’re communicating skillfully, you’re making decisions together in a productive way, you’re having a good credit meeting. If you owe your co-parent money, you’re making sure that that’s paid on time.
If you’re responsible when you attend activities that your co-parent is also attending, that you make sure that if that is – if it’s during his residential time, you’re being responsible to him. He’s the decision-making parent. You’re the guest parent. Step aside. Don’t interfere with his parenting. Right?
These are all protocols that if we learn how to treat each other then we know we’re being a good co-parent. And ideally then, we’ll be – it will be reciprocated in kind.
Rick: We got about 30 seconds before we come up to our break. What are some of the 3 or 4 best things that I can do to be the best co-parent possible?
Karen: A) take good care of myself emotionally. Do that uncoupling work. Finish my grieving. Find my way to forgiving both of us, me and you for our unskillfulness, for our inability to love each other the way we needed to be loved, whether you failed me or I failed you it doesn’t matter but to find my way through that. I think that’s enough for 30 seconds.
Rick: I think you’re right. So, since the holidays are in front of us, when we come back in our fourth segment, we’re going to talk about Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas and discuss some of the idiosyncrasies around co-parenting during this time of the year. So stay right with us.
Rick: Welcome back everyone to our final segment of Divorce Talk. I’m Rick Goldberg. And really happy that you’ve been joining us and hope you’ve been getting as much out of the show this morning as I have. We’re here every Sunday morning at 8:00 AM. And I’ve been visiting this morning with my new good buddy, Karen Bonnell from Seattle, Washington. She is an expert in co-parenting and author of The Co-Parents’ Handbook and The Parenting Plan Handbook and has lots of just really good just right on information about co-parenting with your ex.
And Karen, we were just talking about the holiday season being right up here on us. How is co-parenting a little bit different during the holidays as it is throughout the other times of the year?
Karen: You know, the holidays are really important because for children, it’s an opportunity to build memories and ritual, right? And we hope that even though we’re in a 2-home family that our children still get to have that opportunity and whether that opportunity is at times shared with both of us, often early on that first year or two, believe it or not, even if it has been a contentious divorce, we can find our way to maybe sharing Santa gifts on Christmas morning or spending an hour trick or treating together at Halloween.
We might not be able to but we might be able to, and if we can and we can do that and we can be relaxed, that’s really good for kids if we can. We keep really good boundaries that I know I’ll do trick or treating this year and you’ll do trick or treating next year, that’s fine too. They’re both good. It’s just a matter of in that first year or two for kids, they tend to like to know that their parents are OK at the holidays as well as them being OK. So that’s something we want to make sure that they know.
When we think about Thanksgiving and Christmas, oftentimes, one parent will be celebrating that arc of that holiday with the children at a time. And that’s really good for kids, to be able to rest in, “And I know that this year I’m going to have a whole Christmas with my mom and I’m going to see my dad later. But next year, I get to have a whole Christmas with my dad and I’ll get to see my mom later in the break.”
So that children don’t have the experiences. They knew the decision or problem, right? “Oh, I’m going to be at Christmas Eve with my mom and then I’m going to go to my other parent at 9:00 o’clock at night and then I’m going to have Christmas morning with my other parent and then I’m going to go to dinner at my grandparents, and oh my lord, oh my goodness, I made [0:44:09] [Indiscernible].”
Rick: What really good that I see is as your kids get a little bit older and then they get married and they have in-laws, you have to really be open as a parent to be really accepting of what your kids want to do. Like in my family as an example, when it comes to Thanksgiving, my kids like have so many other directions that they can go in. We have Thanksgiving breakfast at my house and it becomes the time where we decorate the Christmas tree and only if I’m lucky enough to get them during some little window on Christmas day. And these are kids in their mid to late 20s now. So it’s constantly evolving and navigating.
But I do have a case study little challenge for you.
Rick: Jewish dad, Christian mom, Hanukkah and Christmas are overlapping this year and it’s really difficult and it’s really challenging and Hanukkah is not following on the right days of the week to match my schedule. How do you sort that all out through your plan?
Karen: Right. So remember that August planning meeting we talked about earlier in the session. Rick, this is where we would have anticipated that in August. And I would have sat down and said to you, so let’s just make up that I’m the Christian parent.
Rick: I’ll be the Jewish dad.
Karen: There you go. I see that the first night of Hanukkah is on my residential time and I know that the first night is really, really important. Let’s move some time around and make sure that you have first night. And I’m guessing you’d like 8th night too because those are kind of the two, they are important but those are the two important ones that I know they are important to you because I’ve known you and the kids really love those two nights too. Would that helpful knowing that some of the nights are falling at Christmas and of course, I do have Christmas this year, does that work for you? Would that help?
Rick: It doesn’t really work for me, Karen.
Karen: OK. Tell me what would work for you.
Rick: Because I’m seeing somebody new and she is very orthodox and she and I want all 8 nights this year. And so really, I know it hasn’t been this way in the past but I’m really going to have to insist that I have all 8 nights of Hanukkah.
Karen: Yeah. Well, I am comfortable with doing that every other year that you can have all 8 nights of Hanukkah and I will then – every other year, I will have a full Christmas celebration with the kids if that’s what you wanted to do. I will work that out with you. I’m a little concern about us basing our parenting plan on someone that you’re dating though. I wonder if you and I should talk a little more about that because that’s a pretty big decision that you’re making here and I don’t know. I mean I don’t want to see if you guys aren’t together but that could be a problem.
Rick: Well, she is kind of bringing me back into Judaism. Whether I stay with her or not, I really think Hanukkah and I down the road, we are meant to be.
Karen: Yeah. Well, as long as you can appreciate that I can honor that every other year, as long as you understand that you will be honoring Christmas for me every other year and how I celebrate that. Of course, I do the add in that calendar so there will be some extra pieces in there. But as long as we’re on the same page of sharing that, I understand that this is important to you. It’s important to me that our children understand their heritage, their religious heritage, their religious heritage with you. I’m in. I’m willing to give.
Rick: Karen, you are so good, so understanding, lovable. How can anybody argue with you?
Karen: I really try to help parents understand that the fighting over the holidays will destroy their children’s experience with the holidays. No matter how well-intended or how right a parent is, it’s my right to have it, it’s not good for kids. It’s just not.
Karen: So we’ve got to find a way around it.
Rick: What’s the biggest conflict that you hear about during the holidays?
Karen: I would say the biggest conflict that I hear is parents struggling with taking care of themselves. And it’s always an eye-opener for me when I hear a parent says, “I just can’t imagine being without my children for Christmas.” Well, I certainly understand that so please don’t misunderstand me on that. But the issue isn’t whether you can’t imagine being without your children. It’s as a parent, how are you going to make sure that your children have a wonderful Christmas even if it’s without you? How are you going to reassure them that you’re going to take good care of yourself if they’re not with you?
And that’s a toll order. That’s a really mature parent who kind of steps back and says, “Wait. I really want my kids to have a good Christmas. They’re going to be at their grandparents and maybe they’re going to be in their grandparents in Utah and they’re going to go skiing. And I’m going to be fine. And I want them to know that.” And that requires maturity. The fact is co-parenting requires maturity where it’s not about me but it’s about us raising healthy kids and giving them good experiences even if they’re not with me.
Rick: Now Karen, you have a couple of books. If our listeners are interested in getting copies of your books or maybe even hiring you, whether you can do your services through Skype or by phone also is up to you I guess to tell us but how – where can they get your book and how can they find out more about you?
Karen: Well, it’s easy to get the books. They are on Amazon, so very, very easy to get those, The Co-Parents’ Handbook and The Parenting Plan Handbook. And I’ll just say a little bit. The Parenting Plan Handbook is like a workbook and it really guides the parents through the process of developing a child-centered parenting plan. And that is supported by coaching seminars that are also online. And so, I just will mention that, four hours of coaching seminars. You don’t have to pay a coach, $200 an hour to get that information because it has been recorded. An attorney buddy and I did that.
And then as far as contacting me, please just come to my website. There’s an Ask Karen link. Just drop me an email. I am happy to help people, support people from afar. I do coaching and mediation. So thank you so much for that opportunity to talk about that.
Rick: Well, thank you. I really want to thank you again for joining me this morning, so grateful that you could be on the show. And my big takeaway from today is that we really need to make sure that we make decisions through the eyes of our children. Before making decisions regarding any kind of divorce issues, think about the consequences of your children. Ask yourself, “What will they say to me about this when they’re grown adults? Are they going to thank me for the way I handled their divorce, the way I dealt with their other parent, or are they going to be angry and resentful about my attitude and behavior?”
Because the choices that you make are going to affect your children for years and years and decades to come, so for their sake, take the high road, be a role model and be someone that you’re going to want them to emulate throughout the years.
So once again, I want to thank everyone for listening this morning. I want to thank my guest, Karen Bonnell from Seattle. This is Rick Goldberg with Divorce Talk Radio. We’ll see you next Sunday at 8:00 o’clock. You all have a great day. 1
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