"If you ask yourself, 'What are my children going to say to me when they’re grown about how the decisions I made and how we handled this divorce?' It’s going to keep you on the right track.” - Rosalind Sedacca, CPT
Caring for your children is one of the toughest elements to manage during divorce, and parents often end up inflicting permanent psychological damage on their kids. In this episode we interview Rosalind Sedacca, a divorce parenting coach and founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network. She will teach important information to protect your kids through not only during the divorce process, but also to set them up for success for the rest of your lives.
If you have children, this episode is a must-listen.
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Rosalind Sedacca, CPT
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This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Shawn: Today I have with me Rosalind Sedacca, the founder of the Child Centered Divorce Network. Rosalind, welcome to the show.
Rosalind: Pleasure to be with you today Shawn.
Shawn: So Rosalind, why don’t you give us a little bit of background about your story, your divorce story in particular, especially how you broke the news to your son. Also, how you came up with a book out of that process.
Rosalind: Yes, it was quite a process. I was married for many, many years and started being unhappily married and put off getting a divorce for many years feeling very guilty. I didn’t want to harm my son and finally I saw that he was showing signs that he was being affected by the conflict at home, and he was living with two unhappy parents. Finally, I made a decision that I had to get a divorce. I spent weeks and weeks of sleepless nights trying to figure out how to break the divorce news to my son, who loved both of his parents, and I knew it was going to be very traumatic for him. Finally, one night at four in the morning I came up with an idea, and I used that idea. It really was very effective. I created a storybook concept putting pictures of family, experiences, events, vacations, holidays, in a story book in a photo album. Then, I created the text around it. My background is in writing so that part was easy for me, and I talked to my son about the fact that mom and dad had not been getting along for a while. He was aware of the tension at home, and that life was going to be better for everyone in the family if mom and dad moved into two separate homes. I shared six key messages every child needs to hear at that time, and put it into the storybook format. It was so effective, I made a mental note to myself that it’s something I should share with others.
I moved ahead in co-parenting my son and raised him to an adult, and it wasn’t until one day in his early twenties that he came to me and said, “You know mom, you and dad did a really good job with the divorce and everything. I want to thank you because most of my friends whose parents divorced, are either really angry at their parents, or hate them about the entire experience and are very depressed about what happened to them.” Shawn, I let out just a sigh of relief, and I said to myself, “this is the time for me to move ahead and share what I’ve learned.” That’s when I founded the Child Centered Divorce Network for parents, and I wrote my signature book, How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce, a creative storybook guide for parenting your children with love. That became the foundation for the work that I did, and I became a divorce and parenting coach, and that’s what I’m recognized for on five continents around the world.
Shawn: That’s great. So, how can people get access to the book, and what’s in there today?
Rosalind: Well, the book is a digital book that you download with fill in the blank, age appropriate templates. You customize the storybook with little information about your family and your children. It’s very personal. Then, the rest of the text is written for me in the age appropriate template. It shares six key messages. One is, “This is not your fault,” which is very important for children of all ages to understand. The second point is, “You are and always will be safe.” Children feel very insecure when divorce is happening, and you want to reassure them that they’re safe and protected. The third message is, “Mom and Dad will always be your parents.” You don’t want your children to think that somehow they’re losing mom or dad in the process of the divorce. The fourth message is, “Mom and Dad will always love you.” They need to hear that because there is a fear that if mom and dad once loved each other and are now divorced, maybe they’ll divorce me. You don’t want your children to be coping with those kinds of anxieties and stresses. The fifth message is, “This is about change, not about blame.” So parents never point a finger and tell the children it’s all about your father because he drinks too much, or your mother had an affair, or all of those ugly adult things that we just don’t talk to our children about. The sixth message is, “Things will work out okay.” Then, we have to step up as parents and make sure that they do work out okay. We create a smooth transition, and a positive cooperative co-parenting experience. That book can be found at my website, childcentereddivorce.com. Childcentereddivorce.com has the book, as well as lots of other resources on all facets of divorce and parenting.
Shawn: We’ll make sure to include a link to that in the show notes of this episode because it’s a great resource for people to check out. When you think about divorce and children, can you tell us a little bit about the court process? Is that the ideal route? What is an ideal scenario as far as the children are involved, to handle a divorce and to keep the family as intact as possible?
Rosalind: That’s a great question. It’s very important that parents understand the court is not your ally in a divorce. As a matter of fact, I highly believe that divorce should not even be part of the legal system. It should be part of the mental health system. The legal system is about winners and losers. In divorce there’s no winners or losers. What you want to do is find a fair and equitable way of both parents moving on, so that they can co-parent their children in the most effective, loving, cooperative way.
When you start with an acrimonious contentious divorce where both parents are leaving the divorce process, hating each other more than when they even started, how can they then move into co-parenting? Co-parenting is a life long process. You’re co-parenting not for a year or two, you’re co-parenting for the rest of your life. Even when your children are grown, you’re still parenting them. So it’s very important to learn how to cooperate and parent in the most effective way with your co-parent, and that is best done by using mediation or collaborative divorce, or doing as much as you can before you get into the legal system. You could create a parenting plan agreement, and other agreements about how you’re going to work the division of parenting before you even talk to lawyers.
The more you cooperate with one another, and you plan for your family, the more the outcome will adapt to the reality of what your family needs, what’s best for your children, what’s best for you and your former spouse, and then you can be more cooperative and helpful with one another. If you deal with the normal challenges that come with any kind of parenting. We have to remember that parenting is not a smooth, easy ride. There’s stresses in day to day in all facets of being a parent. The more you can stay as close to the way things were, the better it is for your children in many cases. Avoiding the court to make decisions about the case, is really in the best interest of your children in most cases.
Shawn: I think that’s helpful advice. What are some of the mistakes that you see that parents make with their children during and after the divorce process?
Rosalind: I always say it’s not divorce that harms children. It’s how parents create the divorce, and how they move through the divorce. These are all mistakes that can be avoided, and if they’re avoided, give your children a much better outcome. The first and most serious of all is, fighting around the children - anywhere. Even if you’re talking on the phone in another room, studies have shown that it does the most damage to children emotionally and psychologically, to hear their parents in conflict. Keep your conflict separate from the children, and the children will have a much better and easier transition through and after the divorce. Another serious mistake is burdening your children with the blame and reminding them that this is not in any way their fault. Children naturally will feel, maybe if I got better grades in school or maybe if I behaved better then mom and dad wouldn’t be fighting. It’s very easy for them to do that and there’s no truth in the fact. It’s never the children’s fault. Even if you’re fighting about the children, these are adult issues.
Equally important, mistake number three is badmouthing your ex to the kids. I know it’s very tempting especially if you’re angry at your ex, to call them names, or to talk disparagingly about them and try to align the children to your side. What happens is, it not only confuses them, but it makes your children feel guilty for loving their other parent. Children naturally love both parents. So you don’t want to alienate your children and try to put down the other parent as much as you may feel that they deserve to be put down. Children shouldn’t be involved in that kind of conflict because it hurts them in lasting ways that can last a lifetime for them. You also don’t want to turn your children into confidants because it’s a form of parental alienation when you start talking to little Suzie or little Johnny about their mom or dad and sharing adult secrets. When you share adult secrets with children we rob them of their childhood, and they’ll never get that back again. Suddenly they’re aware of things that children their age should never be aware of, even teenagers. It’s hard enough for adults to unravel the complexities of a divorce. Children and teens don’t have the mental capacity to understand it completely, and to emotionally distance themselves from the heartbreak of it all. So you’re doing them a disservice to turn them into confidants.
You also don’t want to be asking your children to choose sides or to become messengers for you. “Tell dad that I can’t be there at 4 o’clock, I’ll be there at 5 instead.” That’s not your child’s place. There are online scheduling tools that you can use that will do the job for you. One free online scheduling tool is Moietyapp.com, and that is an online tool that puts all the information you need for co-parenting in one place, so that parents can know about changes and can communicate with one another. It allows the children to live their lives without having to be your messengers. You also never want to let your children be your spies. When you start asking children “Who did daddy see last night?” “What did you have for dinner?” and all those questions. Sometimes they’re innocent, but sometimes they move into making your children feel uncomfortable as if they’re spying on their own parent, and they feel guilty and don’t know which side to protect. It creates emotional and psychological havoc. When your children are negatively affected by the divorce you see it in behavior problems, you see it in regressing and suddenly going back to having sleeping problems or bed wetting or acting less mature, or they turn into bullies and turn more aggressive, and they have behavioral problems at school when they can’t get along with others. All of these issues are related to the fact that the parents didn’t handle the divorce in the best possible way. Fortunately, they can be coached into learning the best decisions, the best options, and the best skills for cooperatively co-parenting to give your children the best opportunity for a happy childhood ahead.
Shawn: So Rosalind, from the list that you just provided –fighting around the children, blame, bad mouthing an ex – I think all of us, if not from personal experience, know someone who is certainly guilty of some of these behaviors. It’s so common to hear all the time. If someone is listening to this and they know that they might have done this, or their ex or soon to be ex has done this, what do you do? How do you advise they move forward to make this process a little bit better?
Rosalind: That’s a great question too. What you want to do is remember that you are a role model for your children. Whatever you say and do, they are watching and learning from. Your behavior is important and it’s never too late to undo mistakes you’ve made. We’ve all made mistakes. It’s how you approach it. The first thing to do is own it. Acknowledge the fact that you made a decision that was hurtful to your child because you were trying to get back at your ex and hurt them and didn’t realize the consequences to your children. Apologize to your child. Sit down at their eye level and say, “Mommy/Daddy made a mistake in telling you not to do this,” or talking badly about dad, or whatever the situation is. And say, “that wasn’t a smart thing for me to do and I’m sorry I did that. I’m sorry I hurt you, and I will never say that again.” Children are very forgiving. They will understand. It’s also very mature to be able to apologize to your ex and say, “I made a mistake in doing this and I want to make an agreement that we will never do that to one another again.”
The more responsible and mature we act to our former spouses, the easier it is for them to take the high road and step up and do the right thing too. When we both start pulling at each other and picking at each other, and putting one another on the defensive, that’s when you get into a downward cycle that gets uglier and uglier, and your children deserve better than that. There’s nothing more hurtful than attending a wedding or graduation where mom and dad can’t be in the same room at the same time for an hour or two; putting the children in that awkward situation of having to figure out what to do with two immature parents, who are divorced and never got over it. Our kids deserve better, and we can do that.
We can take the high road and remember that as role models we always have choices and options to show our children. That reminds me that there are many questions we can ask ourselves as parents, before, during and after the divorce process, that it’s very helpful for us.
Shawn: That’s a great segue. So if we were to step back a little bit and are in an unhappy marriage trying to navigate and figure out – could be several years before they actually file for a divorce – what are the top few things that parents should think about before they embark on the divorce process?
Rosalind: The most important question you could ask yourself is, “Do I love my children more than I hate/dislike my ex? Do I love my children more than I hate my ex?” And if you answer that question and understand that the love for your children has to come first, then you’ll be making smarter, wiser, more responsible and more mature decisions every step of the way. If you’re letting your hatred or anxiety or fear of your former spouse get in the way of your decisions, then you’re going to go down the road that is not going to be in your child’s best interest. It’s putting your ego first, and that’s never wise for a parent.
Another very important question to ask yourself is, “Would I make the same parenting decisions on this particular issue if we were still married?” So in other words, as co-parents, life is going to progress and you’re going to have issues coming up; discipline issues, school issues, holiday issues, health issues. Children have things that happen and if you could stop and say, “Would we be doing this the same way if we were still married?” Or am I purposely choosing a different option, a different path because we’re divorced and I want to get back at my ex, then you’re going off course, and you’re not doing what’s best for your children. Consider keeping consistent with the parenting that you’ve always done before, it’s going to keep you on the path that’s best for your children, and that’s something that you and your co-parent can talk about. One other very important question to ask yourself is, “What will our children say about how we handled our divorce when they are grown adults?” It’s very hard when you have a two year old, five year old, or even a fifteen year old, to imagine that they’re going to be in their twenties, thirties, and forties (grown adults) and hold you accountable for what you did, the decisions you made, the actions you took, as a parent to them. But they will, and a lot of adult children of divorce are very angry at their parents. There are books filled with case studies about this.
If you ask yourself, what are my children going to say to me when they’re grown about how the decisions I made and how we handled this divorce, it’s going to keep you on the right track. It’s going to keep you making these sounder, saner, more responsible decisions that you want. Again, reminding yourself that your children watch everything you do and you are a role model for them. What kind of a role model do you want to be in showing them how you handle challenges at difficult times in your life? So questions like this are very valuable in helping you take the high road, which is what I always suggest.
Shawn: I think that’s great advice. Why don’t you just one more time tell us –you mentioned it briefly at the beginning –what your son ultimately said about your divorce?
Rosalind: My son wrote the forward to my book, How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce. I was very proud and honored. He was in his early twenties when he did that. Of course he was very upset about the divorce as all children are. What he discovered by having his mom and dad co-parent in a way where we were always there –for all the happy occasions in life, and his sports teams, and the special occasions and the graduations, and right up through his marriage –it made him feel secure. So he felt that the divorce actually wasn’t a negative in his life, and he saw both his mother and father remarry happily, with new spouses who were there by our sides at these happy occasions. We’re just an extended family. That was a positive for him. So he knows that you can get through difficult life challenges, and he was eleven at the time of the divorce. You can get through difficult life challenges if you have the support of parents who are really thinking about your children’s emotional and psychological needs and well being all the way through the process. Fortunately, today there’s so many resources to help parents. There’s no excuse for creating havoc in your children’s lives.
Shawn: That’s great. So for people who want to learn more about the resources that you provide, and to get some further information, what’s the best way to reach you?
Rosalind: You can find me at childcentereddivorce.com that’s centered with an “ed” at the end. Childcentereddivorce.com. There I have a free E-book for all of your listeners on post divorce parenting and success strategies for getting it right. If you just enter your email address, you can instantly download the free E-book and it’s filled with advice and tips, and information to help you avoid the pitfalls and make wiser decisions. I also have a number of courses and programs that are all digital. One is an audio co-parenting with a workbook. You can listen to the audio programs, and then use the workbook, and get guided step by step through effective co-parenting.
As another alternative I have a print book which again is an E-book that can be downloaded and takes you step by step through co-parenting strategies, tips, communication skills, and the effects of divorce of children of different ages, so people can understand all the dynamics that they are facing, and move through divorce in the most positive possible way for your family. Remember that your children will thank you in the end.
We also have lots of other resources at childcentereddivorce.com. There’s tons of articles, advice, blogs, audio interviews with experts around the world, and tips and resources so everything you need can be found at that one place, and that will make life so much easier for you before, during, and long after the divorce. And, just to let you know, I am available for telephone or Skype coaching anywhere around the world. For personal one on one consulting and help with specific issues if it’s related to the divorce and parenting equation then I can do the coaching and help you create what I call a child centered divorce.
Shawn: That’s excellent. Rosalind, thank you so much for coming on the show. We’ll be sure to include links to all of your various resources in the show notes and on our website.
Rosalind: Thank you so much Shawn, I really appreciate that.