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Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: Child Development

Ron Supancic asked Attorney Leslie Ellen Shear what steps parents can take to insure that their children are not harmed by the divorce and she answered,”They can take a deep breath to begin with.”

In part two of this four-part series, Attorney Shear describes beautifully the emotional process a couple goes through while divorcing, what their children go through, and what parents can do to help their children get through it.

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Missed Part 1? Here it is:

Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: “A” Stood for Alternative

Don’t miss another episode! Subscribe to Ron and Robert on Divorce on iTunes and tune in next week for Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: Custody Matters.

Learn more about Leslie Ellen Shear at

Dr. Kathy Memel on Divorce (Part 4 of 4)

Dr. Kathy Memel is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a divorce, custody, and family mediator. In the fourth and final segment of this live recording from a recent Second Saturday Workshop, Dr. Memel discusses how children manage the complicated web of emotions they feel during a divorce, how parents can help them better manage their feelings, and what happens if they don’t.

For more information about Dr. Kathy Memel, visit her website at

Missed Parts 1, 2, or 3? Click HERE for Part 1, click HERE for Part 2, click HERE for Part 3.

Like what you heard? Subscribe to Ron and Robert on Divorce on iTunes.

Thanksgiving and Ex-In-Laws

Freedom from Want, 1943, Norman Rockwell

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and for the newly separated or divorced person, this could be cause for real anxiety. It’s likely that the holiday traditions you’re used to will change, and change can feel complicated, even frightening. Below is an excerpt from an article from, a website that helps divorcing people deal with divorce like any other big change in life – as an opportunity for growth and renewal. The article, written by Karen Salmansohn, provides important tips for the newly single person who may wish to spend the holiday with his/her ex-in-laws, for starting new holiday traditions, and for helping children manage their expectations so they can better adapt to their changing family during the holidays.

As we all know, Thanksgiving is a time for over-eating big piles of food with one’s family. But what we don’t all know is: What the heck is a “family” post-divorce?

For example: Does family include your ex-in-laws — if you still love them and miss them?

Admittedly, knowing who to over-eat turkey dinner with can be quite difficult to determine–especially if you’ve remained close friends with your ex-in-laws–and very especially if they’re known for making really yummy sweet-potato pie – the kind with that gooey marshmallows topping. I just love that!

But I digress.

The topic I wanna explore: What do you do around Thanksgiving time if you’re feeling like “family” might still include “your ex’s family” and you want to enjoy Turkey dinner with your ex-in-laws?

Read more…

Dr. Kathy Memel on Divorce (Part 3 of 4)

This is the third segment in a four part series featuring a live recording of Dr. Kathy Memel presenting at one of our recent Second Saturday Workshops. In this podcast Dr. Memel discusses why it’s important for divorcing parents to present a united front to their children, the best ways for the parent who’s moved out to stay in touch with their kids, and how to keep your child’s life as stable as possible even in the midst of a tumultuous divorce.

Dr. Memel is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a private practice in Beverly Hills. To learn more about Dr. Memel, visit her website at

Missed Parts 1 and 2 of Dr. Memel’s interview? Click HERE for Part 1, click HERE for Part 2.

Like what you heard? Subscribe to Ron and Robert on Divorce on iTunes.

How to help the kids survive the divorce

There is a lot we can do to help our children survive divorce. One of the single most determining factors as to whether or not a child will successfully survive divorce is how much their parents fight with each other after the breakup. If a parent wants to do one thing that will ensure their kids do well after their divorce, they should stop fighting.

Another contributing factor to the successful survival of divorce by children is the amount of steady contact they have with the non-resident parent. In addition, children are helped if they know and are assured by their parents that they thought through the decision to divorce thoroughly and at length. Parents need to be able to tell their children that the forthcoming divorce is not something that came about impulsively.

Parents need to go to their children and tell them how badly they feel about the decision to divorce. They need to offer whatever explanation they believe they have for the decision without placing blame on someone else. And they owe their children an apology for the breakup of the family. Even if you, the parent, knows the divorce is for the better, to the child it feels as if their entire world has broken in half. When you apologize to your child and empathize with their pain, you help them understand that the divorce is not their fault. Your honest apology releases them from intolerable guilt and a false sense of responsibility. They also find a positive role model in the thoughtful, considerate parent who is willing to take responsibility honestly, without compaining.

Read our Checklist for Divorcing Parents for more ideas on how to help your kids get through the divorce.

Themes of Experience, 2

Children feel pulled by love and loyalty during pitched battles between their parents. And parents regularly compete for their loyalty. Consequently, a step in one direction means risking the displeasure of the other parent as well as a betrayal of one’s inner loyalties. Some children bravely maintain their neutrality and suffer the sense of isolation from any source of parenting. Others find that so unbearable that they take sides, losing the affection of one parent for the sake of having at least the other.

Children of divorcing parents are also angry. Wallerstein and Kelly found that many children have temper tantrums and start hitting. Older children are more verbal about it. The anger is aimed at both parents. Its expression is given license by the shabby example of parents who exhibit loudly and clearly that direct expression of intense anger is no longer unacceptable in that family. And it is motivated by the children’s perception that their parents’ choice to divorce is a selfish act that failed to consider the children’s needs or wishes.

All of these emotions considered, the greatest danger faced by a child during the divorce of his or her parents is not the unhappiness he or she feels, or the measure in which he or she feels it. It is instead that the disruption of the family will inhibit the child’s steady development in life toward becoming a whole and mature person. This may happen either as a result of slowing the child down or speeding the child up. It cannot be attributed directly to or equated with unhappiness, however.

Unhappiness is a normal response to divorce. It should make you want to comfort your child, but it shouldn’t cause you alarm. True developmental impairment is reflected in depression and regressive behavior that endures over a significant span of time. Perhaps the children most vulnerable to impairment are those between the ages of three and six. Psychologists have learned that it is during this stage of life a person undergoes his or her most significant psychosexual development. The need for the nurturing presence of both parents for a child in that age bracket is so strong that the prolonged absence of either one of them can have devastating effects.

No matter how angry we are at our spouse or our ex, we’ve got to put our children first. What is best for the kids? What do the kids need? How can I make this easier on my children? These are the things we must ask ourselves when dealing with our own emotions. A divorce coach or other licensed mental health professional can help teach communication skills and provide other tools that will help divorcing parents maintain a relationship that is conducive to the well-being of the children.

The Effects of Anger on Children in Divorce

Photo by Hawk 1966 on Flickr

The most significant disruptions children have to face during a divorce stem from pervasive changes in their parents’ moods, attitudes, and behavior.  As the family crisis grows up the the point of separation, most children witness a removal of all the old restraints that once held their families together.  Bitter and explosive confrontations beteen Mom and Dad are common.

In divorce, anger is expressed over many issues; almost invariably one of these is money.  For example, when a child needs medical attention, money quickly becomes an avenue for venting anger.  Donna had a kidney infection.  Donna’s mother told the doctor to send the bill to Donna’s father because, as she read their temporary agreement, he had agreed to pay for such things.  But he refused to pay the bill.  News of this didn’t reach Donna’s mother until a few months later when she had to take Donna back to the doctor because the infection had recurred.  In order to get treatment for her daughter, she had to start paying off the previous bill in regular installments.  After that, she was not at liberty to take Donna to the doctor as often as she would have liked.  This is the sort of scenario I see replayed again and again in the divorces I handle.

The bell seems to clang for the fighters to enter the ring almost as often when it comes to visiting arrangments.  One mother hastily took her children to the movies one summer afternoon when Daddy didn’t arrive on time to pick them up.  He got there twenty minutes late to find the house empty.  He protested, but Mother replied icily that she was not going to permit him to disappoint the children by arriving late.  Traffic jams and the like were his tough luck.  She was so intent on punishing the father that she overlooked the children’s anxiety about their father not finding them at home.  It astonishes me, when I get the phone call Monday morning after the regular weekend confrontation, that no one seems concerned about how the children are feeling.

The most common expression of anger comes in the form of badmouthing the absent parent to the children.  When asked, children complain about this more than anything else.  Children find it particularly distressing to hear their parents labeled with the most alarming obscenities imaginable.  Often children are invited to join in this name-calling.  Some will do so eagerly, others will feel anxious, and some will be disgusted.  It’s not uncommon for a judge in a custody suit to place restraining orders on both parties, which forbid them from making any derogatory remarks about the other parent in the presence or hearing of the children.  Often, when parents are helped to recognize that verbally assaulting the children’s other parent is also an assault on the child’s own self-esteem, they stop doing it.

However, some parents are so implacable that nothing can dampen their rage.  When this is the case, the children really feel it.  Custody battles are commonplace, and childnapping is even attempted from time to time.  Battles around visitation are almost incessant.  Often, children are exposed to the unspoken threat that they will seriously jeopardize their relationship with one parent if they exhibit any loyalty toward the other.

I represented Lucy against Frank in a recent custody dispute involving their eleven- and thirteen-year-old daughters.  Each parent testified that the girls had expressed a preference for them over the other parent.  The judge ordered the courtroom cleared of all witnesses, including Frank and Lucy.  He ordered the record sealed and admonished counsel not to disclose the testimony of the girls to their parents.  I was astonished to hear both girls testify that they liked spending equal amounts of time with their mother and father.  They simply couldn’t bring themselve to tell the truth to either parent. They told them what they wanted to hear, and only added fuel to the fire that was consuming the resources that could have meant college for them later on.

When anger seems pointless to a person, it degenerates into depression  A depressed parent is usually tired.  The daily tasks of parenting — meal preparation, bathing, diaper changing, tying shoelaces, and the like — are unusaually depleting.  Consequently, they don’t get done as often or as well as was once the case.  This will leave a young child feeling abandoned and lonely.  Older children will feel that nobody cares for their needs.  If the parent’s depression gets to the point that the child hears threats of suicide, then we can add terror the list of emotions he or she is feeling.

What can you do to help your children through divorce?  For starters, tell your children what is going to happen: where everyone will live, where they will go to school, how they will be cared for.  Assure them that they will have access to and time with each parent.  Tell them that the purpose of the divorce is to try to make things better.  Tell them, in general but clear terms, why the divorce is happening, without hurling accusations at anyone.  Assure your children that it is not their fault.  You can let your child know that you are sad and that you regret the breakup of the family, and be sure to tell them that it is all right to love their other parent.  The best thing you can do for your children is to stop fighting.  If you can do nothing else for your children in the midst of your divorce, at least do this.  A fight requires at least two people; you can stop a fight all by yourself.

Just as you may need to seek help for yourself, seeking help for your children is also appropriate.  It is usually important to let their teachers know they are going through a stressful time; teachers can be of great help to your children and to you.  If you would like a list of referrals for therapists who work with children, email