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Episode 50 - How to Tell Your Kids You Are Getting a Divorce with Dr. Drutman

Episode 50 - How to Tell Your Kids You Are Getting a Divorce with Dr. Drutman Image

11/20/2018 8:58 am

In order to help parents break the news of divorce to their children, we brought on air Dr. Howard Drutman, a licensed clinical psychologist and the author of Divorce: The Art of Screwing Up Your Children. Based on his decades of experience and insight into how children process the news of divorce, he shares invaluable insight into how children process the news of divorce. He walks us through the do's and don'ts of breaking the news to your children.

Transcript

Todd:                                    So if you've been listening to the last few shows, you've probably caught onto a theme. We had a show that talked about what to do if you've hit that last option, you've tried everything to save your marriage but divorce seems inevitable. The decision has been made to move forward with the divorce and focuses now on the best practices to get that process started.

Todd:                                    We discussed six things to focus on during that process to help minimize the emotional and financial pain a divorce can cause. Then we had a show to discuss the dos and don'ts of sitting down to discuss divorce with your spouse. We discussed some best practices when having this conversation, as well as, going over several, again, dos and don'ts that can impact the tone and direction of the divorce process.

Todd:                                    Well, now we're going to talk about something that, although I struggle to say it, it is the most important of the three. I think they're all equally important, but it is something we really feel is extremely important. It is, the next logical step would be the progression in how to discuss the divorce with children, for those cases that involve children, because the way you approach this not only can effect the divorce process, it can have severe impact on children, and we want to avoid that at all costs. So that's going to be the topic of today's show.

Leh:                                       Absolutely, Todd. We want to make sure that we minimize that impact that it's going to have on the children. We know it's going to be impactful, we want to minimize it. Welcome everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on News Radio 106.7. Here you will learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis and from time to time, even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to learn more about us you can always call or visit us online at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com.

Leh:                                       Now Todd, I can only imagine that breaking the news about a divorce to your children is about, it's about the only thing worse than breaking it to your spouse, at least in most situations that I could think of. But of course we are not the most educated on this subject, and as lawyers we deal with the legal, practical aspects of a divorce, but we don't necessarily deal with the psychological aspects. I mean we do, but that's not what we've been trained in. So as usual, we decided to bring an expert on this issue to help our listeners navigate this emotionally challenging subject. And with us today is Dr. Howard Drutman.

Leh:                                       Dr. Drutman is a psychologist who specializes in clinical psychology and forensic psychology in family law cases. He regularly conducts child custody, parent fitness, drug and alcohol, and psychological evaluations. He frequently testifies on issues relating to the best interest of the children in family law cases, and he also provides psychotherapy, co-parenting counseling, parenting coordination, parenting plan development. He often consults with family law lawyers, and he's, gosh, I'm getting tired just saying all the things he does. He's also the author of a book called Divorce: The Art of Screwing Up Your Children. Hey Dr. Drutman, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Dr. Drutman:                      Thank you for having me.

Leh:                                       Hey, what's the best way for people to find you online? 'Cause I had a brain fart and I couldn't remember your web address.

Dr. Drutman:                      You can find my contact information on the website, AtlantaBehavioralConsultants.com.

Leh:                                       Great. All right. Well, Dr. Drutman, thank you again for coming on the show. This is such a sensitive subject, and I couldn't think of anybody better to have you come on and talk about it because, I mean, you deal with the kids all the time when you do these custody evaluations, and you talk to them and, I mean you wrote a book on this subject and how divorce and that process can really impact the children.

Leh:                                       So let's start off with, if you don't mind, unless you want to do something different, do you mind starting off with what you shouldn't do when you sit down and have a conversation with the ... You know what, maybe I should ask this question first. Is it a good idea for the parents to sit down and have a conversation with the children about a divorce before the divorce begins?

Dr. Drutman:                      If at all possible, it is much better for both parents to be present during the conversation when they inform the children about their decision to divorce.

Leh:                                       Oh, awesome. So they should sit down together and have this conversation together. Good.

Dr. Drutman:                      Yeah, it's essentially a family discussion. In reality, it's only going to be probably a 15, 20 minute discussion, and for a number of reasons. One is the amount of information that kids can take in and the fact that it's somewhat shocking information for the kids, shorter is better.

Leh:                                       Ah, okay.

Todd:                                    And just to build on that, if parents feel that they are uncomfortable, or unable to have that conversation with the kids without some mediator, some assistance, therapeutic assistance, is it also possible or a good idea to incorporate the assistance of a therapist or a psychologist or someone that can help with that conversation?

Dr. Drutman:                      Absolutely. There are various times that a mental health professional, for example, will be brought in to assist the parent in having the conversation. Especially if parents aren't confidant about what they want to say, or they're afraid of how to deal with the reaction of the children.

Leh:                                       But when we say they're not confident what to say, maybe we should start off with things that they should definitely not do, 'cause that's probably something that's a little bit easier to remember, the things they shouldn't do, than what they should do.

Dr. Drutman:                      Sure. I mean the major thing that parents should never do is blame the other parent. So we want the children to know that there's an adult decision that's being made, and it's not the time, during that discussion or after, for one parent to blame the other parent for all that's gone wrong. So that's one thing that's really important. And along with that is disparaging the other parent, saying lots of bad things about the parent. Because, you've got to remember, children develop part of their identity from incorporating qualities of both parents. So when you're critiquing or criticizing the other parent, you're also critiquing or criticizing a part of that child's personality.

Leh:                                       So when they sit down to have that conversation, they shouldn't say, "Well, your mother has decided she wants a divorce." That wouldn't be a good idea.

Dr. Drutman:                      Right.

Todd:                                    Or, "Dad met a really nice flight attendant."

Dr. Drutman:                      Right. Those things, the children don't need to know those kinds of details.

Todd:                                    Right, right. And again, it doesn't mean that the parents don't have those strong feelings. All we're talking about is, basically, it's need to know. Do the children need to know all the gory details of why a divorce is gonna happen? The answer I'm hearing is no. You're trying to break this traumatic news to the kids, and they don't need to know all of those details.

Dr. Drutman:                      Correct, and one of the things I often tell parents, especially if I'm preparing them for that type of discussion, is there are things if you're happily married that you don't tell your children. You don't tell your children details, for example, of your sex life, so why would you ever do that in the context of divorce?

Todd:                                    I think now, I can't even let my kids listen to this show, because I don't want them thinking about sex life at all. No, but absolutely. There are things, you're right, that kids don't need to know, and we see it all the time, right? "Well, my children need to know. They need to understand," and therapeutically speaking, no they don't. As a matter of fact, it'll probably cause more harm than good by telling them all those details.

Dr. Drutman:                      Yeah, that's exactly right, but frequently, the parents who will tell the children that will often couch it as they're doing the morally correct thing by informing the children, and very often have no awareness of how damaging that is to the child.

Todd:                                    And I'm gonna push back a little bit. Sometimes, I think that there is a level of awareness, that it is more purposeful than, you know, I agree, sometimes people probably aren't thinking about it in those terms, but we've also seen those situations where-

Leh:                                       You mean the person who's telling the kids, "It's her fault."

Todd:                                    That's right. It's purposeful. They need to know.

Leh:                                       It's a revenge thing.

Todd:                                    They actually know it's gonna have a reaction or cause a reaction, and that's where sometimes, our work becomes very difficult, and I'm sure yours as well. Controlling people and controlling that anger and emotion and not letting it bleed over and affect the kids.

Dr. Drutman:                      Correct, and of course, a lot of adults have difficulty regulating their own emotions, and often, it leads them to say very inappropriate things.

Leh:                                       So Dr. Drutman, what is something else that the parents should not do?

Dr. Drutman:                      You don't wanna do anything that's going to restrict the children from being with the other parent, from having access to the other parent. I mean, except for rare occasions when you have domestic violence or severe impairment of a parent, but other than that, you want to have a free flow for the children to have access to both parents.

Leh:                                       What else is there? I know you've got a whole list.

Dr. Drutman:                      Sometimes, parents will lean on their children for emotional support. That's something that you don't wanna do. As a parent, you wanna make sure that you're getting whatever counseling, or talking to your friends, or talking to your clergy person, to get support, not going to your children for that type of support.

Todd:                                    Because it ignores the fact that the children undoubtedly need support as well, and if you're using your children as your crutch, then the children aren't getting the support and the help that they need during that traumatic time.

Dr. Drutman:                      Right, and it also switches the roles, and the child becomes what's called parentified, and they take on the adult responsibilities, which we don't want them to take on.

Leh:                                       And that could actually create a situation where the one child gets angry with the other parent.

Dr. Drutman:                      Correct.

Leh:                                       And that's another thing that you don't want the children to do.

Dr. Drutman:                      Right. Right. Become angry and eventually estranged from a parent.

Leh:                                       Well, another thing we don't want people to do is miss what's coming up next, because we've got some great information that people need to hear when it comes to talking to their children.

Leh:                                       Todd, I'm so glad we've gotten to get to this subject today, because I can't believe we didn't think about it before. It's all your fault.

Todd:                                    No, I thought about it.

Leh:                                       It is your fault.

Todd:                                    I think about this all the time, I don't know where you were.

Leh:                                       Well, you know, one of the troubles we see is parents not knowing how to communicate what's going on with the divorce process, or even sitting down for the very first time with their children to talk about a divorce, and to help our listeners that may be going through a divorce, or if they know someone who's going through a divorce to share this information with them. We brought on the show Dr. Howard Drutman, and probably before that, if you've just started listening, my name is Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on News Radio 106.7. If you wanna learn more about us, you can always call or visit us online at AtlantaDicorceTeam.com.

Leh:                                       Now, I know we kinda ran out of time on the last segment, Dr. Drutman, and I think you had two more points you wanted to make real quickly about what you should not do when it comes to your children and the divorce.

Dr. Drutman:                      Well, one of the most important things is you wanna restrict your children from the conflict, from experiencing the conflict between you and your spouse. So the major thing that affects children, or negatively affects children post divorce is high conflict between parents. So if you can control the conflict, that's gonna be very helpful to your children. It's the number one thing that screws up children post divorce is conflict.

Leh:                                       You know, I would think, following up on what you said, that probably if you've got a situation where you know your spouse, and this is just being aware, my spouse and I don't get along, but if you, sitting down with the children together I think shows that there's a unity there, and they're not seeing the conflict. You may be having the conflict, but not seeing it. I would think that meeting with someone such as yourself or a similar counselor that's trained in this area would help them at least come up with a common message to give to the children, even if they have to write it out.

Dr. Drutman:                      Yeah, and a lot of times when I'm working with parents and preparing them to have that discussion, we talk about a divorce story, which is what exactly are you gonna tell the children. But it's really important that we're not giving the children details that are not appropriate for the children. We wanna let them know that it's an adult decision that's been made.

Leh:                                       Okay. So on the best practices, one I'm hearing is plan out your divorce story.

Dr. Drutman:                      Yes, absolutely. So you both know what the talking points are that you're gonna have with your discussion with your children.

Leh:                                       And I take it from what you said earlier that most conversations are about 15 minutes, at least the first one, so keep that story short.

Dr. Drutman:                      Correct, correct. Oftentimes, parents over explain things, and the reality is if your children are over probably seven, eight years old, chances are they already have a good idea that the divorce is coming. Now, they may be shocked at finally getting and hearing the word, and that decision by the parents has been made, but they're very rarely surprised. Children have big ears, and they hear what's going on around the house, and they hear conflicts and fights and fragments of phone conversations, and very rarely are they surprised.

Leh:                                       Okay, okay. So all right, what is another best practice that parents should keep in mind when it comes to telling the children?

Dr. Drutman:                      First of all, it's gonna be a tough thing for the parents. If the parent cries or has emotion during it, that's okay.

Leh:                                       Oh, okay.

Dr. Drutman:                      And sometimes, it's only one parent who's maybe crying during that. Obviously, you don't wanna be, you know, absolutely hysterically crying. You wanna try to maintain enough of your own emotion, but if you're showing emotion, crying, that's not a bad thing for children to see.

Dr. Drutman:                      You wanna make sure that the children know that your decision to divorce is not their fault. Often, children will assume it's their fault, and so it's really important that parents make it crystal clear to kids that the decision was an adult decision that had absolutely nothing to do with the children, with their behavior, with how they're performing in school, or any other thing, 'cause kids will assume that those things have contributed to stressing out their parents, and leading to a divorce.

Leh:                                       So oh, so I'm hearing, let's say Johnny's been getting bad grades in school, or has been having issues, or maybe one of the children has ADHD. It's important to specifically point out that issue that has been sort of sore spot between the parents and the child, and say, "I just wanna let you know this has nothing to do with this particular situation, or your behavior in school." Tell me if I'm mishearing it, but to specifically say, "I wanna let you know that what's going on here has nothing to do with our divorce."

Dr. Drutman:                      Correct, yeah, and just be very, very clear about that.

Leh:                                       Well again, you're dealing with children who are gonna assume, so you need to make sure that they understand that yes, there's been arguing, yes, there have been stresses, and maybe the children were part of the source of that stress, but still, this is a relationship between mom and dad, and it just didn't work, and it has nothing to do with any of the things that you did or did not do.

Dr. Drutman:                      Correct, and you wanna send the message to them that regardless of whether the parents are together or apart, you're still a family, and you will still be their parents. So you wanna send a message that that parental unit is still intact, that you still are going to be involved in their lives, and you're gonna be involved in their lives as a couple in the sense that you're going to discuss things with each other and you're gonna share information so that the kids know that you're talking about them, that you're working together. It gives children a real sense of security, and a lot of children, even years later after divorce, are still generally happy when their parents will actually have conversations with each other about them.

Leh:                                       Oh, okay.

Dr. Drutman:                      'Cause again, it helps them feel like they're cared for by the parental unit.

Leh:                                       That's a good point, I didn't even think about that, letting them know, "Hey, we're still a family even though we're not husband and wife anymore, we're still a family, and we may be living in two separate households, but we're still one family unit."

Dr. Drutman:                      Correct, and I often encourage parents when they're talking to their child at their own home to be able to say, "Well, I talked to your mom today," or, "I talked to your dad today, and we both agreed that," and then whatever you agreed to, so that the child, again, gets that idea that, you know, you're working as a team.

Leh:                                       That's awesome. That's a good point. One point I wanna make is, I think Dr. Drutman's a pretty tough cookie. He came here even though he's fighting a case of bronchitis, so I am so-

Todd:                                    Every other comment, I'm watching you battle back a cough.

Dr. Drutman:                      It's tough.

Leh:                                       So I wanna say thanks for toughing it out and coming on the show.

Dr. Drutman:                      Yeah, thank you.

Leh:                                       I really appreciate it, 'cause I can only mention the listeners appreciate it too, because man, this is not something that, it doesn't come natural. The natural thing is, "It's all our fault!"

Todd:                                    And we see that in what we do and with our clients, and we unfortunately see some of the bad behavior, where we can advise them all the time, "Control your behavior," especially when it relates to or pertains to the children, and sometimes, people just aren't able to. They're so caught up in the emotion, and you know, while we want cases to be resolved in a rapid manner, sometimes cases take months, and so we have had the ability to see the impact that divorce can have and the behavior. I'm not gonna say divorce. The behavior of parents can and does have on children who just aren't able to control that emotion, and sometimes it's pretty serious impact.

Dr. Drutman:                      Right, and a lot of times, the nature of litigation is also like high stakes poker. People will play their cards close to their chests, or they'll do things that might, you know, try to tip the scales in their favor. So the actual litigation process oftentimes works against the best interests of the children.

Leh:                                       Now, that's an excellent, I'm glad you brought that up. You give recommendations, expert recommendations to the court all the time for who should be primary physical custodian in a case, so if you're looking at a set of parents and one's playing it close to the chest, and the other one's doing everything they can to show unity in front of the children, and not blame the other parent, even though it may be their fault, and even trying to give, if the other parent started the divorce and is a cause of the divorce, like let's say it's adultery, but still gives that parent plenty of time with the children, how does that impact your evaluation?

Dr. Drutman:                      Well, what I'm looking at is what's the behavior at the time of the evaluation and going forward, because first of all, sometimes people have division of labor before the divorce, and then one parent who maybe isn't as involved steps up and becomes more involved, so I'm looking at where's the child gonna feel the safest, which parent is more likely to facilitate that child becoming independent, being educated, which parent is more likely to facilitate a relationship between the child and the other parent. It could be either parent, or we do some type of shared parenting.

Leh:                                       So oh. It's counterintuitive, 'cause most people think, "In order to win custody, I have to do X, Y, and Z." Some of the things, when it comes to the children, going back to what you said, it's counterintuitive. The litigation process makes pl do things that they think helps them in a case, but in reality, actually hurts them and the kids. Hey, you know what? You don't wanna get hurt in your situation, so stay tuned because we're gonna continue to talk about best practices.

Leh:                                       Welcome back, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orson. Todd and I are partners of the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on News Radio 106.7. If you wanna learn more about us, you could always call or visit us online at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com, but if you've been listening the last few segments, you don't wanna listen to us, you wanna listen to Dr. Drutman, because he is talking about how do you sit down and have a conversation with your children if that unfortunate situation has come upon you and you're about to get a divorce. What are the dos and don'ts when it comes to breaking the news to the children so that we help minimize the trauma that they go through. We've talked about some other steps, but is there, when it comes to telling the kids, should you be thinking about when you tell them? Is there a timing issue here?

Dr. Drutman:                      Absolutely. You wanna tell them at a time where they're gonna have some time to digest the information, so telling them before they have to run off to an activity, a baseball game, to school, is not wise. Preferably, you would wanna do it perhaps on, for example, a weekend, if there was nothing planned for that weekend, to give the child at least a day to just kind of digest at least initially what's going on. That's really important.

Dr. Drutman:                      We talked about telling 'em together, and keeping it simple, and you wanna let the children know that you're always gonna be there. That's critical for these children to know. The children want to know how the divorce is gonna affect their life, and that's what they really care about, and that's appropriate for their age, for all children. That's what they're concerned about, especially preadolescence and adolescence, so you wanna focus on that.

Dr. Drutman:                      Now, not always when you tell the children do you know exactly what's going to happen. You may not know where you're going to live. Are you gonna stay in the house, are you gonna have to move, are you gonna, you know, be in an apartment or a house, or what setting you're gonna be in, or are they gonna have to change schools. But those are real concerns that children have and they're gonna bring up, so you wanna reassure them that you're going to try to minimize chaos in their life. If you know certain things, then you let them know.

Leh:                                       So it's okay to let 'em know.

Dr. Drutman:                      Let them know. If you know, "Okay, we're keeping this home, and we've decided we want you kids to stay in the same school," or, "We want you to be in the same school even if we have to move to a different home," that's fine.

Leh:                                       Okay.

Dr. Drutman:                      Somethings, you don't know, and you just have to say to the kids, "We don't know. We don't know right now, but as soon as we know, we're going to let you know." So then they have the idea that they're gonna be informed.

Leh:                                       Is it helpful to tell 'em that, "Hey, your mom and dad, we're working on this, we're gonna figure it out, and we're doing our best to come up with something that makes it so it makes this difficult situation at least a win win to the extent it can be being a divorce."

Dr. Drutman:                      Yeah, I mean, you wanna let the kids know that you're gonna try to disrupt their life as least as possible. That's reassuring for kids. Let 'em know that you're gonna get through this. The whole family is gonna get through this.

Leh:                                       That's an excellent point you said earlier. I'm gonna go back a little bit, when you said bring it up at a time where they can process it, because you had said earlier that a lot of the times, these first conversations are only 15 minutes, because they're kind of in a shock phase. If the child gets upset, what should you do about the child?

Dr. Drutman:                      Well, you'll never know how the child's gonna react. Oftentimes, when I talk to parents and they let me know what actually happened, it often doesn't go as predicted. They may think the one child's going to cry, and that child storms off and slams their door, and is mad. Another child that they didn't think would react suddenly was crying. Children will have a lot of different reactions. They could be mad, they could be worried, they could be crying.

Todd:                                    Maybe they saw it coming. There are kids where, I'm assuming, are probably like, "I don't know why this didn't happen six months ago."

Dr. Drutman:                      Yeah, absolutely. There's been lots of times that kids have said, "Okay, this isn't surprising." So you don't know exactly how they're gonna react. The key is let the child react, and give the child some space if the child wants some space. If the child goes storming off to their room, leave 'em there for a little while. Let them kind of process what's going on. Don't be just intruding like you want to make them feel better, because most of the time, you want them to feel better so that you'll feel better.

Leh:                                       That's good, that's good advice.

Todd:                                    And to your point, sometimes, I'm assuming, that the reaction might be delayed. So that shock might result in them just taking the information, going to their room, and six hours later, you hear crying, or yelling, or slamming doors.

Dr. Drutman:                      Correct, and children, especially younger children, deal with bad news very differently than adolescents or adults. It's very common with young children. They'll wanna play and go on with their normal activities, because by playing, that's how they get into a routine and a predictable experience for them, and it helps them feel better. So you may see the kids almost act as if nothing went on, especially if they're younger.

Dr. Drutman:                      The bottom line is they're going to react. Sometimes, they may not talk about it, and then one night you're putting 'em to bed and just before you close the light, they say, "Mom," or, "Dad," and they ask you a question. Again, answer the question simply, and then go on. You don't need to then open up a big long discussion with them.

Dr. Drutman:                      Kids have all kinds of unusual questions and things that they worry about. I had a case where one time, the child was under the understanding that he was gonna have to change his last name, and it was really bothering him, and of course, he didn't have to change his last name, but it was on his mind, and for some reason, it was bothering him, and after a while, he brought it up, and he brought it up to one of his parents, and he said, you know, "I don't want to change my last name," and they were dumbfounded, 'cause they couldn't believe this child was actually worried about something like that, that wasn't going to happen. But the child was worried about it. So again, just listening to the children over time, you'll see their adjustment, and you'll see them working through this.

Leh:                                       Okay. So the kids usually adjust. Now, you said that a lot of times, they gotta process, so let's say they don't think of the questions right away, they come back and now, dad's gone off to work and mom's at home with the kids, or something along those lines, and the children start asking one of the parents, but they're not both present, certain questions. Is it okay for that parent to answer those questions?

Dr. Drutman:                      Yes, as long as, again, you're not blaming the other parent, and you know, a lot of times, you may have to say, "Look, those are adult issues that your father and I," or, "your mother and I, we're working on it," or, "we're discussing."

Leh:                                       Something just popped in my head. I think that's the right answer. The wrong answer is to say, "Well, Jane, I would like to do that for you, but I'm not sure your dad would want it that way." Don't let 'em know your personal feelings about the question. I can tell you we've actually seen that before.

Todd:                                    We've seen that more times than we can count.

Dr. Drutman:                      Absolutely.

Leh:                                       Or one parent will tell the children, "Well, this is the way I think it's gonna be," and then they go to mediation and something completely different works out, and then mom or dad comes home, whoever it was, and shows the children, well, first off, they shouldn't show 'em a parenting plan, but says, "Oh, well here's the parenting plan," and they're like, "You told me it was gonna be something different," and all of a sudden, even though the parent doesn't tell the child why it came to that resolution in mediation, that child's still angry at the other parent.

Dr. Drutman:                      Yeah, correct, absolutely.

Leh:                                       So I guess unless you've come to an agreement, the answer needs to be, "Your dad and I," or, "Your mom and I are working on the answer to that question."

Dr. Drutman:                      Correct, correct. Now, after you tell the kids, and especially at the beginning, you may wanna tell the children's schoolteacher or teachers, and give 'em a heads up. Nowadays, parents regularly communicate with teachers via email and let 'em know, "Hey, this is what's going on." In that way, the teacher kind of gives a little extra eye on the child and can report back if they're seeing any unusual behavior, drop in school performance, or increase in sadness or anger that the child's displaying at school.

Leh:                                       That's a good tip right there. I guess it would have to take some parents that don't have too much ego and put their children ahead of them, because sometimes, parents don't wanna tell the teachers 'cause they may be ashamed about the divorce or embarrassed about it. But if you really care about your kids, you should do that, 'cause the teachers, they see it all the time. They see the people going through a divorce, so it allows them to keep an extra eye out.

Dr. Drutman:                      Right. A lot of times, a contested divorce can drag on and on and on, but really, kids, once parents are in two different homes, kids begin to see that as kind of they're divorced. Kids don't measure divorce by some legal process with the judge signing off on paperwork. They're looking at it as, "Oh, my parents are in two separate homes and I'm spending time with each parent."

Leh:                                       Wow, okay.

Todd:                                    They shouldn't know about the paperwork, they shouldn't know about the agreement, the terms of the agreement. All they need to know is my parents aren't together anymore.

Leh:                                       And here's the calendar when I'm gonna be here or there. Hey, up next, you don't wanna miss, we're gonna get into some things that you need to be looking out for in case the children aren't adjusting to the divorce or took your conversation the wrong way.

Leh:                                       You know Todd, one of the things I love about doing this radio show is that a lot of times in doing this show, I learn, even though I've been doing this for 20 years, I feel like I know a lot of information, I still learn stuff in almost every show.

Todd:                                    Yeah, I am absolutely amazed at how little you know. No, I'm joking. That came out wrong. That came out wrong. No, you're right, and you know, a topic like this, it's amazing. As long as you and I have been practicing family law, how little time is really spent at the front end, planning out how this kind of information is going to be given to children. How little thought is given to the actual impact this information will have on children. That's why I'm, to use your words, I'm so excited about this show.

Leh:                                       Hey everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston, if you're just tuning in. We're partners at the law firm of Meriwether & Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether & Tharp Radio on News Radio 106.7. If you wanna learn more about us, you can always call or visit us online at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com. With is in the studio today is Dr. Howard Drutman, and he's been giving us this whole show, a bunch of tips to think about when it comes to breaking the news to the kids, as well as things not to do during this process. He's also sprinkling this information with things that you shouldn't be doing throughout the course of the case as well when it comes to the kids.

Leh:                                       We left off and we were getting into some, we've actually covered a lot of great tips, but there was something I really wanted to ask you. Let's say mom and dad have had that joint conversation with the kids, they've broken it to 'em, it seemed to have gone well, and you know, mom goes off to the grocery store, and then the child comes to the dad and says, and I could flip this, I'm not trying to pick on one parent or another, this is just a hypothetical. Then the child comes to the dad and says, "Dad, I saw mom with this guy the other day and she gave him a hug and it lasted a long time. Did she cheat on you?" How does dad handle that question?

Dr. Drutman:                      I think it's important, certainly it depends on the age of the child, but it's important to say, "Look, there are many reasons that we're divorcing, and it's an adult decision. There are things that happen in a relationship that have led us to the point where we are going to get divorced. But we're not gonna talk about some of the specifics that have gone on."

Dr. Drutman:                      Now, there are times that, for example, if one parent has a severe substance abuse problem, alcohol problem, it's not a family secret, it's out in the open, child may say, "Is this caused by mom's alcohol abuse?" or, "Dad's alcohol abuse or drug abuse?" It's okay to say "Look, that's part of what's going on, and what we want now going forward is that we all get healthy, and we're all healthy, and we're good parents to you guys going forward."

Leh:                                       Wow, that's a great answer.

Dr. Drutman:                      So again, we're always refocusing, kind of how politicians, no matter what you ask 'em, you get back to those talking points. That's what you wanna do.

Leh:                                       So parents need to have talking points. What I was thinking about was you might make the child feel stupid if you don't acknowledge something that's just painfully obvious, and I think also, if you minimize, and I'm only talking about this very specific situation of some form of drug abuse or alcohol abuse that can actually be a hazard or dangerous to the children, you don't wanna over minimize it, because then they may not think it's important and get in a car with a parent that's drinking and driving.

Dr. Drutman:                      Correct.

Todd:                                    And also, I have to assume, especially when dealing with older children, simply shutting them down, saying, "That's not your business, it's none of your concern," something like that. Children, I mean, I think of my kids who are inquisitive, and if they ask those questions, saying, "No, I'm not telling you," it's not gonna end there, and I guess there's a risk of it festering and creating more stress on the children that could then show itself later on.

Dr. Drutman:                      Correct, and it's okay to acknowledge, for example, what they've seen or what they know, but it's another to use that to then slam the other parent.

Todd:                                    Right.

Leh:                                       Big, big difference.

Dr. Drutman:                      You don't wanna do that.

Leh:                                       Well, you know, just going back to what you said, Todd, things where the children are not taking something well, or while the parents may have done the best possible job they could have as far as delivering the information, the kids didn't take it so well. Are there signs that parents should be looking out for when it comes to their children, red flags, I should say, where they should go, "Oh, wait a minute, our kids aren't taking this very well"?

Dr. Drutman:                      Sure. Anywhere from four to eight weeks or so is gonna be a tumultuous time for all of the family when the family discusses divorce. But usually by six, eight weeks, people begin to kinda calm down. So if you're seeing the children with increased anger, for example, that's just getting worse or persisting, and it's out of character for the child, that's a concern. If you see persistent sadness and the child moping around, isolating themselves, if they're cutting off from being around friends or their activities, that's big red flag.

Leh:                                       So we're talking about after that six week period.

Dr. Drutman:                      Yes. Yeah, the first few weeks, they may pull back a little from some activities or some friends, because they're kind of processing what's going on.

Leh:                                       Don't overreact to that.

Dr. Drutman:                      Correct. That's more of a crisis period. But usually by six to eight weeks, people begin to kinda pull it together a little bit, including children. So you wanna look at their school performance. You have a history of looking at their school performance, you know how your child performs in school, and if you're seeing it suddenly drop off, and significantly drop off, that's a big indicator if there's a problem going on, 'cause it's out of character for the child. The nice part about it is it's actually objective data. You can actually see it going on.

Dr. Drutman:                      If they're cutting off socially from friends, that's a real problem, or they're cutting off from their favorite activities, their hobbies, their sports, extra curricula activities, and where they were very interested in it before, suddenly there's no interest, and they're kind of apathetic about it. That's a problem. That's a definite problem. If a child starts giving away things, especially prized possessions, that's a very serious problem.

Leh:                                       Like favorite toys and that sort of thing.

Dr. Drutman:                      Yeah. That's very serious situation. So if you're seeing these types of behaviors, you need to be concerned, and you need to be getting your child in at least to talking, even if it's just a couple of meetings with a mental health professional, just to get a sense of what's going on with your child. To see is your child really depressed now, or overanxious, or worried. Are they experiencing some things that you don't know, that you don't know as a parent the extent that the child is experiencing whatever, worry, confusion, sadness? Again, we don't know what that feeling is or what they're experiencing inside, but a mental health professional can help you with that. So I would be getting that child in, but not every child needs that. A small percentage of kids have problems ongoing, and they do need to talk to somebody.

Todd:                                    I just wanna be clear and make sure that I'm clear on this. It doesn't need to get to a critical point, right? We're not talking about just kids where the depression is so severe that you finally get to a point where it's like, "Oh my gosh, we need to get help," or so angry and lashing out at everybody. It could be mild, it could be something that, you know, outwardly, people other than the immediate family don't even notice it, but you're seeing it, and if you're seeing that they're struggling after this period of time, then it does make sense to get some help.

Dr. Drutman:                      Correct, and at least then, you get a professional's opinion of how significant a problem the child has, because there's times that I've seen a child and after meeting with the child once or twice, I've said to the parents, "Look, your kid's doing okay."

Leh:                                       They were just overly worried.

Dr. Drutman:                      Yeah, "And they'll be okay, just leave them and you know."

Todd:                                    They just need some extra time to process it.

Dr. Drutman:                      Exactly, exactly, and it's not necessarily a serious problem. And then there's other times that it is a serious problem.

Leh:                                       Well, you know what's serious? We have run out of time unfortunately.

Dr. Drutman:                      That's a problem.

Leh:                                       I know, it's a real problem. Hey, Dr. Drutman, before you go, first off, thanks again for coming on this show and sharing this great information.

Dr. Drutman:                      It was my pleasure, thanks for having me.

Leh:                                       And can you give our listeners the best place for them to find you if they need help with any sort of family law situation?

Dr. Drutman:                      The best way to contact me is through the website, which is AtlantaBehavioralConsultants.com, AtlantaBehavioralConsultants.com. From there, you'll have my phone number and my email address.

Leh:                                       Great. Now, you've got a great book out. What's the best way for them to order that book?

Dr. Drutman:                      The best way is Amazon.com, and it's Divorce: The Art of Screwing Up Your Children.

Leh:                                       I can tell you, that book is an easy read, it's funny, he uses satire to really explain things that you should not be doing in a divorce case, and Todd and I both read it and we really enjoyed it. Thanks so much for listening. You can read more about us at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com. If you wanna send us any questions, send 'em to [email protected]

Speaker 4:                           This audio program does not establish an attorney client relationship with Meriwether & Tharp.