Episode 84 - Latest Research on Co-Parenting with Diane Dierks
In this episode, Diane Dierks comes back on the show to discuss some resent research about co-parenting that she obtained from a conference she attended. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, an organization that brings together all professionals connected to the family court processes, put together the conference. If you want to help develop a healthy co-parenting relationship with your spouse, you will want to listen to this show. The quality of your co-parenting relationship will have a direct impact on the mental health and well being of your children.
Leh Meriwether: Hey before we get started Todd, I just want you to know if you just hear me groaning, it's nothing about what you said.
Todd Orston: I don't even know what to say about that. I can tell you right now if I start to hear you groaning, we're done for the day, I'm leaving.
Leh Meriwether: Oh I just moved.
Todd Orston: Oh you moved. Can you at least preface it with-
Leh Meriwether: I mean it wouldn't be as funny though.
Todd Orston: Well all right.
Leh Meriwether: I just moved and I'm in terrible pain, my lower back is killing me.
Todd Orston: All right well you're not getting a massage from me. I don't know how to help you, I have some Advil and that's about all I can do.
Leh Meriwether: That's all I wanted was the Advil. Hey 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 the new Talk 106.7 FM. Here you'll 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, AtlantaDivorceTeam.com. Well today we are very fortunate that we got someone with us, that's going to teach us, especially you Todd.
Todd Orston: I am always eager to learn so it works out, it's a win-win.
Leh Meriwether: Actually today we're going to learn a little bit more about co-parenting. With us today is Diane Dierks, she's an experienced counselor, co-parenting coordinator, co-parenting counselor, mediator, training. And she specializes in working with families in transition, she's been doing it for almost 20 years. She's an author of the books CoParent Toolbox and Solo Parenting: Raising Strong & Happy Families. She's also the executive director for Center For Navigating Family Change, she's been there since 2002 and which provides parent education and consulting services to parents that are going through a divorce or been through a divorce.
Leh Meriwether: And she also runs the parent seminars, divorcing parent seminars for two metro Atlanta counties, Gwinnett and Dekalb, which are done about six or seven times a month. She does all kinds of things but I could just keep going on and on about her but you can always read about her at DianeDierks.com. Is that the best place for them to find you?
Diane Dierks: That is the right place, thank you Leh and Todd.
Todd Orston: I don't think we can invite you back because I think we're done with the show, I mean I think we just ran out of time. Well let me make sure I spell it right, it's DianeDierks.com.
Diane Dierks: That's correct.
Leh Meriwether: Great so now Diane you've been on the show before and we really enjoyed having you. I learned something last time and as we always do learn something from you, but the cool thing is you've recently been to Washington, DC and attended Association of Family and Conciliatory. You knew I was going to mess that up, Conciliatory Courts.
Leh Meriwether: Gosh they need to change that name, conference and it is an organization you've been a part of for years. It's focused just on divorce and family law situations and getting people to get through that process with a lot less pain, for not only the parties but the children. And I understand that there was a lot of new research that they were presenting at this conference.
Diane Dierks: Yeah let me just say this particular organization, which the reason I like it is because it brings together judges, attornies like yourselves, therapists, anybody who works in the court system with families. Not just focusing on divorce but any time families are in the court system, that's what this organization focuses on.
Leh Meriwether: I mean [inaudible 00:03:54] I just love data, data is very ... Even though families aren't necessarily data but you can help families make the right decisions based on data from past decisions that other families have made and that's what I understand. They actually collect and they'll do longitudinal studies a lot of time, which is if you don't know what a longitudinal study is, it's something where you follow a group of people over the course of a significant amount of time.
Leh Meriwether: Often it's 20 plus years and then they say, "Okay families that did X, Y and Z, where are their children 20 years later?" And then they gather that evidence and present it. I find it fascinating because it helps us make better decisions.
Diane Dierks: What I probably learned from this conference was what I already knew. You sit through lots of conference workshops, lots of researchers, lots of statical data and then you come out of there saying, "Well actually that just simplified it for me." Which then I was able to take back to our classes and there's really two things that we try to teach co-parents in our classes and it was all confirmed for me that parents, co-parents need to stay out of conflict. We already knew that after 40 years of research we knew that.
Diane Dierks: And the second thing is kids need at least one parent who can be predictable, stable, consistent, dependable. Although I found a nuance to that this time now they've added warmth to that, so you can actually a flighty parent and not always stick to the schedule and not necessarily be as stable as we want you to be. But if you have a lot of warmth, kids need that too so that was one of the nuances. But if parents can focus on those two things then everything else they fight about is just a bunch of noise.
Leh Meriwether: We see that all the time Todd, just them fighting over the little things and missing the big picture.
Todd Orston: I would say almost across the board. I mean sometimes it takes a little while, parties go through a divorce and it sometimes it takes months after the divorce is finalized for everyone to just, for the dust to settle, but sometimes people can't settle.
Diane Dierks: I like that you said that. One of the things we learned that came out in a research study is that most people fight and have some rocky times and have difficulty in their co-parent relationship, the first two years following the separation or divorce. And then things start to level out for about 70 to 80% of co-parents, after that time period. We expect as professionals, when you guys get involved especially, those first two years are going to be pretty rocky.
Diane Dierks: They will probably do things that they probably won't do two years from now because they're scared. Because they don't know what's going to happen to the relationship with their kids because financially it's very difficult, but after that two year period things start settling out. What I don't like to see is four, five, six, ten years post divorce you still got all this anger, you still have parents saying negative things to the kids about each other.
Diane Dierks: Now we have a problem and that's where people like me come in and say, "Okay we got to fix this problem because the outcome for kids start to decline significantly after that two year period.
Todd Orston: And let's just be clear, a lot of damage can be done in two years. Six, seven, eight years obviously more damage can be done but part of what we're talking about is not, obviously we're not giving the green light to, "Hey listen, you've got a two year window, just act ridiculously."
Diane Dierks: No we're not saying that.
Todd Orston: Yeah but what we want to see and what I'm taking away from what you're saying is it is understood. The emotions are running high so for a period of time following a divorce or at least following the filing of a divorce, emotions are going to control to some degree but it's going to level out once people get comfortable with the fact that they've gone through a divorce.
Diane Dierks: Once they get a court order in place it gives them their marching orders and they actually follow it, they can start to let go of some of that fear because a lot of the anger is fear based.
Todd Orston: And also people move on with their lives, as opposed to being 100% focused on my relationship and my family breaking up. Now they've met other people and they're focused on their kids and their activities so they can move on. Now one of the things when we talked before you said that ... Let me take a step back. I've noticed a lot of trends with a lot more courts awarding 50/50 custody and it's in some areas and some counties.
Todd Orston: It may not necessarily in Georgia but I know in states like Florida [inaudible 00:08:32] we talked about that's become more the norm. But I understand there's some evidence that shows that that may not be the best solution in many situations.
Diane Dierks: It depends on a lot of variables, one of them is co-parent conflict. Parents who can't get along and then they have 50/50 custody, that means they've got to communicate a lot because I'm as equally responsible for the dentist appointments as you are. I'm as equally responsible for getting the uniform cleaned as you are and if they can't get along and they have to interact a lot, that conflict is ever present for the children.
Diane Dierks: That's a big factor in the 50/50 and I'm getting more and more business because the courts are awarding 50/50 and it's not working sometimes. And then they have to come to somebody like me to figure out how to make it work.
Leh Meriwether: The award of 50/50 has created more business for you [inaudible 00:09:25] reword this, because now they're actually forced to co-parent.
Diane Dierks: And some people can't, sometimes because they have high conflict personalities. Then I have to work with the other parent to know how to respond to that high conflict personality, that can get complicated.
Todd Orston: And it's similar to what you said earlier, that you went to the seminar and you really heard and learned things you already knew? I mean Leh, I would say that's not anything new to us. I mean there are some judges who won't do 50/50 arrangements, custody arrangements and those that will consider it, co-parenting is one of the primary pieces. If parties are at each other constantly, even if it's a judge who might lean in favor of a 50/50, probably isn't going to because they realize it's a recipe for disaster.
Diane Dierks: I wish that were the case. And we have some very savvy judges and then we have other judges who just won't do it for personal reasons and then other judges maybe don't realize that co-parenting is a huge piece of that 50/50 custody. We're asking our kids to go and forth between two homes equally and asking those parents to communicate probably more than other parents who have more traditional schedules. Which puts the kids right in the middle of constant conflict if the parents don't know how to do it well.
Todd Orston: Well I apologize because I think every judge that we practice in front of is incredible, for the record, on air. For the record.
Diane Dierks: [inaudible 00:10:58] judges are great.
Leh Meriwether: And I want to say for the record, up next we're going to talk about more things that you learned at the recent AFCC Conference. Welcome back 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 the new Talk 106.7 FM.
Leh Meriwether: If you want to learn more about us you can always call or visit us online, AtlantaDivorceTeam.com. And today we have a very special guest, Diane Dierks. She is a co-parenting coordinator master. She uses her martial arts skills to get parents to work along.
Diane Dierks: Wow. I never knew.
Leh Meriwether: And somehow she gets this order from the courts, that's how she can karate chop them and then ... Nevermind I'm just kidding.
Todd Orston: Totally for clarifying that.
Diane Dierks: Thank you.
Leh Meriwether: I'm totally kidding. No but Diane has come back from the Association of Family or Conciliatory Courts or and Conciliatory Courts.
Todd Orston: Conciliary?
Leh Meriwether: They've got to change the name.
Todd Orston: What?
Leh Meriwether: The AFCC Conference.
Todd Orston: That's better, let's just stick with that.
Leh Meriwether: We're going to stick with that so-
Todd Orston: And by the way, any listeners if you need more information, email us. Don't call because he won't be able to give you the actual name. We'll post it.
Leh Meriwether: It's ... anyways.
Todd Orston: Is this where you start groaning?
Leh Meriwether: I need some more Advil for sure but no, where we left off we were talking about some of the stuff that you had learned and one of your biggest challenges dealing with two parents were one parent has a high conflict personality. And I want to follow up on that because you also said that, "What's really important for the children, there's got to be at least one stable parent in the co-parenting relationship."
Leh Meriwether: You have that parent that's dealing with the high conflict personality on the other side, so what do you do there to help them get past that, hey this isn't fair.
Diane Dierks: I talk to each parent and hope that only one of them is high conflict because if both of them are then I'm not sure I can really be helpful. The goal is always to figure out which parent seems more reasonable, more rational that maybe I can talk to and can understand these concepts.
Diane Dierks: And what I say to both of them, "Let's just say that everything you told me is absolutely true about the other parent. I believe you, I'm not in the job of trying to figure out who's right and who's wrong. Now what are you going to do in response to that?" I challenge them and if I can get a ration parent in the mix and say, "What are you going to do in response to the conflict?" They often need coaching because they get easily triggered based on what their relationship used to look like.
Diane Dierks: They each know each other's buttons really well so if the button is parenting and all dad has to do is say to mom, "You're the worst parent in the world." The first thing she has to do is defend that, so number one we teach people not to defend. If you know it's not true and you keep having to defend your behavior, it actually starts to wear away at your own self-esteem when I have to defend myself against concepts that aren't true.
Diane Dierks: If I can get them to stop defending and just thanking the other parent for their opinion, then that can go a long way when someone sends a nasty text or email and you send back, "Thank you for letting me know, I'll take that into consideration." Sometimes the receiver sees that as being a smart aleck but we try to say, "There's always a respectful way to acknowledge an opinion without getting sucked into having that defensive behavior." That would be the first thing we try to get them to do.
Todd Orston: And I know that's hard, I mean even we as attornies sometimes will get triggered. We'll be dealing with a difficult personality as an attorney on the opposite side. Sometimes a say a litigant who responds to us in-
Leh Meriwether: Sometimes an attorney.
Todd Orston: Yeah and sometimes I know, it's hard to just take the high road.
Diane Dierks: And I have to be an example of that and I would challenge the two of you also in your cases, try to be the example. I've had to reprimand attornies for going back and forth within the very way that I'm trying to teach their clients not to do.
Todd Orston: You know what, you're right. Leh I'm sorry, I've been too hard on you in this show. When you mis-speak or mis-state a word, you know what, I'm just going to let it go.
Leh Meriwether: Thanks Diane.
Diane Dierks: You're welcome.
Leh Meriwether: Need to set a good example.
Todd Orston: I did. Is this an intervention?
Diane Dierks: Yeah we get together before the show.
Todd Orston: Got it all right.
Diane Dierks: When I have to respond myself to difficult clients, I have to stop, I have to take a time out. My first thought is how do I neutralize this toxicity? We call this, "Neutralizing toxic communication." and when we're doing our advanced class up in Gwinnett County, where we're only working with high conflict parents. We do a whole section on, we show them examples of texts that have gone bad, text streams and email communication that has gone bad. And then asked them, "Where could you stop that?"
Diane Dierks: And most of the time they give suggestions, "We could stop it in the very first response to it, by just saying, 'Yes.' without adding extraneous information. By just saying, "Thank you, I'll take that into consideration." And I think when they're reading somebody else's communication, it makes perfect sense that we actually have them read their own communication to us. And they want to defend with us and we have to say, "No, no, no it's no different."
Diane Dierks: The hardest part I think is feeling like I can do that respectfully because I don't think this other parent deserves my respect. And we have to say, "But your kids deserve it." Getting their mind around the fact that I'm going to be respectful, even if the other parent can't be. I'm going to do it because I want to sleep at night with myself. I want to be able to say, "I'm okay. I'm still the person that I need to be for my kids. I'm still the person in this relationship, just like I would be in a business relationship, just like it would be in any other family relationship."
Diane Dierks: When I hear somebody say, "Everybody in my world likes me, my coworkers like me, me friends, my family, my kids, everybody loves me. But there's that one person, they can trigger me so bad they can turn me into somebody that I hate." then that's a personal problem. Why would you allow somebody to pull you off who you are, who you want to be as a person, just because they accuse you of things that aren't true?
Diane Dierks: And we've seen when we talk about it in that way that people can really say, "You know you're right. I don't want to be that person." Okay let's start being who you want to be, even with this person who has hurt you so much, only for the sake of the kids and for you to be able to move on with your life. Because if you don't do that, you'll take 10 years off of your life because it's that stressful.
Leh Meriwether: Oh I can believe it. You said something else that made me think of another situation where the person was struggling with having an interaction with the other party. Because they said, "We just don't get along, can we just avoid each other all together at the exchanges of the children?" And when I start to think of this, but don't you want to take the high road and show the children. Be that example of here's how you resolve conflict. Don't yell and scream but say, "Okay." and be very kind and courteous.
Leh Meriwether: It doesn't mean that you're doing whatever the other person's saying, it's just exemplify what they should do when they get older because I'll tell you from doing a lot of the Thrive groups that my wife and I have done. You'll have one parent or the one spouse that has trouble, they regress. One parent gets loud and the other parent just gets quite or spouse.
Leh Meriwether: And so they never resolve any conflict internally and sometimes their marriage falls apart partly because of that. Whereas you talk to them and they say, "Well, I saw my mom or my dad, that's how they, they didn't resolve conflict. They just regressed and didn't talk." And some of them have said, "I've never seen my parents get in an argument." What happened was that actually hurt them because when they were getting older, they were trying to learn how to resolve disputes with their spouse.
Diane Dierks: Right, they never had a good example for it.
Leh Meriwether: Exactly. Going back to, "Hey look, you're doing this for your child and you want to be able to exemplify, this is the kind of behavior you should have when you get older." so maybe they don't get a divorce too.
Diane Dierks: And often times what I find is that one parent feels like in the marriage or in the relationship, they were bullied by the other parent. And divorce or separation finally gives them their strength by I'm not going to be bullied anymore him or her and they get this newfound strength. And then they decide they're going to finally fight back and it's the wrong time.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah they tip in the other direction, they go from extremely passive to just attacking anything and everything.
Diane Dierks: Because now I finally can and what I try to tell them is, "Okay you did what you thought you needed to do by getting out of that relationship. Now you're out of it you can't now go back and fix that by bullying them back.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah you're doing exactly what you didn't like.
Diane Dierks: Right, now you have to say, "I'm not a doormat." They'll say that to me, "Well I don't want my therapist to tell me if I let him continue to do that I'm a door mat." Well I'm telling you that you're not allowing yourself to be a door mat. You're now moving from a romantic emotional relationship into a business-like practical relationship, in which all you have to do is say, "Thank you for letting me know, I'll take that into consideration."
Diane Dierks: I no longer have to do anything else, that should be freeing. That's not being a door mat. That's being why want to be as a person.
Todd Orston: And I can tell you as attornies, it's difficult because we have people that we see. They were in either abusive relationships or just controlling relationships and you don't want to stifle that new-found strength. I've had that situation where someone, they've found that inner strength. They are suddenly standing on their own two feet.
Todd Orston: They are ready, willing and able to defend themselves but they start tipping in that other direction where they're attacking anything and everything and it's hard. It's difficult to find because you don want to stifle it, you don't want to stop them from standing on their own and standing up for themself.
Diane Dierks: Learn from it and don't do that again in future relationships, but this is not the time to take revenge for it.
Leh Meriwether: That's right. Hey up next, we're going to talk about situations where a lot of times co-parenting involves better communication. But there are sometimes when limiting the interaction between co-parents can actually help the children and we're going to talk about that when we come right back.
Leh Meriwether: Todd, anytime that we can get someone on the show that can help and this may sound strange, but help people avoid hiring us, I love it.
Todd Orston: I don't even have a joke that I can ... You're right, the whole point of this show is to educate and when we're talking about the relationships between divorcing couples and the effect that the behavior of those divorcing parents have on the children, I mean I love these shows because we really can't say it enough. And when we bring someone on who can speak intelligently, unlike you and I, then all the better.
Diane Dierks: Thank you.
Todd Orston: Yeah absolutely.
Leh Meriwether: You could say, "Conciliatory."
Todd Orston: It was less a compliment and more a dig on us.
Diane Dierks: Whatever works.
Leh Meriwether: Well welcome back 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 the new Talk 106.7 FM. And with us today is Diane Dierks who is a very accomplished co-parenting coordinator and co-parenting counselor. She's co-author and we're talking about the things that she has learned or at least confirmed that she already knew at a recent AFCC Conference that she attended in Washington, DC.
Leh Meriwether: Where I left off the last one was we've been talking about parents communicating better but there are limited circumstances where the best thing you can do for the children, you're the one who first told me about this, is limit the communication between the co-parents. And they can actually be better co-parents when they limit the conversation which can sound strange. Tell us a little more about that.
Diane Dierks: Well one of the misconceptions out there I think is when people even hear the word, "co-parent." There's a connotation that that means you're good co-parents. When we teach our classes, when we use the word co-parent it's simply an identifier. Two people who are raising children who don't live in the same house, you are a co-parent. Then there are qualities that determine what kind of co-parent relationship you need to have.
Diane Dierks: We know approximately 1/3 of co-parents after divorce and separation can get along well. They can be flexible, they can have goodwill between each other. That means they can easily say, "Hey I'm going out of town, it's supposed to be the weekend with the kids. Can we switch weekends?" In five minutes they've got that worked out and they go on with their lives. That's what we wish everybody could do but the fact is there's reasons why people get a divorce.
Diane Dierks: The reasons they get a divorce in the first place is because they're mismatched often times. They're mismatched for a variety of reasons, sometimes one person and sometimes both have really difficult personalities to deal with. We have to be realistic in this field but let's just say 1/3 of people can get along pretty well. We also know about 20% have really difficult personalities and inabilities to do what the 30% or the 1/3 can do.
Diane Dierks: About 50% of co-parents can settle into what we call a, "Parallel co-parent relationship." There's the cooperative, which is that 1/3 that everybody likes and we with all co-parents could be and then there's the parallel style meaning we have a really good court order in place.
Diane Dierks: They just follow it, they try not to communicate too much because they're smart enough to know that when we try we usually get into old relationship things. And that's protective if the kids and one of the things we know about that is kids that have parents who can engage in a respectful and civil parallel style, they don't fair any worse than kids who have cooperative parents.
Diane Dierks: Often times we have one parent say to the other, "We have to go to dinner together. We have to plan the birthday party together. We have to do all these very cooperative things because that's what's best for the kids." The other parent's thinking, wait a minute the last time I cooperated with you, you took advantage of me. You stepped all over me the last time I agreed to cooperate with you and now I'm going to put up the boundary with you, we're not doing that anymore.
Diane Dierks: Then they get bullied and then that person then says, "Well then you're not a good co-parent because you won't do it my way." And that's what we call a double bind. I either I'm going to bully you into being cooperative, then step on you so I hurt you. Then if you set a boundary I get to say, "Oh you're not a good co-parent, I'm going to tell the judge." Either way one parent feels that he wins or she wins, the other parent is the loser and that's what conflict is made of.
Diane Dierks: And so what we try to teach them is it's okay if you can't be cooperative, like your neighbors down the street. It's okay if you settle into the 50% where we just follow the plan, we try not to be too flexible. Now obviously there are times to be flexible. Grandma's passing away and I want my child to go visit her.
Diane Dierks: Okay I hope you would say, "Of course." Take my weekend to do that without ever thinking I'm ever going to get anything in return. It's not a tit for tat, it's not a negotiation. You're doing it because it's the right thing for the child but those times should be few and far between, when you actually do something different with the schedule because it's good for the children to do that.
Diane Dierks: If you get in the pattern of this is all we need to do and the kids are thriving, then you can get on with your lives and it really is okay to just have limited communication between the parents. As long as in front of the children and probably even not in front of the children, you maintain a civil, respectful business-like relationship.
Leh Meriwether: I think that's good to know because I've had some people get upset that they'll try to do something in a co-op. They're not bullies but they're trying to get them to be cooperative in a more cooperative fashion.
Diane Dierks: Why won't she just do this?
Leh Meriwether: Right and so I think that's a good point to say, "Look she's-"
Diane Dierks: The answer is she doesn't trust.
Leh Meriwether: For whatever reason she doesn't want to so that doesn't mean she's a bad parent or co-parent, she just doesn't want to do that so just follow the court order. And in this situation if she's following the court order and you're following the court order, then you're both being good co-parents and so don't call her, not in the front of the kids. But sometimes they'll say, not in front of the kids but they'll just call us and say, "They're not being a good co-parent so that-"
Diane Dierks: You can't force someone to be and I have found there's a lot of reasons why that parent is not cooperating and it has to do with the history of feeling hurt. Some of it has to do with grief. I'm already set on separating and getting a divorce and putting my kids through this and now I would like to achieve the 1/3.
Diane Dierks: I would like to at least achieve this for the sake of my kids and this other parent won't let me and there's a lot of grief around that. Now I've got to settle into not even being able to give to my kids, and there again that's where we try to give parents permission to settle into that respectful business-like relationship because your kids are not going to do worse because of it.
Todd Orston: Tell me if I'm wrong, obviously things can change, it's a dynamic relationship so-
Diane Dierks: After that two year period possibly.
Todd Orston: That's right, absolutely I mean because I've seen the people who can't get along and what I know I have done is I've said, "Look, you have terms of an agreement, just stick to the agreement. Obviously grandma is not doing well. You shouldn't even blink about that, you should just say, 'Okay.'" But then I've also seen the people where it's fantastic, they do what I said at the beginning, "I hope you take that agreement, put it into the darkest corner of some drawer."
Diane Dierks: Never have to look at it again.
Todd Orston: "Never look at it and you guys can work anything and everything out." and they do at least for a period of time. And I've also seen it morph into something else, go from one to the other, sometimes in a positive direction, sometimes not.
Leh Meriwether: Well so I did want to say one thing. I want to go back a little bit. You had mentioned your advanced class and so there was something you had shared, another thing that you had come out of the conference with that said that, "There was 1,800 parents that were surveyed about six months after taking the four hour court ordered parenting class. And they reported as a whole that they had less stress after taking the class and increased for months later after taking the class, as far as this is going to be a good co-parenting relationship."
Leh Meriwether: The reason I bring that stat up was that because I wanted to ask, so that class you had the advanced class. Was that open to everyone or you only could be part of it if it's court ordered?
Diane Dierks: I think what they were talking about, the research was the basic four hour class that most everybody has to take regardless of what your co-parent relationship is like. We do an advanced class that's court ordered for some. Judges decide if someone needs extra help we'll send them but you can also voluntarily come. You don't come with your co-parent because it's a small group, it's a workshop where we actually customize our intervention based on what they tell us.
Diane Dierks: They actually tell us their stories and then we try to help them figure out how to best respond like I was saying earlier. And I think it's really important, lately we've had people bring their spouses, their step parents with them.
Leh Meriwether: Oh boy.
Diane Dierks: Which let me say that's been a big plus because-
Leh Meriwether: Oh is it, okay.
Diane Dierks: Because the other parent, the co-parent's not there, this is my new marriage, this is the step parent. Because there's nothing worse than going to a four hour class where you just inundated with pretty good information and then going home and then going home and your spouse says, "What did you learn?" And trying to extrapolate what you learned and then explain it to them because often times the step parent's very, very frustrated too with the co-parent relationship. Sometimes they're very active in the co-parent relationship so we also invite step parents to come in to that class.
Leh Meriwether: Well that's good to know. The reason I guess I bring that up is that if anybody listening they know someone, either they're personally struggling or they know someone who's struggling in a co-parenting relationship, that it's probably a good idea to take a followup class to learn how at least they can get better.
Diane Dierks: Even if only one parent comes, so they can get that through GwinnettCourts.com or you can just google "Advanced co-parenting Gwinnett County." and it will take you right to the link to where they can see the dates and the fee and all of that.
Leh Meriwether: Oh cool so that would be good to know. Before you hire a lawyer if you are struggling, go try that class maybe and sometimes people learn it's them not the other side. It's unintentional, they're not being bad co-parents, they just didn't know what they were doing. Hey up next, we're going to learn a little bit more about this and we're going to learn why Diane says that, "Children should have a voice but not a choice in co-parenting relationships."
Leh Meriwether: Welcome back 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 the new Talk 106.7 FM. If you want to learn more about us you can always call or visit online, AtlantaDivorceTeam.com. And I'm talking real fast because I know there's a bunch more stuff we want to get to but we only have a few more minutes, oh my gosh. With us today is Diane Dierks and she is an amazing co-parenting counselor and co-parenting coordinator. Those two are different and we're not going to get into the differences on this show.
Leh Meriwether: But where we left off is I made a comment in the last segment that children should have a voice but not a choice when it comes to seeing both parents. And that came from you, that was one of the takeaways you had from the conference that you attended in Washington, DC. Can you explain to us what you mean by that?
Diane Dierks: Yes. Often times parents say, "Well my child doesn't want to go to the other parent's house or he or she wants to dictate their schedule." And I understand that and email want kids to express an opinion but there's all kinds of reasons why we don't want a child to have a choice when they don't want to go to school. Most parents just sympathize and go, "Yeah I know you had a bad day yesterday but I don't want to go to jail so you're going to go to school."
Diane Dierks: And that makes sense to us but when it comes to the other parent and we have all kinds of our own emotions about the other parent, our own experiences about them. Then we over identify possibly with our child's plate or what they're being told or what they're experiencing at the other parent's house. And so we have a tendency to want to give them too much of a voice. The problem with that is children are fickle especially teenagers, so they want one thing one minute and the next minute they want something else.
Diane Dierks: And they really aren't in a position of knowing exactly what's best for them and we have to make that choice for them. If we don't do that they could possibly end up cutting off a relationship with a parent that they have no idea what the long-term consequences of that's going to feel like later on. And it won't come to them until much later on and then there will be guilt and they'll be all kinds of other issues that go with that.
Diane Dierks: What we know for sure is that kids of divorce and separation need consistent, predictable time with both of their parents. We know that quantity is not as important as consistency. This, "I have to see my child every other week." possibly that works for you but your child doesn't necessarily need that to be okay.
Diane Dierks: We always say, "They won't remember how many days you had with them on spring break 2018 versus 2019. They'll remember the fight you had about it but it's not the numbers of days that matter, it's just that my mom was there for me. My dad always came to my games. My mom was always there when I came to her house." That predictability and consistency is what is very important to them to maintain the relationships with both of their parents.
Leh Meriwether: I want to-
Todd Orston: Uh.
Leh Meriwether: Go ahead. Sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off.
Todd Orston: No, no I was just about to say that hitting it from the other side. I've had clients come in who have said, "You know what, my children are expressing that they don't want to." And I've actually felt, tell me if I'm wrong, that I've had to say, "No, no you need to exercise. You need to be with them even if they're doing their own thing. I mean sometimes we're talking teenagers, they're going to be off doing ...
Todd Orston: Do not step away because I have found and I'm not a therapist of course but that distance in this situation does not make the heart grow fonder. Actually children, going back to the fickle nature of children, it just becomes very easy being away from that parent and then maybe they start to lose trust or that relationship breaks down even more.
Diane Dierks: And maybe not fickle as much as selfish. The average teenager is very selfish, so I've had parents say, "Well our daughter's 15. We're just going to let her decide how to come and go between the houses." Which sounds like a great idea and very empowering to the 15 year old. But invariably what will happen is that 15 year old will say, "Well all my friends are in dad's neighborhood so I'm going to hang out at dad's most of the time and I'll come mom on Tuesday."
Diane Dierks: And then Tuesday comes and you don't call because you're hanging out with our friends and then the next Tuesday comes and then you don't call her. The next weekend comes the next thing you know now I'm feeling all this guilt because I have now been put in the position of managing my relationship with my parents and they can't do it so we-
Todd Orston: Actually that's just going to cause them to even shut down more and they're going to be more reluctant.
Diane Dierks: Now it's been a month since I haven't called my mom, now I really don't want to call my mom.
Todd Orston: Right exactly.
Diane Dierks: And so what happens then is they end up shouldering a lot of the guilt, where what would be better especially for teenagers is for you to set a schedule. Let them know it's in a court order and we want you to do this schedule but we also understand you have a teenage life. If you can't come to mom's or dad's on Saturday, we want you to give us a 48 hour notice. Now we're trying to teach a teenager to be respectful of time because they stink at that right, they're not good at it.
Diane Dierks: Now we say, "We want to give you some power but you have to be respectful of your parent's time, who they want to make plans too. You're not the only one in the world." And that kind of schedule relieves them from the pressure of managing the relationship and only encourages them to be better time managers and that's so much better for them. And that way they can grouse about it and they can complain and do all that stuff, but that relationship remains intact, which is so very important.
Leh Meriwether: I've lost track of the number of people that I have met over the years, that their relationship either got strained because of the divorce or what not or they drifted to one of the parents. And then years later there's this huge hole in their heart, there's massive regret for letting that happen. I know one person particular, that when they did reconnect with their parent that parent died within less than a year from a brain tumor. I can't remember what it was but it was traumatic.
Leh Meriwether: This person had to go in counseling for a while because there was that kind of impact on them. There's a long-term play that a lot of people just don't take into consideration and going back to your comment about, "They may not remember how many days you spent with them on spring break but they remember that argument they had." There's a book out there called The Power of Moments and it's data driven and it's all about, in fact we broke it down that book in our firm.
Leh Meriwether: About how that somebody can have a positive experience for four days about something but on one of those days something really bad happened. And so even though there was four positive days and one negative day, all of a sudden their whole overall experience is bad. And so it's very powerful, it's the way that emotional high and where the high is good or high is bad, can control the interactions. If you are a parent I guess that's limited in time, just make sure that those experiences are outstanding.
Diane Dierks: Sure and I think another thing that's important to point out is that sometimes we let our kids off too easily. They say, "I don't want to go." and they cry and complain about it. And then you say, "Well I can't make him, you don't have to go." And let me be clear, I'm not talking about kids who are claiming some sort of abuse. But short of that and even then as you know, it takes a lot of legal wrangling to deal with that.
Diane Dierks: But kids who are just complaining or it's boring over there or, "Mom or dad yells at me or they make me do chores I don't like." or whatever. We don't want to teach our kids that when relationships get difficult you quit. What are we teaching our children? It's better to give them skills to say, "Okay it's boring over there then maybe you need to figure out how to make it not so boring or talk to your other parent and let them know how you feel."
Diane Dierks: Sometimes parents can hear that, sometimes they can't. Giving them coping skills for relationships because if they just quit every time it doesn't feel exciting, you know what that will do to a marriage later on. They just quit because I don't know how to negotiate and you allow that you're saying, "Yeah that's how it's supposed to go." for teenagers especially. We really want to be able to teach them good relationship skills and how to have some resiliency in relationships.
Leh Meriwether: I can tell you not only is that going to impact their marriage, it's going to impact them at work. Gosh if a boss comes along and says, "You're going to do this." "Well that's it I quit." I mean they're going to go from, their either going to get fired or quit job after job after job.
Diane Dierks: And when they're moving into your basement you're not going to want to hear why I just didn't like it. I just didn't like my job.
Todd Orston: After a day I say, "I quit." You need to move out.
Diane Dierks: And then it's too late to fix that.
Leh Meriwether: It is so it's important and I know gosh I would love to have you on, we could have a whole show about teaching children resiliency because I know that was some of the takeaways you had too but unfortunately we're running out of time. But the resiliency, some people want to and maybe we can touch on it in the last minute or two. Just real quick about some people really get confused of what's trauma versus what's just something that they need to develop a level of resiliency for.
Diane Dierks: Especially in our divorce cases, we can take something our child says and couple that with our own experiences with that parent and next thing you know we've blown that into something that may not be real. And so trauma is really defined as something that's life threatening, so a parent yelling at you is not traumatic. Now obviously if it's real verbal abuse with name calling and contempt and all kinds of other adjectives added to that, it could be traumatic.
Diane Dierks: But we have to be very careful especially in this field because if you treat something as if it's traumatic and it wasn't traumatic, you can actually create trauma in children and that's something we don't want to do. We have to be very careful, trauma with a big T, trauma with a little T. Trauma with a little T is it was uncomfortable, it was stressful, maybe it's even happening regularly and we need to figure it out.
Diane Dierks: That's where we want to teach some real resiliency, not naming everything as trauma because it goes back to that concept. When they get into the workplace they could have a boss who flies off the handle or they could be asked to do something that they don't feel is right. That's not traumatic, that's just stressful and then how are we going to have coping skills to deal with the stress?
Leh Meriwether: Traumatic is losing an arm or seeing someone shot. That's traumatic.
Todd Orston: Stress is running out of time in the show.
Leh Meriwether: Which unfortunately we've run out of. Hey Diane, thanks so much for coming on the show. Before we let you go can you tell listeners real quick how they can find you?
Diane Dierks: Yes at www.DianeDierks.com is the best way to do it and thank you so much for having me.
Leh Meriwether: Well thanks for coming on. This has been great. Hey thanks so much for listening. Until next time you can read more about us at AtlantaDivorceTeam.com and you can always email us a topic you'd like us to explore at [email protected]
Speaker 4: This audio program does not establish an attorney-client relationship with Meriwether & Tharp.