Episode 117 - The Mom's Guide to a Good Divorce, What to Think Through When Children Are Involved
Divorce is so painful. Even if you did not choose to get a divorce, you are still left with a choice. Are you going to make it a good divorce or a bad divorce? To find out what a "good divorce" might look like, listen to Leh and Todd interview Sarah Armstrong about her book The Mom's Guide to a Good Divorce, What to Think Through When Children Are Involved. Fortunately for their daughter, her and her husband choose a "good divorce" as defined by their own daughter. Sarah has done a great job writing her book for everyone to use (not just moms). She has incredibly practical tips to help people work through this painful process with their children in mind. It is a must have for anyone going through a divorce.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome, everyone, I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on the New Talk 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 read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.
Leh Meriwether: You know Todd-
Todd Orston: You're excited.
Leh Meriwether: I'm excited.
Todd Orston: We all-
Leh Meriwether: Well, I guess I'm especially excited every time.
Todd Orston: Yeah, it's a problem.
Leh Meriwether: It is a problem.
Todd Orston: It is.
Leh Meriwether: But, you know what?
Todd Orston: Why are you excited today?
Leh Meriwether: Because we're going to be talking about ... Well, there's lots of reasons I'm excited today.
Todd Orston: Do you know what we're talking about? That was a long hesitation.
Leh Meriwether: Hopefully, I'm not going to be doing a lot of talking today.
Todd Orston: I can pass you some notes.
Leh Meriwether: No. Today, we're very fortunate to have someone come on to talk about divorce besides us. We've talked about how divorce, the process of divorce is ... It could be good or bad depending on the decisions that are made by the parties going through it.
Todd Orston: Absolutely.
Leh Meriwether: We said that a lot, but sometimes people needed to hear it from people other than lawyers. They, "That's easy for you to say." Fortunately, today we have Sarah Armstrong with us. Now, Sarah actually began her career with Leo Burnett in media. In 1997, she joined Coca-Cola Company and Worldwide Media, and since 2006, Sarah has led the company's global approach to agency management. Her work has been recognized as industry-leading around the world, resulting in Sarah being named one of Ad Age-
Todd Orston: You'll get it. Come on.
Leh Meriwether: Ad Age Women to Watch and her inclusion in Ad Age's 'Book of Tens', the top 10 who made their mark in 2009. She is now a partner at a global management consulting firm and you can read more about her at gooddivorce.guide.
Leh Meriwether: Now, the reason why she's here today is not because she's this amazing marketing person. It's because she wrote a book called the 'Moms ... Gosh, I am having trouble talking today. 'The Mom's Guide to a Good Divorce: What to Think Through When Children Are Involved'. Sarah, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Sarah Armstrong: Thank you for having me. [crosstalk 00:02:47].
Todd Orston: Thank you for not leaving throughout that. I almost walked out twice.
Sarah Armstrong: I'm very happy to be here.
Leh Meriwether: Well, I got to provide the comedic relief. That's what I'm here for. I'm just still reading all these great ideas that you have in your book. A little overwhelmed, not dumbfounded. That was the wrong word. Overwhelmed with the great ideas that you have in your book. I actually met Sarah a few weeks ago at a presentation she did, and I was so impressed by the content of her presentation I said, "You have got to come on the show to talk about your book."
Sarah Armstrong: Very happy to be here to talk about it.
Todd Orston: Well, we appreciate it and let's jump in because you know what's interesting is ... Let's just start with the title, all right. 'A Mom's Guide' ... get it, all right.
Sarah Armstrong: Clear.
Todd Orston: Yep, that's a good start.
Sarah Armstrong: Thank you.
Todd Orston: 'To a good divorce'. How do you come up with that term? Because most people ... I think Lee and I because of what we do, we understand where you're coming from, but a lot of people might not be off-put but might be like, "What do you mean? Is any divorce really good?" We've seen the bad ones, but what's going through your mind and what went through your mind when you came up with that term?
Sarah Armstrong: Well, it's interesting because you have to start with three key principles concept of divorce. One is that no one gets married to get divorced, right? The second is no one gets divorced for good reasons in all fairness. And, the third is when you have children involved, the children are not getting to weigh into the decision that their parents are getting divorced, but they have a significant impact that goes into their lives when you go through this process.
Sarah Armstrong: The concept of a good divorce came through my own experience. Actually, my daughter was the one that brought up the concept of a good divorce to me. It's an interesting story because we were standing ... We got divorced when she was seven-years-old and we were standing in the CVS and there was a People magazine that had J Lo and Mark Anthony on the cover. She looked at me, and she said, "Mommy, is that a good divorce or a bad divorce?" And, I thought, "I don't know Grace. What's the difference?" She goes, "Well, good divorce is when a mommy and daddy get along and work together in terms of raising their kids and a bad divorce is when they yell and scream at each other."
Sarah Armstrong: I looked at her, we walked out of that CVS that day, and I said, "Wow. The fact that a year ... " We were about a year into our divorce. The fact that she could articulate our divorce is a good divorce was fascinating to me in terms of just the mindset of a child. The way I define it is you co-parent with your ex-spouse in a way that your children understand you're there for them and that you're trying to do the best for them through the divorce process and afterwards. People can be happy post-divorce. That's one of my big beliefs and messages is that regardless of what brought you to the point of getting divorced, there is a happy existence afterwards if you approach it a certain way.
Todd Orston: Yeah, I agree. We talk about that often, that light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
Sarah Armstrong: Yeah.
Todd Orston: People that are in the middle of a divorce have a hard time seeing it or even understanding the concept that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Because of what we do, we see so many people who've gone through the process who find that light.
Sarah Armstrong: Right.
Todd Orston: But, it's hard to see it when you're in the middle of it.
Sarah Armstrong: Right, and it takes conscious effort, if I'm honest, to put your emotions aside at times. You have to be selfless at times and be conscious. There has to be positive intent that you want to get through this yourself, you want to help your children through this process. In fairness, again, lots of negativity can lead to the decision to go through that, but hopefully, you can land in a place where you can co-parent with your ex-husband or ex-wife in a way that allows you to continue on. 'Cause it's a long life that we're on. How do you all, hopefully, coexist in a way that's healthy for everyone?
Leh Meriwether: Up until that point, were you aware of just how much your daughter was actually paying attention to the divorce?
Sarah Armstrong: Well, it's interesting. There were elements of our divorce that she wasn't aware until we, in fairness, until we told her that we were going to get a divorce. There were things leading up to it that we consciously ... I said to my husband and then ex-husband at the time, "I want to go this through this in a certain way." Because I'd seen so many ugly divorces growing up ...
Sarah Armstrong: My parents, actually, have been married for over 50 years. They're a picture of a very strong marriage, so I had a strong mental model of what that looked like, but Grace and her awareness was limited up until the time. Then I thought from the time we told her there was a way we were going to operate to help her through this, and we had some very specific things that we did throughout the process.
Leh Meriwether: You've actually wrote those down in your book.
Sarah Armstrong: Yes.
Leh Meriwether: We're going to get into your book and talk about certain elements of it. One of the things I love ... Before we can get to the content, I love how you laid out the book. It's actually shorter than it looks. It's what, a 100 ... When I include your background it's a 181 pages, but a lot of them are really half pages.
Sarah Armstrong: Yes. Yeah, so that was actually very consciously. When you're going [inaudible 00:08:14], there's so much coming at you, and again, it's not something that you grew up planning for. It's not like you say, "When I get a divorce, I'm going to know exactly what to do." But, I was given a number of books during my divorce, and I opened them and they were thick and they were dense and I literally opened them and I closed them and I set him aside. I never read them.
Sarah Armstrong: When I started thinking about writing this book, I felt like it needed to be in bite-sized pieces and [inaudible 00:08:36]. I only put a topic per page. If you only want to read that one topic, that half page of guidance, then you can read it and close it. The whole table of contents is laid out topic by topic so you can go to those topics that you want to look at and take in. It's set up in three phases, preparing for the change I refer to it, during the change, and the post of the change. Because there are definitely phases of this process that you go through.
Todd Orston: Yeah, I think that's great because I have fallen victim to that as well, where I've picked up a book and it's so dense that you give up.
Sarah Armstrong: Right.
Todd Orston: Yeah.
Sarah Armstrong: You stop and you don't take it in.
Todd Orston: So, I love the concept. That's great.
Sarah Armstrong: Yeah, and I've gotten a lot of feedback in fairness from those that have benefited from reading the book that that's been very helpful. Also, when I designed the book and I told the book designer, they're like, "You're wasting so much paper." I said, "You know what? This is space for people to think. If there's white space there, that's for them to take notes. They can reflect." It was a very interesting process even from a publishing standpoint.
Leh Meriwether: I actually wrote some notes in here, not that I'm going through a divorce?.
Todd Orston: There's a thousand tabs in your copy. You can't even see the words anymore, all we see is tabs.
Leh Meriwether: Well, there were so many good ideas in here. No, I actually did. Do you have five hours? We'll go through the book.
Sarah Armstrong: Happily. I can talk about this all day.
Leh Meriwether: No, actually I tab so much 'cause I ... Even though we've been doing it a long time and obviously, because you're coming from a different perspective than we are, but you had ideas in here that I hadn't even thought of that I really liked. We'll talk about those a little bit later, and not giving away the whole book, but some just little tidbits that I'm like, "Wow, if more people would do that, there'd be a lot less kids that are traumatized."
Sarah Armstrong: Yeah, and that's, I think, the interesting thing with kids being traumatized through this process is if you think about parents, when you bring your children into this world, you want them to be in a safe, healthy, and happy environment. That's the goal, right? We say we cover the plugs so that they don't get hurt. You put bike helmets on. You feed them organic milk. You want them to be really healthy, and then when you go through a divorce, you put them into one of the most toxic situations emotionally that they could potentially go through. That toxic situation can follow them for the rest of their life depending on how you handle it. I just think it's such an interesting thing to think about how much we try to protect our children and then in this instance, a lot of people don't take the time to reflect about what that toxicity is.
Leh Meriwether: Up next, we're going to talk about just what she did to avoid that toxic situation.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on the New Talk 106.7. If you want to read more about [inaudible 00:11:29] out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.
Leh Meriwether: Well, today we have a special guest in studio and thankfully she didn't run. [inaudible 00:11:36] butchered her intro in the last segment, but we're actually talking to Sarah Armstrong. She wrote the book, 'The Mom's Guide to a Good Divorce'. She actually explained where that came from the last segment. If you missed it, you can always check us out online listening on our website or on iTunes. The idea actually came from your daughter. I think that's pretty amazing that you did such a great job getting through your divorce.
Leh Meriwether: Just to preface that, you start your book off saying, "I never thought I was getting a divorce."
Sarah Armstrong: No.
Leh Meriwether: But you made a conscious decision during the process that, "All right, the decision's been made. This has just happened. Now, we have another decision to make. Are we going to do a good divorce or a bad divorce?"
Sarah Armstrong: Yeah. It's interesting because when we made the decision to get a divorce and the reality of that sinking in, you'd really have to step back and say, "How are we going to do this?" There were conscious decisions we made. One of the things was in terms of how we were going to separate ourselves physically, right?
Todd Orston: Right.
Sarah Armstrong: Actually, who is going to live where and all of those decisions? I decided to stay in our home with Grace. We have joint custody though, so she does go to her father's place. But, one of the interesting things was I didn't want to have the house looked like it was pulled apart as we were going through this. The physical manifestation of divorce can be very real, things start leaving. There's gaps. There's not a couch. There's not a piece of art or whatever the case is.
Sarah Armstrong: We really tried to minimize the gaps and that sometimes can be a tough thing. Because you're thinking about all these things, your divorced so what does that really mean. I had to plan that if a chair was going, there was another chair. Maybe not of the same quality or expense or whatever the case is 'cause you are splitting up your finances at the same time, but I tried to make sure that something was going in that place so that Grace would not be seeing the house that she was living in pulled apart.
Sarah Armstrong: There's a story that I've shared of we have a wall of family photos down our hallway, black on white photos of both of our families, and I wanted to give my ex-husband the photos that were for his family. I thought, "Well, I'm going to pull those down. I'm going to take the time to go get other black and white photos of Grace and my family and put them back up." That was a project, quite honestly, to do and something on top of everything else, but I thought this is really important. So, I took the time to do that.
Sarah Armstrong: One day, I sent ... Grace was seven when we got divorced, so I sent her down the street to a play date with a friend, and I took the time to take the photos down and then put these new photos up. She came home and within three minutes of being in the house, I was in the kitchen, She goes, "Hey, mom." I said, "What's that, Grace?" She goes, "The wall's changed." I stopped in my tracks and I said, "Well, Grace, What's changed?" And, she said, "[inaudible 00:14:33] up there."
Sarah Armstrong: It was a moment, quite honestly, that I realized ... I said, "There are more pictures of you." And, she goes, "It looks great," and she went up to her room. It was a moment where I thought, "You know what? The fact that she noticed that so quickly ... " There weren't gaps by the way, 'cause what I could have done is taken the photos off the wall that were from my ex-husband's family and left the hangers until I got around to putting those pictures back up. That would have been a memory that would have stuck with her. My parents got divorced, and my mom took all the photos of my dad, family, and she didn't have a chance. Those little hangers hanging there in a reminder.
Sarah Armstrong: It's just an example of how you have to be conscious of what your children are taking in through this process. That's just a physical example, but there's many. That's just one that I feel really strongly about as you're going through this.
Leh Meriwether: To me, when I heard that, I was like, "Well that's really powerful." Talk about thinking everything through, to plan that in advance ... Well, it's just pictures. No, it's a lot. It's the emptiness that's the problem not necessarily the pictures. It's the empty spots on the wall that can be a traumatic ... You come home and there's all the stuff missing and you took steps to make sure that didn't happen.
Sarah Armstrong: It was very conscious. If a piece of art went, it might not replace with a piece of art, it might be a mirror or it might be another collection of family photos, whatever filled that gap so there weren't these visual representations of what was happening to our life.
Todd Orston: The most impressive thing for me is the fact that you were able to separate the emotion of what you were going through from just the daily realities and your need and desire to protect your child. That's where a lot of people miss it. Those two things become so connected that people lose sight of how their behavior's impacting others, namely their children and other relatives and friends and what have you. What's fantastic is yeah, you hit it from every angle, but you were able to do those things because you were able to control the emotion.
Sarah Armstrong: Yeah, and it's an interesting point, Todd 'cause there's two things that I think you have to keep in mind going through divorce. One is mindset is essential. It is so fundamental as you enter into this process and it is an emotional process. Believe me, mine was as emotional as any divorce, but you have to decide as you're going through this, are you going to allow your emotions to drive the process or are you going to try to allow them to be there? You have to work through those emotions 'cause if you don't, it's not healthy also.
Sarah Armstrong: I think one of the things to do, if you're emotional, then you may need to set aside aspects of the process until you can really think clearly.
Todd Orston: It's a great point.
Sarah Armstrong: It's a really important point. Then, if you can do that, then work through those things that you need to work through. This leads to something though, and it's a theme that I've ... It will be in the next version of my book actually, that's coming out next January and it's to develop what I call compartmentalization muscle.
Sarah Armstrong: In life we're told to build our core muscles, right? Go do yoga, go do Pilates, build your core muscle, be strong. Emotionally and mentally, one of the most important things I think as humans these days, but specifically, if you're going through divorce, is the concept of building compartmentalization muscle that allows you to put aside that negativity. You need to deal with it, but you need to put it aside so that you can also continue living your life and raising your children. Because again, your children are watching you every day and if all they see is you being pulled into a negative emotional state and that you can't look forward, that all you're doing is looking backwards, that can leave, again, an indelible mark on them for the long term because they see the impact that this has had.
Leh Meriwether: You say that. We actually had some co-parenting coordinators come on. They wrote a book about co-parenting. They came on and they'd been co-parenting coordinators for ... They were a husband-wife, team-
Sarah Armstrong: Interesting.
Leh Meriwether: ... for, gosh 18 years now or something like that. Over the course of those times, Kat started to record the complaints the kids were making 'cause they were in part of that process. They came up with a top 10 things that kids wish they could tell their children, and one of the top 10 was I don't want to be your counselor-
Sarah Armstrong: Right, or therapist.
Leh Meriwether: Or your therapist. The kids were afraid to say that.
Sarah Armstrong: Right.
Leh Meriwether: That's so important. And, another thing, a point you made in the book was, get into counseling.
Sarah Armstrong: Oh, absolutely.
Leh Meriwether: You can't ignore those negative emotions. You need to address [inaudible 00:19:08] thing.
Sarah Armstrong: Absolutely.
Leh Meriwether: But, compartmentalize them 'cause you do much better. Saying that word ... So, it doesn't impact your kids
Sarah Armstrong: Right.
Todd Orston: Very quickly, I love the concept because it does strike a chord with me. Because when I first started my career, I was a prosecutor.
Sarah Armstrong: Interesting.
Todd Orston: Dealt with horrible stories, people getting hurt, raped, robbed, killed. I got asked the question many times when you come home, how do you leave that at the front door? Is it something you carry with you? When I went into divorce, the same thing. We're dealing with so much stress, so much strife, so much emotion. When I would come home, I would do my best to leave it at the front door. I was compartmentalizing to a certain degree. I love the concept because it does sort of hit home-
Sarah Armstrong: It resonates, yeah.
Todd Orston: Yeah.
Sarah Armstrong: In fairness, I think all of us need that. All of us need that muscle for different aspects of our life for different reasons, but in this specific instance, it is very fundamental to being able to manage your emotions.
Leh Meriwether: All right, in the few minutes, we have left in this segment, real quick, you talk about preparing the different phases of divorce. Your first meeting with the co-parenting counselor, you and your husband, what did they tell you about how to prepare your daughter?
Sarah Armstrong: Okay, so I had one of those moments in this divorce process that probably hit me the hardest was we went to see a therapist that Grace was going to see after we told her we were getting divorced. It was the meeting prior to him meeting with her. He sat down, and he looked at me and he said, "Sarah, do you travel?" And, I said, "Yeah, I actually travel internationally for my career." He looked at my ex-husband, he said, "Do you travel?" And, my ex-husband said, "Yes. I travel domestically" He looked at us, and he said, "Grace is about to become a professional traveler. She's going to travel every week of her life until she goes off to college," which for her was 11 years in fairness. He said that, and I burst into tears.
Sarah Armstrong: It really hit home because it wasn't Grace's choice for us to go through divorce, but she was going to be the one most physically impacted in terms of going back and forth between homes. My thought was how do we make this as easy on her, and easy being a relative term, quite honestly, but how do we make this as easy on her as possible? So, we did a number of things over the course of the coming months and years to try to really work through what that would look like.
Leh Meriwether: Up next, we're going to get into some of those specifics of what exactly you did to help minimize that impact and how avoiding Grace feeling like that professional traveler. You don't want to miss it.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on the New Talk 106.7. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.
Leh Meriwether: Well, today we have been learning a lot. Even though we do divorce, that's all we do, we are very fortunate to have in the studio Sarah Armstrong who wrote the book, 'The Mom's Guide to a Good Divorce'. We're so thankful she did because she comes from a different perspective than we do 'cause Todd and I actually have never been through a divorce ourselves, even though we have personally walked, gosh, thousands of people through divorces. You're coming from a different perspective that, we have don't have that advantage.
Todd Orston: We don't have that life experience.
Leh Meriwether: Life experience, yeah.
Sarah Armstrong: [crosstalk 00:22:58] reality, yeah.
Leh Meriwether: It doesn't sound right. I am thankful that you put together the content in your book the way you did because people can benefit from that. Let me just say, I wish I'd said this, the first segment, you don't have to be a mom to read your book. You can be a dad. What I also like about this is if you are a dad and you read this book, you get a different perspective, the perspective of how mom might feel.
Sarah Armstrong: Yes.
Leh Meriwether: Because you do come from that perspective, which I can appreciate. I think dads would really benefit if they read this as well.
Todd Orston: If they are going into the process wanting, to use your term, a good divorce, then absolutely. It's a fantastic tool because it's going to make you think of things in a certain way and hopefully it will make the process a little bit less painful.
Sarah Armstrong: Yes.
Leh Meriwether: I do want to get into the specifics of what you did for Grace, but before I do, I want to toss this out there because it does take two people to work through this process well. Fortunately, the two of you went through a collaborative process to achieve the result you did. But, that doesn't mean just cause the other side's kind of losing it ... If you still follow this guide in here, it's going to help. It may not eliminate everything, but it's going to drastically reduce the emotion from your end, number one. And, number two, if you follow this advice in this book, you meaning the listener ... If the listener's going through a divorce, they follow this advice, it makes our job as lawyers so much easier.
Todd Orston: Also, there is the difference between pouring water and pouring gasoline on a fire. If your soon to be ex-spouse is the emotional one, you hit that, not a crossroad, but the divergence in the path where you have the choice, you can pour some water on it if they're acting a little bit cray cray. You can throw some water on it.
Leh Meriwether: That's a legal term.
Todd Orston: It is. It is. Or, you can pour some gasoline on it because it's human nature, right? You're going to get defensive. You're going to want to throw up your fists, not literally, and then do battle. But, that's not helping anyone and usually, the one that gets hurt the most is a child.
Sarah Armstrong: Yes.
Leh Meriwether: Speaking of children, let's spend some time talking about the specifics of how you helped Grace through this process.
Sarah Armstrong: Okay. Well, it's interesting because when you think about all the decisions you have to make as a parent, one of them was obviously putting together a parenting plan. I just want to address your point real quick before going into Grace details that yes, even if you have someone on the other side that isn't able to maybe have all the conversations of the decisions that are in this book that you have to make, you can still think for yourself, "Well how do I want to handle the aspects that I can't control?" That really is important.
Sarah Armstrong: In terms of Grace, some of the decisions we made, and we talked about in an earlier segment, about preparing this professional traveler, this young child that's now going to travel back and forth between two homes, one of the things we tried to do is to minimize the concept of having to pack a bag. If you're going to travel, do you have to pack a suitcase every week? Now, in fairness, some of this will come from a socioeconomic reality of what you can afford to do. But, if you think about having some of the basics at both of your homes so that they don't have to pack pajamas and socks, and if you could have another pair of running shoes at the other house, whatever you can do to make that child feel like they don't have to think about every element of their lives moving back and forth between two homes, that can release a lot of stress for children that are going through this every week.
Todd Orston: If I may, just very quickly, we've seen situation create stress because there ends up being a fight over how many pairs of socks are going to be in one house over another. I sent over two pairs of shorts and I only got one back.
Sarah Armstrong: They didn't come back.
Todd Orston: I agree 100% with that.
Sarah Armstrong: Yeah, so in fairness, what we did in that instance, because things get unbalanced in terms of where things sit, we literally, every couple of weeks I would actually say to my ex-husband, "We need to balance things out." Either I would go over there and say, "Hey, let's just make sure that things are ... " Not in a territorial thing, just to make Grace's life easier.
Todd Orston: So that you don't run into that where you have no socks in your house, and it's like, okay.
Leh Meriwether: That was one of my pages I tabbed, one of the 20, 50 pages.
Todd Orston: I was about to say, you tabbed every page.
Leh Meriwether: I didn't tab every page, but most pages. You had said that that was a decision the two of you made that the two of you were going to manage it and not allow Grace to manage the clothing issue.
Sarah Armstrong: Yeah. Here's the thing. My daughter did not decide for this to be her life, the dynamic of life. So, she shouldn't have to worry does she have enough socks or are her shoes in the right place. Now, there are instances where either special items that she only has one of, which are many that might be at the wrong house. When she went [inaudible 00:27:59] This is over the years, 'cause we're now nine plus years into this, she'd say, "Mom, you know my dress up shoes are at dad's."
Sarah Armstrong: I'd look at her, and I could react one of two ways. One is to say, "Okay, let's go get him." He actually only lives 10 minutes away. So there is ease in that, or I'd say, "You know what? It's okay. We'll just wear something else." To get upset with her or to show stress and react in a negative way would reinforce that to her. I always had to pause for a minute 'cause we're all busy and to have to go and figure that little element out at the time that it's presented, which is usually the hour before you're leaving for somewhere ... Or, I don't have my soccer jersey or whatever the case is, you have to think quickly, but I just made a conscious decision that it wasn't her fault that she's in the situation and I would never want her to feel that it was her fault.
Sarah Armstrong: My reactions to those instances were always very measured and just stop for a moment and say, "Okay, well let's figure this out." this dynamic happens still on a daily basis, and you just have to figure out how you're going to react.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. that's what co-parenting is all about.
Sarah Armstrong: It is.
Todd Orston: It is rare, and I'm not just trying to throw a compliment unnecessarily, having that level of awareness is difficult and it goes back to the whole muscle. It's a muscle that needs to be trained. Getting to that point is hard.
Sarah Armstrong: It is hard. By the way, just to say I can say this, but it's been a journey. A divorce is a journey, and early days versus now, there's a maturity that comes with this process of what really matters in life. I just really fundamentally believe people should be able to be happy and if you let these little things that can really eat at you over the course of time, that happiness meter goes way down.
Sarah Armstrong: Another example of how we've tried to share with Grace our approach and from a co-parenting standpoint is even something as simple as parent-teacher conferences. Actually, my ex-husband and I have always gone to those together just through the practice of how we were raising Grace. After we got divorced, we continued to. We got divorced when she was in first grade and in sixth grade, we were sitting in a parent-teacher conference and we finished the hour-long conference. At her school, she sits through them, so Grace is in the room.
Sarah Armstrong: The teacher looked at the two of us said, "Are you two divorced?" at the end of the conference. We looked at her and I said, "Yeah, we've actually been divorced for five years." She goes, "I had no idea." It had not occurred to us to say to her at the beginning of the conference, "We're divorced." We were there for Grace. She reflected, she said, "You know, it is so rare for us to have parents that are divorced to come into the same parent-teacher conference." She said, "I think it's so sad that the one thing that parents have in common, this child that they love so much, and they can't come for one hour and talk about their children's performance in school." She said, "But, I see it every day."
Sarah Armstrong: I looked at her, I said, "I find that so sad too." By the way, Grace is hearing this conversation.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah.
Todd Orston: Oh, wow.
Sarah Armstrong: I said, again, this is a conscious decision her dad and I have made that she's the most important thing in the world to us and we're both going to be here. It's another example of how we've tried to signal to her regardless of where we sleep at night in separate homes., she's our focus.
Leh Meriwether: I can tell you from knowing a lot of teachers that they really appreciate that. The fact that they don't have to do extra parent-teacher conferences like one with mom and one with dad and they can do it the same ... Because a lot of times, they'll stay late. Rather than going home, they're staying late for these conferences. If they can get home at seven o'clock instead of nine o'clock 'cause more parents are working together or at least setting aside what they're angry about for that one hour-
Sarah Armstrong: One hour.
Leh Meriwether: ... it makes all the difference. Of course, it helps the teachers. The teachers love your daughter as well.
Sarah Armstrong: And, they are there to support your daughter. They do take on the fact that it's a unique situation, but they-
Todd Orston: I think we'd all be mistaken if we believe that the kids can't read between the lines as to why there are two separate meetings going on.
Sarah Armstrong: Absolutely.
Todd Orston: That creates its own problems.
Sarah Armstrong: Absolutely.
Todd Orston: Yeah.
Leh Meriwether: I did want to just give this quick thank you. I love in this book how you talked about how to work with your lawyer and talk about compartmentalizing things because it is true. We've said this on the show before, we're very expensive therapists. You had on page 17, very early on ... I highlighted this. I love this. Just come in, be prepared before you come into your meetings with your lawyer so that you're not wasting time. Not that we don't want to talk to you, and you made that point clear. They charge for guidance and for listening.
Sarah Armstrong: Yes.
Leh Meriwether: Which we do, but we want to be efficient in how we serve our clients and following this book will help with that efficiency. Hey, and up next, we're going to continue to go deeper in the practical tips that she has in this book.
Leh Meriwether: Todd, while we're on a break, let's take a moment to speak just with our podcast listeners.
Todd Orston: Great, idea. First, thank you for listening. If you're a client of ours, thank you for taking the time to educate yourself. It really helps us help you.
Leh Meriwether: I wanted to thank those that recently took a moment to review our podcast. We really appreciate it. If you feel like you're gaining a value from the show, please take a moment to post a review. The reviews help others find the show, which allows us to help even more people.
Todd Orston: If you're not sure how to post a review, our webmasters put together a simple explanation on our webpage. You can find it at mtlawoffice.com/reviewit. That's M as in Mary, T as in Tom, lawoffice.com/reviewit.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on the New Talk 106.7. If you find out more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.
Leh Meriwether: Man, this show has been flying by, Todd. Yeah, we've been talking with Sarah Armstrong, the author of 'The Mom's Guide to a Good Divorce: What to Think Through When Children Are Involved'. This term came from her daughter that she actually had a good divorce, not that we want anybody to get a divorce and she talks about that in her book too. If that has happened, then you want to do everything you can to make it a good divorce.
Leh Meriwether: So, she wrote a book five years later. She waited, she gave time to reflect and write a book and give, not just some sort of holistic advice, but some very practical advice that I think helpful. There was things in here that I hadn't even thought of before. Let's just hit two more practical tips and there's a ton more in the book. If you're going through a divorce, you definitely want to check this book out. Give our listeners two more practical tips.
Sarah Armstrong: I think one of the key tips is really to think about how you're going to manage your child's life across two households and the need for a shared calendar. Thankfully, you have Google shared calendars, all sorts of different shared calendars out there, but something that everyone can see including your children of where they're going to be in a given week and where they need to be, either in terms of where they're sleeping, depending on how you have your custody agreement, and also just through activities. Keeping everyone on the same page is really important.
Sarah Armstrong: The link to that is communication between yourself and your ex-husband or ex-wife. Thankfully, you have email, you have text, you can obviously have phone calls, but keeping an open line of communication between the two of you and not expecting that your children are the ones communicating those details. We, in our situation, have never asked Grace to be responsible for the communication. It's really been our commitment that we would do that between the two of us.
Sarah Armstrong: I'll keep a list of things I want to talk to my ex-husband about and then it's either an email, I'll run through it or I'll give him a quick call and say, "Here are the five things," and we are as efficient as possible. Probably just stepping back in the divorce itself is just really thinking about how you manage it as a project. There are a lot of details to think through. Taking in those bite-sized pieces in the phases that you're going through and managing the project is another thing that I think is really important.
Todd Orston: You broke your book out into those-
Sarah Armstrong: Into the phases
Todd Orston: ... into the different phases and then just different practical tips and plenty of space to take notes as you go throughout that. I love that about the book.
Todd Orston: All right, let's talk about something. Let's go pass the divorce. The divorce has happened. One of the things I liked in the book was the year of firsts. Tell us about that.
Sarah Armstrong: Well, when you go through divorce, that first year has a lot of first milestones. You have birthdays that are now being celebrated potentially in a different way. You have holidays that are potentially being celebrated in a different way. You have sporting events or school plays or all the activities that your children are going through. You really have to think about how you want to approach those as they come up and decide are you trying to maintain the same tradition or structure of that event or are you going to change it in this new reality? Once you decide whichever way, try to keep the tradition or change it, then afterwards, you need to reflect. Do you want to repeat that the second year and beyond? Sometimes they work and sometimes you say, "You know what? I'm, I'm not doing that again."
Sarah Armstrong: An example for me, in fairness, was the first holiday that I spent without Grace because we alternate our holidays within our custody agreement. I went and spent it with my family and my nieces and nephews and I walked away from that holiday and I said, "I'm not doing that again." So the holidays that I don't have Grace [inaudible 00:37:57] and just remove myself from that family dynamic. Because without her there, with my nieces and nephews and her cousins and all that goes on with that, it's just it's a really hard reminder and holidays can be tough that way.
Todd Orston: What didn't work for you might work for others?
Sarah Armstrong: Absolutely.
Leh Meriwether: Yeah, some people might want to be surrounded by family. It sounds like you, it just made you think about your daughter even more.
Sarah Armstrong: Right, I missed her even more. You're right. There's no right answer on this.
Leh Meriwether: That's right.
Sarah Armstrong: It's how you feel in that instance and in that scenario, but it is just a matter of reflecting on what's going to work for you and then deciding is that going to be something you continue on with over the course of time.
Todd Orston: For me, another takeaway from that too was mindset. You didn't get all worked up like, "Oh, that was painful." You made a decision. I'm not going to dwell on that. I'm going to do something different-
Sarah Armstrong: Different.
Todd Orston: ... next year. That's important too, because when you say, "All right, I'm just going to treat that as a learning lesson and move on," that that allows you to prevent that negativity, so when she comes back, you don't overwhelm her with, "I missed you so much." 'Cause that can create a lot of tension for your daughter too.
Sarah Armstrong: Absolutely.
Leh Meriwether: Especially, if you say it in that voice.
Sarah Armstrong: This is true.
Todd Orston: I'm not feeling tense and ...
Sarah Armstrong: No, it's a very good point. Excuse me. That's a great point. [inaudible 00:39:12] use the voice, but actually I generally also don't say to Grace how hard it is on me. Again, she doesn't need to feel worse.
Todd Orston: That's a weight-
Leh Meriwether: Yeah. The child doesn't need to ...
Sarah Armstrong: It's a weight she shouldn't have to carry.
Todd Orston: Absolutely.
Sarah Armstrong: It's more of my own reflection. Did I cry that first holiday without her? Yes. Did I tell her I cried? No. Again, you have to choose what you want to bring your children into in this process you're going through for yourself and also with them.
Todd Orston: All right, let me ask you this. Let's say someone's listening to this and they're in the middle of a divorce. Is it too late to have a good divorce?
Sarah Armstrong: No, no. I think that you can be in the middle of a divorce, you can be past divorce, you can be divorced and be two and three years into a divorce that may not be going as well as you would like it to be in terms of the relationship you have with your ex-spouse, and there are ways to make it the best it can be. Again, there's challenges with any situation, but again, this is a conscious decision of how you want to approach this, how you want to manage your negative emotions, how you want to interact with your ex-spouse.
Sarah Armstrong: I fundamentally believe you can still have a good divorce either midway through or even afterwards if you want to control the things you can control. You can't control another person's behavior, but you can decide how you're going to react to things.
Leh Meriwether: I do want to add this just real quick. I didn't want to segue away to it, but the book ... We've been talking about Grace and how you handled that process, but there's a lot of parts of your book about, hey, you need to get a handle on insurance and health insurance.
Sarah Armstrong: Absolutely.
Leh Meriwether: You have a lot of practical tips about finances in here too. So, I just want people to know about that. It's not all about the custody aspect, 'cause that is a very important part, but it's all about there's a section on finances as well. If someone doesn't even have kids, I think there's a portion of this that's really helpful.
Sarah Armstrong: Yeah, there's a lot of, what I would say, the day to day logistics of life that you have to think about as you're raising a family. It does go into a lot of the tactical details of the decisions you have to make about your own personal finances and those things, as well as the decisions you have to make around raising your children for the period of time that they're at home. That's a big part of it as well.
Leh Meriwether: I'd like to share this real quick too. I just see so much utility out of your book. It doesn't actually just apply to people going through a divorce. There's a rise in what's called legitimation actions where people never got married, but they had children.
Sarah Armstrong: Interesting.
Leh Meriwether: They lived together for a while and then they break up. Well, they still need to decide what to do with the kids. I think your book would help them too because there are so many great practical tips on how to ... 'Cause it's all about parenting. That part of it, it's about parenting.
Sarah Armstrong: Absolutely.
Leh Meriwether: Gosh, even if you're together, I think ... Because it's not legally a divorce, but from practical aspects, it is, so it would apply there too.
Sarah Armstrong: That's interesting. Yeah. The logistics of life, if you have children are ... There's a lot to think through, and this book tries to address those fine points you really need to manage.
Todd Orston: I think it's even broader than that. If you can rise above the conflict, if you can focus on the good, focus on the happy, and just try to rise above it and no matter what's being thrown at you, then you can find happiness and maybe fix, if there is something broken, a relationship. It could be with a colleague, it could be with whatever. You can either just keep going toe to toe and nothing gets fixed, or you can just say, "You know what? I'm going to be different, and I'm going to find my own happiness and maybe this will resolve."
Leh Meriwether: Sarah, we only have two minutes left. I can't believe it. There is a card I want you to share. I actually teared up listening to this because to me it's a true testament of good co-parenting. Do you mind sharing with our listeners the card that you got from your ex-husband?
Sarah Armstrong: Yeah, so after five years of being divorced, on Mother's Day, actually, I received a card from my ex-husband, and I shared in the book because it was a point where I feel like it really allowed me to reflect on all that we'd been through. He wrote to me that, "It occurred to me as we're sitting together at our first middle school meeting in the school library, that I'm so fortunate that you parent the way you do and we're almost always in complete agreement and alignment about how we raise our daughter. Thank you for being such a great mom and a dependable, steady figure in her life and hope you enjoyed your Mother's Day."
Sarah Armstrong: When I read that it definitely made me pause. It gave me a lot of satisfaction that how we had decided to go through this process, again, not an easy process, but we have gone through it in a very conscious and certain way and we're all in a better place. The one thing I want to share is we're all really happy. I'm happy in my life. Grace is a really happy kid, and my ex-husband is happy in his life. We, again, live in separate homes, but we are a co-parenting, raising our daughter together and that's what the whole focus of this post-divorce phase has been about.
Todd Orston: That's fantastic. Sarah, how can people buy your book?
Sarah Armstrong: You can either go online to Amazon and you can get it in paperback or on iBooks, Kindle, or Nook. Or, you can go to a local Barnes & Noble, or on Barnes & Noble online
Leh Meriwether: People can read more about you at gooddivorce.guide, is that right?
Sarah Armstrong: That's correct.
Leh Meriwether: Awesome. Hey, everyone, thanks so much for listening. If you know someone that's going through a divorce right now, you definitely want to get this book. Thanks so much for listening.
Speaker 4: This audio program does not establish an attorney-client relationship with Meriwether and Tharp.