Episode summary:

Susan talks with Christina McGhee, author of Parenting Apart, about how to address challenges associated with helping a child adjust after divorce. The discussion includes managing transitions, offloading a child’s feelings in healthy ways, and ensuring kids don’t get overloaded with parents’ own difficult emotions.

Christina McGhee is a divorce-parenting expert whose practical advice has been highlighted both online and in print.  Over the years, she has been featured on television, radio, podcasts, tele-summits and webinars. She has appeared on Today Parents, Parenting Magazine, The Times, Channel 4, the BBC, NYU Doctor Radio and The Dr. Laura Berman Radio Show on the Oprah Network. Christina is an informative and engaging speaker who brings insight and strategies to help separating families deal with “real-life” challenges.  As a zealous advocate for children, she keeps the focus where it belongs… on kids. Christina is also skilled at addressing tough issues like discipline differences, dealing with a difficult Ex, high-conflict personalities, badmouthing and neutralizing divorce drama. https://divorceandchildren.com

Things you’ll learn from this episode:

  • It IS possible for kids to thrive after divorce!
  • Why the relationship between co-parents after divorce can have more impact on children than the divorce itself 
  • How keep a “big-picture” perspective, rather than getting lost in difficult moments

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Transcript here:

Speaker 1: (00:10)

Hello and welcome to the Parenting Without Power Struggles podcast. I’m Susan Stiffelman. I’m your host and the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting With Presence. Over the course of my long career as a teacher and a family therapist, I’ve worked with thousands of parents and children and that work. My work has been one of my life’s greatest joys. It still is. And this podcast is a way to share with you some of what I’ve learned from the wonderful parents and children I’ve been privileged to work with. Every episode is intended to help you respond with presence, with care and clarity as you navigate the ups and downs of raising children. And we cover a wide range of topics with awesome guests. Like my guest today, Christina McGhee, welcome Christina. Hey, she’s so, I’m so excited to be here today. I have three here. So before we jp into today’s episode, I just want to say if you want to know more about my work, please visit susanstffelman.com so you can sign up for a free parenting newsletter and get info on masterclasses on everything from raising differently wired children to reigniting your child’s passion for learning to co-parenting with a narcissist

Speaker 1: (01:26)

I met Christina when she took part in mind Co Parenting Without Power Struggles Smit. I have a series of online smits on my website and Christina was a wonderful voice representing solid information with tons of experience behind it on helping children through divorce. So I’m going to just say a little bit about you, Christina, and then we’ll, we’ll jp in. Okay. Okay, cool. Christina McGhee is an internationally recognized divorce parenting expert, speaker and author. She has a long career educating parents and professionals on how to keep kids in the center. One parent’s part. She believes that divorce doesn’t have to equal devastation for families and wallets really hard. She has asserted and and stands behind the the reality that we could write kind of information and support. Parents can be a child, absolute best resource when family’s changed in her book. Parenting apart how separated and divorced parents can raise happy and secure kids. She offers practical strategies for dealing with the real life everyday challenges for parents that come with co-parenting. And of course, as a bonus mom, you’ve got two stepkids and two biological kids. You have had a lot of extensive on the job training, right? Oh yes. 

Speaker 1: (02:51)

Everything from short order cook to schedule Xtrordinair Kid. , Christina’s website is divorceandchildren.com, and let’s just jp in Kristina. I know statistically half of all North American children will witness the divorce of their parents. And while there are a lot of websites and books that talk about the negative consequences of that kind of scare people you maintain. And I agree that divorce does not have to become a lifelong weight on a child and that many, many kids make it through their parents’ divorce without those awful consequences that we hear about. So let’s talk about how parents can help their children do well and not become one of those negative statistics. 

Speaker 2: (03:33)

Yeah, absolutely. 

Speaker 1: (03:35)

What are some of the things you’ve seen parents do that help kids do well in the aftermath of divorce? Either right away when it first happens or over the long term? 

Speaker 2: (03:44)

Yeah, I think there are two kind of , two practices, two philosophies that kind of underpin everything. And one of them is the ability to look beyond the moment. You know, there’s so many things that happen when you’re going through the process of uncoupling. You know, there’s triggers, there’s all these, you know, feelings and hot button issues that we have with one another and it, you know, that can just kind of take over and things go off the rails really quickly. But you know, parents that I, that I work with and ones that I run into when they’re able to take a step back and really get into a place where they can respond rather than react, it makes a huge difference in how they’re parenting their children and also how they’re engaging with each other. Because, you know, when we talk about the devastation of divorce, it’s not really the act of divorce that’s devastating for kids even though it is really hard. It’s how parents are relating to one another. And so when parents can keep it about the kids, which is the second fundamental principle, how can you really focus more on , parents and separate the, , your feelings about divorce from the needs of your children? And that is a big shift, but it’s such an important one. Your kids really benefit when they can feel confident that, uh, you know, that they are more important than any anger or hurt that you feel with each other. 

Speaker 1: (05:17)

That is so cute. And of course it’s easier said than done. And I can speak from my own experience because I did, I’m separate from my son’s father when he was 10. We later divorced. And I often say that going through that experience and not just in the immediate aftermath of the separation, but over those years was probably the most transformative experience, the most, , challenging but also life benefiting experience for me to learn how to put aside or deal with in other places, deal with my own big feelings so that I could show up for son in a way that I, I knew he needed and that I really in my heart wanted to, to be available to him for. And that’s not easy. Do you have any suggestions or things that you’ve, you’ve supported or coach parents to do when their own feelings threatened to flood them so much that they have a really hard time showing up for their kids in that way? 

Speaker 2: (06:17)

You know, I tell parents a lot of times that it’s hard to see the picture when you’re in the frame. And so sometimes we need some support to step out of the frame of our lives, to take a look at what’s going on from a different perspective. And sometimes we can get that different perspective from a trusted friend who’s willing to really listen and be objective, not, you know, add fuel to the fire. Uh, it may be engaging with a therapist or a counselor or you know, a life coach, , a support group, an online for. I mean, there’s so many different ways. Maybe it’s reading a book, but something that gives you a, another perspective so we can move into that place that we talked about where you’re not just reacting, but you’re, you know, looking at the big picture and making a choice to respond. Yeah, 

Speaker 1: (07:09)

that’s great. You know, one of the things that parents come confessed in me or confide in me is difficult either right away after a divorce or even over the long term, is the transition from one house to the other. Can you walk a little bit of guidance on how parents can make that go more easily for their children? 

Speaker 2: (07:30)

Sure, sure. I mean, transitioning, oh my gosh, that is such a big issue. , it’s a big issue for us to deal with as co-parents and it’s a big issue for our kids. It’s, you know, it’s important to remember that your kids are literally transitioning from one world to another world. You know, often parents have different ways of doing things and different rules and there’s different people and just kind of a different rhythm to life. So you know, when your kids are having a little difficulty transitioning or you feel like they’re just like bouncing off the walls when they come back from the other parent’s home. I really encourage parents to first and foremost pay attention to the emotional temperature of your home when children are coming in or when they’re leaving. , so you know, what’s, what’s life like in your house 30 minutes before they walk out the door or 30 minutes before they walk in the door from the other parent’s house. 

Speaker 2: (08:30)

Because a lot of times paying attention to that can give us some clues about what might be difficult and we don’t, we get so busy and kind of the daily grind and managing life that we don’t pay attention to the fact that it’s like utter chaos 30 minutes before mom comes to pick up the kids, you know, or , are there, are there tweaks that we can make to help kids have a smoother transition? Some kids go through things like separation anxiety and you know, you find yourself in a situation where you’re literally like peeling your child off of you to hand them to the other parent. So you know, maybe doing that you know, at, at your home isn’t the best transition place. Maybe you can meet the other parent at a local park where the child has some space to play and the exchange is a little bit more peaceful. The shift is a little more peaceful. So first and foremost, I mean there’s a lot of other things that you can do to kind of tweak those transitions and recommendations I have for parents. But I think the first step is really just kind of pay attention to that emotional temperature. 

Speaker 1: (09:38)

And you and I have talked about doing a class together and I love that once we started conversing about some of the deeper, sort of digging deeper into what that might look like. One of the things we were discussing was noticing that type of child that you have and that some child at a very physically active child may need to get chased around the yard before you walk back into the house. If, if he or she has been at the other parents for a few days and kind of get their physical [inaudible] out. And you were thinking, you were suggesting another child might walk into the house after being away and want to sit with you and do a puzzle. Right, 

Speaker 2: (10:12)

right. Or color. I mean, it really depends on, you know, your child’s personality and what’s gonna help them kind of, because what’s happening is kids need space to emotionally shift gears. So how can we best help them do that? And for some kids, you know, the anxiety is so overwhelming that their bodies just start fidgeting and they’re testing limits and you know, not following rules and, and it have an emotional meltdowns for other kids, they may completely withdraw and just kind of go into themselves. And you’re lucky if you get two words. , so just paying attention really to what’s going on with your kids and, and their personality and their makeup and what’s going on in the household and seeing how you can match all that up to where it really works for your kids. 

Speaker 1: (11:01)

So let’s talk about that for a minute. , we know that talking about difficult feelings is really important to a child’s mental and emotional health. And that divorce is a huge loss for a child as that family is reconfigured and, and you know, they no longer have both one roof. What’s one thing that a parent can do to help a child offload those difficult, angry, frustrated feelings? And, and often they need to offload them at the very time that you yourself are struggling or feeling, you know, overwhelmed by your own anger or frustration or hurt. So how can a parent show up in a way that affords a child the chance to not hold everything in and have it show up in, in behavior that , maybe their way of expressing all is not right in my world, but how do we get it out in the open? 

Speaker 2: (11:52)

Right. Well, 

Speaker 1: (11:54)

I would say first circle back to one of the first things we talked about, which is look beyond the moment and also look beyond the behavior. So when kids are, , you know, angry or upset or sad, they have lots of different ways of showing it. And sometimes what kids are showing us isn’t exactly matching up with what they’re feeling inside. You know, I had a kid and her goto emotion, one of my kids was anger. Like if she was embarrassed, she got angry. If she was scared, she got angry, you know, that was her go to emotion. But it didn’t necessarily define what she was struggling with. So, you know, just kind of paying attention to that. And also if I tell parents, if you’ve got a superpower to cultivate, make it validation because validation is so very helpful and important. Uh, especially during this time. 

Speaker 1: (12:45)

And a lot of times parents make the mistake of thinking that validation is just about helping kids identify what they’re feeling. But really it’s a lot deeper than that. It’s showing up for your kids in a way that helps them feel really seen and heard. You know, in that moment you’re with them and , you’re trying to do your best to understand their truths. , it sounds easy but it’s really, really hard to do because our instinct as parents is we want to protect them. We want to shield them, we want to take away the stress. We want to fix it and make it better. Right. And so, , you know, no matter how smart you are, it’s hard. 

Speaker 1: (13:27)

Yeah. It is hard. And you know, I think it causes our hearts so much pain when we see our children’s struggling that we want to fix it right away or make it go away. But in truth, children are incredibly resilient and, and we can show up in ways for them, even when we ourselves are struggling, we could show up in ways that send them the message. I have faith in your capacity to get through this difficult time. In my work I talk about act one parenting, and I won’t go into it on this, on this episode, but I talk about coming alongside our kids when they issue a complaint or they’re frustrated rather than coming at them with advice they haven’t asked for or trying to distract or cheer them up. And, and it, that it is built a lot in validation. I get the feeling this has been a really hard day for you or I wonder if you were, if you were sad to leave daddy’s house. So, , so let’s wrap up with a tip because I always like to do that. What’s one thing that parents can do this week to kind of implement some of the ideas we’ve been talking about? 

Speaker 2: (14:24)

So one big tip that I would offer, , parents is to, you know, really again, you know, thinking about the big picture and realizing that co-parenting is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. It takes time and that sometimes it can be, it can be so challenging to, to separate those feelings from your own feelings. But I encourage parents to think about, you know, five years from now when your kids look back on this experience, what will you have done to make them proud? And if you use that as your lens for different situations and challenges that you’re facing, it can really help you get that perspective. So if you this week find yourself kind of really struggling with a co-parent issue or something that’s going on, try asking yourself that question and see if that helps you shift into a mindset where you can approach the problem a little bit differently. 

Speaker 1: (15:28)

Wow. I love that. And I’m thinking about my own experience as a divorced mother and the, the choices that I would be faced with and, and how wonderful, beautiful it would be to have them be informed by, you know, in five years when I look back on this, will I be proud of myself or, or feel satisfied that I chose a versus B. Thank you. That’s really good. To find out more about Christina’s work, please visit divorce and children.com. Anything you want to add about your work, Christina, that people should know? 

Speaker 2: (16:02)

, well if parents are interested, you know, resources are always so extremely helpful. And on my website I do have a free resource guide for parents. So if you’re looking for books for yourself or for your kids, a different suggestions for co-parenting apps, all of that’s included in that resource guide. I think it’s like a 32 page guide. So you know, hop on over to the website, uh, drop in your email address and you’ll, you’ll get access to it. , along with just tips that I share periodically with parents. 

Speaker 1: (16:36)

That’s great. And then, , we’re going to do a class together so please sign up for my newsletter. So you get all the scoop on that when it’s, when it’s on its way to Elisa, that’s Susan stifelman.com you can also see lots of other master classes and smits and like co-parenting with a narcissist membership program, which unfortunately some people need that kind of support. And then we have a monthly parenting without power circles membership are going there as well. Thank you Christina. I really enjoyed our conversation. I hope everyone else has enjoyed it. Please subscribe to the podcast or leave a rating or review and again, Christina, just tell people your website, 

Speaker 2: (17:15)

divorce and children.com and thank you so much Susan. It’s been delightful talking to you. 

Speaker 1: (17:24)

Well I’m glad you’re all here. Thank you again for showing up as parents who want to continue to learn and grow. You know, my second book was published with Eckhart Total A’s imprint through new world library. And he wrote the foreword to the book and the beginning of his forward starts with unique more training to get the drivers license then to become a parent. And it’s real. And all of those who are listening are, you know, you’re investing time in growing. I commend you for that and I thank you because we are transforming the world. One Calvin time through the wonderful way that you are showing up for your kids. I look forward to joining you on our next episode and meanwhile, Remember, no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments. I 

Speaker 3: (18:13)

was sweetness and joy. I’ll see you next time. [inaudible].

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