Dr. David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Council, a podcast interview series sponsored by CenterSite, LLC, covering topics in mental health, wellness, and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical psychologist and your host.
On today's show we'll be getting advice about coping with your adult child's divorce from author Marsha Temlock. Marsha Temlock has master's degrees in organizational psychology and English literature. She's worked for more than 20 years in social and psychological services. A feature writer and columnist, she and her husband divide their time between Westport Connecticut and New York City.
She is the author of a new book titled "Your Child's Divorce". Here's what the publisher's website has to say about the book. "When an adult child's marriage ends lots of folks are hurt. The divorcing couple of course and their children. Until now however little attention has been paid to the parents of the divorcees. Temlock's examination of this sensitive topic offers parents a friendly guide book packed with helpful information and suggestions from parents who have been there. Her five stage model of the divorce process for parents will help readers to stay grounded through the emotional upheavals they'll share with their children and grandchildren. This practical manual puts an arm around the shoulders of parents of divorcing adults and supports them through the difficult days of the divorce process and its aftermath."
So now here is the interview.
Marsha Temlock, welcome to the Wise Council podcast.
Marsha Temlock: Thank you, I'm glad to be here.
David: I was fascinated to see your book which is called "Your Child's Divorce: What to Expect, What You Can Do". I thought this is a very interesting niche topic. It never would have occurred to me that this would be an issue to write about. Probably because it hasn't happened to me, at least not yet in my own life. How did you come to write this book?
Marsha: I wrote this book because first of all I have been working is social services for more than 20 years. I have met with many couples who were getting divorced and also talked to their parents. Then unfortunately I have had two children who got divorced and it sort of felt as if the family had fallen of a cliff. My husband and I have been married for 42 years and there hasn't been very much divorce in our extended family. I decided to see what books were out there to help parents so they could understand their role, and discovered there wasn't very much at all. We really were a neglected audience. So I decided to tackle the subject myself.
David: I'm not surprised that it was born out of personal experience. That is just the sort of thing that will motivate this kind of activity. So who is your intended audience for the book?
Marsha: Actually the first audience of course is just as the title states "Your Child's Divorce: What to Expect, What you Can Do". A number of couples have told me that in the midst of their divorce they have decided to give this to their parents so they could get the right kind of support from them. They would like their parents to understand the boundaries. Of course this book is also useful for therapists and anybody that is working with divorced couples, and it has the occasion to help them understand what the difference process is like.
David: Yeah that makes a lot of sense. I'm just realizing that initially this title kind of threw me off. "Your Child's Divorce" because somehow the word "child" suggested to me a small person.
Marsha: It should be, perhaps, your adult child.
David: Exactly, but it's out there now so people just have to figure that out. I finally figured it out but it did take me a moment or two.
Marsha: Yes well, our children are our children aren't they no matter how old they are?
David: Each of your chapter titles kind of make a good discussion point, so maybe we'll just kind of walk through your book and hit the high points. In the first chapter you've titled it that "It's not just a rough spot". What did you mean by that? Can you expand on the idea that it's not just a rough spot?
Marsha: I think that many parents have a knee jerk reaction when they hear that their child is getting divorced. They may for example think that this is a problem that can be fixed. My point is that by the time parents get the news its generally a reality and they have to accept the news and deal with it. That may mean putting their own emotionality aside and really expressing their support and loyalty very early because that is what their child is looking for. Once you express that support and loyalty you will have establishing a very good foundation for your future relationship with your child.
David: So in other words there is a natural tendency to try to minimize or dismiss the severity of the problem.
Marsha: That of course could be one reaction. If the parent knows that their child is in a bad marriage. If there have been disclosures right along it won't come as a shock. Nevertheless, parents still may feel guilt, anger, or frustration, and they may tend to burden their child with these feelings.
David: I see you have some helpful features in your chapters, for example in this chapter "Its not Just a Rough Spot" there is something called parental guide posts. You have some bullet points here which include, "Come to a reasonable acceptance of your child's marital difficulties; Avoid jumping to conclusions as to why the marriage failed (sounds like good advice); Guard against self recrimination (that certainly is good advice); Say goodbye to guilt; Resist the impulse to fix perceived problems; Acknowledge that your child's path may be different from your own; Avoid Monday morning quarterbacking". And finally you say, "Demonstrate ongoing support". Then I notice you have workbook exercises at the end of each of these chapters.
Marsha: These exercises are really things that I would like parents to read. They don't necessarily have to sit down with a pen and pencil, but I think it will really be a springboard for thinking about their own reactions to different situations and that's why I put it there. Of course, these exercises also are very good if you are working with a group of people, or an individual. A therapist might want to use them.
David: Then the book goes on to a section called "To the Rescue", which makes me think of Superman or Superwoman. "To the Rescue, Putting Pieces together" So what is that about? Putting the pieces together?
Marsha: Well, the rescue period does not have to occur right after the announcement. I think many parents may think that they have to run and help their child, their grandchild immediately. First of all, it really depends on how divorce-ready your child is. And you may not be the first person that your child will turn to. It depends on your past relationship with that child, of course.
The other thing is that we need to understand that there are different circles of support, and I discuss that in the chapter, "The inner circle, the outer circle, the Internet". You have to know to respect boundaries. And I go into that in depth, so that parents understand that they are not necessarily being rejected. It's a question of timing. That has a lot to do with rescue.
David: OK. Now, you mentioned the term "divorce ready" that you need to determine...
Marsha: I'm sorry, you're fading bit.
David: You need to determine if your child...
David: Can you hear me?
Marsha: Yes. But your voice is a little low. I'm sorry.
David: OK. OK. You mentioned that you need to determine if your child is "divorce ready." What is it that you mean by that?
Marsha: Well, your child, as I said before, may have a very good support system in place already prior to your even knowing that there are issues in the marriage, you know? They may have already discussed the situation with a lawyer, contacted an accountant. We say, "Put all the pegs in the tent."
That has a lot to do with how divorce-ready your child is. Your child may also be one who's been very, very independent, lived far away from you, and may not feel as if he or she needs to immediately seek out the family's refuge.
David: OK. You also mentioned that sometimes the adult child may engage in some regression. What sort of forms might that take?
Marsha: Yes. We talk about parent-child regression. For when, for example, a child may have to come back to the fold. You know, needs a place to live, or sleeps on the couch or even takes up space for a longer period of time. You may suddenly discover that you're now Mom again with a capital letter "M."
Marsha: You know, cooking, cleaning, taking laundry in, doing all that sort of thing. And, often, because your child may feel paralyzed and indecisive at this time -- after all, the break-up of a marriage is a very discombobulating situation -- you may find that your child is reluctant to make decisions and asking for your advice a lot more than he or she has before. They may also be resenting the fact that you are doing all these things.
David: OK. And then I noticed that you've got another chapter on the "to the rescue" theme called "Mom and Dad, I Need Money." Now, there's one that I can relate to because I've got four adult children who are [laughs] pretty independent at this point but every now and then there is that, "Hey, I need some money" thing.
David: So, what kinds of issues do you cover here?
Marsha: In this chapter, I talk about that slippery slope which is "how much financial support should I give my child?"
David: That's a really tough one.
Marsha: I hear lots of... That's very tough.
David: That's a tough decision.
Marsha: It's very tough. It's a moral, ethical as well as a financial issue. You have to consider the needs of your spouse, yourself and the other members of your family. I caution parents, only give what you can give freely. And also consult an accountant. Be aware of the budget that your child will have to make when he or she goes to see a lawyer, or a mediator, because that's the first step.
Also, understand what may happen if your child or in-law is in business with you. There's a lot of different balls in the air at this point that you have to really be careful to catch.
David: Yes, I can imagine. And I would just think that the parent would be struggling with a certain amount of guilt. Like, "I've got to give my child enough money or I've got to give him all that I can barely afford to give."
Marsha: Yeah. Financial issues are typically the number one issue that would cause depression, also family dissension. I tell one story of a young woman who I met on vacation. She knew I was writing the book and she said, "Oh, my sister got divorced three years ago. And my mother and father are still paying the mortgage on her house. And they have been using my college tuition money".
David: So, that has planted some seeds of dissension in the family right there.
Marsha: Yes. I think the parents need to really consider the needs of everyone in the family and often doing too much is as bad as doing too little.
David: Yes. But I noticed though you caution to avoid attaching strings to your gift or loan. Why do you say that?
David: Yeah. Why do you say that?
Marsha: I think in any situation, not just divorce, if your child has been financially irresponsible, earmark money for a particular circumstance but don't use money to punish, to reward or to get control.
David: OK. OK. Your chapter four deals with the whole issue of "Mom and Dad, can I come home?" What's your stance, what's your advice on that issue?
Marsha: Yes. Well, we've talked about that a little bit before and I think the overriding factor in this situation is try to move your child forward. It's fine if your child is living at home. You may have a wonderful situation where you've got maybe a little apartment or whatever. You have grandchildren you need to consider.
You are going to have to negotiate early on how the space will be used. Privacy, that sort of thing. I even recommend drawing up an informal contract if you think that's appropriate. But, if at all possible, try to establish some time frame so everybody feels comfortable about how long your child will be living with you.
It may very well be that your child will be with you for quite a long time. But you need to establish those boundaries early on for it to be successful.
David: Yeah. Speaking of boundaries, I notice you also discuss dividing up household chores that I guess they need to be held accountable for some of the chores. And you talk...
David: ... you talk about needing to be clear about any house rules.
Marsha: Yes. If, for example, you have your own dedicated computer and you don't want your grandchildren using that computer, be up front.
Marsha: So nobody gets upset.
David: That makes sense. Now, you have a whole section on dealing with change. And the first topic has to do with taking sides. What are the issues there?
Marsha: Well, I believe that it's very natural for parents to try to take sides to try to understand who's the bad guy, who's the good guy, in all this. We have a natural tendency to protect our own.
Nevertheless, I think you want to get off on the right foot with the soon to be ex-law and so you need to, while showing the family flag and showing your child your loyalty, you should also make sure to keep the lines of communication open with the ex-law. After all, you didn't make their marriage, you didn't make their divorce. And if at all possible, you want to maintain some connection, especially if there are grandchildren.
David: Now how did you come to this advice, to these opinions, to this wisdom?
Marsha: [laughing] Well, a lot of it is comes from talking to other parents, of course. And doing some research, books. For example, by the author, I'm so sorry it slips my mind right at this minute, who wrote this wonderful grandparenting book. Also just, of course, you know by living. Living through it.
David: Yes, that's right. You also talk about the "road to recovery". I guess you call it the road to your recovery. I guess you're addressing the parents there?
Marsha: Yes, and this is how I think my book is really quite different from anything else that's out there. Because the parents are going through their own time of turmoil. And they may try to put their feelings aside. Or they may be so affected by the divorce that they can't think about anything else that it dominates their life. So parents really need to understand that if they are willing to look at the tasks that they are able to do for their child, their grandchild. If they understand the goal, if they understand the obstacle, they will hasten their own recovery, at the same time helping their family to heal.
David: And you refer to the "road to recovery." Are there signposts along that road to let you know where you are, where you're going, how far you've come?
Marsha: Yes, I believe that if you are aware of where your child is at in terms of his or her recovery, you will know when to pull back, when to go forward.
David: When to pull back and when to go forward?
Marsha: Yes. Being able to pull back and not prolong the rescue period is critical and you will hasten your own recovery if you can do that. If you understand, for example, that you don't need to be the full time caretaker. You don't always need to be listening to the phone calls that are coming in. It's like a switchboard that's lighting up all the time? You don't have to listen to all those phone calls. You can ignore some of them. I say turn off the cell phone! You and your husband are going out for dinner. You can do that. It's OK. You don't have to jump up and run over because your child says, "oh, I'm so upset. This happened." You can wait for a day or two. It's OK.
David: Somehow being in the role of parent really seems to trigger that rescuer desire, to want to be there to rescue all the time.
Marsha: And remember your goal is to move your child forward. To support their goals, to be there to advise but not to take over. I say you want to be a backup. You don't want to be a safety net.
David: You don't want to be a what?
Marsha. A safety net. Or a lifeline, let's put it that way. You want to be a backup, not a lifeline.
David: OK, because I guess there's a risk in the process of regression that might be happening, there's a risk of the child of becoming overly dependent and losing ground in terms of their independence.
Marsha: Yes, and there are many things in the book that you really have to read in order to understand all the difference in areas. I've talked to many parents, I have many different cases. We can't cover all of them and every situation is different. But I think there is enough in there so that parents can identify with their own situation.
David: Yes, you do give lots of different little vignettes and case scenarios.
Marsha: There's also a narrative that goes through the book. It's a story of one family. Each chapter begins with one section of this story of parents trying to help their child, grandchild, and ex in-law.
David: Excellent. Then you've got a section on supporting your children post-divorce. What are the issues or advice there?
Marsha: Well, you may find that your child is searching for an identity. First of all there can be a lot of residual anger, so you have to be aware of that. Very often parents will tend to inflame the situation by holding onto their anger long after their child has sort of resolved some of the issues post-divorce. For example I know one father who was at his grandson's bar mitzvah and he was asked to go onto the beman where they pass the Torah from one hand to the other. And he was standing next to the former, his daughter's former mother-in-law. He refused to stand next to her and he moved away.
David: Oh boy.
Marsha: And this will happen at a wedding, any family occasion, people won't sit next to each other. They will refuse to go to a child's soccer game because so-and-so will be there.
David: So when you talk about anger, there's probably a lot of anger floating around. The adult child is dealing with issues of anger over the divorce, but also the parents may have anger issues.
Marsha: Yes, so when we talk about post-divorce issues, it's not just the child or the grandchildren. It's also the parents, the changes they need to expect.
David: Yes. Now you've mentioned grandchildren and grandparents several times and I notice you've got a couple of chapters on that topics. One, "Grandchildren in crisis" and another, "Grandparents as stabilizers." Are the issues at all different for grandparents than for parents?
Marsha: Yes, first of all, grandparents I say have to be a relief from stress. Grandchildren will be experiencing a lot of upheaval in their own homes. Chances are one parent is now absent. Even older children will certainly suffer from this kind of change, dramatic change in their life. But grandparents, they are the buoy. When a child comes to your home, your home should be a neutral territory. You want to provide a feeling of calm and fun and love and stability.
David: Yeah, the grandparents often have a bit more remove than the parents and possibly will be less hooked in emotionally and less judgmental.
Marsha: Yes, but you'd be surprised at the number of grandparents that continue to play our the battle in their own home. They won't even mention the name of the ex-law. Or when a child comes back from having a nice day with the non-custodial parent, they'll pry that child with questions. And it's very unfair to the child.
David: And then what's your advice when the child remarries? That's something you discuss in your book.
Marsha: Yes, this is what we call the "Guess who's coming for dinner?" chapter. There you are in the kitchen, you're the mother, you're preparing all the food, you're basting the turkey and your daughter says, "Well, what do you think about this guy because I'm serious?"
And, it's a very, shall we say, interesting time for parents to now accept a new member. Perhaps a whole new family, if there are other children, perhaps grandchildren, new in-laws. The family is branching out. And I offer many different kinds of suggestions to help parents be able to not only be the historian, to carry forth the traditions for their own family, but to help create a new history to involve and include all the new members.
David: Well that sounds like very good advice. What about therapy or counseling for any of these parties? How do people know whether they need to seek out some professional assistance in this process?
Marsha: Well, if you are the parent and you are finding that you are focusing all the time on your child's divorce and your child's needs that your own marriage is suffering, that you're neglecting the needs of your own family, that you've put your life on hold. Joy is missing. That you're so consumed with what you need to do to help your child, I do suggest that you seek some kind of short-term counseling. And there are many support groups out there for parents and grandparents. Of course you can also form one of your own. Talk to your clergymen. See what there is out there for you.
I also caution parents about immediately thinking that your child or grandchild needs to have therapy because there are problems in the marriage. We say some families even send the dog for counseling. Be aware of what those triggers are. I spend a lot of time in the chapter about grandparenting so that you will understand that there are so-called normal developmental stages for children who will be grieving when their parents get divorced. And some of the symptoms are normal. Others, of course, they are more pronounced will require the use of a professional to help.
David: What about yourself, are you doing any work yourself right now as a therapist or a counselor?
Marsha: I'm not working with this particular issue, no. I would like to be able to run some groups for grandparents and parents of divorced children. I think it would be very helpful if we could use my book as kind of a guide and there's a natural sequence in the book so that you could have a certain number of sessions. And that's one of my goals.
David: Yeah, yeah, I could see that easily being an outgrowth of this. Have you had any afterthoughts, I know your book hasn't been out that long. I co-authored a book and I had some major insights after the book came out. I thought, "oh gee, if only I could have gotten this into the book."
Marsha: You mean what did I leave out, kind of thing? What should I have said differently?
David: Are there things that have kind of come to mind, things you wish you would have said differently. Or fresh insights that you've had that the book's out, but now you've got some different insights?
Marsha: That's a very interesting question. I have to say that I've had a wonderful response, a very gratifying response to the book just the way it is right now. I don't believe that anybody who has reviewed it has said, "I fault the author for saying X, Y, Z." The book is now, I have been writing some articles for parents without partners. You can find that on their website. I also have my own website. But you know the endorsements have been terrific. So not yet, in response to that question.
David: What's the URL for your website?
Marsha: Oh yes. I would love people to go onto www.yourchildsdivorce.com (website no longer available). They can also check with my publisher. That would be www.impactpublishing.com And of course the book is listed with Amazon and Barnes and Noble. And it can be purchased online and it might very well be in your bookstore now. If not you can request it.
David: Definitely. So as we wrap things up here I wonder if you have any words of advice?
Marsha: Well I say in my book, and I'm paraphrasing, that many people see divorce as an ending. Others see it as a new beginning. I see it as a continuum. It's not something that we want for our children. It's something that we have to deal with and something that we can do very well. It's just a new set of parenting skills.
David: OK, Marsha Temlock. Thank you very much for being my guest today on Wise Counsel.
Marsha: Thank you. I very much enjoyed talking with you.
David: I hope you enjoyed this interview with my guest, Marsha Temlock. If you or someone you know has adult children who are undergoing divorce, her book could be a very useful resource with its five-step model, homework exercises, and appendices which include a section on legal and financial issues, as well as a divorce related bibliography, relevant websites, and other resources.
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Until next time, this is Dr. David Van Nuys, and you've been listening to Wise Counsel.