Kelly, Help!

Kelly Klaus, LMFT, was a divorced mother of three for 19 years and is now the proud parent of three successful adults. Now married and a bonus mother (stepmother), Kelly is getting firsthand experience as a blended family. With her passion for the children of divorce, she has specialized in the divorce therapeutic process including support for the parents in the family, as well as the extended family. Kelly owns the San Juan Capistrano-based “Divorce Transition Clinic” which focuses on “Damage Control Divorce” and Blended Families through workshops, education, individual & family therapy, as well as community resources in the legal and accounting fields.

Question: “My ex-husband is asking my seven-year-old son to keep secrets from me. During his weekend he took a night shift and left our son with his girlfriend. How do I address the situation with my ex as well as my child?” – Kathleen, San Clemente

Answer: This request of your ex is extremely destructive on so many levels. Assuming the girlfriend was a safe and responsible person to leave him with, and your son is familiar and comfortable with the girlfriend, the greater issue is the burden a parent puts on the child at any age to keep secrets from the other parent. The child is put in a “no win” situation and may live in constant fear of betraying one or the other parent if that secret is reveled. Guilt will evolve even if the secret is not reveled, and if an argument results from one parent finding out, the child will feel responsible.

The relationship between either parent and child may be compromised by this manipulation, as the child will have a difficult decision to whom he should be loyal. No matter how you feel about your ex, both parents are critical to the emotional development of your child.

Once the secret is known, it is imperative that the child be reassured that he did not do anything wrong and that he should not have to be responsible for adult secrets. The most optimal resolution would be to have a calm conversation with your ex that secrets should not be necessary and you should work together for the best interest of the child when plans or opportunities arise that change the prearranged plans. However, the reality may be that the “co-parents” are not able to have a civil conversation at any level without exploding, and this must be avoided in front of the child at any cost. A non-emotional letter or email may be productive to point out that you want to come to some sort of agreement to avoid the secrets and move forward to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.

Children at any age should not be used to protect or harm a parent. Give them the gift of childhood, as well as the comfort and enjoyment of loving as many family members as possible.

Q: “I have my children every other weekend, how can I be more involved with my two children ages 4 & 7?” – Mark, San Juan Capistrano

A: Just because the court has decided the time you will be responsible for your children, doesn’t mean you are not able to attend their activities, contact or be involved as much as possible.

  • Ask your child to select a personal item for you to keep as a reminder of them.
  • Discuss the next time you will be together and what you each will be doing.
  • Hide notes in their suitcase and discuss if they found it the next time you talk.
  • Buy two copies of a children’s book and read a story together over the phone.
  • When you call, ask what the best thing that happened to them today.
  • Videotape yourself reading a bedtime story to your child.
  • Send via overnight mail/snail mail a note, letter, comic, or card. In this modern age of instant communication, it is fun to receive something in the mail.
  • If possible, have the other parent or family member video the children’s events and share with your child when you are together again.

Have a question for Kelly? Contact her at, stop by her clinic at 30220 Rancho Viejo Road, Suite E in San Juan Capistrano, call (949) 292-7281 or visit

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