Roberta Eisen Of Eisen Blackstone Group On 5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
FIGURE OUT HOW TO BE YOUR BEST SELF THROUGHOUT THE PROCESS. Knowing that you will be making decisions that will impact the rest of your life and your children’s is reason enough to understand that one must do their best to stay focused and centered. Remember, these decisions will impact you and your children for the rest of your lives.
As a part of our series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup” I had the pleasure of interviewing Roberta Eisen.
Roberta Eisen, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, is a master practitioner in coaching, mediation, counseling and consulting services for families. Over the past three decades, her expertise has assisted parents and children through the transitions of divorce and beyond. She is an Advanced Practitioner Member of the Association for Conflict Resolution, a member of the Association of Family Conciliation and Courts (AFCC), and a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. She served as the consultant to the American Psychological Association to create and implement the Program for Agreement and Cooperation in Contested Custody Cases for the Family Court of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
The author of the curriculum for the Parenting Education Class for the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Pittsburgh, Roberta also teaches parenting education classes and presents workshops on basic and advanced training in mediation and conflict resolution throughout the country.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Hi, I’m Roberta Eisen. I’m a grandmother, a mother, a woman in my third marriage, and a licensed professional counselor in educational psychology. My daughter Carly Blackstone and I founded the Eisen Blackstone Group to help families navigate the changes in our world today.
I come to this point in my life with about thirty years of experience helping families navigate changes through family courts and private practice.
I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a relatively normal family. My mother was an elementary school teacher and my father was a businessman who, like many World War II survivors, struggled with depression and remorse from leaving his Jewish parents behind in Germany.
I was lucky to grow up in the “Mister Rogers” era, and lived only miles away from the iconic educator himself. Educational television taught me early lessons about feelings and emotions that my parents reinforced with love at home.
I developed a penchant for music in the first grade, and by the time I turned 16 I earned a spot in professional summer stock and dreamt of pursuing a musical theater degree. My parents encouraged my dreams and aspirations, and believed that a performance degree would build a great foundation for a career on Broadway. So, after graduation and a lead role in The Gondoliers with the Chautauqua Opera Company, I moved to the city. I now live in Washington, D.C.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Shortly after my second marriage and with not much in the help wanted ads for a lyric soprano, I decided to attend graduate school. With two young girls from my first husband and a new marriage with children on both sides, I had found love in my second husband–my Prince Charming of the ’80s. We created the “Brady Bunch” family in a suburb of Pittsburgh and I knew all of our baggage would come along, but I was confident that we could work through it as we had found true love in one another.
What I learned during this marriage was that there had to be a better way to navigate divorce and life after divorce, other than family court. My ex-husband was a drug addict and was never around, but my husband’s ex was vindictive and took it out on her children. Unfortunately, the only option for parents at that time was the court and the court could not help parents learn how to work together for their children. It was a court of law, not a school. We now know from much of the literature of the last 30 years, that the working relationship of parents is directly related to the adjustment of children in the family. When parents remain at war, kids pay the price. If parents could not agree about the kids, they went to court. As the divorce rates began to surge in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the courts were not equipped to handle family matters that were often not about the law but about the family.
When I finished graduate school, the courts had just begun to add both education and mediation components to the court divorce process. This offered parents the opportunity to learn about the importance of making their own decisions for their own children. I was on the early frontier of these kinds of programs in Pittsburgh after earning my master’s degree in Educational Psychology. At the time, I met a family attorney who had researched the benefits of getting emotional support while going through a life transition such as divorce and she and I created a model to integrate the process of the law with the emotional aspects of divorce. Our goal was to define the best ways to achieve healthy outcomes for children and parents alike.
My passion lies in developing a curriculum for parents to teach them skills that could enable them to reach better decisions for their children, so that the parents can make decisions for their children rather than the court or a judge who would likely never meet the children in question.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
One of the most interesting stories since starting my career involves the family program in Pittsburgh I helped to spearhead. The educational part had an adult and a children’s component: the education class consisted of a class for the adults, while children in the family between the ages of six to 15 years old attended a children’s group. While the adults were learning the importance of working together as parents, the children were supported by mental health professionals to learn that what was going on in their families was not their fault, and that they were not alone, as a lot of other kids were going through the same kinds of things in their families.
The court-ordered program was held on Saturday mornings and both parents and children were told that information shared in these groups was confidential and could not be used against anyone in future court actions.
Now the dilemma–in this case, an older boy disclosed that his father was dressing up like a woman and that’s why his mother wanted a divorce. His younger brother cried and told his brother that he was lying, but the older brother insisted it was true and shared that his mother had asked him not to tell anyone. Thankfully, he understood this group was a safe place for him to share this family secret with mental health professionals. After sharing the story, he was able to relinquish the stress and confusion he had brought with him to the group that Saturday morning. To observe the change was very rewarding for the child.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of my first-high conflict mediations took place when I began as principal mediator on the family court docket:
After almost two hours of destructive communication between my clients, I ended the mediation and recommended these parents continue with the court process. As they stalked out of the room, I shared my feelings with a fellow mediator who had also just finished. I said, more loudly than I thought, “Even God couldn’t have helped these parents settle.” Unfortunately, others heard my comments as well and the next morning I was told how inappropriate, albeit likely accurate, my comments were as a professional mediator.
Although this happened early in my career and was not particularly funny, it was a humbling experience that taught me never to share my emotional reaction to the conflict aloud after mediation ended.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Life is always full of a lot of “Life Lesson Quotes” because a good life is full of a lot of options! Here are my favorites:
- So what if it takes a bit longer to get to your dream? There are lots of different ways to get there and many things to learn along the way. As you navigate the journey, you are in control of your own narrative in your own mind and heart. As such, it is best to trust your own gut instincts.
- I have a passion for life, for love and mostly for children: I think children are the absolute best gift in the world. I don’t think we appreciate how beautiful and precious one’s childhood is until we can look back and understand the journey of life and learning. Life is a plethora of lessons learned.
I am grateful to have always had optimism as part of my persona. My parents were survivors and I learned about resilience and flexibility early on. I learned to be strong and find a way to be happy because life goes way too fast. All of this has given me the strength and the courage to be authentic about my life, my marriages and my experience working with relationships.
One of the first things I learned in graduate school was to think about educational psychology as prevention counseling. If we gather information about something, we can feel more confident that we are making informed choices and thus be more in control of our lives.
It taught me to always have a plan, but to also be prepared to be flexible. Things happen in life for a reason; we may not know what it is at the time, but it will be clear someday. I guess to sum it all, my favorite quote is that of Gilda Ratner, a “Saturday Night Live” comedian who wrote a book that was published after her death by her late husband, Gene Wilder, “It is always something.” The title of her well known book seems to sum it all up. Life has a strange way of taking us on many journeys, but we must be ready to go along and learn from them all.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! My daughter and co-founder of Eisen Blackstone Group Dr. Carly Blackstone and I are in the process of launching a non-profit organization to benefit those who need family services in the D.C. metropolitan area on a sliding scale. We both hold a passion for the D.C. population because we were involved in court programs here. The court can only try to implement the law, but families often need other services that are focused on developing healthy emotions and relationships. Unfortunately, the courts are not designed to properly care for the emotional aspects of family work. In D.C., the one family court program that existed lost funding at the beginning of the Trump administration and the court has yet to reestablish these much-needed services for families.
We have started work on the D.C. Institute for Children and our dream is to be an arm of the court to help families in D.C. navigate change. Family work is about protecting the well-being of children and I feel that many children are cheated of their precious and innocent childhoods because their parents are unwilling or unable to figure out better ways to navigate the complexity of families and relationships.
The courts will be backed up for years following the pandemic and we expect the number of cases coming to Court to continue to increase. The courts alone cannot handle the surge. The need for help and support increases all the time. The D.C Institute for Children is all about children: our vision is that it will be a place to learn about children’s needs, their development, and understanding how things feel from their perspective during family drama.
Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell us a bit about your experience going through a divorce, or helping someone who was going through a divorce? What did you learn about yourself during and after the experience? Do you feel comfortable sharing a story?
Divorce number one was to some extent easier. There were no custody issues, no support issues to be resolved and no scheduled time to be negotiated with their father. He had moved to New York to attend his third rehab program and the last responsibility he could deal with was one of being a parent.
Although there were no issues to present to the Court to resolve, it is difficult for children to understand why a parent leaves a family and goes away and remains unable to care for their children. In these cases, issues of dissertation and trust resonate with children for years after the divorce. The literature has told us however, with a good strong fellow parent, a child can learn to have the strength to navigate through life with one complete parent and one mentallly compromised parent. In these families, the strong parent gives the child enough inner strength and resilience to be able to compensate with what they have been given in life and not what they were missing.
My first ex-husband was my high school sweetheart, the drug addicted father of my children. I filed for divorce while he was in his third residential treatment center. I was left with two kids, a mortgage, no child support or alimony, but I figured it out somehow. I can remember the gong moment that was the actual turning point in my mind that told me it was time to file with the courts, as I had been advised.
I had spent that morning with a therapist telling her that although he was away and getting treatment, I knew that I needed to move on with my life, but there was so much uncertainty. I had been advised to file months prior but I kept waiting until I could be sure that he was going to be okay before he was served with papers in the treatment center. As I told her my plans, which were relatively nonspecific and avoidant, she asked me one of the most profound and important questions of my life: “What was I waiting for? What if that day never comes?”
That question was my real wake up call. What is the likelihood of him getting better or being okay in life? I knew in my heart that it was probably slim, as he had been troubled his whole life and had self-medicated with drugs at a young age to survive.
Divorce number two took me into fairytale land with my Prince Charming. My only regret is the emotional roller coaster that I put my girls on by remarrying for “love” alone, while compromising some of my values.
Although this marriage had a lot of fun times at the beginning before reality set in, living in a step family was way more difficult than they made it seem on the Brady Bunch. Life was not like the Brady Bunch and eventually we knew we were headed down the road of divorce again, each of us for the second time. This time the battles were different as the children were older; mostly they were emotional. Deep wounds that both of us had to come to terms with the fact; how could it be that love alone can not be enough for a marriage to survive?
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
From my perspective, the most common mistake occurs when individuals get swept up in the emotions that are associated with the loss of their relationship.
Divorce is a legal outcome that ends a legally binding and committed relationship. What is more important than the outcome of the divorce is the process of getting there–the discussions and negotiations of the relationship that lead to divorce. There are lots of ways to divorce and lots of different complexities, and no one process fits every family. Can the adults negotiate by themselves or do they need a third party to intervene and assist with reaching decisions? This is an important decision to answer before contacting a lawyer and “preparing for battle.”
Take time to think about the process and the goals that are important to you and the other parent, and be assured that your process is in sync with your goals.
People generally label “divorce” as being “negative”. And yes, while there are downsides, there can also be a lot of positives that come out of it as well. What would you say that they are? Can you share an example or share a story?
One of our clients recently shared her divorce story on our blog, which highlighted the process and outcome of divorce as a “gift of peace.” Admitting that you are not your best self in a relationship, knowing what you need next on your journey, and separating takes a tremendous amount of strength and courage. Although ending a marriage may seem like it’s the ending of a love relationship, it is actually the start of two individuals’ new journey to love themselves. Whether children are in the picture or not, we are all our best selves when we listen to what we need.
Some people are scared to ‘get back out there’ and date again after being with their former spouse for many years and hearing dating horror stories. What would you say to motivate someone to get back out there and start a new beginning?
It is my opinion that no one should be “getting back out there” until they know exactly what they are looking for in a partner. Before moving on to another relationship, the previous one needs to be completely ended. An extramarital relationship or affair can feel emotionally satisfying in the moment, but will only make things more complicated and is merely a symptom of a bad or unhealthy relationship where someone’s needs are not being met in the first place.
I would say that it is time to begin dating again when you truly know who you are, what you need in your life, and understand what kinds of things make you truly happy.
Dating for fun and experience can be healthy, as sometimes, you don’t know what you like until you try something different. For example, if someone had told me that I would end up with a wonderful man from Oklahoma City, I would have told them that they were crazy! The fact that he is a smart, kind, loving, generous man from a wonderful family is what really is important to me, but in my younger years, we most likely would have never have been able to connect due to perceived differences. After my second divorce, I needed a break from it all and concentrated on finally finding myself. That led me to the surprising man (and cowboy!) of my dreams.
What is the one thing people going through a divorce should be open to changing?
During a divorce, it is so important to be present. I find that looking at ourselves in the mirror makes this easier. Ask yourself, “What can I do differently so that I can achieve a different outcome?” Make yourself an active participant in your journey to achieve the results you seek.
The emotional roller coaster of life can get us spinning around into the blame game, or the good/bad syndrome. It is easy to feel sorry for one’s self or even hold on to blaming the other person for things of which we were also responsible. Remember that a couple consists of two people: the behavior of one directly affects the reaction of the other and vice versa. The only change you can count on is the one that you begin yourself.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?
#1. DETERMINE YOUR PRIMARY OBJECTIVE GOING THROUGH THIS DIVORCE. What is the most important thing to you while you negotiate with your former partner? For example, the children, money, revenge, possessions, to name a few.
#2. CHOOSE ANY/ALL LEGAL AND MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS CAREFULLY. Ensure the professionals you choose to aid in your divorce have goals that align with your objectives. Are you leading the process or do you feel as if the professionals are driving the process? The legal process can be either lawyer or client-driven during divorce, so be sure you know which you prefer.
#3. FIGURE OUT HOW TO BE YOUR BEST SELF THROUGHOUT THE PROCESS. Knowing that you will be making decisions that will impact the rest of your life and your children’s is reason enough to understand that one must do their best to stay focused and centered. Remember, these decisions will impact you and your children for the rest of your lives.
#4. BEWARE OF THE COURTS AND USE THEM ONLY WHEN NECESSARY AND IN CASES OF ABUSE AND NEGLECT. A judge that has most likely never met your child, doesn’t know your child in the same way that a parent does, and could never make good decisions as the parents. Whenever possible, use mediation as alternatives to court, and stay open to knowledge and guidance to help your family reach healthy outcomes for all.
#5. NEGOTIATE A PLAN THAT WILL WORK FOR YOUR FAMILY BEYOND THE DIVORCE AND LEARN TO SHIFT FROM A MARRIAGE TO A BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP. Conducting life moving forward as a business relationship will keep the focus on the children you and your ex-partner both love and help make the best decisions for them.
The stress of a divorce can take a toll on both one’s mental and emotional health. In your opinion or experience, what are a few things people going through a divorce can do to alleviate this pain and anguish?
Take the time to think about what you learned from this relationship. This reflection can help ease some of the stress of divorce: What are the things you liked and what are the things you learned after you were in the relationship that you know now you must pay attention to before committing to another monogamous relationship? List the pros and cons so that your list can be clear as to what you may be looking for the next time. Learn what you can live with and what you cannot. This can help to make sense during both the process and outcome of the divorce.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury.
The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers
When I first trained as a mediator in the early ’90s, the first book was our required reading. Over the years, I have found that the core of every successful relationship is the capacity to negotiate differences. Empathy and flexibility are key aspects to compassionate and successful outcomes.
The second book is bound to help us all in every aspect of our life.
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to create a movement towards Compassionate Divorce, divorces that are kind and loving, divorces that have better outcomes for children. Mister Rogers wrote and talked about divorce many years ago and I believe that we must follow his words today. Be kind to the other parent; you are both parents to your children forever. My intention is to teach adults the importance of learning to divorce in the most compassionate way possible. The Compassionate Divorce can allow everyone in the family to live happily ever after and for the benefit of the children.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would like my task force that we have created to begin working on the D.C. Institute for Children to meet with First Lady Jill Biden. I am convinced that her love and passion for education and children will help us to provide a better, more stable and certain structure for children in the future.
My goal is to look at the silver lining that this pandemic has shed upon many of us to refocus us on what really matters to us most: our children.
Thank you for these great insights and for the time you spent with this interview. We wish you only continued success!
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