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by Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee
Review by James E. de Jarnette, Ph.D. on Nov 8th 2004
What About The Kids by Wallerstein
and Blakeslee is a book for all homes experiencing the first throws of major
conflict through the final settling of things "back to normal" after
the divorce. This reviewer has found it so beneficial that it is routinely
recommended to patients undergoing the wars of marriage and the reconstruction
of the new family unit.
Chapters Three through Nine
eloquently explain the developmental challenges that children go through.
These chapters give a down to Earth cookbook of how these developmental stages
are effected and worked through during the stress of divorce and the all so
difficult rebuilding period that follows. Each developmental stage, looked at
as critical ages when children / adolescents form much of their personality
superstructure, dramatically effecting the rest of their lifespan, is examined
in the light of the most recent findings highlighting the parental roles and
the "how to" of coping with and enhancing the quality of life of
children in the midst of chaos.
Because these challenges last many years, this book is a
guide for parents who are thinking about divorce, who are in the process of
getting a divorce, or who split up a few or even many years ago and are deeply
concerned about how their children are doing in the post-divorce families. It
describes the changes that you will experience in those first few days, weeks,
and months after the decision is made and what you can do to take and stay in
control of your life. I can tell you exactly what to say to your children and
how, depending on their ages, they are likely to respond. I can lead you
through those first crazy years after divorce and describe what you can do to
protect your children from harm.
In this reviewer's estimation, these statements are not
idle boasts. The information imparted is presented in such a way that readers
will appreciate the simplicity and straight forward approaches given by the
authors. The book eschews psychobabble and circular logic that is pandemic in
many parental self-help books. The clarity is crisp and the information is
directly applicable to real life situations that this reviewer sees in his Beverly Hills private practice on a daily basis.
One of the things that judges are constantly ordering is
anger management treatment for one or more of the divorcing spouses. However,
the techniques used for adults to deal with anger, don't always adapt well to
the children of divorce. In most cases, the children of divorce are dealing
with a grief reaction. Anger is very much part of that process. Although you
keep assuring your children that they are still at the center of the family,
however divided by parental fighting, oftentimes the children's anger is
overlooked as the child just being selfish. Under that anger are children who
are worried, and fearful that the basic, "scaffolding he needs to support
growing up," is being ripped away. The chapter on anger deals directly
with this entire process.
In this same vein, children will be very manipulative where
shared custody or visitation is concerned. They will often act out their
frustrations by working one parent against the other. Telling direct untruths
are not at all out of character for a frightened and angry child.
If you can't communicate well and are tempted to believe
whatever your child says about your ex, try not to get caught in the web. One
father in our study always said to his son, "Tell me what you want, not
what your mom said. I'll make up my own mind." Just make it clear that
you make the rules for your turf. You're not responsible for what happens in
the other household. Moreover, you don't want to get drawn into issues that
are not worth fighting over.
Always chose your fights. Forget the small stuff. Much of
what you hear from your children about your ex is filtered through their own
desires and fears. You have every right to run your household and your
relationship with your children the way you decide to; keeping in mind the best
interests of the child. Children should never be used as pawns in a war
started in the divorce courts.
Since an estimated half of the children in divorced
families are six years old or younger at the breakup, a majority of children of
divorce enter and live through their adolescence in the post-divorce family.
Adolescence is a time of great change psychically,
psychologically, and psychosocially. In a family that is in total congruence
with both parents communicating at an optimal level, the path of adolescence is
a rocky one and one where manipulation by the adolescents involved is at an all
time high. Parents are often seen as objects to be gotten around; particularly
in light of the evidence that most adolescents view their parents as meddlesome
creatures with IQs less than idiots, if not brain dead altogether.
Children of divorce tend to enter adolescence earlier than
peers from intact families. They tend to persist in adolescent behavior longer
than those same peers—sometimes well into their late twenties. It's even
likely but not a certainty that the teenage years will be stormy…Nationally,
girls from divorced families are more likely to engage in early sexual
behavior, which in my experience can be as early as age twelve. Boys tend to
engage in delinquent behavior at an earlier age—"just try and stop
me" is a phrase you will hear a lot.
This book is well worth having and referring to often. It
has sound practical advise that I have seen work for patients in my private
practice. It is at the top of my recommendation list for couples divorcing.
The stressors that the book addresses are very real, and left for later or
ignored completely may lead to psychological trauma over the entire lifespan of
the children involved. It is always an appropriate gift for family and friends
who are going though divorce, and vital for you as a parent involved in even
the most amicable separations and or divorces.
© 2004 James E. de Jarnette
James E. de Jarnette, Ph.D.,
Forensic Child Custody Evaluator