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by Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee
Hyperion, 2004
Review by James E. de Jarnette, Ph.D. on Nov 8th 2004

What about the Kids

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