Book Review: Still a Family
Author Gives Tips to Good Parenting through the Trauma of Divorce
When Dr.Lisa Rene Reynolds began teaching a state-mandated divorce parenting class, she discovered the participants were struggling with questions and concerns that they had not found answers for anywhere. After hearing the same questions over and over again, she decided to put together a resource to help. “Still a Family: a Guide to Good Parenting through Divorce,” is her answer.
“This book began as the discussions of common problems parents experience during divorce and offered tangible suggestions and ideas for how to handle and deal with them. I do a great deal of marriage counseling in addition to teaching these divorce classes so my exposure to the problems between romantically committed adults is vast. I have not been divorced myself so the knowledge base of this book is based solely on the experience of real-life people who go the divorce process every day,” she said.
What makes this book different from others on divorce is that “it contains only information on parents and children. I did not try to complicate it or detract from that goal by adding information on mediation, the legal and financial aspects of a divorce, etc.,” Dr. Reynolds said.
Wevorce.com asked Dr. Reynolds a series of questions about her book:
Wevorce.com: Parents going through a divorce are stressed and emotional. What should parents do to take care of themselves and why is this important?
A: First and foremost, if a parent has a pre-existing mental health issue like depression or a substance abuse or anger problem, there is no better time to get help than right now. The stress of divorce will only exacerbate these things and make it more difficult for a parent to remain healthy. Kids need healthy parents. Add at least one more item to your “what I do to relieve stress” column–pray, talk to a trusted friend or family member, go for a walk, ask for help with tasks, listen to music, go to therapy. My book offers many more suggestions for taking care of yourself during this time of stress and change.
Wevorce.com: What advice can you offer parents on how to tell their children about divorce?
A: My book offers a much more detailed description of this question, so I’ll stick to the basics here. Both parents should tell the children together if at all possible. Parents should not share any sordid or derogatory details with the children about events that may have contributed to the divorce (e.g., an affair, an illegal acticvity) at this time. Be sure to choose a time when kids are not generally cranky (right before bedtime) or irritable (interrupting their favorite TV show) or hungry. Keep it simple and tell the children that they may ask questions now or later as they think of them. Also, remember that each individual child may have a different reaction to the news of divorce and may need different responses from the parents. Some kids will cry, others will beg you not to split up, some may just want “space”, and others may respond as if they don’t really care.
Wevorce.com: Do you have any tips on how to build a new relationship with your ex over time so that the children can be less traumatized?
A: The old adage that “time heals” often holds true with divorced parents. Many times, the pain and anger fades and the two parents become better able to interact respectfully. You can expedite this process by BOTH parents making efforts to treat the other parent in the manner in which they would like to be treated themselves. Calm, polite, simple exchanges of information are a good start. There are many self-help books to help with more effective communication. For some parents however, especially those with older children, after the official divorce is done, they seperate completely. There may be little, if any, communication or overlap in their lives. This can be detrimental for the child if he or she feels responsible for being the bearer of information. Along with your questions that you wrote:
Wevorce.com: Is the divorce rate really 50 percent?
A: We are completely uncertain! Statistics are funny things. Although the 50 percentaverage is a good “guesstimate,” it is nearly impossible to figure out a true figure for the number of divorces in this country. First, the divorce rate is only based on legal marriages which does not include same-sex unions or unmarried/cohabitating couples that split up. Also, there arefour states in this country (California is one of them!) that do not track or report divorce statistics and are therefore not included in the 50% rough estimate.
Wevorce.com: What are some of the most common mistakes parents make while divorcing that harm the children most?
A: Forcing the child to “choose sides,” not allowing a child to engage with one parent, using the child as a “spy” to report back information on the other parent, using “innocent” terminology that sends a bad message (“You’re acting just like your mother!”).
Wevorce.com: How can a parent tell whether a child is not adjusting well to the divorce?
A: Unfortunately there is no test to tell if a child is acting out or emotional due to the divorce or just because he or she is simply 13! More importantly is figuring out how to help your child at this difficult time and get the help he or she may need. If your child seems upset but won’t talk to you, encourage the child to talk to another trusted family member or teacher who may be a bit more distanced from the situation at home. And be direct with asking the child if he or she would like to talk to a school counselor or outside therapist. There are also books for kids that explain and normalize the process and feelings that often go along with divorce.
Wevorce.com: Is it true that it is easiest for babies and teenagers to adjust to a divorce than it is for school-aged kids?
A: Absolutely not! Far more important than the age or developmental stage of the child is the individual personality and needs of any one child. A divorce in the family is difficult for all children because it is both a loss and a change and requires adjustment. However, some children simply have a harder time with it than others.
Wevorce.com: Is it better to stay married “for the sake of the kids” rather than to divorce?
A: Staying together in an unhealthy relationship can cause just as much pain and distress on a child as some divorces can. It is not a simple choice to make. However, either way, there will be some stress for the child. It is just that the stressors and issues that can crop up when a divorce happens in a family may be different than those that may occur in an intact family that is dysfunctional.
Wevorce.com: Do the rules need to be the same at both houses post-divorce?
A: In short, it is easier for the child if rules are consistent in both households. However, we know this is somewhat unlikely since parents often divorce because of their differences rather than their similarities in many areas of life. If rules are NOT the same in both households but are fair and reasonable, BOTH parents should strive to support those rules being obeyed/followed to the child. This helps to reduce the amount of manipulation the child will naturally try to use between parents whose thoughts and rules differ.
Wevorce.com: What do I do if my child refuses to go with the other parent during his or her parenting time?
A: I spend a great deal of time in my book discussing this difficult (and hurtful to the parent being refused) situation. It is not at all uncommon. Sometimes the child refuses because he or she is mad at one parent or doesn’t like the rules at that parent’s house. Other times, the child may feel as if he or she is abandoning the other parent by leaving. Sometimes a child just may be sick or just may not feel like going. In any case, both parents should be positive in supporting the child going with the parent unless there is a real risk of abuse or neglect. Making plenty of “transition time” between time with each parent is important, especially for younger children.
Wevorce.com: What can I do to keep the relationship going between my kids and my ex-spouse when he/she has moved far away?
A: We are fortunate that the advent of the computer and other technological advances have made it easier to keep in touch when one parent moves away. There is no doubt, it is more difficult to maintain a close relationship between parent and child when a distance is involved. The “local” parent who is responsible for the day-to-day care of the child needs to be very involved in maintaining the distanced parent in the child’s daily life through photos, phone and e-mail contact, letter-writing, drawing, and repeating important events and memories.
Wevorce.com: What three tips do you want parents to take away from your book?
A: There are so very many, but to choose three…First, it doesn’t matter so much what the parent wants, but rather, what is best for the child when making parenting arrangements. Second, fighting or putting down the other parent in front of the children does great psychological harm to them and puts an unnecessary emotional burden on them. Third, be sure to take care of yourself. A well-rested, emotionally stable, healthy parent will be better able to support the children during this difficult time and be emotionally available to them.
“Still a Family” is available at Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere.