Almost every parent going through divorce makes the claim that they only want what is best for their children, and pledge to do whatever it takes to shelter their children from the storm of divorce and its aftermath.
Unfortunately, every lawyer and judge working in the field knows how often parents renege on that pledge.
Dr. Daniel Gottlieb, clinical psychologist and family therapist, clinical director of the Shinui Institute in Herzeliya, Israel, and one of Israel’s foremost court-appointed custody evaluators, has recently published a book for children of divorce and their parents, written in the voice of children of divorce. Entitled Listen to Me!!! Your Child and Divorce, the book is divided into chapters such as “What’s Going on Here?” “Confused” and “I Just Wanted you to Know” which trace the path children must walk from the time they learn of their parents’ intention to divorce, through new living accommodations and encountering new partners, to the period when their lives have entered some kind of post-divorce equilibrium, but the children envision – actually, hope for – a future where both of their parents will be a part of their adult lives, just without the conflict and tension.
Dr. Gottlieb’s sensitivity to, and concern for, the rights of the child to a life with two involved parents is evident, as is his awareness of the havoc ongoing conflict creates in the lives of children. One of the problems regarding ongoing conflict which is expressed in the section entitled “Each of You,” is that taking responsibility for damage and pain to the children is something parents tend to fob off on the other side:
Each of You
Each of you reads this, agrees with me, nods his head and says to himself that I am right.
Each of you reads this and understands how difficult divorce is for children.
Each of you reads this and thinks, “Yeah, things should be different.”
But each of you reads this and says to himself, “I’m not the guilty one; it’s your other parent…I’m doing my best; if only your mother (father) would be like me.”
Another theme which emerges throughout the book is the child’s sense of helplessness and powerlessness; dragged into a situation he neither asked for nor wanted, he must suddenly confront people asking him to make grown-up decisions, lay bare the intimate details of his life to strangers, and struggle to maintain an even keel in these uncharted waters in which he never asked to sail. The illustrations to the book convey this sense of gloom and isolation hovering over the child, as do the pages of the book, which, to me at least, resemble something like cracked stones.
There’s no doubt that children will feel both comforted and validated as they recognize at least some of their own emotions and experiences in the pages of this book. Further, the book gives parents insight that they may not have into the emotions of their children as they experience their parents’ divorce and its aftermath. Many generally good and sensitive parents with whom I have worked over the years tend to minimize the price the children are paying for the break-up of the family. I am sure many people in the field will recognize the experience of asking a parent how the children are doing, and hearing that everything is rosy, the kids are actually much happier, and the transition is going off with nary a bump. The book gives insight into the inner world of the child that should allow parents to closely examine whether or not their child is, in fact, “just fine.”
I particularly appreciated Dr, Gottlieb’s afterward to parents, in which he addresses a serious problem we tend to ignore: the well-intentioned chorus of advice-givers surrounding people in divorce proceedings:
…divorcing parents think that they know what is best for themselves and for their children. At the same time, they also seek the advice of family, friends and attorneys, and, based on this advice, they calculate their actions. However, these advice-givers, those who are more well-meaning and those who are less, are not always adequately attuned to the needs of children, how they experience the divorce of their parents, and how the divorce process needs to proceed to have minimal negative impact on the children.
Wise and important comments to include in this afterward. That chorus of well-meaning advisors may often be the reason for a reasonable agreement not being signed, for children being pitted against a parent, and ultimately, for the real emotional and other needs of the person allegedly “being helped” by the advice, to be ignored.
I have ordered copies of both the Hebrew and English versions of the book for my office library, and no doubt will be lending them out to my clients on a regular basis.