Although divorce is hardly a new phenomenon in our culture, it continues to have an impact on the many families struggling with its effects. From changing addresses to new schools to separate living arrangements and financial upheaval, children often bear the brunt of the change that divorce brings. In How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce, Dr. Samantha Rodman offers a clear, consistent guide for parents looking to communicate in a positive manner when discussing divorce with their children.
Samantha Rodman clearly knows her stuff when it comes to divorce. As a clinical psychologist, the author of the popular website DrPsychMom.com, and the writer of numerous online articles, Rodman helps couples deal with conflict on a daily basis. How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce speaks directly to those parents who wish to minimize the damage their children will suffer as they go through the process of divorce (and deal with the many changes in the years to come). By focusing on open, neutral, and consistent communication, Rodman guides parents through the process of talking with children at any age about the changes happening to their families.
Rodman addresses parents in every type of divorce situation from the amicable to the acrimonious, and the author provides strategies for co-parents (her preferred term over exes) to begin and navigate difficult conversations. Readers will find tips on breaking the news about the divorce to their children, as well as explaining custody changes and issues (even difficult ones), and helping children adjust to new partners.
The book has three sections: discussing divorce, specific advice for communicating at each “age and stage,” and dealing with new challenges. Throughout the book, the author stresses that it’s the parents’ responsibility to keep the communication age appropriate and neutral, particularly if there is conflict with the co-parent. Rodman includes advice for unique situations, such as when one parent is incarcerated or abuse is involved. The author reminds readers that although they might be feeling overwhelming animosity toward the co-parent, it’s important to respect the child’s love for his or her parents and to refrain from badmouthing the co-parent.
While reading this book, I was impressed with the author’s ability to champion the needs of children going through divorce while simultaneously sympathizing with the needs of the divorcing parents. The author encourages parents to maintain empathy for their children as well as their co-parents, and to speak directly to co-parents about issues that arise. Readers are also warned about the dangers of adults confiding in their children about their own feelings or putting children on the defensive by badmouthing the co-parent or new partner. Even if a child seems to be adjusting well and is agreeable to listening to a parent’s problems, Rodman stresses that confiding adult thoughts and feelings to children is inappropriate. Children who become their parents’ confidantes are at risk for having their own needs unmet and may have damaged views of intimate relationships between adults as a result of too much information from their parents.
As I read Rodman’s advice, I was frequently reminded of my own parents’ divorce, which took place at a time when divorce was becoming more common but was still new territory for many parents. Most of the author’s suggestions rang true for me, as I remember my parents making several of the mistakes Rodman describes.
There were only a couple of areas in the book that I thought could have been explored a bit deeper, one being specific advice on the use of social media (which has become a new frontier in relationship wars). I also wondered what the author would advise when children feel left behind if one of their parents re-marries and begins having additional children. New partners were discussed, but it was generally from the perspective of a positive relationship with the new partner. Although the author mentioned blended families (new step-siblings), I didn’t see anything about how to address the topic of the birth of new siblings, which sometimes comes quickly on the heels of a divorce and remarriage.
I would recommend this book for parents at any stage of a divorce, whether it is about to become a reality or happened years before but is still causing pain. The author does a great job of gently reminding readers that while they may be suffering through their own pain during a divorce, it’s important to put the children’s need for love and consistency first so they can adjust to their new normal and move on to develop healthy intimate relationships once they become adults.
How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for your Changing Family
Adams Media, September 2015
Paperback, 254 Pages