For Better, for Worse: A Guide to Surviving Divorce for Preteens and Their Families

Overview

PETER, AGE ELEVEN:

My parents are talking divorce and I'm thinking, "Is it something I did? What happens now? Who do I live with? Will we still live together or will we separate?"

So many questions with no answers.

Divorce affects half of the nation's children. As parents divorce and remarry, kids can feel squeezed and battered ...

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Overview

PETER, AGE ELEVEN:

My parents are talking divorce and I'm thinking, "Is it something I did? What happens now? Who do I live with? Will we still live together or will we separate?"

So many questions with no answers.

Divorce affects half of the nation's children. As parents divorce and remarry, kids can feel squeezed and battered emotionally. Often they wonder if what they are experiencing is normal. Often they feel confused. Often they feel alone.

Janet Bode explored these feelings in interviews with more than a thousand students, as well as parents, therapists, religious leaders, teachers, and others. From these interviews she presents first-person accounts that detail the effects of divorce and offers solutions that have worked. A separate section geared to adult readers aims to help them minimize both the short-term and long-range impact of divorce on their children. And a final section suggests print and on-line resources for kids and their parents.

This is a needed, compelling, and inspiring guide for what can be a difficult time in anyone's life. For Peter, and anyone else with "so many questions," For Better, For Worse is a book of answers.

Uses first-person accounts from young people to describe the effects of divorce and remarriage and how to handle them. Includes a section for adults discussing how to minimize both the short- and long-term impact of divorce.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Divided into two parts, the first "For girls and boys," the second for parents, For Better, For Worse: A Guide to Surviving Divorce for Preteens and Their Families by Janet Bode and Stan Mack offers quotes from children who have lived through their parents' divorce and encourages parents to talk with their children with practical tips. Some children give anecdotes in the form of cartoons, some through poetry, and there is a recurring "Kid problem, Kid solutions" section. By keeping the focus on children, often in their own words, the authors present a variety of situations and experiences to validate the reader's own predicament. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
This is a book of questions and answers for preteens who are affected by divorce. The author interviewed more than a thousand students plus a large number of parents, therapists, religious leaders and teachers. She used these interviews to present first-person accounts of feelings and questions, and she offers solutions that have worked for others. There is a section for kids and another for adults. This guide includes an extensive section of print and online resources. Scattered throughout the book are cartoons, poems by kids, and surveys. This is a very thorough book that considers the issues that are important to preteens. The format is "friendly," so reluctant readers won't be put off. Parents and teachers can also use the information in the book to form "Banana Splits" groups. 2001, Simon & Schuster, $16.00. Ages 10 to 12. Reviewer: S. Latson SOURCE: Parent Council, September 2001 (Vol. 9, No. 1)
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-In this refreshingly honest book, seven preteens discuss their experiences with divorce-stepparents, custody arrangements, remarriage, money woes, and more. One uses a comic-strip format; many others comment briefly or share their advice, poetry, and art. Their stories reflect agony, confusion, and the occasional flash of humor. Even the brief comments prove heartrending: "We moved from a house to an apartment," says 12-year-old Alice. "Through the walls I can hear my mom and her latest boyfriend having sex. I hate it." Others seem more accepting of the changes in their lives. Therapists chime in at the end of each narrative to offer insight and remind kids that they aren't to blame. But the best statements, offered bluntly and without sugarcoating, come from the contributors themselves. Their remarks are revealing-for example, 12-year-old Brandon says the best thing about divorce is that "You can get out of trouble because you have a good excuse, the divorce." Others offer strategies for manipulating feuding parents. Readers will recognize and appreciate the honesty here, and the fact that no one offers easy answers. The second part of the book is aimed at divorcing parents, which does seem slightly out of place in what is primarily a forum for young voices. Still, For Better, for Worse is a useful resource for preteens who need to know they are not alone.-Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689819452
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • Publication date: 2/1/1901
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 176
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.69 (d)

First Chapter

Chapter Three: Real-Life Broken Valentine Stories...Along with Advice from Other Kids and Therapists

Around the country elementary and middle schools have organized programs to help you sort out your life's pieces and begin to reassemble them. With adult guidance you and other classmates going through the same things meet regularly to talk about your problems.

What's said in that room stays there. Everything is confidential. And even when they can't find all the answers, those who participate say in the end they feel better. It often hurts to keep your pain inside. It often hurts less to let the pain out.

If you aren't sure whether your school has such a program, ask a counselor, teacher, librarian, or assistant principal. One or all of those people will know.

WHAT'S IN YOUR HEART

You may not want to talk about problems in front of kids you know in school. You feel shy, embarrassed, uncomfortable, or all those combined. Or you feel okay being part of this kind of group, but you want more. You know that talking about what's in your heart is important, but you want to do it on your own schedule: when it hurts the most, when you're most confused, when you feel you're going to explode.

And you know this isn't just a one-time conversation. There's too much to say for a single talk. Plus, what troubles you today may not cause the most pain tomorrow.

Preteens and teenagers nationwide say it's best to talk to whoever you think will bring you comfort. You should look for a good and trusted listener. You're the expert in deciding who that person should be, and it can be more than one individual.

Maybe right now your mom's the best listener. Maybe later it's your dad, or even later, both of them. You could also turn to a favorite aunt, your grandfather, your best friend's mother, the lady next door who's been in your life forever, the librarian who always makes time for you, the teacher who likes you, the minister who runs your Sunday school %151; or a therapist.

PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

In this chapter, seven real kids share their stories. Following each one, three New York City family therapists %151; Clio Garland, Ann Jackler, and Andrea Osnow %151; tell you what problems they see and what might be done to solve them. Maybe you hear parts of what you're experiencing echoed in the words spoken by these girls and boys. And just maybe what the therapists have to say feels right to you.

Garland, Jackler, and Osnow have practices where they specialize in the problems of families. They are friends, too. Before talking about Sam and his sister, Erin; Lauren; and the rest, they read the students' accounts. Then they sat around a table discussing each story. Often one would present an idea and another would add more details, finishing the thought, just the way you might talk with a good friend. Their hope is that the information they offer helps you figure out what's what in your own situation.

Throughout this chapter you'll come across "Kid Problem, Kid Solutions" sidebars. Children from families living with divorce and remarriage suggested eleven key problems with which they have wrestled. Other boys and girls in the same situation came up with advice and solutions they said they had used successfully. When you read them, you'll see that the students don't always agree with one another, and none of the advice comes with a guarantee. You will have to decide for yourself which of the suggestions are totally impractical, which are practical, and which might help in your situation. If nothing else, you can pick and choose a starting point to find your own answers.

What the Therapists Say

Divorce hurts a lot at first. Children have all sorts of angry, sad, and lonely feelings. It's important to share them with each parent. Brothers and sisters can help one another, too. You can talk about feelings, ask questions, and comfort each other. No one else knows how hard the family situation is except those going through it with you.

Okay Fights

Sam and Erin have a wonderful, totally normal brother-sister relationship. Together they weather the storms around them. Some kids come to believe that problems should never be worked out through fights. Well, fighting is a natural part of life. There are always going to be differences. You have to be able to argue about them. If you can't, you can't be really close to someone. The goal is to manage the problems so you feel things are resolved and you can move on. You discover anger doesn't mean you don't love each other anymore.

In some families the parents never fight. They don't even know how to bring up problems in order to try to find solutions. Instead maybe one of the parents has an affair or becomes a workaholic. This keeps the marriage going for a while. Then one day they announce, "We're getting a divorce and Dad's moving out." This is called the silent divorce. It is really confusing for children.

Fairness

Fairness is interesting to think about. Kids always evaluate and yardstick who got more. Does it mean giving the same present to each person? Does each person get the same amount of attention? When there's a divorce, worries about being fair to each child and each parent can increase. No one wants to lose out.

Sam worries about fairness. Still, you can see that as he got used to his new schedules and living situations he felt better. It's great when parents work together to take care of their children even though they live in separate homes. Yes, everyone has a crazy schedule, but it means Sam and Erin see both parents almost daily. Their parents deserve a lot of credit. And good for Sam for realizing that getting through the emotions of divorce takes time. It doesn't happen overnight.


KID PROBLEM, KID SOLUTIONS
If I'm asked, how do I decide which parent to live with?
  • Pick whichever one you think can give you the better life. It doesn't mean you love the other one less.
  • Think hard about what place you'd feel the safest and most comfortable.
  • Look at all the positives and negatives of both, and follow your heart to where you'll be the happiest.
  • Go with the one headed in the right direction.
  • Think about this: How often will you see the parent you are not with? Who are you closer to? Who can take better care of you without getting stressed?
  • You shouldn't have to choose. I've lived with both and learn different things at each place. It's made me stronger.

MICHAEL ELBAZ'S STORY, AGE NINE

Brookwood Elementary School, Snellville, Georgia

Here's a poem I just felt like writing. I call it "Divorce."


First yelling

then hollering
then shouting
then screaming
then not known until I
have to get a
drink of water at midnight.


No more snoring noises

just the Channel Two Action News

then
I peer outside

one van

no jeep.


I go into the bathroom

no black toothpaste tube or

toothbrush.

No drip

drip
drip noises coming

from the sink.


I wake up Sara. As I

show her all the things that are missing

she screams in horror as she stares
at the fish tank.

She is right %151;

there is no fish.


We sob ourselves

to sleep that night.


In the morning

I see two figures on the edge

of my bed.

I recognize them.

They are my mom

and my dad with very harsh

faces on.

They tell me

that they are finally


DIVORCED!


Exact Day
I remember the exact day my dad moved out. That morning I rode the school bus with my sister Sara, the way I always do. (I have a baby sister, Rebecca, too.)

After lunch I went from person to person and told my entire class what had happened. "My parents got a divorce," I said. I was upset. Kids like Logan and Eric said they were kind of surprised, but I wasn't alone. There were other kids right in the room with that experience.

I wished it was a bad dream. If I begged my parents, maybe they'd change their minds.

Love Cards
On Valentine's Day the teacher said we had to make love cards for our parents. I made two of them, one for my mom and one for my dad. First I put, like, double Es facing the opposite way. In the clear spots between the two lines top and bottom, I made frames for the pictures I was going to draw.

Inside one of the frames the dad has a suitcase. He walks out the door and says to the mom, "Let's not meet again." She goes, "Oh, swell," and they both drop their rings on the ground.

Then I drew the dad holding a dead flower and the mom walking away. In the other card I did the opposite %151; the mom is holding the dead flower and the dad is walking away.

In the next picture the dad is calling us on the phone. He's going to tell my sister Sara he forgot her shoes. I'm talking to him and say, "Hey, Dad, do you want to talk to Mom?" I hear from him a huge, "NO!" On the mom card she's the one to yell, "NO!" She doesn't want to talk to Dad.

In the last picture on both cards there's a sign with the word DIVORCE on it. The letter V is a heart broken in half. All around the word are frowning faces, especially Mom's and Dad's.

I didn't have enough time to color the cards. Still, drawing and writing them helped me feel better. When I showed them to my friends, they said, "That's sad."

At home after school my parents were both there having an argument. My dad was saying to my mom, "If I had a girlfriend, she'd be way nicer than you." I gave them the cards and said, "I'm going upstairs to play Nintendo." Once I got to the top of the stairs, I tried to peek to see their reaction. They were frowning, just like on my cards.

Mom hung hers on the refrigerator, until the baby, Rebecca, tried to eat the card and it ended up in the trash can. When I went to Dad's house, he had hung his on the refrigerator, too, but under something.


KID PROBLEM, KID SOLUTIONS
How do I handle times of the year %151; like holidays %151; when both parents want me to be with them?
  • I've tried these ways: divide the holidays equally, switch years, or spend half the day with each one.
  • It's too hard. Let your parents decide.
  • Go with one parent one holiday, the other parent the next holiday. Visit the one you don't live with.
  • Hang out with your friends and try to forget it's a holiday.
  • My dad gets me every Jewish holiday. My mom gets me on the other ones. Try something like that.
  • On Christmas spend the night at your dad's house, and in the morning, after you open all his presents, go to your mom's house and open presents there.
Dad and Mom
I love my dad and my mom. Right now my dad lives twenty minutes from here with my granddad. When I stay there, I sleep in the room with the computer and a bird in a cage. Its name is Big Bird. I know kids over there, but they're usually not outside screaming and playing.

My dad is fun. He lets Sara and me sleep in his room late into the morning. He takes us to the park to fly kites and to run around like chickens with our heads cut off. When we go anyplace, Sara usually wants to sit in the front of the Jeep next to him. I want to sit there, too, so we fight. Now even Rebecca, the baby, has started saying, "My turn."

I admit it, sometimes I boss Sara around. But I know how to give Rebecca a bath. Dad has to deal with three children at once. Luckily Granddad helps. He's from Israel. He speaks lots of languages. My dad's from Morocco. He's Jewish.

My mom's not. She's from here, Georgia. At my mom's we live in a yellow house with six televisions. I have a big room of my own filled with science things. When I do something wrong, the science kit fizzes or blows up. I used to have a TV and a VCR in my room, but Nintendo kept me up all night. I read a lot, too.

My mom's serious but really nice. She doesn't snore at night like my dad does. She bought me two Nintendo systems and sold my old one even though it was still entertaining. She's stricter than my dad. Maybe that's because she's a judge. There's another boy at school whose mom is a lawyer, and he says she's strict, too.

My parents compete over me.

My Secrets
My mom and dad had the divorce almost a year ago. By now it's kind of fine with Sara and me. It feels long since it happened. Rebecca's only two. She doesn't know what's what.

For me three things have helped the most: writing, Nintendo, and especially punching bags. I have a bag here and one at my dad's to help me let out the mad feelings. My mom filled this one with old, raggy carpet. That's why it feels weird. But I hit it %151; POW! %151; anyway, the same as I do at my dad's. I tell myself %151; POW! %151; "Don't worry about the divorce. Put it out of your mind." That's my secret on how to get through this.

WHAT THE THERAPISTS SAY

Michael has a gift. He uses his amazing creativity to express himself. Any outlet you can come up with, from a punching bag to talking, can help you get through a divorce. They are all appropriate.

He also seems to know the importance of turning to a sister or brother to share the sorrow. Too often siblings stop talking. This makes it harder.

Friends
Michael has the ability, too, to tell his friends, and they are there for him. He knows how to reach out to people, another real talent. He takes it a step further. He makes those powerful Valentine cards, where he shows how he sees the divorce. His friends look at them and have a clear understanding of what Michael's going through.

There's a valuable message for everyone in his cards. Children and parents need to know that with separation and divorce, the family as you knew it has died. Just like when there's the death of a loved one, you have to grieve for what was lost. You may need to mark the occasion in some real way, like the way a funeral marks a death. The rest of the message is that you'll get over your pain. A new family will be born. You'll figure it out as time goes by.

Through Michael you learn that divorce itself does not have to cause problems. People tend to think that the effects of divorce on children can be terrible and last a lifetime. People grow up and say, "I'm the child of divorce. I can't fall in love. I can't have a long-term relationship."

Parent
How the parents deal with the divorce determines whether their children will have problems that never go away or whether they can move on. Michael's parents seem to be working together for the good of their kids. There seems to be a lot of strength in the family. Yes, it's unfortunate that divorce has to happen; it can frequently be a traumatic event. But the way the family manages it is what matters most in the long run.

KID PROBLEM, KID SOLUTIONS
How do I put up with feuding parents?
  • Since you can't stop their fights, go to your bedroom, lock the door, open the window, and see how far you can hit some golf balls...or put on your favorite song and play it really loud...or say to yourself over and over, "It's boring to listen to parents argue."
  • Do something wrong so they'll have to work together to help you.
  • If it gets really bad, go stay at a friend's house for a while.
  • Tell them, "I'm the kid. I didn't get this divorce. Don't make me carry messages back and forth. It isn't fair to put me in the middle!"
  • Spend time alone with one parent without the other around.
  • Tell the one you trust more and see if he or she can help stop the fighting.
  • Stay out of the way and let them fight. You can't control it.
  • Ask for advice from an adult who won't take sides.

JOSEPH'S STORY, AGE SEVEN

The lady is giving a Valentine card to her husband, telling him that she loves him with all her heart.

Her husband says, "Liar," takes the card, rips it up, and throws it in her face. When he even spanks the kid and tells him to move, the lady starts crying.

Her husband turns around and walks away. Through her tears she begs, "Don't leave." "Shut up," he says, and then pushes his crying child. Since that day, the lady and her husband have never seen each other. They got a divorce and now the poor kid has no father.

WHAT THE THERAPISTS SAY

For parents like this dad it's easier to leave a family when they are angry. Instead of telling the truth %151; he doesn't want to be married anymore or he no longer loves her %151; he gets mad at both his wife and their child.

This little boy %151; and those of you like him %151; should know the argument and the divorce have nothing to do with you. And you can't do anything to change what's happened. It's hard to understand why a dad wouldn't want to visit his child or stay in touch, but the reality is it happens.

Better Off Without Me
Some adults are irresponsible because the pain is great. Their disappearance has nothing to do with how lovable you %151; the child %151; are. They do care, but they don't have another way to deal with their guilt except to go away. After a while they say to themselves, "Well, it's been three...four...five years. I don't want to interrupt my kid's life. He's better off without me."

Whatever happens, you can't divorce that father-son/father-daughter relationship. That man will always be your dad. He's just not there for you. Some family member, maybe your mom or your grandparent, can help you contact him so one day you can have a relationship.

If that's not possible, they could find a photo of your father. It doesn't have to be a recent one. It can be from back when your dad was growing up, to show that the person who left was once a boy, too.

You could also write your dad a letter with questions you have. You could tell your father about yourself. Even if you never send the letter, a lot of young people say that just writing something like this helps you feel better. You come to see that your dad doesn't understand that what he did hurts.

Fantasy
If you do try to find your father, you may have this fantasy: You knock on a door, and Dad opens it and covers you with hugs and kisses. In real life that parent may not want to see you. Then you not only feel like a failure, you feel like you did something wrong. You need to be prepared before you go.

Everything we've said about a disappearing dad is just as true if the mom is the one to vanish.


LAUREN'S STORY, AGE TWELVE

I was born in Montana, my mom and dad's first child. I think they were married two years. One day, though, my dad just up and vanished. My only memory of him is when I was, maybe, four. Mom dropped me off at my grammy's house, stayed a couple minutes, and left.

Grammy pointed across the room and said, "Lauren, why don't you go over and say hi to that fellow." It was my dad, her son. I guess he recognized me %151; but I don't think he would have been there if he'd known I was coming. I'd heard so many bad stories. He probably thought I hated him.

Another time at Grammy's house I noticed a new picture of my dad. He was with this woman %151; his wife %151; and their daughter. I started to wonder, Would my sister from him like me? What about his wife? I wanted to meet him again, but not enough to search for him.

My Stepdad, Another Story
I was five when I got my stepdad, Zach. He came to help our neighbors move out of their apartment. I'd never seen him before, but he knew my mom. Suddenly, like %151; boom %151; he was in my life.

They married, and my mom had two more children, Nell and Harry, two years apart. Some kids get jealous. I wasn't. I was always wanting to play with them, especially outdoors, except in the spring. I have bad allergies. Then we'd play dress-up inside.

Anyway, from the beginning Nell, Harry, and I got along. We've had our fights, but no more than normal. The same with my stepdad's son, Zach Junior. He was one of those every-other-weekend kids. We both have blond hair and blue eyes. People confused us for brother and sister. My mom's more like a big sister. She knows where I'm coming from. I love her.

How I feel about my stepdad is another story. I don't think he ever liked me. I took my mom's attention away from him. He wanted it all. See, he was adopted. His parents were mean to him.

Gradually he started being mean, not to Nell or Harry, but to me. Little by little it got worse. I figured he'd picked just one of us to be mean to, and I was the one. When he hit me, he said, "I'm beating you because that's all I knew." Once we were out back and my sister fell. He thought I'd thrown her down. He picked me up by my hair and threw me halfway across the yard. It was scary.

My mom saw it. She told him, "You ever do that again, we're gone." He stopped, but he'd still do what you might call odd things. He told me stuff he shouldn't have, like that he did drugs, and he told me things about a girl at school who didn't like me. He said her parents only got married because the mom was pregnant.

Then he said, "Lauren, you're nothing special either. Your parents married for the same reason. They didn't love each other."

I started crying. When I asked my mom, she said, "That's not true." I kept some other things he did secret from my mom. I was scared if I told her, he'd find out. Then I'd really be in trouble. Anyway, I told my best friend, Jennifer. Jennifer told her mom, and her mom told mine. Everything happened %151; and nothing.


Kid Problem, Kid Solutions
What should I do if my dad/mom promises to come over but doesn't show up?
  • It's not you. They're hurting deep inside and have to figure out their life. It's not fair, but it doesn't mean you're forgotten.
  • Tell them you don't like it when they break promises. You love and miss them.
  • There's nothing you can do, so try not to think about it. Do it back to them and then say, "See how it feels? Can we talk about it?"
  • Ask them why and then try to be understanding.
  • Try to ignore them, call a friend or just comfort yourself.
  • Don't feel discouraged. Keep living your life. You'll see that parent again sometime.
  • Act like you're doing all right without them.
  • Tell them that you know it's probably hard for them, but it's twice as hard for you.
  • Tell them you feel hurt that you can't trust them to show up and you'd like to trust them.
A Confusing Time
My stepdad worked, but usually he was home in the afternoon. I'd come home from school with homework to do. He'd start yelling, "Clean the kitchen, Lauren!" Mom told him to do it, and he was trying to pass it off on me. He'd go crazy, so I'd clean. Then Mom would come home, see the kitchen, and praise him.

One night at the dinner table Harry was going around the room saying what everybody did. He said, "Mom works at an office with a computer. Lauren and us go to school. And Daddy's job is to lie on the couch and sleep."

Since he owned his own business, he only worked on the days he wanted. Most days he didn't want to work. He didn't get much money. If it weren't for my nana and my poppy, my mom's parents, we might not have survived.

A lot of times during those years my mom would say, "This is it. I won't take it anymore. Lauren, we're leaving." But we never did %151; until the day she called Nana to come from Colorado to pick us up. In the middle of packing, my stepdad came home. He tried to talk us out of leaving, but it didn't work. We were tired of his excuses.

Three days later my grandmother pulled up in front of school. I wanted to say good-bye to Jennifer. We never fought the whole four years I knew her. We just had fun together. I got her out of class. "We're leaving this minute," I told her, and then we hugged for a long time. I was ten years old. It was hard to walk away from one life and into another.

My nana, my mom, Nell, Harry, and I hit the road in a great big van packed with everything in the world we owned.

Any Questions
We moved in with my grandparents one week before Christmas. We were cramped all together. Poppy used a bedroom for an office. The three kids were in another room, and Mom was on the couch.

I missed my friends. I was scared of going to a new school. What if no one liked me? That first day, midyear in fifth grade, I walked through the doors. I remember the school smelled like good food and erasers. The counselor met me in the office and took me to my classroom. I'd never had a locker before, and she showed me how to use one. I had a nice teacher, too. Miss Dearman. She retired last year. She was winding down and wasn't that strict.

I enjoyed that school more than any I've gone to. I began to learn who was who. I started in the popular crowd, but I'm not thin and didn't make it. So I moved down. That was okay. When I was in sixth grade, I was in the gifted and talented program. Bridget was my study buddy. Then I met Kaysie, Joanne, and Betsy. I liked them a lot.

Edge of the Planet
To this day, two years after we left him, my stepdad calls. He upsets everyone. He's all sweet and apologizes for not calling before. He tries to get back with my mom. When that doesn't work, he yells, "There's a law that says I can take the kids from you." Then it quiets down for a month or two until it starts over.

He says he's coming to see us. He never does. I don't have to see him. But I won't say I want him to fall off the edge of the planet and disappear. We lived together for seven years. I can't just forget him. Nell and Harry miss him. They think he doesn't love them. My mom and I make up some story to make them feel better.

I'm twelve now. We just moved into a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment. It's not nasty or full of cockroaches. There are people my age. It's good but hard to be here. We were so used to being around Nana and Poppy. "It's for the best," my mom says.

I'm going into seventh grade and starting another school. I'm nervous. You know how it is. You have to learn who you can hang out with and who you can't. I love drama club and speech competitions. I hope I can do that and make friends.

Pay More Attention
As I grow up I try not to think too far ahead %151; more day by day. In a way I'm glad that I've gone through all this, so maybe these experiences won't have to happen to me. I'm more cautious than I would have been. I pay more attention to the small things that can turn into big problems. And I tell myself that everything in my life is getting better.

WHAT THE THERAPISTS SAY

Lauren is remarkable. Even though she's had trouble in her life, she still studies, has good friends, and is nice to her sister and brother. She's smart, optimistic, and knows herself. Those are good gifts to have.

She evaluates things. She doesn't jump to judgments. It's impressive how she tries to sort out why her stepdad was mean to her. With friends and in families someone may be turned into the scapegoat, the one picked on. She hasn't figured out yet it has nothing to do with her.

Upsetting Mom
And although she's scared to tell her mom about her stepdad's behavior, she knows to turn to someone. For Lauren it's her best friend, but adults, like a teacher or counselor, can help, too. Some children worry they'll upset Mom if they tell her certain things. It's okay to upset your mother. She needs to know and to protect you. If you're sure she's the wrong person, find adults you trust and tell them. You need to talk, especially when you're treated cruelly.

Leaving even bad situations can be hard. Lauren knows she's going to miss her friends and her life at that school. She may also discover it's not unusual to still feel connected to her stepdad. She probably hopes he'll change. Meanwhile, she focuses on normal issues, like fitting in at a new school.

As with Lauren, it's common in divorced families for the child of the first marriage to be close to the mother. If Lauren is too responsible for taking care of the kids from the second marriage, it can become a problem.

Lauren's a survivor. She comes to terms with a parent who has disappeared from her life. She knows the benefit of having strong ties with grandparents. For all her family tension and moves, she is a warm, trusting human being.


Kid Problem, Kid Solutions
What if my dad/mom is so busy with a new life that I feel forgotten?
  • Tell them that even though their life is changing, you're as much a part of it as before.
  • Try to include yourself in their new life or focus on the things in your life that make you happy.
  • Tell them how much you miss those moments when you were together.
  • Maybe it makes you feel sad and angry, but after a while you'll get used to not seeing them.
  • Find times to call them, or if you have a computer, send them E-mail.
  • Tell them that you're still their kid and they have an obligation to keep you in their life.
  • Some parents are workaholics and nothing changes them.


Kid Problem, Kid Solutions
What should I do if my dad's girlfriend/mom's boyfriend (or new spouse) is always yelling at me for no good reason?
  • Understand that it is not okay. You don't have to take it. Talk to an adult you trust about what he or she thinks you should do.
  • Bite your tongue. Nothing they say can really do anything to you.
  • Ask your biological parent or that person why they're doing that.
  • Sometimes nothing you say or do is good enough for them. They'll yell about the one thing you miss. You just have to learn to live with it until you're older and out of the house.
  • Try to let it go in one ear and out the other. If that doesn't work, go outside and play, punch a wall as long as it's not brick, slam the door of your room, and beat up a pillow.
  • Don't run away. Talk about it.


Kid Problem, Kid Solutions
How do I deal with my stepparent treating his/her kids better than me?
  • They might not be used to having new kids, so they're just ignorant and don't know how to act. It's not you.
  • Who cares? It's your stepparent. Tell him or her you'd like a little more attention. Ask your real parent for help.
  • You aren't their child. They have a special bond with their own kids, not you.
  • Become friends with their kids.
  • You can't compete with blood, so don't try and don't worry.
  • This is what I say: "Hey, it wasn't my choice to live with you either, but as long as we're in this situation, we might as well try to get along."
  • They are used to them, so they relate to them better.
  • It takes time to adjust to a stepchild. But when they do, things will even out.


EMILY'S STORY, AGE NINE

WHAT THE THERAPISTS SAY

You learn how to get along with other people by what you see %151; good and bad %151; in your own family. Emily's divorced parents both love her a lot. They want to spend time with her. They want her to be happy. Sometimes, though, Emily sounds like she's being pulled between them. Her parents fight about things such as who sees her when. If they had plans in place that they could explain to her, it would make things easier.

It's common in families, especially ones with divorce, for the mom and dad to have different rules. It's also common for the adults and the children to have problems deciding who's in charge. Who is the boss, and what is your relationship to that person? Do you answer only to Mom? To Dad? To his or her boyfriend or girlfriend, too?

Rule Setter
Therapists often say, "The parent is the rule setter." That's probably what Emily heard from her therapist. But in real life the rules and ways of relating to one another are not that clear. At times Emily is probably alone with her future stepfather. Maybe she does something wrong, and he yells at her. He is an adult. He needs to be respected, even though his job is more to be a friend. To sort out who does what when, she should go to her parents.

Kids have to learn that adults make mistakes, too. When they do, they must be responsible for them and be disciplined.

Not all parents seem to take charge at home, and many, like Emily's, probably feel guilty about the divorce. They worry you're going to be ruined for life. To make up for that, they give you %151; the child %151; too much power and control.

Emily has had to struggle with a parent's addiction, fighting, and moves. But she seems strong and bold herself. When her dad takes his girlfriend's daughter someplace special, Emily has her mom tell him to stop. It might have been better for Emily to tell him herself. He may or may not change his behavior. He may even say, "When I take other people places, it doesn't mean I don't love you." But she also has to learn that even if you get mad, it won't always change the way a person acts. Emily is bright and lively. She'll understand.


Kid Problem, Kid Solutions
What if my stepparent (or parent's boyfriend/girlfriend) puts down my other parent?
  • Tell them that person is still your parent and they should treat them with respect.
  • Put down someone close to them and ask them how it makes them feel.
  • Tell your parent how you feel about it.
  • Tell them you don't like it, and if that doesn't work, just ignore them.
  • Let your parents handle it. It's their job anyway.
  • Tell them it isn't fair. They don't know that parent well.
  • Talk to them and the parent they're with %151; separately if necessary. They probably don't realize how much it hurts you.


CICI'S STORY, AGE TEN

I never went to day care. And I don't like school. I'm not good in it. Science and math are my worst subjects, probably 'cause I never listen. Usually I pass notes. What I really don't like, though, is the beginning of the year when the teacher asks, "How many people are in your family?"

I say, "Two," and the other kids laugh.

So what if I don't see my dad much? I don't think it's so bad. My time with him and Meredith, my stepmom, is every other weekend from six until ten on Friday and Saturday, and from ten to one on Sunday.

Afterward, when I come home, sometimes I go to my bedroom to think. I sit on my loft bed and look around %151; at my TV, my CD player, and my three dressers. I keep my Beanie Babies inside one of them, along with the Cabbage Patch doll my mom went all over town to find for me when I was little. I keep books in another dresser. One of my favorites is about how to keep friends, what to say to them, how to ask about their hobbies.

Bluer than Blue
When I'm bluer than blue, I daydream that I have a father around all the time. I think about having the most perfect family in the world: like, two parents and just me, the little angel in the house. The parents both get along really well. And they never yell at me either.

To get my mind off those thoughts, I start doing something else until the feeling passes over like a storm. I know my perfect family will probably never happen.

You know how when you're little, you don't know what's going on? Well, I thought my dad completely left my mom when I was too young to know. I didn't even seriously know that I had a dad. I thought this guy that started showing up was just one of my mom's friends. I was surprised when he moved in with us.

Then they told me. He lived with us for a couple years, until I was about six. Then in the blink of an eye he left again. The best time I ever had with my dad was when he took me to a water park.


Kid Problem, Kid Solutions
My dad/mom has been divorced more than once and is now married again. How do I get used to a new stepparent when I wasn't even used to the last one?
  • Try what worked before.
  • You always have your mom and dad, which is really what matters.
  • Try to see this new person's good points. Tell yourself he or she makes your parent happy and that's what you want.
  • Just go with the flow. You can't control what your parents do.
  • Get used to the new one. You'll see the old one soon enough.
  • Tell your mom or dad that you think they should settle down for good.
  • Move in with another relative.
  • Tell your parent that maybe they should see a therapist about why their relationships go wrong. Then look out. They may think you're trying to be smart.
  • This is one of those things many kids have to put up with. Make the best of what you've got.
  • Give this new person a chance, and it might get better.
Money
I'd have to say that money is a problem. Sometimes it seems we don't have any at all. My mom's gone back to school to try to get a better job that pays more. I wish she'd play the lotto, but she says that's not her style.

When I ask my dad for money, sometimes he gets mad just because of the question. Like, I wanted thirty dollars to get my hair permed. He and Meredith both work, so they could afford it. He kept putting it off, until finally I got one %151; but it didn't take.

My dad's always at work. Meredith is the one who watches me at their house. She's okay. Last week we worked in the backyard together pulling weeds.

She never had kids. That helps. She says I can tell her anything, and if I ask her not to, she won't tell anyone. She doesn't have any rules for me. They're all my dad's. I get away with stuff with my mom because she feels guilty. When my mom and I do get in fights, it's weird. I'm not used to yelling at girls. At school I yell at boys.

Last week I was upset with Mom. We fight about the stupidest things, like I have to vacuum practically every other day. I have to make my bed and clean my room. This time I didn't fold the laundry right. She yelled at me, and I yelled back. I called her names.

During my time at my dad's, when Meredith is making dinner, she has everything else off her mind. My dad is always late, so I say, "I want to move in with you."

She says, "Are you in a fight with your mom?"

"Yes," I say.

Then she says, "Well, you'll get in a fight with me and just want to go back to your mom."

That's probably true. Me and Meredith get in lots of fights. I have a bad temper. To get unmad, sometimes I pack up all my stuff and then pretend I forgot something so I can't leave. The four of us %151; me, Mom, Dad, and Meredith %151; never do anything together.

Leave Us Alone
We live in Ohio. My mom dated this guy that's in Chicago. They broke up. He was okay, but he just never showed up enough. He'd say stuff to my mom like, "I'll be here on your birthday." Then he couldn't make it. Whenever he came around, my mom would say, "Cici, you have to leave us alone." I'd go upstairs and try to forget about it.

"You're not going to have Mom all to yourself," I'd tell myself. "You have to live with that. You get her every day, except when she has that person over. And it's the same for Dad."

High Notes and Low Ones
I don't have dreams of getting married. When I realized I could sing good, I decided to be a singer. I'm scared to sing in front of my mom, but my friends are cool. I like to put on Celine Dion's CD and sing along with it. She can hit the high notes and the low ones.

If I'm at school or I'm feeling lonely, I sing. That's what gets me through. But you know what? I have to say for all the ups and downs, even though my mom and dad never really got married, I like the life I have.

WHAT THE THERAPISTS SAY

There are a lot of unknowns about Cici; for example, what does "bluer than blue" mean? You can tell, though, she has questions about her dad. It would probably help if her mom let Cici know some of what went on between them. This man, her dad, shows up one day and is gone the next day. That's unsettling.

Some parents think it's best not to talk about this kind of thing, but a child starts wondering and worrying. The anxiety around the secret can become larger than the secret itself. It's okay for a child to ask parents for information. And it's okay to have this conversation more than once. What parents tell you when you're six years old is different from what they tell you when you're ten. You hear more details.

Intact Family
Cici's daydream about the wonderful intact family %151; Mom, Dad, and her %151; is normal. But what can happen is that you begin to believe that an intact family is the best. And you think that if only you could be part of an intact family, your life would be perfect. This just isn't true.

Dealing with parents' dating can be tricky. Some parents think, "I'll protect my children. I won't let them see me date." That can work, unless they suddenly pop this person into their kids' lives. For Cici, a boyfriend shows up and her mother sends her off to her room. It's better if a new person is introduced slowly, with the three of them doing things together first.

In a lot of ways Cici and her mother have a normal parent-child relationship. Still, her mom has the stress of being a single parent. She probably feels she's done something bad to Cici, and she tries to make up for it by not setting and enforcing many rules.

Meanwhile, Cici worries about being loyal to her mom, even as she asks her stepmother, Meredith, about moving in. Meredith is good. She's not trying to be Cici's mom or to bad-mouth Cici's mom. That can happen when stepparents aren't comfortable in their role. Lots of kids fear they're being disloyal to the biological parent if they like the Merediths in their lives. Really, there's enough love to go around.

Cici has friends. She's outgoing and talented. These are signs of health. The children who withdraw and shut down are the ones to worry about most.


Kid Problem, Kid Solutions
What person, program, or thing has helped you the most in getting through all these changes?
  • My aunt Carole and Snuffles, my stuffed animal, helped me most.
  • My diary helps me explain these shocks to myself.
  • An anger management class has shown me ways to calm down when I get upset about the changes.
  • Therapy helped me the most.
  • Anyone who's close to you can help. You'll get through it. All your parents want is for you and them to be happy.


Kid Problem, Kid Solutions
What do you know now about separation/divorce/remarriage that you wish you had known in the beginning?
  • If you don't like the new stepparent, tell your parent before the marriage, not after, when it's too late for sure.
  • You're not the only one going through a divorce. You're not the only one wanting to have a mom and dad together. Your friends are there for you, even if it's just to listen.
  • If you come from a big family, like me, you can always find support when you most need it.
  • Sometimes you have to be your own best friend to get through this. Worse things can happen than divorce.

Text copyright © 2001 by Janet Bode

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