Helping Children Cope with Divorceby Edward Teyber
The biggest concern for most divorcing parents is whether their kids will be hurt. Children don't usually understand the changes that are happening and may blame themselves or worry about the well-being of their parents. Helping Children Cope with Divorce shows parents how to take control of this challenging
A hopeful view of helping your kids in a difficult time
The biggest concern for most divorcing parents is whether their kids will be hurt. Children don't usually understand the changes that are happening and may blame themselves or worry about the well-being of their parents. Helping Children Cope with Divorce shows parents how to take control of this challenging family crisis and minimize both short-term pain and long-term trauma. This revised and updated edition of the book named one of the "Ten Best Parenting Books of the Year" by Child magazine provides the most up-to-date research availableand clarifies some misguided conclusionsabout the impact of divorce on children of different ages. It presents a detailed program for parents to help their kids reduce their pain and come out of the situation in a better place. Both optimistic and realistic, this valuable book offers specific ideas for what every family member can do to help get through the transition.
Edward Teyber (Claremont, CA) is a clinical child psychologist and Professor of Psychology and Director of the Community Counseling Center at California State University, San Bernadino.
"Will be extremely helpful to any parent going through the process of divorce. It is conceptually sound, easy to read, and has important information for parents, professionals, and anyone who is working with children whose parents are going through divorce." (Hugh McIssac, LCSW, director, Family Court Services, The Superior Court, Los Angeles County)
"An outstanding book. It reinforces the value of putting children first and acknowledges children's need for both parents during and after the divorce. Teyber clearly describes the stress and pain children experience and explains how best to shield them from the parent's own conflicts. . . . Essential reading. . . ." (David L. Levy, Esq., president, Children's Rights Council)
"Dr. Teyber covers the importance of parenting skills [in offering] stability and continuity in critical stages of child development following a divorce." (Louis Welch, director, Child Custody Reform Project)
". . . should be recommended reading for any parent going through a divorce. Teachers, counselors, therapists, family law judges, and attorneys will find Teyber's book a valuable adjunct to their work." (Benson Schaffer, L.A. County Superior Court (retired), Family Law Mediator)
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Read an Excerpt
Helping Children Cope With Divorce
By Edward Teyber
JOSSEY-BASSCopyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneYou Can Help Your Children Successfully Adjust to Divorce
"What Will Happen to My Kids? I Feel So Guilty!"
This book teaches divorcing parents what they can do to help their children successfully adjust to divorce. The biggest concern for almost all divorcing parents is whether their children will be hurt by the breakup. To be sure, divorce brings painful feelings that are not short-lived; divorce is difficult for every family member to deal with. Children do not understand the changes that are occurring and are worried about what will happen to them. And although parents are usually unaware of this, children also worry about the well-being of their parents, who now seem so angry and sad.
Regardless of who initiated the divorce, most parents are far more distressed by the breakup than they had anticipated. In addition to their own personal distress, they are burdened by guilt over the divorce and by feelings of inadequacy because they do not know how to help their children. However, these and other problems are resolvable. The widespread myth that children's lives are forever blighted is false; parents can take control of this crisis and do a great deal to help their children.
I will be your child's advocate in the pages ahead. I will communicate to you-the concerned parent-what your children may be thinking, feeling, and needing throughout the different stages of divorce. As I help you understand the questions and concerns that divorce evokes for your children, I will also provide practical guidelines to help you respond more effectively. Divorcing parents need specific information and practical guidelines to help with the problems that divorce brings up for children. My goal in this book is to help parents anticipate the concerns that divorce typically arouses for children, understand what these problems mean, and teach parents how they can respond effectively. For example, I teach parents how to explain the divorce to their children, suggest custody and living arrangements that will be in the children's best interest, and provide guidelines to help shield children from parental wrangling. This straightforward approach will make a difficult time easier for both children and parents alike and go a very long way toward helping children successfully adjust to divorce.
In this introductory chapter I first examine the broad social changes that have transformed the American family and led to a soaring divorce rate. The next section summarizes the effects of divorce on children and how children at different ages tend to react to their parents' breakup. The final section addresses the impact of divorce on parents and highlights the different stages of adjustment that parents often go through. In particular, I will show how parents' guilt and distress over the divorce diminishes their ability to provide both the support and the discipline that children need. In contrast to this overview, each chapter that follows focuses on a specific divorce-related problem and provides practical steps to resolve it.
The Changing American Family
As the divorce rate has soared since the 1960s, most of us have either personally experienced or shared with others the disruption of marriage and family. Divorce has become so widespread that well over one million children now go through their parents' divorce every year. How will divorce affect these children? Are there typical reactions or predictable problems that boys and girls will have because of their parents' divorce? What can parents do to help their children cope with the initial breakup, adjust to living in a single-parent family or to moving back and forth between two households, and make the transition to remarriage and living in a stepfamily? The pages that follow answer these questions and many more.
Before we embark on this important journey, however, we need to learn some other things about divorce. In particular, parents need to understand why so many divorces are occurring today. Are people just too selfish to make commitments or care about others anymore? Have people become too lazy or unwilling to work on the problems that exist in every relationship? Unfortunately, divorcing parents are sometimes blamed in these ways, but social demographers and family historians tell us that the explanations for the soaring divorce rate are not so simple.
A Historical Perspective on the Family
Let's take the long view for a moment and see what family historians have to tell us about the high divorce rate in the American family. Researchers have gathered a great deal of historical evidence describing what family life was like in previous centuries. These statistical records and archival materials from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries show that family conflict and marital instability are not modern phenomena. As far back as the records go, there is unmistakable evidence that family life was fraught with conflict and tensions, subject to dramatic fluctuations, and full of diverse family forms and types. It is a romantic misperception to idealize the family of the past as a safe haven.
The conflict and tensions that have challenged families for hundreds of years have been heightened by recent developments that have changed the fabric of our society and contemporary family life. Urbanization and industrialization in the twentieth century, women entering the workforce during and after World War II, control over fertility through birth control in the 1960s, and the adoption of no-fault divorce have all contributed to the rising divorce rate. These changes have led to a profound shift in the roles and responsibilities that husbands and wives take on, how couples communicate, and how decision-making power is shared in the family. As a result of these far-reaching changes in marital relationships, the divorce rate started rising about 1900, rapidly accelerated after World War II, and doubled between 1960 and 1975. Although the divorce rate peaked in 1980, it has leveled off at a very high rate. One out of two new marriages in the United States eventually ends in divorce, most within the first ten years. Because this high rate of divorce is expected to continue, demographers predict that over 50 percent of children born today will live, at some point, in single-parent families, usually headed by mothers. However, most divorcing parents have given up on a specific partner-not on marriage itself. About three-fourths of men and two-thirds of women eventually remarry, usually within three years after the divorce (60 percent of which will also end in divorce, usually within five years). As a result of the high remarriage rate, about 20 percent of children today are living in a stepfamily.
Too often divorce is misconstrued as a circumscribed or terminal event that ends when the judge drops the gavel. However, divorcing parents soon find that the breakup and legal divorce is but one phase in a series of complex family transitions. In many cases, for example, there is a period of increasing marital tension or overt conflict leading up to the breakup; there may be life in a single-parent household or shared custody arrangement, remarriage and stepfamily formation, birth of new children, and possibly a subsequent divorce. Children and parents alike can struggle or thrive in each successive transition as they cope with the changes that the next phase presents. Divorcing parents face different challenges with their children at each of these successive stages. In the chapters that follow, I help parents anticipate the problems and respond to the concerns that children experience in each new phase of family life.
The Child's Experience of Divorce
The three brief scenarios that follow show typical responses of each family member to the initial breakup. In each situation you will see certain problems beginning to emerge for the children involved. Ask yourself, as you read along, how you would respond if these were your children.
The Abbott Family
Although Jack felt guilty about leaving his wife, Linda, and hurting their two children, he had made up his mind to go. He planned to move into an apartment with his girlfriend by the weekend. "I know this is hard for you," Jack began, and then he abruptly announced that he wanted a divorce. Linda felt as if she had been kicked in the stomach. "What are you saying? Why are you leaving us? Why didn't you tell me?" Stunned with disbelief, she was almost unable to hear the words he was saying. Two months later it still seemed to Linda as if her life had fallen apart. Although Jack had originally suggested that they remain friends, Linda was bitter and wanted never to see or speak to him again. She told her daughters that their father had betrayed all of them and they shouldn't have anything to do with him. And, as if humiliating her had not been enough, Jack was going to try to take her daughters away from her, too. Linda simply couldn't believe it. He was actually seeking joint custody of the two girls.
Shortly after the separation, Linda and Jack's daughters' behavior began to change. Thirteen-year-old Marta was angry at everyone and everything. She had sided with her mother and wouldn't see or speak to her father, despite his repeated requests to visit her. Marta blamed her father and hated him for leaving. Yet, even though Marta took her mother's side against her father, she gradually began to distance herself from her mother as well. Marta began to spend little time at home; her grades plummeted, and Linda started receiving reports that her daughter was cutting classes and spending time with older teenagers who missed school regularly.
Unlike Marta, her eight-year-old sister, Ann, wasn't angry all the time. She was sad. Ann felt torn apart inside and was praying that her parents would get back together again. She reasoned that if Marta weren't so angry with Dad, it would be easier for him to move back home.
Ann also felt torn between her parents. She missed seeing her father, and they often talked secretly on the phone. Ann felt guilty, however, and thought, "If Mom knew, she'd think I was on Dad's side. But I want to see Dad. He tells me it's unfair of Mom to make him into the bad guy. But Mom's right. He wouldn't have left us if he really loved us. I don't know who's right; I don't know what to do. I just feel pulled apart." In contrast to Marta, who became "impossible" to manage, Ann directed her conflict inward and began to complain about headaches and stomachaches.
The Baxter Family
When Joan's marriage broke up, her husband moved out of the state without leaving a forwarding address. Joan was left to raise their four-year-old son, Ben, on her own. In the four months after he left, her husband, Jim, sent only two support checks. Joan didn't know how she would make ends meet; her county welfare check wasn't enough to pay for food, rent, and the car payment each month. Joan had a part-time job as a salesclerk, but by the time she paid for day care, there wasn't enough money left to get through the month.
Joan felt overwhelmed by her life. Even her son was out of control. "Ben is driving me crazy," Joan told a relative. "Ever since his father left, I can't control him-he won't do anything I say. It's awful. He fights with me constantly, yet he won't leave me alone for a minute. He throws a temper tantrum when I drop him off at the day-care center, even though he used to like going there. He used to go to bed easily at night. Now putting him down is a battle that takes most of the evening. He wants one more drink of water, one more story, one more light turned on. I don't have anything left to give, and Ben wants more, more, more.
"I've finally given up trying to keep him in his own bed. He wakes up from a nightmare and won't stop crying until I let him climb into bed with me. Then in the morning he still won't obey me. He's just bossy and demanding rather than thankful. I tell you, I just can't handle this boy since his father left. He's ruining my life!"
When his father first left, Ben felt sad and missed him. After the first few weeks, though, Ben just felt angry. He kept thinking to himself, "Why did Dad leave me? I hate him for going away. I don't ever want him to come back." Sometimes Ben felt angry at his mother, too. Maybe it was her fault that his father had left. Ben's feelings were confusing and even kind of scary some-times. Being angry at his mother could be so scary because Ben was afraid that he might drive away her away, as he believed he had his father. He thought, "If Dad left because he didn't want me, maybe Mom will leave, too! Then I'll be all alone, and there won't be anybody to take care of me." Even though he was really mad, Ben knew it was very important not to let his mother get very far away from him.
The Campbell Family
One month after her thirtieth birthday, Barbara asked Dave for a divorce. Dave wanted to stay together, but Barbara insisted that she needed more out of life than she had. Barbara wanted to go back to school and develop a career that would make her more independent than she had been with Dave. They had married right after high school, and she felt she never really had the chance to become her own person. Although Barbara didn't know exactly what she wanted and couldn't answer Dave's questions very well about "what was wrong," she just knew that what she had shared with Dave wasn't going to be enough.
Six months later, Dave still didn't know what to do with his four- and eight-year-old sons, Danny and Mark, when they visited him at his new apartment. He usually took them to the movies or a park, but nobody seemed to have much fun. And Dave really got frustrated when Danny started crying because he wanted to go home to his mother. He had always felt unsure of what to do when his boys were sad or cried. Barbara had always taken care of those needs, just as she had always fed and bathed and done almost everything else for them. Taking care of children was natural for her. She always seemed to know what to do. In contrast Dave always questioned himself, never quite feeling that he was doing it right.
On top of feeling like a failure as a father, Dave was growing resentful toward his former wife and his children. Dave told a friend, "I spend more than I can afford taking them out to eat and to movies and ballgames, and then they don't even talk to me. And when I take the boys back to their mother, she tells me she resents having to be the disciplinarian while I'm the "tour guide" who just has fun with the kids.
Excerpted from Helping Children Cope With Divorce by Edward Teyber Copyright © 2001 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
EDWARD TEYBER, is professor of psychology and director of the psychology clinic at California State University, San Bernardino. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in clinical psychology from Michigan State University. He is also the author of two counseling textbooks: Interpersonal Process in Psychotherapy: A Relational Approach and coauthor, with Faith McClure, of Casebook in Child and Adolescent Treatment: Cultural and Familial Contexts.
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