In this guide, a psychologist and family therapist focuses on shepherding children through the upheaval of divorce.
This latest book from Nightingale (It’s a Bedroom, Not a Boardroom, 2016, etc.) advises readers on some of the many complexities involved in helping kids deal with their parents’ divorce and build personal resources that will serve them throughout their lives. The author urges parents to remember that as upsetting as a divorce is, it’s one episode in the whole life of a child, who will grow up to implement whatever lessons that the breakup teaches. “If you’re undecided about what to make a big deal out of, and what you want to rise above,” Nightingale counsels, “picture your child telling the story of this situation to your grandchild, and then your grandchild telling it to your great-grandchild.” The author reminds readers that each child is unique. When she sees kids in the course of her professional practice, she often lets them lead the conversations about how they’re feeling. This narrative thread runs throughout the book, with Nightingale opening each chapter with a brief fictional sketch designed to dramatize some of the key items under discussion. The manual ends by summarizing some of its central points: that parents should not just talk about expressing feelings but model how to do that; that they should work to give children the tools they need to cope; and, crucially, that they should keep the things they can change separate from the things they can’t. A short list of recommended books for further reading is appended.
“In my 35 years practicing as a therapist, I have never seen the path of divorce be ‘the easy way out,’ ” Nightingale writes. “It’s a complicated, messy event and everyone in the family feels the pain.” The main strength of this short guide is the way the author mixes this bedrock of extensive professional experience with an unflagging empathy throughout, both for the children and for the parents going through a divorce. Virtually every page conveys the feeling of talking with a sympathetic and calming friend who’s had far more experience grappling with divorce and knows all the right things to say. The points most often made here in various iterations are twofold: that each child will react differently to divorce, and that this event, which Nightingale calls a “tragedy,” can have a silver lining, laying the groundwork for kids to build coping skills that will serve them all their lives. The author deftly reminds her readers of several things they might be forgetting, such as the fact that everything children know about divorce they likely learned from TV and movies, and that one of the biggest mistakes parents make during the turmoil of the breakup itself is to forget that their kids may be intentionally avoiding the subject of how they feel about it. In these and other cases, the author asserts, it’s better to “lead with curiosity” rather than always be instructing. Resisting the urge to jump in and offer quick fixes (or bribes) is the best way adults can signal that they see children as resilient and capable.
An empathetic and intensely useful series of instructions on helping kids grow after a divorce.