Positive tools for thriving families.

The first working Monday after the holidays has been tagged as ‘Divorce Day’ in the United States and the United Kingdom, given the unusually high volume of calls to family attorneys inquiring into divorce proceedings on this day. Interestingly, both the United States and the United Kingdom experience a surge in divorce inquiries after the holidays as reported by The Huffington PostThe Guardian and by The Independent. It is suggested that the stressors of the holiday season, such as expenses, family get-togethers, and decision making struggles, increase the pressure on couples. The strain lends itself to moving toward a path of divorce once the holidays are over.

The divorce statistics remain high, with approximately over 40% of marriages ending in divorce in both the U.S. and the U.K. Although divorce may be the appropriate choice for many couples, it is important for parents to continue to pay close attention to their children in this complicated process.

Children are resilient, and the research suggests that most children fare well after a divorce – if the divorce is done well and the children are protected during and after. Hence, it is important to remind ourselves of the impact of divorce on children, and recommend best ways to protect children through a divorce.

Approximately 1.5 million children are affected by divorce each year (Scientific American, 2013). Research has demonstrated that divorce can contribute to significant consequences in children, including anger, depression, anxiety, school and social difficulties, and even changes in long-term attitudes towards marriage and divorce (Fidler and Bala, 2010; Kinsfogel and Grych, 2004; Johnston, 1994; Grych and Fincham, 2001; Ciu and Fincham, 2010). Simultaneously, research also suggests that many children cope, adapt, and fare well after a divorce (Scientific American, 2013).

One of the most emotionally difficult moments for a child with divorcing parents is feeling and believing that he/she has to choose one parent over the other. Although most parents never explicitly place their child in this position, it is not uncommon that inadvertent, subtle messages related to parent preference are communicated to the child in a conflict-ridden divorce. If the child hears and feels that the other parent is at fault, this automatically places the child in the middle of the ping-pong match, which is very stressful for any child.

NO BLAME:  Hence, one of my first recommendations to divorcing parents is avoid the blame game at all costs in the presence of the child. Although the divorce may not be mutual or fair, if the parents share with the child that the other parent is to blame overtly or covertly for the huge family changes, parents are putting the child in a bind. This can burden the child with anger, guilt, and confusion, which can impair his/her ability to cope and recover.

NO PUT-DOWNS: This leads to my next recommendation, in that parents should avoid all ‘put-downs’ of the other parent. Unless it is a critical issue that is genuinely harmful for the child, parents should maintain a neutral and cooperative stance with each other in all their messages to the children. This stance allows children to continue to feel love and attached with both parents, and prevents a disruption in the child’s alliance and trust with each parent – which is key to a healthy divorce and in the best interest of the child.

COOPERATIVE CO-PARENTING: Another critical area that has a profound impact on children is chronic parental conflict vs. cooperative co-parenting. The short and long-term research repeatedly demonstrates that higher conflict divorces and ongoing conflict between divorced parents has a significant detrimental impact on children emotionally. Although most divorces are complicated, how the parents handle parenting during and post-divorce can make an enormous difference to the child. Cooperative co-parenting is key for children to cope and adapt in healthy ways to this significant life change.

Many clients ask what cooperative co-parenting means and what it looks like. Although there is no clear answer, my response always includes the words, ‘compromise, compromise, and more compromise’. Unless there is a safety issue or a life-threatening issue, there should be no reason for parents not to be able to compromise and come to a mutual agreement in the best interest of the child. These compromises could revolve around visitations, scheduling, finances, schooling, activities, nutrition, etc.

Cooperative co-parenting sends a powerful message to the young child that despite the massive changes in their world, their lives will remain stable and they will be well taken care of. Cooperative co-parenting also sends a strong and effective message that the child does not have to choose between one parent over the other – ever.

Although today is divorce day and January is a month of high volume calls to divorce attorneys, I hope these recommendations motivate parents to continue to be the best parents they can be.

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  • Exceptional, impressive, thoroughly 'kid friendly' from beginning to end, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" should be a part of every community library Parenting Studies collections. For families with young children who are having to deal with divorce, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" will prove to be an invaluable and instructive aid.

    Editor in Chief - Midwest Book Review

  • Those of us parenting, working with, or caring for children experiencing divorce will welcome Family Changes as a unique, positive, and creative resource for helping children understand and cope with this complicated transition. The comprehensive note to adults effectively explains how children work through painful questions and feelings. The touching story—with the endearing Zoey and her attempt to understand a very grown up topic—ends with extremely helpful follow up questions that will be highly valued by parents, child advocates, therapists, and others who wish to better serve children during this difficult time. I highly recommend this book to parents and professionals.

    Sacha Coupet, Ph.D., J.D. Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Family Law, Loyola University, Chicago, IL

  • Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children is an outstanding book that is gentle, positive, and validating for both children and adults. With an excellent and informative parent guide about the value of talking to children about their feelings, a highly sensitive and engaging story with exquisite illustrations, and an effective list of questions that children typically ask, this book is essential reading for divorcing families, and for therapists and advocates working with children of divorce.

    Sandra A. Graham-Bermann, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Michigan

  • Family Changes is an inspiring and exceptional book on divorce. It explains divorce in a developmentally appropriate and comforting language that validates children's complex feelings about divorce. Dr. Maker's expertise and years of experience working with children who are coping with the grief and confusion that often accompany divorce shine through in every page. I highly recommend this book to divorcing parents, schools, libraries, and professionals working with children of divorce.

    Martha Crowe, M.A. Child Development, Institute for Public Health, San Diego State University, CA

  • Dr. Maker has brought us this excellent child-centric educational book about how to navigate the changes of a family undergoing divorce. Dr. Maker takes us through this experience from the child's point of view and shares the gift of positive transformation that can occur during this life-changing time. The illustrations are sublime and the topic is handled so gently and ingeniously. Of course, it is written by a child psychologist with the gift of creativity. It's a book that every child therapist, library, school, and families going through a divorce should have on their shelves.

    Krista Royabal, M.D., Psychiatrist, Executive Medical Director, True Life Center for Wellbeing, CA

  • Based on the typical emotional turbulence a child feels from separation or divorce, Family Changes receives high recommendation as the first title that adults should turn to in the effort to explain, explore, and support a child's feelings in the matter, concluding with a list of 'process questions' which adults can use to further enhance the story line's overall approach.

    CA Bookwatch/Donovan’s Literary Services/Recommended Reading

  • The story touches on several key issues that children worry about - will their parents still love them, will they have two homes now, did they somehow cause the divorce, etc. The book also opens with a straightforward Note to Adults and ends with a list of questions that adults can discuss with children. Often books that do a good job of explaining divorce and separation are so focused on the child's point-of-view, that they don't offer any advice for the parents, caregivers, and teachers that are trying to help the child makes sense of it all. Family Changes avoids that problem and gives good guidelines for adults. I would recommend this book to parents and other family members, educators, and counselors.

    NetGalley Reviews/The Fairview Review - Librarian

  • This story is filled with little moments that reflect the nature of children perfectly. If you need to explain what it means to be divorced or separated to your child then this is one of the best ways to do that. The book is filled with relatable emotions and questions that a lot of children will have if their family is going through a separation. Dr. Maker’s years of experience are evident in the story as she masterfully addresses many common concerns for children experiencing a divorce in their family.

    The Littlest Bookshelf