Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Explaining the Whys of Parental Divorce

The Divorce Helpbook for Teens
By Cynthia MacGregor
Impact Publishers
Atascadero, CA, 2004
Rating: **** (4 stars)
Review by Laura Harting

With chapters like “It’s not about youIt just feels like it is,” “How did we get into this mess?” and “The FAQ chapter,” this book devotes many pages to explaining the whys of parental divorce. For a teen trying to negotiate life, no longer as a child but not yet as an adult, this will be very important information to have.

A key developmental task of being a teen is to understand the world that he or she is getting ready to enter as an adult. Consequently, teens spend a lot of time trying to understand why adults do what they do, say what they say, and make the decisions that they make. Cynthia MacGregor does not avoid the hard questions that teens ask. She answers them in language that is clear and appropriate for adolescents. She also gives practical hints to teens about how to manage their emotions.

In each chapter MacGregor tells stories about teens and their experiences of divorce. These stories make it easier for young readers to stay interested. MacGregor also ends every chapter with points to remember, so if the chapter is too long, readers can skip to the end and still be able to take away the major points of advice.

I like this book for teens. It can be helpful for a teen to read alone and it can also serve as the type of book that parents and teens can read and discuss together. This book can answer some of the many questions teens have about their own situations, and it can open lines of communication between parents and children about divorce.

Laura Harting, LCSW, sees young clients at her private practice in Paoli, Pennsylvania.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Delightful Picture of a Broken Heart

Dash’s Broken Heart
A children’s book about coping with divorce
By Dr. Josephine Whalen

Rating: *** (3 stars)
 Review by Laura Harting

Dash is a rabbit whose Dad moves out and his mom and dad divorce.  Dash has a broken heart and sometimes feels so sad that he does not feel like playing.  He wonders how it could be that his dad still loves him.  However, after spending time at his dad’s new place, he begins to feel loved by Dad and realizes that his parents still love him.

I love the illustrations in this book and I love even more that the book is illustrated by a 10-year-old child. I especially love the illustration of the x-ray of Dash’s broken heart.

This book is written for the preschool and early elementary aged child.  There are two sentences on each page and each page rhymes.  There are a few places where the rhyming is forced and therefore could make it difficult for a young child to grasp the meaning.  Though I like the two sentences on each page, I am not fond of the rhyming theme in this book.  I think the book could better address the feelings and concerns that a young child faces when parents divorce without the rhyming. I also miss any mention of Dash’s mom in the book. I wondered why she is not mentioned and I think young readers will wonder about that also.

The poem at the very end, after the story is finished, is written by a 12-year-old child and it is lovely.


Laura Harting, LCSW, sees young clients at her private practice in Paoli, Pennsylvania.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Perfect for Catholic Middle Schoolers

When Parents Divorce or Separate

A Catholic Guide for Kids

By Lynn Cassella-Kapusinski

Pauline Books & Media

Boston, Massachusetts, 2015

Reviewed by Laura Harting

This guide for Catholic kids is jam-packed full of information.  It is 241 pages long and covers everything that has to do with divorce, from the moment a child is told about the breakup to when the parents remarry and form a stepfamily. The author gives practical and helpful information about feelings, problems with parents, and understanding divorce from the perspective of the Catholic Church. The solution-focused emphasis gives kids ideas for how to handle difficult situations.

I like how each chapter begins with a short story about a child whose parents are divorced and the problems that child encounters. After the story there are questions to answer and solutions to that particular child’s dilemmas. I also like the inclusion of God and prayer in this book.

This book would be a great tool for a small group.  I can easily see how an adult group leader could read a chapter at each group session and focus the group discussion around that topic.  The questions could also be used to stimulate conversation and encourage kids to share what they think about the solutions presented at the end of the chapter and then discuss some of their own solutions.

The publisher states the book is designed for children ages 8 to 12, which would be grades 3 through 6. However, I believe this book seems geared towards the middle school aged child, ages 11 to 13, and I think it would be too long for a child to read alone.  If it is not being used in a small group setting, I recommend that it be read with an adult, taking one chapter at a time.

This book has a specific niche within the category of books for children of divorce.  It would be perfect for the Catholic middle schooler whose parents are divorcing and who is either attending a small group with other kids whose parents are divorced or is reading this book a chapter at a time with a parent, relative, counselor, or priest. 


Laura Harting, LCSW, sees young clients are her office in Paoli, Pennsylvania.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Personal Favorite

Mama and Daddy Bear’s Divorce
By Cornelia Maude Spelman
Illustrated by Kathy Parkinson
Albert Whitman & Co.
Chicago, Illinois, 1998
Reviewed by Laura Harting

This is one of my all-time favorite books about divorce for preschool and early elementary school children. Mama and Daddy Bear’s Divorce focuses on what is most important to the young child. The young child needs to have his or her feelings acknowledged and validated, needs to know what is changing and what is staying the same, and must be reassured over and over again about who loves them. This book hits the nail on the head in all these areas.  Written from the perspective of the youngest bear in the family, Dinah shares what she likes, her sad feelings, and her adjustment to Mama and Daddy’s divorce. The illustrations are perfect for a young child, with the members of Dinah's bear family having a distinctive resemblance to cuddly teddy bears.

I have read this book to multiple children and every child I have read it to likes it and finds it relatable in some way.  Mama and Daddy Bear’s Divorce always creates conversation and often allows the child to express feelings and ask questions. Many children have asked to take this book home after we read it together. It gives me so much pleasure to grant that request.


Laura Harting, LCSW, sees young clients at her office in Paoli, Pennsylvania.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

When a Parent Has a New Partner

Do You Sing Twinkle?

By Sandra Levins
Illustrated by Bryan Langdo
Magination Press/American Psychological Association
Washington DC, 2010

Reviewed by Laura Harting

Twinkle is the song that Mom always sings to this young boy and his brother every night after reading a book and tucking them into bed.  When Mom remarries and two stepsisters join the family, this child wonders if Mom is sharing this nightly ritual with the  girls. Thinking about this makes for a grumpy morning and a very bad day.  After listening to all of their son's sad and angry feelings, Mom and Dad come up with some good solutions to what originally seemed like insurmountable problems.

This book for preschool and early elementary age children is less about divorce and more about remarriage. It specifically deals with how remarriage creates more changes in a child's life. The book offers strategies for parents to help a child cope with the changes. It encourages the child to share feelings with parents. At the end of the book are two pages of notes to parents about helping children through remarriage, encouraging parents to be receptive to their child’s feelings.

This is a good read-along book for the young child (age 4 to 8) but should only be read when a parent has a new partner and is either contemplating remarriage or has already remarried.

Laura Harting, LCSW, sees young clients at her office in Paoli, Pennsylvania.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Action Steps for Youth Workers

The Children of Divorce: Loss of Family as Loss of Being

By Andrew Root
Baker Academic Press, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2010

Reviewed by Don Harting

Andrew Root writes like the well-educated man he is.  Root holds a doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary and teaches in the youth and family ministry department at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. His trendy, youth-friendly website,, describes him as a professor, author, speaker, and thinker. He has written 10 other books, all falling loosely within the category of youth ministry.

The Children of Divorce appears to be written for very educated readers, perhaps clergy members with master’s or doctoral degrees in divinity. The six ministry leaders who recommend his book on the back cover all work at seminaries, universities, or youth agencies. Root spends quite a bit of time examining divorce from the perspective of famous philosophers and theologians. The sources he draws from most heavily include a British sociologist named Anthony Giddens (born 1938), a German philosopher named Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), and a Swiss theologian named Karl Barth (1886-1968).

Root has also steeped himself in the current literature about children of divorce in late 20th and early 21st century America. He makes frequent reference to some of the leading researchers and writers, including Stephanie Coontz, Elizabeth Marquardt, Sarah McClanahan, David Royko, Gary Sandefur, Stephanie Staal, Judith Wallerstein, and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead.

Root’s major point – which he returns to repeatedly – is that parental divorce shakes the very core of a child’s being in a way that few other losses, including death, can match. This is so, he argues, because divorce represents a disintegration of the union that brought the child into the world in the first place.  Here’s a good example, from page 50:

“When divorce strikes it impacts young people at the level of their lived world. It radically changes their social environment, but more significantly, it rearranges their inner concept of the environment of the self. They have known their ‘I’ through the lived world of their mom and dad. The child’s very ‘I’ knows itself, but more radically, it is at all because the social environment of Mom and Dad provides the ‘I’ of the child a lived world she has taken into herself and made her own. When her social environment implodes, her lived world is shaken, and to such a degree that she is forced to even question her ‘I.’

Here’s another example, from page 53:

“Divorce thrusts the child into anxiety because it strikes the dependability of the social unit that is responsible for his or her being. It thrusts a division within the child’s own identity. He is cared for and need not fear for his next meal, for example, but he is anxious, for the very union that is responsible for his existence has regretted and aborted its unity of being. He is because they are. But now the they is not and will never be again. What then is the meaning of his existence when the they is now divided?”

A key philosophical term Root uses often is ontology. Webster’s tells us this is a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being. Root frequently asserts that divorce threatens a child’s being, existence, and ontological security.

A Critique

I can’t argue with the author’s central point that divorce strikes deep at the root – get it? -- of a person’s being. This is undoubtedly true, and sad, because divorce has become so widespread in America today. Reading this book has been a painful reminder of divorce-related hurts in my own family. However, Root makes the ontological point so many times that it becomes a bit repetitive. Perhaps this is forgivable, because Root is a child of divorced parents and at some level might have still been processing his loss as he wrote this book. His mother and father divorced when he was in graduate school and engaged to be married. Root’s fiancee’s parents also announced their divorce about the same time, leading to a most unusual circumstance at the time of their wedding: one marriage was beginning while two others had just ended.

Another critique: despite several references to the field of psychology, I’m disappointed not to see Root provide a fuller discussion of the normal human response to loss. In my own healing journey, a major Aha! moment came when I realized that there was a term for the cluster of intermittent, uncomfortable, and sometimes baffling emotions I had been feeling since my parents broke up, and that term was grief.

Suggested Ministry Initiatives

Root suggests action steps for youth workers and children’s ministers in the sixth and final chapter. They are broken down into four parts, each corresponding to an important theme of the book. For example, the concept of mirroring is central to Barth’s theory of imago Dei (Latin for image of God). In a nutshell, this theory holds that man derives his being only in relationship with God, yet at the same time, God is only made real in the world – you might say mirrored or reflected – through the actions of his beloved creatures. So seeing and being seen become important ways to affirm a person’s being. Root suggests using the concept of mirroring to help strengthen the weakened sense of self experienced by many children of divorced parents. According to Root, an action step might include approaching tweens and teens to communicate your understanding of the situation. A long drawn-out encounter might be counterproductive, but a brief “Hey, I know this is a really hard time,” sends a message that the child exists and is visible.

Root also encourages allowing multiple ways for kids to express their pain, such as art, drama, or discussion. He strongly suggests holding a panel discussion, allowing kids from divorced families to speak of their experience. “These shared stories of pain and questioning, when spoken, have the power to become a significant part of the narrative quilt of the community.”

The author’s other suggestions include:
·       Work to know the stories of the young people with whom you work.
·       Spend energy convening places for adults in the congregation to listen to and speak with young people. Inform adults of the importance of seeing and hearing young people and allow young people to see and hear them.
·       Assess your routines and rituals, helping young people take ownership of them and make sure they are hospitable to young people. Open space may be just as meaningful as programs.
·       Provide opportunities for young people to pray with and for adults in the congregation. The key is that this prayer becomes an act of seeing and hearing one another before God. This must be done with great care, and in such a way that it possesses great significance.
·       Weekly programs have power not just in their entertainment value, but also in their ability to become routines and rituals for kids whose home lives may be chaotic and unpredictable.
·       Work with the congregation to find ways to bless young people, but don’t allow this to become an empty activity.
·       Celebrate juvenile rites of passage, such as Boy Scout achievements, graduations, basketball games, school plays.
·       Provide children with space and ways to share their gifts with the community, such as drawing worship bulletin covers, painting pictures to hang in the church building, and performing music during worship.
·       Provide young people with a variety of ways to tell their stories. Allow these stories to be painful if necessary, but also remember to celebrate and care for one another in gladness and joy.

My Take on These Ideas

Of the suggestions made above, the easiest, cheapest, and quickest way to start might be with prayer. Simply to break silence and acknowledge before God that a number of children in the community have been hurt by parental divorce and need healing would send a powerful message of affirmation to the affected kids and strengthen their sense of self, as well as their sense of belonging within the congregation. Certain times may be better than others for a prayer like this to be uttered aloud in public. Perhaps such a prayer would be appropriate any time the congregation is focused on the needs of children, for example, when the appointed Scripture reading touches on Jesus’ teachings related to children, or Isaiah’s prophecy of comfort for those who mourn. Another appropriate time for such a prayer may be during a healing service, when many other sorts of hurts, harms, and sorrows are brought before the Great Physician.

The panel discussion idea has merit – panel discussions are fairly easy to organize and can be adapted to a wide variety of topics, including healing from parental divorce. But these events need to be carefully managed.  I do not think the panel discussion idea as it is described in Root's book is practical or workable. Embarrassment, hurt feelings, and negative reverberations could result if participants’ grief and pain spill out in an uncontrolled and public manner. Two key points would be to focus the discussion around a positive theme, e.g., how adult panelists have healed from their parents’ divorces; and to select these panelists from outside the congregation. This way, if panelists choose to reveal details of how they’ve been hurt they will not implicate others who may be sitting in the audience. Such a panel discussion would be more complicated and expensive to produce, so it might be a piece to add later.


Don Harting is a medical writer living in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

This Book is a Classic

It's Not Your Fault, KoKo Bear

By Vicki Lansky
Illustrated by Jane Prince
Book Peddlers, Minnetonka, Minnesota, 1998

Reviewed by Laura Harting

Illustration by Jane Prince
Written in the late 90s for the preschool and early elementary aged child, this book is a classic.  I don’t think it will ever go out of style.

Though the main focus of the book is to assure children that divorce is not their fault, it also addresses a child’s feelings, the difficulty of having two homes, and why parents divorce. KoKo Bear struggles with drawing a family picture at school and with forgetting things at Dad's or Mom’s house. KoKo Bear also shares mad, sad, and scared feelings and wishes they all still lived together. 

This is a book to read with your child. It asks questions to encourage discussion about feelings and there are plenty of helpful notes for parents in small type at the bottom of every page.  It is important to note that an emphasis near the end of the book is on telling KoKo Bear that they are still a family. While more recent books focus on the child now being a part of two families, this book states that MaMa and PaPa and KoKo Bear are still a family, just a family apart. 

I like how the book addresses feelings and why parents divorce. I like that it focuses on the divorce not being the fault of the child. I like that this is an imaginary family of bears, which maintains a helpful emotional distance for a young child. However, I found myself a bit confused by the idea that the family is still a family, only a family that lives apart. Perhaps your child will not find that confusing and may find it reassuring.

Laura Harting, LCSW, sees young clients at her office in Paoli, Pennsylvania.