Human beings like stories. Marsha Temlock harnesses the power of narrative to deal with a difficult subject in Your Child's Divorce. A psychologist who writes for a popular audience, Temlock has the knack of engaging readers. She begins by describing a fictional couple, Nora and Gary, getting the phone call that parents dread: Their son is getting a divorce. Subtitled "What to Expect -- What You Can Do," Temlock's book provides valuable advice and workbook pages for those who find themselves in Nora and Gary's shoes.
Part 1: Accepting the Decision
By the time you learn that your adult child is planning to divorce, he or she has been living with the situation for a while. You may be blindsided by the news. Temlock states that it's crucial that in your distress you do not say or do the wrong thing, something that could do permanent damage to the parent-child relationship. Here's a sampling of her specific advice:
- Support your child. Do this immediately and unequivocally.
- Don't look for reasons. Perhaps you know, or think you know, the reasons for the marital difficulty. You may not know or need to know the whole story.
- Don't knock the in-law. Some couples reconcile. In that case, your criticism could come back to haunt you.
- Don't try to fix it. It's not your problem to fix. Don't insist on counseling or pay for an expensive retreat for the couple. Realize that the couple may not be interested in patching things up.
Instead, a willing ear and unconditional love should get your and your child through those difficult early days.
Long-distance grandparents, who already have a tough gig emotionally, will probably find this period extra difficult as they are not able to judge for themselves how their child and grandchildren are coping with the divorce.
Many adult children do not want to deal with visiting parents at this time, so parents shouldn't necessarily plan an immediate visit.
This section also offers advice about helping children financially and dealing with a child's request to move home.
Part 2: Dealing With Change
The second section of the book is designed to help parents as the reality of the divorce sinks in. As the child enters the second stage of going through divorce, the parents face fresh challenges. Temlock goes into greater depth about the topic of taking sides, warning that neutrality is impossible. Parents will find themselves trying to negotiate a tricky path. They need to support their child without doing anything that would make a working relationship with their in-laws impossible.
Parents who may have been emotionally devastated by the news of divorce must also see to their own recovery, taking steps such as limiting sacrifices, setting priorities, taking time for themselves and getting counseling if necessary.
Part 3: Strengthening Family Bonds
The third section of Temlock's book deals specifically with how grandparents can help grandchildren through the divorce. Grandparents may be disturbed to see their grandchildren angry and acting out.
They should realize that their grandchildren may take longer than adults to process what is happening to them. Also, fear of abandonment is often part of the mix with children.
Another issue that some grandparents will face is being asked to help out more with grandchildren. They may be asked to provide child care or even to provide a home for their grandchildren. Grandparents are likely to agree immediately, eager to provide support. Sometimes those grandparents find they are, as Temlock phrases it, "way out of their league." If grandparents and grandchildren weren't close before the divorce or if the child has been poisoned against the grandparents by the other side of the family, grandparents may find themselves in an untenable situation. In such a case, it's okay to back out of a commitment.
Generally, however, both grandparents and grandchildren will benefit from increased closeness in their time of distress.
This section also deals with what happens if your child remarries. Grandparents may have to deal with having step-grandchildren, and their grandchildren may become someone else's step-grandchildren. Family relationships suddenly become much more complex as grandparents deal with being part of a blended family.
The Bottom Line
As a parent who has lived through one child's divorce, I second most of Temlock's advice, especially about handling the early days, when most families are grieving in roughly the same way.
Temlock's task becomes more difficult as she describes the ensuing period, simply because variations in families mean that almost everyone's situation will be different. Some grandparents will find themselves sharing a home with their grandchildren; others will be cut off from contact with their grandchildren. Some families will maintain cordial relationships with their exes; others will find themselves subject to threats and even violence. Temlock makes an effort to encompass differing family situations, but it's a fairly daunting task.
Immediately after each chapter Temlock provides workbook exercises that are designed to help grandparents work through issues around the divorce. The questions are thought-provoking. They would be especially helpful in a support group setting, when they could spark interesting discussions.
Two helpful appendixes appear at the end of the book. The first addresses the legal and financial aspects of divorce. The second is a bibliography of related sites.
Another back-of-the-book feature is an epilogue by Nora, the fictional mother with whom Temlock began her book. I don't think I'll be giving too much away if I say that Nora and Gary survive their son's divorce. With the help of this book, more grandparents may be able to make that claim.