Finding the "right" way to talk to your kids about separation and divorce is a common worry for parents. Books are a great tool to open up conversations about hard topics. "When your parents divorce" by Kimberly King is a perfect example of a book which helps kids understand a little more about what is going on and also encourages them to express their feelings.
Kimberly is a child-development professional and certified early-childhood educator. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in early childhood development and family studies from University of Maine and a Master of Science degree in early childhood education. I spoke with Kimberly about her book and how it can help kids and parents alike.
What led you to write “When your parents divorce”?
I was motivated to write my book during my divorce. I started off my divorce friendly. I was a child of a cooperative divorce. My parents got along great. Although they were divorced they continued to help each other with driving duties and tough parenting decisions. We did joint birthdays and shared holidays. Everyone was kind to each other.
I expected my divorce to be the same. But, it quickly turned south as soon as my ex husband met a new woman. They got engaged and all of a sudden there were major issues. Because of this situation my daughter refused to visit me or spend time at my house for a year. She was interrogated and fed a bunch of lies about me. She believed the lies and decided to punish me.
I started writing when the pain of this situation became too much. It brought me back to how parents are supposed to treat each other. Never say a negative thing about the other, praise each other, remember moms birthday.
My parents really did an amazing job.
Who is the target age group for the book?
The target age group is 4-10. Perfect for a child in elementary school.
I really liked the fact the book was a “kid to kid” guide - why did you choose to share the message in that form?
I chose this format to follow along in the format of my first book. My first book, I Said No! A kid to kid guide to keeping private parts private was a joint effort. I wrote this book after my son experienced a difficult night at a sleepover. We ended up talking a lot and he did a great deal of journal writing after the event. We realized that talking about real life kid scenarios really helped him understand. We realized we had a great book on our hands because coming from a kid, in kid language... made it more relatable and memorable.
The divorce book is modeled around that. What my kids have said, what other children have shared with me, and my childhood memories. As a teacher, I have heard the worries my kids and parents experience. It was the perfect opportunity to put all of it together in a collaborative way.
I also really liked the fact the book didn’t sugar coat what kids can expect to feel and experience. It offered a balanced and realistic perspective. What was the thought process behind that approach?
I did get some feedback that my book Introduced bad ideas because of that. But, kids are smarter than we think. They hear more than we think. They know more than we think. I feel that a simple and direct approach is best. Kids tend to blame themselves about divorce. I wanted to be very clear. It takes a time find somebody you love, get married, have kids. There is great love at the beginning. And, just because there is a divorce - doesn’t mean the family has to fall apart. Mom and dad can continue to treat each other with respect. Kids should always be first and never be put in the middle. With this knowledge comes power for kids. If they find themselves being put in the middle...they can speak up. If they have feelings that they experience, they will know they are not alone. Sometimes, just knowing you are not along and other kids have felt this way really helps.
How did you decide how much to include about the negative aspects of separation and divorce?
I tried to balance my experiences as a child with what my kids were going through. We had a tough year following our divorce. My ex tried to adjust custody and encouraged my daughter to live with him. We were under a joint custody, shared custody, every other week swap type of agreement. The kids were put through a lot because they didn’t understand what was going on. It created more stress. And confusion.
When the court appointed a guardian ad litem... this is where things got less confusing. She explained to my kids the legal aspects of what was going on in a very gentle way. She interviewed teachers, coaches and other people we knew. She was essential in bringing calm back to our family with new guidelines and recommendations.
For parents going through a separation, do you have any tips for how and when they could share your book with their child?
I would recommend parents read it first, alone. I wish it were required reading for parents who decide to divorce. The carnage an ugly divorce creates is truly tragic. At a minimum there is anxiety and situational depression.
I would read this book as soon as you tell your kids what is happening. It will provide comfort to the kids and open up a dialogue for the family. Hiring a joint family counselor is also a good idea. This is a tough thing to adjust to and the whole family will need support.
In the introduction, the term Bibliotherapy is used. It’s not a term I’d heard before. Can you explain a little about what it is and why it’s important?
Biblio- therapy is the use of books as part of therapy for mental or psychological disorders. They are part of a therapeutic toolbox that counselors use. Especially helpful for young children who May not be comfortable with talking yet. But, kids can relate to books. It can pull them into conversations and help them share feelings.
What do you hope kids will take away from reading your book?
1. Your parents loved each other once.
2. Divorce doesn’t have to be terrible.
3. It is never their fault.
4. They can speak up if they feel they are put in the middle.
5. They can speak up if one of the parents is being unkind about the other parent. ( typically kids just internalize this negative stuff).
6. They are still a family. Just a different one.
7. The parents can still be friends and parents.
8. Your parents love you no matter what.
9. Divorce is really hard on everyone.
10. Time and talking openly make it better.
How can sharing your book with their kids make things a little easier for parents as they navigate a separation?
Sharing this book is like having a map for the family. There are definitions and guidelines. It is realistic because it talks about what a not so terrible divorce looks like. There are families that make this work just fine. Writing this book helped me get back to that important fact.
Sometimes, you have to ignore a moody text, or not engage with a nasty email. Sometimes, you have to take the high road. But, when you make a promise to take the high road for the benefit of your family... it helps the entire family. Positive energy attracts positive back.
Reading the book helps set a framework. Putting your kids first is a must. The kids didn’t ask for this divorce. So as parents it is our duty to proceed with caution and care. We have to protect our children from harm and heart ache. As a kid, going though a divorce can be as traumatic as a death in a family.( when handled in a bad way). When handled in a collaborative, cooperative way- it is all around so much better for everyone.
*Please note that all of this advice does not apply in the case there is an abusive relationship and a divorce. Or some type of criminal or drug addiction terrible situation. This advice, this book applies to your family situation that does not involve abuse or addiction.
For more from Kimberly King you can visit her website here.