I was recently asked to review a book and publish my review of it on my blog. Besides the immediate flattery and sense of “having made it” to some degree, I also thought that the book would be a good one for me to read and for perhaps some of my readers to learn about and read. The book, Keeping Kids Out of the Middle: Child-Centered Parenting in the Midst of Conflict, Separation, and Divorce, by Dr. Benjamin Garber turned out to be too tame for my life, or co-parent, in the jargon. Nevertheless, it was a good introduction, I think, to the types of things that a parent could expect when heading down Divorce Alley.
Dr. Garber’s focus throughout was what to do to make sure that you don’t bring in your adult animosities into your parenting. His suggestions made sense, and seemed to serve as a finger-snap to parents—SNAP out of it, think about your child before you say what you are about to say. And I truly wish I had a co-parent with whom I could expect reciprocity when dealing with the kids and discussing me with them. But as I was reading about how I need to not adultify or parentify my children I had a real-life crisis that his book just did not address.
My daughter, who was 230 miles away from her father, and was with her mother (that would be me), and her sister, and her grandparents but was abiding by what her father had told her to do when she was with me, which means that he was telling me how to parent and telling her that she had to listen to him, not to me. I didn’t recall Dr. Garber getting to this situation, it was all so “normal,” how each parent has his/her own rules and you need for the child to understand that. He did not address one parent telling the child only to listen to him. I don’t know if Dr. Garber would have sanctioned my “I don’t care what he told you” scream in the face of her fear of not doing what her father wants and completely dismissing what I told her to do, but there is a point that us adults cannot be touchy feely and we cannot be wiped off the face of the parenting earth. Okay, maybe I really am a bad parent and now I know it even more. But I will try, I promise, to be more understanding of her bind. But I will not be complicit in any arrangement that makes me sensitive but invisible.
Maybe I am too blinded by my situation to see that it really is like so many “normal” ones he gave guidelines and suggestions to, but it didn’t feel like it. I felt even more out there, since I had passed the point of only speaking nicely about their father with them when the instances of his speaking against me kept multiplying, because trying to be a good parent when the other parent hasn’t read any parenting books is darn hard. At a certain point you need to stand up in the face of so much negative publicity from the "co-parent."
His helpful suggestions and commonsense tips, and setting out what to expect in different situations were insightful, gave me a sense of what others are dealing with, which is always a good thing. The surveys and self-tests, and even tables were useful, if only to think about what I should try to do on my own, and to get a sense of what to expect from my daughters and the legal system, and their father, to some degree. I did miss having stories; Dr. Garber is more of a clinician than a storyteller, too bad. I always like an anecdote to illustrate a point (can you tell?).
Garber, Benjamin D., Keeping Kids Out of the Middle: Child-Centered Parenting in the Midst of Conflict, Separation, and Divorce. Deerfield, FL: Health Communications. 2008.