A Minute to Myself (111)
The Symbolism of a Snake

Book Review: Keeping Kids Out of the Middle

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.

For additional information you can go to: www.healthyparent.com  and www.keepingkidsoutofthemiddle.com.


Lisa Munley

I'm sorry for all you're going through. My mother went through exactly this with my brother's dad and it was horrible and difficult for everyone involved. Thanks for this review, I know it wasn't easy for you to write. I really appreciate it. Take care and you'll be in my thoughts and prayers.


When my daughter was about 4 I read my one and only book on effective parenting - called something to that affect. To me, it seemed written theoretically. It would have worked if everyone responded the way the author believed they would respond, and the world worked according to the theory of the book. I could see it working very well as a sitcom, but for me well...maybe I was doing it wrong, but there was a section on democratic parenting or something similar, where basically you gave your child a choice, geared to stear them in the direction of satisfaction for both parties. Well, I gave my daughter the choices to whatever the issue was at the time, and at 4 years old, she promptly stated "Mummy, they are your choices not mine."

My situation was also "not normal" but I didn't have the fight on my hands that you have. My daughter's father wasn't around, nor was his financial help. I feel for you.

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

Lisa, thanks for thinking of me for the review. And thanks for your thoughts.

Brigit, kids, I guess we really should let them write our parenting books, which is what they do--every day of their lives. Don't you love/hate it when our kids are so smart.


I'm sorry I just glanced at your review and started seeing red because I HATE this crap. Yeah, it's all well and good when BOTH parties are willing to play by the rules, but most of the time, these things just make the willing party feel helpless and like we're destroying our children because we can't control the other's behavior.

Ever stop to think, Dr. whatsurface that maybe that's part of the reason we might be divorcing the jerk?!?

Sorry, Laura. Couldn't help myself.

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

April, Let the rant roll! Perfect point. That reminded me of the my decision not to return to couples therapy after two times; it was when the therapist asked us each to admit to being 50% responsible for the breakdown of this marriage. HELLO! Were you listening? Were you watching the behavior of the control freak in the corner who was even overtalking you?

Darryle Pollack

I think I gave up reading parenting books when my oldest was around 3 and didn't fit what was always called "typical." I bought some parenting books when I split up with my kids' dad --and had experiences that sound unnaturally close to yours and continued to the present moment even though our kids are now adults.
Funny thing is, life was so stressful, back then I never got around to reading those books which sounded alot like Dr. Garber's. Looking back now, maybe that was a good thing.

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

Darryle, I remember reading a book that said that intelligent kids need less sleep. So there I was, with a twom-onth-old hoping that she would sleep so that I could find my brain again, and hoping, conversely, that she would stay awake for hours to show that she is a brilliant child. I guess the best parenting book is the one we each write and the best instruction we get is watching other people (including, for good or for bad) our parents.


Well-reasoned review, Laura. I'm not sure there is such a thing as a "normal" situation when it comes to a marriage breaking down. As Tolstoy wrote: "All happy families resemble one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Before The First Husband got his divorce, he used to read obsessively through a similar book, concerned that there would be no blowback on his two daughters. It was a tricky situation, since he would also be introducing them to a half-brother of whose existence they had no idea. It all worked out well in the end, which he attributes to the book, that he still lends out to all and sundry who are contemplating divorce. (Not sure why he still hangs on to it, now that I think of it. Hmmm.) I, on the other hand, attribute it to his own personality, which was never going to let anything or anyone come between him and his kids, all three of them. We had some tough days, weeks, even months, until we all came to terms with the fact that we were not the Brady Bunch and never would be. Nor would we ever conform to some arbitrarily chosen "norm." Now that we're all grown up, I treasure the relationship with my stepdaughters and I think it is mutual, judging by the Mother's Day missives I get and the fact that they usually turn to me first when they have a problem or need help with school/career decisions.

I'm wondering whether your daughters read your blog?

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

Tessa, I guess the grass is always greener, even when thinking of other people's divorces. I'm glad that your multi-tiered marriage and children found its happy balance.

My daughters don't read the blog. My older daughter accidently saw the name and said it was the dumbest thing. I don't think that they need to hear about my struggles at this point in their lives, not that they would be even interested. But I think that they would probably mock me and say "get a life" rather than sit down for a heart-to-heart. Which is just as well, since I like not having to self-censure too much, I think about them reading in the future and not now.

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