This blog article is from Jennifer Leister, a Collaborative Law Institute of Texas member and Licensed Professional Counselor and Supervisor based in Dallas. She is also the author of two children’s books – Meet Max, geared towards helping children understand divorce, and Max Meets Emma, geared towards helping children understand dating, second marriages and blending of two families.
As a counselor who works with a number of divorcing families, it’s important to have resources on hand to help children understand their feelings about divorce. Books are especially valuable – as reading to children makes them feel safe and loved, and books can help parents say things they might otherwise struggle to find the words for.
One of the books I’ve used in the past, written in the 1980s, explains divorce to children – but the book also references court, dating, remarriage and blended families, which is a lot of information for kids to absorb. In order to focus on divorce, I found myself only reading half the book – but the problem with that is if children feel a book isn’t finished, they’ll provide their own ending to the story.
I had a sense of the book I wanted available for children – I wanted a book in today’s language, dealing exclusively with divorce, at a level in between simple picture books and chapter books, that could help children from ages 4 to 12 understand divorce better.
The most important thing for children to know, of course, is that their parents will never stop loving them and will never stop being their parents. But it’s also important for children to know their parents will keep their routines – even though they’ll be living in two different homes.
That was the concept I had for Meet Max, which I made available to parents and counselors last year. The two main characters of the book are a seven-year-old boy and his dog. The book is told from the dog’s perspective, who has to come to terms with the boy living at his second home and all the feelings that come when they’re apart.
One of the best compliments I’ve received from the book so far came from a 9-year-old I was working with. We read the book together, and she told me, “If mom and dad had just said it this way, I wouldn’t needed to see you.” Though it was a funny moment, it underscored something very sad and poignant about the divorce process – it can be very hard for divorcing parents to find the “right way” to tell their children about divorce.
Children want to know they’re loved. They want as much routine and order as possible to be preserved in the transition. They want the assurance that they’re at home whether they’re with mom or dad – I strongly discourage parents I work with to ever say that their kids are going to “visit” their other parent when it’s their turn with them.
In the early stages of a divorce, parents are dealing with all kinds of emotions, and it can be challenging to say the right things and maintain a sense of stability for their children. In writing Meet Max, I wanted to give parents a starting point for having important conversations with their children, and to help them understand that some of the most important things in their children’s lives are staying the same, even in the face of the dramatic changes that divorce brings.