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Book Review – You get a lot of advice during your divorce. Some you should follow and some you better leave alone. The best advice may not come from your family, close friends, counselors and lawyers. It may come from someone emotionally disconnected who, however, can relate to your situation. Michael Jeffries wants to be that distant friend and offers support with his own experience of extreme parental alienation. If scientific books about alienation do not speak to you, this one may.
Since the beginning of my divorce, I have read dozens of books that shed light on the legal process ahead of me, how the differences between my ex-wife and me can be resolved, how I can protect my children, how I can make better decisions. Every single book teaches us that, as married parents, most of us have a certain lack of parenting skills and understanding of what parenting is about. But every title has a very unique touch that appeals to a very specific reader need as well.
What makes Michael Jeffries’ book special is the dramatic approach to explain parental alienation. In its stated purpose, the author tries to translate Richard Gardner’s pioneering research on the parental alienation syndrome from a scientific language into a more “human” language. Most chapters describe Jeffries’ experiences in a chronological journal approach, which are followed and commented by a question and answer dialog between the author and a psychologist. The concept is not much different from the summary we find in most custody/divorce books at the end of chapters, but Jeffries represents the guy next door and provides the impression that the reader is actually chatting with a friend.
This approach alone makes the writer much more approachable. It sends the message that parental alienation is not taken from a movie, but is a very real problem that can affect many divorcing parents.
Other than your typical advice book you read depending on your interest, I found myself reading A Family’s Heartbreak from the beginning without jumping ahead. It begins with a story how the author met his wife, how the alienation started and accelerated, how it took him to jail and transitions to easy to capture explanations what parental alienation really is, how you can find help, the roles of attorneys and mistakes made by courts.
In a way, the book is a showcase of Jeffries’ pain that begins with this dedication: “This book is dedicated to my son Adam. You are in my heart and thoughts and one day, I hope, in my life.” Occasionally, I felt that the book simply was a way for the author to cope with his pain and I am sure that I am right with this guess in some way. But there is true value in A Family’s Heartbreak, which emerges after a couple dozen pages of reading: It is a life experience that may not be so distant to yours if you are experiencing parental alienation and it may provide you a tool to predict what may happen next and enable you to get a step ahead. And clearly, Jeffries is your average dad as he not only outlines what the perfect dad should do. He made mistakes and has to deal with their effects as well.
I had several déjà vu experiences while reading the book, relating to my own divorce and custody, prompting me to rethink whether my case is really as unique as I believe it is. For example, Jeffries’ psychologist notes that his divorce may have been triggered by three main factors his wife brought unresolved into the marriage: She was emotionally disconnected from her family, they did not communicate and her family avoided resolving their problems. While this was very specific to my case, I would take any bet that Jeffries hits on problems that affect most violent divorces and custody battles.
Michael Jeffries has written a book that is much more dramatic than any other book in this topic range I have read so far and some might even feel that the way he deals with this matter is inappropriate. In the end, we are told by attorneys and counselors that a custody dispute is like negotiating a business contract and we learn that emotions do not belong in a court room. A Family’s Heartbreak is deeply emotional.
Jeffries directly touches the problems we are facing in custody battles today and he rightfully criticizes the current legal system in the U.S., which goes as far as claiming that some judges may have an ego that is too big to enable them to really understand parental alienation. It is that emotional approach that may help you breathe and let you know that you are not the only one facing a tough situation. It serves as a reminder how serious your situation is. The book will give you hope and advice how to tackle the problems you are facing.
As so many books, I suspect that the advice provided may come too late for those in need. I have always believed that the impact of a divorce and custody is not taken seriously enough by many married and divorcing couples. I am convinced that reading a book like A Family’s Heartbreak has the potential to change this perception.
Pluses: The most impressive title on parental alienation I have read to date. A Family’s Heartbreak explains explanation in many details and represents that distant friend who may not be so distant in the end. And yes, despite the serious matter, there is an entertaining component that may keep you reading the book for much longer than you originally intended.
Minuses: You will need a substantial amount of time to get direct value out of the book for your own case. And even then, the actual hands-on value, as far as succeeding in your parental alienation case is concerned, is very limited.
Takeaway: If you are looking for a strategy guide for your custody case and help your attorney understand parental alienation, this is not the book for you. This is a book for yourself, to educate yourself, to sort out the confusion, to overcome doubt whether you are doing the right thing and what effect your actions may have. Michael Jeffries may be an example when you are looking for someone who is worse off than you in a parental alienation case and it will give you hope that you will have the strength to do the best for your children, no matter how powerful the forces you are facing are. A personal note: Michael, my hat is off to you. I pray for you that, one day, you will be holding your son in your arms again.
A Family’s Heartbreak, A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation; by Michael Jeffries with Dr. Joel Davis; 295 pages; A Family’s Heartbreak, LLC, 2007; $19.95