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Book Review – If you are divorced or if you are in the process of getting divorced, then it is no secret to you that divorce is one of the most painful experiences you will make in your life, especially if children are involved. But no matter how deep and severe the emotional pain, the true casualties are the lives of your children.
If you are like me, then it may have taken you some time to understand what that really means and adjust your life accordingly. And you may have made some decisions that you now know were wrong. Separation and divorce remain one of those unpredictable environments that often seem to lack the kind of common sense that is present in a functional marriage. And if we are honest, that common sense is often missing on both sides, divorced mom and divorced dad.
Key to understanding what common sense behavior towards your child and your ex-spouse in single parenting really means, will, in many cases, require a serious effort to continuously educate yourself. Reading Divorce Casualties could be part of that effort.
While the title suggests that the almost 300 pages are limited to the topic of parental alienation as well as some background covering parental alienation syndrome, you can actually expect much more. Douglas Darnall hands readers an in-depth guide how to avoid traps in parental alienation, some of which are obvious and others that hide behind corners.
The author provides detailed information on parental alienation and dives deep into the matters of false allegations, neglected needs of children and alienation tactics, some of which include disclosing inappropriate information to children, demand and blame schemes, teaching fear, harassment, spying and denying access to children. All topics are accompanied by plenty of real world stories.
I personally was shocked how many of those stories reflected my own experiences and how many scenarios actually apply to my divorce. I found my ex-spouse and myself in more than one case guilty of not being the best parents we can be, at least not in Darnall’s view. Especially the chapter highlighting the battlefield of parenting time and discipline showed me once again that while every divorce case is different, there is a lot of common ground that describes all of us.
Divorce Casualties takes an overall positive approach that will help you and your ex-spouse understand if you are alienating your children in one way or another, intended or not. It is easy to feel guilty because of your actions when reading the book, but Darnall stresses that isolated wrong decisions here and there will not negatively impact your children. Continued alienation, however, will have a cumulative and lasting effect.
Without doubt, the knowledge taught by the book will help you understand what may or may not be alienation and there are lots of tips how to avoid alienation in real world scenarios. Expect to read general notes you may have heard already, such as that “A child will remember vindictive comments” and “What is best for you is not necessarily best for your child,” but there is a boatload of practical advice for very specific situations as well: For example, Darnall warns of “over-attached” grandparents and explains that single parents can build self-esteem through challenging tasks, which may require them to take certain risks.
Divorce Casualties is literature for the pro-active single parent. The book is most useful in the early stages of the divorce process, particularly for new single parents who are trying to find their way in a new chapter of life. And yes, in an ideal situation this book is read by both mom and dad. When the damage is done, however, the book’s value is limited to a should have/could have scenario.
Pluses: Easy to understand content, real world stories, plenty of practical advice to understand and avoid parental alienation
Minuses: Little scientific background on parental alienation. Psychologist Darnall is surely proud of his experience, but his advice occasionally reflects unnecessary arrogance that went beyond our comfort level.
Takeaway: Parental alienation is a complex and overwhelming topic and the topic range of Divorce Casualties may leave you with the impression that it is virtually impossible to avoid parental alienation, if you do not educate yourself. But then we know that single parenting is a constant learning process and learning not to alienate your children is part of that. We recommend Divorce Casualties as essential reading of the single parent library.
Understanding Parental Alienation, Divorce Casualties, Second Edition by Douglas Darnall; 288 pages; Taylor Publishing Company, 2008; $16.95
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