- Choose books that normalize divorce, encourage questions, and teach coping skills.
- Books with negative themes (evil stepmothers, nasty stepsiblings, violence between parents) should be avoided.
- Books should show normal, thriving postdivorce families in all their diversity.
How can you support and help your children when you are going through or recovering from your divorce? If you are flooded with negative emotions about your divorce, which is pretty typical, choosing helpful books for your children might be very challenging. You may be struggling with anger, fears, and grief, and your children are likely aware of this, even when you believe they aren’t.
The dilemma is around the divorce story you want your kids to carry with them into adulthood. Would you prefer they develop a story of pain, damage, and failure or a story of resilience, surviving, and thriving? Even if you don’t feel very resilient yet, your child is developing their divorce story right now, every day. So, guiding them toward resilience now matters a great deal.
Helpfully, an excellent article by Gail Cornwall was recently posted online to address the question of the “message” you give your children through the books you choose to read them. It was written for school librarians because your children’s teachers need to know the situation and partner with you and your co-parent in supporting your kids.
The key points are to choose books that normalize divorce, encourage questions, and teach coping skills.
Because the stories in books help your child shape their own divorce story, the books with negative themes (broken homes, evil stepmothers, nasty stepsiblings, violence between parents) are not helpful and should be avoided. To be clear, the goal isn’t to cheerlead divorce or invalidate your child’s experience. Nor do we want to whitewash their experience or give them false, rose-colored glasses. How your children look at your family’s divorce is a matter of their personal experiences of loss or anger, how they interpret them, and how they view the future as the family restabilizes.
Children's books often feature animals in divorce predicaments and humorous situations. Kids easily metabolize the messages in these books. The best books offer your children a positive perspective while making space for their feelings and questions. You can use the stories in books as an avenue to help them open up to you about their emotions and questions. You can use the opportunity to help them shape a divorce story of resilience.
We know that many children can and do thrive after divorce and the restructuring of the family. Many parents are co-parenting well, their conflict is diminished, and fathers’ roles as equal partners in parenting have become the norm. The nightmare custody battles that were common in the past are rarer now. No-fault divorce further decreases the adversarial nature of most divorces. Most divorces avoid litigation, choosing either mediation or collaborative divorce. Divorce has become less stigmatized and less shameful in most communities.
With our culture’s high divorce rates, books should show children that they are not alone. Statistics show that between 41 and 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. With 1.3 million people divorcing in 2022 alone, divorce has become a normal part of American life.
As American culture has become more accepting of diversity in families, such as gay marriages, interracial marriages, birdnesting families, cohabiting unmarried partners, blended families, etc., books should show the normal, thriving postdivorce families in all their diversity. If your family isn’t quite thriving yet, the message is about encouraging hope for the future.
Read reviews of books you are considering.
- Has the book been helpful to other children?
- Is the book age-appropriate?
- Will it help your children name and talk about their feelings?
- What is the overall tone of the book and illustrations?
- Is the author qualified professionally or personally to write for children about divorce?
- Will the story build resilience?
Choose the books that give your children guidance and hope, and perhaps you may begin to feel more resilient, too. There are many book recommendations in the article referenced below.
© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2023