January 17, 2008


Parenting After Divorce, 2nd Edition. By Philip M. Stahl, Ph.D. Impact Publishers. $17.95.

      It is a given that no under-200-page, under-$20 book can possibly explore all the ins and outs of parenting during and after a divorce. But given that caveat, Philip M. Stahl does a remarkably thorough job in the second edition of Parenting After Divorce. Stahl, an Arizona-based child-custody expert, trains psychologists, attorneys, judges and other professionals who work with divorcing families, and is himself a specialist in high-conflict divorce. This lets him put together a primer of sorts for parents who are contemplating divorce – so the interests of their children can be protected afterwards. Make no mistake: Stahl’s focus is on the kids, not the parents – the book is actually dedicated “To the children of divorce,” and Stahl’s entire orientation is the safety and well-being of children.

      This is not to say that he ignores parents; that would be impossible. But his primary concern about adults is that they handle themselves in such a way as to minimize negative effects of the divorce on their children. For example, Stahl acknowledges the difficulties inherent in forgiving an ex-spouse, but nevertheless urges divorced parents to do so, because “you’ll go a long way toward keeping your children out of the middle and [will] model for them healthy skills of conflict resolution.”

      The centrality of children is apparent everywhere in this book. Stahl creates a “Bill of Rights” for children of divorced parents. He analyzes three forms of post-divorce parenting styles – cooperative, conflicted and disengaged – in terms of their impact on kids. He strongly recommends creation of a “Parenting Plan” that includes a philosophical statement, schedule, financial section, and segment on communication and conflict resolution. For many divorcing couples, the detailed sample agreement, offered as an appendix, will in itself be worth the price of this book.

      Stahl is given to provocative chapter titles: “Your Child Is Not a Percentage,” “Children Aren’t Property.” He uses the titles to encourage parents (and force them if possible) to refocus outside their own anger and disappointment with each other – so they pay attention to how their disintegrating relationship affects their children, and how it will continue to affect the kids if the parents fail to handle divorce the right way.

      There is, of course, no single “right way” that will work for everyone, but Stahl provides some guidelines that make an excellent starting point. He offers suggested schedules under which parents have their children for different periods, explaining which approach may be best for a child who is used to a single primary parent, which is good for a younger child with two relatively equal homes, and so on. He discusses developmental needs at kids’ different ages, making suggestions about ways to arrange or modify a parenting plan to accommodate a child’s physical and emotional growth. And he eventually comes around to a chapter whose title neatly encapsulates his attitude toward divorcing parents and their kids: “Taking Care of Yourself…Or You Won’t Be of Much Use to Your Children!” This is only a seven-page chapter, but it shows that Stahl is well aware of parents’ need to focus on themselves as well as their children – provided that they put the wellbeing of their kids first.

Parenting After Divorce may be a short book, but it is a densely packed one. The new edition gets into additional detail on working with a difficult co-parent, handling a long-distance parenting relationship, and dealing with the courts. Stahl’s straightforward, no-nonsense advice to parents comes across as a kind of tough love – designed to make it clear that what children need, after a divorce as well as before, is love, plain and simple. Divorce is already quite tough enough on them.

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