Sunday, 28 November 2010

Dealing with the Kids’ Divorce

Try this on for size of coincidence. Evelyn Hess, the managing editor of this paper, reached into the window of my rented Budget to hand me my application for a Police Pass and a “book about grandparents and divorce.” I dropped them on the floor of the Nova and I-95ed home.

A few hours later, an old Annenberg buddy from WCAU, now the censor for CBS in New York, called to schmooze about old times. Sliding into his antiquarian mood, I asked him how our mutual friend, Inez Gottlieb, a retired CAU exec, was doing.

“Fine,” George Dessart replied. “She’s just written a book on how grandparents deal with divorce.”

“What what???” I responded, on the brink of vertigo. “Excuse me, George, while I look at the debris in my rented Nova.” Sure enough. It was Inez’s first book.

It’s tri-authored with two others whom I will ignore in my effort to give this Annenberg student 25 years ago a big fat “A” for her newest term paper. She never knew it, but I was not a little fascinated by her back when I was a greenhorn assistant professor of communications, and she was a live TV exec old enough to be my mother (a nice Jewish mother at that). Well, ain’t it a kick when a student turns out so well.

What to Do When Your Son or Daughter Divorces (Bantam, $7.95) is germane even if you’re not a grandparent witnessing the sturm und drang of the two million divorces the great American Whirligig spins off each year. The collaborators know whereof they speak: “We three . . . have ourselves survived twelve divorces. Two of us have weathered six divorces among our collective five children, and one of us has seen two brothers each divorce twice and marry three times. One of us has made her own divorce history.”

It’s a common sense approach to the pain and grief of loss: Divorce is a kind of dying. If you don’t grieve openly, you sow the seeds of a bitter harvest of repression.

There are ten happily colloquial non-threatening chapters in this grimmest of monkey businesses: “We Were a Happy Family.” “Why Are Taking It So Hard?” “The Family Mobile” (loss of members upsets the balance), “The First Months are the Worst,” “Whose Side Are you On?” (it better be your kids’, the author warns), “Do We Really Mean Come Home?” (only with ground rules, and limits and a departure date in the not too distant future), “Money, Money, Money” (at the root of most if not all divorces is a hassle over economic power and powerlessness), “There’s No Such Thing As an Ex-Grandparent” (in which the astonishing need is revealed for GP rights groups, to ensure that they can visit their grandchildren—what kind of schmucks interpose their malic between GPs and kids?), “Disturbing Disclosures” (some mates are permanently damaged good with drug, alcohol and permanent immaturity problems) and “Mom, Dad, I’d Like You to Meet . . . ,” in which our children try (and try) again.

The evidence for their sound counsels comes more from lively anecdotes (with names changed to protect the already enough confused).

Finally, the book is a batch of Band-Aids rather than deep theory about why married (and unmarried) Americans treat each other so shittily.

But when you’re bleeding, you need a Band-Aid, not a seminar on the American family. The authors have done their succoring well, worthy of a Johnson & Johnson, if not a Masters and Johnson.

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