Divorce turns many children’s lives’ upside down. In the English-speaking world today, only about half of all children celebrate their 16th birthdays with their biological parents still living together. New scientific research indicates that many assumptions about shared custody arrangements can actually undermine a child’s well-being, according to psychologist Penelope Leach. In a new book, the best-selling author argues that what seems fair for the parents is seldom best for the child. She tells us how parents can help their children deal with divorce by putting the needs of the child first.

Guests

  • Penelope Leach Author and research psychologist. She has written several best-selling books, including “Babyhood,” “Your Baby and Child,” and “Your Growing Child.” She is a fellow at the British Psychological Society and senior Research fellow at Birkbeck College at the University of London.

Read A Featured Excerpt

Excerpted from “When Parents Part: How Mothers and Fathers Can Help Their Children Deal with Separation and Divorce” by Penelope Leach. Copyright 2015. Reprinted with permission from Penguin Random House. All Rights Reserved.

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Many parents have been turning to research psychologist Penelope Leach for advice for decades. Her guides on child development and parenting are bestsellers. In her latest book on childrearing, Leach takes on a very sensitive topic. The title of her book is "When Parents Part: How Mothers and Fathers Can Help Their Children Deal With Separation and Divorce."

  • 11:07:27

    MS. DIANE REHMPenelope Leach joins me from a BBC studio in London. And throughout the hour, you can join us as well. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Penelope Leach, it's good to have you with us.

  • 11:07:54

    MS. PENELOPE LEACHThank you for having me. I'm very glad to be with you, Diane.

  • 11:07:58

    REHMThank you. I was so surprised to see in your introduction that in the English-speaking world today, only about half of all children celebrate their 16th birthdays with their biological parents still living together. I was really shocked at that.

  • 11:08:27

    LEACHIt is a shocking statistic and, of course, the statistic is a large part of the reason for writing the book because it seems to me that if such a thing were going to happen, supposing that number of teenagers were all going to break an arm by the time they were 16, society would be devoting itself to finding ways of dealing with it. And the truth of the matter is, we, more or less, ignore the question of parental separation and divorce, even though, for most children, it is a very, very important and difficult happening in childhood.

  • 11:09:10

    REHMAnd do most people approach it in the wrong way, thinking perhaps more about themselves as adults than thinking about the children?

  • 11:09:27

    LEACHI'd hate to agree because that would seem as if I'm saying parents are selfish. I think parents often don’t realize how important this kind of separation is to their children and above all, a lot of us don't realize that no child is either too young or too old to be badly affected. I mean, a lot of people think, oh, well, he's just a baby. He won't really notice. Equally, a lot of people say, we stayed together till the youngest child was 18 and now, it doesn't matter.

  • 11:10:06

    LEACHHe won't care. And I'm afraid that isn't true of either group.

  • 11:10:12

    REHMIndeed. Hasn't there been some research to indicate that no matter what age the separation or divorce takes place, there is an impact on the child, even where infants are concerned?

  • 11:10:36

    LEACHYes. And I think one of the things we need to be clear about is that half a mother and half a father doesn't equal the whole of one parent let alone equaling both. And therefore, however careful you are about children being in contact with both parents, they are missing out. They're missing, say, half a mother, half a father and, of course, they're entirely missing that important time which is being with parents together.

  • 11:11:08

    LEACHWhen you talk to children of all ages, and I talked to a lot for this book, it's full of quotes from children, one of the things they keep saying is, I just wish I could have them both. I wish I didn't have to think which parent will I be with my birthday. I wish it could be both like it used to be. And both is different.

  • 11:11:30

    REHMOf course. And you talk a great deal in the book about shared custody, which seems to be what more and more divorcing parents are moving toward, which on its face sounds reasonable, provides the child with both parents, access to both parents. Indeed, many parents choose to live in the same neighborhood in order to provide that kind of shared care. How is that such a problem?

  • 11:12:18

    LEACHI think when parents can manage and make the effort to live close together so that children, as they grow up, can begin to go freely from one household to the other and to be with both, I'm 100 percent for that. I think that's the best way you can go. What goes wrong with the shared parenting is that sometimes adult ideas of what's fair aren't the same as children's ideas of what's right.

  • 11:12:47

    LEACHSo, you know, we do sometimes get a parent, it may be a mother or a father, it's more often the father, saying, okay, then 50/50's fair. I want this 1-year-old half time. You can have her Monday to Thursday. I'll have her Thursday to Sunday. Or you can have her in the week. I want her weekends and what have you. And, you know, the idea of sharing a child's time as if you were sharing goods and chattels, you know, the family silver collection or whatever, when what parents need to be doing is thinking about each child separately, where they've got to in their development and above all, what the relationship they've had with each parent has been because the only thing that's wrong with making sudden arrangements for a small child to spend half its time perhaps with daddy as well as with mommy is if that hasn't been the pattern.

  • 11:13:52

    LEACHYou know, there are still families where fathers had very little hands-on care of a small child and if that's the case, that relationship needs to be developed before they start splitting the child's life up.

  • 11:14:06

    REHMIndeed. But I wonder, Dr. Leach, is there an ideal separation or divorce arrangement that you've seen, that you've experienced, that you've felt has worked well for a child?

  • 11:14:32

    LEACHWhat a really interesting and nice question. And if I may, there are two bits. One's practical and the other's theoretical. The theoretical thing that really seems to work is if the adults, both of them, can kind of separate in their minds their marital relationship, the adult relationship with each other, from the relationship each one of them has with the children. In other words, partnership and parenting are not the same.

  • 11:15:02

    REHMExactly.

  • 11:15:02

    LEACHAnd if you can manage to help your children to feel that their parenting is unaffected, all that's been affected by this is the partnership, but it isn't a question, of course, of just saying it. What adults have to do to manage that is to be prepared to help their children look forward to seeing the other parent, to help the other parent manage with the children, in other words, to go on respecting and admiring the parenting of somebody whose partnership you don't want anything more to deal with.

  • 11:15:41

    LEACHYou know, sometimes, you have a couple where the woman has always maintained that this guy is a really good father and he's a really good father till Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday evening, he tells her that he's having an affair and he's leaving and Thursday morning, he's not a good father anymore. Now, that's wrong because the fathering is to do with the children.

  • 11:16:07

    LEACHHe may not be a good partner for you anymore, but he's still the children's beloved father. And if you want to get it as nearly right as you can, you've got to help him go on being that and, of course, the same is true if it's the other way around, if we're talking about a mother who's having an affair.

  • 11:16:23

    REHMBut sadly, there is sufficient animosity between the couple driving them toward separation and divorce that certainly, at least initially, it's hard to think of a parent or a wife, say, being generous enough to, after having found out Wednesday night that he's having an affair, being kind toward him on Thursday morning.

  • 11:17:04

    LEACHDo you think so? I would hope, and I have seen it happen, that come Thursday morning, she -- we're keeping it this way around. It's the women who's being told this news, all right. What she will be thinking about, surely, is the impact on her children as well as on herself. And what I want people to realize is that the best way to moderate the impact on the children is not to involve them in the enmity.

  • 11:17:33

    LEACHI don't mean conceal it. You can't. You're going to have to let the children know that you and daddy don't love each other anymore, but that doesn't mean that daddy doesn't love the children anymore and it doesn't mean that you, the mother, don't want him to love the children anymore. There are sometimes families, a lot of them actually, where people work against the other parent, you know, getting the children to gang up against them. It's horrible.

  • 11:18:04

    REHMPenelope Leach, her new book, "When Parents Part: How Mothers and Fathers Can Help Their Children Deal With Separation and Divorce." Short break, right back.

  • 11:20:03

    REHMAnd if you've just joined us, research psychologist Penelope Leach is with me. She joins me from a BBC studio in London. Her new book, "When Parents Part: How Mothers and Fathers Can Help their Children Deal with Separation and Divorce." And as you can imagine, there are a great many callers and many emails. This first one from Manuel, who says, "Sometimes it's safer for a child to have only one parent care for the child. My ex-spouse sexually abused our adopted child. I had been psychologically, verbally, and mentally abused for 20 years, and my younger adopted daughter is far better off being raised in a single father home than with a predator. I'm certain you would agree with that."

  • 11:21:18

    LEACHI absolutely would. If you'd asked me, are there ever circumstances when a child should be kept right away from a parent, I would start by saying no, but of course, the big if is a question of physical and psychological safety. What I would say, though, is that even if a child is better off being raised in a one parent home, as this child clearly is, it's still important that that child be allowed to know about the other parent. We all seem to need to know where we came from, and if you look at the -- look on the internet, the adopted children desperately looking for news of their own backgrounds. The same is equally true of children of divorce.

  • 11:22:05

    REHMWhat about if one parent is in prison? How do you deal with that, Dr. Leach?

  • 11:22:14

    LEACHWith as near truth as the child's age allows. I mean, even I don't think it's any good telling somebody of 18 months that this is why Daddy isn't any longer on the scene and explaining what Daddy did and so on. But a somewhat older child, I would hope that I would find it possible to say, Daddy has done things or done something which is considered very wrong, and that is why he is in prison. But he still loves you, he is still your father. He's the only father you're ever gonna have, so in a sense, I think we can't cover that up. Children have to be helped to understand where they came from and that sometimes includes coming from a father who's done wrong.

  • 11:23:11

    REHMAnd here is a comment posted on our website. The exact opposite situation. This says, "most of the research shows children are better off in a family where the couple stays together. However, the real comparison is how children do when a couple stays together solely for the children, and then separate as soon as the kids are gone, as compared with children of divorced parents. Children who grow up in a household where parents don't want to be together and are there only for the children learn very different lessons and are exposed to a very different environment than the average child in a two parent family."

  • 11:24:15

    LEACHYes, I do -- funnily enough, I do actually -- I think I refer to this as duty parenting in the book. And I absolutely agree with your correspondent that a household that's held together by nothing but duty, no mutual respect, no concern, no affection, no jokes, dare I say it, is going to be a very cold place for children to be brought up, and a very cold model of adult relationships to be giving a child. So yes, I entirely agree. Not that it would ever be my business to tell two people they should stay together, but I actually wouldn't anyway, if your only reasons for staying together is your children, then think about what we were talking about earlier, separating but managing to keep the parenting intact for them.

  • 11:25:09

    REHMYou mentioned modeling, and one wonders what kind of children may become the result in adulthood of a family that has stayed together throughout their lifetime with those adult children. Has there been research on the impact on those children as they approach their own marriages?

  • 11:25:46

    LEACHI think -- I don't know of research specifically on what happens to children whose parents stay together just for them, because actually, I don't know quite how you'd research it. I don't think many couples who are doing that would want to tell a researcher so. They'd want to say, we make the best of our marriage, wouldn't they? Or we're doing the best we can, or we think family is the important thing, rather than the pair of us. So anyway, I certainly don't know of research specifically on that, but I don't think we should be very careful, because when people separate when children are grown up, even in their 20's, certainly at college, and they say to me things like, well, they won't really care now, they're got their own relationships.

  • 11:26:37

    LEACHThey're busy. And they care horribly, and why they care is because such a separation at that point in life kind of makes the whole of that person's childhood seem untrue. You know, all those times that I thought were lovely, were they not lovely really? That glorious Christmas on the lake that I've been remembering? Was that all phony? Was that made up? And it can be desperately, desperately hurtful. And some of these young grownups have said to me things like, I think I've been angry ever since, and what's more, I still am.

  • 11:27:17

    REHMWow.

  • 11:27:18

    LEACHAnd what they're angry about is not the separation but the deception.

  • 11:27:20

    REHMRight, right. All right, we have many callers that want to get some of their comments into our discussion. Let's go first to Frankie in Baltimore, Maryland. You're on the air.

  • 11:27:41

    FRANKIEGood morning, thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:27:44

    REHMSure.

  • 11:27:45

    FRANKIEI am very impressed to meet a new resource that I didn't know in my somewhat extended career and appreciate her advice. I work with mostly very poor folk in what they call the medical assistance range of care, and large part, they're all single-parent families, you know, 80, 90 percent are women who got pregnant and then had to raise a child and create a family. But in some parts of the culture, it's interesting how that - they put together a set of friends and relatives, and even the fathers are still connected and bring presents, and it -- and some are creative enough to -- with help to develop a village and create role models and older folk. And that to some extent helps them make that adjustment, in the children, I mean.

  • 11:28:57

    LEACHWell, I'm relieved to hear you saying this, Frankie, because I can think of few things more desperately lonely for all concerned than being a woman on her own with a child, literally on her own. If you aren't going to have a partner and two sets of grandparents and all of that, my goodness, you need to build yourself a quote "family of friends" and contacts. And if the natural father can be part of that or not, an actual father, a man you're living with can be part of that, so much the better for the children.

  • 11:29:35

    REHMIndeed, let's go to Nate, who's in Traverse City, Michigan. Nate, you're on the air.

  • 11:29:44

    NATEHi, good morning, thank you. Earlier in the program, it sounded very much like you were discussing two parents who solely were interested in the best regards of the children. And I guess my question is about, what is, in this case, a mom supposed to do when it appears that dad has just hit the road, out of the picture, chasing down a career or just has taken off, when a mom really has no choice in negotiating with her spouse or her ex-spouse what the best path forward is for the children? What's your advice, or what are you findings? What are some good -- I guess I'm at a loss there. That's...

  • 11:30:32

    REHMSure.

  • 11:30:34

    NATEThat's been my experience, and then several colleagues have watched this occur with their families, where dad hits the road, and mom was left holding the bill and holding the kids.

  • 11:30:45

    LEACHI think, you know, I can only say I think that's tragic, and I don't only think it's tragic for the women and the children. I think it's tragic that there are so many men who feel they're useless or feel they're not wanted or feel that they don't know how to be part of these relationships. There is a lot of research evidence now about just how important it is to growing children and young people to have a close, warm relationship with their fathers.

  • 11:31:18

    LEACHYou know, it makes an enormous difference in all kinds of ways, including things like your chances of getting involved with the police are much less if you've had a good relationship with your father. So I think we have to do everything we possibly can to stop men who feel their relationship with the mother has run out of gas from hitting the road, as you put it. They're still the children's fathers. There'll never be another father for those children, and somehow, and this is why I wrote the book, we have to find ways of helping them keep that relationship working.

  • 11:31:54

    REHMLet's go to Manchester, New York. Rebecca, you're on the air.

  • 11:32:01

    REBECCAHello, Diane, what an honor to be on your show.

  • 11:32:06

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:32:07

    REBECCAI thank you.

  • 11:32:07

    REHMI agree with you.

  • 11:32:10

    REBECCAThank you, thank you. I have a comment, and then I have a question. I am a divorced woman, remarried. My ex-husband and I split when our daughter was about one, and I've had so many people tell us that we are poster children for how to stay connected and raise a child together even though we're not. And we support each other in our new families and our new relationships, and we do things together, and I can't say how good that feels and how important it is.

  • 11:32:45

    REBECCALike you say, we may not be partners in marriage, but we're still partners in parenting, and we talk to each other all the time.

  • 11:32:51

    REHMOh, hooray for you. But I gather, Rebecca, you have a question about your new husband and how he relates, how he figures into the picture.

  • 11:33:08

    REBECCAI do. So we all get together, we all have a great relationship, but the majority of the time, my daughter, who is now 16, lives with us. She goes to school in our area, sees her dad on most weekends, but the day-to-day schoolwork, the day-to-day parenting falls to us, and sometimes I guess I'm a little strong-willed, I would say, and my current husband sometimes can't figure out how he fits into the picture, and that's frustrating for him.

  • 11:33:39

    REBECCAWe have - we don't have any more children together, but my ex-husband and his wife have two more children. So for my husband, this is his daughter, so to speak, and so he just can't figure out exactly -- sometimes we struggle with how he fits into that picture.

  • 11:33:55

    REHMAll right, and before you answer, Penelope Leach, let me just remind you, you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So what kind of thinking, what kind of advice would you have for Rebecca as to how to involve her husband with her child?

  • 11:34:22

    LEACHI would imagine, from the sound of how well they've made this work, and of course I'm enormously pleased to hear that they've managed to make this - that the parenting go on through the separation and that they still are managing that. I would hope that the relationship between the 16-year-old girl and her stepfather would be close enough that Rebecca really doesn't have to worry about it. Relationships are what matters, not roles.

  • 11:34:56

    LEACHOkay, she's got her own father, her biological father, at weekends, but she has this man who has been around since she was a baby and who lives with her and her mother and who makes her mother happy, and I guess he's probably a very, very important person in her life, and that's how the stepfather fits in.

  • 11:35:20

    REHMRebecca, it's going to be fascinating when your daughter marries to see which father, or whether she has both her father and her stepfather, walk her down the aisle.

  • 11:35:38

    REHMThat will be a good test. Thanks for calling. And let's go now to Aaron in Cincinnati, Ohio. You're on the air.

  • 11:35:54

    AARONHi, Diane.

  • 11:35:54

    REHMHi.

  • 11:35:55

    AARONIt's an honor to be on the show.

  • 11:35:58

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:35:59

    AARONI guess I have a bit of a problem with this foundation of this argument. It seems to be coming from a very traditional, family-minded mindset. There seems to be a lot of stress in the data on biologic parents, and that seems to leave out, you know, adoptive parents, gay parents, any parent of a non-biological children. And I don't think every biological parent should necessarily have a relationship with their child. It seems false to assume that because a parent is biologically connected that they are then beneficial for the child.

  • 11:36:43

    REHMDo you have any comment, Penelope?

  • 11:36:45

    LEACHYes, I'm a little taken aback. Firstly, I'm very much, myself, not keyed into the model of the traditional family, which is why I'm as interested in partnership as I am in marriage. This is not about marriage. This is about relationships and children's relationships with the adults who love them and are important to them. And certainly there's a great deal in the book about other patterns of family, including gay couples and adoptive families and so forth.

  • 11:37:23

    LEACHBut while I agree with you that you can't assume that every biological mother and father will have wonderful relationships with their children, I think it would be very sad not to give them a chance.

  • 11:37:36

    REHMIndeed, and we'll take a short break. When we come back, more of your comments, questions for Penelope Leach.

  • 11:40:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. Your questions, comments for Penelope Leach. She is a research psychologist, the author of several bestselling books, including "Babyhood: Your Baby and Child," and "Your Growing Child." She's a fellow at the British Psychological Society, Senior Research Fellow at Birkbeck College at the University of London. Her newest book is titled, "When Parents Part: How Mothers and Fathers Can Help Their Children Deal with Separation and Divorce." And let's hear from Lynne in Alexandria, Virginia. You're on the air.

  • 11:40:57

    LYNNEOh, thank you, Diane. So good to hear you and welcome back.

  • 11:41:02

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:41:03

    LYNNEI am a child of parents who divorced when I was -- separated when I was 21. I'm now 63. And the comment that I would have, and Penelope, you did mention, you did mention this, but I wanted to comment about the effect. When my mother separated from my father, she had become kind of liberated in the 60s and developed a work life of her own, which my father had a hard time accepting. But my mother pretty much, I would say and my sister would agree that she pretty much poisoned our relationship with my father by bad mouthing him.

  • 11:41:59

    LYNNEAnd to the point where we've been estranged for so long and I didn't even invite my own father to my wedding. Or, you know, not even walk me down the aisle. I didn't even invite him. He didn't even know I was getting married. And now, I realize there was more to the story that, you know, it takes two people and my mother wasn't -- my father wasn't the only one to blame. You know, it turns out that, you know, she had a relationship and that we kind of put together over the last 30 years. And…

  • 11:42:38

    REHMBut may I ask you, Lynne, did you, at some point, reconcile with your father?

  • 11:42:49

    LYNNEWe are in touch now. Yeah, we've reconciled. It's more of a -- he lives out of state right now. And he remarried a woman that didn't care to have a relationship with us either. So it was very, it was very difficult.

  • 11:43:10

    REHMBut it really goes back to that point of separation and divorce, doesn't it, Penelope?

  • 11:43:19

    LEACHIt does. And I think there is nothing but echoes of sadness in such a story. And while this separation itself may have been inevitably sad, it was made much more sad for everybody by the badmouthing, by the trying to cut the children off from their father and so forth. I wish people didn't feel that they had to ruin all the relationships because the basic partnership goes wrong. That's, in a sense, I think, the message. You asked me Diane if I knew of an ideal situation that had really worked and I'll tell you very briefly.

  • 11:44:04

    LEACHTwo that I've dealt with in the last year. One, a couple who had a very small child and they didn't feel that this child was old enough to be kept moving from one household to the other. So, what they arranged was that the child lived with the mother in the family home and she left the home every weekend so that he could move in and be with the child. I mean, it was tough for her, but she did. And the other one, equally selfless, if you like, the father put it to me like this.

  • 11:44:35

    LEACHHe said, we didn't want to saw the child in half, so we sawed the house in half. In other words, they made two apartments.

  • 11:44:44

    REHMOh, I see.

  • 11:44:44

    LEACHOne for him, one for her.

  • 11:44:46

    REHMInteresting.

  • 11:44:46

    LEACHSo, you know, there are ways, there are creative ways of doing it.

  • 11:44:52

    REHMNow, here's an email from Mark in Cambridge, Vermont. He says, at what time is it appropriate to share with one's children the what happened from an affair? Does one always hide what's behind the divorce and all the hurt?

  • 11:45:20

    LEACHI think that's a very good question. I can't give it an answer, in terms of the age of the child, because children vary so much. And also, what a child will already have sensed and seen and know varies so much. I do, on the whole, think, and I feel very strongly about this, though it's a personal opinion, that the less children have to know about their parents' sex lives, and I do mean sex lives, the better. I think children find it embarrassing, they find it inappropriate. They don't want to hear about that aspect of the parents' missing each other.

  • 11:46:00

    LEACHBut of course a child can understand that when one relationship breaks up, another may start. And that's not something you can or should conceal.

  • 11:46:12

    REHMThere is also the question and this, it seems to me, goes for either the ex-wife or the ex-husband, at what age does a new love or a new interest come into the house or the apartment to stay while a young child is present?

  • 11:46:47

    LEACHIt's one of the few things I feel slightly moralistic about. I feel that a child who's already lost his father, in the sense that his father is no longer living there, desperately needs not to suffer further such losses. So, I would say that you don't have your new love to stay until you're absolutely sure, as sure as one can be, that this is going to be a permanent relationship. Because if you have maybe two or three such relationships, you know, they don't always turn into permanent partnerships. And it's very easy for a young child to be delighted by this new man, who's probably on his best behavior.

  • 11:47:31

    LEACHAnd trying his best to get on well with the children. Plays games with them.

  • 11:47:36

    REHMAnd then disappears.

  • 11:47:38

    LEACHAnd then disappears again. So, keep the affair elsewhere, perhaps in his house. I don't know the circumstances. Until you are actually saying to the children, this is my new partner and your eventual stepfather.

  • 11:47:54

    REHMAll right. Go ahead.

  • 11:47:58

    LEACHNo. I just -- I feel really quite strongly about that.

  • 11:48:03

    REHMI understand that. And let's now go to Pat, who's in Yakima, Washington. You're on the air.

  • 11:48:12

    PATThanks for answering my call, Diane.

  • 11:48:14

    REHMSure.

  • 11:48:14

    PATSo, a little back story here. My wife and I met six years ago. She had had twins in high school with one man. Just had another child with another. And we are now married. We have another child together. I have adopted the twins. But the middle daughter, her dad is still in the picture and one of the things that I watch happen over and over again is my wife say, he is crazy and I'm certain that he says, she is crazy. And we have friends that are going through a similar situation and I've talked to other people.

  • 11:48:52

    PATAnd they say, the other person is crazy. And the number of times I've had to talk my wife down from acting crazy is pretty high. And so, it occurred to me that this is -- these situations are so emotional, they're so complex, they're so difficult that maybe sane people do actually get a little crazy trying to deal with it. And the question I have is, are there resources available? Is there a discussion somewhere happening that helps separating parents deal with the emotionality and difficult decisions and anger that go along with separation so that they don't end up acting crazy and dragging the process on and making bad decisions and harming the children?

  • 11:49:38

    REHMWell, certainly I would recommend Penelope Leach's book, "When Parents Part" as at least one place to start. Penelope, you may have other ideas.

  • 11:49:54

    LEACHYes. I think there are now, on the web, a number of services for separating parents' discussion groups. It can be very helpful to realize that the craziness that you're in the middle of is the same kind of craziness that other people are involved in. I absolutely agree with you about the craziness. But may I just make one warning noise, which is this. If you give yourself a few months to be crazy after the separation, hoping that you'll then be able to pull yourselves together and do better by the children.

  • 11:50:34

    LEACHFor very young children, that's too long. They really need to be in constant, reliable communication with both parents from the beginning. Two months not seeing mommy is two months too long. It certainly is eight weeks too long. And likewise, daddy. So, I think, really, parents have to try very hard to be grown up as parents, even if they're being perfectly crazy as partners.

  • 11:51:05

    REHMAnd not to badmouth the other partner.

  • 11:51:10

    LEACHEver. Ever. You absolutely are not entitled to do that anymore than you'd be entitled to badmouth your child to her best friend. You just don't do it.

  • 11:51:24

    REHMThat's such an important point. Let's go now to Kris in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You're on the air.

  • 11:51:35

    KRISHi. Thanks so much.

  • 11:51:38

    REHMSure.

  • 11:51:38

    KRISMy question is about long distance parenting. I'm a single mom. Yep, yep, not easy, like most situations. My children and I relocated to Pittsburgh and -- where my family and my support system was. Is. And their dad is in New Jersey. So, it makes visitation with him quite spread out throughout the year. Usually, once a month. And a long spell in the summertime. And it is obviously very, very difficult for them. And one of the challenges has been the narrative that they get from dad and the narrative they get from mom.

  • 11:52:23

    KRISYou know, I think they get that my family, my support is here, but then, dad's narrative is that, you know, his kids have been taken away. Which, there's a truth to that. So, I guess my question is really just for long distance parenting, what do you advise in terms of maybe things that I can do to try to help bring us back together as parents, as opposed to warring as separate and divorced?

  • 11:52:53

    LEACHWell, curiously enough, this book has most of a chapter on long distance parenting. Because it's such a common issue now. We live in very mobile societies and, you know, it does happen. And therefore, there's a lot in the book about practicalities, I mean, even right down to when your kids will be old enough to fly alone, if they're going to be, you know, criss-crossing the country. I think, though, and again, this sounds a bit tough, but I think we have to be very careful about how we relocate.

  • 11:53:34

    LEACHAnd if we're going to relocate, we have to make sure that both parents tell the same story to the children. And my only, I mean, you obviously feel, and you're very honest about it, that your ex has been ill done by. I mean, you say there's some truth in you took his children away. But what he has to pay back for that is to support you in going where you had a support network that would enable you to be a really good mom.

  • 11:54:04

    REHMAnd...

  • 11:54:04

    LEACHAnd that's the bit that he has to do.

  • 11:54:08

    REHM...and you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. And the other point she raises, which I think is so important is that she's fortunate enough to have her own support group, which one might hope would include grandparents and grandparents can play such an incredibly important role.

  • 11:54:37

    LEACHI absolutely agree. And one of the saddest extra things that happens in divorced situations is that very often, the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren fades away. And sadly again, it's usually the paternal grandparents who get cut off. And I think one of the things that we have to do is to make sure that parents splitting doesn't split children away from their other relationships. I mean, I speak as somebody who has six grandchildren of her own. And it would be unthinkable to lose my relationship with them.

  • 11:55:11

    REHMExactly. I wonder, considering the fact that I gather the divorce rate has leveled off just slightly during these years of recession. But the idea that divorce is never going to happen is surely pie in the sky. So, one wonders what can be done to try to help couples work it out, rather than have to deal with divorce.

  • 11:55:53

    LEACHYes. Can I start though, Diane, by saying that actually, while it's true that the divorce rate has leveled off, it doesn't mean that the separation rate has. Because fewer and fewer couples are marrying. And if you don't marry, you don't divorce.

  • 11:56:08

    REHMTrue. True.

  • 11:56:08

    LEACHYou live together and then you separate and the statistics are really hard to follow for this reason. So, the number of parents who are separating has not gone down. And it is now reckoned by admired statisticians that by the end of 2020, more children will be born out of wedlock than in it in the United States. So, you know, what can one say? This is, this is a very common problem. The question of marriage guidance or couples support is not one that I feel I can get involved in. It's a very, very specialized area.

  • 11:56:51

    LEACHReally, all I can say about helping people not reach that point is about communication and talking. The couples who manage to survive the rough patches that we all have in our relationships are the couples who can talk to each other.

  • 11:57:08

    REHMAnd on that note, I would be delighted to talk to you for hours, but we are out of time. Thank you so very much. Penelope Leach, and her new book is titled, "When Parents Part: How Mothers and Fathers Can Help Their Children Deal with Separation and Divorce." Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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