Virginia's Judicial System

ADR Resource Corner


By F. Daniel McClure, Ph.D. and Jerry Saffer, Ph.D.;

The Van Doren Company, Charlottesville, VA, 2001

This is a book directed to and for non-custodial fathers. Actually, it's a handbook for everyone who is raising children, divorced or together. The authors remind us that our children don't "belong" to us, thus holding out the hope that we, therefore, cannot "lose" them. If we could remember their simple advice to "weigh every single thing you do against the prospect of crippling your future relationship with your child," we would all be better parents. Their mantra, "keep your eyes on the prize" is about how we do in the long run, working all along to be the best possible role models we can be.

Besides the wealth of practical information on things like safety, dealing with your child's school or pediatrician, homework, chores, clothing, developmental stages and the "alphabet soup" of behavioral disorders, this book gives parents a formula for success in relating to a child: this isn't about you! Listen to their criticism without being defensive. Participate, get involved and be a cheerleader, but don't compete. Applaud effort not results. Learn about their world. Earn your child's trust by respecting their inner life and their relationship with the other parent. Know your children's friends by name. Remember what it was like when you were a kid.

McClure and Saffer, as they refer to themselves throughout the book write as though they're talking to you as a close friend, pointing out the pitfalls and making it clear they're on your team. They're telling it like it is to keep you from being clueless and messing things up with your kid. The fact is, someone's watching what you do, and it's your child. We may try to impress them, we may be distracted, but our children see through it all. They want to know who we are, and they have an amazing capacity for forgiveness.

In Chapter 3, the authors zero in on "the" problem most parents have. We still think parenting can be done by intuition. They attribute to mothers a greater sense of how to parent, my only criticism of the book.

Their statement that parenting is a learned skill and a long-term project, goes for all parents. Whether we repeat what our parents did, thinking "I turned out O.K." or try to do the opposite, we miss the boat by not finding out as much as we can about how to give our children the three basic things they need, safety, security and love. Sounds simple. Ask any parent and you'll find out, it's not.

The authors give some great advice on how to try to see things from your child's point of view. "Emotions are weird," not something any of us can dictate or control. Children don't see things the way we want them to and they don't talk on demand, so being available is the key. When the moment arises, be ready to drop what you are doing and listen. The hardest thing for parents to deal with is not being able to fix whatever it is their child is feeling (especially if you've caused it). Chances are your child doesn't want you to. In the case of divorce you can't take away the sense of loss, the conflict of loyalty or the child's wish that their parents would get back together.

In the event of divorce, both parents have the job of attempting to accomplish all this, separately. While the easing of tension may be a plus, the overcoming of the anger and pain makes good parenting a huge challenge. The authors reinforce over and over the importance of separating the couple relationship from parenting. Their "golden rule for relating to your ex" sums it up. Don't deprive your child of what they need because of bad feelings between the people they love. We now know definitively from the research, children need both parents. Children love both parents, and children are harmed by ongoing conflict between their parents.

As mediators seeing couples in the early stages of separation, we have first hand awareness of the difficulties in sorting out the parenting relationship from the couple relationship. Even for the most "amicable" parties, this is a tall order. We know both parents want to be the best parents they can be. As professionals we wish they could see that supporting each other would help them toward that goal. It would also give the child a sense of stability and consistency that could offset the roller coaster ride the family cannot escape being on. Mediators have the opportunity to reinforce the reality that children have enough love for everybody. This book is based on encouraging fathers after divorce to hold on to that fact. One has to wonder how many parents in intact families would benefit if they were able to remember this as well?

Susan Oberman is a family mediator with Common Ground Negotiation in Charlottesville, VA

This page last modified: October 24, 2001