Every year in the United States, roughly one million kids experience the divorce of their parents, witness the destruction of the only family that have ever know, and begin a new and fundamentally altered life. It is a life that was not of their choosing and a life that very few, if any, of them ever would have chosen for themselves. It is a life of constant transition – a life which reminds them over and over of their parents’ divorce. It is the beginning of a life, for many, that entails moving from the their mother’s home to their father’s home and back again over and over and over again. It is the beginning of a lifetime of switching hours. Each year between 18 and 20 million kids live the life of the switching hour. The Switching Hour: Kids of Divorce Say Good-Bye Again, published in 2008 and written by Dr. Evon O. Flesberg, looks inside the hearts and minds of the millions of kids who shuffle back and forth between the worlds of their divorced parents.
About the Author
Dr. Evon Flesberg works with children, parents, and families in her counseling practice in Nashville, Tennessee. She grew up in the Midwest, is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and earned her Ph.D from Vanderbilt University where she is currently an assistant professor of the practice of pastoral care and counseling in the Divinity School.
Brief Synopsis of the Book
In defining the “switching hour,” Dr. Flesberg writes:
The “switching hour” refers to the clock time when transitions take place. The phrase is also used as a metaphor, or shorthand way of speaking, about life lived with parents who are no longer together and what is required of their child because of it.”
She effectively describes the feelings of kids both in the physical switching hour itself as well as the general struggles and challenges faced by children of divorce.
Who Is This Book For?
This book is for divorced parents, parents considering divorce, children of divorce, children’s ministers, teachers, pastors, church members and anyone else who cares about children. Anyone looking for an understanding of the world of these kids will benefit from this book. This book should be required reading for any parents considering a divorce and anyone who works with kids on a regular basis.
Review of the Book
On the recommendation of someone who has spent many years working with children of divorce, this was the very first book I read on the topic, and I’m glad that it was. To date, I have rarely found a better book in terms of describing the world of children of divorce in a way which is both approachable and relatable. After reading this book, you may not fully understand what it is like to be a child of divorce, but you will be a whole lot closer than when you started. The book will open your eyes to the world of the child of divorce like no other book I have read. Throughout this book, Dr. Flesberg weaves in stories from children of divorce which help to personalize the impacts of the switching hour. As you read this book, your heart will be opened to the child of divorce.
The book is laid out in eight easy to read chapters:
Chapter 1. The Switching Hour
This introductory chapter explains the concept of the switching hour and begins to give the reader a feel for the life of children of divorce. As Dr. Flesberg explains:
The divorce does not end, but rather begins, a life of additional stress for a child.
While divorce marks the beginning of a new life for mom or dad, it forever marks the end of the life the child has come to know and expect, or as Dr. Flesberg so eloquently writes:
The separation of parents changes a child’s whole world. Mom and Dad could fix what went wrong; not Mom and Dad are what has gone wrong.
Dr. Flesberg reminds us that so many times children of divorce are forced take on adult responsibilities like housework and childcare simply because their parents have gotten a divorce. Divorce marks the death of childhood for so many children of divorce. Furthermore, while adults experience the paid of divorce once (during and shortly after the divorce process) and then try to move on with their lives, children relive the pain of their parents’ divorce with each every switching hour and each and every developmental stage of their lives. This chapters also lays out a number of the other, often unseen effects of divorce on children:
- Children of divorce miss seeing both parents every day.
- They will always be missing someone. When they are with their mother they are missing their father, and when that are with their father, they are missing their mother.
- They are constantly reminded about the tension and pain that caused the divorce in the 1st place.
- They lose their sense of safety.
- They have less chance of being understood. Children oftentimes have a temperament and personality which more closely resembles one parent, and the other parent may struggle to understand them.
- They often lose their home as it is sold and families move.
- Many children of divorce lose their grandparents in addition to the loss of one or both parents.
- Many suffer the loss of a school and their friends as many families move following a divorce.
- A vast number lose a sense of financial security that their family might have had prior to the divorce.
- They lose the general feeling that everything will be ok.
- Many are forced to fill the role of messenger between parents.
- Many either lose a relationship with one parent or are forced to dwell in two different worlds.
Chapter 2. The Hour I Wait and Long For
This chapter discusses the missing and longing that children of divorce have for the parent they are not currently with and the excitement that wells up inside as they wait for the switching hour so they can see that parent again. Of course, for the child of divorce seeing one parent means leaving the other parent.
Dr. Flesberg explains that these kids mark time. Waiting becomes a significant part of their lives. They can often seem distracted from what is going on in the world around them as they wonder and dream about what might be going on in the other world. They wait to see stepsisters and half-brothers. They wait to see friends again from their other parent’s house. They wait for the day that they can cease being in two worlds and be a citizen of only one world. They wait for the day when they can decide when to visit each parent rather than having that decision made for them. Dr. Flesberg describes one of the other effects of divorce this way:
When parents no longer live in the same home, it is as though the move destroys one world and creates two more. Everything that has been familiar and dependable, even the bad, changes. Routines and rituals are disrupted.
Chapter 3. The Hour I Hope Comes But Does Not
This chapter address the inner thoughts and feelings of kids who wish the switching hour would come but it never does. Dr. Flesberg notes, for example, that about half of fathers have very little contact with their children within one year following the divorce. Let that sink in. One-half of fathers have very little contact with their kids within just one year following the divorce. This leaves millions of kids longing to see a parent who is not their and is not coming, and wondering why.
These kids spend their time hoping. They hope their parent will come to visit them. They hope their parents will grow up and show them some attention. They hope that their parents will like them, they and worry about reminding their parent of the spouse he/she has left behind. Dr. Flesberg explains:
After a breakup, the adults want to forget about the person with whom they had the relationship. If they mutually wanted it to end, that is. If not, it’s like they can’t let go of a live electric wire. In either situation, for the children of the switching hour, if they remind the parent they’re visiting of the one who has been left, it brings pain.
Chapter 4. The Hour I Wish Wouldn’t Come
This chapter explores the area of forced visitation with parents that a child might have conflict with and other situations that cause children of divorce to dread the switching hour.
Children of the switching hour learn not to hope too much. They learn to ‘wait and see.” If they don’t hope and plan, there’s less to be disappointed about.
Again, Dr. Flesberg lays out a poignant list of issues faced by children of the switching hour:
- They wonder if the parent they are going to see will be there at the appointed time.
- They wonder if the parent will be glad to see them or upset that they had to drive to pick them up.
- They wonder if their parents will argue about them or something else at the time of transfer.
- They wonder if their parent will have a new “friend” in the car to introduce them to.
- They wonder why their parents can’t just get back together and end this whole thing.
- They wish things wouldn’t change at their parents’ houses.
- They change “position” in their family as new siblings are added.
- Many face abuse as their parents bring new people into their homes.
- They wish holidays wouldn’t come.
On the issue of the increased risk of abuse, Dr. Flesberg makes the following sobering suggestion to parents of divorce:
It is your responsibility to protect your children. Check out what they tell you when they report behavior that may sound outrageous to you, particularly if there are a lot of people you do not know in your former significant other’s life and home.
She also soundly denounces the justification that some parents use that their kids will be happier if they get a divorce. She writes:
Happiness in the lives of the parents does not always equal happiness in the lives of their children. Researchers have found that ‘trickle down’ happiness doesn’t work.
Chapter 5. The Hour I Try to Avoid
This chapter addresses the numerous questions faced by children of the switching hour, the challenges they face as they grow older and issues that they face later in life because of the lasting impact of the switching hour life. As children of divorce grow older, family events which bring joy and happiness to so many of us bring dread and worry to the child of divorce. How will their parents act at their graduation? Can they stand to be in the same room for their wedding? How will they handle being grandparents to their children? Dr. Flesberg reminds us:
For children, the breakup or divorce of their parents is never over.
Many children of divorce fear making the same mistakes their parents made and instead spend their lives avoiding commitment. They try to avoid loving their step-families for fear of losing them. They avoid long-term relationships. They avoid marriage, and they are less likely to have children of their own.
Chapter 6. The Hour I Spend With God
This chapter address the impact of the switching hour life on the spiritual lives of children of divorce. Dr. Flesberg explains:
Wondering, asking questions, probing, and clarifying are how children learn and make sense of their lives. When there had been a major shift in their lives as they have known it, they will wonder and question even more.
Children of divorce face serious spiritual questions. Many have trouble with the idea of God as Father because of the failure of their own earthly parents. They struggle with love of God because if their parents can stop loving one another than perhaps God can stop loving them. Spiritual questions are very real to the children of divorce.
Chapter 7. The Switching Hour Revisited
This chapter addresses way that parents and others can help make the life of children of the switching hour easier as well as the different views of parents and children. Here are some of the insights that Dr. Flesberg provides:
Your child will need time to grow up before some of the changes you’ve already made are possible for them.
Your children will give you clues as to how they are doing, even if they are too little to talk, if you take the time to look for them.
And, don’t forget about the child who seems to be adjusting well. Dr. Flesberg reminds us:
Even a perfect child may suffer silently in anguish and need to talk about feelings. Talking about feelings with a warm, listening person really can help. A deep fear for any person is feeling forgotten and alone.
Dr. Flesberg reminds parents to remember that they and their children see things differently. Your children love both of you. While you may be desperately trying to forget your ex-spouse, your kids are desperately trying to keep things the same. As parents, you should do everything you can to make the divorce easier on your children.
Chapter 8. How Can I Help?
This chapter offers practical suggestions for those wishing to help children of divorce. Dr. Flesberg offers the following words of wisdom:
Being divorced does not make a person a bad parent; however, it does make life more – more challenging, more work, more stressful. Life is more complex.