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Spitz, R.A. (1954). Children of Divorce: By J. Louise Despert, M.D. New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953. 282 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 23:453-454.
(1954). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 23:453-454
Children of Divorce: By J. Louise Despert, M.D. New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1953. 282 pp.
Review by: René A. Spitz
This reviewer has always maintained that psychiatry is the science of common sense. Dr. Despert's is an eminently sensible, that is, psychiatric book. She makes two things clear from the beginning and throughout her volume: first, that it is not legal divorce as such which harms children. The best proof of this is that children of actual divorces are harmed in a relatively low percentage of the cases. She stresses that it is emotional divorce, as she calls it, the emotional rifts between the parents, which precede every divorce for a long time, that are so harmful. Therefore, in speaking of 'children of divorce' she includes the large number of children where one of the parents has deserted the family; and also the still larger number of marriages in which neither divorce nor desertion is resorted to, but where a continuous emotional dissension between the parents poisons the atmosphere for the child. Second, she makes it clear that in our divorce proceedings each of the parents is protected by his attorney, while the interests of society are looked after by the judge. The one person who has no protection in a divorce cases is the child.
After discussing the various aspects of divorce and the personal maladjustments which lead to the failure of marriage, the author shows the effects of such disharmony at different age levels of the children. She then proceeds, since unsuccessful marriage cannot be wished out of existence, to give specific instructions how some of these harmful experiences can be spared the child.
The author has had a vast experience, well above a thousand cases, with children who were suffering from the consequences of both legal and emotional divorce. She draws freely on these cases to illustrate her statements. She singles out three of the reactions of the child to discord between the marriage partners; they are hostility, guilt, and manifestations of anxiety. She shows both the evil consequences of discord between parents and how they can be overcome, and proves conclusively that children of divorce can become well-adjusted citizens, good marriage partners and good parents, provided they are properly treated.
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