A new book helps kids make sense of shared custody, two homes and their not-so-uncommon situation
LAST YEAR, Mélanie Bernier was looking for a children’s book she could read to her partner’s young kids — something that felt relevant to their common, but rarely celebrated, modern parenting relationship.
“I was having a really hard time finding one that didn’t have pre-existing notions of what the parental relationship would be,” she explains.
It was as if children’s books had not caught up to today’s world, one in which parents are often separated and sharing custody. So, as the saying goes, if there’s a book that you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet…
The result is My Tree Has Two Branches: Why Having Two Homes is Sometimes More Work But Has So Many Perks! — the inaugural title of the My One-of-a-Kind Family series of books, in which Bernier is aiming to provide children in co-parenting, parallel parenting and high-conflict situations with a positive outlook on their family life.
Illustrated by Rosalia Destarisa, My Tree Has Two Branches functions as an delightfully entertaining resource, helping kids understand and process their family situation and home life — in plain terms and without stigmatizing language or patronizing them.
In it, the character Alex helpfully explains the kinds of things kids might face — different rules, different foods or different clothes — as facts of life, no better or worse, just different.
The book is available to purchase online, but where Bernier really sees the book’s impact is as a resource for the industries that exist around divorce and separation. Many of the books go out to family lawyers, who pass them on to clients who might be in the middle of a divorce or custody negotiations. Others have gone out to child counsellors as a resource to help them communicate with children who might be stressed with a new or unfamiliar living situation.
“The goal is to normalize the experience of having two homes,” Bernier says. Whether you’re a stepdad, a newly single mom or a single dad, the book is meant to speak to the fact that whatever the situation, a family is a family is a family — whether that’s the most stable co-parenting relationships, or parents who have fallen off speaking terms. “No two families in these situations, no two are the same.”
The aim when writing the book was to make something that felt neutral, a word Bernier uses to describe the book’s primary undertaking. The key message for kids is: “This is the situation, and it’s not a bad situation,” Bernier says. “It’s very neutral, it talks about how the rules are different in each household, but they’re loved just the same. We really focus on the kids’ experience.”
You might be surprised to learn how rare that can be in the children’s book world. “For the average consumer, it’s not something that was readily available,” Bernier says. “I was very surprised — it seems like half the kids in school have parents that are divorced or separated. It’s so common, but there’s very little out there, and I’m not sure why.”
Bernier, who is also the founder of WordFrog Inc., a translation and regulatory compliance business, says her goal is to produce additional titles for the My One-of-a-Kind Family series, because there are more gaps to fill. “What I’m really trying to do is publish niche children’s books, products that are really missing,” she says.
My Tree Has Two Branches: Why Having Two Homes is Sometimes More Work but Has So Many Perks! is available on Amazon or from www.myoneofakindfamily.com. Those in the family services sector can also take advantage of discounted bulk orders, with free delivery or shipping in North America.