Estranged parents use their children against the other which creates turmoil for children
|After adults divorce or separate, they often engage in a series of 'get even' tactics against the other with children becoming objects of manipulation and revenge. Little thought is given to the effect this behavior may have on a child's emotions or what they are being deprived of. The sense of betrayal and anger felt by the estranged parents spills over, and the desire to strike back against the other becomes paramount. Reaction, driven by emotion, replaces rational thought, and any children born of the relationship become caught in the crossfire. Domestic violence has increased dramatically in recent years as one parent's striking back against the other becomes volatile, and it is nothing to hear about the murder or murder/suicide of the custodial parent or any children they had together. The underlying emotions are despair, anger, or a desire for revenge. |
I was once privy to an example of that anger. A mother standing on the sidewalk in front of a home across the street from mine was screaming at the father of their son in the presence of the boy, who appeared to be around six or seven years old. The father hadn't been able to pick his son up for a scheduled weekend visit the previous Friday evening and had not bothered to call. Mom looked down at their son, and using a sarcastic tone told the boy that his father did not love him enough to come pick him up . The little boy's face seemed to collapse in on itself and he started to cry. The father, who had ended up having to work that weekend unexpectedly, could have called his estranged spouse and asked if he could pick his son up on Friday evening after work for dinner and an evening activity, and then explained to the child in person, why they could not spend the whole weekend together; whereas the mother could have consoled her son by pointing out that his father probably had a good reason for not coming to pick him up. Furthermore, the father could have explained to his son that the extra money would help provide necessities such as clothing, a toy, or future activities. Children are usually very amenable and understanding.
Mom, driven by anger and a need to get even, thought only about the inconvenience to herself at her ex-husbands failure to show up, and the unfairness of having to cope with her son's feelings. Accusing the child's father of not loving his son gave her a sense of vindication. The father, by not calling the Friday before to try and work something out with his ex, or telling his son that he could not take him that weekend, and why, may have made the child feel that his father had not wanted to spend time with him. The child, in effect, was caught in the middle of a battle of words, accusations, and thoughtless actions by his parents. A child's emotions are understandably fragile following a divorce or separation. "Neither adult was thinking about the needs and expectations of their son or the possible impact of their combined behaviors on his emotions."
Thousands of children have little, or no contact, with the non-custodial parent. Children may be put in the middle over issues that resulted in the end of their parent's relationship. Common tactics include not being home for the other parent to pick the child up, custodial parents taking the child and staying away from home during the time a non-custodial parent might show up to pick them up for the weekend; overnight, or for a scheduled activity. Parents have used such excuses as the child is at a party or other activity at a peer's house, or that the child is too ill to go anywhere. Parents may even leave the state of residency without leaving a forwarding address. Non-custodial parents have also resorted to kidnapping, altering a child's appearance using camouflage or fled overseas to countries where there is no extradition treaty.
Exes often refuse to pay child support, either out of anger or revenge, or fear that the custodial parent will spend the money on themselves and not the child. Punishing the non-custodial parent, no matter what the reason, is the primary intent. Parents rarely stop to question whether the lack of child support would seriously impact their child's standard of living, or deprive the child of clothing, food, or even medical care. There are alternate ways to deal with the issue of child support. When a friend divorced her first husband in the mid nineteen-eighties, the attorney's helped them reach a compromise when it became obvious the husband did not want to pay child support. In the end it was agreed that he would pay the child support, and mom would provide receipts to show the child support was being used to purchase clothes, pay for any lessons or extra curricular activities, and for other needs. The ex-husband was then okay with paying child support since he could confirm the money was being used for his daughter's benefit.
The adults end up battling the issue in the courts and they make sure the child hears about it. Another tactic that has been used is for one parent to levy feigned accusations of physical or sexual abuse against the other. This results in the child's being removed from the home and sent to stay with the other parent, a relative, or the accused parent is restricted to supervised visits at a facility with child protective services in attendance until a full investigation is completed, which can take weeks or months. Children can be placed into foster care until the issue is resolved, as well.
Thus, children are deprived of receiving the benefits a positive relationship with both parents can offer as they become adolescents and mature into adults."Combative parents know that younger children can be easily manipulated or coerced into lying to support accusations. Being used as pawns by their parents results in children growing up in unstable and combative home environment which can impede a child's ability to build and sustain strong, personal or romantic relationships later on in life. Without an emotionally healthy atmosphere growing up, odds are that those children will not develop the coping, anger management, or conflict resolution skills needed to deal positively and effectively with any adult relationships, whether personal or intrapersonal, etc. Many children who grow up in such a negative environment have attachment issues that keep them from marrying, or ever committing to a long term relationship, or even a steady long term job. Others develop a mistrust of adult motives. Suicide is not uncommon. Others marry, and remain in the relationship regardless of whether that relationship is healthy or not if there are children involved.
"Children often blame themselves for the discord, believing they are the direct cause of the anger between their parents. Some children come to believe they are unlovable or undeserving of their parent's love, a burden that could create self esteem and other emotional issues. Sometimes children also become confused about their role in the family structure. "Who should they love, is it okay to love both parents, and what if one parent gets mad because they do not feel they are loved equally?" This makes life much more difficult for children at a time when they should be focusing on friends, school, and enjoying their childhood. This can even effect a child's sleep, appetite, grades, or performance in extra curricular activities.
Estranged parents should remember they were once engaged in a loving relationship. Children deserve a chance to have a relationship with both parents, regardless of how the adults feel about each other. Adults need to work together to find common ground. A promise to not talk about parental issues in the child's presence is a good first step. When the other parent is not around, children should not have to hear about one parent's negative feelings for the other. It is possible for parents to work as a team to provide guidance, structure, and love within their separate homes if they so choose. Parents might consider arranging an occasional meeting in the presence of their children to foster the idea that it is okay for the child to love both adults equally, perhaps meeting a local park or going for a burger. This will help children understand that their parents will always remain an integral part of their lives. At the very least, parents should try and attend some of the child's social, extracurricular, or school activities together, and agree to remain neutral during the outings. If the parents do not want to sit together, that is okay, but they could meet outside the school so the child can see they will both be in attendance and can speak amicably beforehand.
Sadly, it is too often the father that is deprived of the opportunity to spend time with their child, for a variety of reasons, including work, the mother's not wanting the father involved in the child's life, etc. Many churches, schools, pre-school programs, civic organizations, some Boys and Girls clubs, The National Head Start Association, and most Early Head Start and Head Start programs have fatherhood initiatives, which are geared towards getting father's actively involved in their child's life. Activities are supervised and geared toward all fathers regardless of their status and they try to accommodate the different times a father can be available.
In conclusion, having a healthy and wholesome, although different type of relationship with both parents, no matter how it is structured, is a win win for everyone. Children get the emotional support they need from both parents along with the unique talents and perspectives two parents can bring to the table as they are growing up. Adults can learn to move beyond their pain and sense of betrayal, and the family relationship can rise to a new level as friends whose lives are centered around their children. The parents can both remain an integral part of their children's lives even after the child grows into adulthood, goes to college or work, marries and perhaps have children of their own.