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Childís Experience of the Parental Separation
In the throes and
aftermath of a separation, emotions run high and parents can inadvertently spill
out onto their kids without realizing their impact upon them. In the anguish
and/or anger and/or even elation of the parent, the child can be an unintended
victim intense feelings. Out of a parentís intense feelings, the parent can
say or do things that unwittingly create emotional harm for the children. The
parent may minimize their thinking about the degree of impact upon the child or
may convince themselves that the child is aligned with their feelings. However,
there is a huge divide between the parentís behavior and beliefs about their
impact on the child and the childís actual experience.
Here are some
Parental belief and behavior:
My partner was barley around an didnít have much
to do with the kids, so either my partner doesnít deserve to see them or
limiting my partnerís time with the children isnít a big deal.
My other parent may not have been around often, but
I love that parent and always missed that parent when not around, When that
parent was around, I always felt better and special. Now that I canít see that
parent as much, I feel worse and miss that parent more. This is creating a
bigger longing for the missing parent. The child may believe that when grown,
more time can then be spent with the less involved parent. The child would
actually love to have more time with the less involved parent, but is fearful of
saying so even if asked to speak honestly.
Parental belief and behavior:
My child deserves to know the truth about their
other parent. With this belief the parents informs the child of the wrongdoings
of the other parent, placing blame upon that parent for the separation. The
parent believes that if the child knows the truth about the other parentís
behavior, the child will think better of the parent who was subject to the
untoward behavior and poorly towards the parent who is blamed.
I am half of each parent. As one badmouths the
other to me, I feel bad about myself and who I am as a person. I also want to
love both parents. I feel like I have to pick sides and it tears me apart by
choosing. This causes me to feel sad and worried.
Parental belief and behavior:
I canít stand talking to my ex, so I will just
ask my child to pass messages. Most of the messages have to do with the care of
the child and both parents argue over what is best, decisions to be made and the
time and place of transfer of the child between them. However, the belief is
that the child is just delivering a message and that this is inconsequential for
The child is often secretly distraught by the
parental animosity and feels caught in the middle. Under such stress, some
children forget the actual message or at least some of the nuances. The know
they have to deliver something, so they may omit important information or fill
in the gaps by making up information. This leads to greater problems between the
parents. Each parent believes the child delivered the message as intended and
next believe that when the other parent doesnít meet the expectations set out
in the message, it is willful and mean spirited. The child will say they
delivered the message, but the parent will not check with the child, the
childís version of what was delivered. The parents will take the view the
child delivered it faithfully. The child knows they lied or omitted information
but cannot admit to this. The child is terrified that the bad feelings between
the parents could be directed to themselves. That is too overwhelming to
consider so lying is easier and provides for emotional survival.
For parents to better
appreciate the impact of their behavior upon their children, it is wise to put
themselves in the shoes of the child. To do this, think about a workplace
example. Pretend you have two supervisors, each of whom dislikes the other, but
both of whom you must please for your performance appraisal and wage increase.
As each supervisor
tries to induct you to their side, you know that you must make both happy in
order to receive a positive appraisal and increase your wage. It is an
impossible task and both add to your pressure by having you perform work in a
manner contrary to the instruction of the other.
How long will you last
in that work environment? What of your mental health? What of your stress and
ability to mange under such duress? Will you cope? Will you run home each day to
complain about your work life? Who will you go to for help or solace? If you
cannot change jobs, because of a poor economy and you are locked in and have
limited benefits to be off work, then what?
As parents you are to
your child as the work supervisors are to you.
You can make
childrenís lives a living hell and pretend otherwise or you can seek ways of
peaceful co-existence to limit the distress falling upon the child.
In view of the above,
It is a challenge to
consider oneís impact upon the child. For each belief or behavior you seek to
engage in as a parent, consider how it would work for you personally in a work
environment before imposing on your child.
Give your child the
best gift of all. Peace in the home or between two homes.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
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