I imagine one of the toughest things to experience in life is to divorce somebody with whom you have children. I took the vows in front of all those people and now I have little ones relying on me. Am I a failure?
In my 30’s, I now have friends who’ve been divorced, as well as friends who were children of divorce.
Here are 3 observations I’ve made about divorced couples who haven’t dealt with their own issues, but believe they are acting “maturely.” By proxy, they place their issues onto their children.
I will call these “Cold War Tactics of Divorced Couples Who Haven’t Dealt with Their Issues on Their Own.”
Cold War Tactic #1: Denial of your ex-partner, and therefore the child who is under their custody.
These parents, or “parents,” completely disappear from the lives of their children.
I do not have any such friends who’ve done this, but I have friends who have been victims of this.
This is the tactic of the truly weak. Enough said.
Cold War Tactic #2: Child as a telephone.
These couples make requests to their children such as, “Will you tell your father to file his taxes?” or, “Will you ask your mother to stop calling me?”
When I call someone wrapped up in Cold War Tactic #2 about their child, their response is something like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t even know what goes on at [ my child’s ] mother’s house. Nothing ever gets done over there.”
Cold War Tactic #3: Claiming your child as your “ally.”
This is the most subtle tactic of all. Can you pick up on its effects? Here are some examples:
- “Once, your father came home and he was so angry. He was yelling and screaming and I hadn’t even done anything wrong.”
- “Poor child, why are you crying? Is your mother acting manipulative again? Don’t let her make you feel so bad. She’s just being manipulative. She doesn’t realize she’s making you feel so bad.”
“Your father has never worked a day in his life so, luckily, I’ve paid for everything you own, including your college education.”
The consequence of Tactic #3 is usually that the child never sees the bias of the Parent they’ve become allied with. Over time, the child begins to parrot back their Allied Parent:
~ “My Mom, she’s just so manipulative.”
~ “My Dad, he’s so lazy and I don’t want to be with someone like that.”
Tactic #3 appears so warm and fuzzy on the outside. But the children who are victims of it never know what has hit them. They just wake up one day and hate their non-custodial parent, who never had a fighting chance.
The divorced parent I admire most is my friend, S. After going through a painful divorce with her cheating ex-partner, she is letting her child and her ex develop their own relationship.
“I have the best Dad,” her toddler said to me one afternoon. My friend S looked at me.
“I’ll let my son learn about his Dad for himself,” she says. “Maybe my ex will have changed by then, but maybe not.”
S keeps her issues with her ex to herself. She isn’t going to force her child to deal with them by recounting stories of how her ex did horrible deeds. She isn’t planting seeds of negativity.
In doing this, she gives everyone the space to grow.
PS: Photo credit from this blog on “10 ways to emotionally damage your kids through divorce” — a totally different, insiders take on divorce.