Holding Your Children Emotionally Hostage

Going through a divorce, you’ll experience a hurricane of emotions. Some you may have expected, others you never thought possible. Divorce is essentially a death in your family and it affects everyone it touches, especially your children. Even in the best-case scenarios, their worlds are turned upside-down; but in some of the worst cases, the damage is intensified when one or both parents turn the children into pawns that they use for the sole purpose of hurting the ex-spouse. Such behaviour is inexcusable. Why, then, is it so tragically common?

As parents, it is our job to help our children deal with the fact that mommy and daddy are no longer living together. This involves comforting and loving them through the transition, remaining conscious ourselves that in all this madness, they are truly the only innocent parties involved. They are also the only ones without any say or control in what happens next in their own lives. It’s our obligation to protect our children, and yet many divorcing or divorced parents place their children smack dab in the centre of their fussing and fighting.

This can occur in any number of ways, both big and small — such as sharing your feelings with your children about the divorce, discussing what mommy or daddy did to hurt the other one, how mommy or daddy lied, cheated or stole, or making comments about a new significant other. Whatever the case may be, such behaviours are never alright. Even when such comments are made indirectly, our children understand much more than we give them credit for. They hear everything said and not said. They pick up on body language, on when a parent is crying or sad, and they will do pretty much anything to make it better for us. They will easily take on an emotional burden, despite the fact that it is not their job to help us. It is, instead, our job to protect and make it better for them.

Now, I’d never purport that it’s not normal to be angry, hurt, outraged or lonely — essentially, to be an emotional mess. This is all completely normal and to be expected. But what is not acceptable? Using your children to “stick it” to your ex. Children provide an avenue of hurt unlike any other when it comes to “nailing” an ex. The parent being targeted is hurt, not only because they themselves are prevented from seeing their children, but by knowing that their child misses and wants to be with them, too, but cannot.

The battle for custody, which typically ensues in a divorce, leaves a parent unarmed and helpless, and at the mercy of the legal system. This is torture for the parent being kept away. Thoughts run through their mind at all times — how badly their child must miss them, how they are unable to see them — fearful wonderings as to what their children are being told about why mommy or daddy hasn’t called or come to visit. What will their child’s reaction be, or how will they feel about them once they finally do? The immense pain of the divorce itself can often be dwarfed by the pain a parent feels at being helpless when it comes to seeing their child or easing their hurt.

While anger, resentment, even the desire for revenge are all standard elements in the emotional hurricane of divorce, these elements need not and should not be visited upon your children. Do you really want to be the one responsible for robbing them of their parent, of possibly even their “hero,” just because you’re hurt and angry? Your honest response to this question might be very passive aggressive: “If he or she would not have done this or that, our children would not feel as they do.” While this may be normal, even valid, it is also selfish, and unfair. It is unfair to your children! If your ex-spouse was not an abusive parent during the marriage and played an active role in your child’s everyday life, on what grounds would you rob your child of that relationship?

It’s beyond understandable if you as a parent do not feel you can deal with your ex. It’s admirable on your part to acknowledge that for you, at this time, it would be better to have a “go-between,” ( Divorce Mediator, Attorney or Counsellor). But you and your spouse divorced; your child/ren did not divorce their parent. Do not be the one who robs them of time, experiences, events or of simply loving the other parent because it’s challenging to you.

Children have a wonderful knack of blaming themselves when situations are bad. We as their parents have the obligation, and should have an immense desire, to make this easier for them, reassuring them that it’s not their fault and that everything is going to be okay. Our children’s best interest, their wants and needs, should always take centre stage in every situation. It is crucial not to lose sight of that.

It comes down to maturity. Be the example of the woman or man you want your children to emulate. You are the most influential role models they will ever have. Be strong, fair, and inspiring. Remember, innocent eyes are watching!

Credit: Sheila Blagg

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