Custody Battles

Must the children pay the price when their parents stop loving each other? Divorce is an angry, painful time. That’s understandable. When two people have shared their lives and then one decides that life is no longer worth sharing, there will be enormous suffering by both partners.

As difficult as divorce is on the spouse who doesn’t want the marriage to end, even more difficult is divorce on the child or children of the marriage. Adults have control over their lives, even if they don’t have control over all occurrences within that life. Children do not have the same opportunity for control of their lives.

When an adult decides a relationship is too painful to continue, he or she has the option of leaving. When a child is part of a painful relationship, he or she must remain until an alternative becomes available. For a child, that alternative might take the form of running away from home, living on the streets, living with a friend or relative, living with the custodial parent, or, in the worse case, suicide.

Children become instruments of revenge when some marriages fail. While these occurrences are the most radical, it is becoming more commonplace for mothers or fathers to kill their children to get even with an ex-spouse or divorcing spouse. It is common for children to be kidnapped by the non-custodial parent. Most common are children who become emotional footballs between warring parents.

It is wrong to tell your child that your spouse doesn’t love them any more, or to demand that your child take your side in the divorce. Unless, and even if, there are extenuating circumstances, such as child abuse, your child has the right to choose to love the both of you equally. Your child did not ask for this divorce. Your child will be hurt by this divorce as it is, do not compound the pain by using him or her to hurt your spouse.

It is ultimately in your best interest to keep your child or children as far removed from the ugly side of divorce as possible. Even though the children are fairly helpless, they will grow up and they will be able to make their choices. If their childhood memories are of you as a loving, caring parent, you stand a much better chance of being included in their adult lives than if their childhood was one of desperately trying to escape from your emotional manipulations.

Never mistake a child’s youthfulness as being too young to understand the situation at home. Children know when there is trouble between their parents. Household stress cannot be hidden but it can be reduced by caring parents who continually reassure their children that no matter what happens between their parents, they will always be loved.

Never think a child won’t take advantage of the divorce situation if it is in his or her best interest at the time. It is one of the only survival techniques available to them until they become adults.

Some children learn to manipulate their parents, using the parent’s guilt to get more time, affection, gifts or money. One such young teen was observed at lunch in a restaurant twisting the knife of guilt in her father. The father was meekly conceding to his young daughter’s demands for a larger allowance, expensive clothing, and an extended stay with him the following summer. The child was extremely aggressive and bordering on verbally abusive, recognizing the power she had.

Could the situation have been avoided? If her father would have acted as the adult in charge and less as a transgressor, the daughter would have lost the weapon of guilt. As it was, the child had no respect for her father and he was doing nothing to try to gain her respect.

Not every parent accepts responsibility for their children. The laws have been strengthened to protect children from parents’ irresponsibility but that irresponsibility is difficult for children to accept. “What is wrong with me that makes Daddy not love me?” To an adult, running from the responsibility of child support is about money. To a child, it’s about love.

To stay in a bad marriage “because of the children” does no one any good. It is better for children to have two happy loving parents, living apart, than to live in a tormented household held together “for the sake of the children.”