Parenting After Adult Relationships End

jerder Mar 26, 2008 Other
Relationships end. Although the resulting emotions are normal, too often the pain, anger, sense of betrayal, and rejection felt by the adults spills over into a desire to strike back. Reaction, driven by raw emotion, replaces rational thought. Unfortunately, too often any children born as a result of the relationship become caught in the crossfire.

Estranged parents use their children as objects of revenge, giving little thought to the affect on the child's emotions or what the child is being deprived of. Reactions created by those negative emotions have become increasingly volatile in recent years, leading to the deaths of custodial parents, children, or the entire family. A large number of domestic dispute calls are the result of verbal threats or violence perpetrated by non custodial parents.

In other instances parents engage in a series of ‘get even' tactics in response to actions each one takes against the other. Several years ago I witnessed one example of that anger. A mother was standing in a store parking lot arguing with the father of their son, who appeared to be about six or seven years old. The father had failed to pick the child up for a scheduled weekend visit the previous Friday evening and hadn't bothered to call. This mother, with the child in tow, informed the father he "obviously did not really love his son." The boy's father responded with a vulgar expletive and a remark about child support.

The father, who found out he had to work the weekend he was supposed to pick the boy up, should have called with the change of plans. Perhaps arrangements could have been made with his ex-wife to pick the child up for dinner and an activity on that Friday evening. Dad could have explained to his son, in person, the reason he would not be able to take him for the whole weekend and how much he was going to miss that extra time together.

Neither adult considered the effect their negative interaction with each other was having on their son. The child was caught in the middle of a battle of words and thoughtless actions. Driven by anger, and the need to get even, the mother thought only about how she had been put in a position of having to deal with her son's feelings when his father had neither shown up nor called, and how unfair that was to her. By accusing her estranged husband of not loving his son she felt vindicated. However, the adolescent was privy to the exchange and was left feeling rejected. And, by not letting his son know he couldn't pick him up, dad also made the young boy feel he had been forgotten.

The desire to place blame on the opposite party in a failed relationship has resulted in thousands of children having little, or no, contact with the non-custodial parent. Fathers refuse to pay child support out of anger and a desire to punish the mother, without stopping to question whether the lack of extra financial support would create a standard of living that could impact the mother's ability to feed, clothe, or get medical care for their offspring. The parent retaining custody often punishes the non-custodial parent for issues that brought about the end of their relationship together.

Growing up in an unstable and combative environment, children are deprived of the emotional benefits that a relationship with both parents can provide. This can impede a child's ability to build and sustain strong, healthy romantic relationships later on in life. There is also a chance that, as adults, children of divorced or separated parents will not have developed positive coping skills that will enable them to effectively deal with any failed relationships in their own lives.

Children, caught in the middle of a tug of war between adults who are angry and hurt, may translate discord into a belief that they caused their parent's break up. New questions then arise regarding the child's own role in the family. "Who should they love, is it okay to love both parents, and what if one parent gets mad because they think they are not loved equally?" The resulting upheaval makes life difficult for children when they should be focusing on school, friends, and enjoying their youth.

For the sake of their offspring, parents must deal with, and then set aside, any negative feelings and subsequent behaviors resulting from the break up. Finding common ground is paramount. A child's emotional growth, along with their desire and need for the love and support of both parents, and the opportunity to know both parents equally, depends on that ability. "Parents should try to overcome their differences and develop a relationship where they will be able to work as a team to provide guidance, structure, and love within their separate homes for their children."

The keys to moving forwards are communication, understanding, compromise, and establishing neutral ground. A different, yet positive, type of relationship between adults can grow from a desire and commitment to provide children with two loving and supportive parents. Putting aside blame is a good first step, as is a promise to try and not talk about any negative feelings one parent has for the other, either in or out of the child's presence. Counseling is available to help estranged parents make a transition that works for both adults.

Some parents arrange an occasional meeting in the presence of their offspring in order to foster the idea that is okay for the child to love both adults openly, and that both parents will remain an integral part of their lives. If a face to face meeting is too emotionally taxing for either adult, which is okay, too. There have been cases where a parent chooses a neutral location where they can leave a child with a friend or family member. This might be a park, or even a church or agency from which a non custodial parent can pick up and return the child following visits.

Another way to foster an atmosphere of family support and continuity is for both parents to attend some of their child's functions together, agreeing to put aside any differences during shared outings. Parent teacher association meetings at school, church confirmations, concerts, sports, scouts, local fairs, etc. provide plenty of space and a neutral atmosphere. It is also important for parents to be able to sit down and discuss any issues that may arise regarding their children as each adult can bring a unique perspective to the table.

Many churches, schools, some Boys and Girls Clubs, civic organizations, and programs like Early Head Start and Head Start have ‘fatherhood initiatives' that are designed to help, and encourage, fathers to get involved in the educational and social aspects of their child's life, an opportunity they might not otherwise have. Single, estranged, and teen fathers are all included as well as non-custodial fathers. Some mothers have become more comfortable with the idea of letting children have a relationship with their father since there are usually supervised group activities and outings.

In the end, developing a wholesome although different type of relationship with the other parent is a win win situation for everyone. Children get the time and emotional support they need from parents, as well as the unique talents and perspectives both can bring into their lives as they are growing up. Adults learn how to move beyond the pain and anger, or sense of betrayal they feel. Their relationship can rise to a new level as friends whose lives apart are centered around the child(ren) they had together.

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monica sappleton on Jan 8, 2009
excellent article and nicely presented.
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  • Last Updated : Mar 26, 2008