Don't Make the Child a Pawn in Dispute

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist

A large percentage of court cases have to do with children's custody and visitation disputes.  

Recently, two teen-agers filed a motion in the court to intervene in their divorced parents' 10-year old custody battles.  Children can carry emotional scars of a bitter parental divorce even into their adulthood.

Why does it happen when most parents really love their children and want the very best for them?  It happens when feelings of betrayal, abandonment, anger, and blame grow out of proportion between the divorcing parties.  They lose sight of what is happening to the child.

In the angry accusations and zealous guarding of their territory they try to protect themselves and their children from what they perceive as exploitation and injustice by the other party.  Whoever the parent who is being castigated and despised by the other, the child hurts for each one of them.

Each time one parent tells a child that the other parent does not really love him, that child must fear the loss of love.  From a child's perspective, his world stands on parents' support from which he draws his strength, security, and hope.  If parents only knew how the downgrading of the other parent hurts a child, I doubt if they would still do it.  The fact is that both parents are concerned for their children.  But they are over-concerned to protect the child from the other parent.

Following these five points will minimize the negative impact of divorce on a child:

A child needs to have good feelings about both parents.  Do not criticize the other parent in front of the child.  Instead, try to assure the child of the other parent's love.  For example, if the other parent has not called or showed up, help the child to thin of neutral reasons, unexpected call or assignment.  Do not tell the child, "I told you, (she or he) does not care."

Do not use the child as an "informer," to spy on the other parent, "Who is (he or she) dating now?... What did (he or she) say about me?"  A probing or digging puts the child in an awful position of taking sides and dividing his loyalty.  The cost the child pays for it is heavy.

Do not use the child's visitation as a threat, or as a means to punish the other parent, or as a condition for the other parent to do something that they have failed to do yet.  Do not get back at the other parent through the child's visitation.  Do not cancel the child's visit or renege on it because you are upset with the other parent.  Visitation is a child's way to be connected to both parents and to recover some of the loss he has received.  The child's right to visitation must be respected and maintained.  That should not be made conditional toward your own ends.

Share a child's joy when he brings good reports of his visit and good feelings he expresses about the other parent.  This is not a rejection of you or disloyalty toward you.  Love for you is not undermined by the love of the other.  If the child had a good time with the other parent, it does not negate the good time the child has with you.  It is necessary for a child to be assured of the love of both parents, especially when one of the parents lives away.

Let a child be a child.  Let him play and study.  Do not make a child a party to your own struggles and frustrations with the other parent.  On the other hand, draw all the strength you can from your relationship with the child, but do not cling and do not put the burden on the child to make you feel better.  Try to take your mind off from your problems by working with the child - on a child's level -- playing, walking, hiking, telling a story, doing homework together, and the like.  Keep the child out of the fight and changes are that fighting between the couples may come to a stop.

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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