Children Are Not Pawns

Has your significant other become “de trop” (as the French like to say)? Has he or she gone outside of your relationship for anything other than a casual friendship? Have you cause to re-examine your relationship? All too often we allow ourselves to be defined by our relationships. We become XYZ’s wife, husband, mother, father, grandparent, child or friend. This takes away from how we view our self.
I allowed myself to be defined by my parents during my younger days. Even when I left home to go to the University five hours away, I allowed my parent’s mores and their attitudes to color mine. I tried to grow up but I was too steeped in their way of life. I am Southern. I was born in the South Carolina Low Country and no matter where I go, the Southern way of life goes with me. I have tried to lose it over the years. I worked with my speech to lose the drawl and the Geechee brogue but it still manages to sneak back in when I least expect it to do so.
I committed the ultimate faux pas of marrying out of my comfort zone. My first husband was a Yankee; Connecticut born and bred. Whatever you have heard about the South still fighting the Civil War; it’s true. I am laughing as I admit that a Southern girl can very rarely find happiness with a Yankee boy. We are just wired differently. It has something to do with the way our parents raise us. Of course, I am talking about people of my generation (the baby boomers) and I am certain there are those today who would disagree. Still, on principal; I believe I am right.
My first marriage didn’t last but about 3 ½ years. It was doomed from the very beginning. I was from an extremely close Southern family and I was an only child. After a whirlwind decision to marry, we stayed with them for the first three months before we found a place of our own that we could afford. If we had lived with my parents the whole time, we might not have realized there were so many differences between us. Once we were together and on our own, we had no choice but to face up to the fact that we had very little in common at all. We did have a child together but even that did not connect us after our split.
When people marry they have high hopes for their lives together. When I was younger people met in high school or college and stayed together for life. More times than not, they weren’t happy all of that time. They stayed together because they thought they ought to. They stayed together for the children. This was what was done then but it didn’t have the desired effect. The children they stayed together for often say they knew their parents were miserable and wished they had just gone ahead and split up. Who knows what is right and what isn’t? I sure don’t but I know that in my case leaving was the only thing I could have done and my child did not suffer for it at all.
Whatever two people decide about a marriage, the child or children involved should not be made to pay for it. Every precaution should be taken by the parents to not make the child feel responsible for the split between the parents. A child can have a good relationship with both parents if the parents don’t try to make the child choose between them. One thing you should never do is lie to the child about the reason for the divorce. You can tell the child that the two of you no longer love each other but you do love him/her. Don’t make the other parent the bad guy in the divorce. It is much better for you to not even talk about the other parent than to make disparaging remarks. It can be difficult but the child is not responsible so you should not make him feel that he is.
Be sure that custody matters are decided fairly. If the child really loves the other parent, it is unfair to continually point out that parent’s bad points to the child. Don’t make the child feel that it is a war and he/she is the prize. Children are very intelligent and they can tell when one parent is played against the other.
In my experience, if a bad divorce involves children then they become pawns. Some men cannot understand why their wife would willingly leave them. If no other man is involved; the husband who is left can become angry and try to “get even” by using the child to hurt the wife. I have seen this happen too often. The man wants to hurt the woman as much as he was hurt. He knows that she cares for the child when she no longer cares for him. The desire to turn the child against his/her mother over rides the good sense the man once had. The revenge gene takes possession and runs rampant. In the end, the parents are still divorced and there is a lot of bitterness. The child is the one who is confused and hurt.
When a child is used as a pawn in a divorce there is lasting damage. Being tossed back and forth between the parents for alternate weekends and holidays and summer vacation is not the answer to helping a child grow up with both parents. When two divorcing parents go into family court, the lawyers and the judge should be educated about the damage that can be caused to the child’s psyche by the wrong sort of custody settlement.
If two people have a child together, they are both equally responsible for that child’s welfare. Each person should contribute to that child’s care and welfare equally. Just because they get a divorce does not make one parent less responsible than the other. The custodial parent will have responsibility for primary care. This person establishes the child’s routine and sees to his/her daily welfare. The parent who shares custody should respect these boundaries and not try to push the limits when he/she is with him. By disturbing the child’s sleep pattern the parent who is trying to get revenge is not hurting the other parent; the parent is hurting the child. It is the child who will not be able to concentrate in school on Monday after being with his mother or daddy for a weekend of fun and no boundaries. It is the child who will have an upset stomach from all of the junk food he was allowed to eat over the weekend. The child will suffer from staying up as long as he wanted to every night. The child will be the one having nightmares from the movies he is not usually allowed to watch at “home”. Sure, the custodial parent will be upset but the child is the one who will bear the brunt of the problem.
If you love your child and you no longer love that child’s other parent; find another way to get your revenge for the divorce. Do not use your child as a pawn. The child will not understand that this is a game between you and the other parent. He/she will internalize your actions and will act accordingly when he/she becomes an adult.

Author's Bio: 

P.D. Rivers is a freelance writer who ghostwrites for other people who don't have her way with the written word. Although she divorced her first husband, she has been happily married to her second husband for 35+ years.