Loss of a Child Through Marital Strife
Parents’ loss through divorce is much like the loss of a child through death.
Hunt1, “Children and parents who have undergone forced separation from each other in cases of parental alienation, are highly subject to post-traumatic stress, and reunification efforts in these cases should proceed carefully and with sensitivity. Alienated children seem to have a secret wish for someone to call their bluff, compelling them to reconnect with the parent they claim to hate; despite strongly held positions of alignment, alienated children want nothing more than to be given the permission and freedom to love and be loved by both parents”. (Baker, 2010)
Julie Garrison2, Special to DadsDivorce.com
“One would like to think that when a divorce proceeding has wrapped up, everyone is finally able to move on with their lives and stop looking back. Maybe this happens in Fantasy Land, but it almost never happens in the real world.
An ex-wife will often vent anger to her children by berating their dad at every juncture. The children end up with an exponentially skewed impression of their father.
In her book “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce,” Judith S. Wallerstein writes about the effects of divorce when an ex-wife vents to the children about the real or imagined shortcomings of their father.
“This is the kind of rage that can last for decades after divorce and it is the kind of anger that leaves lasting residue on a child’s personality,” Wallerstein writes.
Here are some common untruths that an angry ex-spouse will vent:
- “Your dad is nothing more than ‘Half-a-Daddy.’”
- “You kids aren’t going to get what you want for Christmas this year because your dad refuses to pay for it.”
- “Your dad doesn’t really want you.”
Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.3, “I want to take a moment to unequivocally state that yes mothers even good mothers can lose their children to parental alienation. One common myth that seems to be “out there” in the world is that parental alienation is something that only happens to fathers and that mothers, because they tend to have residential custody and because (the theory goes) the courts are biased against fathers, rarely lose their kids this way. While no one has data about the exact gender break down, I can say that without a doubt some mothers do and have been victimized in this way. ”
Ashley Tate Cooper’s story4, “As a matrimonial attorney at Weinberg & Cooper, LLC in Hackensack, NJ, I often encounter clients who are at various emotional stages that are routinely intertwined with the divorce process. I regularly encourage clients to consult with a myriad of mental health professionals, as needed, to help them handle the various emotions experienced during a divorce. This is especially applicable to those who are unfortunately involved in the unexpected divorce. ”
“It is important to recognize the stages of loss associated with divorce, so parents can help their children effectively. The five stages of grief and loss can be categorized as follows (with examples of the children’s thoughts or feelings during each stage as provided by Dr. Theise (Dr. Rachelle Theise, a psychologist and Clinical Assistant Professor at the NYU Child Study Center in New York):
1) DENIAL/SHOCK: The first way in which a divorce is similar to a loss is in the initial stage of denial. Children are often overwhelmed and bewildered by the prospect of their parents’ separation.“This isn’t happening. Am I dreaming? My parents aren’t splitting up. I don’t even know what that means. I’m sure this will be temporary and they’ll be back living together soon.”
2) ANGER: Understandably, children may struggle to maturely process the new change in their family’s arrangement. Their frustrations and confusion can manifest themselves during this anger stage.“This isn’t fair! Why are they doing this to us? They’re ruining our lives and I’m so mad. I know it’s mom’s fault. She is so hard to live with and nags all the time. Or maybe it’s my fault. If I had better grades or were better at soccer like my dad wanted me to be, I bet he’d stay. I’m so mad at myself.”
3) GRIEF/DEPRESSION: A longing for the past and demonstrations of sadness are indications that the child is in the grief stage. Changes in social patterns, sleeping and eating behaviors, and irritability can emerge during this stage. Parents must take extra care during this stage to make sure to support their child, and should monitor for depressive symptoms that seem to go beyond what can be expected for a child coping with such a change. “There’s nothing I can do to bring them back together. I’m so upset and just want to stay in my room and be left alone. I can’t control what’s happening and I’m lost, embarrassed, and sad.”
4) BARGAINING: Children may often exhibit behaviors demonstrating that they believe they can control or alter their current family situation. “Maybe if I work really hard in math and get better grades, my parents won’t fight about me as much and they’ll stay together. Or maybe if I stop getting in trouble at school, my dad will come back home.”
5) ACCEPTANCE: The final stage is acceptance, which is marked with a sense of understanding and a general desire to move forward with the new family dynamic. “I guess this is my new normal. My parents aren’t getting back together, and I’ll see them at their two different homes with two different lives. They keep saying it will be okay, and I’ve come to see that it might be, too. “
How do these parents help their child?
Hunt5, “In reunification programs, alienated parents will benefit from guidelines with respect to their efforts to provide a safe, comfortable, open and inviting atmosphere for their children. Ellis, (2005) outlines five strategies for alienated parents:
(1) Erode children’s negative image by providing incongruent information;
(2) Refrain from actions that put the child in the middle of conflict;
(3) Consider ways to mollify the anger and hurt of the alienating parent;
(4) Look for ways to dismantle the coalition between the child and alienating parent and convert enemies to allies; and
(5) Never give up on reunification efforts.
“As much as possible, Warshak (2010) recommends, alienated parents should try to expose their children to people who regard them, as parents, with honor and respect, to let children see that their negative opinion, and the opinion of the alienating parent, is not shared by the rest of the world. This type of experience will leave a stronger impression than anything the alienated parent can say on his or her own behalf”. (Excerpts from Edward Kruk Ph.D.Co-Parenting After Divorce in “Parent-Child Reunification After Alienation, Strategies to Reunite Alienated Parents and Their Children”, PsychologyToday.com).”
A parent’s “taking the high road” can be an excruciatingly emotional experience requiring professional support and guidance- not only for his/her child, but for himself/herself as well.
This is where Counseling on Demand comes in.
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1, 5 Matthew Hunt, Parent Alienation, the Targeted Parent, http://www.counselingondemand.com/counseling/parent-alientation-the-targeted-parent/ 2. Julie Garrison, Parental Alienation: My Ex Is Filling My Kids’ Minds With Lies https://dadsdivorce.com/articles/parental-alienation-my-ex-is-filling-my-childrens-minds-with-lies/ 3. Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D., “A Word to Mothers: You Can Lose Your Children to Parental Alienation, May 7, 2011https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/caught-between-parents/201105/word-mothers-you-can-lose-your-children-parental-alienation 4. Ashley Tate Cooper, How A Divorce Is Like a Loss for Children: The 5 Stages, 06/07/2016 02:20 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2017 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ashley-tate-cooper/how-a-divorce-is-like-a-loss-for-children-the-5-stages_b_10281458.html