Leo Terbieten MFT
Fighting for the Soul of your Child
To the fortunate uninitiated, the conflict that occurs between parents during divorce can seem inexcusable. After all can’t these parents behave like adults and do what’s best for their children? Well here’s the problem; often the parents are not only doing what they feel is best for their kids but believe that they are fighting for their kids’ very psycho-emotional survival. Those who’ve not experienced the custody process first hand may believe that the parents are fighting solely due to jealousy, an aggrandized sense of entitlement or financial issues. However deeper analysis reveals an additional element that is far more compelling than the conventional understanding of these issues.
Your childhood adaptations ensure your survival in your family of origin but often don’t serve you well in your adult intimate relationships. In the process of separation and divorce you may come to realize that the other parent is very much like someone from your past (family) to whom you had to sacrifice yourself to survive. You see the other parent as a toxic personality who will have significant influence on your child’s life as the result of the co-parenting process. Having had to cope with similar, if not identical, experiences in your own childhood you are unwilling to allow your kids to live in that all too familiar dysfunctional role.
So you see it’s simply not acceptable to parents in this situation to just learn to accept the other parent’s differences and take the high road, let go and move on. Parents come to believe that they are fighting for the very soul of their children. For example, a parent will fight to block parenting time with the other parent regardless of legal advice to the contrary.They are fighting to protect them from what they know from their own childhoods will hurt them. In this context the custody process becomes a battle of good versus evil.
It’s crucial to remember, however, that reacting emotionally toward the other parent could result in creating a negative impression of yourself in eyes of the family law court. Appearing unreasonable or aggressive can jeopardize your ability protect your children. This is the point I make in my latest book ‘Change Your Mind; Co-Parenting in High Conflict Custody Cases”. To protect your kids you must keep yourself safe.
One final thought. As a child you may not have had a parent who was aware of the dysfunctional experiences you had to accept. Your kids, however, have you, a healthy parent, who will protect them and mitigate any damage that may come from exposure to an unhealthy co-parent. By keeping yourself safe while effectively dealing with a difficult co-parent you both protect and set an important example for your kids.