Family Dynamics in Divorce


I have come to a place in my practice where I work with a lot of custody cases.  I work with the children through the instability and uncertainty typically associated with custody disputes.  What I have witnessed is that some parents forget that children still love and want a relationship with the other parent.  Too many children feel pulled in the middle of these disputes, like they have to choose a side.  This is not what family is supposed to be.  At no time in Scripture are children told to only honor one parent, but not the other.

When one parent talks about the other parent in front of the child, seeds of hate and resentment are planted that could potentially grow into the child’s personality and actions.  There are some parents that mean no ill-will toward the ex-spouse, and want their child to have a better relationship with the other parent, but negative comments still get in the way.

The magic word here is “boundaries”.  Boundaries are the walls we put up in our mind to keep our mess from spilling over to other people.  Boundaries are what allow people continue working their job despite having stress at home.  Boundaries are what allow us to get along with people, even if we don’t fully agree with their views or beliefs.  And boundaries are what teach children how they can love imperfect people.

Parents need to understand that having boundaries does not mean to lie, avoid, or minimize problems.  Lying, avoiding, and minimizing are never appropriate.  Boundaries are for not allowing your mess about someone to spill over onto others that are not/were not directly involved.  To put it in terms of a marriage, you and your spouse not getting along does not automatically mean that the child was mistreated or that the other person is unfit.

I get told all kinds of things about what a person did or how they used to act, rationalizations on how or why a parent understands and “can’t blame” the kid for acting a certain way.  Parents try to convince me how bad the other parent is and how the other parent does not deserve a positive relationship with their child.  This is not a question of what a person “deserves”.  This is a question of what parents want to teach their children.

Always parent in your child's best interest, even if it bruises your ego. (You'll be fine and your child will feel her dignity in tact :).:

For some reason, it is more difficult to hold children accountable when it comes to the ex-spouse. Parents usually tell me that they want their children to show respect to others, act “right”, and be an “outstanding” person.  In the context of the ex-spouse, there seems to be more uncertainty or hesitation.  It is a regular occurrence for the parent to stammer and stutter when answering, holding back because of their own view of the other parent.

To wrap this up, and to put it plainly, this treatment and influence on children is wrong.  If there is a case of a child being mistreated, this needs to be handled quickly and appropriately.  Otherwise, expectations for a child’s behavior should not change based on who you feel a person is or what they did to you.  Disrespect and spite would never be considered appropriate reactions in any other venue, and should not be considered appropriate for a parent.  My advice is to raise your children to respect both parents.  Teach them that they can love imperfect people.  This allows them to have their own experiences and draw their own conclusions about people.  They will learn how to better interact with this imperfect world.  Who knows, one day, you may receive the very grace and mercy that you taught them.

My disclaimer:  This blog is not meant to point blame at anyone, but to give a bird’s eye view of a very common problem.  It is meant to encourage deeper insight and perspective on how a parent’s behavior as an adult influences the child’s behavior of other people.  A child’s welfare and development should always be a primary focus.  As always, if this is something that you feel is an issue in your life, give us a call and see if we can schedule time to see what we can do.

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Toby Riley

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