I’m going to pull out my soap box here and make a loud statement about something I feel is critical for divorced parents and for you stepmoms to hear . It is such a huge issue and I feel very passionately about it. Children as pawns in divorce. What exactly do I mean when I say children as pawns? When a parent uses their child/ren as a tool for manipulation or punishment against the other parent It is one of the biggest mistakes I feel that divorced parents can make. Children pay the ultimate cost in loss of security, loss of trust, loss of safety. It has long term consequences and I’ve seen how negative those long term consequences can be in adulthood. It is too high a price to make children pay- emotionally and mentally. I’ve heard many stories of power games being played at the expense of children.
If your partner fights with their ex spouse and if it is still ugly then that’s bad enough. But doing it in front of the children and even having them actively involved is another level of bad. One of the worst cases of this is parental alienation. Birth mom refuses to let dad see the children for whatever reason she may have. This isn’t just making the other parent pay it is making the children pay and in the worst way possible! It is traumatizing for them plain and simple. It is really behaviour that in no way considers the needs of the child but rather the insecurities, anger and fear of the adult who is attempting to wield power. It’s purely ego driven. I believe that most parents who engage in this game of punishment may not fully understand the destructive consequences that this can cause…so I am telling you. Putting kids in the middle is absolutely destructive! Making children choose a side or feel that they have to choose a side is a horrible spot to put them in. How can they choose one parent over the other and EVER feel good about that? “Love me but don’t love them” or “If you love me then you will/ won’t do…” or saying bad things about the other parent directly to the child- nobody wins. However, this manipulation can also be subtle. The child begins to believe that whatever bad thing is said about the other parent is also being said about them. The other parent is half of who they are. And if they love that other parent you are telling them they have made a bad choice and that their decisions and feelings are invalid and wrong. Torn loyalties and being made to feel guilty about their love of the other parent are not things kids should ever have to worry about or consider. It should never be on their radar. As kids get older and they start to figure things out then who do they trust, who do they believe, what do they believe? They can’t trust themselves because they were told that how they felt was wrong. It has the potential to destroy the relationship with their mother, their father and future intimate relationships into adulthood.
I have a very dear friend who is going through a divorce. She is smart and beyond reproach when it comes to integrity. How she is handling her situation is truly beyond admiration it is inspiration. After 17 years of marriage she discovered her husband had been having a 2 year affair with someone she and her husband both knew. The betrayal was enormous, she said it opened up a dark side of her that she never knew ran so deep. BUT she NEVER let the kids know what their father had done to her, how much pain and anguish he had caused her. NOT ONCE did she even breathe to them about his infidelity. I told her I had the utmost respect for her in keeping that from them as hard as I knew it was. She agreed and said it was one of the hardest things she had to do because she did not want her sons to turn against her ex-husband because of things she said. She wanted them to figure it out on their own and draw their own conclusions about what kind of man and husband he really was. She did not want that responsibility. Her sons can look back on this experience and know the integrity of their mother, the true strength of character she has and choose her side (if they want it). It’s human nature to seek revenge but she knew the costs. It was between her and her ex, it had nothing to do with her kids.
If this is a situation you are familiar with it will require professional help to end the dysfunction- whether that’s stepfamily coaching, mediation, counselling or legal assistance or whatever combination that is required. Disengaging from the toxic relationship is also important. There is no battle with only one side wanting to fight. The two greatest gifts a parent can give their children are healthy attachments and healthy self esteem. Putting an end this high conflict relationship is one of the best assurances that these gifts can be given.