Just because most children adjust to divorce does not mean all children adjust. Especially if they are dealing with an irrational parent.
Children are the only innocent victims of divorce and more times than not they are the ones left to carry the weight of divorce due to the unstable nature of the Family Court System and parents who lose sight of their children’s needs.
This isn’t an anti-divorce article. This article is about advocating for children whose parents are divorcing. It is a collection of stories that will hopefully educate parents who can then work together during the divorce process to minimize the risk of long-term negative effects on their children.
Not all children are damaged by divorce. Some are though and exposing those stories can be a warning to parents. A sort of “do it the right way or else” warning that will show parents what a child needs to survive the dismantling of a family.
The one thing these stories have in common is a broken bond or attachment with a parent. The loss of consistency in a child’s relationship with both parents can determine whether a divorce does life-long damage or the child moves smoothly through the divorce process.
Parents need to protect and be extremely sensitive to the effects of a broken bond or attachment with either parent or other family members during the divorce process and after. To not be sensitive can be detrimental and produce a story for your child similar to the ones you are about to read.
The Impact of Fatherlessness on Alan
Alan was 7 when his parents divorced. He was an outgoing, precocious child who “loved his family.” He had a close bond with his father. They were buddies, very similar in personality and nature and Alan adored “guy time” with his Dad.
Alan was always on the go, a very active child but he checked in often during long summer days while out and about with friends. It was important to Alan that he have a home base, somewhere he belonged and could come to on a moment’s notice.
He felt stable in the world because he had a stable family. He had never heard his parents argue. Family conflict was a foreign concept to him. He went to bed at night safe in the knowledge that those he loved would be there the next morning to love him.
One day Alan was in school. His father came to school and checked him. Alan was puzzled but happy to see his father. He had no hint there was a problem. He lived in an atmosphere where problems were not the norm. In fact, in Alan’s case, he was unaware that “problems” existed in the world. His life had been one of stress-free days playing with friends and warm, cozy evenings spent with family.
When Alan and his Dad climbed into the car his Dad told him that his parents were getting a divorce and that “he was never coming home again.” His Dad then drove him home, dropped him off and drove away leaving Alan crying alone in the driveway with the words, “I’m divorcing your mom and never coming home again” swirling around his head. And that was the end of the problem free, stable life that Alan had become accustomed to.
His Dad didn’t call him, didn’t come see him, and seemed to no longer care about him. There were rare phone calls and weekend visits with his Dad. In between those visits, there was no contact. There was no phone number for Alan to call his Dad, no address for him to visit. And when he tried to ask his Dad why he had changed so much his Dad refused to discuss the “situation” with him.
Alan was left to wonder what had happened to the Dad who had loved and cared for his every need.
He was left to wonder if others who loved and cared for him could also change and leave him. When interviewing Alan for this article he told me, “That was the day I stopped trusting people. That day is the day my Dad turned into someone I used to know and I knew that if he could then other people could too. It is also the day I starting wishing I had a Dad like my old Dad.”
According to Alan, “my mom loved me, so did my grandparents but nothing could replace that loss and I’m not sure I’ll ever stop trying to fill the hole left in me by the way I was treated by my Dad.”
Alan tried filling the hole with drugs. He started smoking pot when he was thirteen. Between the ages of 13 and 16, he used Xanax, mushrooms, LSD and other illegal drugs in an attempt to lessen his pain. And there was a lot of pain because over the years Alan’s Dad showed him often of how little consequence his needs and feelings were.
There was a six-year period of no contact, only sporadic emails but never an offer to visit Alan. There were requests by therapists for Alan’s father to become involved with therapy sessions that were ignored by Alan’s father. He did agree to one session with Alan’s therapist but not with Alan present.
His Dad made the trip to the therapist’s office which was within 10 miles of Alan’s home but didn’t contact Alan or make an attempt to see Alan. That was his one and only visit with a therapist. According to Alan’s Dad, “Alan needs therapy, not me.”
The emotional abuse that Alan’s Dad heaped upon him was appalling. He went from being a loving father to a man who ignored his child’s feelings, rejected his child’s desire for a relationship and neglected his child’s mental health needs.
When Alan was 17 he experienced a psychotic break. He was hospitalized and diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder. Alan is now 24 and has been hospitalized twice for problems related to the disorder. He will be on medication for the rest of his life and struggle to keep his symptoms under control.
One has to wonder, who Alan would be today if his father had handled the divorce more maturely.
According to Marcia Purse, the About.com Guide to Bipolar Disorder, “When we look for the cause of bipolar disorder, the best explanation according to the research available at this time is what is termed the “Diathesis-Stress Model.” The word diathesis means, in simplified terms, a physical condition that makes a person more than usually susceptible to certain diseases. Thus the Diathesis-Stress Model says that each person inherits certain physical vulnerabilities to problems that may or may not appear depending on what stresses occur in his or her life. Durand and Barlow define this model as a theory that both an inherited tendency and specific stressful conditions are required to produce a disorder.”
Alan was a child with “physical vulnerabilities” to emotional problems. Couple those vulnerabilities with the stress caused by the way his father handled the divorce and you have a recipe for disaster, life-changing disaster.
The last time I spoke with Alan he quoted the lyrics of the song, Father of Mine to me. “I will never be safe, I will never be sane, I will always be weird inside, I will always be lame.”
The good news for Alan is, he is safe and surrounded by people who love him, he is sane, not the least bit weird inside or out and there is NOTHING the least bit stupid or lame about this young man. With continued love and therapy, he will learn that he is not responsible for his situation but is responsible enough to not allow what one man did define his life and how he lives that life. He may have been left holding the bag but, ultimately the contents of the bag are completely and totally up to him.
Katy’s Story of Parental Alienation
Katy was 12 when her parents divorced. Katy’s story is one of Parental Alienation and the life-long consequences of one parent robbing a child of the love and attention of the other parent.
Katy’s parents had a high conflict marriage so she was used to witnessing first-hand the anger and resentment between her parents. It was no surprise to Katy that they eventually divorced. In fact, according to Katy, “the divorce gave me a sense of relief. For the first time in my life, I was hopeful that I could have a relationship with two happy parents instead of two miserable parents.”
Her hopes were short-lived though because soon after the divorce Katy’s mother started sharing details of the divorce with her daughter and her negative opinion of Katy’s father. A father Katy had always had a close and trusting relationship with.
When it came to poisoning Katy’s mind against her father, Katy’s mother took no prisoners.
Nothing was off limits, this mother was determined that her child would not have a relationship with her father.
Katy was told that her father abandoned the family. She was told of affairs her father supposedly had, of episodes of domestic abuse that her mother had suffered. Her mother went as far as insinuating that she feared her ex would try to molest Katy and do her emotional and physical harm.
Katy’s father worked diligently at staying in contact with Katy. He was awarded liberal visitation by the court but his attempts to visit were thwarted by Katy’s mother. Gifts sent to Katy were thrown away, phone calls to Katy were intercepted and Katy was left to believe that her father was making no effort to see her.
Before long Katy began to view her father through the lens of her mother’s lies. She became angry at her father’s abandonment of not only her but the family. Needless to say, once the child was fully indoctrinated the job of keeping Katy’s father away from his child became easy. Katy’s mother could relax, her job was done she no longer had to worry.
The problem is, Katy didn’t have the same luxury her mother had.
The anger and loss of trust in her father took seed and grew in Katy’s mind and heart. The older Katy became the more resolved she became to never allow another man to hurt her.
In her book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know, Dr. Meg Meeker explains the important role fathers play in the lives of their daughters and how they can best utilize that role to instill strong moral values and healthy self-images in their daughters.
“Fathers are their daughters’ first experience of male love, compassion, kindness, anger, and cruelty. These early experiences are imprinted on a girl’s brain and heart. For the rest of her life, every experience she has with a male is filtered through her experiences with her father. So if she trusts her father at an early age, she is more likely to trust men. If she has been hurt by her father, she will shy away from men and/or make poor choices about who she allows into her life.”
Essentially, Katy’s mother denied Katy what every daughter has a right to, an attachment to the one person who could show her, via example how to relate to men as she grew older. As a result, Katy grew up to fear intimate attachments. Men were disposable to Katy. They were of us to her but not to be trusted.
By the time Katy graduated from college she had, had 53 sex partners.
She also suffered from Agoraphobia and clinical depression. Alan had used drugs to self-medicate and deal with the pain, Katy used sex to lessen her pain and to prove to herself that she didn’t need a man.
After entering therapy Katy discovered that she did need a man, the man she had bonded with as a child. Katy’s mother treated Katy’s relationship with her father as insignificant. In turn, Katy learned to do the same. Katy eventually had to suffer the psychological consequences of her mother’s systematic and purposeful destruction of Katy’s relationship with her father.
Bottom line, Katy’s mother made poor choices which caused Katy to grow into a woman who would also make poor choices. If Katy’s love and admiration of her father had been preserved by a mother who put Katy’s needs first Katy and her father both would have been spared a lot of pain and despair.
Today Katy is a married mother of two. She has restored her relationship with her father and with the help of three years of intensive therapy has learned to value herself and relationships with others regardless of gender.
Alan and Katy are only two examples of the damage irrational parents can do to a child during divorce. Some would argue that they are only two out of millions of children who have experienced the divorce of a parent. That we can’t compare these stories to the stories of all children of divorce.
What we can do is learn from these stories, become aware of the fact that every child is an individual. Just because most children adjust does not mean all children adjust. And, parents who are divorcing should behave toward their children as individuals with needs that are heightened during such an emotional time in their life.
In other words, treat your children with kid gloves, make them your number one priority and never fail to understand that each parent plays a specific role in a child’s life and each is as needed and important as the other.