How does the conflict level between parents during/after divorce affect children?
Divorce & abduction are not one time events for children. They are continuous influences which shape and reshape children´s lives throughout childhood and adulthood. Research has shown that children of divorced parents who have succesfully created a positive environment & foster their children’s relationship with both parents, in other words parents who reduce loyalty conflicts and hostility, adjust best psychologically (Wallerstein, Wolchik, et al).
Our own observations have led us to believe that parents who work through their pain and anger most constructively have better relationships with their adult children than those who do not. Disparaging talk, visitation chaos, time sharing quarrels, loyalty binds, criticism of parenting styles, all take a big toll on the children in the middle. They feel responsible, scared, confused and vulnerable. Ironically, most parents feel they are acting in their children´s best interests when fighting with an ex-partner about the children. In an atmosphere of constant conflict, the children suffer.
Here are two true stories that highlight this. My way is better than your way
David and Carrie were married for 13 years and had 1 child, 10-year-old Jake. They divorced 5 years ago and share custody. Jake moves back and forth between his parents, who live close to one another. David is Christian, and Carrie converted to Islam after the divorce. They are both deeply religious, and Jake feels that he cannot please one without disappointing the other. They have been to court numerous times about everything from Jake´s holiday schedule, to his schooling, to his religious upbringing. They have each sought full custody, each out of the firm belief that Jake would be better off without the other parent being so involved in his life. Jake is failing in school, which of course both parents blame on one another for. All the high points of jake´s life have been tainted by his parent´´s quarrels. Both parents use him as a message relayer to the other parent, and ask him pointed questions about the life and doings of the other. Rather than offering him permission to love both mother and father and to enjoy spending time with each of them, they require that he chooses sides, reports to the other about the other parent, and has responsibility to make each one feel good at the expense of the other. Jake is being denied the chance for a happy childhood.
Your Dad is Frightening: A Part of You Isn’t Good Enough
William, age 14, is the child of never married parents. His mother is French, his father is Swedish. He was parentally abducted by both parents numerous times, each time in the sincere belief that it was best for William to be taken away from the other parent. He now lives in hiding in Sweden with his mother. William doesn’t trust adults, and feels frightened all the time. He tries to get close to people that he admires, but something holds him back from being himself with them. He is always guarded, and fearful. His mother tells him all the time how dangerous his father is, because he will take William away from her and from Sweden. She tells him about everything from his father’s sexual issues to his problems with saving money, and this is distressing to William. He only has distant memories of his father, who he hasn’t seen for five years. William tells people that he has no father, because it is too hard to explain what really happened. He wonders about his father, about what it would be like to have him in his life. He feels an emptiness that he tries to run away from, telling himself that he is lucky not to have his bad father around. William’s inner life is painful and chaotic. He feels dirty, like the parts of him that are like his dad are bad and must be washed away.
William, like thousands of other parentally abducted kids, is going through the heartache of feeling terrified of one of his parents without reason. A relationship gone bad, heartache, anger, hatred, have led William to lose something precious and important: knowledge of his roots, the love of both parents, and a sense that his parents put his well-being before their issues and anger.
IMPORTANT: Domestic violence puts parental abduction and custody litigation into an entirely different perspective. While false claims of domestic violence exist, such claims must be taken seriously. Domestic violence is real, and false claims of violence are too. In many cases, only those involved know the truth. If you are a perpetrator of violencee, seek help. If you are a victim, you have a right to protection for yourself and your children. Please do not lie, as this only creates chaos and fear for your children.
The quality of the relationship between parents after divorce, and the individual parent-child relationship are the most important determinants of a child’s mental well-being and success in adulthood. Invest in therapy, read, connect with other parents and children who are experiencing similar things. Work actively to enhance of your relationships, get support when you need it, talk things out instead of letting things simmer and boil, find coping tools that work.
Do not put your children in the middle.
Promote positivity when you are together with your children. Have fun instead of talking about your ex and putting him or her down. This is the most important gift you can give your children. They will appreciate it greatly in the future, and you are investing in your own and your children’s mental and spiritual well-being! Short-term pain may equal long-term gain. You may want to consider agreeing to a custody arrangement that is not ideal, in order to protect your children from years of squabbling, court visits, and uncertainty. Within reason, it may be best to “settle” to some degree in order to create peace and heal, and to be able to focus on providing love, stability and calm to your children. Quantity doesn’t have to mean quality. Even if you don’t live with your children and don’t have loads of time with them, you’re still one of the two most important people in their lives, and the time you do have together, if it is of quality, is priceless and builds strong bonds. Remember that as your children grow, they will be able to choose to spend time with you or not, and the more fun, peace, and connection you create, the stronger your bonds will be with your grown-up children.