Often times after an emotional divorce a contentious, sometimes brutal, custody disagreement ensues. When it comes to their children, parents become fierce. They love their kids more than anything and don’t want to lose any time with them, so they fight. They fight with their former spouse. They demand their children to pick sides. Suddenly. love becomes an extremely destructive energy.
In an effort to get as much time as possible with their children they forget about the quality of time. The children are placed in the middle, feeling the pull from both sides. They want to be fair to both parents, and they identify with both. Both parents are part of them and they don’t want to let either down.
When the children become witness to their parents’ battles or are part of negative conversations surrounding the other parent, harm is done. Hearing one parent bash the other becomes an internal struggle for the child and causes them to form negative views about either or both parents.
Children always remember these bad, contentious moments. Hostility, even when it’s towards the other parent and not directly at the child, diminish child’s trust. A child cannot trust the hostile parent’s ability to provide emotional safety. In the end, the child may resent the hostile parent and may remain emotionally distant from that parent, even when they still love that parent. I have many child and teen clients who tell me how they can’t wait to leave their hostile parent or the parent who forces them to choose sides. They still love their parents but want to get away from the fighting, the hostility. They want to escape the drama.
A wise person once told me that 90% of our time with our children is when they are between the ages of 0-18 before they launch into adulthood (that is assuming they don’t boomerang back home as an adult due to the economy, but that’s another topic). Parents who are fighting for custody tend to lose sight of this special time with their kids. They waste the last few teenage years by focusing on the quantity and not quality, when they are still in their care, and pull their kids into the fight. Parents often make the teenager choose between one parent or the other, continuing the hostility. They forget how important this time is with their kids. They forget to focus on building harmony and strengthening their relationship with their child. Sure, not all moments are hostile or negative, but every moment counts.
Children will eventually grow up and all custody battles will eventually end. I often ask parents what kind of relationship they hope to have with their child when their child becomes adult. Think about it, isn’t it sad that we spend all this time fighting for our children and we lose them in the process? Shouldn’t we be working to build harmony, for their sake and our future with them?