Dear Barb—Parent Split

Dear Barb:

My husband and I separated after 10 years of marriage.  Our son was seven years old at the time and I had been given sole custody.  My ex had visitation with our daughter and that seemed to be going well for a while.  But things changed when I began seeing someone. 

My ex became angry and vindictive; sometimes he wouldn’t show up for visitation, or he would take my son and not bring him back on time.  I tried to talk to him about how this was affecting our son, but he would fly into a rage and say things like “this is what you wanted, you were the one that decided to end our marriage.”  I tried to ignore his words, but often I would get into it with him.  Even though our relationship was strained, I tried my best to put our son’s best interest at the forefront.  When he became a teenager and I began having the normal teenage problems with him, I called his dad to help out.  Unfortunately, he took that opportunity to entice my son to move in with him.  My son completely cut me off and would not speak to me.  I was heartbroken.  His Dad allowed him to do as he pleased, provided a car for him and all the freedoms a teenager wants.  My relationship with my son never really healed after. 

Why do some parents use their children to hurt the other parent?  Can you provide some insight into why this happens and perhaps something that can be done about it?  Thanks, Laurie. 

Hi Laurie:

You are in a difficult situation.  Often when family separation occurs everyone picks a side and at times parents expect their children to choose sides as well.  A parent may try to accomplish this by destroying the relationship with the other parent.  This may be done through manipulation, brainwashing, or lying about the other parent.  Undoubtedly this will harm the child’s relationship with the other parent and may even result in psychological damage to the child.  Your relationship with your ex must now change from parenting as a couple to co-parenting separately.  Co-parenting focuses on strictly what is best for the child.

It is necessary to keep all emotion out of your relationship with your ex.  When you need to meet, choose a neutral place, like a coffee shop.  Do not discuss any details of your personal life.  Keep the discussion about parenting.  This transition will take some time to accomplish.  If you find you cannot achieve this level of parenting, then you may want to contact a parenting coach.  Your family doctor or legal advisor can refer you to someone in your area.  Best of luck Laurie.