Friday, April 27, 2007

Parental Strife, Divorce, and the Children Stuck in the Middle

Divorce is not easy for anyone involved. Both husband and wife are dissolving a life-long-commitment that has not worked out. The children are losing the stability of a mommy and daddy unit that had sustained them since childhood. In many instances, divorce seems to be the best option when a married couple can no longer interact appropriately. When constant fights and disagreements ravage the family, a divorce may very well be the best option for the spouses and the children too.

While parents are in the midst of the ongoing disputes and battles common in most divorces it is important to keep sight of those it impacts the most -- the children. Parents may feel that it is important to win this particular battle or to obtain that particular asset. In the long-run, however, it may be that their children are suffering needlessly.

Even when children are shielded from court proceedings, it is likely that the kids will still feel the fall out. A constantly changing custody determination, the rants of frustrated parents, and the feeling of tension in the air all impact children.

Recently there has been a strong example of the impact that divorce can have on parents and children in the news. Alec Baldwin recently referred to his young daughter as a "pig" in a ranting phone message. Baldwin credited his outburst to the frustrations of being a stilted parent in a divorce. This is a most unfortunate situation.

Granted, it is very sad that Baldwin was unable to get his daughter at a set time. Granted, he may have made some sacrifices to be able to get a precious phone call with her. Granted, he might be extremely frustrated about the situation. BUT his frustration was not her fault. She did not pick for her parents to meet and marry. She did not pick for them to get divorced. She did not pick for them to be continually furious with each other.

As hard as it might be, as painful as it might seem, parents need to dig deep and protect their children. Parents need to be able to discern the difference between their child's best interest and their own parental rights. There is a difference.

In a small number of cases a parent might have a legitimate safety or well-being concern for their child if the other parent has some custody or visitation rights. This is a limited set of cases -- where there is physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse. In those instances the parents should absolutely fight to protect their children. Absent these dangers, a child will not benefit from a parent constantly bad-mouthing the other parent in their presence -- in fact, this is almost a type of emotional abuse (making the child feel they are a horrible person for loving their mommy or daddy).

As Baldwin has learned the hard way, parents need to keep their priorities straight. I'm in no position to say that a certain couple -- or all couples -- should or should not get divorced in certain instances. I am in an outsider's position. I think this outsider's position gives me the distance to see the impact that such verbally violent interactions can have on the kids. Baldwin needs to find a way to civilly be a part of the parenting unit for this young girl, and how to deal with any adolescent issues in a mature fatherly way, and not just as a part of his bitter divorce. Throughout Baldwin's daughter's adolescents there will likely be many more stressful situations (just think about once she starts to drive!), but in order to be a true father to his daughter, he needs to recognize her role as daughter and his as father -- she is there to be raised and to mess up, and he is there to teach her and protect her as she makes these mistakes.

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