Thursday, February 18, 2010

Divorce (and kids) or Single Parent Homes (and kids)

So, this topic comes up quite frequently around our home. At least here lately. And no, not in regards to ourselves. No worries.

A dear, dear relative of mine is going thru a divorce. They have two young children. Which has brought the topic to the forefront of recent conversations.

I should note that this is based on two bad situations. There are divorced parents who both manage to share custody, or otherwise have healthy relationships with their children. This is not about those parents. This is about the "other" parents.

FireMan & I have different schools of thought on what should be the role of the "other" parent in the lives of the children. Based on our own individual experiences, of course.

So, I argue that if their father is not truly interested in having a relationship with them, then to force visitation with their dad on them will be more detrimental to the children in the long run than if the dad just disappeared.
FireMan thinks exactly the opposite. That it's worse for the parent to just be gone, and that it's better to have him around, even if it's for the wrong reasons / he's not really interested in the kids.

My thinking comes from what I have watched my nieces & nephew go through (my sister's stepkids). Their biological mom is sorta around. I watched their repeated heartbreak when they were younger, as she promised them she'd pick them up for the weekend, and repeatedly never showed. I watched their repeated heartbreak as she'd tell them she was petitioning the court for her visitation rights back, and she never did. I've watched them wonder why she never sends them so much as a card for their birthdays or Christmas. I've watched them love her, and want nothing more than for her to love them back, and for them to be disappointed again, and again. And again. But she's always around just enough to keep that wound fresh. A phone call every six months or so. A text message here & there. Just enough to keep their hope alive until it is crushed once again. Just enough to keep the wound raw.
So my argument is that one traumatic heartbreak - the disappearance of that parent. For good. Is ultimately less damaging to the child than to have one go thru that trauma over, and over, and over.

FireMan's thinking comes from what he knows from his first wife. She never knew her father, and he died before she ever had a chance to meet him. Apparently this attributed to a lot of her "issues". Unfortunately I don't know enough about her to be able to give more detail here.
So his argument is that the experience of not remembering a parent, or never having known a parent, is much more traumatic than to have a parent in your life who doesn't show you the love that you need as their child.

Granted, neither is a good situation. They are both situations that will result in some issues for that child that will need to be worked through. But I'm sticking to my guns on this one, until I see some evidence otherwise.

1 comment:

Cynthia said...

Okay - I gotta say, I think I'm siding with FireMan on this one. Acknowledging first that none of it is an ideal situation - I think everyone needs to know where they come from - good, bad or ugly - and that sometimes for children myths can be even more damaging than the reality. It's easy to create monsters and legends in our heads in the absence of something tangible. With the factor of tangibility (presence of the washout parent), the child can at least begin to make some decisions about relationships with the parent, understanding different types of people, and figuring out who they want to be based on a factual experience - not a mythical story.

Example: A child's father abandons the family when the child is 18 months old. As the child grows, it naturally begins to wonder and ask questions about who the father is. Let's keep the mother neutral and say she only provides facts - occupation, hair color, eye color, etc. The child WILL begin to make up myths from this information. It's inevitable b/c the child wants to understand him/herself better - and that begins with 'origin myths'. The child can sway at this point from building the father up or tearing the father down (hero v. monster) because there is no reality to edit the myths. So either the child comes from greatness, or great evil - and begins to define his/her own identity accordingly - great hero or great villain.

But what if the father is present in the fashion you described - keeping the wound fresh. The child knows where he/she came from. The myths have an editor. Some of the information gained is going to be painful, but the origin myth is kept under control - and at some point the child (or maybe adult by this time) will realize that he/she comes from a fallable human - which is what we all are.

There are some lessons you only learn in this life by recognizing your parents are human - which you need to have them around in order to come to an understanding of.

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