348. But Dad/Mom Lets Me!

Divorce is complicated, even when there are no children involved. It usually brings up issues that didn’t have to be addressed before. But when there are children involved, there are added complications. One of them is some children’s tendency to use parents’ disagreements. Even when Mom and Dad are effectively married (to me, the term “happily married” is an oversimplification),
children can sometimes tune in to arguments, overt or covert, and find ways to get their own needs and wants met by participating in the arguments.
Divorce aggravates this tendency. I’m not sure how much of children’s motivation is purely practical and how much has to do with their own pain, but children can learn pretty quickly that Mom and Dad disagree on certain issues, and learn how those disagreements can become tools. Sometimes children underscore the drama of divorce by bringing out the disagreements at key moments. They have no power to stop divorce from happening, but at least this approach gives them some power.
Children, being human, want to accomplish their own goals and get their own needs met. If playing Mom and Dad against each other is an effective way to do this, why not? Come to think of it, children try to blame themselves for divorce, and maybe it’s easier for them to blame themselves if they do things that feed the flames. If this is one of their motivations, they probably don’t know it; people don’t necessarily know why they do what they do, but they do it.
Divorced or divorcing adults can make this worse. I remember that in the early stages of my own divorce, I tried to enlist my children as allies. I didn’t do it on purpose exactly, but I managed to sneak in some little shots at my children’s mother. I wanted to be the “good” parent, and let her be the “bad” one. It’s common and natural both to blame yourself for divorce and to seek ways to redirect that blame.
If adults model this kind of blaming, children can easily pick it up, telling Mom how much fairer things are at Dad’s place, and vice versa. And if Mom and Dad aren’t communicating well (a problem not uncommon among divorced or divorcing couples), they can easily believe whatever their children say. So the child hears, “Well, your Dad/Mom may let you stay up until 1:00 in the morning, but I’m not going to.” It may be that neither parent really allows that, but heck, it’s worth a try, right?
So whenever possible, communication is a good idea. I know it can be difficult – especially at first. If it were easy, I guess there wouldn’t be as many divorces. But children, who may seem as if they like the power divorce gives them, also don’t. They don’t like the power because if they have power, they think, then they could have prevented divorce. It’s all their fault. Let’s do all we can to make sure they know it’s really not their fault. To do that, parents have to try to communicate with each other.

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