There is something that happens too often, yet we talk about too little: the estrangement of fathers from their children after a divorce. It happens with mothers, too, but almost always it is a problem that affects fathers and their children.
We are most lacking where it concerns talking about that estrangement with its victims, our young people. This talk is the start of a conversation with them.
I am asking all readers to consider suggesting this article when they encounter teens who are struggling in the aftermath of their parent’s divorce.
If you are a teenager, there are a number of ways you might react to your parent’s divorce.
Many of you have been torn up by it as everything in your life was disrupted, as you watched the only family you ever knew disintegrate before your eyes.
Some of you may have actually experienced a sense of relief because you have lived in homes witnessing constant conflict between two people who are supposed to love each other but instead appear to hate each other.
Some of you have felt like pawns, with one parent or the other, or even both, putting you in the middle of their fights: burdening you with the role of mediator between two adults who can’t grow up enough to solve problems together.
And of course, some of you have felt all of this at once.
Parents going through divorce are in a painful experience, but for their children it is usually much worse.
With that in mind, I want to offer some ideas about divorce: ideas about what happens when marriages fail, what should happen when that failure is made official in a family court and what you can do for yourself when the things that should happen, don’t happen, and then things that shouldn’t happen, do.
Hopefully, what I have to say will be helpful whether your parents are going through a divorce right now, or if the divorced happened some time ago. It can also be helpful if your parents are always in conflict and seem to be headed to a divorce before too long.
First, let’s take a very close look at some facts about divorce.
You should know that at least part of the problem is the family law system. It is run by lawyers and judges who make money on the hard feelings and conflict that come with every divorce. They literally profit from the pain of your family’s breakdown.
That is not to excuse either of your parents if they are making things worse, but you should know that they are in a system that encourages and profits from their conflict.
The lawyers just want to make money, and most of them push your parents into more conflict so they can make even more money. Your pain and loss is their source of income.
Next, you should know that the family law system is biased against your father.
That does not mean that your father didn’t play his part the marriage going bad, or in the problems you are going through.
It just means that whether your father is a bad father or the best in the world, the family court is stacked against him. Every day, good fathers are forced out of their homes, and out of the lives of their children because the courts make money from doing that. Courts are so good at it that they can even turn children against their father.
At the same time, mothers, bad or good, are favored by the courts.
The courts being biased in favor of mothers isn’t your mother’s fault, and it doesn’t make her wrong about anything. It just means that the courts see fathers as wrong and mothers as right, regardless of the truth.
One thing is for sure, you can never trust what a family court judge says about either of your parents.
Custody does not always go to the best parent. Even though the courts claim to act in the best interest of the child, what they actually do is act in the best interest of the lawyers, who come to win and get paid, not to seek justice and certainly not to help you.
In the process the sell stories full of lies and half-truths. It is very sad, but that is the way the game is played.
The worst of divorce, though, is how it actually plays out in your home life.
I can’t cover them all that here, but I do have some ideas about your parents for you to consider as you move into post-divorce life.
One, one parent who continually bad-mouths the other is abusing you emotionally and psychologically.
They aren’t really concerned with your pain, they just want to make you an ally against your other parent. Good, healthy parents don’t do this to their children. They don’t use them like that.
Good, healthy parents understand that placing their children in the impossible situation of having to betray one parent in order to get the love of the other is abusive and damaging.
There is a name for this. It is called parental alienation syndrome, or PAS, and it can cause lifelong damage to the victims, who are the child and the alienated parent.
This abuse can take many forms. One is telling you that the other parent no longer cares, or that they left because they didn’t love you or care about the family.
Some alienating parents, usually the ones who have custody, may tell the children that the other parent won’t pay for a lot of things because they don’t care.
The other parent won’t be there to defend themselves, to talk about their financial problems or point out that the lawyers and courts have already left them financially crippled.
All of this is abusive, to you, and to your other parent.
There are other signs of PAS. Interfering with or even withholding your visitations with the other parent. If your other parent begins a new relationship, the alienating parent may encourage you to dislike and disrespect that person.
It may be easy to encourage you to do this, but you should keep in mind that when you do, you are being manipulated by someone with a sick and twisted agenda.
Some will even try to get their children to replace that other parent by calling someone else Mom or Dad. That is a really terrible thing to do.
It is sometimes very hard to know which parent, if either, is telling you the truth. One way to help you get an idea is to listen carefully to both of them.
Who is calm and who is constantly angry? Who is trying to help you cope with what happened and move on, and who is using you to act out anger they refuse to get over?
These are just few things out of possibly hundreds that you may have to deal with in an alienating parent. You may be vulnerable to the manipulation because of the constant demand for you to take a side. After all, if you’re a young person with divorced parents, you are likely missing someone all the time.
You may even be bitter or angry at one or both of your parents for what happened. It is hard to blame you if that is the case, but it is important to realize that like your parents, you have to move on at some point so that it does not poison the rest of your life.
Divorce forces a lot of young people to make hard decisions, often while they are confused by the conflicting stories they are always getting.
The best thing I can tell you about that is to listen to both your parents carefully. List to what they say and how they say it. Try to learn from your parents mistakes, even if one or both of them won’t.
Remember, young people, teenagers, have led armies, built governments and changed societies for the better. You don’t have to let what happened in your family condemn you to a bad life.
Best wishes to you all, now and in the future.