When I was first divorced, the words estrangement, abandonment, and alienation didn’t exist in my vocabulary as relating to children. Sure, I’d hear the things like she’s estranged from her in-laws, they never liked her anyway. Or, he abandoned her for that other woman, that good for nothing x@#%! And the concept of alienation was alien to me! But, in terms of children, well, that was totally foreign and unheard of to me before becoming a Divorce Coach. Now, after over six years guiding clients through divorce, I’ve heard way too many heartbreaking stories. What I thought was a rare event is all too common. Can you imagine your child resisting contact with you — not because of something you did, but rather something your co-parent encouraged?
Sadly, there are parents who use their children as weapons of mass destruction. Destroying their once beloved partner’s heart and soul, emotional and physical well-being. And, along with that, the most important relationship a parent yearns for, a relationship with their children. We’ve all heard it before: Children all too often get caught in the middle of the divorce drama and become the collateral damage. But what does this really mean, and how does this hurt? And, who in their right mind would actually set out to destroy their children in the process of divorce? To better understand the consequences and fallout of the parent/child relationship, and the possibility and potential for putting a family back together again, I spoke with Dr. Matt Sullivan, Ph.D., one of the most experienced psychologists and Parenting Coordinators in the country.
Dr. Sullivan asks us to remember that our children have a part of them that comes from each of their parents, so engaging the other parent as an enemy, denigrating them and attempting to delete them from your child’s life has a damaging impact on the child’s psychological development.
• Children’s exposure to high-levels of conflict at home increases risk for depression, aggression, drug and alcohol issues, divorce later in life and higher levels of estrangement from their own children.
• Children who have lost a relationship with their parent as a result of alienation struggle with trusting themselves and others in their adult lives.
• The ongoing conflict between separated parents over their children is physically and mentally exhausting for parents, not to mention very expensive.
• Children do better when they have positive relationships with both parents.
• Children’s self esteem is closely related to the nature of their relationships with their parents and it follows that vilifying one parent will hurt the child’s self-esteem.
Unlike the ravages of a custody battle and the casualties that it causes, with the right interventions, it is possible to put the pieces back together again. And, while mom and dad might not necessarily be allies, they don’t need to be enemies either. In the world of divorce, there are ways to put the crumbled family relationship together, which might take work, but it need not be painful.
Dr. Sullivan works with some of the country’s leading authorities on high-conflict divorce and its effects on children, and he has helped to develop the target Overcoming BarriersFamily Camp. This program will host five-six families at a beautiful retreat in Vermont this July 15-19, 2013, for now, the only multi-family camp program of its kind. This family camp is one program that has had success helping families to get children out of the middle of a high-conflict situation. This camp starts and ends with the common ground between parents: the kids needs come first.
The Overcoming Barriers model recognizes that parents want the best for their children, and helps parents to create a plan for moving away from being adversarial parents and toward functioning co-parents. Dr. Sullivan and his colleagues acknowledge that these conflicts are complex and rooted in real transgressions, often exacerbated by litigation, financial issues and miscommunication. However, taking sides doesn’t help to get these children’s needs met.
It is a delicate process that must simultaneously have parents take responsibility for their past mistakes while helping to rebuild trust and common goals. Participating families learn to see their contentious world through the eyes of their children by sharing their own experiences and by sharing experiences of families with similar stories. Parents often realize that “competing” with their co-parent leads to an unhealthy balance of power between adults and their children. Setting clear limits and following through as a co-parent team is essential to effective parenting.
Camp also offers families the opportunity to practice new strategies and share in the successes of other families at camp dealing with the same challenges. This is very challenging work and as a result the program staff nearly outnumber campers and includes leading experts in the field of parenting coordination, high-conflict divorce, child custody and alienation. Essential elements of agreements between parents include ending the cycle of litigation, resolving financial issues, minimizing interactions that encourage conflict and parents committing to protect their children from exposure to their adult conflict.
There is a monumental ripple effect of divorce in society, and that begins with how the children of divorce are impacted. For those of you that want your children to see themselves as just regular kids, not think of themselves as children of divorce, you might want to consider this very special program. Individual successes for families are adding up and Overcoming Barriers is getting an increasing number of inquiries. A testament to the fact that so many families are affected by high conflict and alienation.
Overcoming Barriers is a non-profit with the mission of developing and increasing access to child-centred programs for families with challenging co-parenting situations. Details can be found at http://overcomingbarriers.org
You may also hear more about Dr. Matt Sullivan and Overcoming Barriers on Divorce Source Radio
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