For those parents struggling with exes who use the kids as pawns.
By: Mel Hearse [https://www.kidspot.com.au]
Shared parenting can be hard work. There’s getting through the breakup while keeping your kids best interests at the forefront, waving them off to their other parent’s home to spend time without you. There’s the making tough parenting decisions while you’re no longer together.
But what happens when one half of the equation is not only failing to meet you in the middle, but actively making it as difficult as possible?
Worst case scenario
The recent Kidspot story of the mother co-parenting with a narcissist was a thing of nightmare worst case scenarios. And there’s no shortage of parents out there struggling through sharing their precious cargo with a person that willingly uses their children as a pawn to control or punish them. How can you realistically work with this from your end to best protect your children? It’s a very complex dynamic
“Broadly, this behaviour is abusive, and is not an uncommon part of what is experienced by many women who have left abusive partners,” says CEO of Relationships Australia’s Elisabeth Shaw.
She says a controlling partner will continue to use any means to enact the control, from the point of separation. “This could include the date, arrangements and separating of assets in moving out, it can be during a protracted process of family mediation or holding up the ability to get to mediation, through to the frustration of any arrangements agreed to as part of family orders,” she says.
Think of the children
Children are very alert to being used as pawns, and to their parents being unhappy or angry, says Elisabeth. However much the controlling parent might try and co-opt them into their mindset, over the course of time many children will see the behaviour for what it is and resent it.
She says parents who are constantly arguing and distressed, especially at handover or in relation to money, have also have a hugely damaging effect in their children.
The children’s own requirements are over looked and they can feel the cause of their parent’s unhappiness, however much they are reassured otherwise. This means that their own mental health and wellbeing is compromised.
Some realistic advice
Given none of us a superhuman, here’s some realistic advice from Elisabeth to help your kids – and yourself, navigate the experience. It can feel like you have very few options. If you show your children all the examples and give them a counter argument, you might feel like you are trying to manage injustice responsibly, but children can in fact experience that as being in the middle of opposing points of view rather than (as you might hope) a perspective on ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, says Elisabeth.
Sometimes to manage your children’s well being, even if you know what your partner is up to, if it doesn’t hugely hold up your life and the children seem oblivious, there are times it will be best to let it pass, she advises. If you feel the children are affected, then talking to your ex, and asking for counselling or mediation is important.
Counselling is useful for children, counsellors can see them with you, as a family or even on their own. This is a safe space for them to talk to someone neutral, without fearing they’ll hurt your feelings. They’ll also see counselling as a useful tool later in life if they find themselves struggling.
“Involving a family therapist to get the children’s perspective and wishes is important, so that it is not one parent against and another; instead for have some objective assessment of their reality,” she says.
In terms of self-management, it is important to get clear about your own values and principles, and measure your behaviour against that.
Elisabeth suggest sitting down and working through a range questions: ‘How do I separate out the hurt I experienced in the relationship and separation from my children’s right to an ongoing, happy experience with the other parent?’ ‘What sort of parent do I want to be?’ ‘What can I stand for as a parent?’ ‘How can I really know what is in my children’s best interests (even though I tell myself that is what drives me?)’
“If you are dealing with this situation, seeing someone yourself to help you evaluate what to tolerate and manage, versus when to intervene – including going to court – can really assist. Controlling behaviour can really mess with your head, and is extremely wearing over time if it is relentless. Having a neutral person in your corner is an important survival technique,” she says.