Children – The Innocent Bystanders of Divorce
Divorce, in many cases, has a life-altering impact on a child’s development and well-being. Given that one out of every two marriages ends in divorce, thousands of children are impacted each year. Divorce places enormous stress on a child trying to adjust to new feelings and rapidly changing situations in their lives. The resulting instability often leads to resentment towards the child’s parents and a difficulty acclimating to all the abrupt and immediate changes in a child’s life.
Children perceive divorce as a very traumatic event and are very concerned about their security. Many children internalize the dissolution and blame themselves for the breakup. They are scared that both parents may leave them.
Some very disturbing research on children and divorce has just been released by the Census Bureau Study, “The Marital Events of Americans: 2009”.
*1.5% of US children live in the home of a parent who divorced in the last year. The average age of the child is 9.8 yrs. old and the male/female ration is 1:1.
*64% of the children were White, non- Hispanic children, with the largest percentage living in the South (41%).
*Children living with a divorced parent are likely to be in a household below the poverty level (28%) and more likely to be living in a rented home (53%).
*Most children live in a mother headed households (73%). Because mothers have lower earning potential in the labor force, the family often lives below the poverty level.
*These children of divorce are often living with their parents’ unmarried partner (13%). Only 5% of the children are living in a household with a married couple.
Children of divorce often suffer from anxiety, depression and reduced self-esteem issues. Robert Hughes, associate professor in the Dept. of Human Development and Family Science, Ohio State University, found that children from divorce are more aggressive and more likely to get in to trouble with school authorities or police during adolescence. Also children from divorce are more vulnerable to becoming a victim of violence or become a perpetrator of violent acts on themselves and or others.
If you are considering divorce, carefully consider the impact on your children. To help children through this difficult time, parents must realize and accept that they are responsible for this situation and that their children often suffer as a result of the parent’s decision.
Parents should be very sensitive to the child’s emotional needs to ensure the best possible adjustment of his or her mental, physical, spiritual well-being towards a healthy, responsible adult. Remember! Your child is the “Innocent Bystander.”
Seek professional help if you child is struggling with the changes in his or her life. Your attorney knows a resource that may be available to address your child’s pressing needs.
How to Co-Parent with a Narcissist …And Live Through It!
You are finally divorced from your Narcissistic Spouse! Now you are embarking on your new family situation with your Narcissist Ex: Co- Parenting! You are probably wondering how you became the lucky person who gets to experience this mind-altering situation along with other people you love the most: your children!
Let’s review what is Narcissistic Personality Disorder or ‘NPD”? It is a mental disorder where the person has a very transparent and superficial inflated self-esteem and neurotic needs for admiration and special treatment from other people. Typical arrogant behavior and lack of empathy for other people causes many problems in all emotional areas of their lives and relationships. Narcissists are usually very aggressive with impulsive tendencies, dangerous lifestyles involving cockiness, selfishness, manipulation and power motives. These individuals may appear as very exciting personalities at first meeting, but at the end of the day are unfulfilling and destructive. This false sense of entitlement produces a feeling that causes them to punish those who do not provide their required respect, admiration, or attention.
One of the biggest personal disappointments in Co-Parenting with your Narcissistic Ex is that often you are as unsuccessful as you were in marriage with the ex-spouse.
Children cannot and do not offer the continuous positive feedback narcissist parents crave and the parent will often react in one of two ways. W. Keith Campbell, an expert on narcissism and professor of psychology at The University of Georgia, offers that “some lose interest in their children entirely and look for other sources of validation”. “Others view their children as a reflection of themselves and become hyper-involved and controlling. Disconnection is the key, even an overly narcissistic parent is emotionally detached and lacks warmth.”
Eminent psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington In her landmark book, For Better or For Worse, highlights the results of her study of 1,400 families and the importance of examining the type of conflict children experience. She notes high conflict that involves the child is physically violence, threatening or abusive conduct and conflict in which the child feels caught in the middle, causing the most adverse consequences for children. These effects include anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.
Some Strategies when dealing with Co-Parenting with your Narcissist Ex
- Limit your contact with your Ex. Contact should only involve information or issues concerning your children. Email or Text as much as possible. When you have the child, make the rule, “Unless an emergency, no contact will be made verbally until the child goes with the other parent. Try not to talk directly to the other parent when the children are present.
- Don’t Respond immediately or to everything (Hold that trigger response when children are present!) Also commit to a 24-hour turn around on all communications to and from your Ex!
- Make sure that you have a structured parenting plan in place that is very specific concerning schedules of visitation, holidays and vacations to help to minimize conflict. Also, if necessary, secure the help of professional counselors, lawyers, or therapists who can help the children and yourself to cope with the Narcissist Parent.
- Control your behavior and your triggers! Your ex-spouse knows you very well and knows how to press a trigger to make you look like the “Crazy “parent. This situation was continuous during the marriage and has continued in your Co-Parenting period. You are the adult and your children are watching your behavior concerning how they react to their other parent.
- Be the PARENTAL ROLE MODEL for your children. Show your children through your actions that you only have their best interest as your top priority. Control your behavior toward your narcissist ex and never bad mouth the other parent in front of the children.
- Do not tolerate abusive/demeaning behavior from your Ex to either you or your children. You must be the “adult” and protect your children. If your children are afraid to go visit this parent or after a visit, the kids come back with bruises, breaks or a more serious medical problem, get professional help to stop this type of abuse. If you truly feel that this narcissist parent is abusing the child, do not continue to send the child back to this parent. Contact an attorney who can help you to keep your child safe.
- Last by not least do not care what other people think! This is your life and you are the only parent who can control and protect your child against the Narcissist Parent. Life is hard and people are not perfect. When your children grow up and are responsible parents, this will be your award for being there to care and protect them from parental harm.
The Nacol Law Firm P.C.
Step Parent Conflict – Put Your Kids First!
Thirty seven percent of families in the United States are blended families. Sixty percent of second marriages end in divorce. A biological parent has his hands full, but as most step-parents will tell you, their job is even more complicated.
Following a divorce, it is not uncommon for a new step-parent to become the target of unprovoked spite or anger. In many cases, the previous-spouse harbors unfounded fears that their child will look to a new step-parent as a mother or father replacement figure. This can engender resentment to what may already be an uncomfortable situation between parties. Regretfully, these issues often escalate very quickly. Such resentments place the children squarely in the middle of a bitter fight between the people they love the most and are not healthy for anyone involved. The pain of conflicting loyalties to each parent and a child’s feeling of being “caught in the middle” of such disputes exacts an enormous emotional toll on a child. When a parent is in a rage, it is not uncommon for a child to withdraw. The child’s behavior towards the non-primary parent may abruptly change. This change in behavior may have more to do with keeping the primary parent happy than it does with how they really feel about the non-primary parent or step-parent. It is essential that you make it clear to your child that you love them and will always be there for them, regardless of the emotional or less than rosy current circumstances.
It is crucial to a child’s self-esteem and emotional growth that parents avoid putting children in the middle of such disputes. This can be incredibly difficult, however, when a selfish or manipulative parent does not think twice about wrongfully placing his or her child in the middle of conflict. Children are very perceptive and as they grow older they will ultimately realize when a parent has lied to them and used them for their own emotional or financial gain. Though they may temporarily identify with the aggressors, in time they will deeply resent the parent who has manipulated them.
Regardless of the circumstances, it is critical that biological parents avoid arguments or conflicts in the presence of the children. Such conduct is conducive to parental alienation goals of the misguided previous spouse. If the child sees that you maintain a calm and collected demeanor, it gives them reason to pause and feel safe.
If a previous spouse is making statements to the child regarding issues that should only be discussed between adults, tell the child that such discussions are inappropriate and you will take them up with the other parent at another time.
It is ok to tell your child “I am sorry,” if they are upset, even if you are not the parent upsetting them. This validates that they are hurting and relieves any false guilt they may have over things that are being said and done when you are not present. It is sometimes helpful to use everyday situations to explain conflict to your child. As an example, when dealing with conflict explain that “brothers and sisters fight, but they still love each other. Families have to work through conflict in order to stay together. I would not leave you if you made a mistake, I would not want you to leave me.” Such statements reinforces that reasonable conflict is ok and assures the child that you will remain a constant force in their life regardless of the situation.
If you feel that the conflict has escalated to a point of becoming emotionally abusive and/or destructive to the child, consult a Family Law / divorce attorney. It may be in the best interest of the child that he or she be removed from the primary parent and placed with the non-primary parent so that he or she is allowed to love all parental figures, parents and step-parents alike, unconditionally.
Child Abuse and Family Violence in Texas
The Texas Family Code defines Family Violence as an act by a member of the family or household against another member that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or a threat on a family member in danger of imminent physical harm. This abuse is defined as physical injury that results in substantial harm or genuine threat of sexual, intercourse or conduct; or encouraging the child to engage in sexual conduct.
What does “family” include? Individuals related by blood or affinity, marriage or former marriage, biological parents of the same child, foster children, and members or former members of the same household (including roommates).
What about child abuse?
Some very interesting statistics:
A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds
More than four children die every day as a result of child abuse
70% of children that die from abuse are under age of 4
Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level within all ethnic and cultural lines and all religions and all levels of education!
Approximately 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children
Statistics re: childhelp.org
In Texas (2008 Crime in Texas.com), victims are primarily female (75%) and the offenders are primarily male (77%). The primarily weapon involved in family violence is physical force with the use of hands, feet or fists (78%).
How can you know if child abuse exists in a household?
Look for these most common child abuse indicators in children:
Injuries that are unexplained
Major and sudden changes in a child’s behavior
Return to earlier behavior: such as bed wetting, thumb sucking, and fear of dark or strangers or more serious language or memory problems
Serious fear of going home
Changes in eating or sleeping habits
Changes in school performance or attendance
Lack of personal care or hygiene
New risk taking behaviors
Inappropriate sexual behavior
If you are a family member, friend, teacher, or child-care giver of a child who has started displaying very different behaviors or showing injuries, it is imperative that you contact someone who can either help this child or prevent any more family violence from occurring in this child’s family. This child and family need help now!
Shared Parenting With Texas Child Possession Orders
If only divorced parents could mutually agree on meaningful possession schedules while co-parenting their kids! But since many cannot or will not, the Texas Courts generally use a One-Size-Fits-All Standard Possession order for all children over three years of age. The Texas Legislature over time has expanded the schedule to make access a little more flexible. Does this always squarely meet or suit the needs of a child and her/his relationship with both parents?
The Section 153.001 of the Texas Family Code is the State’s policy on possession schedules and its formation:
Assure that children will have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interests of their child;
Provide a safe, stable, and nonviolent environment for the child;
Encourage parents to share in the rights and duties of raising their child after the parents have separated or dissolved the marriage.
The Texas Family Code, section 153.002 also states that “the best interest of the child shall always be the primary consideration of the court in determining the issues of conservatorship, possession of, and access of the child”. Because of this the Texas Courts are given wide range in determining a child’s best interest in possession schedules.
What about fair and equal Parent Possession Schedules? This is easier desired than accomplished! In E. Mavis Hetherington’s book, For Better or for Worse, Three types of co-parenting relationships are identified:
Conflicted: Parents have frequent conflict, communicate badly, and have difficulty disengaging emotionally from the marriage (20-25%)
Parallel: Parents who emotionally disengage from each other, with little communication and who usually do not coordinate child-related issues between themselves although conflict is minimal. (Over 50%)
Cooperative: Parents who work together to actively plan their children’s lives and support each other. They work toward conflict free possession schedules in a nurturing parenting situation. (25%-30%)
Despite many separation and divorce related conflicts among parents, the main beneficial recipients of shared parenting are the children. When both parents are positively engaged in the parent-child relationship, probabilities are much higher for positive adjustment, better academic achievement and positive mental development of a child.
In Johnston & Campbell’s book, Impasses of Divorce, their findings support that the majority of parents substantially reduce their pre marital conflict within 2-3 years after divorce. Regrettably, 8%-20% of parents remain in a state of chronic high conflict!
How can Parents promote or enhance shared parenting in possession schedules?
Many parents will usually find a way or the mechanism to eventually work together for the benefit of the child, no matter how contentious the divorce. Even if shared parenting is not possible, parallel co-parenting reducing conflict may be acceptable. But if the parental conflict is high, try to use and enforce a possession schedule that limits parent contact during possession exchanges of the child and accordingly reduce conflict opportunity.
Parents: Leave your conflicts at home. You are divorced! Concentrate on what is best for your child. You are the lifetime primary example for your child on how families communicate. Be mature and responsible and show your child that no matter what has occurred in the past, and regardless of fault, your joint goal is an emotionally healthy child over the long haul.