Children's struggle for wholeness in the wake of divorce.
By Shari Schreiber,
five years old, I was caught in the middle of a divorce and custody
battle between my parents. My folks were both good and honest
people, but my father was the healthier parent, and had the presence
of mind to recognize this at the time, and fight for me. Still,
I was 'awarded' to my mother. Two years after my parents split
from each other, my mother was hospitalized and absent
physically or emotionally for long stretches of time throughout
the remainder of my childhood. According to relatives years later,
the signs of her disease had been "somewhat apparent"
beforehand--but we weren't as savvy about paying attention to
anomalies or diagnosing mental illness in those days. Back in
the fifties, custody was automatically awarded to mothers;
unfortunately this practice still exists, and the consequences
to children can be tragic.
mom's diagnosis was Schizophrenia. Thankfully, she wasn't mean-spirited
or cruel--but there was some neglect. Mom wasn't often fully present,
and although I have some fond memories, I recall feeling like
an invisible child. She'd chain smoke, and immerse herself in
reading novels for hours, with the family cat curled up on her
lap. During these times, it was tough to get her attention. She
wasn't a naturally demonstrative woman, but I relished our time
together--even if she just gave in to my naggings to go to my
favorite restaurant for dinner. Years later, I realized those
early deficits forced me to try and make sense of my experiences
and surmount them. I grew up with a fascination about what made
people tick--and it obviously shaped the course of my life.
father was the source of virtually all my affection and attention,
and we shared a very close and special bond. When he left, it
felt like the bottom of my world dropped out. Being without him
trapped me in unimaginable pain and emptiness, as there was no
one capable of comforting me, or filling this void in his absence.
My mother had (falsely) accused him of 'molestation,' a reliable
catchword among vindictive wives and divorce attorneys back then
(and now). Visitation with my father was sporadic, in part because
of our 'justice system,' but mostly due to instinctual
measures to mend his broken heart, and survive what must have
felt like an amputation. It certainly did to me.
I wandered around for months with what seemed like a huge hole
in my middle--like a cannon ball had been shot through
me. At the age of five, my capacity to articulate this pain was
naturally limited--but in retrospect, I'd managed to envision
an extremely accurate picture of my loss. Starting school in the
midst of this upheaval made it impossible for me to focus on learning
anything, and I'm certain this set me back for a number of years.
divorce may be the healthiest alternative for your children
and for you. Leaving a marriage does not mean "abandoning"
your children. Any child who grows up with constant tension and/or
fighting between his parents, must survive living in a war zone!
This is grossly unfair to a child--but it's only the tip of this
iceberg. Children learn from example; mean-spirited/disrespectful
interplay between spouses becomes a child's definition
for what 'marriage' means. As an adult, he or she will unwittingly
choose partners with whom to replicate this familiar
drama, or may never marry at all. Seeing loving, caring interactions
between grown-ups is one of the greatest gifts you can give a
child, as he/she will be looking forward to these pleasurable
experiences in adulthood--and have a sense of how to
create them! This dynamic may be achievable within a marriage,
or it may not--but staying for the "children's sake,"
is often more about the parents' needs
(such as fear of being alone), than about the kids.
met with and spoken to countless men who've forged stronger and
more loving, healthy attachments with their children than their
ex-wives have (or could). I'm privy to men's stories that unwittingly
reveal their ex-spouses or lovers to be personality disordered.
Far too many of these women are poorly equipped to raise children
in ways that are consistently loving, nurturing and stable. To
make matters worse, these kids are being programmed to hate
their fathers, and men in general. This has crucial
ramifications for female and male children,
in terms of their ability to build healthy self-esteem, and forge
sound relationship dynamics in adulthood! These women often carry
significant abandonment wounds from their childhood,
having (also) been raised by emotionally impaired mothers,
and unresolved primal rage from this period is projected
onto their ex-husbands and kids. Parental Alienation Syndrome
is a direct outcome of this rage, and poses a very real and present
danger to the mental health of our society.
and Borderline Personality Disorders stem from deficits
in loving attention, positive mirroring and nurturance during
infancy and early phases of childhood. Attachment and abandonment
issues result from these wounds to an infant's sense of Self,
which are prompted/driven by the mother. Until
resolved, this wounding is usually re-created and perpetuated
within each new generation. Trust (in self and others) should
be established between an infant and his/her mother within the
first year of life, as this symbiotic attachment is vital
to our sense of well being. The issue of
solid emotional bonding does not fall within the domain of the
father's role, until a few years later (unless
the more nourishing, primary attachment is established with him,
instead of the mother). Sometimes referred to as core
trauma or narcissistic injury, a child's earliest and most
critical bonding experience is punctuated by a mother's
lack of empathic/nurturing response and emotional
attunement to her infant.
is no doubt I would have greatly benefited from living with my
father, who was better equipped to provide a stable and nourishing
foundation for me and my growth. But in contrast to a number of
friends and colleagues, I was lucky in certain respects; my
mother was not mean-spirited, critical and emotionally undermining--she
just wasn't well or whole, which derailed her capacity
to meet her children's intrinsic needs.
learn to love ourselves and others, by how we were loved
as kids. I've personally done a great deal of self-healing
in response to childhood deficits, and I'm grateful that this
journey has enhanced my ability to assist others. But in hindsight,
so many years were focused on surmounting these traumas and surviving,
rather than being able to construct a life more viable, and actually
have important needs that transcend basic physical care.
Orphaned infants in the sixties were subjected to 'Failure
To Thrive' studies, that unequivocally proved the relationship
between nurturant care and physical
health and longevity. One of the two test groups was given basic
care; food, diapering, bathing, warmth and shelter--but deprived
of tender/caring touch and holding, loving glances and verbal
expressions of warmth and affection. A considerable number of
these babies became ill and died.
we should devise measures for assessing the emotional
health of parents, before divorce courts award custody. While
this seems a daunting task, it might enable more kids to become
adults who develop stable, loving and enduring attachments,
and significantly reduce divorce statistics! It's my unflinching
belief that every person's entitled to this, and every child
who's brought into this world deserves the very best
opportunity to thrive.
you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod this app will let you hear
TO BE A GOOD-ENOUGH PARENT
DEATH DO US PART - BPD and The Marriage Crucible
article was reprinted/published by The Liberator, America's Shared-parenting
Quarterly; Summer 2006, Volume 33 #2 www.acfc.org.]
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