Spare Children From Parental Disputes

Psychology for Living
Gwen Randall-Young

One morning recently I awakened from a dream that left me feeling unsettled. In the dream, my Mother had invited me for lunch, and while making soup proceeded to go on about all of the things that irritated her about my Father. I became increasingly uncomfortable with what she was saying, and finally got angry, and told her that she was responsible for her life, and I was responsible for mine, and then I stormed out.
It was only a dream, but it made me think about how uncomfortable it is for children to hear one parent criticizing another, regardless of the child’s feelings for the other parent. It is never appropriate to do this. In most cases, the child loves both parents, and when one is putting the other down, the child feels extremely awkward. He may be torn between supporting the critic, or defending the accused. Often the whole thing backfires, and he ends up losing respect for the critic, and empathizing with the one being dumped on. Even if the child doesn’t particularly like the other parent, it is still inappropriate for a parent to vent his or her feelings about that parent to the child.
What this does is to give an adult problem to a child. It is making that child into a confidante, which is really abusing the parent/child relationship: using the child for comfort, rather than providing guidance to him or her. This is true, even if the child is an adult.
There are always two sides, and it is not fair to burden a child with your version. Nor should the child be put in the position of trying to understand both sides, because children should not have to mediate disputes between parents. If this happens, the child becomes the adult, and the adults become the children.
This is extremely confusing, and creates a crazy situation. Expounding on the faults of the other parent only models a victim stance for children. Better to say you are having difficulties, and the two of you will have to find the best way to sort out the problems. Or to say that things just haven’t worked out, and you have to be apart.
The child should be free to relate to both parents without feeling disloyal or guilty. Even if the daughter or son seems to listen sympathetically, that does not mean that they will be okay with it. Even adult children may wake up, sometime down the road, with bad dreams.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning Psychotherapist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books or cds, visit http://www.gwen.ca

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You Don’t Love Me

Have you ever had someone say, “You don’t love me!”, when you won’t do what they want? Have you ever said “You don’t love me,” or “You don’t care about me,” because someone would not do what you wanted?
I remember times when one of my children, upon being refused a treat or a toy, would lament that I didn’t love them. I would always laugh, and so would they, because we both knew how far from the truth that was. But what if adults say this to each other and really mean it? How do you defend yourself when someone says you don’t care? It can be a no win situation.
First, it is important to recognize that it is inappropriate to tell another person how they feel. That robs them of the freedom to express their own feelings. Second, loving or caring should not automatically be associated with doing certain things. If you want to know if someone loves you or has stopped loving, it is best just to ask them, rather than to challenge them because of some behavior. If you want to see more of a particular behavior, then it’s okay to ask for it, but you don’t need to attach an emotional bomb to your request.
If you tell him he doesn’t love you because he never brings you flowers, then where does that leave him when he spends so much time working on the yard because he wants it to look attractive for you? If you’re mad because he never says you look nice, you might be missing the fact that he thinks you’re beautiful, even first thing in the morning. If you think she doesn’t love you because she spends so much time talking with her friends, you might be unaware that she talks to them about how much she does love you.
In any case, a positive approach always works better. Telling someone they don’t care triggers defensive reactions, not deeper levels of caring. Talking about what you would like to create with a person is a way of painting a positive picture that you can strive for.
And as for parents telling teenagers that they don’t feel loved because the kids would rather be with friends, or kids thinking parents don’t love them because they won’t finance a car, these are guilt trips plain and simple. Don’t lay guilt trips on people you care about, because for sure, they’ll think you don’t love them.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning Psychotherapist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books or cds, visit www.gwen.ca

 

 

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