I’ll hear angry ex-wives tell children, “Your father has his new wife and new kids now, so don’t be surprised if he forgets about you altogether.”
The effect on the children is like dropping an atom bomb on the child’s self-esteem. Most children sometimes question if they are truly loved and wanted by their parents anyway, so to throw into the mix the idea they might be replaced is an unforgivable burden.
Mothers who tell their children this do it primarily for two reasons: to alienate the children from their father or to prepare the kids for the fact their father really has decided to abandon and replace them. If the mother’s motivation is to look like the devoted and concerned parent, I can only sigh, shake my head and wonder, “How can a woman be that cruel?”
If, however, the father has truly abandoned his old family in favor of “starting fresh” with his new wife, new house and new life, then it is difficult not to become sickened and repulsed.
I wish I could say I infrequently meet fathers who will actually decide to minimize or give up on seeing their kids because the ex makes it so hard. The reality is, this is not such a rare phenomenon. I have met scores of fathers who justify the choice to have no relationship with their children because the ex-wife makes seeing the kids a huge pain.
I understand if the mother has primary custody she does indeed hold most of the cards when it comes to seeing the children. Being a father who is at the mercy of a vengeful and petty ex is a nightmarish existence.
No divorce or custody situation can accurately be described in a column. The issue I am raising is not to focus on the complexity of custody arrangements but rather to bring to the forefront how a child experiences their life if they believe their own parent prefers his (or her) new children to them. I know from counseling children who tell me they feel as if they have been replaced that it is important for every child to know they are wanted and valued.
Kids who believe they have been devalued will express their hurt in a myriad of ways. Some will strive to become the ‘perfect’ child; others will give up and become determined to be as unlovable as possible. Either of these are understandable reactions to feeling cast aside.
The challenge for parents, male or female, is to make sure their children know they are loved unconditionally, even when they mess up, express pain or test the love.
It may be frustrating to love a child who is kept at bay but kids are very intuitive; they can tell if an adult is committed or just pretending.
Mitchell Rosen, M.A., is a licensed marriage and family therapist with practices in Corona and Temecula. Contact him atfamily@PE.com
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