coParents need to be aware of the dangers of their “all or nothing thinking,” which can be passed down to their children.
This story is about remembering to always put your child first and put your own issues aside, no matter what the situation. Especially if it regards child custody. And the importance of not engaging in all or nothing thinking, as the idea may be seen as reasonable through the eyes of children of divorce.
On her 15th birthday, Hailey Harris ended her relationship with her father. She wrote him a letter telling him that she no longer wanted to have contact with him, as she felt uncomfortable with him. He could send her a birthday card once a year and she might send him one back. But that was all. Her mother said that she should have a relationship with her father and should see him according to their schedule of alternate weekends with the father. However, her mother also told her that she was not going to force Hailey to spend time with her father if she refused to go.
Of course, her father was upset about this. After he received the letter and spoke with the mother, he decided to return to family court to seek an order requiring the mother to send their daughter for the normal alternate weekend parenting time. If the mother didn’t do this, he was going to ask for a change of custody of Hailey to him.
The parents had separated and divorced five years earlier. It was a high-conflict divorce, with a major dispute over the parenting of Hailey. The mother thought that the father should have very little parenting time, because he had not been very involved with Hailey before the divorce and because she thought he was a creepy person. On the other hand, the father insisted on having 50/50 parenting time. He indicated he would settle for nothing less and that the mother was a bad influence on Hailey.
They went back and forth in family court for two years. There was a psychological evaluation and each parent was criticized for letting their disputes spill over onto the child. They settled on a common parenting plan of alternate weekends and Wednesday overnights with Dad and the rest of the time with Mom. However, over the years, Hailey stopped going to Dad’s on Wednesdays, but she kept going on the weekends – until her 15th birthday.
It’s no surprise that Hailey took an “all-or-nothing” position in dealing with her parents. We see that all the time in child alienation cases. It was her solution to feeling “uncomfortable.” There were no allegations of any inappropriate behavior by the father. But there was a history of tension between the parents – low-level tension. The mother in this case was a highly-anxious woman and the father had taken a generally passive approach.
All-or-nothing solutions to relationships were common in this family. For years, the mother had ended relationships with friends and relatives when things got too tense. She said that she just couldn’t handle the frustration and tension. Years ago, she had stopped talking with her own mother. The father had generally accepted this characteristic of his wife, until it applied to him. Then he fought her for two years in family court, but eventually gave up. She was no longer talking to him. But she supported her daughter’s relationship with him, primarily because she had been ordered to by the court several years earlier.
Now, Hailey’s decision to end her relationship with her father was really her own decision. Neither parent disputed that – neither the mother nor the father. Hailey was doing well in school and was a very rational, logical person – beyond her years in understanding people and communicating with them.
Excerpt from Don’t Alienate the Kids! Raising Resilient Children While Avoiding High-Conflict Divorce. By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Published by HCI Press