Teaching Children to Hate

Saw this great article this morning and had to re-post it.  My daughter Sydney’s mother Meg Allen has spent thousands of hours teaching Sydney to hate.  And where has it gotten her? No where…

Two common divorce scenarios: You thought your marriage was on solid ground, until you discovered your spouse’s affair. You file for divorce, and blame the end of your marriage on your spouse’s infidelity.

Or, you knew your relationship was fraught with tension, conflict, and unhappiness. But you were unprepared for your spouse to finally call it quits. For any number of reasons your spouse decides to divorce you. You are stunned. You do not want a divorce. And you think your spouse is wrong to break up the family.

In both cases, you lead your children to believe that the divorce is their other parent’s entire fault. You may be a mother who files for divorce (which is the case in more than two out of three divorces) who tells her children all the bad things that Daddy did to hurt you. You may be a father who did not want the divorce who encourages the children to feel sympathy with your hurt while blaming Mommy for uprooting the family. In many cases one parent tells the children that the other parent is leaving “us.” The children quickly get the idea that divorce means choosing sides.

Two problems are apparent to those with more distance from either scenario. First, probably you are being unrealistic to think that your marriage was solid. When a relationship fails, almost always both partners contribute to its demise. Having an affair is a poor way to deal with disappointments in the marriage. It introduces new levels of dishonesty and obstacles in the relationship. When it is discovered, an affair provokes searing levels of shame, hurt, and fury in your spouse. But it is equally true that an affair is not only the proximate cause of divorce, it is a symptom of an ailing marriage. Blaming the failure of the marriage entirely on your unfaithful spouse deprives you of the opportunity to learn how you can do better in your next relationship.

The same holds true when your spouse unilaterally decides to end the marriage for other reasons. The fact that your spouse reaches the difficult decision to bail out of the marriage before you do does not mean that your spouse is entirely to blame for the divorce. If you deny your own contributions to the relationship’s problems, you doom yourself to repeat your mistakes in your next relationship. This is one reason why remarriages have a higher divorce rate than first marriages.

Exceptions to our two scenarios are situations where one parent truly is far more responsible for the relationship’s problems than the other parent. As difficult as divorce can be, it may be the best option for you and your children if your spouse is violent, abuses the children, frequently treats the family poorly while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, is convicted of serious crimes, or exhibits signs of chronic mental illness that become unmanageable at home and take a toll on the family’s well-being.

Children have the right to give and receive love from two parents.

In such cases, parents need to protect their children from harm at the hands of the other parent while helping the children understand why they need such protection. It does not help children to believe that they share the genes of a worthless parent who has no redeeming assets. In many cases, children benefit by thinking that a parent who falls short in the child-rearing department is more to be pitied than scorned.

Back to the parents in our two divorce scenarios, situations where we feel wronged by a partner but that do not involve violence or serious mistreatment of the children. The first error is to place all the blame on the partner and fail to acknowledge our own contributions to the problems. The second error is bringing the kids into the middle. Encouraging them to blame the other parent for the stresses set in motion by the separation. Drawing the children into an alliance with you against the other parent.

Divorce is difficult enough for children. Parents compound the problem when they poison their children’s relationship with the other parent. Feeling emotionally wounded or furious with your ex is understandable. Using your children to satisfy your desire to be seen as the better parent, or to exact revenge, is cruel. Do right by your kids and resist the temptation to trash or humiliate your ex. Find other ways to shore up your self-esteem and cope with your anger while honoring your responsibility to protect your children from unnecessary harm. Children have the right to give and receive love from two parents.

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