You Are Always Teaching Your Child as You Interact with the Other Parent

Abuse and disrespect.

Make no mistake about it, children learn before they can talk, and they learn from you before you know it and those lessons they carry with them into their later years and well beyond the childhood years. In fact, some of those lessons will determine the direction and tenor of their lives after you are elsewhere. (Maybe in Heaven.)

Some of the most important of the lessons we learn from our parents have to do with how we think about the relationship between men and women.

Parents particularly should be aware of the fact that as they interact with one another during the divorce process, they are by example giving to their children the unspoken rules (often more important than the spoken ones the children hear at school or perhaps at church) which will in fact govern their interactions with the significant others to enter their lives later.

If a child sees and/or hears Mother disrespected by Father, or abused by him, and particularly if those behaviors continue through the divorce process with tacit acquiescence by Mother, the child learns this as the template for dating relationships, marriage relationships, and parent relationships later on for themselves. Equally for little girls and little boys.

Only Mom can really teach her little girl how to be a woman, and only Dad can really teach his little boy how to be a man. Parents often do that quite thoughtlessly as they go about their day-to-day interactions with one another and others.

If the lesson is that it is ok, when all is said and done, for a man to disrespect and/or abuse the closest woman, the girl child is more likely to end up in such a relationship, and the boy child is more likely to grow into such a man.

Sometimes during a marriage disrespect and/or abuse cannot be avoided until separation occurs, and in some cases separation is dangerous to the extent that a safe house or some other protective environment is necessary. In some cases divorce offers the only real opportunity for escape from disrespect and/or abuse.

The divorce experience may also be the first real opportunity not only to change the disrespect/abuse dynamic between the parents, but also the first and best opportunity to correct unfortunate lessons children learned during the marriage as it tended toward separation and divorce.

The divorce process will inevitably be an extremely significant event in the lives of the children involved. The transitions involved can include not only modification of destructive behaviors and habits between the parents, but also teaching moments and teaching months during which Mother can insist upon and cause changes in the behavior of the other parent, and thus teach by example experienced by the children, that unacceptable behavior need not be tolerated, and acceptable behavior brings benefits to all involved.

In this way, a divorce can be, in addition to a new beginning for a disrespected or abused parent, an opportunity for unfortunate lessons learned by the innocent children during the marriage, to be corrected in time to improve the future for the children too.

Lest one thinks only Dads’ behavior needs attention.

In some cases, Moms (for “reasons” buried in the history giving rise to the divorce) seek to hurt Dad by disrespecting his status as Father, or undermining his relationship with their child or children, in a number or ways, all of which are not only unacceptable to Dad, but are also bad for children.

Some examples: Sometimes Mothers deny access to the children, sometimes they allow boyfriends or new husbands to be called Dad by the children, sometimes Mothers seek to cause the children to ally with them in conflict with Dad, sometimes Mothers denigrate Fathers to their children.

Those behaviors, and others, are not only bad for children, they are recognized to be bad for children, and they can be addressed in the divorce process. In most cases behaviors not beneficial to children can be stopped by the implementation of tools available to a parent during the divorce process, and they should be for the present and future benefit of children.

The goal of parents divorcing should be to maximize the quality of the environment for the children as the divorce proceeds. Courts are truly interested in the welfare of children in divorcing families and offer many opportunities and tools to advance the interests of children.

It’s not all up to the court.

Divorcing parents have the best opportunities to make things better for their children, as they divorce. They can discipline themselves and absolutely insist that the other parent also leave behind bad habits, and adopt more enlightened methods in the divorcing process and the post-marriage relationship.

New tools.

There are many, many more tools for modifying bad behaviors available to divorcing parents than most people think. The fact that a divorce is in the offing pretty well documents the fact that the old tools have not worked. New tools you have never thought about are easily available, with a little thought, discipline, and purposeful execution. And they work.

For example, sometimes a person needs to learn how to hang up a phone up on a disagreeable other parent, and why and when they should do it. Sometimes the smart use of the smart phone can make all the difference. Other times it truly is more beneficial to give than to receive.

Almost always, a disagreeable other parent can be brought to understand that real respect makes their life better.

There are absolutes.

Although the so-called helping professions (doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and others) rest a lot of their advice on the idea that we should (must) adjust to reality and accept the hand we are dealt — and that adjustment is the key to happiness or something like that — the fact is, some things should not be accepted. Period. Adjustment to on-going injustice, or unfairness, or damaging behaviors cannot be the goal. Those things must be resisted and confronted in life, and in Divorce Court.

About Kent

Kent Bourland's Profile Image
I was graduated from the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science and the Arts in 1963, with a major in Political Science and a minor in History. I then attended the University of Michigan Law School and graduated in 1967 with a Juris Do… Read More


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