When Children Feel Forced to Choose
Alyson Jones & Associates works extensively with High Conflict Separation/Divorce cases. We observe many cases where children are feeling forced/pressured to choose between one or the other parent. In many cases, children have been allowed to discontinue their parenting time with one of the parents. When this happens, children are placed in a developmentally dangerous situation. Most of these children carry deep guilt about making this decision even when supported by the “Favoured Parent”. The longer this continues the higher the risk of long term emotional harm.
The dynamics within these cases are often complex. They are rarely “Black & White”. One parent may be actively engaged in direct alienating behaviour. On the other hand, it is common to observe this behaviour as being more subtle. The estranged or alienated parent may have a history of being disengaged or having minimal parental involvement, during the marriage. In some cases, there has been a history of domestic violence or child abuse. These are often not verified which places therapists in an almost impossible disadvantage.
At the end of the day, our biggest clinical concern is the impact that this has on the children. They are caught in a significant loyalty conflict. They are often emotionally distressed by the level of conflict between their parents. They are often extremely hurt and terrified of what their future will bring. They often have too much information about ongoing litigation, which magnifies their distress. They often are seeking relief from the emotional distress they are experiencing. For many of these children, choosing one parent over the other seems like the best option to escape the distress. This rarely succeeds leaving these children even more vulnerable to experiencing short/long term trauma.
Tips For Parents
- Protect your children from the parental conflict
- Be clear that parenting time/parenting arrangement decisions are adult ones
- Listen to your children’s voices. Reassure them that their parents can handle the responsibility of making parenting decisions
- Maintain respectful and civil communication at all times with the other parent
- Ensure that transitions during Exchanges are conflict free