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Saturday, May 14, 2011

When Parents' Battle - Kids Often Turn to Alcohol and Drugs

A woman who has Stage Four cancer and is fighting for her life was dumped by her husband, and sued for custody of the children in a North Carolina court. The father has seen his children 2-3 times for one night in the last couple of months. 

Despite being sick, this mother has attended every school event, taken her kids to their various lessons and friends’ houses and practices, and given them all the love and energy she has to give. He worked for a management consulting firm and traveled all the time. She is raising those kids. And he’s taking them away from her, probably out of anger, and probably because he’ll find someone else and it will be her job to raise them.

The woman with cancer’s husband was abusive, physically and emotionally, and she cheated on him. He won the custody battle and the kids will be moving to Chicago. I think they are 5 and 9 or something like that. I was appalled as are many others, who’ve been listening to her make the talk show circuit. From what I gather he is using the kids as a pawn to hurt her while she is dying. They don’t want to leave her and are traumatized.

Even if you are divorced for awhile, parents still get furious with each other. I went to my ex-husband the other day and asked him to increase his child support, which  simply doesn’t cover his share of the kids’ expenses. Right now financially, he is way ahead of me. As the kids get older their expenses go up. I was reasonable and calm, and talked about trying to work it out between us.

I thought we had come far enough that we could behave like two reasonable adults.  Bad idea. He exploded. “I am not your friend, I don’t like you, I am not responsible for the choices that you’ve made in your career, I’m going to call my attorney,” which of course he did. Now I'm going to get dragged into a lawyer's office again, which of course he knows I can't afford. I don't know how he lives with anger like that.

Talking to the Other Parent Without Rage

The mother who is dying was asked how she talks to her kids about their father. She said that her son asked her “Why does daddy hate you, and you hate daddy.” Her response was “I don’t hate daddy, I just don’t like the things he is doing.”   

She then talked about how she is trying NOT to turn her kids against their father because they love him and that relationship is important to them. That sounded very well scripted to me. We all get upset when we feel abused by another person, a man in particular. And that’s very hard to hide. 

My kid’s father makes a big point of saying that he leaves the kids out of these things. But the truth is they overhear unintentionally, they listen at doors, they see their mother crying, and they feel their father’s rage. Kids figure it out, and they know when you're not telling them the truth. As they get older, I think it's better to be honest without including all the gory details.

Family Trauma Can Lead to Drug and Alcohol Abuse

There is a lot of data out there that shows kids who experience ongoing family trauma are much more likely to use drugs and alcohol. I did. It’s an escape, a way of feeling better for a short time. If they have the addictive gene or whatever it is that causes some people to abuse alcohol or drugs, this kind of family trauma can easily push them off the edge. 

No divorce is easy and I’m not saying that if two people are truly unhappy with each other they should stay together. The kids they raise will be awfully screwed up too. In fact, divorce can be a good thing because your relationship with your children becomes solely yours once the other person is gone. You are free to be a happy, healthy parent on your own. 

But with divorce, comes consequences. As my son's former therapist told us several years ago, "It's not that you are getting divorced or already are. It's how you treat each other that they will respond too." In other words, if you want to screw up your kids, behave terribly towards the other parent. Chances are you'll successfully scar them for years to come.

So to all of you who are getting divorced, or even have been for quite some time, remember this. The way you act towards each other, gets absorbed every day. The worse you are, the more likely your kids are to turn towards drugs and alcohol to dull the pain. Is fighting with your ex worth that? I don't think so. But obviously some parents do.

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