Don't put child in the middle of a parenting conflict with your ex-spouse
My child came home with bruises after his visit with his dad over the weekend. When I asked him how he got those bruises, he said he couldn't remember. I suspect that his father might have hit him, as his father does have a bad temper. I am thinking of calling the police and stopping the visits. Is that too drastic? I want my son to have a good relationship with his father, but also I want to protect my son from any harm and don’t want to be accused of parental alienation. Whatever I ask or say, his father always sees it as an attack and says I am alienating him from my son.
It must be worrying if your child faces harm, especially when he is with the other parent and you have no control and don’t know what might have happened.
I don’t know how long you have been separated or divorced, but it sounds like communication and trust are not on the table and there seems to be a lot of fear about the father’s parenting ability.
The best way to protect your child is to develop healthy and business-like communication with the father. Can you put yourself in the father’s position for five minutes? If your son showed up during the father’s access time with a big bruise and said that he couldn't remember how he got it, what do you think the father would think and should do?
If you can keep your communication business-like, staying with the facts and asking for clarification instead of making accusations, you are more likely to be able to start building a new way of relating to each other.
Remember, your son is learning from the two of you how to deal with conflict. So, how would you like your son learn from you as a caring and responsible mother? How about calling the father and asking whether he noticed the bruises and see whether he knows where your son might have got them? I suggest you learn how to use “I-statement”; the essence of I-statements involves sending non-blaming messages about how you feel the father’s behaviour is affecting you, without sounding defensive and encourage him to take responsibility for his behaviour. A word of warning, I-statement should be done face-to-face or at least over the phone. Without the tone of voice or facial expressions to convey your intentions, message over text or email often misinterpreted and create unnecessary anonymity.
Use correctly, I-statement create a new way to communicate about your concern and not blaming the other parent. This might be the best way to rebuild a new business-like relationship to parent together.
Obviously, if there has been a history of domestic violence or, as you suggest, the father might have been using physical punishment, you two might want to discuss your concern and the safety of your child with a social worker, a parent coordinator or your lawyer.
From my clinical experience with high-conflict divorce parents and as research has pointed out, there are many motivational factors behind parental alienation.
A couple of obvious characteristics of parents who exhibit alienating behaviours, as suggested by Lorandos, Bernet and Sauber in (Parental Alienation: The Handbook for Mental Health and Legal Professionals), are:
“These parents are unable to think beyond their own needs and may harbour unconscious desires to hurt their children” and that “parents who support or accept their children’s rejection of the other parent usually lack motivation to participate in therapy when the professed goal is to heal the damaged parent-child relationship.” Since you are able to ask before acting on your fear, it seems you do possess the ability to reflect on what might be more harmful consequences for your son’s relationship with his father.
The best way to avoid being accused of alienating your child against his father is to become mindful of the nuances of what you say and do to avoid becoming an unconscious/passive alienator.
As Dr. Douglas Darnall (Beyond Divorce Casualties) points out: “Telling your child that something is your ex-spouse’s fault is alienating. Instead, address the issue with the ex-spouse and do not put our child in the middle.”
Ask yourself in honesty if what you are doing will foster a healthy, business-like parenting relationship with the father. A paradigm shift is needed in divorce co-parenting. He is no-longer your ex-husband, he is the father of your child. If his communication is unpleasant, see him as a difficult investor that you need cooperation and funding from.
Hold your ground and integrity, be open to communicating your expectations and boundaries firmly but in a friendly manner (friendly does NOT mean you need to start dating him or going out with him as family). The more business-like you can be, the easier it is to set up a new way to communicate and rebuild a new form of family for your son. Your son is the joint venture that you are working on with his father. Both of you want to your son to discover his abilities and reach his full potential. If the prospect for developing a new way to communicate seems iffy, find a professional trained in parent coordinating with a background in child development to get involved early on. It can prevent your co-parenting relationship from spiraling down into a high-conflict post-divorce relationship. You cannot change the father of your son, but you can change your attitude and be part of the solution in building two new families for your son.
Edited version published : Tuesday, 19 May, 2015, 6:02am