Over my nearly 30 years of experience as a Social Worker involved in the full spectrum of family challenges, some of the most heart-rending experiences I have been confronted with, have been where children have been subjected to ongoing tension and hostility between their parents.
All most children long for is the feeling that they have two equal parents, who both love them and have their best interests at heart.
Is this asking too much of parents?
It is sad to witness the changes that can take place between two adults who almost certainly started their relationship from a position of positive attraction - and love. They had a child - or children together and then, because they could not resolve their problems or their problems were too big and difficult to overcome, they allow their unresolved bitterness to continue to contaminate the manner in which they parent their children after their separation and/ or divorce.
There are definately those cases where a parent could pose a physical or emotional danger to their child. However, these are fortunately not very common. What often seems to happen is that, due to the resentment and anger between the parents, each adopts an intractible attitude that their perception of what is in the child's best interests, is more acceptable than the other parent's. Lawyers, Advocates, Psychologists, Social Workers, Mediators, Play Therapists, Psychiatrists etc - a whole army of professionals is called upon to decide which parent's view of the child's reality is the correct one. Each parent insists on having their own particular "experts" - and the scene is set for a battle royal - which usually only serves to make the divisions deeper - and to cost the equivalent of the child's total education costs - including University or College fees.
There are no winners here - and the person at the centre of all the Court Applications, Protection Orders and venomous communication between the very people who profess to love her - is the biggest loser of all. Children subjected to ongoing tension and acrimony between parents, become anxious, confused, emotionally insecure and, in really serious cases, may develop future personality disorders, which are often the result of well-developed defence mechanisms, which are necessary for the child to cope with the negativity and ongoing conflict.
And there is no need for this. The Childrens Act 38 of 2005, makes it very clear that parents - whether separated or divorced - are jointly responsible for the care and contact of children.It is so important for parents to keep as their central focus of concern, that, no matter how angry and resentful they may feel towards each other, they are the biological parents of their child for a very long time. Even when their child grows up and has children of her own - they will be the joint grandparents of these children! It is worth working hard at developing a positive mind-set towards the inescapable fact that children deserve the best possible relationship with both parents.
I am distressed by the number of fathers who, having tried their utmost to have a realistic role in the lives of their children, eventually walk away - and then share with me that their reasons are simply that they believe the ongoing hassles of trying to have a fair share of their childrens' lives, is actually doing more harm to their children than they believe is fair for them to endure. This may not only be fathers - I am currently working with a mother who is battling to regain reasonable time with her son.
There are always reasons for everything. But parents all need to take a hard look at themselves and answer honestly the question:
" Am I being fair to my children and do I actively and positively encourage the other parent's role in the childrens' lives?"
I will be discussing some of the pertinant issues and challenges related to the true meaning of coparenting in future articles...watch this space!