Take a look at this example of a parent being a model. As you read, think about these questions:
- Are these parents being positive role models?
- Do the parents’ words and actions match?
- Are the parents being respectful of others? Of their children?
- Are these parents being honest with themselves about their own actions?
- How might you handle a similar situation with your child?
Andy, Kristi, Pat, and Jason (Age 7) 2,3,4
What’s the Story?
Kristi and Andy split up nearly five years ago, when their son Jason was two. Andy has remarried, and Kristi and Jason have been living with Pat for the last three years. Andy tries to be very active in his son’s life, which is a source of conflict for Kristi. She can’t let go of her anger toward Andy and makes sour comments about him in front of Jason. When Andy comes to pick up his son, Kristi usually starts an argument with him, about child support or the timing of visits. Pat tries to buffer Kristi’s anger, but feels that her attitude is bad for all of them, especially Jason.
I’m not saying that she should forgive and forget her time with Andy. But at the very least she should curb her anger when Jason’s around. The poor kid is stuck in the middle. Jason loves his mom and his dad; he should love both his parents. I try to stay out of it most of the time, because it’s an issue that is best kept between Kristi and Andy, but her attitude fills our home with such negativity that I sometimes have to change the subject for Jason’s sake. And for my own sake.
No one really knows what Andy is like, except me. He’s the one who left me with a toddler and no means of support, without a second thought. Pat has no idea what I went through. I’m just getting Jason ready for the hurt and disappointment that his father is sure to bring. It’s only a matter of time before he leaves Jason, too. Pat just doesn’t know.
Kristi is out-of-control. I thought she had finally moved on when she moved in with Pat, but I guess not. You can see how upset Jason gets when she starts saying those things; it’s written all over his face. I can tell it makes Pat uncomfortable, too. I’ve tried to make it clear that arguing in front of Jason is not acceptable to me. But Kristi never stops. Even though I try to explain to Jason that his mom and my arguments aren’t his fault, I know he’s hurt by the whole situation.
What's the Point?
It’s hard for any child to hear awful things about his or her parent day after day; it’s even worse when the other parent is the one saying those awful things. Jason is left having to choose between his mother and his father. It’s an awful position for a child to be placed in.
Despite her claims that she is trying to prepare Jason for disappointment, Kristi’s actions are more hurtful to him than helpful. It makes sense that she wants to protect Jason, but her actions focus on protecting herself. She needs to see that things are no longer about her and Andy, but that Jason is what’s most important. Jason needs to be allowed to develop his own relationship with each parent, one that doesn’t involve the other. He will make his own decisions about his father and mother and how active he wants them to be in his life as he gets older. Kristi’s actions may force Jason to limit his time with her later in his life.
Andy’s point about not arguing in front of Jason is also important. Again, the issue is between Kristi and Andy; Jason should not be involved, even as a bystander. It’s painful and confusing for children to hear their parents argue. They often blame themselves for their parents’ words and actions, thinking that if they behaved better or did better in school, then their parents would get along. Both Andy and Kristi need to reassure Jason that their fighting is not his fault. If Kristi is unable or unwilling to help Andy convey this to Jason, maybe Andy can enlist Pat’s help. Regardless of who reinforces the idea, it’s vital for Jason to know that his parents have problems with each other, not with him.