Though the winds of conflict and divorce blow, the children of couples who are at odds with one another must be kept safe, loved and on track to excel in school and in life. Vindictiveness and alienation must not be allowed to create havoc in their lives, no matter how toxic the connection between parents who choose to go their separate ways.
Divorce through a court decree marks the official civic dissolution of a marriage. But many marital relationships, where couples choose to remain married while despising each other, cause the same levels of trauma in their children. Consequently, the templates developed for parents who actually go through divorce are also valuable for families fraught with betrayal, abusive behavior and violence, wherein parents opt to grin and bear their ill feelings toward each other for a myriad of reasons, including “for the sake of the children.”
Dr. Robert E. Emery has created a "Children’s Bill of Rights in Divorce," for guiding feuding parents to place the love and well-being of their children above all. Go online to access the entire document. Here are some highlights:
• The right to love and be loved by both of your parents without feeling guilt or disapproval.
• The right to be protected from your parents’ anger with each other.
• The right to be kept out of the middle of your parents’ conflict, including the right not to pick sides, carry messages or hear complaints about the other parent.
• The right not to choose one of your parents over the other.
• The right to be a kid.
Inspired by Emery’s Bill of Rights, social workers, counselors, therapists, lawyers and caretakers have added other “rights” to consider:
• The right to privacy when speaking on the phone with the other parent.
• The right to be financially sustained by both parents, irrespective of the time each parent devotes with the child.
• The right to be protected from individuals under the influence of legal or illegal drugs.
• The right to be counseled, educated, supervised, disciplined, and encouraged by each parent, without interference by the other.
• The right to exhibit photographs or mementos of the other parent or of both in the child's room.
• The right to enjoy the love and affirmation of grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins and other family members from both sides of the parental kin networks.
This last point is particularly relevant to us here in Guam where family ties are paramount. Using children as a bargaining chip for coercing one’s spouse to tolerate abusive behavior is a common ploy. Prohibiting children from spending time with family members like grandparents, aunts and uncles to punish the other spouse is unfair and deprives children of much needed extended family support during emotionally tough times.
Failing to honor the rights of children in divorce or when conflicts between couples occur constitutes parental abuse. The group Time to Put Kids First goes one step further in exposing the complicity of others “if you support a parent in alienating a child or children from their other parent … if you sit by and tell them they are ‘right’ for keeping their child from the other parent, you too are committing child abuse.”
Children who know that they are loved will thrive in spite of conflict or divorce. If the marriage is broken, it might be best for children to find stability and safety outside of a toxic home environment. Once the separation is imminent, it is best to remain cordial. In a small island community such as ours, it is hard to avoid bumping into each other. When the word gets around that you love your children and you are committed to their well-being and educational success you can slowly win respect, even from those who seek to blame you for the ruined relationship.
There is wisdom in reading the many versions of the "Children’s Bill of Rights in Divorce." Even for couples who are considering marriage and becoming parents, the insights gained will prove valuable as part of their preparation. Sharing meaningful articles with friends in the throes of divorce, is even more urgent. Join the effort to create a safe and stable family environment for all our island children. Well-adjusted, emotionally supported children ensure a healthier future for us all.