Many people have asked me why I choose to work with parents who are in conflict with each other. Why do I choose to sit and listen to them argue, say nasty things to each other, accuse each other of being a bad parent (whilst implying that they are a perfect parent themselves), and dig themselves more deeply into their entrenched positions? Because I’ve been there. I’ve lived through it. I know it can stop. It needs to stop for the children and the parents involved in the conflict.
I was a self-proclaimed warrior fighting valiantly to save my children from the perils of being exposed to their evil father. I played my role with gusto. I plotted against him, I gained support from friends, family members and my own therapists as I sought justification for my deeply held beliefs, and I spent tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers and barristers. It’s a long, painful story involving two separate court cases, two stressed and unhappy parents and two stressed and unhappy children. The only real winners were the laywers.
Several years on I see the futility of it all and that damage it did to our children, not to mention my pocketbook. I passionately believe that parents need far more support than 2 free mediation sessions paid for by the government in order to truly act in the best interests of their children. How can parents who are experiencing ongoing conflict possibly be 100% available to support their children’s emotional needs even if they’ve managed to eek out a parenting plan? I don’t believe they can. I help parents move beyond their conflict so they can function more effectively as parents and in life in general. Everyone benefits.
Ongoing conflict with the ‘the other parent’ (you probably have some other choice names you use for that person — I know I did!) can consume a tremendous amount of energy. Conflict is exhausting. It consumes your energy and time when you ruminate on the list of grievences you have against the other parent, plan revenge against them, or worry about how the children cope when they’re with the other parent. It consumes you when you complain about the other parent to family, friends, your massage therapist, your hairdresser, your GP, the barista who makes your coffee, or anyone else who inadvertently gives you an opening to talk about it. It takes your attention away from your children, distracts you from your work, and generally gets in the way of you enjoying your life and being an enjoyable person to be with.
Conflict might cause you to ask your children, in a voice you struggle to keep neutral, how things were when they were with the other parent (yeah, kids see through this), because you’re really fishing for more evidence to support your belief that the other parent is bad. Whether they were happy and had a good time, whether they got to play a lot of video games, or maybe what they ate (did you eat a lot of yummy things?). Conflict might cause you to lash out at the other parent when your child starts crying at handover, speaking in a harsh voice or maybe even yelling at them or calling them names. Conflict might cause you to tell the other parent they can’t see your children this weekend because ‘they don’t feel well’, when the reality is that you just can’t deal with seeing the other parent at handover or maybe just want to punish the other parent. None of this is good for the children. And it’s not good for you either!
Conflict, from my experience, is just not nice to have around.
Having lived with Conflict for many years I understand the toll it can take on you. My ex-husband and I were in conflict (little ‘c’) for nearly 6 years before I had enough, gave up and demanded a divorce. I was highly anxious and took Zoloft (sertraline) for the majority of that time. The conflict negatively impacted everyone’s mental health (our oldest was also seeing a psychologist and was highly anxious). We tried to keep things civil but we were not able to come to an agreement on most things. I had no patience for what I perceived as his complete inability to be reasonable and finally forced the matter into the court system. Things went from bad to worse and because of the Conflict and associated stress I existed in a thick fog for many years after we separated. I didn’t engage fully in life, with my kids, or at work. The weight of Conflict and everything that comes with it was exhausting and debilitating. I feel those are years somewhat lost to us all. Don’t think we were able to hide it from the kids, either. They’re teenagers now (they were aged 8 and 5 when we split) and they do not hesitate to let me know exactly how they were impacted by the two of us behaving badly. You don’t know how much that hurts because I can’t change the past.
I sincerely wish that I had listened to a counsellor who recommended that my ex-husband and I engage in post-separation counselling to help us redefine our relationship to better support our children. We may have still wound up in court, but we might not have. More importantly, I believe our kids would have been better off.
So, why do I work with parents who are in conflict? Because I understand. I’ve been there, and it sucks. And I’m passionate about helping others to minimise Conflict not only for their benefit, but for their kids. Because happy parents can better support their kids, and those little buggers see and intuit a lot more than you think!