Giving children the choice to choose
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I am going to be using an argument essay I wrote for my English I class to make my argument
Children Stepping Back in a Divorce
Divorce can sometimes be a negative experience for all parties involved. Children suffer the greatest from this negativity in most cases. Visitation, learning that their parents are no longer together, and adapting to a whole new lifestyle can put a child through a lot of emotional stress and take a toll on their upbringing. When a child themselves recognizes potential toxicity in a situation with a parent, they should have the right to cease contact with said parent. When visitation and placement falls to the courts and does not take into account how the children interact with their parents, more problems begin to arise. Knowing the difference between a healthy and toxic relationship, keeping the child from coming forward about abuse, and taking time away from the parent to heal the wounds from the divorce are the main reasons a child should have the right to choose whether they have contact with one of their parents.
As adults, most people know how to point out whether a relationship is toxic. When children are growing up, they learn little lessons from anyone they look up to. Things like manners, the difference right and wrong, and how to treat other people are examples of these lessons. But there are bigger lessons that most people have to learn for themselves. These are the things that make people into individuals. One of those lessons is learning who is healthy and who is toxic. Learning how to step back from someone who is toxic at a young age, will allow the child to make better decisions as an adult about the relationships they engage in when it comes to all facets of life. It is put best in the article “Divorcing Your Toxic Parents”; “A toxic relationship is like someone injecting a poison that rushes through your body—damaging everything in its path every time you affiliate with that person” (Morrow). These are powerful words to describe how a toxic person seeps into a person’s life and effects them. An example of a parent who might fit into this category is a parent who is manipulating their child to treat their other parent with disdain. This could be done by speaking poorly of the divorced spouse or someone new in the divorced spouse’s life. This teaches the child that it is appropriate to speak ill of people when they are not around. In Andrea Sabbadini’s article, “From Love to Violence,” she tells a narrative of a divorced father, Marius, and his yearning to have a good relationship with his 5-year-old daughter. However, his ex-wife and his ex-wife’s new boyfriend stand in the way of his relationship with his daughter in the literal sense. Sabbadini moves on with the narrative stating:
And yet, while displaying his bitter contempt and hatred towards his ex-wife and her passive-aggressive new partner Aurel, we must admit that Marius -more or less- succeeds in remaining a caring and affectionate father for Sofía, and in protecting her, to the best of his ability, from the disturbing scenes taking place all around her…
Sabbadini’s narrative comes from a movie plot but it is not an outlandish situation in toxic divorces. A parent should be teaching the lesson of pointing out toxic people and keep them out of their children’s lives, not being the source of their stress on a day to day basis. Handing that child emotional stress with their toxic ways and then telling them that they have no choice in the matter of speaking to their parent is stealing that child’s ability to grow and mature from a situation and it has got to change.
As a parent, being toxic to a child that has been brought into this world is one thing, but abusing the child, in any shape or form, is a different story. Any kind of abuse on a child can leave a lasting impression on the child’s life. Kate Johnson, in an article in the International Medical News Group, refers to a statement given by Christine Forke, R.N., of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: “There’s clear evidence in the literature that if you’re abused as a child, and you are a boy, you grow up to abuse women. And if you’re a girl and you’re abused as a child, you tend to grow up to be the victim” (36). This is a vicious cycle that really needs to be put to rest. A skewed type of abuse is using the child as a weapon against the divorced spouse and includes making false accusations of sexual or physical abuse. Seth L. Goldstein and R. P. Tyler state “…the warlike atmosphere inherent in divorce often discredits valid claims” (1). This means that the courts see ugly cases so often and the parents using their children as weapons that some of the valid abuse allegations get thrown out. Children who think that no action would be taken if they came forward about acts of abuse from parents simply will not come forward. But give the child the sense of relief of having the option of stepping back from the abusive parent, and they are far more likely to come forward and seek help. This allows an opportunity to mend broken parent/child relationships instead of keeping the pain and abuse in the face of the child. This also potentially poses a better situation for the overall mental health of the family.
An example of this is in my own personal life. This topic is one that I have personally been through as both a teen and now as an adult. My parents separated in 2007 due to marital complications. My two younger brothers and I moved in with my mother into my grandparent’s house. For several months, I had no contact with my dad because that was my decision, and both parents respected that choice. My dad let me come to him when I was ready, and in doing so, gave me the chance to sort through my own personal feelings and heal what wounds I gained from the separation. It was a very positive experience and my dad and my relationship is stronger because of it. Fast forward to 2015, and my parent’s last attempt to save their marriage failed; they finalized their divorce. My dad won custody of my two younger brothers then and, the youngest is still under 18. While all three of us had constant contact with my mother over the last two years, within the last six months, my mother’s mental stability has taken a sharp decline. My youngest brother does not want contact with my mother but every time he wants to step away from her, she throws the book at him and my dad and threatens to take it to the courts. With her abrasive nature and wrongful treatment of almost everyone in her life, along with her refusal of seeking mental health treatment, my brother feels that it is best that he spend some time apart from my mother. However, with her threatening legal action and the legal advice my dad has received that she would more than likely win, my brother is now forced to have contact with my mom. It is really taking its toll on his school life and mental standing as a teenager. He and I have spoken at length and we both agree that if he were given the opportunity to step away from her, cease all contact, and allow the flames to die down, he and my mom could get back on good ground and mend their relationship.
Giving the child the choice to stop contact with the parent, can be looked at as simply spending time away from the parent. As children are growing, parents are told to leave the children at home, find a babysitter, and spend quality time away from the children. It has also been encouraged to get the children involved in activities of their own. This is a healthy strategy of allowing that child to be independent and creates an example of what the real world might be like. This does not differ too far from the reasoning behind allowing the child to spend time away from the parent during a divorce. Carrie Visintainer, who is a mother herself, wrote a blog post for the Huffpost titled “10 Reasons it’s Healthy for Parents to Spend Time Away from Their Kids”. While this blog is lighthearted and used more for entertainment purposes, it still makes the point that parents and children need time apart. So why when things are going positively in a family, it’s justified to and even encouraged to spend time apart, but a parent has to fight tooth and nail to allow their child to take time away to heal from the other parent? Bruce Smyth puts this perfectly in his article, “Parent-child contact schedules after divorce”:
But where there is high and continuing co-parental conflict, or where children have experienced or are likely to be exposed to continuing domestic violence or child abuse, contact may be highly inappropriate and can have serious, long-lasting adverse effects on children Time spent apart can have the opposite effect and teach the child techniques of thinking for themselves and the art of healthy debates.
Forcing a child to have contact with a parent that is either abusive or toxic, is almost telling the child that it’s ok to engage in these types of relationships later on in life.
The opposite side of this argument would clearly state that children need their parents. While this is true, it’s too black and white. Children need their parents for things like financial support, emotional support, and an overall positive upbringing. What they don’t need their parents for is situations that cause chaos and turning their life on its head. Divorce is hard enough for families. When parents go the extra mile to make it harder on their children, it further rips holes in all the lives involved. This kind of negativity plus forcing a child to engage and be exposed to without the choice of stepping back and growing form the experience is the formula for breeding unnecessary damage and pain.
Divorce does not have to be made into a blood bath. This is particularly true when there are children involved. Take action. If this paper has moved opinions far enough to be convincing, do not allow this to go on any longer. Sign this petition.
Goldstein, Seth L., and R.P. Tyler. “Frustrations of inquiry: child sexual abuse allegations in divorce and custody cases”. The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, July 1998, p. 1
Johnson, Kate. “Ripple effect of parental discord on children starts early”. Pediatric News, July 2007, p. 36.
Sabbadini, Andrea. "From Love to Violence." Romanian Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol. 8, no. 1, Jan-Jun2015, pp. 122-128
Smyth, Bruce. "Parent-child contact schedules after divorce." Family Matters, Spring-Summer 2005, p. 32+.
Morrow, McKenzie. “Divorcing Your Toxic Parents.” The Odyssey Online, www.theodysseyonline.com/divorcing-toxic-parents 13 Sept. 2016
Visintainer, Carrie. “10 Reasons It's Healthy For Parents to Spend Time Away from Their Kids.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 4 Mar. 2015
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