Show your child that you love him more than you hate each other, advises Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Centers’ psychologist Mia Roje Đapić in an extensive interview entitled “The most common mistakes parents make during divorce and thus significantly harm their child” published in 24 sata on July 9th, 2020 by journalist Tina Kos:
“- We know that every third marriage in Croatia is divorcing, and there are more and more families in which the parents have never been married, so they separate, which is the same from a child’s shoes. Divorce or separation of parents is one of the one of the most stressful experiences that children can experience, and is obvious that affects a lot of children and young people. Yet today, research and clinical practice unequivocally show that for children, a ‘good divorce’ is better than a ‘bad marriage’ because children are not harmed by the very act of separating their parents, or nearly as much as parental conflict – said Mia Roje Đapić, MSc. of psychology from the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center.
– About a third of parents’ divorce is visokokonfliktna, you know t and that parents are failing their partner problems put these aside and build parental relationship, but continuing conflict in which the needs of the child fall into the background. As one ‘our’ child said – children need their parents to love them more than they hate each other – she added.
– And even if he/she is a ‘bad parent’ by some standards, he/she is the only mom or the only dad the child has. Except when that parent is objectively dangerous to the life, health and safety of the child, about which complex expert assessments of several sectors are made, it is in the best interest of the child that he has another parent in his life. Just as a child is genetically half mom, half dad, so is a child emotionally. The child needs at least a part of a positive image of both parents, in order to be able to identify with them and believe that it is only good and valuable – the psychologist explained to us.
She said children whose parents are in a highly conflicted divorce often try to balance between them, learning how to satisfy both parents. I can tell Mom what she wants to hear, and so can Dad. However, in that whole story, the children actually lose themselves, which is sad.
– Various studies show that children from high-conflict parental divorces are 2 to 5 times more likely to have clinical behavioral and experiential difficulties than children whose parents are peacefully divorced. Research over the past 50 years has consistently shown that children in high-conflict parental divorces are often emotionally neglected because parents are preoccupied with their own financial, emotional, social, and other needs. Children whose parents are in a high-conflict divorce in the long run have the same difficulties as children who are victims of physical abuse or neglect – said Mia Roje Đapić.
‘There is more and more talk about the child’s right to express his or her own will, desire and opinion’
She added that in recent years there has been more and more talk about the child’s right to express his/her own will, wishes and opinions related to everything that concerns the child, regardless of how old he is.
– In order to really direct this right to the welfare of the child, it is important that we understand it deeply and thoroughly. Otherwise, Art. 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prescribes it, and such abuse can significantly harm children – she explained.
For every child, the worst thing is when asked the question – who does he want to live with, mom or dad? Or, which of them do you prefer? This psychologist advises everyone to just try to imagine how they would feel now, in adulthood, to have someone tell them to choose whether they love their father or mother more, and especially to state this as they sit in front of them and know their parents are watching and listening.
– Therefore, the child has the right to express his will, desire and opinion, if he wants to do so, with a highly professional and professional approach. Even when the child gives his opinion, the final decision on who the child lives with is made taking into account all other relevant factors by the system if mom and dad cannot agree – says Mia Roje Djapic.
Children’s desires and needs are not one and the same: Parents are the ones who make the right decisions
– Children want to stay up all night because cartoons are on television, but parents know that children need sleep. Children want to eat only sweets, but parents know that children need a balanced diet. Some parents say, for example, that they cannot ‘make’ a child go to the other parent. At the same time, they can make the child inject when they are sick. Children who learn that they can make developmentally inappropriate decisions on their own according to their wishes will also use this in adolescence because there will actually be no parental authority. How will we then ‘force’ the child to come home at the agreed time, not to take drugs, to attend classes regularly – this psychologist wonders.
She notes that, in connection with divorce, it is in the best interest of the child to make contact with both parents, of course, except in cases where the parent poses a risk to the child’s health, life and safety of the child.
– The best interest of the child is achieved through the availability of both parents, active encouragement by both parents that the child has a free relationship with the other parent (within the agreed or system-defined framework), protection of the child from developmentally inappropriate information (such as partnership or financial disagreements) and cooperation parents (at least) around important aspects of a child’s life. Modern European and world guidelines for experts in this field recommend that the willingness of parents to involve the other parent in the upbringing and care of the child (within the agreed or system-defined framework) is one of the main criteria for assessing parental capacity – this expert told us.
She also clarified the term ‘child alienation’
There is a fierce controversy in the general and professional public about the concept of child alienation.
– Absolute consensus on the conceptualization of the concept has not been reached, but what the profession and science around the world unequivocally recognize are the behaviors of parents aimed at disrupting the relationship between child and other parents, whether consciously or unconsciously, and that this violates children’s rights and risks emotional abuse – says the psychologist.
– The topic of alienation is extremely difficult, emotionally colored and raises the question of personal values, experiences, opinions and worldviews. Also, alienation often works counterintuitively to people who are not educated and experienced in the field. People cannot understand how it is possible for ‘love to be declared a pathology’, how it is possible to ‘brainwash a child’, how it is possible that it is in the best interest of the child not to ‘satisfy the desire of who he wants to live with’ and the like. At the same time, it is rare for someone to complain to a doctor about reading an ultrasound or prescribing radiation therapy, which also works counterintuitively and has a number of side effects because we are aware that we do not know enough about the topic. The same should apply to the mental health and rights of children – she explained and listed all the ways in which this can happen.,
A child can be alienated in many ways
- excessive pampering of the child (for example, allowing the child to eat a lot of sweets, to stay awake longer, to play games and watch movies that are not allowed with the other parent)
- omission of positive experiences with the other parent (for example, one parent is absent longer due to work or illness, and the other parent completely ignores the positive experiences the child had with him, does not mention him, moves shared photos, toys bought for the child by a parent who does not currently exist)
- overemphasizing the other parent’s failure (for example, one parent is late to pick up the child for training, and the other parent says that he ‘forgot him, left him on the road like a dog’, etc., takes the child to CZSS and the Police, reports neglect)
- excessive interference with the relationship between the child and the other parent (for example, calling the child on a cell phone and sending messages most of the time while the child is with the other parent, imposing their rules of conduct while the child is with the other parent, constantly asking questions about how to spend time, the clothes he wears and the like)
- obstructing the child’s and other parent’s contacts (banning contacts or making excuses not to keep in touch, such as training, checkups, birthday parties, colds, learning to test just in time for spending time with the other parent)
- showing unpleasant emotions when a child has a relationship with another parent (for example, showing sadness, anger, fear, concern, either in words or behavior, in some cases ignoring the child, complete emotional cooling)
- sending double messages to the child (for example, encouraging the child to meet the other parent, while crying or telling the child to ‘go free, I guess I won’t die of worry’ / ‘go free, nothing terrible will happen to you’)
- negative comment from the other parent to the child (for example, stating that the other parent is a bad person)
- false accusations of abuse (for example, encouraging a child to say that the other parent has beaten him, touched his intimate parts, etc., when this is not true)
- passively allowing other family members or friends to alienate the child (e.g., a parent does not alienate independently but allows their parents to commit the behaviors listed above)
- sharing inappropriate information with the child (for example, court proceedings, marital relations, violence that the child has not witnessed)
- reversal of child-parent roles (e.g., asking the child to care for the parent’s feelings, verbally or nonverbally)
- replacing the biological parent with a new partner (for example, asking for a new partner to be called a dad or a new partner a mom)
- encouraging the child’s anger towards the other parent (for example, the child is angry because one parent took his cell phone to study, and the other parent reinforces the child’s anger, does not allow him to forget the situation)
- restricting communication between the child and the other parent (for example, banning phone calls for no real reason)
- denial of information about the child (eg relocation, medical examinations)
- encouraging a child to feel guilty if they have a good time with the other parent (for example, pointing out that the other parent is a horrible person who just ‘bought’ the child on a trip to the park)
- the inability to separate the image of oneself and the child (for example, telling the child that the other parent left ‘us’ when he or she filed for divorce)
– Unfortunately, in practice it happens that the term alienation is tried to be abused, ie that sometimes the rejection of a child is interpreted in layman’s terms as alienation, but in fact it is a completely different process in the family. There is a justified refusal of contact with the parent, as well as hybrid cases. If, for example, a parent abused a child, if he suffers from a severe mental illness that had a negative effect on the child, if the child witnessed the abuse of the parent’s addiction, it is possible that the child refuses contact with him without alienation – the psychologist told us .
– Also, in hybrid cases, one parent gives reasons to which the other parent then has alienating reactions. For example, one parent yelled at a child for a poor grade. The child comes to the other parent and complains of yelling. The other parent reluctantly accepts this, encourages the child’s anger and hurt, records his testimony on his mobile phone, reports the parent who shouted at all the institutions, asks for a ban on contact. A parent yelling at a child shouldn’t have done that. However, the parent who ‘took advantage’ of his failure in the described way did not do so solely for the protection of the child – she says.
– The best way to check this is to honestly ask ourselves – that we are still married, that we are on good terms and that I care about preserving the authority of the other parent, what would I do in that situation? We would probably call the other parent, see what happened, and talk about how to respond more adequately to the child in the future. The only difference in this case is that the parents are in a highly conflicted divorce, which is a reflection of their relationship as a partner, and not as a parent – she added.
She notes that alienated children systematically denigrate their parents to such an extent that it seems that their favorite topic is listing the shortcomings and shortcomings of their parents. In addition, they are looking for interlocutors who would support them in this and say bad things about the parent together. The psychologist emphasizes that their reasons for rejecting their parents are actually unrealistic and inappropriate, for example: ‘my mom has a hard bed, my dad makes dry porridge, I don’t like the color of the walls in my dad’s house, my mom puts on makeup for half an hour every morning’, etc.
– Sometimes these are seemingly more realistic reasons, such as ‘parent insults me’, to establish that a parent once said to him something like: ‘Get up, don’t be lazy’. Alienated children see one parent as absolutely perfect and the other parent as absolutely awful. Thus, children know how to tell us that one parent would not change anything and that he is the best at everything (which children usually never say, especially adolescents), and with the other parent they cannot remember any fond memories or traits, they think the worst of him and they would change everything on it – the psychologist explained to us.
– Alienated children try to present everything they express as their own position, often even when they are not directly asked about it. In doing so, they speak in the words spoken by the alienating parent, for example they say that one parent beat the other before the child’s birth, but that no one told him that, but only remembers. Alienated children show no guilt or compassion for the words and behavior towards the alienated parent. Finally, the estranged children start rejecting the family and friends of the estranged parent, they do not call him / her mother / father but by name, later only he / she – she added.
An alienated child in the short term, says the psychologist, can function very well in various segments of life, such as improving school performance. However, according to the rejected parent, he has ‘phobic’ and very violent emotional reactions that are full of anger during the contact itself or hints of possible contact.
– The vulnerability of an alienated child can be seen through separation fears (fears of separation), which the alienating parent often emphasizes, for example saying that the child will be killed if separated from him – says Mia Roje Đapić.
A parent can not behave as the owner of a child and ‘give it’ another or ‘do not give’
She mentioned that research and clinical practice are consistent in showing that alienation has nothing to do with the fact of what gender the parent is.
– Just as someone is not a better parent just by being a mother, so he is not an alienator just by being a mother. The misconception that they alienate mothers more is probably due to the fact that the alienation is usually the one who has the power, and most children continue to live with their mothers after divorce, which gives them more power. That’s why it’s important to ensure a balance of power at the outset, which doesn’t necessarily mean seven days with mom, seven days with dad. A child is not a percentage nor can it be divided into percentages. Depending on the characteristics of each child and his or her life circumstances, approximately equal involvement of both parents in life and upbringing should be ensured. In this way, no parent can act as the owner of the child, so to this other parent ‘give’ or ‘not give’ the child and the like – explains the psychologist.
She particularly emphasized that ‘alienated children have the same consequences for mental health as abused children in other ways. The consequences are therefore numerous and devastating. ‘ She explained what consequences all this can leave on the child, that is, how he sees and experiences himself, all as a consequence of a certain behavior of the parents, his reactions and what he says.
Alienated children, deep down, believe the following about themselves:
‘I can’t be loved’
– When a child grows up with the message that one parent is bad, dangerous, does not care for him and does not really love him, he concludes – I can not be loved. Parents are the ones who should love him no matter what, and if the child is systematically informed that mom / dad doesn’t love him, he wonders: Who would love me when my parent doesn’t love me either – she explained.
‘You really can’t love me’
– In addition to the child growing up in the belief that one parent does not love him, he gradually realizes that the love of the other parent is conditioned. The alienating parent makes it known to the child, directly or indirectly, that his or her happiness and love depend significantly on the other parent’s rejection. If a parent really loves a child more than he hates the other parent, would he, for example, persuade him to give false testimony about the abuse – she continued.
– Although this is contrary to what most people expect, a significant number of children will not turn to a parent who is safe, but to one whose love ‘deserves’, a parent who could leave him. The alienating parent has convinced the child that the alienated parent does not love him and he will at all costs deserve the love of the parent who is left to him. Any love for a child is dearer than life without the love of either parent. To lose the love of both parents, it would be completely clear to the child – I really can’t be loved – she added.
‘At least part of me is bad’
– One parent continuously expresses the opinion that the other parent is bad, that he is not good, that he is angry with him and prevents him from having contact with the child. The child hears it in the way: ‘You are bad too’ or ‘Half of you are bad’. This is especially pronounced when the child is clearly told that the other parent is bad, and at the same time the child is occasionally compared to him. For example: ‘You got the unit again, you’re as stupid as your mom is stupid!’. The child cancels that part of himself and tries to erase it, just like the alienated parent – says Mia Roje Đapić.
She notes that the ‘Splitting’, that is, a black-and-white view of the world. The child then views one parent as perfect and the other as absolutely bad. The consequence is that the child thus begins to observe the world around him, himself, other people, other situations… He is not able to see that ‘gray zone’ and ‘colors’ in life.
In fact, this child lives between idealization and disappointment, which is very bad for his psyche.
– ‘Splitting’ is a cognitive distortion, ie an introduction to numerous psychiatric disorders, such as borderline personality disorder – says the psychologist.
‘I have to adjust – I don’t know myself’
– Excessive dependence that develops between the alienating parent and the child causes the child to focus exclusively on the opinion and guidance of that parent, the child believes that he is not capable of making decisions alone. He is used to recognizing very well what others want from him and adapting to earn their love. Children with this consequence are precisely those children whose parents wonder how they fell into ‘bad company’ later in adolescence, how they are in a violent and controlling love affair, how they do everything to be popular. Sometimes in adolescence, their parents ask them, ‘If everyone jumped out the window, would you?’. This seemingly banal question for these children is not banal at all – they have already risked their (emotional) life to be accepted by that same parent – says this child psychiatrist.
– Emotional abuse means ‘a verbal or symbolic act that results, or is likely to result, in significant psychological harm to the child’. A particularly valuable part of this definition refers to the fact that psychological harm to a child does not have to be visible immediately, which is often the case with alienation. In this way, we can at least partially act preventively, and not when the child already develops more serious symptoms, most often in adolescence – she explained.
Some parents knowingly make court proceedings more difficult, and children suffer
She also mentioned to us how wrong the wording ‘Execution of a child’ is, because it is not a thing, but a living being full of emotions that the world around it understands very well, better than some parents think.
– Recordings of various executions over the execution of a court verdict in such cases periodically flood the media and are incorrectly called executions ‘over children’. When the court renders a final judgment, when the parent has exercised all his rights of appeal, when, unfortunately, he has often knowingly delayed the court proceedings, and the decision has finally been rendered, then he cannot refuse to act in accordance with it. If it does not cooperate peacefully, which would certainly be in the best interests of the child, the system uses an enforcement measure to enforce the judgment. Supporting parents in delaying or avoiding enforcement also means that the ‘street’ seeks to take on the role of the court, which alone has the authority and all the relevant evidence to reach a verdict. Disclosure of children’s private data in the media is also a direct violation of children’s rights – Mia Roje Đapić told us and explained another embarrassing situation.
– Imagine a situation where a child is taken away from a sexual abuser and the child does not want to go, cries, states that he is afraid, that he will kill himself if he is taken away… Would we support the sexual abuser in his intention to keep the child with him? Would we blindly follow the will of the child? Emotional abuse is less visible and less tangible than physical or sexual, but it is still abuse before the law and the profession. When we ask ourselves whether this procedure is not stressful for the child – the answer is clear, of course it is stressful. Unfortunately, there is no completely painless solution for a child in these circumstances. However, an isolated separation situation is less stressful than a long-term life in an abusive environment – she said.
‘Show your child that you love him more than you hate each other’
– Finally, a simple piece of advice to all parents who have stopped being partners – show your child that you love him more than you hate each other, by acting cooperatively and correctly, at least on important topics in the life of the one who binds you forever – your child who surely you both love the most in the world, as well as you, both of you – concluded the child psychologist. ”
Disclaimer: This is unofficial translation provided for information purposes. Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center cannot be held legally responsible for any translation inaccuracy.