The Misalignment of Love

by Carolyn on October 6, 2010

Yes, this actually is my daughter. And yes, she'll probably kill me one day for putting this on the internet. But really, how could I resist?

 

This past weekend, I had a poetic family moment. You know, one of those greeting card moments where you visualize a leather bound book opening to a picture of the exact scene you’re sitting in. It was Saturday morning and my husband and I were lounging in bed while our son, who as usual had been up since the crack of dawn, was playing in the kitchen. I heard our daughter waking up, so I went to get her but after changing her diaper I realized that my husband hadn’t yet gotten out of bed. I brought my daughter back in to see if the two of us together could rouse him. My daughter, always thrilled to see her father, laid down on his pillow and turned to me saying (in her angelic, two year old voice), “I love daddy”. I smiled, laying my head down beside her and said, “I love daddy too.” Her reply was simply a smile that could melt glaciers, and then… she sighed.  

Yes, my two year old actually sighed with happiness.  

That’s when I had a thought. Or maybe, not so much a thought, but an epiphany. An idea that came barrelling through my Hallmark moment like a wrecking ball, smacking me upside the head. You see, I have often wondered why it is that so many of us children of divorce end up emotionally detached from our parents. I’ve considered that it might be due to our trust issues. Our sense of betrayal. I’ve wondered if it was the collateral damage of us simply shutting down emotionally, a well used protective mechanism of divorced kids. But you know, I think it may be more fundamental than that. I think it may be the result of the misalignment of love.  

Mutual affection creates bonds. And not insignificant ones. Mutual affection can create the foundation of friendships, romances and even marriages. It can keep relationships going; making them endure. We tend to gravitate towards people who like the same things as we do.  Who love what we love.  And do you know why that is?  Because in a relationship, affection towards something outside of each other gives us something tangible that confirms we are alike, that we belong, that we are…kindred.  

Think about it. When you start raving about a book or a movie or a song that you love only to have someone proclaim their distaste for whatever you’ve been gushing about, leaves a sour taste in your mouth, doesn’t it? It makes you wonder why you don’t have that in common. And even if that person follows up their proclamation up with a declaration that your feelings are acceptable, that difference between you represents a bond you do not share.  

Children of divorce feel very much like this sometimes.  They love their parents.  Both of them.  But they are acutely aware that those same people no longer love each other.  It becomes a bond they no longer share.  

Now imagine that same someone from the previous scenario told you they didn’t want to hear about that book/movie/song anymore? I guess they really wouldn’t have to; knowing they didn’t share your affection would preclude you from sharing any more of your true feelings. What if they completely tuned you out when you showed any interest? What if they pointed out every negative thing they could find or shared every negative tidbit others had shared? The situation could create a fissure in the relationship. A fissure that could easily grow into an abyss.  Do you notice the parallels? 

Parental love is fundamental.  It is woven right into the fabric of our souls. And the dissolution of that bond of mutual affection between our parents puts us children of divorce in an awfully awkward position. The thought of losing that bond with both parents can sometimes feel too overwhelming, often resulting in us aligning ourselves with one parent while dispelling the other. And if you don’t understand that, then you don’t understand how important it is for a child to feel analogous to a parent. To feel like they belong.  

Because, what’s the alternative?  

The alternative, is what the bulk of us do. Accept the loss of such a significant bond with both of our parents. That loss brings a sense of isolation. To correct it, we may try out some masks, putting on a different facade with each parent. And with that we risk losing ourselves. Many of us find the answer in indifference. But the love we feel for our parents is no less than the love they feel for us and pushing it away via our indifference comes with severe consequences.  With indifference to our parents, comes indifference to ourselves.  Apathy swirls us back into isolation and of course, our self esteem suffers.  

As a parent of divorce, it is integral to your relationship with your child that you carry even a hint of that bond of mutual affection for your ex. And I don’t mean that you have to be physically affectionate or chat like girlfriends or vacation together. You don’t even have to show any actual affection to your ex, you only have to show it to your child. Show your child that you’re sad if you hear that something negative happened to your ex and show happiness if you hear something positive. Tell your child what you admire about their other parent or what qualities you are glad to see in them that remind you of your ex. Be engaged when you are being graced with stories about their visits and also be engaged in their plans to go. Simple things that pay great rewards with very little effort from you.   

Simple things that will not only benefit your relationship with your child but will also benefit their relationship with themselves.  

Aren’t those two relationships worth working on?

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jules October 6, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Thank you for sharing this, Carolyn. You make a very complicated situation sound so simple. You are really helping me do the best I can.

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2 dragonflymama October 6, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Nice post. And thank you for it. I totally understand your theory. What you describe is why parental alientation is so bad, for everyone. It makes me sad though, for my stepdaughter, and the utter lack of concern her mother has offered for her life with her father and I. I guess we can only do our part and show her that at least we have that hint of mutual affection and care. And hope it’s enough.

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3 Rev October 6, 2010 at 5:50 pm

As a child of divorce (although, I’m 24) I think you touch on something so crucial: the connection between affection and isolation. In fact, “mutual affection” may even be an understatement. To me, your story screams “support,” and the importance of showing a child genuine support for your spouse. As a child of divorce I definitely live that cycle of (forced) indifference, isolation, lack of self-esteem, etc. and what may have contributed to that is the immediate break in what used to be a unified family support system. Divorce creates divides and forces each party to seek out support from each individual family member in a new way, which is hard. The family support-system is disconnected and this loss contributes to isolation. “Mutual affection” is very important. Your daughter is a lucky girl.
Rev´s last blog post ..How to Heal Your Heart When Your Parents Divorce Continued

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4 David October 7, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Hello Carolyn,

Thanks for sharing, kids are very expressive and at the same time very impressionable. Your post was much appeciated.
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3When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.16For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

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5 Heather H October 8, 2010 at 12:16 am

Caroline, thanks for sharing this with us. I live in “the tale of two cities” when it comes to co-parenting and I see first hand the impact of both of those cities.

My ex and I have a positive co-parenting relationship. I respect my ex as my children’s father. I support his decisions regarding the kids (even if I don’t always agree w/ them). When I pray at night w/ my kids I always include their dad and pray for his safety and wellbeing. My kids know that their dad and I don’t love each other anymore but that we both love them and that we both care about each other because we were once married and we have our wonderful children together. I would never wish harm on my ex not just because its not right but because if something terrible did happen to him, my children would suffer too.

My husband’s ex-wife does not co-parent at all. She left the girls before I even met my husband but she calls here and there. And when she does she says awful and untrue things about my husband/my stepdaughter’s dad.

Children are half mom and half dad. When you or anyone puts down a parent, the child internalizes that as putting half of them down.

Children should never suffer for the choices made by adults.

Great stuff you share here. xoxo Heather

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6 Angelia Sims October 28, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Carolyn,
This was presented in a way, very easy to understand and show compassion for the children involved. I wish every divorced parent could read and put into action. It could help so many young children have less future problems.

Jason’s wife divorced him when their daughter Bridget was not yet two. Can you imagine? I give that little girl lots and lots of extra love. It’s a stepmom’s right.
Angelia Sims´s last blog post ..Dear Trick or Treater

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7 Sonia November 21, 2010 at 1:03 am

Oh dear. What if one’s ex is a cheater, liar, and adulterer, and one wants nothing to do with a person of such low morals? I’m afraid even a “hint” of affection isn’t possible then. Older children do understand why a spouse thrown away like trash is not friends with the ex who did the throwing. My children have never heard me discuss my ex, but they have eyes and they can see for themselves what has happened.

I’m afraid the “hint of affection” trick will only work between exes who have some respect for each other.

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9 Rev December 7, 2010 at 5:18 pm

Where did you go Caroline?
Rev´s last blog post ..Marriage Becomes a Number After Mom and Dad Divorce

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10 Chris Hunt May 22, 2011 at 7:23 am

I too am ACOD but for some reason do not relate to these feelings myself. However, as a targeted parent, I so want to understand what my children think and feel so I am very grateful for this post and for finding this blog. If there is one voice which is missing in the discussion about the harmful effects of PAS it is the child’s. Thank you for giving the child’s voice. It is so very important and I will be following this blog.
Chris Hunt´s last blog post ..Fiction Fridaythe saga continues

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11 Maytal August 21, 2011 at 10:30 am

I really think you made an excellent point there. It’s always important to put family first and teach our kids how much love is a priority and is always welcome in your family. Your daughter is so cute btw.
Maytal´s last blog post ..Twitter Do’s and Don’ts for Small Businesses

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12 Cassandra October 16, 2011 at 6:01 am

My parents split when I was very young, so their divorce has never really bothered me because that’s just the way it has always been. One thing my parents got right was that they rarely smack-talked each other. My dad still says (20 years later) that he loves my mom (but he just couldn’t live with her anymore), and I remember when my mom went to my dad’s brother’s funeral and how she invited my dad’s parents to Thanksgiving a couple years ago because they had no place else to go with my dad and his siblings all living far away. It’s nice.

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13 Jen November 14, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Wow, great post! I just found your blog and I am so excited to read all of it. I am divorced and remarried with 2 of my own children and 2 stepchildren. I so strongly desire to do what’s best for all 4 of them, even though it gets extremely complicated. I’m grateful for your openness and appreciate getting to see what the kids feel/may feel in the future. So much focus is put on being a good stepmom, yet it’s difficult to find what the child might be feeling. I believe I can be a better mom/stepmom if I can have an inkling of what’s going on in their heart. Thank you and God bless you!

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14 Ben January 2, 2014 at 1:07 am

Thank you for that post. I am currently seeking advice and information on this topic. I am seriously considering a divorce from my wife after 13 years of marriage. I know this would devastate our 7 year old daughter. She is keenly aware of relationships and has a special awareness of human social interactions. I don’t know where to start and feel I should stay in the marriage until my daughter is old enough to handle the news.

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