I have already published on this site articles which examine the potentially very psychologically damaging effects that divorce, particularly a divorce that is acrimonious, can inflict upon the child. My own parents divorced when I was eight years old, so I do have some personal experience in relation to this subject.
When parents who separate feel extremely bitter, hostile, or, even, vengeful towards one another, it is a sad fact that some use their own children as pawns, or weapons, in an attempt to hurt and punish one another (or, of course, just one parent may act in this way). When this occurs, the distress the child feels as a result of his/her parents’ divorce is likely to be compounded and potentially induce in him/her a state of profound mental conflict and confusion as a result of split loyalties that are impossible to resolve.
It is important to ask, then, what are the signs that a child is being used as a pawn/weapon in such a manner? I list some of these below:
Signs The Child Is Being Used As A Pawn / Weapon :
- preventing the child from seeing/speaking to / contacting the other parent
- deceiving the child into believing that the other parent is to blame for the collapse of the marriage
- exploiting the child by making him/her a ‘go-between’ / messenger to relay messages, particularly hostile, critical and disparaging messages, to the other parent
- pressurising the child into taking sides
- asking the child whom (i.e. which parent) they love more
- questioning the child about the other parent’s behaviour/ using the child as a kind of ‘spy’ to gain ‘ incriminating’ information about the other parent
- cancelling visitation at short notice to punish the other parent
- causing, on purpose, the child to be late for visitation to punish the other parent
- undermining the other parent’s reasonable rules, decisions and discipline merely to antagonize and frustrate him/her (i.e. the other parent)
- openly displaying aggression and hostility towards the other parent in front of the child
Using The Child As An Emotional Crutch :
When my parents got divorced, my mother started to use me as a sort of personal counsellor; she even, shamelessly, referred to me as her ‘own Little Psychiatrist’; it was always her life we discussed, never, or extremely rarely and briefly, mine. For this reason, and many others which I have written about elsewhere on this site, I feel I was largely robbed of my childhood; this has had terrible repercussions on my adult life (which I have also written about elsewhere on this site).
Indeed, it is not uncommon for parents, in the wake of a stressful divorce, to treat their child as a confidante, a friend, a spouse or even a parent (click here to read my article about the phenomenon of parentification and its potentially extremely psychologically damaging effects) and use him/her for emotional support that s/he is not developmentally mature enough to cope with and at a time when s/he (the child) is him/herself in particular need of emotional support. This is particularly the case if such confiding in the child involves spitefully ‘turning the child against’ the other parent.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE (FAHE).