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Custody: My child, not yours.

Children as possessions.  Possessions as sole property.  Sole custody of children, even though the parents are married.

          _______________

Parent 1 to Child: "It's late; go to bed."  

Child to Parent 2: "Do I have to?"

Parent 2 to Parent 1: "He'll go to bed when he's done."

                 ______________

Parent 1 to Child: "Pick up your dishes."  

Child to Parent 2: "I haven't got time."

Parent 1 to Parent 2: "He doesn't have time.  We're leaving now."

                ______________

Child to Parent 1: "I don't want to do it."

Parent 1 to Child: "You'll do it, if for no other reason than because I told you to."

Parent 2 to Parent 1: "Don't you talk to him that way."

Children triangulate.  They figure that out early on if parents give any quarter. Children often master this skill in bi-nuclear households where the parenting styles operate independently under separate roofs.  But children attempt to triangulate in married households as well, all the time.

But what happens when one parent not only doesn't resist the child's attempts at triangulation, but exploits it, driving a wedge ever deeper between the other parent and child?  Eventually the other parent becomes marginalized and disenfranchised, the child and parent become the cohesive unit and the child learns a terrible, maladaptive family strategy. Eventually the other parent checks out, either figuratively or literally.

The scolding parent (Parent 2) believes himself/herself as superior, necessarily so or else they wouldn't proclaim their singular rule over the child.  And the superiority is so virulent that the marginalized parent (Parent 1) is deemed an impediment or perhaps wose yet, irrelevant.

How do you know if this is happening in your household?  If the scolding parent scolds the marginalized parent in front of the child.  That's a certain sign that a parent is exploiting the situation and a pretty good sign that the marginalization is intentional. The scolding parent is blocking the marginalized parent just as certainly as if they'd lowered their shoulder and given a good hip check.  The child is watching greed win.  The winner intends to take all.

I write about futility and fatality in a marriage.  I don't know that this is a fatal sign. I do know that this conduct shows that the marriage is not on a level playing field.  One parent is dominating the other.

The marginalized parent has a dilemma.  Do you take your lumps and move on? Remember that moving on may become literal.  

Do you try to remove the episode from the presence of the child, so that the adults can speak in private?  Yes, that is an excellent idea and should be attempted as often as the scolding can initially be tolerated.  

Do you not suffer the indignity, the humiliation in front of your child and mutually throw down with your own line in the sand? : "He'll go to bed now!" Or, "He doesn't need to leave until the dishes are put away." Or, "I'll speak with him as directly and as forcefully as I feel is necessary."

The answer probably depends upon the reaction of the scolding parent and that is probably rather telling itself. Do you get, "Well, okay then."  Or do you get dishes flying across the room?

Children aren't possessions.  And married parents shouldn't be playing for sole custody.  That isn't good for the children.  That isn't good for anyone.

Michael Manely

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