From the Executive Director's Desk

PARENTS AREN'T NEUTRAL ABOUT THEIR CHILDREN OR THEIR COPARENT

Parents love their children, and feel strongly about providing care and support to help them. Parents aren't neutral about their children. Yet parents who have experienced a family breakup and are sharing parenting responsibilities with a co-parent living in a different home, frequently rush to reassure themselves and other people "Oh, no, I don't ever say anything bad about my co-parent, I am neutral!!"

Really? I don't believe it, because it's not believable. Try replacing the word "neutral" with one of its synonyms to understand how ingenuine the use of this word is: impartial, unbiased, unprejudiced, objective, disinterested, detached, impersonal, unemotional, indifferent, uncommitted... 

A parent's "neutral" response feels like being ignored or brushed off by the child. All that child feels is the sudden chilly disconnect of their beloved mom or dad. Believe me, "neutral" responses to your child absolutely do feel as if you, the parent, is beingimpartial, unbiased, unprejudiced, objective, disinterested, detached, impersonal, unemotional, indifferent, or uncommitted. This sudden disconnect is noticeable ad scary from the child's point of view because your loving support has just disappeared.

Children end up with hurt feelings when parents don't support them. Children feel confused when parents ignore their interests and needs. Ask parents if they think it is important to listen to their children and to nurture their interests, and most parents would wonder why you would even ask such a question. They would say,"What do you think? Of course I think it's important. I love my child. How can you even ask that!?!?!" 

Most parents intuitively know that children often need encouragement the most at times of transition, whether they are the little transitions of daily life like getting up, eating breakfast, getting dressed, and getting in the car with all the gear needed for the day -- or big transitions like the break-up of the family. The difference is that parents know how to cope with the ordinary transitions of daily life. Break-up of the family overwhelms the coping skills of everyone in the family.  And the transition between Mom's House and Dad's House is a frequent transition for 2-home children that can be a challenging time for the parents.

Parents don't usually think of themselves as "co-parents" until the couple relationship ends, even though they may have years of co-parenting experience to draw on. And, like most of our life experience, some of it has been positive and helpful, and some of it has probably been more negative and unhelpful. Families break apart because the grown-ups have differences that can't be resolved. Inevitably some of those differences are in the area of parenting and, unfortunately, one or both parents tend to paint the other parent as "the bad parent" and him or herself as "the good parent." As the Executive Director at Hannah's House, I have personally had the experience of a parent actually telling me they are "the good one." 

My heart hurts when I hear these words or perceive this attitude/belief in a parent. I hurt because it is an impossibly painful situation for the child. It means the child gets the message he or she is "half good" and "half bad." And, no, parents don't understand that reality for the child because the parent is just not thinking about the child. In fact, that mom or dad may be so preoccupied with his or own reactions to their coparent that they don't even notice the impact on the child. They become focused on their own needs, feelings, and shaky identity with no awareness of the child. It's not an intentional disconnect from the child and, for most parents, this behavior will not last. At least it won't last for the vast majority of parents because sanity will return and coping skills will develop. But what damage is done to the child as the parent struggles to find a sense of equilibrium again and return to that consistent, close, and warm parent-child connection.

Neutral is not an appropriate parental response because neutral lacks loving and warmth. Neutral is not possible for a parent even under the very best of circumstances! And it is completely impossible when the parent is hurt and their dreams shattered. If you are a friend or family member of a parent striving to be "neutral" when really what they are is angry, frustrated, hurt, depressed, worried about their children and so on, then please speak up. Validate the pain and grief of loss that goes with the break-up of the family and support that parent in acknowledging and supporting ALL of who their child is, not just PART of the child. The way children end up with a facade, a false self, a loss of childhood spontaneity and a loss of the ability to experience pleasure, is through the neglect of their emotional and psychological well-being by the most important adults in their life: Mom and Dad. 

So, please don't be neutral! Speak up, help, support, and be a friend. Be a thoughtful and loving family member. Suggest a co-parenting class, counseling or therapy, a support group, something to help Moms and Dads get the support and information they need to deal with one of the most difficult life transitions a person can navigate.