My wife and I have five sons and six grandsons. That’s right, we have all boys. The sons have grown into fine adults and have sons of their own. Jinger and I are blessed because each of our guys make us proud every day. They have great careers and happy children. In a humble way, part of their success is the result of how Jinger and I raised them. We certainly don’t take all the credit, but we do take some of it. A big part of our parenting was wanting what was best for our boys.
Sadly, that’s not important to some parents. When I had my private practice in family therapy I saw some terrible things that step-parents and parents did to their children. The crazy thing was that those terrible things had nothing to do with the child. It had everything to do with the bitterness one or both parents felt toward their divorced spouse.
One second-marriage couple brought the father’s ten-year old son to see me because he suffered from encopresis. Encopresis is involuntary defecation, especially associated with emotional disturbance. It was obvious that the divorce had a negative impact on the child’s life. I asked what they were doing about the young lad’s problem. The step-mother said, “I have him take off his underwear and I rub it in his face.” I was not only shocked, but I was quickly becoming angry at the stupidity of this step-mother and the father.
I immediately excused myself, found one of my therapist and asked her to take the remaining time with this couple, while I took the young lad on a walk around the block. I’ll fill you in on how this turned out in another blog. This horrible event leads me to the main point of this blog – bitterness has no bounds.
The step-mother was so bitter toward the mans’ ex-spouse that she was taking it out on the man’s son. She never considered what her behavior was doing to the boy. The only thing that concerned her was getting back at the boys’ mother. She was so bitter, nothing else mattered.
This type of mental and emotional abuse happens in broken families, with broken people every day of the week. Maybe not to the extent of it becoming physical, but the emotional and psychological consequences can alter a child’s personality for life. It doesn’t only happen to a certain class or type of people, it happens to all people. For example, I was talking to a colleague who told me about a couple who divorced and their six-year-old son had become a pawn for the mothers’ bitterness toward the father. At every turn, the mother used the son to get back at her divorced husband. If the father had tickets for a baseball or football game and wanted to pick his son up two-hours earlier to make the game on time, he was told “No.” The pickup time was set and she was not deviating from it. If the grandparents wanted to keep the little guy for a couple days, they could only keep him when it was the fathers’ time to have his son. The only way she could get back at her ex-husband was through their son and she used him to the fullest.
Again, this occurs to the rich, the poor, the educated, the uneducated and all those in between. The one common denominator is a deep sense of bitterness toward the ex-spouse. It not only describes the bitterness within a female. Men have the same hateful, unacceptable behaviors when they are filled with bitterness.
What is the result of this triad?
The bitter person is slowly, but surely, destroying their life. Bitterness has the horrible knack to spread to other areas of the persons’ life. It destroys the person who is bitter and it contaminates everyone around them. I’ve learned over the years of counseling and coaching people that no behavior remains neutral. It either gets better or it gets worse. When someone first expresses a negative behavior, they control it. However, given enough practice it controls them. They become the behavior and become more and more dominated by it.
The child is effected by the behavior. Make no mistake, a child realizes a parent is using them to get back at the other parent. The result depends on how the child processes the negative behavior. If they realize how badly the opposite parent has been treated they will choose to live with that parent. If the child falls into the same trap of bitterness, they will unconsciously set a course to have a miserable life.
The parent who is receiving the bitterness will either learn to deal with it. That happens by avoiding the traps set by the bitter parent to save the life of the child. If they fight against the bitter parent they fall into the same bitter trap. A no-win, no-win situation.
What to do about it?
Grow up!!! I’ll expand on how to grow up in the next blog.