When You're Breaking Up, Don't Break Your Kids Hearts

Children are not pawns, and it is emotionally damaging to use them in that way.

Posted Jun 11, 2019

Children are innocent beings, and it is our job to protect them. Yet sometimes, people actually use their children to further their own emotional agendas. We see this a lot with divorced families, but it can also happen when the family is intact. It can be multigenerational, affecting grandparents, in-laws, and anyone invested in the children.

When this happens, the action is generally passive-aggressive. Withholding children from grandparents or even a spouse is most common. It’s even harder to understand when you know that (most of the time) grandparents are a child’s first experience with unconditional love outside the home. Taking away that experience is cruel and can be considered even abusive.

Alienating a child from their family takes some effort, but it is not to be applauded. People who engage in this behavior do not realize that they are spending their lives trying to fill some kind of hole in their own hearts and souls. There are much better ways to get your needs met than by unjustly punishing the people who depend on you. If you or someone in your family is behaving this way, it needs to change, and there is no time like the present.

The dynamics that created your family did not happen overnight, so do not expect the changes you seek to manifest quickly. This is a process that does take some time, and although it really starts and ends with you and your family members, getting a licensed family therapist involved is highly recommended. If you dislike the idea of therapy, think of it as coaching or consulting, because this is not the time to let stigma stand in the way of your family’s happiness. And it’s never too late to have a happy family.

Subterfuge and manipulation really don’t make for a pleasant family life. If you feel like you are walking on eggshells or that someone is always mad at you, there’s little joy to be had. If you are the person who is projecting your negative emotions onto family members, you can’t be too happy either, and we all deserve to be happy. Obviously, this way of being is not going to work for anyone. It may possibly end your relationship and cause permanent damage. Yes, it is that serious. 

If you see this kind of behavior going on in your family, no matter how long it’s been going on or how ingrained it seems, you need to say something. Until a light shines directly on the problem and the pain, you won’t move forward. Just knowing about it is not enough to stop the tears and the pattern. 

Many people are afraid to speak up if threats of withholding a child have been made. You may fear that the threats will be carried out. Unfortunately, that is possible, but you can’t make this change without some risk and probably more than a few tears. It will also feel awkward, and that’s because it is. This is new ground for you and your family, so you can expect a few bumps in the road. Be brave, because it is totally worth it to have your family whole.