The Ugly Side of Love

kidsfirst.istockThree local children sent to juvie lockup because they refused to have a meal with their father. That’s the blaring news around me this week, and it ain’t pretty. And since I work with a family law attorney client, Alisa Peskin-Shepherd, I am deeply embedded into the case from an observer stance, working alongside her to make an educated statement about something which seems completely irrational.

I can’t speak to the legal nuances of this case. I don’t know the Tsimhoni family; I don’t know their story.

What I do know is that divorce is no easy path, for anyone walking it.

Eight years ago this fall, I took the leap of filing to sever the marital ties with my husband, my children’s father. It took me two years to come to that point of decision, and I remember feeling exhilarated after leaving my attorney’s office, finally facing the fact that I had another option than to continue on in misery.

As I left the suburban high-rise office building into a gray fall afternoon, I also felt sadness wash over me like a great cold wave.

People marry because they seem a glimmer of hope in the other person and the promise of lifelong love and partnership in the beckoning relationship. They split because what they thought they saw was an illusion or a shard of the truth.

brokendreams.istockThe thing is, relationships are hard, whether you’re well suited for one another or not. I have come to believe that it is a decision to stay together – and a decision to leave. Even if the stars do not align and fireworks do not explode when you are with your partner, that doesn’t mean divorce is the only option.

I’m speaking from the stance of being divorced and now remarried. My children shuttle back and forth between our houses. Sometimes my ex and I get along; sometimes we don’t. And the children are always subjected to the roller coaster of our adult mistakes.

While I believe my ex and I both thought we could make it work, that we could find lifelong love in each other’s embrace, I also believe now we don’t wish each other harm. I don’t harbor ill will toward him; sure, we get frustrated with one another – if we couldn’t work together married, why would we think it would be easier now?

But sometimes I think divorced parents don’t really see the ugliness we create – for ourselves and especially for our children. It’s like we are blind to our own faults, ignorant of what is right in front of us, clinging to win or to be the favorite parent or to be the children’s preference.

When in reality, we should be wishing each other well and encouraging the children, always, to love both of us equally, fully, forever.

What I can’t understand about the Tsimhoni case is why a judge would throw children in the equivalent of jail for refusing to see their father. They are children! And the court order binds the adults to act on the children’s behalf accordingly – it does not demand that children themselves stop feeling, stop speaking out, go blindly and submissively into situations they fear.

Again, I don’t know the parents, who admit they’ve had an ugly five-year battle. I can only assume they both love their children so deeply that they would do anything to be with them. And I am sure the hurt the parents feel is nothing in comparison to the hurt the children carry like a boulder between their shoulders, forever hunching them as they try to move forward.

Children are victims in any divorce. They really have no say.

Just the other day, I commented to a friend how unfair it is that because parents choose to split up, children cannot go through the normal emotions of childhood freely. For instance, there are times when a child prefers mom, and a time when dad is the preference. If the parents were still married, that child could cling to one parent over another until whatever need promoted that was satisfied and no one would be worse off.

If parents remain married, children don’t notice if Dad comes home late or goes out with friends. They don’t think about whether they have equal time with both parents. Sometimes they’re parked in front of the TV. It all happens under one roof. And no one has any say.

Once divorced, the children are bound by a schedule, which can sometimes be rigid. Who cares if they don’t want to stop what they’re doing at this very moment and head over to dad’s house! It’s court-mandated and now, the message from this awful case is that the kids can be punished for preferring one parent over another, for standing up for their beliefs.

Children do have rights, you know. We adults don’t pay much attention to that fact. In a divorce, children are parceled out like purchases according to the imagined “right” schedule of a disinterested judge who simply applies law and legal precedent, having nothing to do with emotion, developmental stage, or any other details from the children’s lives.

I’m very sad to picture¬†about these children, ages 15, 10 and 9, sitting alone in a juvenile detention center. They are barred from being together, barred from being with their parents.

No child should ever be banished because of the stupidity, immaturity and emotional outpouring of their parents.

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