Children as pawns

Brenda Cannon HenleyBy Brenda Cannon Henley
I have dear friends of mine that are good people going through a horrible summer through no fault of their own. They join a large cavalcade of other parents and grandparents in the same boat and there’s not much they can do about it, or so it seems to me. They love their grandchildren and want to see them very much. Activities are planned and trips are hoped for, but with no luck for many.

No one I know is immune from divorce and separation these days, but when one parent uses the child in the situation as a pawn to get his or her way, or inflict pain and suffering, against the other parent, everyone suffers. Some I know and many I have found written about in studies hold on to the child and will not allow any communication when it is their turn to visit. One noted expert wrote that he had purposely discussed this very subject with many of his divorced friends and he had found that most agree that talking to the kids once a day when they are with the other parent is appropriate and helpful.

The parent prohibiting the contact is supposedly protecting his or her privacy, but he or she is also causing anxiety for the children. Rather than knowing that the other parent can’t contact them, the children go to bed each night thinking the other parent might not care or has better things to do with him gone. It is pretty difficult to explain to a 10-year-old that you cannot call them because mommy went to court to prohibit it. You can’t very well tell your teenage son that you aren’t allowed to call about basketball tryouts or his big science test because his father had it put in the court order.

There are issues concerning abuse and addiction where contact should not be allowed, and we all know each case must be discerned on a one-by-one basis. However, following divorce, life is difficult enough for all concerned, including the grandparents and others who love the family. It is a time when parents inadvertently make a lot of mistakes largely because of their own pain, but purposely causing more problems by sabotaging relationships with the other parent is another huge hurdle in this road of life that we need to avoid.

The one study that I found most interesting was published in a Time Magazine article not so much about joint custody, but about contact while the child was present with one parent or the other. It seems to apply to many of the issues my friends are facing. One child I am familiar with is not allowed by the male parent to have any contact with the female parent, or her relatives, during the four-week summer vacation he has with his father. In this child’s normal environment, he sees the grandparents often, works in the garden along side of them, goes out in the family boat, fishes, plays on the beach, collects shells, and spends the night at least once each week. This has been his habit all of his young life. But, this year, the father has limited any contact. And, I mean, no contact, no telephone calls, no Face Time, no texts, nothing. This is hard on everyone concerned.

The researchers that I read after aimed to determine if a child that lived in two homes had more stress than one that lived in only one home. They looked at national data for 150,000 children and studied their psychosomatic health problems, including sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, headaches, stomachaches, and feeling tense, sad, or dizzy.

Interestingly, the study found the following: “We think having everyday contact with both parents seems to be more important, in terms of stress, than living in two different homes,” wrote Mandy Oaklander in Time. That goes against some current thinking that kids in shared-custody or visitation situations are exposed to more stress due to constantly moving around and the social upheaval that can come along with that. “Child experts and people in general assumed that these children should be more stressed,” says study author Malin Bergstrom, PhD, researcher at the Centre for Health Equity Studies in Stockholm, Sweden.

Adults, please do not place your child(ren) in the position of being a pawn for your relationship, aiding your hurt heart, or doing irreparable damage to your child(ren). Allow open communication, with guidelines, for all involved. God bless our families.

Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788, or


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2 Responses to “Children as pawns”

  1. Jimmy says:

    Great article Brenda.

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