Undermining the Covenant between Mother and Child

By: Nancy Salvato

This is a piece for divorced parents. It is written on behalf of the non-custodial parent; one who wants a relationship with the kids, yet finds the relationship compromised by the other parent. All too often, the non custodial parent is perceived as if he/she is deadbeat and has no interest in the children – when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I am one such parent and the tears I have shed over this situation are far too many to count.

Many partners entering into a marriage have a fantasy that there will be a “happily ever after.” Too many of us, however, have unresolved issues that bear intense self-evaluation before seriously considering tying the knot. Unfortunately, there are no pre-Cana programs for those who aren’t Catholic. Indeed, not everyone recognizes their own unresolved issues. This results in a large percentage of people entering into a marital contract for all the wrong reasons, or without a realistic idea of what marriage really entails. Let me clear up a few misconceptions.

I recently learned about covenants and contracts during a class on the Constitution. The Constitution is a covenant between the people of this country, who have the power to dissolve the government, whose form is more like a contract. Those who hold office are supposed to uphold the covenant. They are contracted to do this. There is a huge difference between these two words. A contract implies that it can be broken if one or the other parties reneges on their obligations. On the other hand, a covenant is a promise to live your life by certain values and meeting certain obligations in order to be assured certain conditions. Breaking a covenant is a much larger ordeal; sort of like having a revolution instead of just changing a few laws or electing different representatives to office.

A marriage should be thought of as a covenant; not to be broken because of the exceptionally large cost which will be wreaked on all the family and friends related to the partners as a married couple. Marriage should not be entered into lightly. It takes a lifelong commitment. If that cannot be absolutely promised, it should not happen. A contract implies that there is an escape clause. Too many people think of marriage as a contract. That is why, in many cases, there are prenuptial agreements between partners in the event that something should go wrong.

Unfortunately, I entered my first marriage for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to break the contract, however, the advice that I received from the counselor who I most trusted was to stay in the marriage. Her reasoning was that if his qualities were over 50% good, if he didn’t beat me, cheat, nurse an addiction, and brought home a decent wage, I was doing well. However, I eventually left the marriage because there was one important ingredient that was left out: I wasn’t devoted to him or in love with him. I couldn’t reconcile spending my life with a person with whom I couldn’t put ahead of myself.

I eventually remarried and that is when most of the problems ensued. I moved out of my ex’s hometown to another suburb. I was devoted to my new spouse, who needed to live in the area where we settled. Because this meant it would be nearly impossible to see my children everyday, I opted to have them on alternate weekends and see them in their neighborhood twice a week – plus summers. That sounds reasonable enough. If an ex understands the importance of children having two parents. Unfortunately, my ex-husband does not.

He made it clear to them that time spent at my house meant being away from their friends and the activities in which they could be involved in what he considered their “real” home. And because he involves himself in their every activity (he is their scout leader, their soccer coach, is a member of where they worship) this has made it nearly impossible for me to take the lead in anything where they live. If I am to see them, I must see him as well. I must navigate those who are his friends, who do not reach out to me. I am intensely alone when I am in his neighborhood, “his town.”

The result is that my children have learned not to see me as an authority or as a parent with equal investment in them. I’ve become an accessory, an obligation, an annoyance, depending on the day. For the most part, my ex has left nothing for me to do with them alone except go to dinner. He even interrupts them when I’m at the house (sometimes doing homework with one or the other) to tell them what they must do (all of the sudden laundry becomes very important, arguments ensue about whether the TV is on) right in front of me, as if I’m a babysitter and am incapable of making decisions about how I spend my time with my own children).

It doesn’t help that schools are not required to call both parents about situations that arise. It doesn’t matter that the divorce decree states that I have an equal voice about their medical care and treatment; their attending doctors simply listen to my ex-husband and don’t feel the need to consult with me when he brings them to their offices. The caregivers understand that he will do whatever he deems necessary and that the children are old enough to go along with his decisions. My kids have been conditioned not to see me as a primary caregiver, whose opinion about their lives should be taken seriously.

Their father knowingly undermines the minimal time I have with my children (I’ve given up on weekends at my house) by telling them that I’m the one who made life so inconvenient by moving 45 minutes away (only in traffic), that I’m the one who wants to schedule two nights a week with them, which will interfere with sport practices now that they’re in high school. I freely admit, I do want them on a weekend or part of the summer, what loving parent wouldn’t, and I do understand that it might interfere with camping or seeing friends where they live. While it is true that I could see them all the time if I’d never moved and tried to have a life apart from my ex-husband, wanting to see my children shouldn’t require the continuation of a dissolved marriage. He has taught my children to refuse to move beyond what are now circumstances that cannot be easily changed. He has taught them limitation.

He’s taught them there is no need to respect me, that I’ve divorced them as well as him, and that I’m selfish for having a life without them. He treats my relationship with them as a contract, not a covenant. Oddly, that is the same message I received from my own mother about my father when I was a child and they divorced. To this day, I do not have a relationship with my father though I often cry about that void in my life. I don’t want that to happen with my own children but I fear I am beginning to see the writing on the wall.

Most incredibly, I have an ex who has taught our children that time spent with their mom has no value; that it isn’t important to know their mother. When they see me, there is always something that must be sacrificed. Instead of learning to accept reality by making the best of an otherwise difficult situation, they have been taught to limit their capacity for positive thinking and to dwell on what might have been, building up a resentment toward me that is of late becoming an extremely heavy cross to bear.

I’m sure there are deadbeat parents, parents who think little of spending time with their children, or find dedicating time to them a burden. But there are more parents who have gotten divorced from their spouses and are mortified to find that their kids have become entities included in the divorce settlement, rather than living, loving human beings to be cared for and nurtured. This is a tragedy for the children and an exploitation of the non-custodial parent. I could take my ex to court but my children are teenagers and having been literally brainwashed, would look at a judge and say they don’t want to leave their “real” home. They would tell a judge that they don’t want to be taken away from their friends and activities, a notion cultivated by the narcissism of their father.

They would look at a judge and say, she’s the one who left.

Copyright © Nancy Salvato 2006

Nancy Salvato is the President of The Basics Project, (www.Basicsproject.org) a non-profit, non-partisan 501 (C) (3) research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country. She is also a Staff Writer, for the New Media Alliance, Inc., a non-profit (501c3) coalition of writers and grass-roots media outlets, where she contributes on matters of education policy.

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