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Battle Scars

Yael Schuster

It’s always tumultuous for a child when parents divorce, and providing stability is critical. While the Mizbeiach sheds tears, parents can still help their children smile again

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

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STABLE GROUND Experts say that keeping each home fully stocked with whatever a child might need — a full wardrobe, school supplies, reading material, toiletries, pajamas — reduces the sense of living an unrooted, nomadic life (Photos: Eli Cobin)

F

or years the nightmare haunted him:

Shlomo is his six-year-old self, standing in the hallway of his parents’ home. His mother and father each hold one of his arms, soundlessly tugging him in opposite directions. He feels himself split in two.

The dream was so vivid that today, almost 30 years later, with only the slightest bit of imagination, Shlomo — now married with young children of his own — is back in the terror of that hallway scene. No need for Freud here, with the symbolism so glaringly obvious. This is exactly how it feels, says Shlomo, to be a child at the center of a custody battle.

“My friends who were at the center of nasty custody fights are cynical, closed-off people who’ve lost respect for both their parents,” says Dalya, whose parents divorced when she was 12. “They’re scarred on a deep psychological level. Other kids of divorce I know, whose parents managed to get along, have happy, stable lives.”

Divorce is never easy, and the very nature of a parental split-up throws children off balance, often shattering their sense of security and stability. Within custody arrangements, there are so many variables that can spell the difference between a well-adjusted individual and one with festering psychological wounds.

Is there a way to ease the pain and tension of a child faced with the confusion of dual loyalty, two homes, and perhaps conflicting lifestyles?

Gila’s Story: Psychological Chaos

At the time of my divorce ten years ago, I was so desperate to get out of my marriage that I quickly agreed to the custody deal presented to me. My oldest was nine, and though my husband was already displaying troubling signs, I couldn’t foresee the issues that would arise as my kids got older. Today I regret that I didn’t fight harder.

Within custody arrangements, there are so many variables that can spell the difference between a well-adjusted individual and one with festering psychological wounds

My ex and I live in the same town, and my kids spend two weeknights with me, two with their father, and alternate long weekends between us. In theory this sounds great. In my situation, it’s damaging. After the divorce, my ex changed to the point where now our hashkafos are completely different. In his house, the kids have little discipline and tremendous freedom to do what they want. Following halachah isn’t emphasized, and they watch movies that are antithetical to my values.

The inconsistencies are palpable to my kids, and as teens they’ve suffered with questions of identity. The fact that they spend equal time with each of us has only added to their identity confusion. With time, they each seem to be finding their own way.

I’ve considered going to court to try to change the custody arrangement, but have concluded that it’s not worth it. The cost would be huge in terms of money, time, and energy, and I realized that as they get older, they go back and forth between houses whenever they want anyway. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 673)

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