Divided Loyalties

  “They fight over me like they used to fight over what TV show to watch,” said Michael, 8,
describing his picture to the group. He added, “I never wanted to watch any of their shows.”

   Michael’s drawing depicted his short stout frame being pulled apart by a parent on each
arm. Michael wanted no part of the conflict. He didn’t like the TV shows they fought about
and he didn’t like being fought over.

Figure 6: TV Tug-of-War

    I am sure that his parents’ struggles extended beyond TV channels and that the TV was
only a manifestation of deeper needs not being met. However, to an 8-year-old like Michael,
the TV was something he could understand.

  Michael’s drawing struck a chord with the other children. Children during the elementary
school years do not know how to resolve the stressors of one parent seeking an alliance
against the other parent. Such action on the part of parents places stress beyond the child’s
ability to cope with such pressure.

  The divorce group allowed the children a safe place to express their feelings of divided
loyalties. They usually do not want to choose sides. The children who have sided with one
parent over the other often have the poorest adjustment and most trouble in school with
their peers.

  There is no way that children can solve this problem, so we reassure them that they do not
have to choose. We give them permission not to choose. After all, a parent is a birthright
that should not have to be forfeited with divorce.

  I reassure the children that it is OK to tell fighting parents who demand allegiance that this
hurts and that they do not want to have to take sides. We encourage them to make I-

  For example, “I feel terrible when you fight over me in front of me. You are both my
parents and this fighting hurts me.” Then we recommend that they say that they are going to
their rooms or a different part of the house until they feel better. They can tell their parents
that they are not the ones getting divorced.
  In the next section we see an escalation of the tug-of-war into a battleground.
TV Tug-of-War