Dawn C. Kepler is director of Building Jewish Bridges: Outreach to Interfaith Couples, located in the East Bay area of San Francisco, Calif.
The Child's Dilemma
Outreach professional's response to The Ex Factor, by Laurie Nodie.
No one could read this article without experiencing the pain of this family. I am deeply sorry for everyone involved. This story helps to illustrate how religion can be the cover for more serious problems. The situation has nothing to do with religion at all. It sadly demonstrates the devastating impact that divorce has on couples, families, and, especially, children. In this case, religion is the bludgeon used to beat out the issues of the divorce. Josh's mom has been identified as the "problem," but the problem is in fact far bigger.
From the beginning Laurie came into a "messy divorce." The stage was set for trouble. In siding with her new husband, a natural move, she gained a role in this family drama.
We might ask a few questions: Where is Josh's dad in all this? Did he make any agreements with Josh's mom? Has he kept them? What has he done to alleviate the situation? How did Josh's stepmom get stuck in the middle? What might Josh's mother say if she were able to defend herself? What is Josh really thinking? Who is Josh's advocate?
As so frequently happens in divorce, the child has become the real victim. Josh is being pulled between two homes and three parents. What divorced parents sometimes can't remember is that a child loves both of their parents no matter what. Even children whose parents are incarcerated criminals still love their parent. Your mother is your mother forever. Laurie and Steve are not helping Josh by telling themselves that they are the "nice" parents. Why do they think Josh took years to reveal his experiences at his mom's house? What is he revealing about Laurie and Steve at her house? Josh is caught between a rock and a hard place.
In my opinion, this family needs a therapist. Even more important, Josh needs his own therapist where he can tell the truth to someone who will be his advocate.
Laurie and Steve should think about how this painful family dynamic is affecting their young daughters. Little children absorb information without being able to make sense of it or to articulate how they are interpreting it. They feel their brother's pain. They feel their parents' anger.
Finally, I would invite couples in this situation to revisit the golden rule: don't do to others what you would not want done to you.
Would you want someone to speak ill of you to your child? Would you want someone to attempt to turn your own child against you? Would you get angry if another adult were to alter the way you had decided to raise your child? How would you want to be treated by your spouse's ex? By his new partner?
Finally, always put the children first. As one mom said, "bite your tongue till you bite it off if need be."
I know it's hard, but try to be the bigger person. Be generous, be kind. You won't regret it. Please remember, this is not about religion, it's about positive parenting.