Q: I was married to my husband for 13 years, having had problems with our relationship for the majority of them. For years before the actual divorce, I had my foot a little bit out the door, due the nature of my husband’s mood swings. We did try to get help over the years, but it only helped temporarily.
As the situation grew worse, I spoke about divorce very strongly with my husband. Soon after this, my husband made false allegations against me — that I had severe anger issues that affected both him and our 12-year-old son.
I was actually arrested! Because of what my husband told the judge, I have only been allowed to be with my son one hour a day. It is so unfair that whoever complains first is listened to by the police and legal authorities. We are going to court soon to deal with these charges.
According to my son, his father has been behaving extra nicely and going out of his way to be home for him after school (which never occurred while we were living together), and he is trying to get full custody.
My son says that his father never speaks badly about me, and wonders why I speak badly about him. What am I supposed to say to my son? How can I respond if I was falsely accused of violent behavior? I can’t just smile when he speaks about his father.
In terms of summer plans for our son, his father wants him to go to sleep away-camp, while I want him to stay home. My son does want to go with his classmates to a sleep-way camp, but I feel that it’s unfair — I see him so little as it is.
When I tell my son to only tell the truth when he speaks to the court-appointed law guardian (who needs to speak to him), he just shrugs his shoulders. It seems that he’s afraid to say that his father is lying about me, as his father might then go to jail. How should I handle this?
A: Complications and struggles can happen at an earlier time in one’s life cycle or later on in life. What enables a person to manage (and even thrive) is one’s attitude and the ability to create workable coping mechanisms. Your family’s pain is palpable, and to be able to make transitions in a way that are smooth and “normative” should be your goal.
One child who I worked with in a somewhat similar situation expressed it this way: “I understand why my parents are fighting for custody: They both want to be with their child. Each one is trying to get there in a different way. I can deal with feeling like a ping pong ball sometimes. I just want to know where I’m going and when.”
As you want to make this difficult period in your son’s life as “regular” as possible (avoiding drama as much as possible), you need to focus on the concept of “mo’ach sholet al ha’lev” (the mind controls the heart.) That is, you attempt to have your mind govern your emotions and be even keeled with your son.
The tug-of-war of dual loyalty that a child goes through in such a circumstance can’t be imagined. “If I am loyal to one, I can’t be loyal to the other,” a child feels. Some parents foolishly actually verbalize this. Children have been taught to appreciate both parents all their lives. To start hearing one parent’s anger towards the other only makes the painful process that the child is going through at this point more difficult.
Denying your understandable feelings is not the goal. What is unfair is clearly unfair! The question to ask yourself is, how should I best respond to my son? Practicing keeping a poker face before seeing your child is helpful to you and your son.
If your son speaks about having a good time with his father, you can focus on how happy you are that he enjoyed the amusement park — or how you, too, liked roller coasters.
In terms of sleep-away camp, it is a very age-appropriate activity and to deny him that will most likely cause unnecessary antagonism from your son.
With regard to telling the truth in court, you can only daven that the truth will prevail. Many judges are indeed aware of falsehoods that are promulgated during custody battles.
Hatzlachah in this most difficult situation.