Podcast #14 Parenting, Divorce & Children


If you prefer to read rather than listen, here is a transcript of the podcast.
(Also available in PDF format.)
Note: portions of the text may be slightly edited for clarity in written form.
Recording: …are not necessarily those of the staff, management, or ownership of WGCH Radio.

Dr. Jerry: Good morning, This morning I’d like to talk about when divorce occurs. We’ve spoken about marriage consciousness, a kind of “we consciousness”, and the need to foster it as a way of experiencing a deeper relationship and actually as a way of accepting, in a marriage situation, what Ford spoke of when he spoke of everyday unhappiness. We’re not supposed to go through life jumping along, happy all the time. That’s obvious, and yet in practice a lot of times we forget it.

Sometimes however, divorce seems the only viable way to resolve difficulties and persistent irresolvable unhappiness. Actually it’s at these times that a couple would benefit from psychotherapy. We’ve seen and I’ve heard, socially and professionally, too many cases where divorce occurs where people think that they can just do it on their own. They’ll just go to lawyers and the deeper issues involved are never addressed.

At times of divorce passions are usually running very high and obviously social embarrassment can be present. Clearly when decisions are made about each other and more importantly about children, they will affect each other and affect the children for years. It is precisely at this time a few sessions with a neutral well-trained therapist can help alleviate a lot of persistent, really unnecessary problems.

Now why do I say that? I say that because not all the time, obviously, but frequently, a divorce is really not a divorce for both people. What do I mean by that? Because, after a divorce, either one or other of the spouses continues the relationship, many times for years on end, but they continue the relationship in their heads so to speak. They’ continue being married negatively…. they’ve given up being married positively, they’ve gotten the legal separation, but they’re still married…they’re just married negatively in their head.

Now, some of the signs of being married negatively?. It’s a marriage where anger has obliterated any of the original feelings and the anger becomes so pronounced that the children are the ones who suffer; they are the ones who are used to express the anger. I say this very strongly because I’ve seen it too much and frankly I think it’s outrageous.

When I see a husband or a wife using the children to express their anger, to get back at the spouse, to secure stuff that they didn’t get during the marriage, irrespective of the child’s physical and emotional needs to love both mommy and daddy, frankly I think that’s humanly outrageous. We should socially condemn that. There’s no excuse for that.

For example, A mother or father who continue to talk to their child about the former spouse in constantly negative terms. What this is, in fact, is that such a parent is trying to take the other parent away from the child. You’re trying to alienate the child to make sure what? …all too frequently to guarantee that the child thinks that you’re wonderful and you’re right.

Now remember the image that I’ve used many times during the show of the queen looking into the mirror. You may think that’s a fairy tale but I hope by now you understand it’s not just a fairy tale. That human beings have a propensity to think that they’re right and that they have to prove that they’re right, and they’ll do almost anything to prove that they’re right. That’s just destructive narcissism; such behavior is one of the most destructive things any parent can do, and yet it’s done unfortunately, in my experience, fairly frequently.

Now, why? Why do couples continue their anger after they have been separated? The divorce is over; hopefully the legal separation is more or less fair, whatever that means. Unfortunately that frequently depends on each state’s rules. As I’ve said before, I believe neither parent has come to terms with their anger and/or their need to be right, as well as the basic reality to accept the everyday unhappiness that will come along with living on one’s own again and the possible social awkwardness that it may follow. Even in our current society individuals are still embarrassed that they’re divorced; the way they’re going to handle that embarrassment is to talk against their spouse.

This is where, frankly, talking to a marriage therapist or any therapist can help alleviate one’s personal unhappiness, and, in the process, lessen damage to the children. Now, it’s not just talking about a former spouse. All too frequently a father, because he has more finances, whenever he gets the children will splurge them with gifts and shower them will all kids of stuff and giving the child the message that his or her the mother is not as generous as he is. A lot of times the children don’t know the whole financial arrangement. But it’s a pathological way of saying you should love me more, I’m the better parent.

If anyone out there is contemplating divorce, I realize it’s a painful very difficult decision, but keep your anger and your disappointment for your spouse. Don’t bring the children in on it. That sounds very simple. It’s not very simple. It’s very difficult, but it’s very necessary.

Some other examples: when either spouse will not let the other spouse have more visitation rights than is allowed. One of the best cases I heard of was a colleague who got divorced and both parents worked the divorce out well. Besides the father being able to see his children every other weekend and every Wednesday, he would come every night for 15 to 20 minutes more or less, and tuck them in bed and just say goodnight to them, and give them a goodnight kiss. He did that while the children grew up. Here is an example that resulted in very healthy children as a result of a very healthy divorce.

Whereas you hear too many cases of a wife, or a husband, whatever the case may be, saying oh no, no, no. You only can visit them when you’re allowed. This is another example of using the children for the parent’s purpose, not for the child’s purpose.

Other examples: …. when either parent loses a capacity to be generous and holds the other responsible. I’ve heard of cases, this almost sounds silly for me to mention it, but it creates an atmosphere where a spouse who may, a father, who may have a great deal of resources will ask the wife for an extra four dollars because he got his young son a haircut, and that’s the mother’s responsibility…so he wants to be repaid his four dollars, or whatever. That’s an example of what I mean by being married negatively.

Divorce is no excuse to fail to meet the human obligation to be generous to life, to be generous to the people around you. And if divorce issues in people who instead of being generous, withdraw within themselves and then becoming stagnant, …that’s really a tragedy … if you can’t pay four dollars for your son’s haircut, you’re really just continuing to fight with your former spouse and not getting on with life.

Obviously these are rather petty examples but they evidence is that a divorce has not been internalized and accepted. That’s what I’ve meant a few talks ago when I spoke of everyday unhappiness. Everyday unhappiness means I come to terms with what is. Not what is supposed to be…not what I would the world to be like. But what is. And if I can accept that, then I will learn how to be happy. But if I can’t accept everyday unhappiness, I will never learn how to be happy. Kind of paradoxical but think about that.

I’ve spoken a number of times about our human need always to be right. I’ve mentioned it before. As if being right guarantees self worth. And as you know I’ve said that the need to be right does not guarantee self worth. That’s really very important to remember because if we feel our self worth is being attacked or lessened we can get very, very defensive. Self worth is guaranteed by self-honesty, creativity, and generosity.

Narcissism does not guarantee self worth. Narcissism is just a nuisance to ourselves and a nuisance to everybody around us. So self-honesty, creativity and, as I’ve said, creativity can be anything that we do. Creativity is an attitude that we bring to something. The same is true for generosity. If we don’t have self-honesty and generosity, think about it, we don’t really have self worth. That’s where we get our sense of who we are. That’s ultimately what we want to pass on to our children. Not that we were right and mommy or daddy was wrong.

Our goal in life is to take care of what’s given to us. Not to constantly to be looking in the mirror and finding ourselves wonderful. Now, if either spouse is wasting their time figuring out how to get even with their former spouse, they are, as I have just spoken about not accepting reality.

In the process, they are no longer, in a sense, parents, if you know what I’m saying. They’re no longer parents. They have forgotten their role as parents and they’re using the children to assert, to express their anger, or to express their disappointment.

There’s no question, and I certainly wouldn’t question it, that divorce can be painful and difficult to experience. It really calls upon people to reach deep within themselves. That’s why for so many of these sessions that we’ve had together I’ve focused on how we should try to develop a marriage consciousness. How we have to learn to accept everyday unhappiness. How we have to try to work through frustration and not let frustration build up.

That’s the only point of marriage therapy. It’s not to go to someone and have him or her tell you what to do, or to be a referee and say who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s not to point the finger. It’s because if we can get a better understanding of ourselves, the original good feelings, the original love we had for our spouse has a chance to be rekindled. You don’t get married once, you get married many, many times, if a marriage is going to last. You have to re-find each other many times and it’s that failure to re-find each other many, many times that leads to accumulative built up frustration. When it gets too high of course, then there seems to be no other option but divorce.

But if we’re able to reach deep within ourselves, if we’re able to step back from our anger, our hurt, our wounded pride. Not easy. We all have pride. We don’t like to have it wounded. We can learn to simple take care of those that we have brought into the world.

A person does not become a parent simply by giving birth. That identity, that identity as a parent, has to be reinforced, has to be re-found many times over, particularly after a divorce. You have to find yourself and create yourself as a parent.

We’ve said there’s big difference between just going thorough life existing and going through life alive. Recall that I love that quote of Dr. Winnicott in England, “Oh, God, when I die, may I be alive.” If we want to be alive, we have to re-find ourselves as adults. We have to find ourselves as spouses, if we are married. And if we are divorced, we have to re-find ourselves as parents. We have to learn to be a good parent after divorce. Not just in memory of what we did when we were married.

If person does not take care of children in a generous way, if a child’s well-being is really being subordinate to either parent’s need for revenge, then such a parent will be in danger of living a life of stagnation. That is, they’ll be caught in the past, not living in the present. Stagnation is the opposite of what it means to be alive, appreciating what life is, the gift that life is.

Lack of generosity closes us up. It never guarantees protection. It forces isolation. The most important thing we give to our children is not just whatever inheritance we give them. Obviously we try to give them a very good education. Obviously we try to make them sports people to the extent that they want to be sports people. All that’s important. But the most important thing you can give your child is a sense of joy in life and an experience that they were treated generously; so that in their adulthood, and not even in their adulthood, they will treat others generously. That’s an invaluable gift. It’s that kind of gift that we want children to have. Not just beautiful clothes or the best education around.

After a divorce what you want to inculcate in your children is that mommy and daddy made a decision, they still love you totally, they are not going speak badly about mommy or daddy. That is one example of what I mean by generosity.

I’m going to take a break for just a minute and I’ll be back, and continue our discussion.

Dr. Jerry: Welcome back. Dr. Jerry 1490 WGCH. We’ve been talking this morning about divorce and if divorce is an option that seems the only option you have, why it’s particularly important to come to terms with the fact that you’re divorcing your spouse not the children, and that the children have a right to experience your respect for their need to have a mother or father, without that mother or father being constantly criticized or overshadowed.

I ended up a few minutes ago speaking about what we really want to give our children. We want to give our children first of all, an experience that once you are generous in life that makes life worthwhile. Another thing that divorce can teach, and divorce is unfortunate, but it doesn’t have to be destructive. Divorce can be another way of showing children how to take mature responsibility for one’s life. If one is consistently unhappy and is not open to resolution, and one has tried various approaches to resolve that unhappiness, then one takes responsibility. You take responsibility for you life situation without blaming someone else.

Again, that sounds easy when I say it. Most people just nod their head, well of course, yes of course. And yet, let me tell you, it’s very hard to do to take responsibility for our actions. To take responsibility for example, to say, “You know, mommy and daddy got divorced because mommy was too young and mommy didn’t really know the kind of person she liked, and I realize now that was really my fault and I made a mistake.” Or visa versa on daddy’s part. That’s much more mature. That’s what I mean by taking responsibility, rather than simply blaming the other spouse for not fulfilling one’s own personal fantasies, half of which no one else could fulfill anyway.

It’s important to teach children that if you make very painful decisions in life, you don’t get lost in anger and that you continue to care for them or for anything that you have brought into the world. That’s the best kind of inheritance frankly, if you give that to your children. That a fall in the stock market is not going to effect. It’s really what we owe our children. We do not owe our children a great deal of money. We owe our children a great deal of love, the experience of competence, the capacity to appreciate and enjoy life. That may sound idealistic but I assure you it’s very basic for mental health. When we don’t have that and we don’t have therapy we very frequently fill ourselves up with drugs, legal or otherwise.

What are we trying to do here? We’re trying to pass on to ourselves and to our children, we are trying to give them the capacity to reach for life. What I’ve said many times, that we have to create our own life. I obviously don’t mean we create ourselves. Our parents give us existence; but we have to create the type of people we are. There’s an enormous difference between that and simply living out what we were told we were supposed to do.

In that vein let me reiterate, for a minute, some of the point that we’ve made in our past discussions. Life is not supposed to be easy, and I’ve said that many times. It’s supposed to be real but it’s not supposed to be easy. Difficulties can be occasions to learn about ourselves. Now sometimes difficulties overwhelm us. I know that. But when we have an attitude of, wow, even thought I created this difficulty for myself I’ve got to figure out what I can learn from it. Otherwise difficulties in our life become occasions, really frankly, to simply, as mention, to us medications, legal or not, to avoid facing our life situation.
I happened to hear on Larry King the other night, the author Deepak Chopra, Dr. Chopra, really excoriating his fellow medical doctors, particularly many of them in Hollywood for simply and un-reflectively giving out drugs to a lot of Hollywood stars, instead of helping them understand that life is difficult and that you don’t drug yourself out of difficulty. You try to work yourself out of difficulty.

Happiness, in distinction to American advertising, happiness is not one’s right. It’s everyone’s possibility but it entails personal growth. I don’t think any of us have an automatic right to be happy. We have a right to pursue happiness. The talking cures I’ve mentioned is one way of finding out as well as creating who we are and who we want to become. So in The Psychotherapist’s Corner, I’ve talked a lot about the talking cure only because it helps us, it can help us rather, find out who we are and who we want to become.

I would like to urge you to keep that in mind. The Psychotherapist’s Corner will be off the air in the summertime. I will be returning in the fall. So I would like to end that with a few perhaps reminders, sum up thoughts for you to keep in mind. Human beings are not destined. We can’t always go for the quick fix. We have to learn that an essential part of adulthood, I believe, is the capacity to take quiet ownership of our lives.

Quiet ownership of our lives means I come to terms with everyday unhappiness, I try top achieve what we’ve talked about as everyday wisdom, and I try to recognize that I don’t just bounce through life… life deserves some thought and some reflection. Even if it means two or three times a week when I talk a walk …I try to think about who I want to be and what I’ve done. That’s what’s helps make us. That’s a very little example of what I mean by taking ownership of our life…that is not just letting things happen to us. We all have financial needs. Most human beings have financial needs and of course we have to pursue those needs, but the function of being an adult is not simply to pursuing financial needs. It’s to try to be real, generous, and responsible, particularly in the area in divorce…. particularly in the area of children. Try not to forget that.

The short-term moment of expressing anger, and, for instance, not letting a father or a mother visit their children except when it’s legally permitted, such behavior can come back to bite, so to speak. Children grow up. Children remember how they were treated. Children remember the attitudes that they were given towards the father or the mother. They will remember anger and they will remember generosity.

If you find that you can’t, if the anger is so deep and the hurt is so deep, that’s when you go and talk to a therapist. That’s when you talk it out rather than act it out. Those are the options we have as human beings. We can try to drug it out. That doesn’t work. It works temporarily, but really doesn’t work anything. We can act it out or we can talk it out.

Within those three options I think you will see that talking it out actually is really the best option. There are lots of therapies around and there are lots of place that have sliding scales, so that finances should not be a major concern in trying to talk it out.

Now before I end the session this morning I want to say goodbye. I’ve enjoyed these sessions. We’ve had 14 of them. As I said they will resume in the fall. But I want to urge my listeners, and I understand there’s a kind of natural shyness particularly in talking to a shrink. Sometimes I go to parties and people say, “Oh, my God, I won’t be able to talk because you’re going to analyze everything.” And I say, “No I’m not. I’m just here to eat the food and drink the wine. That’s all.” But if you have any thoughts or suggestions in terms of what you would like me to talk about in the future, or if you have any reactions or responses to what I have talked about, or frankly if you have just any questions that you’d like me to perhaps address, I’ll give you my website there. It’s JerryGargiulo@Gmail.com. I want to thank you for listening. I hope you all have an absolutely wonderful summer. I wish you well and I wish you life.

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