© 2012 By Megan Hunter, MBA
I’m on a 10-day vacation sailing through the British Virgin Islands.We’ve reached day seven with only a few mishaps like engine trouble, broken sail, jelly fish sting and an injured foot. It’s a family trip to celebrate the 50th birthday of the youngest of 4 brothers, each of whom have celebrated with big family birthday trips.
From the outside, all appears normal. From the inside, it’s been a different experience. A bit like a kid caught in a high-conflict divorce. I’m imagining the confused look on your face about now. Let me explain.
My husband and I started on Boat 1 with one brother and his family. Halfway through the trip we switched to Boat 2 to give one of the other brother a chance to sail on the big 50-foot catamaran. While on Boat 1, we heard a continuous and consistent negative message about the family on Boat 2. And it wasn’t just the parents doing the bad-mouthing, all three children in their early 20’s joined in the bashing.
While we knew the animosity previously existed, until spending several days living with them we had no idea how deep it went. We expected big family parties playing cards and games together, fixing meals jointly, diving together, etc. It’s been very different and very clear that Boat 1 wants nothing to do with Boat 2 which leaves one wondering why on earth they invited anyone at all on their birthday trip. Boat 1 made fun of the son on Boat 2 for his pain from a jelly fish sting. They purposely and intentionally tried to lose Boat 2 or fail to tell them where we would meet in the evenings. It went on and on.
Now we’re on Boat 2 and I can tell you that we felt a huge wave of relief. I woke up this morning with the realization that we are in the same exact position as a child caught between a parent who bad mouths the other parent in front of the child and the other parent who is confused and just wants everyone to get along. In Bill Eddy’s book, Don’t Alienate the Kids, he talks about this “splitting” wherein the high-conflict parent “splits” everyone into all good/all bad categories and then builds a contingency of negative advocates with their persuasive toxicity.
The high-conflict person on Boat 1 has turned her family (all good) against Boat 2 (all bad). Sadly, her children probably couldn’t even give a rational explanation about their distaste for Boat 2 – just like a child who has been alienated from the other parent. There’s no rational basis. I find myself just wanting to get the kids separated from their parents for a short bit to spend time with Boat 2, just to break down some walls.
Boat 2 is wondering if they have done something wrong or if they’re perceiving things incorrectly. Plain confusion.
So, my husband and I have felt just the tip of the iceberg of what a child feels in this situation. Anxiety, stress, stomach aches, fear and we want to “fix” it. Our experience, age and wisdom give us some control, significantly more than a child in this spot, but we still feel badly.
Tonight we have to move back to Boat 1, but things are different now. We already feel the wall of alienation simply because we are having a good time with Boat 2.
If you see even a glimpse of yourself in Boat 1 in relation to your kids, stop doing it. The kids feel nothing but stress over and over again. At least we only have to endure this for brief time. And they grow up with a rigid view of people and an inability to adapt to the differences in people. Kids deserve the chance to fairly know both parents.
Back to vacation…
Co-founder Megan Hunter is a speaker, author, and international expert on high conflict disputes, complicated relationships, and Borderline Personality Disorder. She has over 13 years’ experience as the Family Law Specialist with the Arizona Supreme Court, and Child Support Manager of the Dawes County Attorney’s Office in Nebraska.