There are two situations close to me where a parent is limiting the other parent’s access to a child. One set of parents is American, and the other is European – so it happens everywhere. In both instances, the parents doing the limiting are the mothers. But we all know that dads do it, too.
Everyone is losing. Including me, because these moms and dads are in my family, and it’s painful to watch.
The moms are so afraid of loss that they’re using power as a band-aid for their fear. The dads feel that their time with their child is being stolen from them, and the pain colors everything else in life. And the children are learning that the purpose of life is to control people and conditions in order to be all right and avoid pain.
The moms say that it’s in the child’s best interest. And they’re keeping lists of why that’s true. And there’s plenty of evidence to prove it. That’s because our experience of life is the result of what we believe, so it always proves us right.
This leaves the dads with few options. They can get a lawyer and go to war, but no one wins that war.
Here are some possibilities that might help.
Stop saying life isn’t fair.
If we walk around saying that life isn’t fair, we’ll constantly find the evidence to prove us right – and the result will be more pain. If we believe that our happiness and our unhappiness depends on whether someone does something good or bad to us, we’re giving them way too much power. Nothing has the power to affect us until we decide what to believe about it and what our response should be.
So be super careful in what you decide to believe. And practice accepting what people do without wishing for something else, because that wishing will keep you in a state of dis-ease.
Stop believing you’re a victim.
If someone is treating us badly, we have the right to hold that person accountable and to take action to stop the abuse. But we hinder ourselves by going the next step of saying: “You hurt me. You betrayed me. My life is miserable because of you. How could you do this? I’ll never get over it.” In that case, we’re choosing to be a victim and we’ll suffer.
You don’t need people to behave a certain way in order to feel all right. So decide to be unaffected by other people’s words and actions. It will help to focus on what’s going well and what already makes you feel good.
Choose an attitude that works for you.
When people don’t keep their agreements, we can accuse them, blame them and punish them, or we can release them. But whatever we do with them is less important than what we do with ourselves. When people break agreements, what we should not do is let it become our personal hell.
Saying, “I created this mess, and I can un-create it,” restores confidence.
Believing is receiving. If we expect the worst, we’ll get it – and then we’ll use it as evidence that we’re right. But we can change our mind. By directing our thoughts on purpose, our attitude will change, which will also change our actions, and that will change our experience.
We can’t draw the best from people if we’re focusing on their weaknesses and making them wrong. So our first step is to accept that everyone really is doing the best they can with what they have to work with.
And being a good example to our children means being bigger than conditions and broken agreements – and supporting people in spite of reasons to not.
So decide that you’ll give your attention to things that you can do something about. And then acknowledge that the only thing you can do something about is your attitude.
The reason to forgive people is because we deserve it. Otherwise, we end up with too much pain.
Revenge won’t work. Confucius said: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Someone else said: “Revenge is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” So don’t go there.
Self-righteous forgiveness won’t work either. Saying, “I’ll benevolently forgive you for how you’ve mistreated me,” is still making the other person wrong. And you’ll keep demanding accountability.
Conditional forgiveness won’t work either. Saying, “I’ll forgive you if you promise never to do it again,” is an attempt to manipulate the other person. Plus it reveals your buttons, by telling people what you’re afraid they’ll do, which will draw it to you.
Real forgiveness means letting people off the hook forever, even if they do it again. Which is really tough to do, if they’re doing it right now.
So the only real way to forgive is to stop making people wrong. First, check whether being right is a self-esteem issue for you. Do you need others to be wrong so that you can feel all right? If so, take care of that – take care of you.
Then stop making people wrong because everyone is right from his or her standpoint. That means no one is wrong. So you and your ex are both right.
If people act in a way that is hurtful, don’t interact with them anymore.
Here’s what will give you some relief. You’re not obligated to do anything that doesn’t make you feel good. And that includes interacting with people who’ve demonstrated that they’re willing to mistreat people.
It will help to remember that people hurt other people because they hurt. So stay calm and kind. You can say Yes to the person while saying No to his or her actions.
The purpose of forgiveness is to make your life better. So love yourself enough to set yourself free – and love yourself enough to set everyone else free. By forgiving people and accepting them as they are, you’ll begin drawing only supportive people into your life.
Teach your child to love.
Children who grow up in a parental warzone – no matter how much the parents try to keep them out of it – take it all inside. If we make our exes wrong, our children will see it as a negative message about themselves. They’ll develop a belief that they’re not worthy, and then they’ll spend the rest of their lives trying to unlearn it.
And worrying won’t help. It’s not possible to worry about our kids and love them at the same time because worry is fear-based and love is not. Instead of worrying, we need to keep affirming their innate goodness and their abilities. That way, they constantly receive a message of feeling loved, even from a distance.
The only way we can teach our children to love is to demonstrate it. And we can’t demonstrate it when we’re acting from fear or anger. We demonstrate love best by loving ourselves and by loving life, even when it’s messy. That means staying loving even when we’re faced with the opposite.
When your children see you stay calm, kind, even happy, when life is difficult and relationships are stressed, they’ll learn that life is not threatening. And they’ll be more likely to appreciate life and other people.
It’s the best gift you can give your children, even if you don’t see them as much as you want. Faith in life as a “best friend,” believing that life is good and that “I’m worthy and I deserve the best.”
Like I said, it’s happening in my family, and it’s painful to watch. So I’m also working on these 5 steps. If you’re living the same challenge, hang in there. You’re not alone.
This post is featured on The Good Men Project.