Children who feel like they don’t belong

‘As a child I always felt I never belonged,’ a friend, whose parents stayed apart, recently confessed to me. ‘I didn’t feel I belonged in my father’s new family or with my mother’s family. Although my friend has half brothers and sisters from both sides of his family he’s always felt alienated from both sides.

Step-family complex?

I’ve heard the same sentiments from some people who grew up in step-families. One man commented how, he never felt accepted in his father’s second marriage. Because his father had full custody of him he never formed strong bond with his mother and later felt a bit alienated from both families.

Losing a parent to divorce

Children of divorce who feel caught between feuding parents may lose a sense of belonging as a result. One woman related how, as a result of her parents divorce, she eventually lost touch with her father. As a result her children never got to know their grandfather.  All this left her with a sense of alienation from her roots.

Don’t transfer emotional relationship hurts to the child!

What may be the reason of such feelings towards one or both parents?  One source suggests  ‘Alienated children generally show intensely negative emotions and an absence of ambivalence. New research on the brain suggests that this may be the result of the unconscious and nonverbal transfer of negative emotions from parent to child. The parent's intense angry outbursts (even if they are rare), intense sadness, and intensely negative statements about the other parent may be absorbed unconsciously by the child's brain, without the child even realising it.’

Pawns in a parental chess game

One divorced mother recently said to me: ‘The main reason why I don’t want my ex-husband to have any relationship with my son is that I do not want him to benefit from all my hard work.’ By ‘hard work’ she meant that she was the one who supported their son financially because her ex-husband was not gainfully employed.

When I pointed out the harm that she could bring to her son by alienating him from his father she simply brushed me aside. It seemed to me, she was more concerned with her pride and love of material things (which the son will hopefully give her when he grows up) than with her son’s mental health.

Beware of parental propaganda

Most of the people who expressed a sense of not belonging anywhere were kept away from one parent as a child. Bad things were usually spoken of the absent parent resulting in the child believing that the other parent did not love him/her

Be neutral, yet protective

The age-old wisdom which has been dished out by parenting experts still applies. For the child’s sake divorced parents should avoid negative and demeaning comments about the other parent. The child should be encouraged to form a good relationship with the absent parent and not made to take sides. Of course if one parent is abusive to the child then appropriate actions should be taken to protect the child. e.g. supervised visits.

Most parents want their child to have a sense of belonging. Whether the parents are divorced or separated the child has a right to feel the love of both parents. Only then will he feel like truly belongs.

Read more by Sipho Yanano

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

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