Caught in the Middle

  • Friday, April 4, 2014

Dear Liz,

My 13-year-old daughter called me in tears the other night – she was staying at her mom’s (who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and fortunately stays on medicine). My daughter said her mom was “flipping out” about me and my fiancé, school and a variety of other things. It appears that my ex is very jealous that I have found a special lady who is stable, loves my kids and her own, and has a successful life. I do not brag or do anything that I am aware of to make the situation worse. My daughter begs not to be caught in the middle, but at the same time asks me to fix things with her mom. I take our kids to counseling. I have invited her to join us (she won’t). I think I bend over backwards to make my ex happy. I kept her in our children’s lives in the best way possible, through her diagnosis and treatment. I could have gotten sole custody and moved, but hung in there so the children would not lose their mom. It has been seven years since our divorce. I don’t know what else to do.

“Also caught in the middle”

Dear “Also ... ,”

Yes you are. And you will have to learn how to be a calm buffer without losing your mind. You are a hero to me because of how kind you have been. But you may have to toughen up some limits and boundaries and teach your kids to do the same with the help of their counselor. Well, I’ll say this, to quote a 5-year-old client, “Divorce stinks!” Bad marriages do as well. Because of the diagnosis, there can be complicated behavioral issues as well as patterns developed before treatment. There is a lot of stigma around this. I am so glad that she agreed to treatment and is being compliant with her medicine. Bipolar Affective Disorder is certainly manageable and is often seen in highly intelligent people, but has a good prognosis ONLY if the person STAYS on the correct medicine and in treatment with a truly vigilant doctor. Sometimes this and other forms of depression can co-exist with personality disorders – which really can make life hard. That may also be going on. As I see it, for all these years your ex has still kind of “had” you. It is common for contention and other acting out to happen as soon as one spouse or the other moves on in their life – especially their love life. The other person suddenly feels the risk of lasting abandonment, loss of control (of you) and so forth. I would seek the assistance of your counselor for ways you and your daughter can manage this, understanding that each of you can only control what YOU do, and especially how you act or react. Thirteen is a tough enough age without feeling torn between two households. Her relationship with you is pivotal because as girls reach puberty, they need a solid relationship with their dads. You are on the right track.

Message to all divorced parents out there: 1) Encourage your children to love BOTH parents, and cooperate for good, well-balanced and SAFE access to both families. 2) Seek professional help with counselors and experts in post-divorce and blended-family issues. 3) NEVER put your kids in the middle. Keep adult issues (including legal issues!) to yourselves. 4) Make sure your children have phone access to each parent/grandparents during visitations. 5) Watch out for kids manipulating or playing both sides to the middle. 6) Always make sure the environments/people to which your children are exposed are as sane, safe and sensible as possible. 7) Try to work together, including attending special events in peace and support. 8) With counseling and healthy modeling, teach your kids healthy communication and coping skills that will serve them well through life. 9) Get your own needs met, staying healthy through your own resources.

Contact Liz via asksharpliz@gmail.com. Liz Brisacher Sharp is a Master degree-level Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice with 35 years experience in mental health.

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