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Split Loyalties | Reasons Your Child May Be Rejecting You | The Rejected Parent Newsletter

This newsletter is for parents who are being rejected by their children and those who support them. I will be sending regular newsletters to give suggestions and support to parents dealing with rejection from their children on all levels. I generally support parents whose children are 18 years and under; however, some of this will apply to parents with adult children as well.

Hello Reader,

This newsletter is part of the Reasons Your Child May Be Rejecting You series. Split Loyalties is when a child feels torn between two parents. They almost feel like they are betraying one parent when they want to spend time with the other. Or maybe they are mostly loyal to one parent, and it’s hard to leave that parent to spend time with the one they are less loyal to. The child may want to spend time with one parent because they don’t want to disappoint them.

Criticizing the Co-Parent

Your child may feel a sense of loyalty to the Central Parent (the parent who is currently the primary caretaker) for several reasons. This means they prioritize time with them and may even take their side, which feels like they are going against you. Sometimes, when the Peripheral Parent (the parent who is not as involved or cut off) becomes defensive about why a child isn’t seeing them, the child may avoid that parent. Also, if the child feels the Peripheral Parent is criticizing the Central Parent, they will most likely be pushed further away from the Peripheral Parent. This cements their loyalty to the Central Parent.

Fear of Leaving Sick Parent

Another reason behind a child’s sense of loyalty is a fear of leaving the Central Parent because they are sick or medically needy. In a child’s mind, that parent might die, or something bad will happen if they don’t stay home with them. This way, they can keep an eye on that parent, so if something bad happens, they can call for help or take care of it themselves. These children suffer from anticipatory anxiety (worrying about what may happen next without realizing how this is influencing them. They are so focused on the “sick” parent, that they don’t see it as an option to leave them to be with the other parent.

The “sick” parent is the only one the child thinks about, in part out of fear of losing them. Perhaps this parent is the one who has developed a stronger bond with the child, so the child stays with them to make sure their parent is okay. I have seen many cases where it is the primary caretaker that has either real or somatic symptoms. The stress of everything has worsened or created a new medical issue, or maybe it just makes them seem ill to the child. In turn, this places fear in the child of that parent dying or leaving them.

Emotionally Needy Co-parent

An emotionally needy Central Parent can also trigger a child to fear leaving them alone when that parent is not doing well emotionally. For instance, the parent may tell the child they are lonely and need company or caretaking because they are too depressed or anxious to function. Children know when there is something wrong.

Children are Suffering

Children who appear to be rejecting a parent are suffering. They do not mean to reject the Peripheral Parent. Children are just too wrapped up in their anxiety and fear of aligning with Central Parent. They are basically rallying around that parent and afraid to leave them. This can easily look like a deliberate attempt by the Central Parent to influence their child to stay with them only, and sometimes that may be the case. However, the Central Parents may not understand how they are negatively impacting their children, because they are too wrapped up in their emotional or medical symptoms. These parents need someone there, and sometimes their child is the only one that they have for support.

Your child needs help understanding that it’s okay to feel sad about going from one home to the other and they can spend time with both of you. It’s more of an and, not an or situation. However, these children need to get support from both parents.

TIP: No support from Co-parent

If you aren’t getting support from your co-parent, then all the moments you have with your child, you can acknowledge how hard it is to leave their other parent to be with you. Offer FaceTime or other ways to say goodnight or good morning to your co-parent. You might need to create boundaries around this, but doing so will show that you support the Central Parent’s relationship with your child. Showing support for your child’s relationship with the Central parent could increase your child's trust. This may also help them learn that nothing bad will happen if they leave the Central Parent, making them feel more comfortable being away from them. The more relaxed they get being away from the Central Parent, the more time you will have to build your connection.

-Cathy Himlin


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