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When Separated Parents Fight Over the Child’s Name

October 18, 2017

In the more contentious parental separations, parents not only fight over the time the children spend with each of them, but over their minds and identities. Indeed as an issue, that underlies what many call parental alienation.

It is not enough that the kids live between us as we want, but the kids must also have the same (negative) view of the other parent as do I and the kids must be more aligned in their identity with my family over the other.

So what’s in a name?

The name for many is the seat of identity. The given name may honor a living of prior family member. The surname reflects the clan to which one belongs.

And so the fight is on.

The fight for the child’s identity may have begun at birth with a parent’s name left off of the birth certificate. In other cases it seeps in over time with subtle or not so subtle messages how the child may not fully belong to the clan, given a different last name.

As these parents fight over the external identity, characterized by the name, the child’s internal identity is also being shaped and formed. It is the parental fight that is most formative of that internal identity.

Apart from the child having to choose sides by making the name a deciding factor, the child’s internal identify forms on the basis of the child’s actual experience of the parents. The child then develops a world view on the basis of that internal identity:

  • If one or both parents is bad, that at least half of me is bad;
  • I am born of bad blood;
  • Given exposure to the parental dispute one parent’s views of the other is validated by that other parent’s actual behavior;
  • Separated parents will NEVER get along;
  • I cannot like or love two people who themselves do not like each other;

Consider the life of the child who lives with an internal identity comprised of those beliefs.

  • How does this child ever feel about themself?
  • How will/does this child compensate/manage for how they feel internally about themself?
  • How will the child relate to the parent whose behavior validates the negative messages of the other parent?
  • How will this child come to manage life’s inevitable conflicts with their intimate partner or friends or colleagues?
  • Will this child ever feel safe in the company of both parents and what will that mean for things like graduation, marriage and other significant life events?

Being the better parent may require one to remove themself from the fight for the external identity to concentrate on the formation of the internal identity. This is a tall order.

It requires letting go of the usual indicators of identity – the name.

By letting go the fight, the child then has at least one parent who demonstrates making concessions to the greater good of the child. The child’s experience of that parent also stands in contrast to what is said of that parent. With one parent being reasonable it holds the door open that if both are present in the same space and time, while uncomfortable it can be safe.

When your child comes to you and demands to change their name consider if the fight for their external identity will be of value to you in the long run in terms of your life-long relationship with your child. How you manage this may validate negative impressions of you whereas letting go the fight may cause you to be internalized as caring and acting in your child’s interest to live in peace.

While you cannot control the impressions projected of you by others, you are always in control of the impressions your project of yourself. Manage your inputs to your child’s internal identity as that may better serve your child in the long run.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue or even help growing your practice. I am available in person and by Skype.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
http://www.yoursocialworker.com

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America. He consults to mental health professionals as well as to mediators and collaborative law professionals about good practice as well as building their practice.

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