You had said something to the kids on one of your Oprah shows along the lines of the mother doing something wrong or bad. I was under the understanding that when working with kids of divorce, it is important not to put kids against one parent, nor make judgments against either parent. I know this can be very difficult to do while validating a child’s anger. Do you feel that my impression isn’t correct? Do you think it’s different if the parent has done something that is clearly “wrong”? Or if one parent is not in the picture anymore?
Answer: Great point and one I’ve grappled with over the years. Yes, I’ve said on the Oprah show before, when you put down a child’s parent, you criticize her DNA. So clearly, we almost never want to criticize the other parent. However, the caveat is indeed when the other parent has abandoned or done something inappropriate. We then have to be concerned that the child will take that parent’s behavior as a traumatic rejection (they’ll take it personally no matter what, sadly). In that situation we must minimize that trauma by helping the child understand that the parent’s actions are “wrong” and never to confuse those actions as a proper response to the child’s behavior or being.
We want that child growing up understanding that the parent does the wrong thing and I’ve gone so far in extreme situations to explain that the parent may be sort of sick in the mind (just as someone may have something physically wrong that you can see, a broken bone) that stops that parent from properly loving.
The primary message is that you, child, are worth loving, deserve loving and hopefully the child you’re helping (as in this case) has a parent who is around and who loves the child. We use that parent to say that you, kid, are lovable just for being you and because you deserve love and warmth.
M Gary Neuman is a New York Times best-selling author, and creator of Neuman Method Programs. He was on the Oprah show 11 times as well as having made multiple appearances on Today, Dateline, the View, NPR and others. Oprah referred to Gary as “One of the best psychotherapists in the world.”