“He/she/they can’t treat you like that!” is a commonly heard statement of support – I most recently heard it in the movie “Where the Wild Things Are”.
Whereas the truth of the matter is that people can and will treat others however they want and however we will allow them; this line is particularly troubling when it refers to, as it does in the movie, a child angrily acting out toward a parent.
In the movie the newly single mother is dating again, while her young son is coping with the changes in his family structure along with the normal stresses of growing up and dealing with siblings.
As is a common reaction to life stressors, tension builds and boy verbally lashes out at his mother while her date sits in the next room. As the boy runs back into the safety of his room, the mother’s date – in an apparent demonstration of support for the mother – yells “He can’t treat you like that!”
Yes he can. And yes, in a way, he should.
Sometimes adults and parents forget what it is like to be a child. Children have no frame of reference or understanding of relationships except what parents give them. They have little power to control their own destinies. They are still actively learning how to recognize and express their feelings. And too often they get used as pawns in parental relationships.
Parents will always be the parents, and as a result are charged with an awesome responsibility that lasts a lifetime.
When parents are divorcing, dating, remarrying, or fighting they do not do this in a vacuum, their children are directly affected as well. This does not mean that parental feelings, desires, or wants should be put on hold or otherwise controlled by their children, but it does mean that they are still charged with nurturing and emotionally caring for their children – even when their children are unhappy with the decisions that they are making.
In the movie the date wanted to pursue a relationship with the mother, he did not specially choose to have one with the boy. Any relationship he had or would have with the boy is contingent on the relationship with the mother. The date did not see the boy as a child, he saw the boy – at that moment – as a problem, perhaps even as a nothing more than a ‘left-over” from an old relationship.
Too often this perspective is how new partners view or relate to the children from past relationships. Often parents, when creating their parenting plan (custody agreement) do not consider how they, as parents, want to address new relationships.