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Question

My husband and I have a blended family. I have three children from a previous marriage and he has one, then we share one together. The transition is going as well as can be expected. We both had nasty divorces where as the other ex-spouse engaged in serious false allegations during the divorce. There have been several times now where we have caught the children in lies to their other parent about abuse, being home left alone, fake bruises, locking children up in rooms, etc. Thankfully, nothing serious resulted from the lies. We did take away privileges from the children each time it happened. Why do the children feel a need to lie to the other parent about such important issues? Is there anything I can do further, as a parent, other then revoking privileges when this happens?

Answer

debbie mandel Replied: The children have experienced great de-stabilizaton - as you put it "nasty" divorces. Whatever you say or do, the children are watching and absorbing all this stress. In addition they wish to ingratiate themselves with the other side. Since they are naive, they believe they can do it by claiming abuse - thinking each side wants to believe the worst about the other as in a "nasty" divorce. This kind of lie is really a cry for love and attention. The lies about physical abuse show how wounded the children feel emotionally! They need above all to feel loved by both sides and secure that they have not been divorced in the process. Call a family meeting with all concerned and open the lines of communication.
Posted On 2011-01-20 19:00:33
Debra Brooks Replied: You did not mention the ages of your respective children, but this can be a common problem. Make sure that you and your ex-spouses are not putting your children in the middle of your conversations. Do not make them privy to information that it not for their ears. Avoid using them as message carriers. If your children are old enough, talk to them about the seriousness of their allegations (the possibility of not being with either parent). The main thing to do is keep the communication open with the other two parents so that everyone will be on alert when there is "a lie amidst".
Posted On 2011-01-17 19:59:46
Beverly Willett Replied: You have some serious, complicated issues going on, though with divorce lying is not unique. I know saying that dos not solve your problem, but these are unfortunate by-products of what I believe is a rampant divorce problem in our country. Lying and keeping secrets by children is very common. (The particular abuse fact, however, I have no expertise on.) There are no easy answers or quick fixes. First I suggest you find a good family counselor who specializes in working with blended families. Second, let me point you to some experts in this area. Cathy Meyer writes about blended family issues and has several articles on the subject. (Google search "cathy meyer blended family;" you can also search her articles on divorcedwomenonline.com and divorcesupport.about.com. (You can also Google "Jill Brooke" who is also a blended family expert and you can find related articles on-line.) Two very good books written about the effects of divorce on children are written by Elizabeth Marquardt and Judith Wallerstein. I've posted links below. Finally, The Huffington Post has started a divorce vertical which contains a mix of pieces -- from research, advice, personal essays, celebrity divorce news, etc. It's all encompassing and only started about a month ago, but there's a search mechanism and may be something posted about blended families there as well. All the best to you, your husband and children.
Posted On 2010-12-04 15:52:56
James Crist Replied: This is unfortunately an all-too-common situation. I suspect there is pressure from the other parents to report such things, even if they are not occuring. Kids will sometimes make things up if they think that is what a parent wants to hear, and if they get a lot of attention for it. Taking privileges won't solve the problem. I think counseling is indicated so that the kids have a chance to talk with someone other than a parent who can help them process their feelings. The best consequence for telling lies is that they lose your trust, such that they don't get to go places on their own because you can't trust that they will be honest with you if problems occur. However, it is even more important to get to the bottom of what is going on, and the feelings that your children are expressing through their actions. It could be anger at you, though this may or may not be based in truth. You could start a conversation with something like, "We're really surprised, and hurt, that you would make things up about us and tell your dad (or mom) things that aren't true. We're wondering if you feel upset or mad at us, but are afraid to let us know. We're open to hearing what you are upset about, because that's the only way we can try to make things better."
Posted On 2010-11-27 13:50:03
Dr. Tom Greenspon Replied: Without knowing all of the players involved in this drama, an outsider of course can't assess whether the allegations you mention are purposeful lies, or exaggerations based on some truth. I am assuming you are hearing that your children are making up stories about you and telling them to your ex-spouses; if that is the case, I also don't know whether they are actually doing this, or whether the ex-spouses are telling you this for their own reasons even though it might not be true. Accepting your question at face value, my first concern is that punishing your children in this situation is not likely to change things, and might actually backfire. Their anger about the punishments is likely to show up in the other homes as more stories of abuse. I will assume that relations with your ex-spouses are not such that an extended-family conference would be workable; that would be the most direct route to a solution. Short of that, it looks like it is time for a family conversation, with you and your husband and all of the children, about solutions to this problem. Remember one thing: your children likely have divided loyalties. In most cases, even most cases including instances of abuse or abandonment, the ties children feel to both parents are enduring and powerful. If your ex-husband has made up stories about you, your children may find that one way to maintain their connection with him is to participate in the story lines. The impact this has on you may not be in their minds when they are with him. You can tell them that you will do your best not to involve them in the arguments between you and their father, that you can't do much about his bad-mouthing you, and that you hope they will not disparage you to their father, or their father to you. They are free to have a relationship with him, just as they are free to have one with you. Lastly, you might consider telling them that if they have problems with the way you treat them, you are open to talking directly with them about that, and to finding ways to work it out with them. This seems like the best way to help you and your children get beyond this traumatic and stressful history. If the conversations are difficult, please consider seeking professional help from a person familiar with family work.
Posted On 2010-11-23 16:19:52
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