When Cultures Clash–
Divorce, Remarriage, and Children.
When a parent remarries, the new spouse is often the source of alienation between the children and one of the parents. This is especially true when there is a clash of cultures. Mixing cultures can be a recipe for disaster between divorced parents and their children. Watch this one hour video by Stefan Molyneux for an example of the problems it can cause.
The first thing we need to cover is “cognitive dissonance”. Cognitive dissonance happens when new information clashes with our own realities. If you see a flying pig your mind will rationalize that it must have been shot out of a cannon or launched from a trebuchet. Your mind has to come up with something to rationalize the absurdity of the situation because in your reality pigs cannot fly.
Everyone wants to marry a soul mate. We want, and hopefully think we have found the most wonderful perfect person to share our lives with. In our reality, this new wonderful person could not possibly be the cause of a child hating us or hating the other parent. In order to deal with this absurdity, our minds will rationalize that either the other parent is causing the alienation or the child is the problem. In the video you can hear at about the 60 minute mark where the father says he respects and admires Stefan Molyneux. He deals with the absurdity of disregarding the opinion of someone he highly respects by hallucinating that the reality is more nuanced than even Mr. Molyneux can understand.
Unfortunately, you cannot know when you are experiencing cognitive dissonance. Everyone else seems just as wrong either way.
Our culture informs our reality
Mixing cultures is also a recipe for cognitive dissonance. Culture and values are intimately tied up with who we are. By the time you marry someone, you’ve negotiated those differences. You look past them to see the person you love and rationalize and adjust to the differences. This is all well and good, but your ex spouse and children are not going through the same process in the same way. It’s like you’ve gone to the personality tailor and swapped out a chunk of who you are. To you, you are the same person, but to those closest to you, you are not. Moreover, anything your ex or your children do not like, they are going to blame on the new spouse. And because some of those changes involve new culture and values, you can bet there are going to be some things they do not like.
If you divorce from a conservative culture and marry into one that is more permissive, your ex may see you as becoming immoral and teaching the children bad values. If you go the other way, your ex will see you as becoming oppressive and authoritarian.
In either case, the children are likely to be caught up in the middle of the culture war and be forced to choose sides. Both parents are going to want to teach their values to their children. When they were married, the parents had already worked through those issues, so in divorce they likely co-parented well to start with. When the culture of one household changes, it throws everything out of balance.
Alienating a parent
Alienating a parent is never good for the child. Because of cognitive dissonance, people never think that they or their new spouses are part of the problem. It’s always going to be entirely the other parent’s fault. And remember, nobody knows when they are in cognitive dissonance. Everyone else is just being crazy and acting absurdly.
In some cases, the goal of the new spouse is alienation. Because of the cultural differences, the step-parent simply sees the other parent though the cultural lens he was born into and wants the other parent gone for the good of the children. In other cases alienation is the goal of the ex-spouse for the same reasons. Either or both of these could be the reality, or it could be completely accidental. Regardless, everyone will believe it is the other parent’s fault. Worse, everyone will have all the evidence they need to prove it is the other person’s fault because of confirmation bias (the nearly inescapable tendency to only look at evidence that supports one’s beliefs and disregard or minimize other evidence.)
What should I do?
The best thing you can do is focus on the children and not the fault. Understand that no matter what you think of the other parent or how much you want to think otherwise, alienation is bad for the child. If you think alienating the other parent in your special case is the right thing to do, you are experiencing cognitive dissonance.
If the relationship between either parent and the children deteriorates after a re-marriage, start family counseling before you start blaming. Don’t put your children’s emotional health at risk, even if it is not your fault.