When We Use the Children as Pawns

We often hear it said that divorced parents are using their children as pawns. I think we say that, knowing full well that it means something bad is going on, but right now, I’d like to really consider how that phrase was coined and what it truly means to those children who are being treated as pawns.

Obviously, the cliché has it’s origin in the game of chess. Let’s look first at the object of chess. The object of chess is to completely surround the opponent’s king so that it cannot move at all without being captured. That is, the object is to immobilize the opponent. Isn’t that what many ex-spouses are trying to do? Immobilize their former partner? They would like to prevent him or her from moving up in a job, from moving in or out of a house or maybe from moving in or out of a state or city; they would like to prevent the ex from moving on to a new relationship, and so on.

Next, let’s look at how chess is played. Each player has not one, but many pieces to use to accomplish the goal. That is, each player has a variety of resources to employ in order to immobilize their opponent. That’s what it’s like in real life, too. Each ex-spouse has a variety of resources to use. They may use money, lawyers, friends, family, status, location, manipulating skills, negotiating skills, scare tactics, and even their children.

Back to the game, each player uses all their resources in a complex series of steps, employing sophisticated strategy to use all the resources most effectively. That happens in real life, too. We use money when we have a great deal of it and where it would be most effective and when it doesn’t work, we might break out the tears or some verbal threats. If that doesn’t, perhaps we must use a lawyer to try to accomplish our goal. Each interaction is part of a complicated series of maneuvers, all designed to immobilize the opponent.

Further, looking back at the role of a pawn in the game of chess, it is the least flexible as far as range of motion. That is, there isn’t much that a pawn can do. It can’t move around very well and it is very easily captured. It is therefore considered the least valuable and the most expendable. Is that how we’re treating our children as well? Often, yes. We figure we cannot possibly replace our 401k plan, but our kids, well, they’ll get over it. There is no way we are willing to give up our home or our lifestyle, no, that simply wouldn’t do. Instead, we sacrifice the children, figuring they’ll be fine in the end. In the game of chess, if you lose a couple of pawns here and there, it’s no big deal, you’ve got lots more of them. Oftentimes divorced people, far too focused on their own selfish desires, treat their children this same way, as if it’s no big deal to screw up one or more of their kids, thinking they can always have more later and try again.

Finally, consider that the marital game of chess is played with only one set of pawns, unlike the game of chess. In the marital chess, when a pawn is “lost,” it is lost to both players, and therefore, no one wins. The only way to win that game is to refuse to play it. No one can play the game alone.

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