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Circumcision Squabble Illustrates Parental Conflict

Wednesday, 30 January 2008 13:00
The 12-year-old at the center of a bitter dispute between his divorced parents about whether he should be circumcised probably is paying an emotional toll that could last long into adulthood, psychologists said Friday. "The difficulty in this case is that it's a very public case and a very private issue," said Meg Eastman, a Southwest Portland child psychologist.

"For a 12-year-old, it's likely to be very damaging." Eastman and other psychologists said that when children are stuck between arguing parents, forced to choose allegiances, risks rise: They're more likely than other children to face depression, anxiety or to bottle up their rage. Their troubles can inhibit their social and emotional development.

Advertisement "The more protracted the conflict and the more overt the conflict," Eastman said, "children often don't get past it, and they'll have lifelong difficulties with trust, safety and relationships." Friday, the Oregon Supreme Court kicked the case, involving James and Lia Boldt and their son, back to trial court, saying the child's wishes must be taken into account. The Boldts began arguing over custody when their child was 4; custody eventually was granted to the father.

Their dispute over circumcision began when the boy was 9, after James Boldt converted to Judaism and he wanted the child to be circumcised as part of the faith. The father contends their son wants to be circumcised; the mother says the boy opposes it. Without unusual ruffles in their lives, 12-year-old boys find the ground under their feet shifting as they change physiologically and emotionally. Their sexuality is just emerging. They're beginning to reach for independence. Their world frequently feels awkward. Every child handles the transition into adolescence differently, said John Adler, a Gresham psychologist. But an acrimonious divorce complicates the shift. "They might act like it doesn't bother them, but . . ."

Adler said that even giving a child such as the 12-year-old in this case a say in his or her parents' battle -- particularly when the issue involves his body -- poses problems. "How is a child going to decide what they really want when their parents are so strongly camped in one side or the other?" Adler said. "The stronger the parents are saying, 'This is my position,' it makes it harder and harder for a child to make up his own mind because they perceive they'll get disapproval from the other parent. . . . "When one parent loses, the child is going to lose, too. They can't win."

Katy Muldoon: 503-221-8526; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
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