While listening to 107.9 (Matty in the Morning) last week I heard a caller who described herself as a 17 year old girl. This girl when asked where she was, stated that she was at court with her Mother for a Contempt hearing against her Father for non-payment of child support. The girl thought it was funny, which is a perfect example of how a 17 year old child is still not mature enough to understand how inappropriate and damaging it can be to involve your children (no matter their age) in any of your divorce disputes.
The mistakes parents make involving their children in a divorce case range from a simple slip of an angry snide comment about the ex, to a revealing argument meant to win over your child because you think they're old enough to understand, to purposeful comments meant to alienate the child from the other parent.
In any of these cases the damage to the child is significant. A simple comment releasing a parent's frustration can put a child in the middle of an argument that they truly can't understand. Children, naturally inclined to want to please their parents, will often agree with both parents, only increasing their discomfort when parent's discuss the "preferences" of their children.
The bottom line is children (even for the most part adult children) want to love both their parents and should be given that opportunity. Even if one parent starts an argument through a child, responding only does more damage. Quite often the instinct to respond and defend oneself is the wrong choice because it only perpetuates keeping the child in the middle of the argument.
The best strategy for dealing with children during a divorce case is to provide them with as much stability as possible and to remember that they still want and deserve the chance to bond with both parents. According to Planning for Shared Parenting: A Guide for Parents Living Apart, children benefit when parents:
• Communicate with each other in a courteous “businesslike” manner.
• Are on time and have children ready at exchange time.
• Avoid any communication that may lead to conflict at exchange time.
• Encourage the children to carry “important” items such as clothing, toys and
security blankets with them between the parents’ homes.
• Follow reasonably similar routines for mealtime, bedtime and homework time.
• Communicate about rules and discipline in order to handle them in similar ways.
• Support contact with grandparents and other extended family so the children do
not experience a sense of loss.
• Are flexible in developing parenting plans to accommodate their child’s
extracurricular activities and special family celebrations.
• Make time to spend alone with their children when the parent has a new partner.
• Are with their children during scheduled times and communicate with their
children when they cannot be with them.
• Respect the other parent’s scheduled times with children and do not schedule
plans that will conflict.
• Discuss any proposed schedule changes directly with the other parent.
• Support the child’s relationship with the other parent and trust the other’s
• Assure the children that they did not cause the divorce and that they do not have
the power to reverse the process.
Click here to view Mistake #5.