By Tamara Hoffstatter
We all hear that in divorce we need to “leave the children out of it” and “don’t get them involved.”
We are also advised to come together as parents when addressing the reality of divorce and talk with the children together, to explain what is going on, and how it doesn’t mean that the child is not loved.
After divorce, when parents are no longer able to be with their children all of the time, it is even more difficult to hold one’s tongue when one parent realizes that the other parent is not doing things “exactly the way I would” during parenting time.
Jealousies arise when children return home from parenting time and they are excited about the fun they had. Concerns are created when one parent meets a new love interest and introduces that person into the child’s life.
Parents either purposely or inadvertently make children feel guilty, telling them how lonely they are or how much they miss them when they are gone. The possibilities are endless.
A common, very human reaction would be to bad-mouth or otherwise shed a dark light or cloud over the other parent’s time with the children. It’s human nature, and it’s difficult to fight.
The problem with it however, is two-fold. First, it could cause you to lose parenting time or custody of your children through the courts. Second, it could cause you to hurt your child.
If a parent cannot maintain civility with the other parent and creates an environment where the other parent is cast in a negative light, this can be a reason for the court to say that the parent is not able to be a joint custodian, and therefore, the court could modify the custody and parenting time.
Words do matter, and the courts want to see two parties who can co-parent and make decisions together about the important aspects of a child’s life.
One way to determine if this is possible is to watch the behavior of the parent during and after parenting time. If the parent can’t control emotions around children and can’t censor their language, then how can they remain rational during occasions where major life events of the children need to be decided?
As a child of five, I recall quite clearly my first encounter with what I now call “The Tug of War of Words and Emotions.”
I came home from kindergarten one day and saw my dad’s car in the driveway. I thought it was weird because he worked out of town during the week and I only saw him on weekends. I was thrilled though, because that day I had learned to zip up a new jacket that I had gotten and I could show him what a big girl I was.
I ran into the house ready to pounce on my dad, but was stopped short when I saw my parents sitting in the formal living room that we usually never used. My dad then asked me to sit down beside him. He then explained what divorce was and that mom and dad were getting one.
I don’t remember what was said after, but what I do remember was that every five minutes my mom or dad would say “come here, sweetie” and I would comply, moving from lap to lap while my parents cried and tried to console themselves.
Each told me more adamantly than the time before “I love you very much.” Never “we love you very much.”
It was a tug of war of words and emotions that to this day stings, but was also a precursor for years worth of trash talk amongst parents and stepparents.
Always remember that it’s not only the court that is looking over your shoulder when you are interacting with your children – the children themselves are also paying attention.
You don’t want to lose the right to parent your children while they are young, but you also don’t want to lose the respect of the child when they are older.