As a father, I know it’s sometimes hard to be a parent. As a divorce lawyer, I know
it’s often even harder to be a divorced parent. The new day-to-day reality of sharing custody can become a healthy, routine part of your new life, or it can become an unrelenting source of frustration and anger. When it is the latter, I have found that two things are usually true: both parents are to blame and the children always suffer most.
"Children should be in the center of a loving, supportive family with their parents, not in the middle of their parents’ constant bickering and arguing."
Frustration is going to happen. It’s human nature. Hard feelings and high emotion are always involved in divorce and custody issues. Add to that, you don’t just feel your own anger, disappointment, and sadness, but also your child’s. Every time your ex is late for a pick-up or drop-off, you feel it. Every time your child comes home dirty or with no homework done, you feel it. Every time your child begs not to go to your ex’s house, it hurts. It can be easy to let your anger and resentment affect every interaction you have with your ex. When your ex is thoughtless or disrespectful or just plain rude, it can be nearly impossible not to respond in kind. But even if your frustration is completely justified, it is never OK to let that frustration affect your children. As I often remind clients, as parents, we no longer get the luxury of self-righteousness. Children should be in the center of a loving, supportive family with their parents, not in the middle of their parents’ constant bickering and arguing.
That said, the following is a short list of small ways you can monitor your everyday behavior to keep things between you and your ex civil and to keep your children in the center instead of in the middle.
Be courteous. Set a good example for your child. Be polite and respectful, not for your ex, but for your child. If you are picking your child up at your ex’s home, walk up to the front door, don’t just honk the car horn (unless your Agreement or Order says differently). Be polite.
Stay calm. If things start to get combative, stay calm and never raise your voice. Take the high road, not the bait. Think of every encounter with your ex as an opportunity to demonstrate to your child how to behave like an adult.
Always be on time. There is usually a good reason for being an hour late, but there is never a good reason for being five minutes late. Be respectful and mindful of the other people your time matters to. Your child needs you to be on time. It shows them that they matter to you. And not only is your child waiting to see you, your ex is probably waiting for you to get there too. Don’t care if your ex is angry you’re late? Then you don’t get to be mad when your ex is late.
Don’t talk about your ex to your child. Do not discuss disputes or disagreements between you and your ex with your child. Do not talk negatively about your ex or his or her family or friends in front of your child. That person may be your ex, but he or she is still your child’s mother or father. And children do repeat what they hear (and they are usually fairly unreliable reporters, so don’t believe everything your child tells you).
Put your child in the center. Instead of focusing on your perspective, focus on your child’s perspective. Act and react as though your child is the center of everything that happens in your life instead of you. For example, are you against rescheduling a missed visitation because you truly think it’s best for your child to miss out on that time with his/her other parent, or because you’re angry your ex couldn’t make it last time even though you were on time and ready? Your life is about what is best for your child, not your sense of pride or fairness.
Your children only get one childhood and life is too short to be angry all the time. Do you have any suggestions or tips to add to this list? Post them in the Comments section below. If you have any questions about divorce, custody, or any other family law issue, call me!