Parenting relationships for divorced or separated couples can sometimes turn into never-ending battles between mom and dad. In my law practice I’ve encountered many parents who make it clear to me that they wish the other parent would just drop off the face of the earth. Here’s the problem: This wish would be the last thing a child would ever hope for.
Parents locked in custody struggles often forget that their children possess their own legal rights. A child from a split household is entitled to have those rights honored and respected. A child has the right to and the need for a childhood that remains unburdened by your struggles over parenting responsibilities.
Over 25 years of parenting research reveals that children benefit from having a meaningful relationship with both parents. It is critical to acknowledge to your child the importance of his or her other parent. The first step in achieving this is for you to realize that a soured interpersonal adult relationship with your estranged or former spouse has no business contaminating the parenting relationship.
Here are some guidelines to help you meet the needs of your child:
1. DO NOT FIGHT WITH YOUR EX IN FRONT OF THE CHILD
After a relationship ends, many parents can’t stand each other. While these feelings may be justified, there is no excuse to expose your child to the post-separation conflict. The child loves both parents. Children learn from their parents behaviors they will carry into their own adulthood. Former spouses who cannot maintain civil communication should create child exchange arrangements that minimize contact between the parents. If the child is old enough, consider curbside pickup and delivery of the child during these parenting exchanges. Pickup and delivery at school or daycare is another option to contemplate.
2. DON’T CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE A CHILD MUST CHOOSE
When children are asked directly or by implication to take sides in a conflict, it places the child in a vulnerable psychological position. The child can be left feeling guilty for loving the other parent or a step-parent. You should always reassure your child that everyone in the family loves the child and it’s OK for the child to love them even if the parents are no longer together and are in new relationships.
3. DO NOT PROMOTE SECRETS
One of the worst things you can impose on your child is the expectation that he or she must keep information from the other parent. This places the child in a perpetual internal conflict. If they keep the secret, they feel that they are being disloyal to the parent who doesn’t know. If they tell, they feel guilt that they are betraying the trust of the parent who asked them to keep the secret. Asking a child to withhold any reference to something he did, saw, heard or experienced from the other parent also creates this emotional bind.
4. DO NOT USE THE CHILD AS A MESSENGER
Placing notes addressed to the other parent in the child’s belongings falls into this category. So does delivering other items such as divorce paperwork, business documents or support checks. The only items that should be going back and forth with the child during parenting exchanges are those things the child may need for the visits.
5. BOTH YOU AND YOUR CHILD HAVE A RIGHT TO POST BREAKUP HAPPINESS
A new family is created from the ending of a marriage or relationship. This event is an opportunity to develop a special and customized form of a new family. Birthday celebrations don’t have to only fall on the actual date. Children can look forward to the fun and excitement of sharing two memorable family celebrations at Christmas or other important holidays. These new arrangements can evolve into traditions that can become the foundation for your family’s post-relationship life and happiness.