I’m not a therapist by any means, but I do have children of my own and I do help my clients deal with their children’s issues in the course of my representation during divorce or other family law cases.
There are two important lists for kids. First is the “do’s” and second is the “don’ts.” I, frankly, think that the “don’ts” are even more important than the “do’s,” so let’s talk about those first.
1. Don’t talk to your kids about Court. Your kids do not understand Court and are likely intimidated by the very thought of it. Don’t tell them the gory details, when you are scheduled to attend, what happened, that the other parent “lost.” It’s added pressure they don’t need and details that are not important to them.
2. Don’t bad mouth the other parent. Your kids love you both. They don’t want to hear anything bad about either of you – especially from the other of you. You don’t need to be sugary sweet about the other parent, but take your mom’s advice. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
3. Don’t make your child choose between his/her parents. Again, your kids love you both. Don’t put them in the middle and make them decide where to go for the weekend or what activity (with which parent) seems better to them. Be an adult, speak to the other parent and make the plans for them (…and see #4 below)
4. Don’t make your kids feel bad when they are with the other parent. If your child goes somewhere with the other parent or if they choose to be with the other parent, don’t give them a hard time. It might be tough to think that you are the second choice. It may be hard to hear that the other parent is more fun (at least, today!). Especially if the other parent is doing things that you do not approve of, it can be very hard to keep from making a comment to your kids. Don’t do it. It’s not their fault. It’s not their concern.
5. Don’t let your child be the go-between. Talk to the other parent. Don’t make your kids do it. It’s not right. It’s not fair. It’s not their job. Be an adult and talk to the other parent when it’s necessary. Use email, text, chat if you have to but do NOT make your child play operator and talk between the two of you.
6. Don’t introduce a new significant other – yet. Only you know your kids and when they are ready to meet the new person in your life. You’re likely excited for the important people in your life to meet and you want them to like each other. But think about what this means to your kids: Mom and dad are not going to be together. Dad loves someone else. Mom won’t be coming home. Sure, separation means that too but a new person in your life is concrete evidence that it isn’t going to happen. Think long and hard about when the right time has come to make this introduction…then wait a while longer. It won’t hurt any to give your kids some time on this one.
7. Do consider a therapist r third party help. It’s not easy to figure out how to handle kids and what to do in these difficult times. Don’t be afraid to consult a professional and ask different methods of how to handle these delicate issues with your kids. You know them best but you may find an idea that you didn’t think of on your own.
If you are here reading this, you may be in a difficult situation at home. Take the time to breathe and think before you speak or act. Remember that your kids are delicate, little souls that are stuck in a tough situation right there with you. It’s tough but you can do it.