In the wake of a new year, many Americans are bursting with excitement at the idea of satisfying their new year’s resolutions: Exercise more, eat healthier, make more money, get a J-Lo booty! According to a YouGov poll, these were actually the most common goals set for 2018 (minus the J-Lo reference).
As I gear up for my own resolutions, I can’t help but think we should all focus our efforts on things which are more likely to make us – and others – happier, longer. In a world where there is perhaps more chaos and dichotomy than ever before, I believe there is no better place to start than with our children. Specifically, I would challenge all parents – whether married, separated, or divorced – to resolve to keep their minor children out of adult issues.
In my practice of divorce, child custody, and even estate planning, I see several children (minors and adults) who are adversely affected by their parents’ actions. In the context of a divorce or child custody matter, there are many do’s and don’ts I encourage my clients to follow:
- Do not fight in front of your children – Understandably, when a marriage or relationship ends, emotions are at an all-time high. While it is expected and generally necessary to express your emotions, make a conscious effort to not use your children as therapists. Instead, express your frustrations to actual therapists, your lawyer, and close family and friends.
- Do not bad-mouth the other parent to, or in front of, your children – Whether an adult or minor child, no child wants to hear negative things about his mother or father. Even when a child seems to feed into the negative talk, chances are high this will only backfire and harm the relationship with your child in the long-run, and undoubtedly affect your child and his future relationships.
- Do make an effort to have a positive attitude when your child sees the other parent – Absent certain circumstances (e.g. abuse or neglect), children have a right and a need for an unthreatened relationship with both parents. Children who have endured involuntary separation from a parent (absent abuse), are much more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and emotional disorders.
- Do let your children contact the other parent any time (except perhaps in instances where there is child abuse) – It’s natural for all humans, regardless of age, to want to love and have a relationship with their parents. Respect your child’s feelings and give her the freedom to contact her parents at any time (and don’t listen in on the conversation).
- Do not ask your minor children to lie about or keep secret anything from the other parent – Absent extraordinary circumstances, this kind of request puts your child in an awkward and unnecessary position, teaches him its ok to lie, and very likely affects his long-term personality and behaviors.
- Do not put your children in the middle of adult issues – Speaking to your children about the cost of legal fees or a parent’s failure to pay child support is the equivalent of talking to your child as if she’s an adult, and encourages or reinforces her to feel negatively towards the other parent (and perhaps towards you, for involving her in a situation she should otherwise be oblivious to).
- Do wait to introduce new romantic interests to your children – While a divorcing or divorced individual may move on to a new romantic interest sooner rather than later, it is generally best to proceed cautiously in introducing a new person to children given the strong emotions experienced during and after their parents have separated.
It is important to note the foregoing are only guidelines, as every person, every relationship, and every case is different. That said, as you peruse the next Hollywood magazine, rather than focusing your attention on unattainable air-brushed bodies, marvel instead at celebrities who continue to co-parent effectively despite their broken relationships (a la Ben Afleck and Jennifer Garner).
“It really is about the tone you set. And you can talk until you’re blue in the face, but kids watch what you do every single day of your life, all day long, and that behavior and that example and that love and community and honesty is … what’s making everything feel safe for my kids….” ~ Drew Barrymore