“If you make life hell for your ex, you also make life hell for your children.”
Those words – from marriage and family therapist Virginia Gilbert – popped up in my Facebook feed yesterday, reminding me that I’ve chosen the best co-parenting path, even though it feels pretty wretched sometimes.
Virginia told Huffington Post Divorce: “Your number one job as a divorced parent is to support your kids’ relationship and home life with your ex. That means paying court-ordered child support on time, respecting your ex’s boundaries, and letting your kids know they don’t have to take sides. The greatest gift divorced parents can give their children is the sense that they’re still a family.”
One of my proudest achievements is the way I’ve co-parented since the breakdown of my marriage.
Holding my tongue has cut deeply on many occasions, but I’ve always kept my eye on the prize: having kids who are as happy and well-adjusted as possible post-divorce.
I worry sometimes that my eldest daughter has shouldered a little too much in the past few years – she is terrified of letting people down. But perhaps that’s just in her DNA. She doesn’t let much slip, so it’s hard to get inside her head.
Making sure my kids know they’re still part of a family is a no-brainer for me. I’m grateful I didn’t get so lost inside my pain and anger that I forgot what’s best for my children.
We may be separated as a couple, but we remain united in our pride and love for our kids.
I’ve seen enough ugly divorces to know that conflict between parents does kids no good.
The Family Court of Australia notes: “In families where there is a high level of conflict and animosity between parents, children are at a greater risk of developing emotional, social and behavioural problems, as well as difficulties with concentration and educational achievement.”
The FCA goes on to explain the types of parent behaviours that have been identified as being highly problematic:
>> asking children to carry hostile messages to the other parent
>> asking children intrusive questions about the other parent
>> creating a need in the child/ren to hide information
>> creating a need for the child/ren to hide positive feelings for the other parent
>> demeaning or putting down the other parent in the presence of the child/ren.
“Children should feel able to talk openly about their lives in both households, but not feel obliged to do so. They should also feel safe when expressing their feelings regardless of which parent they are with.”
I don’t like hearing my kids talk about SSF, but she’s part of their lives, so I suck it up.
And I would never, ever say anything negative about their dad. While they are under my care I will do everything in my power to ensure they maintain a good relationship with their father.
Creating or fostering conflict between your children and ex is all kinds of wrong. Apart from anything else, it runs the risk of backfiring when the kids get older and blame you for their fractured relationship with the other parent.
Sure, it’s tempting to gloat about your kids not getting along with your ex and regard it as just desserts for the hurt they caused you, but you’re setting your kids up to have issues as adults.
Children caught in the crossfire between warring parents will often decide that conflict is something to be avoided at all costs.
“They don’t learn that some conflict is a normal facet of life that we must all learn to deal with,” says psychotherapist Bob Livingstone. “The danger in this mindset is that the kids come to believe that the only good relationship is one that is conflict free-which is impossible unless you learn to ignore or avoid the conflicts when they arise.”
“Are you giving your child the message that if she doesn’t favor you over your ex, that he is in trouble with you?” Bob asks. He urges that if you are you should STOP.
I’m with Bob.
Unless your ex threatens your child’s health and wellbeing, they need the love and security that having a good relationship with both their parents provides.
It should never, ever be about making them feel they need to take sides.
** Ends lecture. Climbs down off her soapbox **