“Why can’t my real mom and my foster mom get along?” Lakeisha asked, looking up at me. “Why can’t we all live together in a house so I can play with them both? When I’m with my foster mom I miss my real mom and want to go home. But then when I’m with my real mom I worry about my foster mom and wonder if she’s ok.”
I was the lawyer for children in foster care for about 10 years, and this was typical of the questions I got from my young clients. It was a hard question to answer in any way that made sense to a child like Lakeisha. Many of the concerns held by children of divorce are much the same.
Here are a few guidelines for divorcing parents:
Avoid putting kids in the middle. Don’t complain to your children about the other parent. Even when you are exasperated. Don’t point out the other parent’s faults. Your children are not going to see the other parent the way you do, so don’t expect them to. They only have one other parent. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Kids hear things. And kids understand them, too. Don’t assume they aren’t listening, even when they have their headphones on, or even when you think they are asleep. Or if they are in the other room. They’re curious about what you think, so they will often make a point to listen, even though you don’t see it. Kids know a lot more than you probably give them credit for.
Don’t give TMI (too much information). They don’t need to know the whole story. They don’t need to know the details of everything. Give kids enough information for them to feel secure and well loved. They need to know that you will be there when they come back to your home. They need to know that you won’t abandon them. They need to know that things are on a schedule and what to expect.
Don’t ask for TMI, either. When they come back from the other parent’s house, it’s important for them not to feel like they’re being interrogated. You need to know that the child is safe, but you don’t need to know every detail of what they did or who they were with.
Your children are not carrier pigeons. Do NOT use the kids as your messengers. It is not their job to convey information. It’s not their job to give the other parent important documents like report cards. And it certainly isn’t their job to arrange their schedule. The next time you hear yourself saying, “tell your father….” finish with “forget it” and pick up the phone yourself.
The child is not your best friend. Or your confidante. They love you, but they are not your peers. Your children are not going to have the same relationship with your ex as you do, and it’s not fair to ask them to do so. Remember your ex is their only other parent. It’s not fair to burden them with your emotions.
Children are not here to be our parents. Children are very empathetic, and often want to take care of their parents, especially if their parents are hurt. They may be protective, wanting to create order, and to make things better. This is very loving, but it’s not their job. Remember that you are the grown up — it’s your job to take care of yourself. Reassure them that you will be alright — and work to make it so.
Remembering this simple list may go a long way in helping your child — and you — through rocky waters.
Joy S. Rosenthal, Esq. is a compassionate mediator, a skilled negotiator and an intelligent litigator with extensive background in the private and public sectors. Joy served as a Staff Attorney at the Legal Aid Society's Juvenile Rights Division for nearly 10 years, where she represented hundreds of children and teenagers… MORE >
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