It is no secret divorces can get downright contentious – often because the stakes are so high financially and emotionally.
But those already high stakes are raised dramatically when children are involved and one or both parents try to use them as pawns in their never-ending battle with each other.
That is a recipe for disaster, says Jacqueline Newman, a divorce lawyer and author of Soon to Be Ex: A Guide to Your Perfect Divorce & Relaunch (www.Jacquelinenewman.com).
“You really should try your best to keep your kids out of your divorce,” she says. “You need to sacrifice your personal feelings of wanting to tell them everything so they can put on their ‘Team Mom’ or ‘Team Dad’ T-shirt and get on your side. Instead, take the high road and keep quiet.”
Newman says if you can keep your child’s true best interests as your focus during your divorce, the odds will increase that your children will turn out fine.
She knows that is not easy, though, and offers parents a few tips for protecting their children during what can be a traumatic time for them:
Assure the children they have your unconditional love.
“If your child is secure and confident in the understanding they are loved by you, and know that no matter what they do that your love is unwavering, then they will be able to get through your divorce, as well as every other stage in life,” Newman says. Children who are dealing with divorcing parents need to know that, if they enjoy time with the other parent, both parents will still love them and will not hold it against them.
Do Not make children choose between parents.
Children who are dealing with divorcing parents need to know that if they enjoy time with the other parent, you will still love them. They also need to avoid feeling guilty when working to maintain the relationship with the person that you no longer wish to be married to. Children must know that they are not being disloyal to you by loving their other parent. Give them permission to keep them in their lives and love them as if the marriage was still intact.
Newman says sometimes a client will talk about letting a child decide which parent to spend a holiday with. She says that is a terrible idea. For one thing, giving children such power allows them to be manipulative. They can imply, or say, that if their demands are not met they will spend the holidays with the other parent. “It can also cause great anxiety in children,” Newman says. “In essence, you are asking them who they would rather be with.” Parents need to be the parents and decide who the children will spend the holidays with.
Do not treat your child as your friend.
No matter how old your child is, this is not the person you should be confiding in, complaining to or offering insight into your divorce proceedings. “Your child shouldn’t know the name of your lawyer or the judge, and should not be privy to the child support you are receiving or paying,” Newman says.
“The best way you can protect your children during a divorce is to keep them out of your divorce,” Newman says. “Do all in your power to create a united front with your ex and show your children that even though you are no longer spouses, you are still and will always be their loving parents.”