There is an old proverb to the effect of “The way of a person always seems right in their own eyes.” If you think about it, nobody ever really thinks that whatever they are doing is wrong or improper, they only think it is the “other guy” who is misbehaving. This is never more true than in the unfortunate instance where a family is going to break apart, and the children will have two (or more) homes. I am a long-time family law attorney, I have litigated many custody cases, and I write this article as an appeal to any parent who is, or may at some time in the future be, involved with the breakup of a relationship that also includes children.
Unfortunately, in my practice I have seen countless incidents of what parents ought to not do when getting a divorce. For instance, it probably does not take a lot of common sense to know not to bad-mouth the other parent. However, a party to divorce will look me in the eye and say, “Well, I never do that,” but at the same time they have already told their children that “Mommy/Daddy just doesn’t love us anymore and that’s why she/he left us.” That parent failed to see how devastating their passive/aggressive comments will be to their children. Please let me make some suggestions about a few other frequent issues I see when broken families fail to put their children first:
1.Do not use your children as weapons. Of course, nobody ever thinks they are doing this, but as parents fight over custody and control of the children, the brittle and fixed nature of their position tends to have less to do with the children and more to do with putting their figurative finger in the eye of the other parent. This is especially true when mom/dad demands the children or refuses visitation of the other parent, then parks the children with the grandparents and goes out for a night on the town.
2.Do not be a Disney dad/mom. Frequently, if one parent has less parenting time than the other, they will fill up what time they do have with a never-ending series of games, gimmicks and events. They will justify it by stating that the child(ren) enjoyed themselves and “we all had a good time.” While that may be true – and certainly parents should have a wonderful time with their children – it should not be at the expense of over-stimulating and/or spoiling their child. Not only does it set up your child for failure later in life, as they expect the rest of the world to be a merry-go-round ride, it also sets up the other parent for failure, as they are left to handle the more mundane parts of raising children.
3.Utilize the time you do not have with your children. What I mean by this is that during the days or hours your children are not with you, maximize the amount of work or other activities you wish to tend to or that must be accomplished. That way, when you have your children, your focus will be solely on the children and not on these other activities. If your job has overtime or flex hours, do your best to take that extra work time when your children are not with you.
4.Be flexible. This is a hard one because most parents will point to the two, five, or fifty other instances when the other parent was not flexible. First of all, if the other parent offers you extra time with your children, drop whatever you are doing and say “yes.” With the possible exception of losing your job or a medical appointment, nothing is more important than time with your children. Don’t be angry with the other parent when they do offer you this time with no advance notice. Simply say “thank you” and make arrangements. Not only that, but the next time you have the choice between a babysitter or even sending the children off to a friend’s and/or perhaps the grandparents’ house, call the other parent instead. It will be best for the children and your patience and kindness will ultimately bear fruit in due season.
5.If you are upset with the other parent, try to never show it in front of the children. The expression of anger is a self-indulgence that only rarely advances your cause. Anger also indicates a lack of self-control, and you will be teaching your children to lose self-control as a way to manipulate their environment. Do you want your children to behave in that fashion? If not, have the self-control and discipline to save that anger and frustration, no matter how righteous, for a time when the children are not present.
To put it bluntly, it is not about you, it is about the children. Get over yourself and put your children’s needs first. That does not mean spoil them. What it means is your children desperately need your love, patience, guidance, time, and discipline. They do not need lots of “stuff.” They need you. And, as much as they need you, they also need the other parent in their life. Do not be tempted to sabotage your children by subtly or otherwise giving them reasons to have disrespect or distaste for the other parent.
It is ironic that I specialize in high-conflict divorce and custody matters. I have been so blessed by my wife and children that the thought of losing them is enough to take my breath away. Perhaps that is why I try so hard for my clients to get their children in the best place possible under the circumstances. So if you are in a situation where the family is split, the first thing I would recommend you do is look in the mirror. Are you being wise in your own eyes? If you really and truly think what is best for the children, would you behave in the fashion that you have or that you are contemplating? No matter what happens to your family, the children must come first. Because if you don’t put them first, who will?
Besides being a family man, Robert Whims owns Whims Legal Group, PLC, 12935 S. West Bay Shore Drive, Suite 300, Traverse City, MI 49684. He specializes in family law and custody matters. He can be reached at Telephone: 231-938-6099; Facsimile: 231-421-6686; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org