We will not be discussing the angst-ridden teen who chooses to leave the family before the age of majority.
Who is the adult?
This question may be a matter of debate, but as the birth certificates bare, the parents are the adults in a divorce. Divorce is as an adult matter as pornography. It should not be shared with children.
The Not To Do List
1. Do not fight in front of the children.
Take the matter to another room, outside or to another location altogether. Reschedule to a time when the children will not be present. Children absorb the negative energy and reflect it in school work, their own interpersonal relationships and internally (depression).
2. Do not use children as a messenger service.
If you have something to say to your (soon-to-be) ex, do it via text message, internet, postal service or attorney/mediator, over the telephone or in person, outside the earshot of the children. Do not send notes in weekend or vacation visitation backpacks. Do not ask your child to text your ex. Be an adult and do it yourself. If you are afraid to do it, how cowardly is it to ask your child to do it for you?
3. Do not use your child as a confidante.
There are many conversations you should have with your child, but speaking of your divorce from the other parent is not one of them. Your child is not emotionally mature or experienced enough to process, or help you process, the mechanics of how a marriage dissolves. If you do this, you are exploiting your child’s compassion and empathy.
4. Do not denigrate your ex to or in front of your children.
Your child is 50% your ex. If you are engage in mordancy, you are telling your child they are at least 50% bad. Why at least? They are also 50% you and are seeing the ugly side of you. Do you want your child to feel like they are more than 50% a self-serving, cheating, lying, money-hungry, worthless, lazy, crass, holier-than-thou @$$(&%e?
5. Do not spill all the beans.
It is not necessary for your children to know the gory details of why your marriage broke, only they are not the reason “Mom and Dad” are getting a divorce. Things not to tell your child include:
- Criminal activity
- Differences of goals
- Differences of character
- Emotional or physical abuse
In the last case, as is age appropriate and under the counsel of a psychological professional, it can be beneficial to explain to your child how abuse is never acceptable in a relationship or marriage. How you approach this subject will forever change your child’s view of your ex. Proceed with caution.
6. Do not use your child as a private investigator.
If you would like to know what is happening at your ex’s house, ask your ex…not your child. You need to be fostering a healthy relationship between your child and your ex, who is still the other parent. If you insist on grilling your child for details (for your divorce or to reinforce your opinion), your child will retreat and stop telling you of the healthy interactions for fear you will be jealous.
7. Do not blame the children.
Even if your ex is telling you the reason the marriage dissolved was not wanting children in the first place, do not under any circumstances tell your children it is their fault. In fact, it is not their fault. It is the fault of the parents for failing to address issues before they became irreconcilable differences.
8. Do not use your children for blackmail.
Your children have an allotted time to spend with your ex. Do not withhold this time to extort money, property or intangibles. If your ex is failing to uphold the court-ordered end of the stick, go back to court.
9. Do not talk money with your children.
Sometimes, divorce leaves one parent (or both) without enough money. When this is the case (and even when it is not), do not discuss family finances with your child. Teach responsible money management. When wants arise you cannot afford, simply say you cannot afford it, without attributing the lack of money to divorce or your ex.
10. Do not share the pain.
Your children are dealing with your divorce the best they can. Do not add your pain to their plates. Grieve your marriage with your friend, doctor, support group or therapist…not your children. Children make you happy, but are not the cure for your (sadness, loneliness, desperation, desolation) over your divorce.
What can you do?
Tomorrow, we will discuss positive alternatives to the ten prohibitions. Family and outsiders may engage in some of these behaviors. Stop it immediately or remove your child from access to the adult until the correct behavior is demonstrated.
As family or friends, you can help the divorcing parent by intervening when you see these behaviors. Even if all you do is take the children out of the room, you are helping everyone involved.
Disclaimer: There are exceptions to these rules, especially in light of criminal or abusive behaviors. These prohibitions are offered as general guidelines for adult behavior during a divorce and are not intended as psychological advice in lieu of professional help. Information offered in this blog series derives from the author’s personal observation of families in divorce situations.
To follow this series from the beginning, start with It Is Over.
What other behaviors should be avoided for the sake of the children?
(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2011
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