Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Children As Messengers And Spies During Your Divorce – Don't Go There!

This came into my in box this morning and I thought it would be of interest to divorced or divorcing parents. The book is available on Amazon.com. I haven't read it and don't know the author but I pass it along as good information.

By Mike Mastracci

When there is ongoing custody conflict, children should rarely be asked to relay messages to their other parent. Asking a child to carry messages is yet another lose-lose proposition. By asking your child to be a messenger you do nothing to improve your parental communication skills with the other parent. Furthermore, you place your child directly in the middle of an area already ripe for a communication meltdown. Even a seemingly simple and benevolent message can lead to chaos.

Here's an example that may sound familiar: "Tell your father that we have plans on Friday night so he can pick you up on Saturday at 10 a.m. instead of Friday at 6 p.m."

In a case like this, Mom may be pretending, or even genuinely believing, that she is doing a good deed by giving Dad advance notice and avoiding any confrontation between the two of them over this issue. Either way, she is WRONG!

Let's look at the potential pitfalls in this one simple scenario:

  • The child forgets (or because of the desire to avoid conflict pretends to forget), and the result is that Dad shows up on Friday night and no one is home.

  • The child tells Dad, as instructed by Mom, and Dad blows a fuse. The result is a bad transition time for father and child.

  • Dad says, "When you go back to your Mother's, tell her that I will be there as scheduled," and the child forgets (or pretends to forget) to deliver the message to avoid any more conflict.

  • The child feels apprehensive, doesn't want to hurt Dad's feelings, and is upset with Mom for "causing" this dilemma.

  • Dad says, "Tell your Mom that you'd better be there on Friday night as planned or I'll (call the police, call my lawyer, file contempt proceedings...)." – You fill in the blank.

  • It's Friday night, Mom wants the child to go to the planned event, and the child is apprehensive about going because of the situation; the child is expecting Dad to show up and "cause a scene." They leave before Dad's scheduled time just in case. The next morning there is a bad exchange between the parents in front of the child.

  • When Dad arrives on Saturday the child may get the third degree about what plans were "so important." Dad bad-mouthing Mom then becomes more likely.

  • Questions like what, where, when, why, what time, and who was there, may potentially consume the transition time between homes.

  • What if Dad had special plans for Friday night that the child would have really enjoyed?

All of this headache and heartache can be avoided when parents act like grown-ups and do their own communicating. There is almost never a reason for your children to act as go-betweens. It can be avoided with a little effort and some creative maneuvering. When you allow yourself to use your children as messengers, you're really placing responsibility on them that belongs to you. Don't load your children down with your own burdens. Don't make life easier for yourself by making it more complicated for them.

If treating your children as messengers isn't bad enough, it is really inappropriate to use them as "spies". When children are told to report on the activities of the other parent, it places the children in a no-win situation. Even worse, using your children as spies has other negative consequences. It promotes lying and deceit. Encouraging spying promotes picking sides. It also creates loyalty conflicts for your children. As a result, children may clam up, become untruthful, or untrustworthy.

It can be difficult to break the habit of inappropriately questioning your children after they return from time spent with the other parent, but it must be done. A little child-focused thinking should get you there. Think about how it feels for your children to transition from one home to the other. When they return to you, they want to know you're happy to see them and that you're focused on them. Interrogation does not start your transition time off on a good note, and it makes children very uncomfortable whether they outwardly show it or not. Furthermore, if your children are worried that they'll have to "report" to you, transition time will be awkward for them. Instead of focusing on how your children have already spent their time, focus on how you’re going to spend your time with them.

Obviously, there are some common-sense exceptions. Real and legitimate safety or health issues fall into that category. But that's not what I'm talking about in this article, I'm talking about when you want to know whether Daddy's new girlfriend went to the zoo with them. Don't make a situation such as this even more complicated for your children. They'll tell you what they want to tell you, and they'll be a whole lot more likely to do so when you don't give them the third degree or send them to purposely spy.

Children are smarter than you think. Simple communication designed to surreptitiously interrogate the children is not going to work for long. They will try desperately to exercise their right to remain silent. The reason they will do this is because they know that anything they say can and will generally be used against them - in one way or another! Again, the key is to focus on the life you and your children live together and enjoy every moment of it.

This is just one article that is similar to the information you will find in my new book, "Stop Fighting Over the Kids: Resolving Day-to-Day Custody Conflict in Divorce Situations"

Available at Amazon.com

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