I’ve seen a lot of stupid stuff coming out of family courts, but this may be the worst ever. Sending a good father to jail for paying more child support than he was ordered and for “over-visiting” his son? Don’t people read Kafka anymore?
Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a single mom with a 10-year-old son who’s with me half the time. Before the divorce, he was a sweet kid and a pleasure to be around. But lately he’s become a terror, throwing tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants—and I think it’s because his father is spoiling him. How do I deal with him? What can I say to his dad to get this behavior to stop?
A: As you well know, divorce is tough on everyone involved: you, your ex, and your son. And among the many problems divorce creates, one of the most common is children being spoiled by mom or dad. The one doing the spoiling is usually the non-custodial parent, who’s making a well-intentioned attempt to buy the kids’ affection or to do something to make up for how hard the divorce has been on them. But the same thing can happen in cases like yours, where both parents have the kids the same amount of time.
Divorce is stressful for everyone involve, including any children who are involved. Many parents try to shelter their kids from the fighting and the nastiness that eventually comes even when parents outwardly commit to being reasonable and rational throughout the process. While it is usually impossible for children to come out of a divorce without a few emotional bumps and bruises, it is possible for parents to make the transition a little easier for their children. It is important for parents to let their kids know that they are feeling emotional and scared too and that those feelings are normal. In order for kids to move on in the healthiest way, it is important for parents to remember a few key points that will allow their children to confidently step in the new phase of life upon which the whole family is entering.
Let them have their own feelings.
Some kids will be devastated at the idea of their parents getting divorced while others will barely have any reaction at all. Every child is different and not all of them will be upset when their parents split up – regardless of what the court-ordered parenting class teachers want you to believe. Your child is unique and while many will go through the traditional Kuebler-Ross grief steps, many will not. It’s neither good nor bad; it just is. Be available to listen to your child, but don’t feel there is something automatically wrong if they aren’t grieving in a textbook manner. That being said, if a child isn’t dealing with it at all or is showing signs of severe loss or trauma, contact a mental health professional for an evaluation.
Don’t use them as sources of information or bargaining chips.
Children should NEVER be used as a means to get information about or as a way to get back at your ex. While it is tempting to ask your kids about your ex’s new apartment or new romance, fight the temptation. Your kids will have enough to work through seeing their parents with new partners and living apart. They don’t need to feel like they are betraying their parents trust by reporting what is going on in the separate houses during and after each visitation. There’s no harm in asking about your ex, but let your children share what they want. If they are being vague, then just leave it alone. If they want to talk, be there to listen. They will feel less like a pawn in a game if you keep your interest in your ex as low-key as possible.
Respect their choices and needs.
Within reason, parents need to respect their kids choices and needs. Children at different ages have different needs so parents need to be aware that their kids won’t always want to go on visitation or want to split holidays like the court papers said. As children get older, their friends will become more important and parents will need to understand this fact. While it is tough when living in an intact family, when a teen doesn’t want to visit a non-custodial parent because they’d rather be with their friends, it can cause hurt feelings and anger. Parents need to remember that their kids are going to grow up and that in the best interest of everyone to be flexible. A little bit of flexibility can go a long way to keeping a relationship positive between children and parents.
Don’t try to buy their affection.
In some cases, either consciously or subconsciously, parents will try to compete for their children’s affections with material goods and money. When children are small, this may work; however, when they get older it will backfire as the child will see the act for what it is – an attempt to purchase their affection. Things won’t replace a family and they certainly won’t make a child choose one parent over another.
Keep the guilt trips out of their lives.
Many children feel like a divorce is their fault in some way. The last thing they need is for parents to lay guilt trips on them about visitation or spending time with the other parent. Children need to know that their parents still accept them and are willing to work with the changes they are facing together. One of the fastest ways to destroy a child’s trust is to try to guilt them into doing something the parent wants. Again, it might work when a child is younger but when they get older they will see though the guilt trips and rebel against them.
Divorce is hard on adults and children. However, if parents keep the needs of the children first and foremost in their minds, the transition from one family into two will be much easier and smoother for everyone involved.
Timothy Hanks is a professional blogger that provides legal advice and information. He writes for Martin Sir & Associates, divorce lawyers located in Nashville TN.
Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a single dad and need some advice about my teenage daughter. She’s 13 and It’s just been me and her for the past five years. She is extremely smart and independent and even helps me with household decisions. I admit that I am very laid back in my parenting and our relationship is more of friends and equals than father and daughter. I feel guilty because she does not have the ideal two-parent household and I often work long hours, so I let her get and do pretty much whatever she wants. To complicate things even more, I will be remarrying within the next year to a woman that I have had a long distance relationship with. I am concerned that when she comes to live with us, the new family dynamic will be too much of a change for my daughter. I want to try and restructure our relationship and instill boundaries now before it is too late. Where do I start?
A: The good news is that you’ve already taken the first step: you recognize that there’s a problem and you’ve asked for help. The bad news is that you’ve got a huge amount of catching up to do.
The relationship you have with your daughter is incredibly common among single parents: they feel guilty about putting their children through a divorce and, as you say, for depriving them of the perfect two-parent family. And they feel guilty about working long hours and depriving them of having more time with even one loving parent. As a result these guilt-ridden single moms and dads do exactly what you’re doing: try to make themselves feel better—and make amends to their kids—by backing off on discipline and letting them get away with whatever they want. Big mistake.
[amazon asin=B00AEBEUCY&template=thumbleft&chan=default]George Estreich, author of The Shape of the Eye.
Topic: A memoir of a father raising a child with Down Syndrome
Issues: Hearing the diagnosis; health and psychological issues children with Down Syndrome face; worries about your child’s future; more.
[amazon asin=1591810760&template=thumbleft&chan=default]Bernie Schein, author of If Holden Caulfield Were in My Classroom.
Topic: Inspiring love, creativity, and intelligence in middle school kids.
Issues: What is No Child Left Behind and what does it mean to your family? Helping your child deal with peer pressure; helping middle schoolers tap into their emotions and realize that it’s their strengths, not their weaknesses that define them as individuals.
[amazon asin=B001F7BDE4&template=thumbleft&chan=default] Benjamin Garber, author of Keeping Kids out of the Middle.
Topic: Child-centered parenting in the midst of conflict, separation, and divorce.
Issues: Establishing conflict strategies that genuinely meet children’s emotional and psychological needs; building a safe, consistent healthy environment for your child; creating parenting plans that keep your child protected.