Some of the greatest moms and dads I know are also some of the worst parents I've ever seen. The worst offenders of that greatest bunch are the divorced moms and dads, because while they're trying so hard to be the better-liked parent, what's really "in the best interests of the kids," actually isn't.
Parenting is hard, no doubt about it. We don't need a license to become a parent, and we're given no manuals to follow, no annual educational credits needed and certifications required to keep that parenting title. It just stays with us regardless of how good (or poor) we are at it. Interestingly, some states now require divorcing moms and dads to complete a parenting course, but that's the subject of another article. Today, I want to focus on how to parent wrong.
You can easily search for and find hundreds of articles on the Internet, in blogs and magazines telling parents how to properly raise children. However, few of those articles actually call-out those subtle behaviors some parents adopt after they divorce. Below are just some of the wrong things to do when you are a divorced parent. You may recognize yourself somewhere in this list, and you may have convinced yourself that your actions were always in the best interests of your children. Dig deeper.. I beg to differ.
- Don't uninvite or cause to feel unwelcomed the other parent from important events such as Graduation, Communion, Sweet 16 or Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies. These are events that your child will remember for a lifetime, and your orchestrating a critical member of the family away from that memory will only serve to harm your child. As unpleasant as it may seem, figure out a way to grin and bear it in a civilized manner so that your child will see that you divorced his mom, not him.
- Don't travel out of town with your children and "forget" to share the itinerary with your ex. Though you may not want your ex to know where you are, it's important for the well-being of your children that both parents know where they are at all times.
Don't rescue your child from the other parent's house when he/she calls crying and begging that "Dad is making me do the dishes" or "Mom won't let me go to my friend's party." Don't interfere with time-sharing by creating a so-called safe-haven for your child. Kids are manipulative little creatures and will quickly catch on that by making one parent look bad they will get whatever they want from you. You are not a super hero. You are a parent. This tactic will inevitably be used against you, too, so be wary. Don't bad mouth with a smile. Your back-handed compliments about your ex's new partner or new house are transparent to your children, and it's hurtful for them to hear mean things about their mom or dad. Say something nice or say nothing at all. Don't undermine the decisions or authority of the other parent by vocalizing your disagreement to your child. If one parent decides that a midnight curfew is appropriate for a 15-year old, don't tell your child that it's an unreasonable time. Don't make excuses. Be honest with yourself about your behavior, and admit that you are hurting; admit that you can't handle seeing your ex with a new partner; admit that it's too early for you to interact with your ex. Don't create a scenario that it's somehow about your child and that you're somehow being the protector or savior by creating a rift between them. Don't confuse being a parent with being a friend. "My daughter is my best friend" is not always a good thing when the lines between parenting and friendship become blurred. Don't tell your children all the bad things their mom or dad did that "caused" the divorce. Your children are not your home-grown therapists and do not need to know the details of your relationship. More importantly, your attempts to sway them to be "on your side" is detrimental to their relationship with the other parent. While the thought of this may make you smile or snicker inside, you must know that it isn't healthy for your child. Don't communicate to your children that you never wanted a divorce and that all the perceived bad stuff happening around them is the fault of the other parent. It's unfair (and likely untrue) to place all of the blame on your ex. It took two to get married and it takes two to get divorced. Accept your role in the break up of your marriage and own it. Don't use your children to get back at your ex. If it's always been a tradition to spend Christmas Eve with mom's family, don't intentionally plan a Christmas Eve event just to ruin her holiday. Don't mega-text with your child to intentionally interfere with your ex's time-sharing. Don't play the role of "victim." Using forced sympathy as a way to influence your child's feelings is unhealthy and confusing to your child. If your child is going away with your ex on an exciting holiday vacation, don't tell the child that you will be sitting home "all alone." Don't financially obligate your ex by promising something to your child with strings attached. If you want to buy your child a car, buy the car. Don't tell your son that you will buy him a car but only if his dad pays for the car insurance. This empty gesture is manipulative, decisive and puts the other parent in an unfair position. Don't role your eyes or make snide comments when your daughter tells a story about something she did with her dad. Though it may be uncomfortable for you to hear the joy in her voice when talking about your ex, it's not cool to make her recognize the awkwardness of the conversation. Don't let your child miss an important occasion just to get back at your ex. Do you really think it's in the best interests of the child to miss Mother's Day?Don't underestimate the importance of a stepparent in your child's life, and don't intentionally ignore his/her existence. Likewise for other extended members of your child's new blended life. Instead of undermining new relationships, be a role model for your child by demonstrating grace, civility and acceptance of new friends and family.
"In the best interests of the child" is an over-used term of art which many have bastardized and used as a shield to guard-against any criticisms about their parenting decisions. "In the best interests of the child" means helping them transition from a traditional form of a nuclear family into a modern-day family consisting of multiple households, multiple parents and co-parents, step siblings and grandparents, and others. It means encouraging them to find acceptance in the reorganization of their family dynamic and to embrace the changes as positive. It means counseling them to understand that the divorce was between their parents, not themselves. "In the best interests of the child" is about creating a safe and nurturing environment with all parents equally.
The above is only the tip of the iceberg... what other "don'ts" have I missed? Please share your thoughts and comments!