Before I go on and on from my soap box about divorce, let me yield the floor to Minnesota's 9th District Judge Michael Haas, who, in 200 words, probably says more about divorce than two hundred, 200 page books.
"Your children have come into this world because of the two of you. Perhaps you two made lousy choices as to whom you decided to be the other parent. If so, that is your problem.
No matter what you think of the other party -- or what your family thinks of the other party -- these children are one-half of each of you. Remember that, because every time you tell your child what an "idiot" his father is, or what a "fool" his mother is, or how bad the absent parent is, or what terrible things that person has done, you are telling the child half of him or her is bad.
That is an unforgivable thing to do to a child. That is not love. That is possession. If you do that to your children, you will destroy them as surely as if you had cut them into pieces, because that is what you are doing to their emotions.
I sincerely hope that you do not do that to your children. Think more about your children and less about yourselves, and make yours a selfless kind of love, not foolish or selfish, or your children will suffer."
The judge's words are played out every day in families around the world. In 2012, I attended a screening of a documentary called Gang Girl, directed by Lori Davis. Lori has been married twice, she had three children with her first husband and, after her divorce, they shared joint custody. At some point, one of her daughters joined an all-girl gang in Los Angeles. There are 32,000 teenage female gang members in the United States. Losing her daughter broke Lori's heart and left her fearful for the life of her child. Determined to protect her daughter, she began working to bring her back home, thoroughly documenting every step. This footage eventually became her documentary.
A screening of her film was held in Harlem, and it was attended by Lori and her daughter Nafeesa. In the Q&A afterwards, Nafeesa spoke about how she never felt at home, either at her mother's or father's place, and that this alienation pushed her out of the home and into the streets. She explained that each of her parents' homes had their own culture and their own set of rules. The gang, however, had clearly defined roles and identities, and she felt at home there because she knew her place.
Here is your lesson, parents. If you fight, if you denigrate each other, if you have conflicting sets of rules and, in the worst case scenario, you plot and plan to turn your child against the other parent, you may wind up driving your child to a place where they believe they will have more stability and certainty. On top of that, they may just flat out hate you for making their life so conflicted. Nafeesa needed needed safety, stability, and security. She needed a home she could count on -- a safe place to land. It's critical to remember that even as a couple whose romantic partnership has ended, you are still co-parents for life, and a contentious divorce may drive your child into harm's way.