You and your partner don’t get along anymore. The person you’re in a relationship with isn’t the person you fell in love with. Your partner had an affair and you’ll never be able to rebuild the trust. You’ve found that you have interests outside of your relationship and don’t want to be tied down. Whatever the reason, your relationship is ending, and it’s not on good terms. You have no reason to be nice to this person anymore. You’re just ready to be done.
But then you feel a tug on your pant leg, and hear a precious little voice saying, “Mommy/Daddy, why are you and Daddy/Mommy always fighting?”
This is the first opportunity for you to decide exactly how this whole thing is going to affect your kid(s). You could look at your child(ren) and say, “Because Daddy is a big fat liar who can’t be trusted and doesn’t really care about his family.” Or “Mommy is abandoning us. She doesn’t love us anymore.” You have just planted a seed of doubt in your child(ren)’s mind about their other parent. And chances are, your partner (or ex-partner) will say similar things to try to strike back at you; to try to pull your child(ren) over onto their side. And the tug of war has begun.
Oftentimes when parents go to court over child custody and an order is entered by a judge, there are provisions in the order prohibiting the parents from discussing the court proceedings with the child(ren), prohibiting the parents from speaking poorly about each other in the presence of the child(ren), and requiring the parents to promote a healthy relationship between the child(ren) and the other parent. Unfortunately, these provisions are some of the most often violated. Parents who are constantly at each other’s throats tend to have tunnel vision. They have one focus – beat the other at all costs.
But what if that “cost” is your child(ren)?
Pulling and tugging at your child(ren) or putting the other parent down to “win” the title of favorite parent is not a game any child should be a part of. Unfortunately, as much as we like to pretend that we can keep children out of it as long as we keep them out of the courtroom, we can’t. If Mom and Dad are fighting like cats and dogs, the kids know. They are in the middle of it. And there is nothing your attorney or a judge can say or do to make it otherwise. That is up to you – the parent.
It is up to you to love your child, more than you hate your ex-partner – no matter what happened between the two of you; and no matter why or how your relationship ended. This is not to say that parents won’t or even shouldn’t end up in court. Sometimes people just can’t agree, and two perfectly reasonable people have a difference of opinion as to how things should be done. But, for the love of your children, keep it civil. Don’t let it affect the way you talk to your child(ren) about their other parent. Don’t let it affect the way you talk to the other parent outside of the courtroom, and especially not in front of your child(ren). And don’t let it turn into a game of tug of war with your child(ren). A terrible relationship with your ex-partner will not only cause you and your child(ren) unneeded stress, but can also cause you to incur thousands upon thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Tug of war can get messy. The rope gets pulled, stretched, and maybe even broken. And no matter who “wins,” the rope… that fragile rope… is always caught in the middle.