10 Commandments of Co-Parenting in Child Custody – 1. Thou Shalt Not Use Your Child as a Spy
This topic is so important it was one of our first Youtube videos. I’m surprised I was this chill about the subject at the time because if I made this video today I would be unlikely to suppress my rage at too many Parents, Co-Parents, and Relative Caregivers whose seemingly favorite thing to talk about, with their $^#$-ing child, is the child’s other Caregiver:
You are not helping your case. You are hurting your child. You are hurting yourself.
I know why they do it, though. Consider the dopamine hit your brain gets when you “snoop” on someone on Facebook. Now consider gazing at your doe-eyed child as they dish dirt on someone who maybe has caused you more pain than anyone else on Earth. I’m sure it’s a heady experience. So is doing heroine. Neither are good for you, and both will inevitably damage you and, more importantly for our purposes here, your child.
So what do we do about it? Are there real problems that warrant important and candid discussions with your child? Absolutely!!! BUT, you’ve got to do it the right way. Consider these sub-commandments:
- When your child returns home, don’t “unpack” or “review” the visit – we even have to be careful with questions like “how was your visit?” or “did you guys do anything fun?”. It’s more likely than not that your child has a sense of how you feel about the other side, and the child may well be afraid to say “nice” things about them because that might make you sad or jealous. Thus, the child learns, like I say in the video, that even harmless-sounding questions are an opportunity to dish. So here’s what you DO do: when your child arrives home ask actually-harmless questions like “can I help you put up your things?”, “would you like a snack” or better yet, “would you like to go to the *Library?” (*Link to SavvyDaddy post on Why Libraries are Awesome!)
- DO, on a regular basis, un-related to their comings and goings, let them know you are there for them – Certainly upon noticing that something might be wrong, or, better yet, at a routine, joyful moment, tell your Child, with transparent sincerity, “Johnny, you know that you can always come to me with anything you want to talk about,” and then, here’s the tricky part, move on to something else. The key here is that the Child will know that they can come to you about problems at school, problems about fears or worries, and, yes, even problems they are having with Co-Parents.
- DO engage the support of CARING STAKEHOLDERS – let’s say there really is a problem. The first step is understanding that you are probably the least biased person on Planet Earth regarding problems with a Co-Parent, Relative Caregiver, or even DHR / CPS. The second step is to build your team. Your team constitutes the “village” it takes to rear and support a child effectively. This starts with your child’s teacher, school counselor, and, if you can stand it, your Co-Parent. Don’t pry with the child. Just be there. If the child has come to you with a legitimate problem but wants to move on to another subject please, please let them. You will not react well in the moment. Engage this first line of support for your child. For the vast majority of problems, the caring engagement of this first line should be sufficient to address or at least monitor the problem effectively. DO let other relatives who care for and about the child know but don’t dwell on it. Too often this devolves into rant sessions regarding the Co-Parent.
- DO engage the services of OBJECTIVE PROFESSIONALS – if teachers, school counselors, Co-Parents and relatives cannot adequately understand, monitor and address the situation, then it’s time to bring in the SWAT team, Navy SEALS, or whatever metaphor hits you. This is the Child Custody lawyer, private child / family counselor, and pediatrician. *Invest the necessary time and financial commitment, at this point, to really, really look around, do your research, and trust the advice and reputations of the Professionals you’re working with. This is crucial for several reasons but I’ll just toss one out here…the more you pay for their services the more likely you are to listen to what they have to say and do what they tell you to do. These are not the people to nickel and dime on. I’m sure I’ll have information up on “How to Select Your Child Custody Lawyer” up here sometime soon.
The key takeaway from the points above is that you are limiting the time and energy both you and your child spend talking about the Co-Parent and refraining from going to the child about a Co-Parent. You are available if the child wants to come to you, you and others are supporting the children in their day-to-day activities and pursuits, you are implementing the advice and strategies of trained, objective professionals, but YOU ARE NOT USING YOUR CHILD AS A RESOURCE for information or evidence.
If you have read this far..Thanks and Congrats. You will be more aware than most when the urge to pry with your child comes along. There will be moments when it happens anyways, but maybe, just maybe, you’ll catch yourself and remember what Uncle Foxtrot had to say about this…then you’ll hug your child, offer them a snack, and go on about your day. ~SW, Foxtrot