What Children Tell a Divorce Lawyer
© 2017 By Shawn D. Skillin, Esq.
Earlier in my career I did work for the court as Minor’s Counsel. I interviewed children and heard firsthand what they thought about their parents’ divorce. Occasionally, as a mediator I still interview children. Here’s what they tell me.
They love both of their parents. They would be happier if their parents could get along and not argue about them so much. They don’t like it when their parents talk badly or say mean things about the other parent. They don’t want to have to keep the secrets of one parent from the other. They don’t want to have to carry messages back and forth between the parents. One of these kids told me how he handles the message thing, he said, “If my Mom tells me to tell my Dad something, when I see my Dad, I just say “Mom wants to talk to you.” Smart kid. Kids want adults to moderate their behavior* and keep their own secrets.
Kids like a schedule, they like predictability too. But they also want a certain amount of flexibility. They are frustrated when they perceive a parent as too rigid. They would like to swap weekends, if they get a chance to go to Disneyland or a baseball game. Kids appreciate flexible thinking* and it is important that parents give their children the flexibility to enjoy both parents without repercussions. For instance, if the children go with Dad for the weekend and go see a fun movie or go to the beach, when they get back to Mom’s they naturally want to share that information with Mom. If Mom’s reaction is disinterest or anger, the children will soon learn that having fun with Dad does not make Mom happy and will feel badly about it. They may stop sharing with Mom or may even tell her what a bad time they had with Dad just so she won’t feel bad. Try to share your child’s enthusiasm and be glad they have two parents that love them, even if you no longer care for the other parent.
Kids worry about things, you might not think about. Like is there food in the house. If Mom always did the food shopping, they might worry about how Dad will eat or how they will eat at Dad’s when Mom isn’t there. The food thing has come up with every single child I have ever interviewed. Kids like to eat and they want everyone to be fed!
Children also do not want to worry that any time their parents are in close proximity to each other a fight will break out. They never want you to argue in front of their friends! This causes the children anxiety and embarrassment. If you can’t spend time around each other without an argument developing, takes turns attending the children’s activities and professional appointments and arrange for separate parent teacher conferences. Let these times be relaxing and enjoyable for both you and your children.
They also worry about how their parents are doing emotionally. It’s OK to cry in front of your kids, but reassure them you are going to be OK. They need to know you can take care of yourself. It’s equally important to check yourself* in times of stress. It is natural to want to vent your anger, frustration and disappointment about the other parent and your relationship with them. Just do it with friends, relatives or a mental health professional when the children are not in listening distance.
If you are struggling emotionally, get support from other adults, therapists and friends, not your kids. If you are depressed, talk to your therapist or doctor. Kids can feel neglected during the divorce transition when parents are dealing with their own emotional adjustments. Don’t forget this is a transition for everyone. Children appreciate parents who manage their own emotions* and can help them learn to manage theirs too. They are still learning how to do this and need your help. If you need to, get the children some counseling.
Kids don’t want enemies in their parents’ relationships. In one “kid interview” I did last year, the Dad had a new girlfriend and the kids really liked her. They spoke positively and warmly about her and clearly valued their relationship with her. But they were also very aware that Mom did not like the new girlfriend and didn’t want to hear anything good about her. They wanted Mom to know they could like the girlfriend and still love their Mom. They just wanted Mom to be OK with it. Kids like adults who love them and they want to be able to have relationships without feeling guilty.
Kids want your time. Ten years ago or so, parents commonly complained to me that their children spent too much time playing video games. Managing screen time was a common topic in divorce. Today the tables have turned, and kids complain to me about how much time their parents spend on their phones, iPads and tablets. So parents, schedule some device free time when you are with your kids, believe it or not, they want to talk to you!
Kids want to be kids, they want everyone to get along and they want to be free to love both of their parents without guilt. They want your attention. And... They want food.
New Ways for Families® is a short-term counseling and coaching method designed to help parents strengthen conflict-resolution and co-parenting skills and to protect children as their families re-organize in new ways. It is based on four core skills you can use to address your child’s expectations from divorce:
* Flexible Thinking: Acknowledging that there is more than one solution to most problems
*Managed Emotions: Controlling one’s own anger, sadness, fear, and anxiety so as to not over-react
*Moderate Behaviors: Avoiding extreme actions and language
*Checking Yourself: Reminding yourself to use these skills at times of stress
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shawn D. Skillin, Esq., is lawyer with a full-time Family Law mediation practice in San Diego, California and has successfully mediated hundreds of family law cases. She is an educational consultant, speaker and trainer with the High Conflict Institute and she is a founding partner of the Family Resolution Institute. She is a senior mediator and mediation trainer with the Divorce Mediation Group with the National Conflict Resolution Center.