Wednesday, August 12, 2009
During my 30 Years of Practice, I would often have a Parent tell me “Little Johnny always says he wants to live with me and hates it at his Mom’s/Dad’s House.” Why doesn’t the Child Custody Evaluator or Judge listen to him and change custody?
We have to remember that particularly in high conflict cases, Children get “caught up” in the conflict. They know that their Parents are at War, and they don’t want to offend either, often for fear of abandonment by the Parent that they “let down.”
Children in these situations can feel like they are walking a “tight rope.” They are just trying to survive. They quickly learn what makes each Parent happy. When they say something and a Parent reacts in a Positive, Loving Way, that reinforces their need to continue with that form of conduct.
This leads to those statements, like “I want to live with you.” “Mom/Dad never pays attention to me.” “Mom/Dad yells at me when I am at their house.” If you listen closely, you may hear your child say something critical about the other Parent that is similar to what you say or how you feel about the other Parent. Children often overhear conversations or just sense how one Parent feels about the Other.
Parents can cause this situation unknowingly. Clients have said to me, “I have never asked Little Johnny where he wants to live. He just voluntarily says he wants to live with me.” What the Parent doesn’t understand is that it is not what “you say,” but often your behavior and actions, which encourage a certain type of behavior by a Child.
In addition to creating emotional turmoil and upset to your Child in the short term, this type of situation can also cause serious long term emotional damage. A Child will have a skewed view of adults and the proper way to behave. They will have trouble trusting other individuals. Often, they lose touch with their own true feelings and needs because they are accustomed to “act out” to meet the needs of each of their Parents.
When you are in the middle of a Child Custody Battle, it is difficult to think with a Level Head. You are caught up in your emotions and tend to behave in a manner, which feeds those emotions.
A Few Guidelines to Consider are:
1. Let your Child know that you Love Them, Unconditionally. Tell them it doesn’t matter if they want to live with you, the other parent or both, you will always Love them and Be there for them.
2. Soften any criticism the child has of the other Parent. You may want to say something like, “maybe it isn’t as bad as you think.” Or, “have your talked to your Mom/Dad about that?” Or, “let’s see what we can do so it doesn’t happen again.” (I know this is a tough one when you probably feel the criticism is justified, however, it is unnatural for children to want to criticize their other parent. Let them grow up first, and then decide as an adult if a criticism is justified.
3. Make certain your Child knows that it is OK to love and to want to be with the other Parent. It is important to convey this message verbally as well as through your behavior.
These are “Tough Love” Lessons, and hard to follow when you are in the midst of a Battle. However, remember, Your Child’s Mental Health now and for years to come depends upon You and Your Conduct.
For More Information About Child Custody Actions and Divorce, and for FREE downloads, please visit my website at http://www.edivorcesource.com. (Don’t forget the “e” before DivorceSource)
My Best to You.
Dianne R. Ophelia, Esq.
The 30 Year Divorce Expert