Almost all parents love their children and would not do anything to intentionally hurt them, but parents going through a custody case often do not realize some things they do put their children right in the middle of the custody battle. When parents put their children in the middle, they are causing emotional and sometimes psychological damage to their children that will be with them for a long time. Judges are well aware of the negative effects of these behaviors, and will be watching these very closely. Are you putting your children in the middle? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Are you talking about the pending court action with your children or around your children? When your children know there is a court case pending, they know that their parents (whom they love) are fighting over them. They worry about what is going to happen, especially with the parent who doesn't get primary custody of them. They will feel uneasy until the case is done, and in some cases, children have serious anxiety worrying about "court", which they don't understand.
Do you say negative things about the other parent where your children can hear? Sometimes you just want to vent, or maybe your child repeats something he heard at the other house, and you just want to react or defend yourself. What you may not realize is that when you say something negative about the other parent, your child is immediately faced with a choice - whose side do I chose? Your precious child is thrown into a deep conflict on whether to show loyalty to the parent who is saying negative things, which means betraying the other parent whom they also love, or to defend the other parent. Most often, a child in this situation internalizes the conflict and says nothing. Depending on your child's age, this effect could be serious and could have unforeseen consequences, such as teaching your child to be dishonest about his feelings or to be disrespectful to the other parent and therefore authority. Parents do not realize that this is hurting their children because children internalize the conflict and do not know what to say. Children want to please their parents, and being caught between their parents is an intolerable situation for them. Children are not emotionally equipped to handle this.
Do you ask your children where they want to live? Some parents have the idea that when their child turns 12 years old, she gets to decide where to live. This is not true. Even at 12 years old, children are not emotionally equipped to choose. Most parents do not realize that they cannot rely on their children's responses to the question of where they want to live. In that moment when you ask that question, your children just want to please you and want to keep conflict down, so they will most often tell you want what you want to hear. If they are being asked this question by both parents, it is very likely that they are telling both parents that they want to live with them. There may be a time for a child to express what he/she wants as it relates to custody, but this is very rare and only when the child is much older and much more mature.
Do you argue with the other parent where your children can hear? This causes the same level of conflict in their little hearts and minds as when they hear you say negative things about the other parent.
Do you ask your children what happened when they were in visiting the other parent or do you tell your children not to talk about what happens at your house? If you ask a lot of questions about what is happening at the other house, you are making the children feel uncomfortable, especially if they know you are looking for information that you can use against the other parent. In the same regard, if you forbid your child to talk about what they did at your house, the child may feel like she is hiding something and it makes her feel guilty. Sometimes your children just want to talk about their visit with their other parent because it was fun. To ask a child to keep secrets teaches a child to be secretive and untrusting, which will result in behavioral problems as the child gets older.
We know that you want to be a good parent, even when you are going through a custody case. The very best thing that you can do for your children is to come to an agreement with the other parent, even if it is not what you want, because even the best parents cannot shield their children from the natural conflict that comes from going through a court case. If after reviewing your case you know that settlement cannot be reached, you will have to be careful around your children, and make extra efforts to shield your children from the conflict. You will want to remind them that both parents love them, say positive things about the other parent (no matter how hard it is), and encourage them to love and respect the other parent. Parents who encourage their children to love and respect both parents raise their children to respect authority and will have less behavioral problems from their children later.