Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Rule Number 1 - Put the Kids First
One of my best friends married Mr. Freeze.
I knew before they got married that he was wrong for her. (She’s as warm and bubbly as he is emotionally cold and distant.)
I knew, even as I watched them take their vows, that this wouldn’t end well.
Things didn’t improve when baby one or baby two came along, so I was happy and relieved when she announced she was exiting the refrigerator marriage and starting over as a single mom.
I may never think much of her ex, but her kids don’t need to know this. He will always be their dad. Besides, if my friend can treat him civilly in front of the kids, the least I can do is follow her lead. It is a million times more difficult for her than it is for me. I don't ever have to talk to him or see him ever again. She has to have regular contact with him for the rest of her life because he will always be her kids' dad.
I admire my friend for taking the high road. She wants to minimize the fallout of the marriage breakup on her kids, and she’s heard horror stories about angry couples using their kids as weapons to get back at one another, forgetting that it’s the kids who end up getting hurt. They call it parental alienation and the techniques that some parents use are nothing short of Machiavellian. Susan Pigg has an article about the phenomenon that documents the techniques in today's Toronto Star (posted here @ ParentCentral.ca as well). Here are a few of the examples she uncovered:
"Interfering with communication: You get hung up on and your letters and gifts aren't passed on to your child. This is especially damaging for parents who live too far away for frequent face-t-face outings, making that contact especially important.
"Your child is being told highly personal information about you, aimed at diminishing you in their eyes: 'Mommy did drugs in high school.' 'Your dad is too small.'"
The breakup of a marriage is always a painful thing, and its even more painful when kids are involved. But it doesn’t have to be the stuff of which celebrity tabloid stories are made. If both parents put their shared love of their children at the forefront and commit to a few basic ground rules, the kids don’t have to become casualties in a battle between the most important people in their lives.
- Not bashing one another. Each parent should treat the other parent with respect, no matter what.
- Not competing with one another to be the most popular parent. A competition to out-spend or to be the good-guy parent will result in a lose-lose-lose situation. Everybody loses.
- Continuing to co-parent. Do what you’ve always done about big-picture parenting decisions: consult one another and work together cooperatively for the good of the kids.
- Not asking the kids to make impossible choices. Studies have shown that, in most cases, children wish to maintain relationships with both parents. Being asked to choose between parents is to ask kids to make an impossible and painful choice.