Keep Children Out of the Middle
Parents can keep their children out of the middle of adult issues by not using the children as messengers. Sometimes the message is something as innocent as a reminder that the child must take her medication before bedtime. Other times, the message may be that the child support payment will be late. Unfortunately, we all know what happens to the bearer of bad news. If the message was difficult for one parent to say directly to the other parent, just imagine how difficult it will be for the child to relay that message. Instead of using their children as messengers, parents should either deal directly with each other or through a mutually agreed upon adult.
Parents can keep their children out of the middle of adult issues by not asking them to report about what is going on in the life of the other parent. Any time children are asked to divide their loyalty, or to betray one parent to another, the children feel guilty or as if they are being asked to stop loving one parent. It is certainly appropriate for parents to show interest in the lives of their children by asking “how was your weekend visit?” But, if the interest is not in the child or in how the child feels, the child will pick up on this and may eventually feel angry and used.
Parents can keep their children out of the middle of adult issues by not attacking or putting down the other parent.Some parents find themselves so angry with the other parent that they vent their anger in front of their children. Other parents may say things to try to make themselves look good and the other parent look bad. Children identify with both parents. If one parent puts down the other parent, in the eyes of the child it is as if that parent is also putting down the child.
Establish a Workable Means of Communication
Parents can help their children by establishing a workable means of communicating with each other about their children. At first, some parents may find it difficult to separate their feelings about the relationship or the other parent from their need to give and receive information about the children. Parents can overcome this problem by communicating with each other about their children in a “business‐like” manner. This may include agreeing about the time, place, and manner of their communication. It may also include establishing a list of topics and sticking to it. Parents who are unable to talk to each other because of ongoing conflict, hostility, or issues of domestic violence, may find it easier to communicate by putting the information in writing or by communicating through a mutually‐agreed upon adult. Except in cases where there is an Order For Protection or other court order prohibiting contact, parents should keep each other or a mutually agreed‐upon third person advised of their home and work addresses and telephone numbers. In cases where there is an Order for Protection or other court order prohibiting contact, the parent must follow the order or ask the court to modify the order to permit communication regarding the children.
Resolve Conflict Quickly
Parents can help their children by cooperating with each other and by quickly resolving their conflict.Children whose parents are involved in ongoing conflict over visitation, child support, or other issues may experience anger, anxiety, depression, or developmental delays. Parents may resolve conflict in a variety of ways, including consulting family members, religious leaders, mediators, visitation expeditors, county child support officers, attorneys, or others. Parents may also wish to seek help for their children by consulting a child psychologist or by seeking services from the local social service agency. Court administrators maintain lists of local mediators and visitation expeditors. The local association of attorneys maintains a list of attorneys.
Separate Visitation and Child Support
Parents can help their children by not withholding child support or visitation. Children generally fare best when they have the emotional and financial support and ongoing involvement of both parents. A parent does not have a right to withhold visitation or child support because of the other parent’s failure to comply with court‐ordered visitation or support. In other words:
- The custodial parent cannot withhold visitation if the noncustodial parent fails to provide child support.
- The noncustodial parent cannot withhold child support if the custodial parent fails to allow visitation.
Rather than withholding visitation or support, there are more productive, effective and, if need be, legal ways for parents to resolve support and visitation issues. Parents experiencing conflict over visitation or child support may wish to consult a mediator, attorney, visitation expeditor, or county child support office.
Respect Parent‐Child Relationships
Parents can help their children by respecting and supporting each child’s relationship with the other parent. Unless agreed upon by both parents, parents should not plan activities for children that conflict with the other parent’s scheduled time with the children. The time a parent is scheduled to spend with the children belongs to that parent and the children. The other parent should not interfere with this time. Parents can also help their children by adjusting the schedule to permit their children to participate in reasonable extracurricular activities.
Facilitate Transition from One Parent to the Other
Parents can help their children transition from one home to the other by understanding their children’s anxieties and by assuring them that both parents will continue to love them and to be involved in their lives. Children commonly experience separation anxiety. This does not necessarily mean that the child has a poor relationship with either parent. For the child, it may be just like the divorce or separation is happening all over again. Children under age five generally do not understand the concept of time, such as hours, days, or weekends. Parents of young children can help them understand when the child will spend time with each parent by creating a calendar with different colors for each parent.
Encourage Telephone and Other Contact
Parents can help their children by calling and writing to them and by reasonably encouraging and assisting them to call and write to the other parent. Children do best when they are able to maintain contact with both parents. While visitation is one way to maintain that contact, other ways include telephone calls, letters, e‐mail, and other forms of communication. Telephone calls between parent and child should be permitted at reasonable hours and at the expense of the calling parent. Unless restricted by court order, parents have a right to send cards, letters, packages, e‐mail, audiotapes, and videocassettes to their children. Children have the same right to send items to their parents. Parents should not interfere with these rights.
Establish Similar Household Routines
Parents can help their children by following similar routines for mealtime, bedtime, and homework time. Parents can also help their children by accepting that they have limited control over what happens in the other parent’s home and by respecting the authority of the other parent. From a very young age, children learn that their parents have different parenting styles. Children can adjust to some differences in routines between their parents’ homes. Developmentally, though, children cope better when there is general consistency between their parents’ homes because it helps them have a sense of order.
Provide Child’s Belongings
Parents can help their children transition between their parents’ homes by sending along the children’s important belongings, such as clothing, medicine, and equipment. Parents can also help their children by sending along personal objects, such as blankets, stuffed animals, photos, or memorabilia of the other parent.
Support Contact with Grandparents and Other Extended Family
Parents can help their children maintain important family ties by arranging for the children to visit their father’s family when they are with their father, and by arranging for the children to visit their mother’s family when they are with their mother. Children who have had loving relationships with their grandparents and other extended family members need to maintain those ties, otherwise they may experience a sense of loss.
Facilitate Temporary Schedule Adjustments
Parents can help their children by giving as much advance notice as possible when requesting a temporary adjustment to the visitation schedule. Family emergencies, illness of a parent or child, or special events of a parent or child may require temporary adjustment to the visitation schedule. Parents can help their children by scheduling an alternate visitation time to take place as soon as possible.
Accommodate Vacation Plans
Parents can help their children by understanding that it is important for each parent to vacation with their children. Parents can help their children by scheduling their vacation times so that they do not interfere with the other parent’s time with the children or with the children’s schedules. Vacation, whether during school breaks or during the summer, can be a time for parents and children to expand their relationship. Vacation is also important because it gives the other parent time off from the demands of parenting. Vacation time takes precedence over regular visitation unless a court order or an agreement of the parents provides otherwise.
Establish a Routine for Picking Up and Dropping Off Child
Parents can help their children by agreeing on who will pick up and drop of the children and where this will take place. Parents can also help their children by having the children ready and by being on time. When picking up and dropping off children, it is important to avoid communication that may lead to conflict. Neither parent should enter the home of the other parent without permission. Parents should take all necessary safety precautions when transporting, picking up, and dropping off their children.