“I don’t want my son to grow up thinking it is okay to be late. What does that kinda stuff say to him!?” This is a non-exact quote that a mother involved in a custody dispute told me to justify refusing her ex’s parenting time because he was 45 minutes late for the pickup. Sitting there taking my notes, it took every bit of self-control and professional ethics I had not to say “Yeah, that’s totally why you did it.” I had been appointed Guardian ad Litem of the child, and if I criticize a parent, they will stop being honest with me. Don’t worry. My report and recommendations to the Court were not kind.
What Jane Doe mother did there is an example of what I call “Anger Games.” It is not a term of art, and I am not a psychologist, but let me explain some of the things otherwise sensible people do to express their anger and frustration towards their exes, and in turn absolutely tear up their children from the inside.
- Withholding Time by Using Loopholes in your Parenting Plan
Do not take this first anger game wrong. Separation agreements and parenting plans ought to be followed to the best of your ability and in good faith. If your ex is abusing your leniency, sometimes it’s best to insist that the plan be followed to the letter (talk to your attorney). What I’m talking about here is petty garbage that so many exes pull in an effort to justify withholding time or otherwise not work with their child’s other parent. If she is 35 minutes late for a pickup, ask yourself if it is really in the child’s best interests to not let your kid see their mother. If he decides to send his girlfriend, who your child knows, to pick the child up, is it really worth throwing a fit because the parenting plan says “Father shall provide transportation.”? There is a lot of gray area in this example, but try asking yourself what your real motivation is if you withhold time or attempt to exclude your ex.
- Getting your Child Involved with your Disagreements with their other Parent
“I would love for you to play football Jason, but your mother won’t pay for her half of the fees” is a prime example of this anger game. Here’s another: “Alex, you would be great at gymnastics, but your father thinks it is girly.” This particular game is a Pandora’s Box that is very hard to close. Younger children take statements like this for face value, and though these statements may hurt your ex when the child goes crying to them with your words, you can be certain that your ex is going to throw it back tit for tat. Doing this sort of thing is even worse when the child gets older. When your child sees how their parents manipulate one another, I guarantee the child is going to begin to do so all on their own.
- Disparaging your Ex, Something they did, or Someone they care about
This is what I tell parents involved in private custody actions when I am appointed GAL. When you have a child with someone, you lose the moral right to disparage that person in front of your child. This extends to things your ex does/is involved in, and the people they choose to be around (most notably new significant others). I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever talk negatively about your ex. If you’re alone, with other members of the family, etc. go nuts. They even have these things called bars with fantastic outlets called bartenders that listen, counsel, and at the same time serve you adult beverages. The point is never in front of or in the earshot of your child.
Why this is such a big deal
I am borrowing this sentiment from a magistrate that sits in Southwest Ohio. You and your ex are part of your child. Think about your own parents. They are part of you, and that is why when anyone (other than you or maybe your siblings) talks poorly of them, it hurts you and makes you angry. It is the same way with your children. When you fight with, disparage, and play mean-spirited anger games with their other parent, you are doing it to your child also. You are playing anger games with the part of your child that holds that other parent so close. Children are not stupid. If dad or mom is constantly showing up late, not going to extra-curricular activities, or managing their lives poorly, the child is going to catch on and form their own opinions. There is no need to sow those opinions yourself when you are angry. Doing so will only undermine your own parenting efforts.