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A few (little) ways to keep your children in the center instead of in the middle.

As a divorce lawyer, I know it is not easy to be a divorced parent. The day-to-day reality of shared physical custody can become a healthy, routine part of your new life, or a constant source of frustration and anger. When it is the latter, I have found that two things are usually true. First, both parents are usually at fault for the inability to get along, and second, the children are always the ones who suffer the most as a result.

Frustration is going to happen. It’s human nature. Hard feelings and high emotion are always involved in divorce and custody issues. You feel not only your own anger, disappointment, and sadness, but also your child’s. Every time your ex is late for a pick-up or drop-off, you feel it. Every time you wonder if your ex was telling the truth when he or she said your child was too sick for you to have your scheduled visitation time, you feel it. It can be easy to let your bitterness color every interaction you have with your ex. When you feel like your ex puts his or her own issues with you between you and your child, it can be nearly impossible not to respond in kind. But even if your frustration is completely justified, there is no excuse for letting it influence your behavior to the point where it starts to affect your children. (I will sometimes tactfully remind my clients that once they had a child they stopped having the luxury of self-righteousness, which can be a very satisfying point to make because I am fairly sure there is no credible way to disagree with it without sounding self-righteous).

That said, the following is a short list of little ways you can monitor your everyday behavior to keep things between you and your ex civil and to keep your children in the center instead of in the middle.

Be courteous. Not only are you setting a good example for your child, it’s hard for a person to be rude or stay mad at someone who is being polite and respectful. If you are picking your child up at the other parent’s home, walk to the front door, do not just honk the car horn. Be polite.

Stay calm. If things start to get combative, stay calm and never raise your voice. Take the high road, not the bait. Think of every encounter with your ex as an opportunity to demonstrate to your child how to behave like an adult.

Always be on time. There is usually a good reason for being an hour late, but there is never a good reason for being five minutes late. Be respectful and mindful of the other people your time matters to. Your child needs you to be on time. It shows them that they matter to you. And not only is your child waiting to see you, your ex is probably waiting for you to get there too. Don’t care that your ex is waiting on you? Then don’t ask him or her to care when you’re waiting on them or you want extra time with your child to make up for the time you missed.

Do not put your child in the middle.  Do not talk about your ex.  Do not discuss disputes or disagreements between you and your ex with your child. Do not talk negatively about your ex or his or her family or friends in front of your child. That person may be your ex, but he or she is still your child’s father or mother. And children do repeat what they hear. That said, children are not always the most reliable reporters, so do not believe everything your child tells you.

Put your child in the center. Instead of focusing on your perspective, focus on your child’s perspective. Act and react as though your child is the center of everything that happens in your life instead of you being the center. For example, it can be easy to refuse to reschedule a missed visitation because you are angry that your ex was two hours late even though you were on time and ready.  Why should you do him or her any favors?  It wasn’t your fault they had to work and couldn’t make it.  Again.  This kind of self-focused thinking is perfectly understandable but it will lead to increased conflict between you and your ex.  More importantly, your child will still have missed out on time with his or her other parent.  Unless there is a legitimate reason not to, be willing to be a bit flexible with visitation schedules from time to time.  As a parent, your life is about what is best for your child, not what is best for your sense of pride or fairness.

Your children only get one childhood and life is too short to be angry all the time. Do you have any suggestions or tips to add to this list? Post them in the Comments section below. If you have any questions about divorce, custody, or any other family law issue, call us at (919) 676-6598.

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