After 20 years of exclusively practicing matrimonial and family law, there are things I know for sure about divorce. I know for sure and without a doubt that the following things should never be said to children.
If you are already divorced, going through a divorce, or contemplating a divorce, please read the following advice. Commit yourself to living by it. It truly will be the best gift you can give your children.
1.Mom and Dad are breaking up and it’s all your fault.
- Be sure that you consistently and repeatedly assure the children that the break-up has absolutely nothing to do with them and that both Mom and Dad love them very much and will always love them very much.
2.Mom and Dad are breaking up and you will never see your Dad again.
- Be sure to tell the children that both Dad and Mom will remain in their lives. Explain that things will be different with everyone not living together, but Dad and Mom love them and will always be there for them. Explain to them that they are not getting divorced from their parents.
3(a).Mom and Dad are breaking up and your Dad took all my money, stole from me, etc.
- Do not involve the children in the divorce. Children do not want to know and do not need to know the details. Do not show them or read them the letters from your lawyers. Nothing. Leave the children out of it! Treat children like children. Do not involve them in adult issues.
3(b).Your Dad is a jerk, cheater, miser and other colorful adjectives I cannot put in print.
- Be sure not to badmouth the other parent. This alienation is very painful to the child. The child loves both parents and when one parent badmouths the other it hurts the child. Make the child aware that it is perfectly acceptable to show love for the other parent. Encourage it. It will come back to you two-fold. Give your child the permission and freedom to love the other parent.
3(c).Your Dad left me, cheated on me, destroyed me, hurt me, etc.
- Again, this is very destructive to a child. Angry feelings conveyed to a child can cause the child serious problems such as depression. Do not involve the child in the divorce.
3(d).Your Dad’s brothers, sisters, parents are jerks too and were mean to me when I was married to your Dad.
- Let children love the other parent and their extended family. Do not put pressure on the children to choose sides. Allow and encourage them to love and be loved.
4.Mom and Dad are breaking up and Dad moved out while you were at school.
- Be sure to talk to the children in advance of the separation and both parties together should communicate this to the children. Tell the children Mom and Dad will work together to meet their best interests. This discussion may also take place in therapy with a therapist’s assistance and guidance.
5.Give this check or note to your Dad or tell your Dad this or that or call your Dad and tell him we are arriving late.
- Do not use the children as messengers.
6.Do not even ask me to buy your Father a Father’s Day card or a Christmas gift.
- Do just the opposite. Encourage it. Buy it for your children to give to the other parent. Recognize these important days and teach your children they are important to the other parent, just as they are important to you.
7.Do not telephone your Dad when you are with me. This is my parenting time.
- Come on. Do not be ridiculous. Encourage reasonable, non-intrusive yet frequent telephone contact with the other parent during your parenting time.
8.I would like you to meet my new girlfriend/boyfriend.
- Be a good role model to your child. Use good judgment when introducing your child to a new person in your life. The child is still dealing with your divorce. Be patient. Put the child’s best interest above yours.
9(a).Whatever you do, do not tell Dad.
- Do not put your children in the middle and certainly do not tell them secrets and then tell them they cannot tell the other parent. All you are doing here is teaching your children to be liars and to practice deception.
9(b).Tell me what Dad said about me or did this weekend.
- Do not pump your children for information about the other parent.
10.You are acting just like your Dad.
- Do not compare your child to your ex-spouse. Your child is an individual. You may like or dislike certain qualities about your ex-spouse that you see in your child, but such comparison can be harmful and painful to the child.
I promise to buy you a house, build a swimming pool, vacation in Hawaii so long as you come and live with me/come and see me.
- Do not make promises you cannot keep. Do not manipulate your children.
Do you want to live with me? You can come and live with me.
- Do not ask a child this question. It is too much pressure for a child and too great a burden for a child to bear.
The above list is certainly not all-inclusive or exhaustive. It is a start, however, to what parents should never say to their children. Commit yourself to never saying these things to your children. They will be the better for it.