Most coParents, when confronted with a divorce with children, say the same thing, “We want to put our children first.” But when it comes time to do that – which is every single minute of every single day – the behavior of many parents does not look like “children first.”
There have been volumes of articles written for divorcing parents to help them communicate with each other better about the children, discuss when to introduce new partners to their children, procedures to review mutually divided expenses, and revise visitation schedules as well as child support payments. We are a well-educated society on divorce with children.
So why don’t we learn?
Over and above all of these amazing articles comes one simple, short video from kids, about kids, to their parents. It’s called – Split. Ellen Bruno is the creator and producer of this video. I saw this video and met Ellen Bruno at a Los Angeles County Bar Association all-day family law seminar on child custody, visitation, and support. Ellen, a San Francisco resident, had a horrible divorce with a terrible custody battle with her daughter’s father. Ellen was committed to helping other parents understand their children’s needs so that perhaps she could influence parents to lay down their swords and make their children first.
But what did coming first mean to the children?
After talking to her own daughter to understand what was most important to her, Ellen decided to create a video of just children talking and sharing with the adult viewers what is most important to children. So Bruno asked the children all the questions that parents ask themselves, along with parallel concerns that children express to their parents:
*What will it be like if I have to change schools?
*What will it be like if I can’t live in the home I’m living in now?
*Will I have to make new friends?
*What if I forget something at my mom’s house when I go to see my father?
*Will I have to give up my pets?
Ellen interviewed children from ages 5 – 13 years old. Absolutely no parents were interviewed, only children. And every child, regardless of age, said the same thing: We were worried about everything, but once the divorce was over the only thing that mattered is that our parents got along.
Why can’t this happen?
The reason for the divorce, and the lack of forgiveness to resolve the issues surrounding the divorce, still loom large. Until parents can forgive each other for the split, it will be enormously difficult for parents to treat each other with respect and consideration in front of the children when together, and to the children when each parent is with them alone. The one request children have of their parents, to be nice to each other, is the hardest request of all. Yet it’s the only way to put children first.
If forgiveness has not been achieved in full measure, it only takes one parent to start the process. There can be some simple rules for both parents to follow:
- Practice being nice when you’re alone; practice basic phrases that will honor your ex as you exchange the children: “Enjoy yourselves. I’ll see you when you return.”
- Never speak about upcoming bills or obligations in front of the children. Make this a separate conversation just between you and the other parent.
- Realize that we do the best we can at all times, and that sometimes our best isn’t very good.
- Realize that if the other parent has personality disorders and mental health challenges, they didn’t ask to be born like that. Protect your children if they are in danger, but don’t disparage that parent.
- Don’t argue about anything when you’re with the other parent. If the other parent initiates an argument, just smile and ask to talk about it later when the children are in bed or in school. Every word is like a knife in the hearts of your children.
- Smile lovingly at your children as you wave good bye to them and their other parent. The positive energy will send them off with a warm heart and a good feeling about returning home to you.