If you are legitimately afraid that your child is in danger physically or sexually, you need to do everything in your power to protect your child until the legal system has determined what is safe for the child. This is our duty as a parent.
What about when we think that our ex does not make a good parent?
What happens when there is shared custody or access that we feel will be emotionally detrimental to our children?
In the context of separation and eventually divorce, there is usually some degree of shared custody or access, and this can be troubling for many of my clients. Even parents that we feel are toxic or make poor choices have the right to see their children.
There are 2 paths to choose at this point:
- Try to fix your ex (are you a magician?)
- Arm your kids
I think it is pretty safe to assume that during your marriage you made a great deal of effort to change your ex’s behaviour and, in all likelihood, that project was unsuccessful. Frustrating, I know, but guess what? We don’t get to write the manual on how other people should behave. Adults get to behave the way that they want, and it is up to those affected by the behaviour to do what is necessary to feel safe and comfortable. Even children can master this.
Let’s consider option two as the best path for success during this difficult time. How can we help our kids have the best possible experience during access with the other parent?
Here is a checklist to set your kids up for successful access:
- Clean up your own thinking about the access – practice thinking that your kids will be safe, they are smart, and can cope well with whatever is thrown their way.
- Follow the access agreement to the letter – do not allow for any variations.
- Do not engage with your ex during pick-up or drop-off, avoid interactions that can expose your child to nastiness.
- Do pick-ups and drop-offs in a neutral location, preferably through a third party.
- If your kids are old enough, let them have a smart phone with a tracking device so you know where they are.
- Give you child a safe word to text you if the child feels compromised or in danger e.g., if your ex has a tendency to drink and drive.
- When your kids complain about your ex, don’t be triggered by it – instead validate how they feel and remind them that you have faith in their ability to work it out.
- Remind your kids of the power they have in setting boundaries – they can speak up if there is something they do not like.
- Don’t overcompensate for a crappy ex but overindulging your kids.
I understand from my own wild ride how difficult it is to find peace with a situation that you feel is not in the best interests of your child. The more that you perseverate and dwell on the idea that spending time with your ex is detrimental for your child, unfortunately, the more it will be. Since you cannot change the circumstance, I would encourage you to consider and practice new thoughts about the circumstance. This will empower your children and actually result in creating young individuals with excellent boundary function that can advocate for themselves. A bit of lemonade from the lemon!