A gentlemen recently wrote me to ask my thoughts on messy divorces and how parents can maintain respectability while going through the process. I told him I would respond via my blog:
I have had the unpleasant duty of testifying in court on behalf of both mothers and fathers when a divorce has occurred. I am frustrated for parents on several accounts. First, in my state, most fathers get a really bum deal. I have seen good dads get very little time with their kids because the mother is mad as a hornet, thinks he’s a creep and wants to get back at him. In situations like this, in my experience, it’s fairly easy to sway the judge or friend of the court that dad shouldn’t be in the kids’ lives. There are some pretty unfair and angry judges out there. When children get cut off from a good dad, it breaks my heart. Sure, mom may think he’s a creep, but remember, children can never divorce their parents. So, regardless of what you think of your ex- the kids are emotionally tied to him or her. And you, as the custodial parent owe it to your children to help them have as healthy of a relationship as possible with the other parent. Clearly, if there is frank abuse, the parent should be cut off (whether mom or dad) but usually this isn’t the case. Dad’s just mad at mom or vice versa.
Since the father is usually the one who gets the shaft, I have a few suggestions. First, get a good lawyer. If you don’t fight for your children, you won’t get them. Second, if your ex wife fills their head with poison, don’t panic. They will believe her (at least for a while), so you need to go overboard to live an upstanding and good life. You need to convince them otherwise and you can- but it will take years, not months. Never give up! ,Sometimes they won’t come back to you until they are in their twenties, but be patient. If you take the high road and continue to show them you love them, they’ll circle back around to you.
For mothers who are battling a cruel ex husband, you need a good lawyer too. If their dad is abusive, you, too will need to fight for the kids. If he isn’t abusive, remember that you may be angry with him and hate him, but your kids still need their dad. Much as you don’t like this, they do. They have a very different relationship with him than you do (did) and they deserve that relationship. You must do whatever you can to make the relationship stronger. This includes not criticizing him in front of the kids (that’s what girlfriends are for), work with him and be polite in front of the kids. Ditto for you angry fathers.
Divorce is a killer for kids. Many parents feel that kids are resilient and can fair pretty well during a divorce, but I encourage you to take the pain that you feel, triple it and realize that’s how your kids feel. They can get beyond the pain, but it will take a long time. You owe it to them to work as hard as you can with your ex-spouse in a civil, mature, polite manner to minimize their pain. And remember moms, kids always need and want their fathers. And dads, remember, your kids always need and want their mom. So do your best to help them out.