“We have to ask our client if she has 100 mice in her house.” My paralegal, Lori, said matter-of-factly as my mouth dropped open a bit, “What?” I uttered in my normal you-have-to-be-kidding-me voice. “Opposing counsel called today and was informed by her client (the soon to be ex-spouse of our client) that their six year old daughter had reported to him on the night prior that there were 100 mice in her mom’s house. So some dollars were spent on legal fees confirming that in fact, my client did not have 100 mice in her house.
Advice that Lori often shares with our clients or, on occasion, the opposing counsel is from a sheet that her son brought home to her from his teacher decades ago. It read, “If you promise not to believe everything your first grader says happens at school, then I promise I will not believe everything your first grader says happens at home.” This same advice aptly applies to divorced parents about things they may hear between homes.
Now, admittedly, the mice are an extreme example. Divorce tends to distort our normal good sense and judgment. It is the most distorted when parents are actively engaged in a custody battle and they want to use every single detail they can against the other parent. Why this dad thought about his six year old reporting 100 mice and decided he should call his lawyer to check it out, is not for me to judge. What I do know, from experience, is that it is difficult to hear your children talk about negative circumstances or events at their other parent’s home.
Recently a friend asked for advice when his daughter reported that her mom and her step-dad fight all the time and it scares her. Perhaps he had the urge to call up his ex-wife and ask her to stop fighting in front of their daughter, or to ask if things were okay. Or maybe he had the urge to call his lawyer and see if the custodial arrangement should be altered as a result. It is a knee-jerk reaction to want to take action to alleviate any fears, worries, or sadness from our children. It is our collective mission statement as parents – to prevent any negativity from entering our children’s worlds.
I concede that one of the hardest parts about co-parenting is giving up control over your children’s environment when they are with their other parent. Not having a say in bedtime, in meal choices, in clothing options, in rules and punishments. Even worse, when things happen in the other parent’s home that you disagree with and it is no longer your business. It makes me flinch any time it happens. But I have learned that surprisingly, my kids adapt. They have learned how to be flexible and to ask good questions when things are different in their two homes.
I do not have an easy answer for how to deal with this particular hardship in co-parenting. Trust me, I wish I did for my own heart’s sake. But there are some ways to focus and hopefully quiet those worries in your mind. Give your co-parent the benefit of the doubt that they are doing their best at this parenting thing – just as you would have while you were living in the same household together. Reflect on a time that you wished you could hit the redo button in a less-than-graceful parenting moment and remember it happens to all of us. Know that negative things happen and it is good for our children to learn skills to process these emotions and adapt to difficult situations. It is critical to their development into an adult. Keep communication open with your children without judgment toward their other parent so they know it is safe to confide in you their feelings. And remember, that sometimes, the 100 mice do not even actually exist.