Should my child be in therapy during my custody case?
Contested cases are hard on everyone involved. I work with women, so my perspective is often that of the wife and mother.
I actually rarely see children. It’s really not appropriate; for me to do my job, I have to have conversations with my client that could be harmful for the child to overhear. In a few odd situations over the years, I’ve ended up with the occasional baby or toddler, and once a set of teenagers who mom insisted “needed to share their story”, but, for the most part, the children involved – even when they’re the main subject of the litigation – are unknown to me personally.
It’s for the best, of course. But even though I don’t know them, they’re often on my mind a lot. Sometimes, I lose sleep over the children who are the subjects of the cases I manage. I wonder how they’re handling it. I wonder if they’ll be okay.
It’s not a given that they’ll be okay. Fundamentally, divorce is often okay for children, particularly the younger ones – it’s the years and years of contention that sometimes follow a divorce that can leave scars. It’s the constant tug of war. To be sure, divorce is not without its difficulties, and children can struggle to navigate a new normal. But, often, the longer lasting issues relate to how well the parents handle parenting after divorce.
Studies have consistently shown that children are more damaged by being in a toxic home than from having two separate, but happy, homes.
An in tact family is possibly preferable, but that’s if – and only if – the marriage is a happy one. If it’s not, and if the children grow up in a constant toxic bubble, it’s even less healthy and more damaging long term, especially if there’s frequent fighting, whether verbal or escalating to physical violence.
I’m assuming that you’re here because you want to minimize the impact of your separation, divorce, and/or custody case on your child, and I commend you for that.
I know that going through a divorce or separation is no easy feat, and, if you’re struggling, well, you’re only human. You may be a mother, but that doesn’t erase your feelings, difficulties, or struggles. I hope that you’re seeking help, and doing everything in your power to take care of yourself during this time, too.
A wise man (Charlie Hofheimer) once talked to me about this particular point using a pretty poignant analogy. He said, on an airplane, the airline tells you that you have to grab your own oxygen mask first in the event of a crash. Though it’s tempting to try to put your children’s oxygen masks on first, you do no one any good if you pass out because you’re too busy taking care of others. Put your own oxygen mask on, and then help your children with theirs.
I hope you’re getting the help you need, whatever that might look like. Talk to a therapist or a financial planner or a mortgage broker. Take steps now to put yourself in a healthy place and build a better happily ever after.
Your children should probably be in therapy, too, even if they seem to be handling the separation well. Ideally, if you and your child’s father are committed to setting up a successful coparenting relationship, you’d even attend therapy together. You can learn a lot of principles of happy co-parenting, learn ways to talk to your children, and find out what their concerns are, so you can meet them on their level.
It’s not easy. There are a LOT of feelings. Anger, frustration, overwhelm, resentment – even more, I’m sure, but it’s late as I write this and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed myself.
You have to deal with your feelings, but you also have to be able to put them aside to consciously decide – over and over again – to do what’s best for your children.
It’s difficult to commit to co-parenting alone, though. If your child’s father is determined to make bad decisions, no amount of custody litigation will make him a better man or father. At the end of the day, all you can do is make the best decisions for yourself. Give him options, but you can’t force his participation.
I’m not a therapist. Even though I’ve strayed a bit outside the bounds of traditional lawyerly advice here, I can tell you, from someone who has witnessed these cases over and over again, it’s ideal to come up with a plan to deal with your mental health BEFORE it becomes a problem.
I’ve heard over and over again: divorce is akin to a death in the family. It shakes your foundation. It requires a lot of soul searching. But, as a parent, you have to meet more than one set of needs here. Though your own are important – obviously, incredibly so! – so, too, are the needs of your children.
I think the oxygen mask analogy is as vital now as ever. You’ve got to put yours on first. So, talk to a therapist. Attend a parenting education seminar (and not just because a judge ordered it). Talk to someone about your financial goals. Talk to a mortgage broker about a house. Talk to a girlfriend over drinks. Talk to a divorced friend about what she’s learned and how she got over the hump. Go for a walk. Read a book. Practice yoga. Whatever your thing is, find a way to center yourself, appreciate yourself, forgive yourself, and, most importantly, give yourself a second chance.
It’s a good time to extend grace to yourself and to those around you, including your children. It’s difficult to be a kid, and I’m as guilty as any mom for forgetting that when mine throw temper tantrums at incredibly inconvenient times. Try to transcend the tantrum to understand the underlying problems, and give them the help they need. Show them how YOU take care of yourself, and set them up for a lifetime of mental health.
It’s so important. It’s so challenging. But if you can’t do it for your own sake ,which is fair – do it for theirs. Put your mask on, and model good mental health.
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