I’ve been unfortunate enough to have testified in a couple of child custody cases. I know other therapists who hate doing this SO MUCH that they charge ridiculous amounts for a court appearance hoping to dissuade anyone from taking them up on it. ($800 plus travel?! Are you KIDDING me?!) Of course, it IS so unnerving that I may get to the point where no amount of money could induce me to do it.
But for now, at least, I do. Much more cheaply, I might add. I do this because I genuinely believe in the rights of my kid clients. I hate the fact that, in the eyes of the law, they are property to be divided and no one cares about their opinions or feelings
Even parents who are not locked in a custody battle can still treat their kids like objects. The typical scenario goes like this: Parent is angry with HIS parent and so says something like, “Do what I say or you’ll never see your grandkids again!” This level of maturity ranks right up there with “If you don’t let me pitch I’m taking my bat and ball and going home!” Except your kids are people, not sporting equipment.
Now if grandma can’t put down the crack pipe long enough to change a diaper, you have a legitimate reason for not wanting to leave your kids there unattended. Maybe grandpa isn’t actually breaking the law, but he’s just a mean ol’ SOB with nothing to say but a long string of curse words. Don’t want your kids around that, either. So you MAY think you’ve got their best interest at heart when you refuse any contact.
WRONG! Your kids WANT to know — and love — their grandparents, their non-custodial parents and their errant older siblings. They have a RIGHT to know them. Kids aren’t stupid. They’ll figure out that these people are not contenders for Parent of the Year. And letting them see the ugly truth (in age-appropriate doses) is more beneficial to them than letting them grow up with a hole in their hearts.
So be a grown-up and let your kids have the contact they crave. Just control it. Meet at a public place – restaurant, park, arcade. Turn it into a teaching moment by letting them know what to expect. “Now grandpa’s old and cranky and he uses bad words. That is NOT a reason why YOU can. We all have to respect our elders, even sometimes when they’re wrong.” (Besides, unless your kid is deaf, I can practically guarantee he’s heard those words before.)
Another scenario is that the non-custodial parent will call up and promise to pick up the kids for a day of fun at, say the waterpark. Then not show up. And you’re left with a bunch of crying kids with nothing to do. Don’t let it happen! Always have a Plan B. “You know your dad doesn’t always show up when he says he will. So if he doesn’t take you to the waterpark, we’ll all go to the movies instead.”
For the love of God, please treat your kids like people! Don’t use them as bargaining chips, weapons or punishment. They are our future, you know.