Not bad-mouthing your ex is one of the basic parenting rules divorcing couples learn very quickly. To some, bad-mouthing means not making negative comments. For me, bad-mouthing applies to all communication – verbal, written and non-verbal. Sometimes it’s even what you don’t say that conveys disapproval. Most parents trip over the ‘no bad-mouthing’ rule at some point. It’s to be expected. But what happens when you’re locked in a custody battle?
My current guest, Tina Swithin has two girls who are now aged six and eight. Tina has been locked in a on-going custody battle with her ex for four years now and despite the animosity between them, Tina does her best to shield her children from the conflict. Here’s Tina:
I’m a really positive person by nature and I don’t let it carry over.
When I’m with my children, I’m with them and I let them bring issues to me. I don’t initiate it with them. They’re both in therapy. If an issue comes to my attention that they bring up having to do with their father and I feel like it’s something that I’m not equipped to handle, I will tell them, “I wish I had the answers for that and I don’t, so we can talk to your therapist about what’s going on.”
I really lean on my daughters’ therapists to help me navigate this, because I don’t think anybody is qualified to deal with what has been in front of me. I don’t bring up their father unless they bring him up and that usually has to do with issues that have happened while they’re in his care. I’m really careful to not bad mouth him ever. As much animosity as I have towards him, that’s their father and I will never deny that to them.
They really aren’t aware of the court proceedings. They’re in school when it’s going on. I work from home, so they have no idea what I’m working on from day-to-day. I’m always doing projects and staying busy, so they really don’t know anything about the court process. They’ve very young, so I shelter them from that.
They’ve been to a lot of evaluators during the custody evaluations and so they’ve had to grow up faster than they should and talk to people about the issues that are going on, but they’re both amazing little girls. They know right from wrong and I think just modeling what is healthy and loving and normal behavior is the best thing that I can do for them, because they see when they go to their dad’s what is not normal. Luckily they’re with him for such a short period of time that I’m able to impart what is healthy and normal in our home.
I think the older they get, the more aware they are of the issues. It involves more coaching when it’s time to go, for sure and that’s definitely the challenging part. It’s really difficult for me to have to be encouraging them to go somewhere where I don’t feel that they’re safe. Yet, our family court system tells me that I have to be encouraging and if I’m anything less than encouraging, it’s considered parental alienation, so it’s a fine line. It crosses boundaries for me morally, that I’m telling my girls, “You’re going to be fine,” when I believe that is not the case.
Just this last visitation weekend, he knows my youngest daughter is afraid of dogs and so he told her if she didn’t clean up her toys he was going to take her outside and put her in the doghouse. It’s manipulative, it’s evil, it’s sadistic. I don’t feel that they’re safe when they go over there by any means.
They carry a cell phone with them which is mandated by the court. They are to have it on. My daughter carries it in a little fanny pack, so it’s on her body at all times and what I was instructed by Child Welfare Services was to teach the girls how to call 911 or to call me from a bathroom if there’s an emergency.
That’s about the extent of it. At their age I can’t talk to them in specifics about my concerns. I let them come to me with issues.
With the current custody evaluation that’s going on, I really believe that the evaluator gets it and he understands and he sees the issues. I’ve done such a good job of documenting everything that there’s no avoiding where the problem lies. I’m really hopeful that he’s going to help me protect the girls and he will assist the judge in getting supervised visits ordered. And our next court date is July, so I’m just holding on hope for that court date and hopefully things will be better for the girls.
I pray for that everyday.
What’s interesting for me in this segment is that there’s one person (Tina) who plays by the rules. She disagrees with the family court system demanding that she be encouraging but she’s going to go along with it because she doesn’t want to be accused of parental alienation. She sees that that would jeopardize her custody position. More importantly, she knows that it wouldn’t help her children cope with the situation.
Yet she’s up against someone who seemingly has little regard for the rules – if you read Tina’s blog you’ll get a better idea for her’s ex’s contempt of rules, social norms and parenting commonsense. It’s very hard to do anything collaboratively with someone who is playing by a different set of rules and it’s even more frustrating when you see that not following the rules doesn’t result in consequences.
That Tina can do this speaks to the strength of her own moral compass and I believe, that is what helps Tina navigate this conflict to be the best parent she can be.
Tina Swithin describes herself as a one-time victim now survivor. She’s spent the past four years in a horrific custody battle with her ex who she believes suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. You can read about her journey at her blog, One Mom’s Battle and also in her book, Divorcing a Narcissist.
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