Parenting mistakes happen from time to time. Talking about your family law problem in front of your child is one of those parenting mistakes.
It is normally my practice to ensure that children, even infants, are not present during my meetings with clients if their matter relates to a family law matter such as custody, guardianship, parenting plans, contact and financial matters.
Even infants can pick up the energy and experience of their parents in a meeting. Infants can understand what is going on way more than we give them credit for. It is for this reason, that we ensure that children are not present during office meetings between lawyers and parents.
Do we even notice our own parenting mistakes? Not all of us do.
It is my practice to remind parents of the importance of ensuring that they do not discuss the conflict in front of their kids or around their kids. I have an example.
On this one particular occasion, my client brought her 4-year old daughter to the meeting stating that she was unable to find child care for our meeting. I indicated to my client my usual practice of not having the child present, but decided to make an exception in order to allow the meeting to proceed. We brought out some crayons, and paper and the little girl played with those. She also played with her infant brother who was on the floor on a blanket playing with various toys.
We agreed that because the children were present, that we would not be discussing anything relating to the facts associated with my client’s case as it related to this little girl. Her father was requesting to see her and to build a relationship with her. My client did not want the father to see the little girl. She cited numerous reasons.
At first she said it was because he was violent in their short-term relationship. Then she stated it was because he had not shown an interest in his daughter. She later said she did not want him to see her because he had alcohol and drug problems. Her latest reason was that he traveled for his work and that any contact he had could not be consistent.
I will not get into it here, but let’s just say that there was very good evidence in the end to show that none of these allegations were not even close to being true. I did not, however, know this at the time.
I did know that the mother, my client, had not been letting the father see their daughter for a number of months. My client had moved on to marry a different person who the little girl referred to as her Dad.
This little girl was inquisitive and excited about her world. While in my office, the little girl busily got to work, playing with her little brother, chatted away happily, and drew pictures with the colourful felts I gave her to draw with. I was impressed by who this little person was. Clearly, she was a joy of a person.
Then the first really disturbing thing happened.
It happened when I said to my client, “You have a very smart little girl.” My client said, “Yeah, too smart.” She said this with consternation in her voice and clearly with a tone of disapproval. Seriously.
Clearly this client of mine thought it was okay to describe her little girl as “too smart.” Yikes! In my view it is one of the parenting mistakes a person can make when they do not admire the intelligence in their own children. Yet, I am not the parent and each family is different. Now although I may not think that was a good thing to say about your child, I was thinking, who am I to judge.
Then the second really disturbing thing happened. The little girl, who had not seen her father in many months looked up from the picture she was colouring and stated “My Daddy wants to take me away from my Mommy and not give me back.” Okay that officially counted as one of the significant parenting mistakes that can be made.
Although this was an allegation that had been made by the mother, the father’s actions did nothing to demonstrate any such thing.
Clearly discussions had occurred around this child. I ended the meeting and set a new one.
Next time I saw my client (this time without her child present) I asked her about what the little girl said. My client, although denied talking about the matter to the child, acknowledged that she had spoken about it near the child and in her presence.
I had spoken to my client numerous times regarding the damage that talking about the other parent in a negative way can do to a child. It steals their childhood. It damages and pollutes their thoughts. It causes them unnecessary worry.
This little girl was clearly worried about her Dad taking her away. This was one of those parenting mistakes that was so unnecessary.
This mother could not get how her comments affected her little girl. She could not see how it was important to put her daughter’s needs and well-being first. Putting her daughter's needs before her own included not having discussions about the child's dad around her.
Because this client would not follow my advice about not bringing this child into the conflict, I asked her to seek another lawyer.
Ultimately there was a court case with other lawyers involved. I doubt there were any real winners in the end.
It would have been a true win if this mother could have understood how her conversations were negatively impacting her child.
Written by Val Hemminger, lawyer and mediator
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