The first mention of divorce can have couples squaring off in a virtual boxing ring, each ready to fight for everything they stand to lose or gain, including child custody. But in the heat of all this battling, it's important to remember that your kids have rights, too.
They may not be spelled out in any of the legal documents you and your soon-to-be ex send back and forth to each other, but the rights of your children should be respected in the same way that you demand respect from your once significant other. You all have a stake in this major life transition, after all.
Your child should be considered to have the following rights:
1. The right to protection from parental arguments: Even if you know better than to put down your ex in front of your child, your ex might not. If you do get some negative feedback, use it as an opener to an honest discussion with your child, even if it's just asking what they think about the arguing.
2. The right to a neutral position: Your children need to know that they don't have to take sides, no matter what signals are being thrown their way. Give them verbal permission to love your ex, even if you don't anymore.
3. The right to openness and honesty: Don't force your child to keep secrets from your ex; it simply isn't fair. By doing this you're asking him to be disloyal to one of his parents; if he tells the secret, he'll feel he's betraying your trust. Let your child feel free to share whatever information he wants, and you won't put him in an untenable position.
4. The right to remain silent: It's common for divorcing parents to send messages to each other through their children. Again, this puts your child in a difficult position that could make her afraid of betraying either one of you, and makes her a party to your arguments.
5. The right to childhood: All of us are prone to thinking out loud when we're stressed. But avoid the urge to express your adult worries and fears to your children, who don't need the added responsibility and stress.
6. The right to a calm transition: Build in some routines for your children, make them consistent and low key, and moving back and forth between Mom and Dad will be less stressful.
Source: Huffington Post, "A Divorced Child's Bill of Rights," Julie A. Ross and Judy Corcoran, Jan. 6, 2011