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When your coparenting hurts your kids

Danny is 8 years old, and he loves to play soccer.

Every Wednesday is soccer training and the game on Saturdays. Danny gets up early excited to head to his game. Dad has always taken Danny to soccer training and his games; it was something they enjoyed together. Sometimes mum would come along to the games too, but not if his sister Sally’s netball games were in the morning.

Dad would drive Danny to the football field and watch from the sidelines shouting encouragement. Whenever Danny scored a goal, Danny would look up to see if Dad saw it and give Danny a thumbs up that he thought he had done a good job. After the game, Dad would take Danny to McDonalds for a happy meal, and they would sit there talking about the game play and all the moves to get into the right position. It was the favourite day of the week for Danny…. and secretly for Dad too.

One Saturday, after the game Danny didn’t get to go to McDonalds after the game as they needed to go home as Mum & Dad needed to talk about something important. Danny was hoping it was a surprise holiday or that they were going to get that puppy he had been going on about for months. Danny looked across at Dad who was driving and suddenly realised Dad looked worried as though this talk was going to be something bad. Danny’s mind started to think of all the possible things it could be, maybe grandma is sick, maybe we are moving house or maybe the school told Dad that he had kicked the ball in the playground and it smashed the canteen window. Danny started to shake, feel anxious and worried about what was going to happen.

When they got home, mum and Sally were sitting on the lounge waiting for them. Dad said sit down Danny. Mum said, “Dad and I need to let you know that we are getting a divorce, and we will need to move house”. Danny looked shocked, his lip trembling, thinking to himself, “I knew it was about moving house, but I thought it was all of us together”. Mum continued and said, “Dad and I love you very much and have decided that we will have two homes so you can stay with each of us.” Danny jumped up and cried “what about soccer, can I still do soccer” and Dad replied, “of course Danny” The kids were shell shocked and fell silent as they were asked if they had any questions. Sally started to cry and hugged mum, whilst Danny hugged Dad asking if he would still take him to soccer training and the games. Dad said, “yes Danny, I’ll still take you don’t worry.”

Dad moved out that weekend.

Over the weeks, Danny could see mum and dad fighting more and more over money and how much time we would see Dad.

It was Tuesday and Danny asked mum “Is Dad coming to take me to training tomorrow night?” Mum replied “No, I have arranged Tommy’s Dad to pick you up on the way this week”. Danny was so sad saying “but Dad always takes me”.  Mum said, “Dad will take you next week when you stay with him” Danny started to cry “what about the game on Saturday, will Dad take me”. “Not this week Danny” and she reached over to give him a hug but he pushed her away shouting “why can’t dad take me; he always takes me?” then ran to his room.

Danny went to training with Tommy and his dad. He sat quietly in the back seat of the car, feeling let down by both parents. They arrived at training and Danny got out of the car and looked around to see if Dad was there…… he wasn’t. He couldn’t focus on training; he kept thinking about Dad not being there. It was the first time he didn’t enjoy training and his teammates were asking him “what’s wrong Danny?” and he would say “nothing”.

Saturday came around and Tommy’s dad picked him up again and Danny thought Dad would be at the game for sure. They arrived and he looked around and Dad was no where to be seen. Danny played a half-hearted game, didn’t score a goal and was very flat in his demeanour. The coach ruffled his hair and said to Danny “Are you OK Danny?” and Danny replied sullenly “yeah”

The following week Danny and Sally went to stay at dad’s house. Dad was so miserable and didn’t seem happy to see them. He looked like he had been crying. Danny said, “Why didn’t you come to my game Dad?” and Dad said “It’s complicated Danny, I wanted to be there” and Danny said “So why didn’t you come?”. “I couldn’t” his dad said. Danny got angry and shouted, “just because you and mum got divorced doesn’t mean you stop coming to soccer, it’s not fair” and ran to his room crying.

Dad went into Danny’s room and sat on his bed trying to explain “Danny, I know it’s hard, it’s hard for all of us mate”. “This week I will be taking you to soccer training and your game as it is my week”. Danny sat up and hugged his dad, feeling a bit happier that he has his dad back at soccer again.

At training Danny was enjoying himself and having fun with his teammates and the coach said to Dad “Danny must be feeling better this week, as he really wasn’t motivated at training last week and had a shocker of a game on Saturday.” Dad replied, “Yeah, his mum and I are going through divorce so one week he lives with his mum and the next week with me. So, I can bring him to training and the game every fortnight”. The coach said “Sorry to hear that mate, a real shame Danny doesn’t have you here every week as he was really down last week”

At changeover Dad asked mum if he could take Danny to training and the game each week as it would mean so much to Danny and to him too as that was their special thing together. Mum said no, that’s her week. Dad got so angry with mum, and they had a huge fight.

This is a very common situation that I see as a mediator and the most important person who is impacted is Danny. To him there is no logical reason why Dad can’t take him to soccer anymore.

When negotiating parenting arrangements, it is so important to identify the special bonds and events the children share with each parent. Scheduling times with each parent should not be about what suits the parent, it should be about what suits the child. What have they enjoyed doing pre-separation with each parent. What would the child want for shared parenting, NOT what you as parents want.

The children become collateral damage during divorce which can have devastating consequences to their emotional and psychological wellbeing. If you love your children, put their needs first. It is not a competition with your child as the prize. Children need both parents in their lives when pre-separation parenting has been a safe and secure environment for your children to thrive……. continue to let them thrive post separation in two loving homes doing what they loved doing with each parent.

Author – Cheryl Duffy, Divorce Coach, Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, NMAS Mediator, Divorce Conflict Coach and Parenting Coordinator

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