My female clients often tell me they don’t want to file a legal document or testify to something in court, because they’re afraid this will make their children side with their father instead of them.
My advice is always the same: if you’re being bullied, then you must stand up to the bully. The appropriate way for my clients to stand up to their bully husbands is to allow me to file motions and petitions in court. Then, my clients must follow through and testify about their husband’s behavior to a judge.
But what about my clients’ fears that they will no longer be liked, or no longer be loved by their children?
A Parent’s Behavior Around the Child Can Affect the Relationship; Not Courtroom Proceedings
Children, minor and adult, are rarely aware of what was filed or said in Court. Only a parent’s behavior towards the child can cause a rift. Here are examples of behavior that can cause a rift between a parent and a child:
- Using a child as a therapist: don’t talk about the divorce, badmouth the other parent, cry to the child, act angry about the divorce around the child, or act as if you need the child for emotional support.
- Forcing a child to choose between their parents: don’t ever make a child feel as if you disapprove of their relationship with their dad or that spending time with him will make you angry or sad. Don’t be a scorekeeper and get upset if they spend more time with him instead of you.
- Using the child as a pawn in the divorce: don’t ever use your child to carry messages to dad, to retrieve property or money from him, or tell them that you won’t pay for something or take them somewhere because it’s their dad’s responsibility. Even if the other parent is causing you financial strain, telling your children this will only upset them.
Instead, offer your children unconditional love and the same clear boundaries you always have. Only talk about the divorce if they ask you a question. Answer their questions briefly and reassure them that things will be OK. Be patient, as your children process their emotions and deal with their grief and anger over the separation. If the other parent is badmouthing you, don’t stoop to their level. Your children may not be able to see past their dad’s behavior now, but eventually they will.
Set an Example for Your Children by Standing Up for Yourself
While children are rarely aware of courtroom proceedings, they will notice the example you set if you never stand up for yourself.
How would you want your daughter to act if she were in a relationship with someone who treated her the way your husband treats you? Would you want her to think it’s normal because that’s the way her dad treats her mom? Or would you want her to stand up for herself? Would you hope she has the courage to tell the judge about his bad behavior so that he was held accountable? Would you want her to get all she was entitled to financially? Or would you want her to hold back because she was afraid someone might not like her?
Do you want your son to emulate his dad’s bullying behavior? Do you want him to think this behavior is OK because his mom never stood up to his dad? Would you want him to think it’s normal because you allowed his dad to behave like this for years without consequences?
Children Learn by Example, Not From What Their Parents Tell Them
One thing is certain, if you don’t stand up to a bully, his bad behavior will continue. Even if you back down, there’s no guarantee you will get the approval you seek from your children.
My clients have often been in an abusive pattern with their husbands for years, giving in and appeasing them, trying to avoid confrontation at all costs. It takes courage and time to break out of this pattern. Fear of what your children may think, however, should not be a reason to continue the cycle and allow yourself to intimidated.