I know better, I really do.
My children are both four years old and they are both signed up for gymnastics every Sunday morning. They love participating and I love watching them. What I don’t love is trying to get them ready and out the door on time. You’ve heard the expression, “It’s like herding cats.”?
On this particular morning, I had slept in and we were behind schedule so I was running around like a crazy person trying to throw on my own clothes, get the kids dressed, and fill water bottles, so that I could load us all in the car for the drive across town. At the same time, my husband was sitting at the kitchen table, with earphones in, catching up on some work he needed to have done for the following morning. To be fair, I am quite sure that if I’d calmly asked for some help, he would have put his work down and willingly pitched in. Instead, I decided to mutter under my breath and shoot death glares at him while suffering through another wild morning with twins. I mean really … he does know when gymnastics starts and I’m pretty sure he also knows how to tell time!
My parenting faux pas occurred on the way to the gym after I explained to my children that they were going to be late so they would need to hurry once we got there. My daughter asked why we were late and, without missing a beat, I put all of the blame on my husband and said, “Well, Daddy wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of help this morning.” I honestly didn’t think too much about it. I’ve often joked with my children about Daddy being in “big trouble” when we’ve discovered, for example, that he ate the last cookie or put the empty juice jug back in the refrigerator. They always think it’s hilarious and when he walks in the door they gleefully inform him of his transgressions. My daughter did not react any differently this time as she promised to “give him a piece of her mind” as soon as she had the chance. I noticed that my son went unusually quiet though and when I asked if he was OK, he looked at me and very sadly and said, “But Mommy, I love Daddy.”
I don’t know whether he picked up on my annoyance at home or whether my voice sounded angry in the car or both but he knew that this time I was not entirely joking when I complained about his dad and it did not sit well with him. He is a particularly sensitive little guy (as I said, my daughter did not appear to have been fazed in the least) but it really hit home for me. I spend a lot of time talking about how important it is to try to shield children from conflict during a separation. Unfortunately, it is way too easy to slip up. Nobody’s perfect but I know I’m going to try to be more careful.
This was just another one of those times when a rewind button would have come in extremely handy in my life. I reassured my son that his sister and I loved Daddy too and he almost immediately recovered but clearly, what I thought was a pretty harmless remark, caused him some degree of distress. Imagine the impact of a more direct or a nastier comment.
In the family law context, we hear complaints about inappropriate comments being made to children all the time. They should not be privy to the statements made in a family court action, they should not be told that the other parent has “taken” all the money, and they should not be told that the other parent has destroyed the family. Simply put, it is not okay to discuss adult issues with your children and it is not okay to make derogatory comments about the other parent within your children’s hearing. Going through a separation is difficult enough and children do not need, nor do they deserve, any additional stress.
The lesson I learned was that my children are much more perceptive than I thought. I also learned that, no matter how inoffensive the remark, it is never a good idea to use my children as a sounding board when I’m annoyed with their dad … luckily my mom is always willing to lend an ear.