What follows is the worst fu*(&ng phone call from child custody clients (and that is really, really saying something): “My four-year-old told me she would rather live with me. So we don’t need to go to court anymore and I win, right? Give me my money back.”
“But I talked to Tommy (the child) and he told me (over ice cream) that he wants to live with me (I had just bought him a puppy).”
Tommy is two, by the way. If you are counting. And the parent had maybe mentioned in passing that if Tommy didn’t live with him the puppy would die. Of doggy sadness. The census records show that two-year-olds love ice cream and puppies, traditionally. Know what else they love? Their parents. Both of ’em.
And, intuitively, they want to please both of their parents. If possible. Then they nap. That’s what kids do.
Do not, I repeat, do NOT, e-v-e-r, ask your child if he or she wants to live with you.
Of course your child wants to live with you, and not the other parent.
Know how I know?
Because you are asking him. That’s why. Jerk.
Little children are pleasers. They want you to be happy, and to bask in your happiness. They’re kind of great that way. Try not to ruin them with your bitter hatred for the other parent. It’s asking a lot, I know.
This I know to be true: all things being equal, if there is a child custody fight going and a Mother is alone with the child where Dad is absolutely out of ear shot – let’s say he is at a bar – and Mom asks 8 year old child Suzy Creamcheese if she wants to live with Mom, she will say yes. Every time. Also if she is with Dad. Or Grandma. Or Santa.
Your kid knows how to not hurt your feelings, and they will not do so (until they are teens. Teens will do whatever the hell they like, and no judge will tell them otherwise). They are pretty good at not hurting your feelings because they are entirely dependent on you for food and toys. Your judge also knows this. Everyone knows this.
Also, your kid understands that Mom and Dad don’t live together anymore. When she looks at her Mom around the house she doesn’t see Dad, or vice versa. So they understand – without quite understanding – that the parent is lonely, or lacking, or without something they cannot describe. And the child wants to be that something. Or, at least the child does not want to Mom or Dad to be even more alone than they already seem to be.
So, please. Pretty please. As your attorney and the blog voice in your parent head do not run up and tell the judge that your child told you that he / she wants to live with you and not the other parent. And if you do make this argument don’t do a little dance as though you have won something. You have lost. Because you asked.
Do you know what your judge is thinking? What is the context? Does the child want to live with you because you have a Playstation 4? Because you have a pet gerbil? Because you don’t believe in bedtime? Or check homework? Or make them eat their veggies? Maybe one parent lives next to the child’s best friend, or a haunted house, or that cute boy or girl from class? Or, even if none of these apply, did they answer you in that way because as their parent you know better than anyone what buttons to push to make them do anything? That is, after all, how we survive as parents in the first place. Pushing the right buttons.
What if your child asks you to do something really fun – say they want to go to Six Flags. And you say you will think about it. And they beg and beg. And during that contemplation – while you are thinking over their request – you happen to ask which parent they want to live with? What is the context?
Children do not make these decisions. Children do not understand what is in their best interests. If children made their own decisions no one would get to seventh grade and we wouldn’t have any teeth. Maybe people in West Virginia allow children to make their own decisions, now that I think about it. Children think that their parents are all-knowing and all-powerful. They depend on you, and the court will not depend on them. That is far too heavy a weight to put on such small shoulders. Let your children be carefree while they can; let them be children. Just let them be.
Remember, to your child the thing that horrifies them most is when you are upset. They cannot contemplate that. It doesn’t make sense to them. It is like the matrix becoming visible before their very eyes. It is scarier than any monster, real or imagined. They will do anything they can to not upset you (they will annoy and anger you, but do not wish to viscerally UPSET you), including telling you they want to live with you even if you have a ten square foot room seven floors underground that smells like that fake Play-doh. So don’t ask.
To your judge, the parent who would ask that of their child does not understand their child. Or childhood. Only childishness.