Shana started sobbing: “He says he’s going to get custody of the kids if I ask for a divorce!” she wailed. She wasn’t the first mom who heard this threat from her soon-to-be-ex. But I’m always surprised when the threat resonates such fear. Here you are a perfectly good mom, quaking in your shoes because dad says he’s better than you. Why? I believe part of that fear comes from Mom-guilt: deep down you don’t think you are a good enough mother. Here is my take on mom-guilt and how to take charge of it and avoid the #1 custody mistake.
What is Mom-guilt?
I’ve had a number of blog articles about “divorce guilt,” which is the feeling that you need a “better reason” for the divorce than just admitting you aren’t happy anymore. Divorce guilt can play a powerful role in making your divorce case worse. So can Mom-guilt.
Moms are generally laden with self-doubt about our choices: Cloth diaper or Disposable? Breast or Formula? Cry-it-out or Co-sleep? Organic cereal or Baby-led-weaning? The list goes on forever. Add up all these decisions, as well as social media pressure to be Pintrest perfect, and deep down we’ve created a bunch of moms who fear they aren’t good enough: low mom-esteem! And that’s on an every-day basis. When faced with the collapse of your marriage, upended financials and maybe the sale of your house – the threat that we aren’t good enough to parent our children prays on this feeling of guilt that you haven’t been a “perfect” mom.
Why is Mom-guilt dangerous?
Feeling guilt that you aren’t a good enough mother can lead you into a nasty fight where you try to prove you are better than dad by cutting him down. In some cases it can mean that mom tries to undermine dad’s relationship with the kids. And hurting the other parent’s relationship with the kids is one reason for you to lose custody!
I think the worst result of the threat to “take the kids away” is that both parents seek to prove that the other parent is really “horrible” and start to justify their terrible behavior towards one another, ignoring that they will still be parents of the kids long after the lawyers and the judge are gone from their lives.
What does the legal standard say?
The court is going to decide what is in the “best interests of the child.” This includes looking at a number of factors including who has been the primary caretaker, is either parent subject of an abuse or neglect proceeding, and even the financials of each parent. The court wants the kids to have access to both parents! If one parent is attempting to interfere with the relationship of the other parent and child, that can sway the court.
Take charge of your mom-guilt.
You may feel dad hasn’t been “that involved” up until now. Maybe he’s put in only a little time a day compared to your second-shift with the kids. He’s prioritized work or going out with the guys. He wasn’t there for all the sick days or the middle of the night waking (or that time your son puked on your head from the top-bunkbed). Even if dad hasn’t been “that involved” up until now, give him a chance to change his parenting. Your relationship with dad is changing now, so his relationship with the kids may as well change too. Encourage that access and relationship because that’s part of what has made you a good mother: you’ve always encouraged dad to parent!
Consider Dad is scared at his own potential “loss” of his kids – after all if he’s barely seeing the kids now, once they live in a separate space his access will be very sparse (unless and until he steps up his game). Ok – maybe he’s a jerk, but he’s still their dad!
Finally, take a step back and realize that you are a good mother. Even if Junior wore the wrong color pants to the holiday show. Your kids view you as their special mommy no matter what. Allow yourself to parent in a way that provides your kids the benefits of both you and dad.
Need more advice when he’s making this nasty threat to “get custody”? My new online session is available: Mom’s Guide To Custody (When He Says He’ll “Get the Kids”)