When Winning the Battle Isn’t the Best
The best gift parents can give their children is a positive and emotionally safe environment in which to live. If kids are blessed with this gift, they can weather just about any storm that comes their way.
Most single parents feel fairly confident they can provide this kind of love and safety. However, after a messy breakup or divorce, often it is difficult to imagine how life in the other home could possibly be positive and safe for the children. In fact, this is what difficult custody fights are made of, and
during blood-bath battles, divorcing couples know exactly how to up the emotional ante by pushing all the familiar buttons to bring out the worst in their ex-partners.
And this begs the question: “What kind of environment is a parent creating in the other home when he or she consistently keeps the other parent off balance?” While it probably is the furthest thing from the mind of a parent who is devoting maximum time, energy and money toward the goal to win sole or primary custody, that quest continues the war and leaves children stuck in the middle.
It makes sense that parents should do everything possible to keep conflict at bay so children do not have to be soldiers in their parents’ unending battle. But too often, parents who are in high conflict believe they are fighting to protect their children from evil forces on the “other side” and fail to see what they are doing is actually picking up their end of the tug-of-war rope.
According to family researcher Eric D. Johnson of Drexel University, about 20 percent of all divorced parents are described as high conflict. Johnson reports that some characteristics of these high conflict co-parents include no support for each other’s household rules, sabotage of each other’s time and authority, deliberate withholding of information, no joint problem-solving, use of kids as messengers and frequent negative comments made to children. This means high-conflict parents likely need the help of attorneys, psychotherapy for the kids and court-ordered penalties in order to survive the post-divorce battles. And obviously, these characteristics cannot possibly assist in creating the safe and positive environment kids need to thrive in an already tough contemporary world.
I encourage co-parents to recognize that everything they do to sabotage the efforts of the other parent directly affects the children in a powerful way — even if it means subtly contributing to the negative mood in the other household.
The bottom line is that children of divorce usually live their lives in two separate households, regardless of the custody title of either parent. Where they live determines how they live. Because co-parenting interaction greatly affects the ability of both parents to confidently do their jobs, each parent must take serious responsibility for how he or she is adding to the stress or reducing the emotional safety in the other home.
Before engaging in another battle, consider these important points:
How co-parents treat each other ultimately affects the children.
Each parent is responsible for not contributing to the stress of the other household.
Pushing the other parent’s emotional buttons likely creates imbalance that negatively affects their parenting — which negatively affects the children.
Granted, neither parent can control how the other will perform, and if one parent feels his or her child’s safety is at risk by living with the other parent, legal action definitely should be taken to protect the children. But sabotage for the sake of a coveted “win” is self-serving abuse.
Diane Chambers Shearer is a licensed marriage and family therapist, divorce mediator, and parent educator in Atlanta. She is author of “Solo Parenting: Raising Strong and Happy Families” (Fairview Press, 1997) and publishes The Peaceful Co-Parent, a quarterly newsletter. Visit www.dianeshearer.com.
Kids Need 2-Parent Involvement
With so many divorces, out-of-wedlock births, and mothers overwhelming winning custody, many children in the United States live without their fathers playing an active role in their lives. A study conducted at Wake Forest University concludes that fathers who share parenting are more likely to pay child support, spend additional money on their kids, and contribute to college educations.
Kids grieve after parents split. For the emotional and psychological health of children, The North Carolina group Kids Need 2 Parents has proposed a bill to modernize N.C. custody law to “presumed shared parenting.” The group stands behind the idea that maximum time with both parents is in a child’s best interest.
“Cooperate with the other parent. No bad mouthing. Respect him or her, and your child will, too,” says Sheila Peltzer, retired teacher, grandmother and president of KN2P. “Follow mediated agreements and court-ordered visitations. Your child is watching.”
For more information, visit www.kidsinterestequalsdualsupport.org. CP
— Michelle Huggins