If my years of practicing law have taught me one thing, it is this: marriage is a failed institution. That is not to say that marriage isn’t a good thing. It is. But as a society, the number of divorces as a percentage of our population continues to rise, along with the number of children born out of wedlock from those who no longer even bother with the pretense of marriage.
Therefore, it is imperative that parents understand how to parent after divorce or outside marriage. So, let’s be honest. It isn’t going to be easy, and you are deceiving yourself if you think that it has no effect on your children. You can, however, minimize the inescapable impact that divorce or separation will have on your children. Here are some ways to do so:
1. It takes two mature people. She knows how to push your buttons – I get it. He was cheating on you – I get it. Everyone comes into this with baggage. Those who are successful find a way to deal with one another on a civil, if not friendly, level and lay aside selfish desires to provide for the children’s needs.
2. Communication is key. I regularly handle custody in three counties. The one thing every Judge seems to agree upon is that most custody problems boil down to a lack of appropriate communication between the parties. Failure to communicate leads to so many truly devastating things. As an example, failure to communicate will leave a power vacuum. Children naturally explore their ability to exercise power. They will learn to exploit and manipulate this power to their ultimate detriment.
3. Selfishness has no place. To succeed, you must co-parent. Counting days and tit-for-tat is a sure recipe for problems, heartache and an ulcer. A child is entitled to the maximum time with two loving parents. No set schedule dictated by a Court will achieve this. No schedule can take into account when family will be in from out of town. Parents should establish a habit of working together. They should consult each other. They should be able to be honest with each other without fear of retaliation. I get it. It’s difficult. But it’s not about you. See thought #1 above.
4. New and shiny isn’t always better. Too many times I see newly-divorced people run out and find an upgrade – a new person to do whatever with. Too often, parents assume that their kids are ready to see a new Mom or a new Dad or meet the new kids in their lives. This is an area where extreme caution is warranted. Too many new women/men can create a bonding issue for the children. Children can be concerned about you not loving them or you hurting their Mom/Dad. Your children may not get along well with your partner’s kids, which may cause unpleasant things to occur. Be careful. Take your time. Your responsibility is to your children, especially when you are emotionally compromised and perhaps not making the best decisions.
The above thoughts describe a best case scenario. They do not cover the unfortunate cases where one party is selfish, manipulative or abusive. These cases call for a much sterner hand in dealing with custody. Perhaps that will be the subject of another article.
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