In child sharing battles, a court often awards more time to one parent than the other. It can happen for a number of reasons, such as a child being allowed to stay in a familiar school or neighborhood, thus minimizing the impact of the change to living in two homes.
The parents often see it otherwise. If a parent gets more custody, it subtly says the court has determined that he/she is the better parent. It validates the “majority” parent’s view that the other parent is the less suitable parent.
The parent who receives less than 50-50 often gears up for battle. Less than 50% means the other parent has “won.” All the terrible accusations from the other parent have been given weight by the court. The less-than-50% parent sees the amount of custody as an unstated negative judgment against him/her. Adding insult to injury, it is just not fair to the parent to not see the child as much as the other parent.
The goal in custody hearings is to do what’s best for the child. Splitting the time equally between the parents to be perfectly fair to each often is not fair at all to the child. It is never the parents’ time. It’s the child’s LIFE. If a child’s life is accommodated more smoothly by spending more time at one parent’s house than the other, the custody sharing arrangement has chosen the child over any parental arguments for fairness and equal access. It is not a hidden message that one parent is “better” than the other.
Parents who dismiss the idea that having less custody means that they are the less suitable parent get it. They understand that shared custody is not a fairness issue. Shared custody, regardless of the percentages, means facilitating the child’s life. Loving, caring, mature parents put the child’s life and needs above all else.
Until you’ve actually been through it, it is difficult to imagine how discouraging co-parenting with an angry, uncooperative person is. It feels like it will never get better. As adults, we have lived through enough challenges to know that things usually do, eventually, get better.
But what about your kids? All they may remember in their short lives is the ongoing conflict between their parents. How discouraged do you think they are?
Kids need encouragement. When they are at your home, are you a parent they look forward to seeing, or a parent who will criticize them at every turn, making their visit merely meeting an obligation or the terms of a legal ruling? They don’t unload the dishes from the dishwasher properly, they leave their plates in the living room, their shoes are all over the house. How many corrections do they hear from you, and how many encouragements? “Thanks for putting your dishes in the sink.” “Thanks for taking your backpack to your room.”
Parents often balk at acknowledging children when they are following the rules. You would be amazed at how far these little encouragement/compliments go to make a child’s life a little more optimistic.
Try it for a week. Encourage your child. “Hey, I like how you are always on top of your homework. I’m proud of you.” “You did a great job of getting ready for school this morning.” Let them know you are watching for them to do it right and appreciating their effort, rather than catching them doing something wrong. It can go a long way in giving your child hope that things will get better, even if his/her parents are in conflict.
A study was published recently about athletes and how their thinking affects their athletic skills. They used positive “self-talk” that helped them focus on their goals. Two types of “self-talk” were identified.
“Instructional” self-talk helped the athletes while learning and mastering new skills, and “motivational” self-talk helped them to keep going when participating in sports that required endurance (cycling, long-distance running, etc.).
Self-talk can be powerful when dealing with a difficult co-parent. A parent who says to herself “I can be calm even if my co-parent gets angry” has a much better chance of minimizing conflict. A simple word like “detach” can help a parent remain unemotional while in the presence of the other parent. It takes practice and may require implementing “motivational” self-talk. (“I have been calm before, and I can be calm now for my children’s sake.”)
Parents say that one of their goals is to raise children in a happy home. Parents who remain in conflict are unhappy and the children know it (as much as parents would like to believe they are hiding their feelings from them). Implementing positive self-talk while in the presence of the co-parent, or dealing with the co-parent’s negative choices, can be a way of remaining calm and providing your child with at least one conflict-free home.
Parallel Parenting education classes are being ordered more and more as family court judges search for ways to refocus parents’ attention on their children’s needs rather than their own conflict.
The term “parallel parenting” is derived from a style of interaction between children called “parallel play.” Young children will play next to each other, often picking up the same toys at different times,without actually acknowledging or “playing with” the each other. They are “parallel playing.”
“Parallel parenting” follows the same structure. Parents are involved with the same children, but do not interact with one another. The hope of this type of co-parenting “relationship” is that it will reduce or eliminate conflict.
It does not, because the conflict remains within the parent, not between the parents. Parents cannot be in the same room because it causes them internal conflict.
The goal of Parallel Parenting workshops is to teach simple skills that relieve that internal conflict. Parents still don’t have to interact, but they become better parents by not feeling conflict when co-parenting.