Let Go To Win – Child Custody
By Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Monkey hunters have an ingenious way to trap their prey. They carve a small
hole into a gourd and then hollow it out. Into the gourd they place a small
piece of fruit or some nuts. They strap the gourd to a tree and then wait. In
a little while a monkey shows up and sniffs at the bait. The monkey then squeezes
its hand into the gourd and grasps the bait. With its hand clasping the bait
in a fist, it cannot remove its hand from the gourd. Trapped. Along come the
hunter and cuts off the monkey’s head.
Parents in custody or access disputes are advised to remember that story. It
is true and reflects what can happen when parents engage in battle over the
As each parent grabs hold of their prized position, both can lose control of
their destiny to the will of the Courts and the influence of the assessor. Not
only can both parents lose control of the outcome, but when children become
the battlefield, they then often become the casualties too. Children subject
to bitter and ongoing parenting disputes are at risk of anxiety, depression,
school failure, poor self-esteem and behavioral problems. Many of these problems
can persist through childhood and into adulthood thus affecting adult relationship
and vocational performance. This is quite the legacy of parents unwilling ease
Parents in bitter custody or access disputes should consider that the prize
is not necessarily half the time with their kids or even half a say in matters
affecting their lives. The true prize is a 100% relationship with one’s
children. This is achieved not by fighting tooth and nail for one’s perceived
rights, as the right to fight is not necessarily what is right for the child.
Rather, parents are advised to concentrate on their relationship with their
A parent can win a disproportionate amount of time with their child, but if
the relationship is poor, it really just means more time to ruin the relationship
and hurt the child. Further, not enough time with the other parent may only
create resentment towards the parent who limited the child’s time. Rather
than focusing on amount of time then, parents can strategize how they will spend
the time they have. Thus when concentrating on quality of time, parents can
direct their attention to taking their kids to extra-curricular activities,
helping with homework, joining in with hobbies and volunteering on school outings.
Therefore parents can negotiate the activities in which they participate with
their children instead of the amount of time a child is necessarily in their
care. Further and even if not a custodial parent, parents can still negotiate
to attend parent-teacher conferences and demonstrate an interest in their child’s
schooling. Thus the parent demonstrates a keen interest in the life of their
child, which enhances the relationship and contributes to the child’s
Assuming that neither parent is abusive or otherwise harmful, children tend
to develop best given enough time with both parents to have a meaningful relationship.
Meaningful though will be a function of parental participation in the child’s
life. Even if the history suggests a parent has been distant or less available,
on a go forward basis a positive outcome to a failed marriage may mean better
parental relationships with the children. Limiting the possibility of better
parental relationships does a double disservice to the child. Not only will
the child have lost the primary family structure, but also the possibility of
these better parental relationships.
Hence, parents on both sides of the battle are advised to stop and think before
clenching tight on their position. Both can let go a little to gain a lot.
Interestingly enough, monkeys who do let go their fruit or nuts get to live
another day and parents who let go a little, often improve relationships.