Are you sure you need to go to Court?
Are you sure you need to go to Court?
By Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Parents, unable to resolve plans for the ongoing care of
the children post-separation, may turn to the Courts for resolution. There is
a subgroup of parents who will entrench themselves in their position and defend
themselves primarily by pointing to the shortcomings of the other parent. The
trouble in some of the more fractious cases is both parents engage in the same
tactic, pointing out different foibles of the other, both justifiably. In many
of these cases there is a profound emotional immaturity even in the face of
intellectual sophistication on the part of both parents.
In such situations, the parents present with polar views
as to the children’s interests where such views are more a matter of value positions,
rather than an issue of real consequence. In other words, one parent will like
blue and the other will like red. In truth, either color is fine, but
both parents present as if the future well-being of the kids is fully depends
upon the “right” choice. An assessment reveals that each parent’s preference
is highly subjective, influenced more by their personal history than the real
needs of the children. Parents confuse their needs and wants with the needs
of their children and each parent simply wants to win in order to live out their
Childcare workers are often faced with similar scenarios;
two kids fighting in the sandbox over a toy; each child kicking sand at the
other. Their solution is eloquent in its simplicity. Either they take the toy
away from both children, or they help them set rules for sharing. If the worker
sets the rules, then both children must abide even if not fully to their liking.
The better workers will have the kids give each other a hug and move on. Kids
get over these disputes quickly and most remain fast friends afterwards.
In the adult situation of parenting decisions post-separation,
clearly the stakes are higher, but the process is similar. The trouble lies
in the sophistication of the fight and access to resources. Parents can bring
in more arguments, can obscure details, and can economically and emotionally
wear each other down. Unlike kids in the sandbox, their very children suffer
the consequences of the ongoing and resource depleting dispute. The children
may suffer economically as each dollar to the dispute is a dollar that could
have been directed to their care. The children suffer emotionally. They are
subject to the toxic emotional atmosphere of each parent and as each parent
is emotionally preoccupied with the dispute, the emotional nurturance of the
children suffers. Each parent has less to give the children emotionally and
when they do, it is tainted by their animosity to the other parent. Despite
parents objections to the contrary, this is a structural consequence of the
situation and kids do suffer. Many parents seek to distance themselves from
this truth or otherwise posit blame on the alternate parent. Few parents truly
take responsibility for their contribution to the children’s distress in these
situations, they continue to use the transgressions of the other to legitimize
Appealing to the Courts in these situations is a reasonable
solution for parents who otherwise are unreasonable. In such situations, the
concern or view of the parent becomes secondary to the needs of the children.
Assessors and Courts are then in the untenable position of imposing solutions
that likely neither parent will enjoy, but simply makes the best of a terrible
situation. While structural arrangements may be imposed to address the children’s
needs, neither the assessor nor the Court can impose maturity upon the parents.
In such situations it is imperative that the agreement or Order be as behaviorally
and objectively specific as possible as these kinds of parents are apt to nip
at the edges of any agreement or Order.
When are these situations resolved? When either or both
parents let’s go the fight or when the children become teenagers and vote with
their feet by leaving home early. The kids who leave home early are the ones
at higher risk for their own problematic relationships. Quite the legacy.
Hopefully somewhere along the line parents gain some maturity.
What is maturity? Being able to separate one’s needs and wants from those of
the children and then subordinating them to the needs of the children. Children’s
needs before parents’ wants is the answer.