At a recent informal gathering of San Francisco divorce attorneys I was asked to opine on child rearing, custody and visitation issues. The following is an encapsulation of that dissertation.
There are, in my opinion, 5 little words that allow the human race to continue to propagate. When you are single, or just married and thinking about children, and look around a crowded restaurant in disbelief at the messy, disorderly, shockingly rude children terrorizing the patrons, you think those 5 words to yourself, “My kids will be different”.
Yes, of course.
When you do have children you soon must face the fact that the nature of the beast is such that kids are just kids and that your kids are, if you are lucky, not much different, from the rest of the pack.
There is no more gratifying and simultaneously maddening job than that of parent. You work real hard to give them what they need and, perhaps, a bit more. Are you ever properly thanked for your endeavors? Not likely. But, sometimes, if the moon and stars are aligned just right your offspring may hug you, or kiss you, and say, “I love you”. Your heart melts, tears well in your eyes and for a brief moment all the expense and sacrifice seems worthwhile. Then without fanfare the moment quickly passes and you go back to your delegated roles of cook, maid and walking ATM.
Such is modern parenting in this waking dream we call life.
Many times when you are raising your children you may wish that the little brats had come with a manual. It would be great to have a guide from the manufacturer to consult when you are trying to make difficult child raising decisions. But of course, every child and every family is unique. There is no guide that can tell you with certainty what you should do in any particular situation.
This is not to say that there are no guidelines to which the enlightened parent should strive to abide. My training is in inter-personal communications and law. So I am in no way academically qualified to opine on this subject, but I’ve seen a lot and mediated quite a few “child custody” disputes and it seems to me that there should be at least 2 oaths that every parent can swear and be a better parent for doing so.
First, be like a doctor, Do No Harm. Growing up is hard. Do your best not to make it any harder for your kids. Eschew violence. It solves nothing and only teaches the false and dangerous lesson that “might makes right”. Remember that shouting and verbal abuse is a form of violence and is equally damaging to young people. Don’t do it. Just because you may have been raised with the occasional spanking or slap, and that is how you think parenting is done, rise above it. Your kids are precious and deserve your best efforts to be rational and creatively communicative.
Second, Lead By Example. Try to be the best parent, and person, that you can be. Do your best at work, at home and at every task to which you turn your hand. Isn’t that exactly what you would want your child to do? You too must continually strive to achieve your full potential. I know, I know, it’s hard to always be that person. I live in a house that is 99% glass, so you know I’m not throwing any stones. This oath, to my mind, doesn’t mean that you can’t, for instance, drink. It means you can’t be a drunk, or let alcohol interfere with your life. Likewise it doesn’t mean that you have to be the richest, or the most decorated, or the very highest achiever in any given field, it means that you endeavor resolutely to do your best and share the satisfying experience with your children of knowing that you gave your all. Teach that happiness is a byproduct of doing good work.
Whenever Liaise Divorce Solutions is involved in mediating a child custody dispute we always try to get parties to discuss their philosophy and style of child rearing. It is startling to hear that so many couples involved in these disputes actually share the same parenting values and style. Often it is revealed that, at root, the so-called child custody dispute is merely a façade behind which hides a “parent v. parent” punishment agenda. In other words, it all boils down to words to the effect that “it isn’t that my ex is such a bad parent, I just think it would be best for the children to spend more time with me”.
Yes, of course.
In child custody/visitation cases where there is no violence, substance abuse or other compelling reason to preclude visitation, the default position should be open, easy and free access to each parent. This is the situation that is best for your children and your children deserve no less.
This notion is fundamental to the Liaise concept of Marital Reorganization®. Like it or not, now and forever, one of you is Mom and one of you is Dad and that is never going to change. Soon you may no longer be husband and wife, but you will always be a family going into the future.
During mediation the Liaise mediator will take out her crystal ball and tell divorcing couples that there will be a Christmas this year, some day there will be a graduation, perhaps a wedding and maybe Grandchildren. The couple has a clear choice – they can greet these blessed events as well adjusted participants in a Marital Reorganization® – or they can be the bitter relics of ruinous divorce litigation. A simple choice. Make it as easy as you can for your children. Do no harm and try to lead by example.
David D. Stein, has been an attorney for 20 years and the founder of Liaise® Divorce Solutions. He is a trained best divorce mediator, dispute resolution specialist and lecturer on non-violent conflict management techniques and tools.