“We both knew we had to put our children’s needs before our own disagreements…we could never put our children in the middle of our adult situations. I continue to be unclear as to why some parents are able to put their children’s needs first and others are not but I have seen the effects of either of these paths on the many children who live through the divorce of their parents, including my own.”
Reader Kimberley S. Roberts is a divorced mother of two who has a shared parenting arrangement with her ex-husband. Recently I asked her to articulate for our readers why she believes that shared parenting is good for children, and good for women. Her contribution is below.
By Kimberley S. Roberts
Becoming a mother was one of the most exciting and scary times of my life. I have heard my children’s father state the same. I believe most parents want to do what is best for their children and would never knowingly inflict or be the cause of harm or trauma. However, life often hands us challenges that put us as parents and adults in difficult, life-altering situations and emotional states that can have long term positive and or negative effects for us, our children and our loved ones.
At the ages of eight and four my two children learned one of life’s most difficult lessons, that their parents were unable to live together and that their definition of family would be forever changed. Only as these two innocent and wide eyed little boys began to ask questions, did I realize the incredible responsibility my children’s father and I were faced with regarding how we both chose to handle ourselves and our situation as to minimize the emotional harm to our children.
We both knew we had to put our children’s needs before our own disagreements, anger, shock and changing life and living situations. It was clear to both of us that we could never put our children in the middle of our adult situations. I continue to be unclear as to why some parents are able to put their children’s needs first and others are not but I have seen the effects of either of these paths on the many children who live through the divorce of their parents, including my own.
Each year divorce becomes more and more common place. Amazingly, many divorcing couples successfully maneuver through the process of divorce putting their best foot forward for the sake of all involved, especially the children. There is no “how to” book when it comes to helping your children survive the failed marriage of their parents, but I have learned through my own trials and errors and through seeing the effects of my ex-husband and my decisions, that there are some basic and common sense things that any parent can do to help alleviate the emotional trauma of divorce on their children and to make each parents home a safe haven for them. This requires a commitment by both parents to co-parent. Sadly, a large number of parents choose to use their children as tools to gain advantage and to inflict pain and emotional suffering onto the other parent.
Commonly the parent that has primary custody which is often us mothers, are the ones that use these types of negative tactics, often including alienating the non custodial parent from their children by withholding visits, not including the alienated parent in children’s life events and school events. From a divorced mom’s point of view I feel it is my responsibility to state that it is never ok to do anything that interferes with the other parent’s visits with their child(ren). I send out to a plea to all parent’s throughout the process of divorce and thereafter to always evaluate and make decisions carefully based on the lifelong effects they may have on your children, both positive and negative. In extreme cases a parent truly in fear for their child should go through the proper channels to address these issues and not take matters into their own hands.
No matter what our children’s ages or stages in life at the time of our divorces and long after our divorces, our decisions and interactions with our ex-spouses will mold our children’s personalities, outlooks on life, ability to engage in relationships, emotional stability and many other life areas. My children’s father and I decided early on that no matter what our “adult issues” were they would never be discussed in front of our children. No matter what our negative feelings were about one another, they would never be discussed in front of our children. And most importantly, we would never make a decision about our children by putting our wants and needs before those of the kids. This doesn’t sound too difficult but when you throw in money issues, child support issues, personality conflicts, a new dating partner, hurt feelings etc. it can become more of a challenge to put our children’s needs before our own. Yet to do this any other way would have most definitely caused long term emotional trauma for our children. As an adult and parent you must be able to make concessions and compromises even if you feel you are being wronged.
What does successful co-parenting look like in the long term? My children are now grown and emotionally stable young men that know they can come to both parents and spend time with both parents and our extended families without fear of punitive consequences or withholding of emotion or anger outbursts by one or the other parent. They have been able to celebrate their life milestones (graduations, birthday’s etc) with both parents present and both sets of extended family members present. They have been allowed to bond and form relationships with both of their new step-parents and not forced to make choices or hide these relationships.
Co-parenting works. The responsibility of co-parenting falls on both parents but a bulk of the responsibility falls on us moms and or primary caregivers as we are often in the driver’s seat due to the amount of extra time we have with our children. Co-parenting does not assure that our children will not suffer some of life’s traumas but they will not suffer because of intentional negative parenting choices. No one wins if our children suffer at our hands. If our children can’t trust us to do the right thing how will they ever be able to trust anyone?
It is time to advocate for the rights of both parents and to have a legal system that holds those parents unwilling or unable to put their children’s needs before their own accountable. Family law attorneys should know that by putting a paycheck before what is in the best interest of society’s children or not following their own ethical standards they are contributing to the alienation of parents and the long term negative emotional effects that alienation behaviors have on our children. Social Workers, counselors, therapists and psychologists have a responsibility to know what alienation of a parent looks like and assess and identify it early on to assist in eliminating the opportunity for the alienating parent to continue this destructive pattern of behavior.
As a parent who has successfully co-parented I would challenge all parents and advocates of children to take responsibility for their own actions, to advocate and send a message that alienating behaviors are not acceptable, and to advocate for system reform at all levels of family systems, family law and education. Our children are our the future and I am proud to say that I have contributed to our society in a positive way by being able to co-parent successfully with my children’s father, helping them to be happy, healthy and productive members of the communities in which they live.