Thursday, October 16, 2008

Whose Weekend Is It, Anyway?

One of the first things I teach parents is to change the words they use.

Parents are parents ALL the time. And children are NOT possessions.

I realize that the law treats the children like possessions. I realize that many parents do, too. I realize that many parents truly wish that their former spouse would simply wither and disappear, or get abducted by aliens, or in some other way vanish from the planet. This of course comes from an angry-ex-spouse place, and not from an understanding-the-emotional-needs of their children place.

Too many attitudes treat kids as though they are a trophy to be passed back and forth and fought over. As though they are merely one more "thing" to be split apart, like the bank account and the household furniture.

But reality is, children are 98.6-degree human beings with feelings and emotional needs, and one of the greatest needs they have is to remain in relationship with both parents. And, the reality is, that both parents remain parents after divorce. And no matter what a "custody" and "possession" order state, a parent is a parent 24/7.

So, let's change the way we talk about those relationships.

"Custody" = let's eliminate this word altogether. "Custody" implies that the children "belong" to one parent, and the other parent gets to "borrow" them from time to time. "Joint custody" (the real kind, not the joke that's written into most legal statutes), if it's truly a rebuttable presumption in the law, means that both parents are parents. Okay. Then no need for words to say it.

"Custody battle" = eliminated too. All parents remain parents. No need to fight.

"Possession" = "primary/active parenting time". One parent has a period of time when they are the primary/active parent. They are the first line responsible for the kids during that time. They take care of the kids in all ways, feed them, clothe them, house them, taxi them, support them, cheer for them, teach them, etc. The other parent is the "secondary" during this time. Think of it like a team where one player is out on the field, while another one is on the bench. The benched player is still on the team, still at the game, and ready to go out on the field if needed. Both are still players, both are still on the team, both are still responsible for the team's success... it's just that one is actively on the field while the other is back-up. And then they switch places.

"Access" = this is another phrase that should simply be eliminated. Every child ought to have access to both parents, any time they want it. A child of a non-divorced family can talk to Mom or Dad whenever they need to; call either parent on the phone; spend time with either parent as needed. Children should not have to lose this access to either parent just because the parents have decided to divorce.

"My time" = see "Possession". It isn't the PARENT'S time to own the kids. It's the CHILDREN'S time to be primarily in the care of that parent. Let's just stop using "my time" and "your time", "it's your Mom's week", "this is your Dad's weekend", "I get Christmas", etc. Children should never have to hear themselves referred to in this way. There is no quicker way to make a child feel like a piece of meat.

Imagine how much more quickly children would recover from divorce, if they knew that they were still cared-for by two loving parents. If children knew that today, Dad is your primary call, but Mom is right there as back-up... or next week, Mom is your primary, but Dad is right there as back-up. And you can call and talk to either one without getting dirty looks or snide comments. And it's okay to love either one, and to look forward to a relationship with either one.

Parents, parents, parents: it's not "your" weekend. It's your children's lifetime. If you truly love them, then you will erase these harmful words from your vocabulary, and practice saying the words that actually support relationship with two parents. If you struggle with this, then it's okay to get help. Talk it over with a counselor or coach - ask how to resolve the emotions that are blocking your way to being the kind of parent your children truly need: the kind that values their relationship with the other parent.

It's time to learn a new language: the language of Parental Support.


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