Best Interests of the Parents vs. Best Interests of the Child
This article has to do with parents taking care of themselves in order to place themselves in the best position to take good care of their kids. We hear the phrase “best interest of the child” virtually every time we walk into family law court when faced with a child custody case. Judges, other court staff, and attorneys, regularly like to say “it's not about you, it's about your kids.” While this type of instruction sounds like solid advice, and it is, it nevertheless is incomplete advice. We now live in an environment where we seem to instruct everyone that we must put kids first no matter what, and we attempt to sound sort of heroic when we make such statements. However, as an attorney who has been practicing in family law for 12 years now, it is easy for me to see what is overlooked 90% of the time is that parents need to take better care of themselves in healthy ways. What is too often neglected is that the parents are the parents. The parents work their jobs, provide for the kids, not only financially but emotionally. If a parent is imbalanced and guilt ridden over not being that “perfect” and “selfless” parent, they will not be in the best position to be the best parent they can be under THEIR circumstances. The same hold true when a parent places too much energy into litigating over their kids and support. I believe the parents need to make sure they are taking care of their emotional, spiritual, and financial needs first. It's kind of like when we received the instructions from airline attendants when they tell parents to first put on their own oxygen mask before assisting their children to do so. If a parent is suffocating their own emotional, spiritual, and financial needs, they have no chance to be able to assist in developing kids who will be emotionally, spiritually, and financial stable. If a parent thrives, there is a better chance that their children will also thrive. Too much emphasis is placed upon making sure kids are sheltered from all of life's problems and all stress and anxiety. While such emphasis sounds like stoic and rational thinking, I believe our perspective has become out of balance. Of course I am not saying that we ignore what is best for our kids, or that we don't make sacrifices as parents. What I am saying though is that parents should not be sacrificing everything for their kids, while ignoring their own emotional, spiritual, and financial needs.
Perspective: Parents Thrive so Kids can Thrive
Parents should not be too overly concerned with spending every second and every hour with their kids. They should not feel guilty when they are pursuing financial needs, health needs, and emotional and spiritual needs. Quality over quantity is the the better approach. Many of us parents spend a lot of time with our kids in the same room, while not really giving much to our kids. If our emotions are out of whack, our health is poor, and we don't have any life goals we are pursuing, we are simply existing with our kids. In contrast if a parent is emotionally healthy, and is thriving in life, the kids will directly benefit from the overflow of happiness and peace that comes from the positive state the parent is in. If parents spend all of their time fighting over every minute and hour of visitation, while engaging in a never-ending power struggle with the other parent, the parents themselves are damaging their own wellbeing. So here is a not-so-heroic sounding truth. If you are the parent who doesn't have primary custody of your kids, and you have weekends and vacation time, your life isn't over, and you really need to take advantage of the convenience of having less responsibility than the other parent. Spend your time building yourself up. Work on yourself. Read, pray, exercise, pursue your goals. Do not engage in the drama that so many parents are engaging in. Your kids will directly benefit from it. Your kids aren't worried about your timeshare or your child support order. Your kids want to feel loved, and secure and fulfilled. Your kids need to thrive. So while many parents feel heroic while “fighting for them,” the reality is, your kids aren't in that fight as much as you are. Kids are kids and they are more interested in their own identity. They are experimenting and growing up quickly. Before you know it, your kids will be 15 or 16 years old, and they will have more influence over how and when they see you than the court or the other parent will. So a smart and stable parent will recognize that the best way to stay close to their kids, is to be emotionally stable themselves. A parent who can love their kids without constantly bringing the drama and ex into the equation will stand a far better chance of maintaining a bond with their kids that no judge or ex can come between or destroy.
What Parents Should Consider Doing
Stop fighting for things your kids don't care about such as timeshare, every second, minute, and hour with your kids. phone calls, or whatever else gets in the way of a full life and quality time with your kids. Don't engage the other parent in a combative manner. Don't lie to yourself about how important it is for your child to spend every moment with you. Do things that make you happy. Engage in healthy relationships with other people. Workout or play a sport, read positive books, start a small business, find a good mentor or good relationship with a mature person who helps you stay grounded. If you thrive, your kids will thrive, and the time you do spend with them will be a thousand percent better. Do this and your kids will love you for it.
What about Child Support?
I do not discount child support issues. I recognize child support is not easy to pay, and that timeshare with your kids does have an impact on the amount of support you pay. I am a parent who paid child support for 13 years and I can't say I never complained, but I did learn that I felt much better when I focused more of my time on personal and financial goals, and less time worrying about having to pay it. Not to mention, it is a legal and morale obligation to support your children financially, so complaining about supporting your kids simply because you don't live with the other person doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I realize that there are unfair situations, such as when the other parent refuses to work or help financially, or when your timeshare is limited because you do spend a lot of your time working outside the home. In most cases however, the child support is not so extreme that is should destroy your finances. Most of the time our perception of the amount of child support is distorted and our reaction to it is often irrational. We say things like “how will I survive, or my life is screwed.” But I mean ask yourself, how many times did you still go out and buy that new car, or use credit cards when you didn't have to, or take days off from work when you really didn't need to. I recall a client that I represented many years ago who broke down into to tears at the courthouse when he learned of how much his child support was going to be. A couple of months after that court hearing, I saw him coming out of a coffee shop and he brought me over to show me his brand new four wheel drive truck. I remember thinking about how devastated he seemed to be at the courthouse but that now he managed to take on a substantial truck payment. We are all human, and I don't want to get on a judgmental high horse here, but I am just pointing out how we can sometimes lose perspective and get sucked into the blame game and view ourselves as a victim. Rather than become depressed and allow a child support order to dominate your thoughts to the point that you are headed to court every 6 months to modify your support or the custody order, and scratching and clawing for every minute of timeshare and dollar, look for other solutions. Direct your energy and emotions into earning more money, or work with your new significant other or spouse on a financial strategy. Help your spouse earn more money by being supportive of their job or business. Your new spouse or significant other has no legal obligation to pay support for your kids, so helping them earn more money can reduce the strain on your household finances when they earn more. Heck, sell stuff on the side using Facebook or Ebay. Investing energy and time in building up yourself and your new mate is a much much better investment than fighting with the ex in court, while allowing custody and support issues to rule your thoughts and time.
In conclusion I want to emphasize that I do recognize that reality is reality. Problems are real and you aren't the only one controlling everything when it comes to dealing with the ex and custody and support issues. I am also not suggesting that you simply roll over and allow the ex to get everything they want in court. You should seek custody time with your kids, and you should present information to the court regarding what you feel is best for your kids. But what you shouldn't do is allow your child custody and support issues to dominate your life. Rise above, take care of yourself, and stay positive. Your kids will thank you for it. The long term effects on your kids will be good, and when you look back you will be very proud of how you handled yourself and your relationship with your children. And you will most likely be in a better place in life in general.