Typically at this time of year I lament the futility of new year’s resolutions. As the day is upon us that has zero cosmological significance but signifies the beginning of a new calendar year I offer some wisdom to apply during the course of this forthcoming year. What I say here is intended for parents involved in a child custody case as well as those around them acting in a supportive role. Reading this may take awhile but, as you likely have the day off from work, kick back, relax, and enjoy the read.
The following is not intended to take the place of individual counseling but to be a primer to provoke thinking about some of the adaptive strategies that I use to assist parents in understanding their modified parental role, reshaping their perceptions to quell mental disquietude, altering their behaviours to be among those that better serve the emotional well-being of their children which are also more favoured by courts, and to improving their relationships with their children and the other parent.
The basis for my admonitions against traditional new year’s resolutions is that few lead to fruition because they lack intrinsically motivation. Most are a response to the outside stimulus of the social pressure to conform to that tradition.
When it comes to changing child custody or support payment orders parents are not lacking in intrinsic motivation to do so. Yet so often, few will act to make the change. The reasons vary but I have observed consistent patterns in parents during the 10 years I have been providing counseling services to them. It is these domains of action that affect interpersonal relationships which I will discuss in this post.
Before proceeding to examine the individual domains the matter of assigning responsibility must first be broached. I will go into greater detail further along in this post but to get a general concept of how responsibility is culturally misattributed please read WXIN FOX59 News Director is an Illogical Buffoon and Accepting Responsibility and Why I won't take some people as clients.
Conforming to societal norms
Not every thought, opinion, or feeling we possess is pleasant. When these are not aligned with actions the mind is befallen by the dissonance of that conflict. To advance along the relationship continuum an abreaction can be beneficial to both the person disclosing and the one receiving. Politeness or the modern phenomenon of a pervasive fear of offending anyone leaves many a parent in want of an outlet for their true feelings.
Advice is unloaded onto parents during times of marital breakdown and child custody contests. Some may be solicited from attorneys, mental health professionals, friends, family, and others. Some of these same people may obtrude, providing unwelcomed advice often weighted by the nature of the relationship to the parent. Some people feel that their role in the life of a parent obligates the parent to show respect by adhering to their advice.
A parent engaged in a child custody case is directly affected by the outcome. Therefore, the parent is under no obligation to sit quietly and follow or even listen to unsolicited advice from others. Short of violently beating someone to the ground there is no wrong way to tell someone that their comments are unwelcomed.
Parents may get told what their state of being or mannerisms should be during the process. The child custody litigation process not only involves the obvious legal strategizing but it also include an element of grieving for the loss of the relationships that existed prior to the breakdown. There is no correct way to grieve for this loss and those who insist on imposing such a standard should rightfully be rebuffed.
Tact can be discarded wholly in these situations if the circumstances lead to it. True feelings should be reflected when communicating to ancillary figures to the parents and children going through the custody battle. It may help the person receiving the message to comprehend the full impact of what the parent is experiencing. If a parent, in response to the advice of the most well-intentioned person, experiences the thought of “I just to tell him/her to shut the &%$# up” then it should be done.
At the opposite end there will be times when conforming to societal norms will contribute toward achieving a parent’s desired outcome. These are more applicable to concrete actions or behaviours related to the child. As an example use the inveterate practices such as corporal punishment of children. While once considered a standard child rearing practice this is a vestige of a past dominated by visceral reactions of intellectually deficient or primal parents. Such outmoded parenting techniques are viewed with disfavour by the courts, show a lack of respect for the sentience of the child, and may be criminal.
Reliance upon superstition and mysticism
False hopes and attributions to outside agency can lead to complacency and failure to take necessary proactive steps for advancing the well-being of children and the parent-parent and parent-child relationships. Rationalizations for adherence to superstition and mysticism are likewise ineffective and producing positive changes.
Just like the phrase I am from the government and I am here to help you elicits a chuckle from businesspeople likewise the phrase It’s on the Internet so it must be true has the same effect on typical users. Even so, credulous minds are now more common as a result of fast paced lifestyles and information overload which reduce opportunities to apply critical thinking skills. It days past deceptions were formally presented with an air of authority which accompanied by a dearth of information resources limited challenges and allowed them to be more easily implanted.
Thus a great many people have conceptions that there are greater forces than themselves controlling the outcomes of their lives. These provincial worldviews naturally obstruct cognitive processes that facilitate healthier interpersonal relationships. Adherence to ancient orthodoxy in our modern society creates friction resulting from conforming -- or attempting -- to an outmoded lifestyle and beliefs structure than that which facilitates ease of functioning in our vastly different current social climate.
The simple Truth -- what is self evident -- reveals that prayer, ritual, and faith have no impact upon child custody outcomes. These are merely vestiges of ancient orders which during times of great ignorance sought to comfort adherents and provide “answers” for the unknown.
Parents who care about the best interest of their children will not rely upon the perception of outside agency to guide their actions or succumb to a fateful outcome but will instead accept personal responsibility. The outcomes of child custody actions and the state of the parent-parent and parent-child relationships is dependent upon the actions of people, most particularly the people who are a part of those relationships.
Poised for combat
I have proposed and some jurisdictions have adopted that child custody cases be captioned as in the matter of and the parents be referenced as “mother” and “father” rather than petitioner and respondent. This subtle distinction can be a tacit reminder that the matter is about providing for the child and not a competition or battle between parents. Regardless, there are parents who hold an attitude that they must “win” the custody battle. I refer to these parents as holding an “I want to make my attorney rich” or “My child is a possession” attitude. Parents who enter the courtroom with a contumacious attitude will not be able to conceal that feeling regardless of otherwise compliant or decorous behaviour. Those who maintain equanimity during interactions with the other parent will experience better outcomes.
The outcome to which I refer is not the decision of the court. That is merely a single result along the continuum of actions affecting the parent-child relationship. Rather, the outcome is the parent-child relationship. By focusing on that long-term objective the custody “battle” becomes less significant and can be seen as a process to get through rather than a result establishing a demarcation between parents.
Parents poised for battle carry themselves in that manner and reflect that attitude which is likely to be naturally reciprocated. They view encounters with the other parent as hostile -- as an incursion into the battlefield. Instead they should approach the other parent at exchanges of the child or other brief encounters with phatic expressions and a smile. Parents who are reticent to do so as a gesture of goodwill toward a perceived loathsome person could instead do so for the mere amusement of having him or her wonder just what motivated such pleasantries.
A remissible gesture may never be forthcoming. Waiting for such may be just what his or her previous partner is doing. Thus, doing so creates an impasse. A positive approach is to be proactive and offer the opening salvo. If a parent objectively can identify himself or herself as causing the split, or who filed for divorce, then offering the gesture is his or her obligation. Parents need not express nor expect remorse as rarely do I find any parent engaged in a custody battle thinking that he or she has committed an offense necessitating a plea of forgiveness. But the simple humble expression accentuating a positive of the other parent may sooth the umbrage which leads to protracted conflict.
I suggest that parents requite the pleasures and forgive the hurts letting those instead slip into the vast abyss of pangs that pepper the past relationship. Each day is an opportunity for a new relationship. Every interaction begins the relationship of that day forward. Liken this to painting a wall. The existing layers are still there but it is the new layer that is seen and built upon as the decor is matched to the current scheme. A concomitant result of reduced hostility will be an easing of mental stress. You may have or know of someone who has experienced the relief of forgiving someone.
Child first perspective
A search for the parent who will stand up and proudly proclaim I am doing this for me, my child comes second may prove to be futile. But it is the reality of many parental actions. Parents may not realize that their actions, especially those which are customary or typical, are placing their children in a subordinate role. The actuality is that when a parent brings a child into the world that parent voluntarily accepts a subordinate role to the child.
When engaged in child custody litigation parents may experience a distrait level of consciousness to this obligation. It becomes easy for them while embrangled in the process to lose focus of the well-being of the child.
Having a child first perspective will initially conflict with the competitive stance established through the attempt to win the legal proceeding. It may require abandoning a strategic advantage that would envelop the child in the conflict. But by keeping in mind that it is the parent-child relationship outcome which is paramount to the result of the proceeding this becomes a viable strategy.
The filial temper of a child is greatly influenced by prioritization. Children realize this although they may not be cognizant of it. Each day during the childhood years of my son I strove to be a better parent than I had been the previous day and prepared to be a better parent tomorrow than I would be during the current day. I suppose I still do so but in a less active capacity.
I recently spoke with my son during his break from college and somehow the subject of parenting arose. More particularly we got to discussing being attentive to his needs and desires as a child. I asked if he felt that I had made him the priority in my life. He responded affirmatively. Coming from someone who has told me that I am a jerk, to shut up and other ego crushing asseverations I took the response as completely honest. As to if he felt the same about his mother, I didn’t broach that. However, his actions and past comments have provided ample insight. I do encourage ways for him to have a healthy relationship with her.
While I know I was wronged by his mother that is a nugatory consideration when it comes to making his well-being the priority.
That brings me to the final segment. Competing with the other parent and tallying the beneficent and detrimental acts committed by each.
First, I encourage parents and their ancillary network of supporters to rescind the honour code or other cultural expectations that would tempt any to calculate the deeds of a parent comparatively to anyone else, most notably the other parent of the child.
The invidious actions of the other parent, whether currently expressed or of days gone by, shall not be the basis by which a parent molds his or her current behaviour. That is to say a parent should not react. If genuine efforts prove futile, attempts to wheedle the other parent into satisfying requests may prove successful even at the cost of being disingenuous.
Through the practice of making these behaviours routine the goal is to inculcate a change in cognition of the practicing parent about the other parent. This is then reflected to everyone that may impact the parent-child relationship.
Members of a parent’s support network should help the parent attune his or her behaviours and actions to the course of the desired outcome. It is by integrating each of these elements that the gestalt of a parent is transformed in such a manner as to facilitate a more harmonious relationship with the other parent which brings into accord what both likely desire for the child -- the child’s healthy adjustment to the new parenting roles, happiness, and well-being.
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