In 1994, the US Congress passed a law declaring the fourth Sunday of July to be National Parents’ Day – a day to celebrate this role in the lives of children, young and old. The day is intended to recognize outstanding parents who act as role models and to promote responsible parenting. When the relationship between the parents is difficult, it is important to remember that the children still need care and support. If you share custody with another parent, here are some important tips for keeping the kids out of your adult disputes.
- Try to agree in advance: Whether it’s vacation plans, picking a school, or picking up a kid from camp, coordination can be difficult when the parents do not get along. Instead of waiting until a decision has to be made immediately, think through your calendar and try to anticipate issues before they are urgent.
- Put it in writing: If custodial arrangements, visitation schedules, child support, and other major issues are getting decided before a controversy arises, it helps to have a written record (preferably signed) that shows what the agreement was between the parents. This isn’t the only writing to remember. If one parent is not complying with the agreement, or other issues are coming up, a note that reports the facts at the time they happen will help create a record that can be used if the matter ends up in court.
- Avoid emotion: When two parents are not together, frequently there is some degree of tension between them. As much as possible, try to avoid mixing the tensions between the adults with managing parental decisions and actions. When communicating, stick to the facts, try to be polite, and avoid invoking past hurts or problems. These can be a distraction from an important parental issue, and the child ends up suffering.
- Keep the kids out of it: Neutrality in adult communications also means being neutral with the kids. No matter how much you may want to share your truth about the other parent with your children, it does not help them in their relationship, and it can often backfire. In Maryland family courts, judges rarely deny a parent some custodial rights to the child, so alienating them from the other parent only hurts the child.
- Get support: Raising children is a blessing and sometimes a burden. When two parents are together and sharing the load, the challenges can be lighter than they are for individual parents. In a joint custody situation, each parent is a part-time single parent, and this can be difficult on many levels. It is hard to be without your kids, it is hard to manage life when you have them, and it is hard to have to continue to interact with the other parent. Friends and families are important resources, but professional help may be called for. Parenting coaches and family therapists can help problem solve and manage tough emotions.
- Fight for your kid: Whether it’s enforcing a custodial arrangement or collecting child support, your kid has the right to a safe, secure home life with one or both parents. If one parent is not cooperating with meeting your kid’s needs, don’t be hesitant about pursuing legal remedies. While court is the last resort, working with experienced legal counsel can identify solutions and resources to make sure the best interests of your children stay front and center with both parents.