“Pick a seat, not a side”. These are words I have seen many times and each time they strike me as sage advice. Parents who can see their children’s view points as more important than their own personal needs set an example for their children about what it means to be a parent rather than be a parent.
Too often children as young as 13 years old are given Carte Blanche to decide their own parents’ parenting plan because Courts give up believing their Orders will be disobeyed if the child does not agree with the Judge. This raises the question as to why a 13 years old is better equipped to make these adult decisions (imagine what would happen if Child Services, or the parents themselves, left these children to fend for themselves ‘on the street’) than a Judge and why parents in conflict are expected to make decisions that the Judges themselves are refusing to make. How is this child as decision maker parenting plan (a) maximizing the child’s time with each parent and (b) in the Child’s Best Interest?
Parenting needs to be a cooperative venture. Children are least impacted by the parents’ separation when they see their parents working together and being respectful to each other. Even those whisperings parents are sure their child does not hear, outlining the other parent’s shortcomings, are heard and internalized by children.
Consider this line of thinking:
Parenting conflicts can be about more than parenting. Parenting conflicts can arise from the need for control, money and perceptions of public image.
A parent cannot get back lost time with their child (control by denying the other parent parenting time)
If a parent is residential parent they receive tax free money that adds to their monthly budget (money)
Parents, especially mothers, feel judged when a court denies them equal parenting time with their child (public image).
This might be what leads to women (mostly) launching a pre-emptive attack by getting an Emergency Protection Order as a first step before applying for a Parenting Order. And, there is little to nil consequence when the allegations are proven to be fabricated, inaccurate or misguided based on the actual events as they unfolded. Courts are quick to hold allegations of abuse against a parent (mostly fathers) but not as willing to cast judgment in the reverse direction when the allegations prove ‘unreliable’. Yet willingness to co-parent and the moral upbringing of a child are factors required to be taken into account by the Court when coming to a parenting plan.
Imagine the change in the tone and frequency of parenting applications if the courts were to say that parents who cannot not decide for themselves how to put together a parenting plan for their children will be removed from the child’s life until they do agree. No, this would hurt the children as well as the parents. So, what if the default was 50/50 shared parenting unless the parents agree otherwise? How would that change the parental approach to parenting conflict?
The parenting question should not be gender based. Mothers and Fathers bring different skills and outlooks to their children’s upbringing. The research literature in the field of parenting shows that, absent concerns about parenting ability, children want and thrive in a parenting plan that has them spend maximum time with both parents. So, when did Children’s Best Interests become gender based and favour Mothers over Fathers?
Also, maybe this sage advice is not just for the parents. What if the Courts and lawyers picked a seat at the negotiation table and not a side in the conflict?
Lawyers and Judges joining with parents as Peacemakers. Is that such a novel concept? Maybe it could work! Maybe that is the way it should have been from day one!!