From the Coparenting Coach's Desk

Take the High Road: Be a Positive Role Model for Your Children

Some weeks are harder than others at Hannah's House. This has been one of those more challenging weeks. The divisive things that parents say to children and the begrudging and even cruel way parents sometimes lash out against each other are painful to witness. To-the-death battles over length of hair, cleanliness of play clothes, the source of ordinary childhood bumps and bruises, and pull-ups vs panties are devastating when the battle field is a young child. 35% of the children caught in the middle of custody battles are under the age of 5. Another 48% are between the ages of 6 and 11. These little ones need the space and the permission to just be play and laugh and run and explore. They deserve adults who take the high road to protect the children, adults who are positive role models.

What do you think?

Scenario 1: One parent carefully chooses some new goodies for his or her children and brings them to supervised visits in an Activity Box. The children are delighted to discover the new items in their box and have fun playing with them with the parent. The children ask if they can take something home to play with and the parent agrees - there is no restriction against gifts in the supervised visitation environment unless the supervised visitation was ordered because of alleged sexual abuse of a child. When the other parent picks the children up, s/he takes the new items away from them and throws the toys away or immediately drops the new items off at a charity for donation.

Scenario 2: One parent drops the child off for parenting time with the other parent and has trimmed the child's hair. The other parent returns the child with with a shaved head.

Scenario 3: One parent gives 29 days written notice for vacation instead of 30 because of late confirmation on an special extended family gathering to celebrate a great-grandparent's 100th birthday. The other parent says no because the request was 1 day late, and threatens an Ex Parte hearing if the parent tries to go the reunion anyway.

Clearly parents rationalize each of these choices. And, if honest, they would admit to some satisfaction in thwarting their coparent's happiness or peace. Some parents not only rationalize these destructive behaviors, but are able to distort the reality that they are harming their children. In the first example, the coparent actively demonstrates their intolerance for the other coparent - half of who the child is. In the second example, the coparent uses the child as a tool to express hostility toward the other parent. In the third example, the coparent uses a technicality to deprive the child of contact with the extended family of the other parent.

It's ordinary to indulge yourself in the fantasy of getting back at an adult who has hurt you. It's a normal way to deal with emotional pain when you still have a lot of unresolved anger, disappointment and hurt feelings. But when it comes time to take action, think about your kids. Think about what you should do in their best interest for a life unburdened by the need to take care of you and your adult concerns and worries. If you do that, in a reasonably honest fashion, you will probably take the high road most of the time.

Taking the high road as a coparent means bearing some discomfort from time to time; letting the other parent benefit from a coparenting decision; and giving up a couple of hours or days so your child gets a "yes, of course you can go" instead of "it's not my fault your mother/father can never....." The next time you are presented with a request from your coparent that would be fun or interesting for  your kids, go ahead and try it -- let your child have the positive experience of you taking the high road and modeling compromise for their sake.

You will end up feeling better about yourself and your children will be happier because they don't have to deal with your revenge and moral superiority. Perhaps that sounds harsh. Maybe for some parents it is. But for many who continue to say no out of spite long after it's time to move on, it's a fair assessment.