While your decision to not obtain a divorce may be out of the question, your child may still want you and his other parent to stay together. This trying and common dilemma can potentially lead to animosity between you and your children, but this is not your only option. Unless your child harbors bitterness towards you or your co-parent, he or she likely wants you and your co-parent to work together peacefully. Cooperating with the other parent and taking equal responsibility for your child’s life and growth will show your child that you still see him or her as an important, valuable part of your life. Ask your child what they want you to do. If they want to play catch or need help choosing a college, you can easily show them the love you have for them and the seriousness with which you take your relationship.
Obviously, there are dozens of obstacles that can interfere with your relationship with your child. Obstructive custody agreements, unwilling co-parents, and your child’s extracurricular activities and social commitments can all limit your time with your child. If you can’t make private time to be a parent, try attending sporting events, offer to drive your child to and from school, or otherwise work yourself into their busy schedules. Your child wants and needs a supportive, helpful parent who can (and will) respect their lives too.
Situations that require coordination with your co-parent can be some of the most important in your child’s eyes. Even if your separation is uncomfortable and difficult, civilly coordinating back-to-school nights, athletic events, and school responsibilities shows your child that you are willing to put up with something unpleasant for the sake of their success, which can boost his or her confidence dramatically. As always, if your co-parent is becoming obstructive in your relationship with your child, speak to an experienced divorce attorney to inquire about altering your custody agreement.
What your child wants most is usually that their parents stay together, and it is a difficult lesson for a child to learn, usually at a very young age, that, as Mick Jagger once sang, “you can’t always get what you want.” As he also sang, however, “if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.” In this instance, it is the parents who must carry this burden and do the “trying.” The parents must rise above the difficulties and unpleasantness that brought them to divorce and not only tell their children that “everything will be all right,” but actually show them that no only will everything be all right, everything actual is all right.
Children learn from what we tell them, but they learn much, much more by what we show them. Show your children, then, that they are loved and respected by their parents as you help them through this difficult time in their lives. As parents we often say things like “I would take a bullet for my child,” or “I would run into a burning building for my child,” but how often are we actually ever called upon to do those things? What we are called upon to do, however, and what parents so often fail in doing, is to show our children that we put them first, that they are loved and that they are safe and that everything is all right, regardless of the transient circumstance of divorce that has befallen the family. It’s not easy being a parent, and very often we are called upon to put our personal feelings aside and put the children first, even if, or perhaps more accurately, when we are called upon to treat the other parent with respect and civility, regardless of our personal feelings for them. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible, either; we just need to keep our children’s well-being and best interests first and foremost.
Marshall Waller is a Certified Family Law Specialist with Feinberg & Waller in Calabasas, CA. He has gained a reputation as a dynamic and entertaining speaker and has spoken nationally and locally to trade, civic, and private organizations.