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Best Interests of the Child?

July 10, 2017

As soon as separated parents start bandying about the phrase, “best interests of the child”, there is a good likelihood of a nuclear dispute where those same parents don’t realize that their dispute is itself contrary to their child’s best interests.

I am not talking where there is real and substantial evidence of outright abuse or neglect. I am talking about situations where parents take their different parenting styles, approaches and values and magnify them into major differences.

It may help these parents to realize that from the courts perspective, as long as a parents are “good enough”, then both will have time with the kids and both are very likely to have input into decisions affecting them.

It may also help to realize that absent any real abuse or neglect, it is conflict alone that is most disastrous for a child’s development and well-being. So as they bandy about the phrase, “best interests of the child”, their conflict inadvertently creates the conditions for their children’s demise.

As for those parenting differences, it would do parents well to appreciate that kids are subject to different experiences all the time. One teacher has this style for managing behavior and the other teacher has that style. Kids learn to run in soccer yet walk on the deck at swimming lessons. They know which grandparent let’s them stay up late and which grandparent feeds them their favorite food.

Kids are subject to differences all over yet we don’t stand up and shout that is bad for them. We accept that children will adjust and know the differences between their various care providers, teacher, coaches and supervisors and carry on. We don’t run and take them to therapy for any of those differences yet if parents have different approaches to bedtime, cooking, meal planning or activities, this can be seen as terrible. What is terrible is the fight over these differences.

While parents may run their kids to therapy, the real need for therapy is an outcome of being drawn into their parents’ disputes. It is important to appreciate that this is more often the underlying cause of children’s distress, not the actual parental differences.

By letting children navigate the differences themselves, they then develop resiliency – the capacity to manage complex and/or adverse situations. Resiliency is necessary for surviving and thriving.

If you want to serve your kids best interests realize there will be parental differences in their care. Negotiate where you can or want and let go the rest.

Let both parents figure out what works for them and let your kids navigate the differences between their parents. Even in in homes where both parents get along and co-reside, this is the case.

Just as kids need to figure out how to get along with their friends, teachers, coaches and supervisors, so too they need to figure out for themselves how to get along with their respective parent. Just as you wouldn’t tell the teacher, coach or supervisor what to do, refrain from doing so with the other parent. Let your kid figure it out. Just as your kids may come home complaining about a teacher or homework, it remains their job to find a way to manage. So too with each parent. When we intervene we are taking away their opportunity to learn to manage. Bubble-wrap is actually bubble-trap.

Time to concentrate on what is really at issue which may have more to do with the breakdown in the intimate relationship and/or the separation and/or the unresolved loss and grief associated with change.

Parents who work on their own issues tend to get along better than those parents who more squarely focus on the issues of the other parent. As parents take responsibility for their feelings, kids tend to do better.

The best interests of the child are served with good parental boundaries and personal responsibility.

Great role model for the kids…. That is in the best interests of the child.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. I have been trained in Collaborative Practice, mediation and peacemaking. I attend additional training regularly and provide training to others. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue. I am available in person and by Skype.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

One Comment
  1. Gary, You have emphasized some important issues with regards to parents attempting to ensure the best interest of their children. As you properly indicate, people (including professionals) interpret ‘best interest’ differently and as such it makes it difficult for parents to be on the same page. For these parents to learn what ‘battles’ to pick and on what issues they can compromise, is crucial in avoiding a further escalation of conflict.

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