Article by Amie Greenberg, JD and Barbara Greenberg, MD in Children
Divorce--When Do Children Have a Say in Their Own Lives? How do divorced parents who have conflict work together, honor and adjust to the changing needs of a child? As Mari dropped her daughter Emma off at her dad’s house, she saw
Emma’s eyes well with tears. “What’s wrong?” Mari asked. “I don’twant you to go. I miss you and I don’t like our schedule. Otherkids see their Mom’s every day. I don’t get to see you every dayand I miss you,” said Emma.
Emma was five years old when Mari and Emma’s dad Michael divorced.In their divorce, the decisions related to custody were difficult.Their diverse parenting styles and belief systems made
child-rearing difficult in both their marriage and in their divorce.
It had been nearly 6 years since their divorce and now, Emma is a pre-teen and is voicing her preference for more time with her Mom. Parents must allow children the right to express their feelings.Parents also have to love their children enough to allow themto express their true feelings, even if it is not what the parent wants to hear.
Mari was conflicted. On one hand, she was happy that Emma felt comfortable enough to open–up and talk about her feelings. On the other hand, this could potentially cause some conflict with Emma’s dad Michael. Although they were on good terms now, things were always shaky when they had to talk about issues related to their daughter.
“For some parents, the conflict does not end with divorce. To their detriment, children can get caught in the middle of the ongoing struggle, differing parenting styles; and issues of control.This can undermine their security,” says Barbara Greenberg, M.D.
A parenting plan is the written agreement which sets forth the parents agreement regarding the children.“Parenting plans can have provisions allowing for modifications as the needs of the parents and children change,” says Amie Greenberg.
Some parents are not child-centered or flexible and won’t adjust their parenting schedules as their child gets older or their needs change.These parents can use anger and manipulation to bully their children into submission.The child learns to give in and submit to that parent, diminishing their own needs because they don’t trust the angry parent.
A flurry of thoughts flooded Mari’s head. Mari through about Emma’s age and how the court might now listen to Emma’s wishes under the California law if it was determined to be in her best interest. As Mari thought about court as an option, it was quickly dismissed as too costly emotionally and financially to the family.Mari thought about mediation and family therapy. Parents can meet with a mediator or therapist to discuss the requested modification to the parenting plan, allowing both parents, and possibly the child, to discuss why the change is needed and hopefully resolve the issue(s).
When Emma opened up, it was to her credit. She showed that she can communicate her feelings to her Mom so that Mari is able to help her through the issue. As Mari watched Emma struggle with this pain, Mari hugged her and suggested they talk to Michael about her concerns and find the best way to resolve the problem. Emma cried as a great weight had been lifted. Emma felt loved and heard.
Parents need to work together, co-parent and be flexible in modifying the parenting plan. Mari approached Michael and they both agreed to meet with a counselor, together and then with Emma. Emma was old enough to have a say in her own life.Mari was determined not to go down the road “head on” by electing a court battle, nor did she run away from the problem.She made the choice to give Emma a voice and work things out!
Parenting can be challenging.The question is whether parents can do what is in the best interest of the child.Sometimes that means denying a request, setting limits or implementing consequences.It also means being able to listen to your children and grant a request because it is in their best interest-even if it is not what you want as a parent. That is what true parenting is all about.Amie Greenberg, JD, MBA and her mother Barbara Greenberg, MD, authored "I Am Divorced … But I’m Still Me” books after personally and professionally experiencing the impact of divorce. They recognized a need to acknowledge how children viewed their world before, during and after divorce. Their hope is to help other families who are going through the pain of divorce. Amie and Barbara write for HopeAfterDivorce.org, FamilyShare.com, and LAFamily.com. You can contact Amie for legal services at http://www.Libertaslaw.com. Follow her on FB at http://tinyurl.com/buwe2gk, http://tinyurl.com/bodu2b2 and Twitter @4childofdivorce