The Importance of Parenting Flexibility

By Stephen McDonough, Esq.

Next Phase Legal

Parenting Through Divorce

I came across a nice story in the Medfield Press written by Heather Gillis Harris. Take just a minute to read the story before continuing. Heather writes about observing a father helping his young daughter with her baseball skills while she waited at a field for another assignment.

Heather notes how a daughter’s relationship with her father affects how she relates to members of the opposite sex, and how it was nice to see this father spending special time with his daughter. In this instance it was sports, but it could have been almost any activity. She also described how the dad carried the girl’s pink equipment bag when they left.

Having two daughters myself, I’ve carried my fair share of pink bags around, but I think the most powerful part of Heather’s story is when she describes how these small moments we spend with our kids add up and make a difference.

As a Massachusetts divorce mediator and family law attorney, I spend lots of time helping parents improve their parenting, even during and after divorce. Some parents work together well and put the needs of their children first, while others become positional and controlling, searching for new topics to bicker over on an almost daily basis. When the latter occurs, it is the kids that suffer. I recall a surprising statistic I read some years ago – that nationally close to 40% of children have not seen their fathers in the last twelve months. That is an alarming figure.

Research shows that when children do not spend time with their fathers they are more at risk for all sorts of bad stuff. As Heather points out, not all families have fathers, and may have two moms; but the message is the same.

Take the High Road

If you are getting divorced or are already divorced, it is easy to focus on the conflict and make bad decisions. Don’t lose sight of the big picture when it comes to your children. Maintain flexibility so your children enjoy loving relationships with both parents. Avoid using the children as chess pieces. This alone is a major step to not exposing your child to divorce-related conflict, and your family will benefit. Many parents are able to do this, and they usually have better divorces, leading to happier parents and children in the years ahead.

…Or the Low Road

Contrast the nice picture Heather painted for us with the following example. A client explained his son had a baseball tournament coming up and the child wanted to get some extra practice time in, so he called his dad. Dad had time available, and politely checked in with mom, because it was her scheduled day with the kids. Sadly, mom would not allow the child to go hit some baseballs. Was it because other plans were already made, or because there was a problem with transportation, or someone was sick? No, but those would have all been reasonable concerns.

Mom refused to allow their son to spend quality time with his father because this hour happened to land on one of her scheduled days. Clearly, the universe would be thrown out of whack if the child spent an hour at the field with his dad. Apparently, mom wasn’t even home when this transpired, but she still refused. It is good to have a parenting plan as a fall back, but it is even better when divorced or separated parents are supportive of their children, each other, and flexible whenever possible.

As Heather wrote, it is the small moments we spend without kids that make a difference, and this particular parent was inflexible, and her son lost out because of it. Whether you are divorced or have the best marriage in the world, parents need to help each other create more of these moments, not serve as an obstacle to them.

Stephen McDonough, a Medfield, MA divorce mediator and divorce lawyer, is the owner of Next Phase Legal.

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