We hear the phrase”Best Interests of the Child” all the time among family law attorneys and mediators. It’s a phrase that to these professionals is pretty clear: Parents must modify their behavior towards one another and towards the children in order for the children’s physical, emotional, and intellectual needs to be met without disruption to their well-being. Easy for us to say, but how easy is it for the parents to do?
On a good day, many people have no clue how to parent properly. They don’t see that their behavior needs to be modified, and if they open themselves up to this idea, what are they doing that should be modified? Damaged people from their childhood are having children. Many of these people are treating their children in the ways that they were treated as children. Not good. Their parenting model is lacking in appropriate communication with their children, and in the way to relate to their children. Plus, people have damaging personal habits: They drink too much, smoke cigarettes, do drugs, gamble, eat improperly, and maybe have a hard time keeping jobs. The challenge is how to take normally unhealthy adult behavior, and in a divorce situation ask parents to seriously change who they have been in order to understand and behave in a way that services ‘best interests of the child’.
Elle Barr, attorney and Judicial Education Coordinator for OurFamilyWizard, with many years experience also working with the court as a Guardian Ad Litem and as Minor’s Council, was our guest this week on THE Amicable Divorce Expert podcast. OurFamilyWizard is a communication app for parents who cannot communicate with each other without fighting. This app works as a monitor for communication and both filters out words that are adverse to good communication, and helps rephrase messages for parents so that they have a model of how to say what they need to address with the other parent.
When I asked Elle if she could give a roadmap of key points parents should consider in order to be on the right track for ‘best interests of the child’ she said she uses “The 3 C’s: Communicate, Compromise, Cooperate.” It starts with parents treating each other better, and in communicating in a kind and gentle manner with their children. It also includes not speaking ill of the other parent in front of the children; and not using the children as messengers to communicate between parents.
Next is compromise. Ah, there’s nothing better than to reach a compromise with someone who is no longer your friend, confidante, spouse or partner. To be able to compromise, people have to be similarly invested in the outcome. We all compromise with people on a daily basis: Driving and sharing lane changes, choosing a restaurant for dinner, selecting a movie and a time to meet. Compromising with a co-parent requires that we put down our armor, stop punishing each other for the break-up, and only focus on what is best for the children in any decision that comes up.
Lastly, cooperate. Cooperate in changing visitation schedules if one parent needs a change and the other is able to accommodate that change; cooperate with vacation schedules, holidays, selection of things like summer camps, therapy, sleep-overs with the children’s friends, doing homework, bedtime, and the list goes on.
The decision process attached to children cannot be used as a continuation of the toxic relationship that caused the divorce or separation in the first place. In order to grow and learn from the intimate relationship that no longer exists between the parents, the option can be to use the break-up to change what needs to change in the parents individually to make them healthier and better able to have a good relationship with the next partner. If both parents can lay down their arms and look in the mirror of self-reflection to assess their part in the discontinuation of the relationship, be willing to address any specific behavior that could be better, and pay attention to what your children are telling you that they need, hearing what your children are asking you to do that would help them, and understanding their behavior if they’re acting out as a result of the disruption in their home life, then ‘best interests of the child’ are being met.
If parents can process, understand, and behave in a way that supports Best Interest of the Child, they will actually be servicing themselves in a way that becomes Best Interests of the Parents, and ultimately Best Interests of the Family because even though there will be two households, you are still a family connected by your children!