What’s Really Important

The conversation around the do’s and don’ts of co-parenting has often been centered in what’s best for the children.  I have a problem with this.  Not because what’s best for the kids is not what’s most important.  It is.  My qualm lies with this only becoming a principle consideration so far down the road. 

These days, relationships and the responsibilities of parenting are not being given their due diligence.  And, it seems, families staying together come what may, and working to make things work, is a thing of the past.

Case in point: Somewhere along the line, either one or both of the parents attempted—and failed—to uphold their end of the bargain for their children.  They had kids too early or irresponsibly with someone they didn’t love or plan to love.  Or, maybe they had planned to but, as oftentimes they do, things just didn’t work out as anticipated.  It happens.  Perhaps, one or both, of the parents thought their relationship was something it wasn’t.  Things change, situations change, and people change… right?

Ultimately, it’s likely someone either “stepped out” or simply fell out of love with the other person—their kid(s)’ respective mom or dad.  Maybe they found new love or a previously undiscovered sense of self-worth that somehow trumped or voided out the love that they once felt for one another.  Maybe the choice was justified.  Maybe it wasn’t.  Maybe it was rooted in immature selfishness, or something else entirely.  Regardless, one thing leads to another and the parents separated.  However, not before they had successfully managed to shack up, unprotected, and create life—a decision that regularly results in the birth of a child, or children, and the subsequent tasks, demands, joys, and challenges of, well, raising them.

Fast forward a few weeks, months, or years.  The kid, or kids, have two separate homes now, two different sets of rules and expectations.  Their parents try not to badmouth one another, but someone’s feelings were probably hurt during, after, or over the split, and it’s hard to hide hurt.  The kid(s) can see it.  They can feel it.  But, they love their parents—both of them.  And, for the most part, things are working out as okay as can be expected, no third-party involvement, mediation, or court order required. 

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The parents share time, responsibilities, and holidays.  It’s not easy.  Sometimes they disagree.  But, they’re not bad people, and they’re stuck trying to make the best of things because “it’s what’s best for the kids…. and, that’s what’s most important.”

Eventually, one or both parents find someone new to love and the co-parenting dynamic forcibly shifts.  Enter a new person helping to parent your child, or children.  New roles come into play, new questions and new, necessary understandings must be forged.  Suddenly, countless serious questions begin to present themselves, questions which demand immediate answers: Who can help a young child bathe and dress?  Who disciplines the child, when and how?  What’s appropriate?  What’s being discussed in front of the kid(s)?  What sleeping arrangements are everyone comfortable with?  What can/should the kids say, think, and do differently now that another person is in the mix?  Can that person actually help to parent your kid(s)?  What boundaries should (and need) to be set?  Are there other family and/or children entering into the equation along with this new person?  Whose “say-so” should be prioritized?

Can the new BF, GF, bonus mom/dad, stepmom/dad [whatever you (or your kids) want to call them… or, they want to call themselves] play a positive role in raising your child or children?  What’s being allowed at “the other” house?  We don’t allow that here.  People start to get upset.  There’s a shift in power afoot.  Change can be scary.  Someone begins to grasp for things that they now feel they can (and must) control.  It’s their kid(s), after all.

Now, it’s human (and okay) for people to disagree on things.  That said, something I’ve come to learn first-hand is that it’s harder for hurt people to come to an agreement with one another “for the kids’ best interests” when a new love is introduced into the scenario.  Personally, I think it stems from a place of insecurity.  Will my kid love me less?  Will they love him or her more?  Will this new person (whom I barely know) be a kind and decent, positive influence on my kid(s)? 

It’s a fair line of questioning, really.  We’d be concerned if a loving parent wasn’t asking questions like these, wouldn’t we?  So, then, why is co-parenting so darn hard?

If you ask me, communication is key. But, I presume that’s easier said than done and markedly hard when everyone involved isn’t playing from the same sheet of music. It’s true that hurt people hurt people, for sure.   

The truth is, it’s more of what goes on behind the scenes in these scenarios that has begun to bother, alarm, and disappoint me.  And, it’s not just in my own life, but in the lives and homes and families of many of those around me, as well.  People at work, at school, and in the community, who are facing the same difficult and challenging circumstances which have sadly become more and more the rule than the exception in America, Wyoming, and Campbell County.

Which brings me back to the beginning: What’s important when we stop to talk about the ins and outs of co-parenting?  Which, I think, we must.  Between 40 to 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce, with approximately two-thirds of couples finding the quality of their relationship declines after having a child or children together. 

So… what’s most important and impactful to the happiness and wellbeing of our children?  Truly, I’m asking. 

Because, if the aim of parenting is to create quality human beings, then any parent’s primary purpose is to teach their kids kindness, gratitude, gumption, and how to love and be loved.

In truth, we’re crafting the little people we love to be capable of functioning independently.  We’re working diligently to build their character and esteem, while being mindful not to enable them to become fuddy-duddies, or instill a snobby sense of entitlement (because nobody likes that).   

Throughout the process, we work to promote the value of hard work and ethics and, hopefully, endorse these principles, among others, by example, along with the ability to co-exist well with others.

We’re not above help from others, either, and often turn to friends and extended family, teachers, counselors, and the like for meaningful insights and, frankly, help raising our kids up right.  Hey, it takes a village!  Am I right?

So… why not include the new love of your ex’s life.  What on earth makes it so very hard for parents to move past their pasts, accept change, and encourage another strong, potentially highly-impactful adult to participate in their kids’ lives?  I just don’t get it.  We cannot look to kids to help us determine what’s best for them.  It’s not that their feelings, wants, and needs aren’t important.  They are.  Children do not know what’s best for them, and, as much as they may fight it, kids need routine and structure, which innately are not always super fun. 

I was raised by a single father to believe that things like mealtime, bedtime, prayers, and chores, need to be constant.  The same goes for schoolwork, hobbies, sports, and passion projects, which were not just encouraged—they were mandatory.  You finish what you start, you do not get to quit.

Running a tight ship creates a sense of security and predictability for children.  So, no matter where your child is, they know (because their routines have taught them) what’s right and wrong, and what should and should not be done.  When parents instill daily routines and ongoing traditions, they not only teach their child what’s important, but also help the child to develop a healthy perspective of the world, themselves within it, and within their family.  To me, these things are all good and important.

Here’s wherein lies the problem: It’s been my observation that kids who are the product of separation or divorce are too often subjected to the fighting and a lack of positive problem-solving skills, as demonstrated by their two parents.  Further, when those problems spill over and into the new relationships of either parent, and the mother begins creating problems for the Bonus Mom or Stepmom, and/or vice versa, I’m left to wonder how anyone feels the situation at hand is best for their children? 

At this point, I’ve seen parents turn to their kids for answers and insights about what’s happening and why at the “other house.”  To which I say, again, children do not know what’s best for them.  They get caught up in the middle, trying to make everyone feel okay, which is not their job—they are kids.

Truth be told, if everyone had cared about what was “best for the kids” and prioritized this above all from the beginning, then the role of a Stepmom, Stepdad, Bonus Mom, and Bonus Dad would cease to exist.

Kids are hurt irrecusably by the separation of their parents.  I know this as a product of divorce, myself.  Having two homes does not benefit most.  Having hateful, vengeful parents, especially when directed toward one another, even more so.

But, until we can re-center our priorities and re-instate a more traditional family construct proven more conducive to creating harder-working, less depressed, more self-sufficient, and love-capable little humans… I propose we stop pretending to prioritize “what’s best for the children” only when it’s convenient for us as parents.   Just a thought.

By: Stephanie L. Scarcliff for 82717

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