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12/17/17blog post

divorced parents must put children first

Preschool children from divorced parents did better psychologically if they lived in shared parenting environments compared with kids living primarily with one parent, according to recently published research in Acta Paediatrica.

Experts reviewed the adjustment of 3,656 Swedish children living in two-parent families, joint custody environments, or with one parent after a divorce. Its traditionally been argued that young children (aged 3 to 5) need the stability and consistency of one home, but this research found that assumption to be false.

This study makes me very uneasy. I’m fearful that attorneys and others will use this research to justify shared parenting arrangements that are harmful to kids. Joint custody remains uncommon for some very good reasons.

People divorce for many factors, but there are typically significant issues with communication, problem-solving, and trust. Those are exactly the skills needed to make joint custody successful for kids. In some ways, shared parenting makes no sense. We’re asking parents who failed at the skills needed to maintain their marriage to use those skills in a very challenging parenting role.

I’m not condemning all joint custody arrangements, just arguing that it is extraordinarily difficult for divorced parents to work together. It’s hard to put aside intense feelings of hurt, betrayal, distrust, and anger for the sake of the kids. When that can be done, children from divorced parents do well.

These situations are among the most challenging I confront in my office. Therapists are supposed to be calm, objective, warm, but analytic.  However, I get incredibly upset in hearing the pain and anguish of children trying to make some sense of their divorced parents’ bickering, arguing, and insults. The pain these kids feel is intense, long-lasting, and often unnecessary if only their parents would behave properly.

I get frustrated because I don’t know what to say to these divorced parents to help them realize that while their behavior may make them feel good, it has terrible consequences for their children. I ask parents to love their kids more than they dislike their ex-spouse, and stop the eye-rolling, sarcasm, and whining.

Joint custody is something you should consider if it’s really in the best interests of your child. This means you need to consider your child’s activities, education, and personality and balance that against your work schedules and other priorities. It helps if you live in close physical proximity to your ex-spouse. Mostly, it requires that you accept that a bad spouse may still be a great parent, and you are committed to using skills in being a parent that you were unable to use as a spouse.