By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT

In automobile terms, the child supplies the power but the parents have to do the steering.
~Benjamin Spock

It is the public policy of California to assure that children of divorce have frequent and continuing contact with both parents and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing, except where the contact would not be in the best interest of the child (California Family Code - 3020).

Last month we looked at the factors involved in promoting the relationship of the child with each parent - gatekeeping. This month we will look at the "quality of parenting," which is one of the key factors examined in child custody evaluations.

Quality parenting is described as providing parental warmth and effective discipline. Some researchers have also used the terms nurture and socialization of children. Parental warmth is present with the following factors: a positive affective relationship, caring, responsive listening, valuing, stable positive activities and is supportive. It is intended to reduce fears, promote a secure attachment and sense of mattering, provide an availability to deal with problems of life, promote self-esteem and strengthens a child's coping skill.

Effective discipline (or socialization) includes the establishment of clear and appropriate rules and limits, consistent enforcement of rules and monitoring of children's behaviors. Discipline is best seen as a method of teaching rather than punitive efforts to enforce compliance. Letting children experience consequences for their acts is much more powerful than punishing, which teaches more about power than responsibility. Effective discipline promotes predictability in the family, increases self-control, reduces coercive interactions between a parent and a child, maintains involvement in pro-social activities and prevents involvement with deviant peers.

Some of the research findings show a trend that asserts the quality of post-divorce parenting by both parents is a robust indicator of a child's well-being, quality parenting is a teachable skill, and the maximal effect of quality parenting does not require equal parenting time, but a sufficient amount of time to provide significant influence in the child's well-being.

The paths to successful responsible child custody involve a nurturing parenting effort by both parents and commitments to support each other in this effort.


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