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

...in serving the best interests of children, we serve the best interests of all humanity.-- Carol Bellamy

It’s estimated that 40% of our children will experience parental divorce. Depression and anxiety, lower self-esteem, and more frequent use of psychological services are their likely inheritances. The good news is that 75% to 80% will have short term negative effects and develop social adjustment on a par with children of intact families. The bad news concerns the 20% to 25% that will endure life-long difficulties from the divorce.

Among the risk factors for negative outcomes are: (i) continuing conflict between the parents (the single largest indicator of poor outcomes); (ii) diminished or incompetent parenting; (iii) decrease in economic means; (iv) loss of relationships with extended family, friends, and others; and (v) remarriage and re-partnering. The “best interest of children” should take these risks into consideration when making a parenting plan.

When divorcing couples enter mediation they invariably assert that a guiding principle will be to do what is in the best interest of the children. Too often there is confusion between the children’s best interest and the parent’s. How can the discussion be re-focused in a way that truly seeks to find the children’s best interest? First, and foremost, is the willingness to keep an open mind. Second, is to focus on the “big picture,” and not get ambushed in a battle over a narrow point. Third, is to find the values that both parents agree with (common ground). Finally, face the remaining challenges with compassion and consideration for each other’s needs and viewpoints.

Like doctors that treat before diagnosing a problem, parents too often develop a parenting plan before considering all the relevant factors. Before thinking of schedules that create a tug-of-war over the children, consider those issues important to your children. Among the things to account for are: (i) current school and social status; (ii) involvement of extended family; (iii) activities important to the children; (iv) special needs of the children; and (v) relationships with role models and mentors (i.e., special coaches, instructors or trainers).

Your children will become what you are; so be what you want them to be. David Bly

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