Step Parents Role in Divorce and Custody
Taking One For The Home Team
Well its Spring and domestic strife is about to trigger a spree of custody, visitation and vacation problems. The custody problems of the fall and sometimes the mere friction between parents are about to trigger a flurry of custody and visitation cases. It’s at this time of year people are building the custody and visitation war chest. By that I mean tax refunds are coming back. People have the financial resources to hire lawyers, mediators and therapists for all manner of custody problems; real and imagined.
While some people are spending the annual tax refund upon vacations or a new refrigerator, some are spending the money on team sports. Yes, divorce or custody is usually a team sport. Ask anyone engaged in the process. The mothers, fathers, neighbors, friends, clergy and co-workers of the parties involved all want a piece of the action.
Some seek involvement because they have a financial stake
Grandparents spending money for a lawyer… step parents goading the parent for more child support…. or less child support from the ex-parent …etc. Some take a side because they just can’t hear it any more. “Just take him/her to court its driving you crazy.” Sadly, for some among us, crazy is not a drive but merely a short walk.
These are the problem cravers. Yes, they walk among us with only small glimpses of their true colors. But, just give them a few bucks for a lawyer and shazaam the game is on.
The adult human mind is a funny thing. It is sometimes said that hate is a stronger emotion than love. We fight with our spouse or ex because we want to punish them for hurting us, or the family, or the children. The real irony is fighting to “stay in the emotional game.”
Yes, some people think that bad breathe is better than no breath at all. They fight in misguided hopes of getting back together. The children are sometimes pawns, sometimes property, but always victims.
It should be apparent that actively disparaging the other parent in front of the child(ren) is disturbing to them. But even most “normal” parents can telegraph the problems with little or no intent.
They ask questions like, did Daddy do this? Did Mommy do that?
Even non-verbal cues we make are extremely influential.
The feeling from a child’s point of view is something akin to that “going to the principal’s office” feeling we remember from our youth. Except it’s not the principals office, it’s merely going home. Ask any thirty or forty year old divorce’ how much therapy it took to get over the
relationship? Now, imagine your only ten.
Nevertheless, and for whatever the reason, the divorce “team” takes the field. People fall upon oaths, threats, posturing and promises. Despite the emotional bloodshed of divorce, most normal adults have some way of disconnecting when its time to put those things aside.
Children do not. Every fight on the playground is Iwo Jima. Every romance is Romeo and Juliette and every parent is a super hero.
Step-parents are another matter. Show me a case where the parents are
re-married and I will show you a potential problem. As divorced adults we have an obligation to die lonely, broke and alone. Just ask your ex-spouse.
If you are a divorced adult with children it’s a double whammy.
You are fighting the green eyed monster. A vision of your child calling another adult Daddy or Mommy. One Judge I know has a favorite maxim wherein he asks parents “why they tell their children to fear strangers, but let a stranger decide issues of there child?”
The answer is because we cannot be objective about our children. More importantly, we cannot be objective about our children’s step-parents.
The Court carefully scrutinizes step-parents. Woe to the step-parent
who encourages or is encouraged to be called “Mommy” or “Daddy.” No matter what the reason there is not a judge anywhere who thinks that is an acceptable practice.
Discipline is another challenge. How can you run a household with a teen or pre-teen without boundaries.
Everyone has heard about the child who calls Social Services because a parent takes a cell phone. If it’s a step-parent Social Services may actually listen. Can you imagine living with a parent embroiled in a custody dispute. waking, sleeping, eating drinking; the sword of Damacles hanging over head. Not a pretty picture.
Be kind to step-parents. Don’t get them embroiled in the team sport.
Try your hardest to remember that when they come home they don’t want to tilt at your windmills. The fact is they can rarely do much to help. You are expected to dislike you ex but if your spouse does it he/she is bitter. If they like them too much they are a sellout.
They want you to focus on their family, or your new family together. If you are a step-parent give love generously and criticism stingily. Try to remember everybody at every age is their own favorite subject.
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The Custody Place
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FREDERICK MARYLAND 21701