Lesson 6 of 7 - learn how to parent effectively

What parents and kids
 need for satisfying
 custody agreements

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

colorbar.gif (1095 bytes)

The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/parent/divorce/custody.htm

Updated 03-02-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This article for divorcing and stepfamily adults and their supporters offers...

  • perspective on child custody arrangements

  • what typical kids need relative to child custody

  • what typical parents needs relative to child custody

      The article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it   

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 6 (or 7 if you're a stepfamily)

  • how to manage a family during divorce; and...;

  • typical kids' developmental and adjustment needs

  • perspective on effective parenting
     

Perspective

      "Custody" comes from a Latin word meaning "guard." In intact and divorcing families, parents may have harmonious or conflicting styles and priorities on how to nurture and protect their minor kids. Where major parenting conflicts occur, adults argue about "Who is the better parent?", rather than on "What does each child and parent need in our two-home family system, and how can our family adults fill all these needs (nurture) well enough together?"

      Effective social problem-solving begins with objectively identifying your and the other person's current needs, and ranking them as equally important. In my experience, typical conflicted parents aren't used to doing this. The majority are psychologically wounded and unaware, so they fight over who gets their way about child-related issues (like custody), and other things.

      Premise - every parent, child, and divorcing (or step) family is unique. Despite this, kids and adults have some universal needs relative to custody arrangements. This article proposes these needs as a checklist. If you seek an optimal child-custody arrangement, use this checklist for awareness, discussion, and mutually-respectful negotiation.

What Do Kids Need?

      If you were a minor child of divorcing parents, what would you need from the adults in your two homes to help you grow toward healthy independence? Have you ever asked your kids what they need - and listened? If your kids had the knowledge and vocabulary, they might say ...

      "I need...

__ 1)  all you grownups to want to protect me from inheriting the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle by working together to provide a high-nurturance family. Then I need...

__ 2)  you all to accept that the "best" custody arrangement (joint, split, sole, legal) fills the needs of all of our adults and kids, not just mine; And I need...

__ 3)  you all to care enough about me and yourselves to learn how to problem-solve together as teammates, instead of blaming, fighting, explaining, lecturing, or running away all the time. And I need...

__ 4)  you each to want to take responsibility for knowing and filling your own needs, and to help each other do that as teammates. Then you're the most fun to be around, and you really listen to me and each other. This includes each of you learning to stop feeling so guilty and bad about yourself." And I need...

__ 5)  you adults to agree on what you're trying to do, long range, as the leaders of my family. Then I need you all to work out a shared plan to get us all there. And I also need...

__ 6)  you each to (a) want to learn and care about my growing-up and family-adjustment needs, and then to (b) help me fill them without sacrificing your own needs and resenting me or each other;" and I also need...

__ 7)  each of you parents to respect and listen to me because you see me as a worthy person, not because someone makes you; And I need...

__ 8)  to have enough time and contact with each of my parents and grandparents, and for you adults to not fight about this; And I need... 

__ 9)  you adults to help me feel safe in both my homes; and also...

__ 10)  please don't use lawyers to solve your fights, because they only make things worse for all of us!" And I also need...

__ 11)  all of you grownups to encourage me to grieve my many losses, and to help each other mourn your own losses well. And I also need you all to...

__ 12)  set clear rules in both my homes, and talk together so they're not too different and confusing for me. Then I need you to enforce the rules fairly, promptly, and respectfully. Then I know that the rules mean something, and that I can depend on you all to be in charge and keep me safe. And finally, I need you each to...

__ 13)  read these memos from and about me, and talk about them together, OK?"

      Please remember - I can't do any of these things myself. I really depend on each one of you grown-ups to help me. Will you stop fighting over the wrong things, and help me fill my needs and yours?"

+ + +

      Imagine what you'd feel if each minor child in your care looked into your eyes and said something like this to each of your family adults. Recall your own childhood years. Do you feel any of these needs are trivial and/or unrealistic? For the full range of what typical minor kids' of parental separation and divorce need, see this and this.

      Premise - An effective child-custody arrangement consistently fills the key primary needs of each person living in a child's two homes. So...

What Do Typical Divorcing Parents Need?

      Premise: each family adult is trying to fill some universal needs as they negotiate child custody and related arrangements. See if you agree with these:

      Each of us parents and grandparents needs to...

__ 1) understand and accept our responsibility to guard minor kids against inheriting the toxic [wounds + unawareness] cycle. That means we each need to want to assess for and reduce our psychological wounds over time and study this course. And we each need to...

__ 2) feel included + listened to + respected by every other person (including relatives and professionals) involved in our custody negotiations. That implies that we each need to feel like we're part of a nurturing team vs. a group of antagonists. And each of us adults needs to...

__ 3)  learn how to communicate and problem-solve effectively, instead of arguing, blaming, debating, competing, discounting, explaining, justifying, denying, and/or avoiding. Then we need to model these skills for our young people and encourage them to use them. And we need to...   

__ 4)  help each other learn how to analyze and resolve typical relationship problems, including these three common stressors. And we adults also need to...

__ 5)  learn to separate parenting conflicts and frustrations from ex-mate problems, and to work steadily to resolve both; and to...

__ 6)  be clear on our individual and group priorities - e.g. integrity and wholistic health first, primary relationships second, family nurturance level third, and then everything else - except in emergencies. And we each need to...

__ 7)  feel that each parent and family supporter has a clear, accurate view of the regular and family-adjustment needs of each child affected by our custody decisions. And we parents each need to...

__ 8)  feel clear on the responsibilities we each have in forging our custody agreement - i.e. we each need to know and accept who's going to do what for each child; And we also each need to...

__ 9)  thoughtfully guesstimate the emotional and financial impacts this custody decision will have on each of our lives and our family system; And each of us parents needs to...

__ 10)  want to evolve a healthy family-grieving policy, and help each other use it to grieve any significant losses (broken bonds) that divorce and our custody decision causes us. And we also each need to...

__ 11)  feel that each minor child in both homes affected by this custody decision will be safe and well-nurtured enough after the decision is implemented. And each of us parents needs to...

__ 12)  discuss and compromise on normal and special child-visitation guidelines, and evolve an effective written parenting agreement to minimize misunderstandings and conflicts; And we each need...

__ 13)  enough time to sort out and evaluate all these complex factors before making a final custody decision.

      And each of our adults needs to...

__ 14)  reappraise our custody agreement if either of us parents considers choosing a new mate and forming or joining stepfamily; and we need to...

__ 15) learn how to select informed psychological and legal help if we have trouble agreeing on a physical and legal custody arrangement. And we each need to...

__ 16)  have confidence in our collective ability to recognize and resolve the major values, loyalty, family membership, financial and logistic disagreements that will occur during and after our custody-decision process. And we also need to...

__ 17)  explain to each affected relative and child (on an age-appropriate level) what our custody decision is, why we've made it, and how it will affect each of them. We need to consider each child's needs equally in making our decisions.

      And finally, we parents and supporters each need to...

__ 18)  keep our lives balanced enough as we negotiate, implement, and adjust this impactful custody decision.

      Add any other custody-related parental needs that fit your situation...

      Note that adults' custody-related needs combine with many other dynamic personal, role, and relationship needs and responsibilities. If this looks like a steep challenge for most parents - it is!

      Notice what you're thinking and feeling now. How many average divorcing-family adults do you think could name each of these needs? How many families could cooperate together to fill most of these needs and their kids' needs (above) well enough? In  my 36-years professional experience, the answer is "almost none."

      The reason is, typical divorcing-family adults are significantly wounded and unaware, and are hindered by these interactive barriers. Few know this or what to do about it - e.g. to study and apply this free online course together.

Recap

      When parents separate, negotiating harmonious, effective child-custody agreements is complex, emotional and often adversarial. An effective custody agreement occurs when each family adult's and child's short and long-term needs are recognized, respected equally, and filled consistently.

      This article offers a checklist of what typical minor kids of divorce and their family adults need for a satisfying custody agreement. It aims to promote thought and discuss among your family adults and their lay and professional supporters on this important topic.

  If your family is having trouble agreeing on child-custody and/or other divorce-related parenting issues, see this and this, and compare the ideas in this video with your current behaviors:

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful   

Share/Bookmark   Prior page  /   Lesson 6 Print page

colorbar

site intro  /  course outline  /  definitions  /  site search, /  chat, /  contact