NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

March 16, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

This article comes to us from the New York Times Motherlode blog (New York Times, 3/15/15). It makes a number of excellent points about divorce and children’s welfare, but, curiously enough, they’re all made by a little girl who’s three going on four. The woman who wrote the piece, Laura Lifshitz is a thoughtful, caring, intelligent adult, but she should listen closer to her daughter.

Lifshitz and her husband split up a year ago when, I suppose, their child was two going on three. Now, one year in the life of a three-year-old is almost literally a lifetime. And yet the child is still lobbying her mother to get her father back in her life. That sort of persistence is astonishing and lets us know just how important her father is to this little girl.

“Why are you mad?” I asked.

“Actually I’m sad because Daddy isn’t here anymore.”

Daddy isn’t here anymore. My ex-husband and I may be moving on, but everywhere my daughter looks in our home, once all of our home together, she sees her father’s ghost.

Her father may have her three nights a week in a new place, but my daughter still grabs the little red washcloth hanging in the shower that he liked to use and tells me, “This is Daddy’s washcloth. Well, this was Daddy’s washcloth when he lived here.”...

I think of my daughter who asked her father the other day, when he was picking her up from my house on his weekend, to please come upstairs and lie down on her bedroom floor just as he did one year ago when he was still living here.

I think of my only child who showed up to a play date and announced to my friend, “I miss my Daddy. Divorce stinks.”...

[I think of that tiny girl w]ho furiously refused to leave my house on Christmas Day just so my ex and I would be in the same room.

This mother and father should listen to their daughter. She has a strong sense of what’s best for her and, a long, long year later, isn’t giving up. Smart girl. Strong girl.

Lifshitz knows it, but she doesn’t know it well enough to do anything about it. The dad? She doesn’t give us his thoughts on the matter. All we know is that the adults in the family have decided they aren’t compatible. What that means is anyone’s guess; Lifshitz doesn’t let on.

But what would we find if we could examine that incompatibility? How long had they been married when they separated? How long when they decided to have a child? Did they really not know, not sense, that their relationship wasn’t good enough to bring a child into the world? Lifshitz sounds far too observant and caring to not have had some idea of that.

What would have happened if, years ago, maybe when they were in high school or even before, they had taken a class in which it was drummed into them that the decision to have a child is perhaps the most important one any adult can make? What if they’d been told that having a child means having a job (or jobs) that can support a child? What if they’d been told that having a child means being sure your relationship is sound enough to last at least 18 years? What if they’d been told that having a child means staying the course with your mate even if you discover you’re not “compatible?”

Would things have been different for Lifshitz and her ex? Would they have married at all? Would they have had a child?

I can’t answer any of those questions because Lifshitz doesn’t provide the necessary information. But I have the strong feeling that these two don’t have their priorities in order and maybe never have. Do they know that children need two loving, caring, present parents? Do they know that separation and the loss of one parent devastates children, particularly one as young as theirs?

After mediation, I spent the day with her. She was difficult. She was whiny. She purposefully pushed my buttons...

When my ex-husband and I first separated, my daughter started to regress. She was having accidents and lashing out. During the whole year of our separation, my daughter went through myriad emotions and rough periods...

I think of that tiny girl who has accidents after two years of being diaper-free.

That’s a child who’s pleading for her father. She’s regressing, becoming a baby again.

Lifshitz and her ex agreed on all aspects of their divorce and child custody. No judge told them what to do, and that means they can do something different if they want and, likely as not, their judge would approve. So what did they agree to be Daddy’s time with his daughter and hers with him? It’s hard to say. Lifshitz refers to “his weekend” and his “three nights a week,” but are those overnight visits or just a couple of hours? Is “his weekend” one per month? One per week? Again, Lifshitz is too vague for her readers to know just what their visitation schedule is.

What we do know all too clearly is that it’s not enough. Their little girl has been telling them that for a year and continues doing so. But I don’t get the sense that either parent is listening. If they were, they’d expand their child’s time with her father so she doesn’t feel she’s lost him. But nowhere does Lifshitz suggest that as an option.

It doesn’t matter how hard this is for me, or how hurt I feel. I don’t get to stay angry forever because it’s not about me. It’s about her.

True, but has that realization come too late? This child has been damaged and whether there’s still an opportunity to fix it I can’t say. What I do know is that there’s always time to try.

Most jurisdictions encourage parents to agree on as many issues in their divorce and custody cases as they can. That’s mostly because there aren’t enough judges to hear every case in any sort of detail. But it’s also because we assume that parents know their situations and how to deal with them better than anyone and so are more likely to make the best possible choices. Fair enough.

But this article lets us know that, just because a couple reaches agreement on all aspects of their case, that agreement isn’t necessarily the best for all concerned. Maybe they don’t know that equal parenting is best for kids, particularly in cases like this one in which the parents are obviously working together.

But there’s one person who’s not buying that this divorce is “for the best”: our daughter.

That little kid knows what’s best for her; she’s told them in countless different ways. Are they listening?

#divorce, #childcustody, #bestinterestsofthechild, #sharedparenting

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