Last week in a mother’s support group (not Parents Anonymous) I listened as a young mom described her situation; her daughter is two and a half and the father has been getting her for visitation every other weekend. She says her daughter is happy with her and is fine with going to stay with her father. Now all of a sudden the father serves her papers to change visitation (custody) to an entire week, every other week. Custody would be split down the middle; a week with mom, a week with dad, repeat.
“No, we will be going to court!” was mom’s emphatic answer to that.
Her reasons for not wanting her daughter to go for the full week made no sense to me:
• He has not paid one penny of child support to her
• She has not stopped visits for non-payment.
• She has been able to support her daughter from day one.
• Her home is stable for her daughter.
• She has gone to college and has a career.
• He has not worked since she has known him, he’s lazy.
• Her daughter is happy to come home.
• She says her daughter will “freak out.”
She adds that she knows her daughter loves her father but she is not going to change anything as far as visitation. She is “worried sick” at the very thought of him getting what he wants in court. She “cannot imagine” only seeing her daughter every other week.
First I would like to validate the mom’s feelings. Not knowing where your young child is or what they are doing can be frightening. I wholeheartedly understand not knowing, we can start imagining all kinds of scary scenarios: an intruder in the night, a car accident, a marijuana party and worse. You may wonder if they are hungry or cold; the possibilities are endless.
It may not set too well with some but fathers are the other parent. Fathers are just as capable of loving and caring for their child as the mother. They may not know as much in the beginning but that may be because they have been pushed out of the nurturing role from birth. In the instance of the mother in the support group I reminded her that she is in a perfect position to share her expertise with the father to ensure the health and well-being of their daughter. “It is easier to pull a string up a hill than to push it.”
I like to look ahead so in five years I can imagine a spunky seven-year-old bouncing home from school every Friday and happily packs her backpack with necessities for the upcoming week. She enjoys a snack while waiting for her dad to arrive.
A car horn toots out front, “Dad’s here! Bye Mom! See you next week!” she will say as she bounds down the steps.
Our mom, like many others, is speaking from her emotions instead of the facts. When this mom goes into court she will need to present clear, factual evidence or valid reasons why she thinks her daughter’s father should not be granted half the time in a shared custody arrangement.
So what would or would not impact child visitation and custody for a father?
It Doesn’t Matter:
• Where he lives (unless it is a cave)
• Whether he has job
• If he has company or a date
• If he drinks (unless it prevents him from providing proper care)
• If he smokes (some states & countries ban/prohibited/limit smoking in house or car when children are under age)
• If mom gets along with dad’s relatives
It Does Matter:
• If there is adequate food and water
• If the environment is safe
• If there are utilities (running water, electricity, heat)
• If there is adequate supervision
• If there is physical care
• If there is proper hygiene cleanliness (teeth brushed, bathed or washed, hair washed and combed)
• If in diapers, that there is no diaper rash or that the rash is cared for
• If there is enough proper clothing and shoes
I can picture an eighteen-year-old looking back on her father-daughter relationship. I would ask this or any other mom, “How do you want your daughter to remember your role when she looks back on her relationship with her dad— the most important man in her life?”
Years ago I listened to a woman speak on TV about not having her father in her life. I forget her name but she said she had a hole in her heart in the shape of her father. I would not want to be responsible for the pain this girl grew up with and will carry with her through life.
Remember this, our children pick up quick on our moods even when we don’t say a word. If this mom says to the girl that she (mom) will be “upset without her” or she will be “worried sick while she is away,” she will be setting the girl up for needless confused feelings and anxiety. The girl may develop irrational fears about leaving her mother, creating an abnormal dependence on their relationship.
Studies show that children, especially girls, benefit greatly by having a positive relationship with their fathers. Children with their father in their lives have higher self-esteem and confidence. Boys and girls with involved fathers do better in school and are more successful.
What mother would not want confident, smart and successful children?
In every state, judges face these scenarios every day and no matter what they decide, someone is going home unhappy. By putting yourself in the judge’s shoes, parents can foresee what they will want and need in order to make a sound decision concerning the children involved. If parents truly put the child’s needs above their own, they will make the right decision every time.
Now put yourself in your children’s shoes. Ideally they would want both parents to live in one home. Since that cannot be arranged, kids want the next best thing— parents to love them and be civil to each other.