Where has the white picket fence family gone?

You did what you thought you were supposed to do. It’s all part of the script – the formula for life, right? You grow up. You go to school. Get a job. You fall madly in love. You marry. You buy the house with or without the white picket fence, get the dog and have babies. You’re living happily ever after, right?

Hopefully, some of you are.

Vintage Schwinn Bike & White Picket Fence by csterken

Vintage Schwinn Bike & White Picket Fence by csterken

There is nothing more heartwarming than that couple, we all know them, the couple who makes it 50 or 60 years together. The couple that sticks by each other through thick and thin and who remain faithful to one another, always. And they do it despite all of the challenges that a lifetime can bring.

But admit it. Even when our parents parents were young, not everything was rosy. Affairs happened. Folks left each other. Dads, decades ago, were most likely the ones to walk out the door because, well, because mom’s job was to stay at home with the kids.

Times have changed, folks.

Love far too often fades in today’s society. In part, because we’re told, always, that we’re supposed to ‘be happy.’ Few seem to want to put in the work marriages and raising kids together often requires. People grow tired of the same old thing. Couples grow apart. Jobs get in the way. Affairs still happen, on either side. More and more, moms are not only going to work but also becoming the breadwinner. They’re not at home, any more than dad. Depending on the situation then, mom or dad leaves whatever house they’re in because if you’re splitting up, someone has to.

But that means the couple is broken.

The family as a whole, doesn’t have to be, too.

Ask just about any fit (willing, able, wanting, non-abusive, not chemically dependent) parent, and they’ll tell you they love and want to care for their children moving forward whether it be in one or two homes, as much as they have since the day their child was born. Not just the financials of it all. But actually helping raise their child.

And, given it has been shown time and again to be what’s best for kids, we all have some pretty important choices to make in how we handle divorce and custody discussions, decisions and litigation should we (as a family choosing to separate) not be able to reach a workable solution for everyone involved, on our own. North Dakota voters specifically, at this moment in time, have an unbelievable opportunity before them. ND; what you need to know about Measure 6:

  • 110 world experts endorse shared parenting in family law and say current law is based on “flawed science”.
  • Too many children are growing up without one of their parents; usually the dad. There are tremendous, documented physical and emotional consequences to this.  
  • Shared parenting is popular in poll after poll achieving over 70% approval and with equal support of men and women.
  • Lawyers only get paid to draft documents and “argue”, so they have a financial incentive to create conflict.  Who ever wins in this situation? The legal system. Not your family.

I told my ex the entire time we were married and discussing how the marriage wasn’t working, that if we ever separated, I wanted to be that couple. The couple that still gets along, that has holidays together, that invites each other over for whatever. There was no way we were going to be that couple. Not from the get-go. But we still shared everything when it came to our daughter – the responsibility for raising her, time, decisions and when we couldn’t agree, we sought out mediation. While we didn’t always agree on how it looked, we absolutely did our best to do right by her. Not by what one or the other of us wanted. It’s why, when we went through the divorce, we sought out ‘collaborative’ attorneys. What, haven’t heard of it? It’s a common practice in Wisconsin, among other states. But, it’s rarely heard of in states that want to perpetuate the fighting. Like you, North Dakota. Think those attorneys throwing everything they have including 70k of their own money against Measure 6 have your children’s best interest in mind? Think again. Think of all the other good that 70k could do? Or how much of a break they could cut families who do need to litigate? Think of how commonplace Collaborative Divorce would be in your state if they truly wanted what was best for a child? About $3,000 each got us both through the actual divorce process, which was cordial and vetted out one of the most thorough and well defined placement schedules I’ve ever seen, leaving little to question or fight over. How many of you have ever even heard of a collaborative divorce?

For what it’s worth, some thougths – and not just on Measure 6 in North Dakota but for folks in any state or region where #sharedparenting reform is being discussed and on the table:

– Talk with others. Moms and dads. Grandparents. Professionals in the field. If you really want to educate yourself, seek out dads that you specifically you know are good dads – good people, who have gone through divorce and get their first hand account. Be interested in their experience if you truly want to become an educated voter. All sides of this complicated family situation are throwing a lot of statistics around at you and a lot of anecdotes. To know yourself for sure, what is best for families (and every situation will be unique other than this;  when two fit parents are involved and their locations make it physically possible to share custody, shared parenting has been shown to be most effective. Always.) ask questions, do the research and ignore the rhetoric.

– Trust that very few adults are better at raising a child alone, than together. No one’s role as full-time parent should be diminished just because there may now be two homes instead of one.

– Kids do need both parents. Which, when possible, includes equally a mom and a dad. Or in some cases, two moms, or two dads. And grandparents on both sides. And a school that trusts and shares information with all parties. And neighbors wherever they are, helping watch over them. Raising kids well requires a team effort. It does actually take a village. Those who think they can do it alone or that they’re better off shutting out another good parent, your children are simply missing out. You are also putting your child at risk of a whole host of problems proven to arise when good dads, in particular, are absent. Statistics back this up.

– Collaborative divorces are what is best for a child. It requires parents agree to sit down at the table, together, with their attorneys, and work things out. Always, deliberately, with the best interest of the child in mind. Encourage your state bar to promote this kind of law practice.

We now just need the court system and family law to recognize what we, as a society, should already know and value. Kids do need both parents – equally where and when possible – and the best possible alternative otherwise. It shouldn’t be a mandate. It shouldn’t be a ‘no matter what’. It shouldn’t tie judges hands. But it should be a starting point.

Measure 6 lives up to all of this.

Still stuck on that script? Still trying to live that picture perfect life? Those of you with primary placement still feel that less than 82.2% (national average) time with your kids means somehow you’re less of a parent? Or that you’re giving the other parent way more time than they should be given for some unknown reason – or ‘just because’? Let go of that old script. It hasn’t fit the storyline now for decades. You can do it. Figure out a better way for you, your ex and your kids. Appreciate another parent who wants to be a part of your kids lives and work to be inclusive versus the opposite. It may not look or seem easy, but if 110 world experts are right and experience speaks for anything, the rewards can be phenomenal once you let go of the fear, especially that fear of losing control. For your kids. For you. For everyone.

No good parent should be deliberately minimized in the life of their child. Kids love and need both parents. They don’t want to have to pick and choose. Our courts (in any state) shouldn’t be allowed to either.

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Damned if you do ..

The Cowboy is standing at the sink, cleaning up after having just made us both some breakfast. We’ve both got busy days ahead. And we’re both already somewhat exhausted. Neither of us slept much last night, the dogs were out and barking incessantly for some reason until about sun-up this morning.

Further exhausting us, is a situation we both feel passionately about. One that we are confronted with on a daily basis through the eyes of so many others as well as our own situations; the healing of families after divorce and doing what is in the best interest of the children stuck in the middle of what can often be a tough situation.

The Cowboy is heading to a South Dakota Shared Parenting Rally here in just a bit, a group he’s quietly helped lead behind the scenes for a couple of years now. It’s a group he joined and quite honestly, helped to restart out of the pain of his own family’s situation. The mission since, has become far greater. I’m not overstating this – there isn’t a day when at least one person isn’t calling the Cowboy asking for advice, needing someone to understand where they’re at and asking why no one seems to care that their children have been ripped out of their lives other than four days a month for no apparent reason – a standard custody judgement in South Dakota no matter how good or fit both parents may be, no matter how close they may live, no matter that a growing amount of evidence shows it is best for children whenever possible to have as much time with both parents assuming they are both fit, willing, loving and able parents. 

“It’s a no win situation,” the Cowboy says to me, still standing at the sink, looking not at me but thoughtfully out the window. “All I want, all most people want that are in my situation, is more time with their kids. If you don’t fight for it, people say you don’t care. If you do fight for more time, you’re told you’re bitter and angry. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

It’s not always about time, either. The concerns. There are so many other issues that surround children of divorce. And the parents, quite honestly. One parent badmouthing the other in front of the kids, phone calls or even standard visitation denied with no recourse for the offending parent, never any extra time given, important information about child development withheld, medical issues, the list goes on.

I’ve been cautious to post much of anything over the past year around the topic of our families for a number of reasons. These tough discussions permeate our everyday and are often the conversations the Cowboy and I have when we are alone. But I think there is an incredible amount we’ve learned and that we’ve learned through others that is worth sharing ..  discussions worth taking part in.

Information as simple as – does your state offer/promote collaborative divorce? There are so many I know of who look at me like, what are you talking about, when I ask if this is something they’ve considered.

Important questions to ask an attorney before you retain their services.

Important details to work through before you sign off on finalizing your divorce or custody arrangement.

Working out a communication plan in regard to the kids – if you have a tough time communicating in any way with your ex. What is a communication plan and what resources are available? And, do they work?

Divorce impacts over 50% of our society anymore, most often these couples have children. What states do divorce well? What can we learn from them? Where are there helpful resources for these families? How do you work with someone who doesn’t want to work with you but rather hurt you in a divorce/post divorce/through the kids? Is it possible?

What is happening legislatively across the nation when it comes to child custody arrangements, decisions and laws? Shared Parenting conversations and legislation are growing. But what does this mean?

The media, the family court system and our government like to talk about how big a problem fatherlessness is in our society, yet the system often seems stacked against men, especially. Why is this?

The less a non-custodial parent sees their kids, the more they’re required to pay in child support. May seem logical on some fronts and there are parents, countless parents tragically, who want nothing to do with their kids lives and be free of the financial burden. But I’m not sure that’s the norm. SO .. when you have a fit, loving, caring and genuine non-custodial parent asking for more time, not to get out of paying, but to genuinely have more time with their kids because it is what most likely best all around .. what incentive is there for a custodial parent to agree to any change the arrangement?

Deadbeat dads is another topic the media likes to latch on to and promote the heck out of, I know, I’ve worked in newsrooms that have done this. Let’s follow around the cop walking door to door with arrest warrants for those who haven’t paid up. That’s sexy ‘journalism’ to use the term loosely and is easy to promote, I can just hear the male announcer voice now booming 10 seconds of copy over how we have a society of deadbeat dads and how we can’t let them get away with it. While I will never think it is okay to walk away from your kids or the financial responsibility of them – I have now also seen firsthand why it would be easier for some dads, especially, (some moms too for the record) to walk away versus be put in the situation their ex spouses continually put them and their children in. I am amazed to even think I can now understand this. Not as easy a story to tell, but one equally worth sharing. Who’s got the guts (or quite honestly the time in a churn and burn world of media) to do it? Running stories that are deep and meaningful and true to both sides often bring out the Jerry Springer in many families. It’s a risky deal for news outlets and which side do you believe? Why perhaps the flip-side or even the front side often don’t get told. Stick to the facts of who hasn’t paid up and there’s your story.

What happens when two parents, both hurt by a marriage that didn’t work out for some reason, let go of the past and come together sincerely to move forward, work together, get along and operate in all honesty and do what is in the best interest of the child? What happens then? How does the child benefit/react/grow? What does this look like?

Where are there resources to help you learn to let go, get along? What are the warning signs your kids really aren’t handling the mess you’ve created well?

 

The system is broke in so many ways. How do you fix something so intimate as family and interpersonal relations? Can it be fixed? Who can help, if anyone? Who’s doing it well? I am not claiming to have any answers. But there are always others we can learn from.

I’m not saying I’m going to write about this everyday, but in light of some recent issues in our own family (positive and negative) and in a few conversations we’ve had with others in just the past week, I’m done being frustrated over saying nothing and the fear of saying anything. 

These conversations are happening, but they need to be happening on a broader scale than inside our own homes, or in isolated silos to friends who will listen and can empathize because they are in the same situation.

I’ve taken long enough to write this that the Cowboy has since left his perch at the sink where this whole conversation started, and has left for today’s Shared Parenting rally. Unsure if two people or two hundred people will turn out, he plans to be among them…

While others have told the Cowboy he’s an embarrassment for doing what he’s doing, I hope he knows how incredibly proud I am of what a good dad he is, of how much he cares about and for his kids, and that even if he can’t change his own situation, he’s doing what he can to create as positive a situation for other parents and children should they have to go down the same treacherous path.