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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Romeo Misses A Payment

South Dakota legislators are heading back into session here soon. So the discussions at home lately when the kids aren’t around, is about shared parenting and creating meaningful changes in legislation, perhaps, this year.

As the Cowboy gets more and more calls to see what people can do to get involved, or as he thinks about how he can do anything that will actually make a difference for children and families not just in our state, but anything that may have far reaching consequences, he continues to stumble across some of the other incredible advocacy happening in regard to children and families and reforming a horrendously broken system.

If you haven’t seen the following, Romeo Misses A Payment, http://theromeodocumentary.com/full-movie/ please take the time and watch. Same with #DivorceCorp, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZTOT6DKfZ8 which I wrote about the other day. And yes, I’m including the actual links here because not everyone is savvy enough to realize there’s a hyperlink there. I think these two films and the insights they allow are too important for someone to miss if they’re even remotely seeking to better understand.

If you’ve never been divorced and can’t understand what families might be going through, if you’re going through divorce and child custody discussions yourself, if you really love your kids and want to do what’s best for them versus an industry that enjoys making money off of the hurt and problems you decide to create for yourself versus resolve, if you’re a legislator and you sincerely want to educate yourself about where things are going so wrong (or if you’d prefer to continue to think you’re justified in listening to lobbyists from the State Bar Associations who only stand to gain from your apathy and inaction/you don’t want to change a very broken system with your vote because you’re prefer to remain ignorant to the actual problems current state law creates versus solves/take a phone call during the debate because you don’t know enough to intelligently participate/go to the bathroom to avoid actually having to cast a vote on the topic, don’t worry, we’re used to it) OR, if you are a member of the media and you want to go beyond the headlines of those ‘deadbeat dads’ who aren’t making their payments to take care of their children (Gasp, how could they! Did you ever stop to think about how someone making say .. maybe 25K/year could owe hundreds of thousands in back child support for two kids? How does THAT happen? Good story, but not as easy to turn and burn) and really get to some good stories about what’s wrong with this picture ..

PLEASE, take this brief look at how we are perpetuating the destruction of already damaged families and creating more and bigger problems in the process. Dig a little deeper. Think a little bigger. What is in the best interest of our kids? If that is the goal, it’s not what we’re currently often doing. Let’s figure out how to best resolve these issues together.

#DivorceCorp

Disclaimer: There are lawyers, judges, social workers, guardian ad litem, counselors, psychologists, researchers, etc that work diligently each and every day to genuinely do what is in the best interest of children and families when it comes to divorce and custody decisions. They are not in it for the money. They want to help make things as right as possible in a situation that has sadly gone wrong. Wherever and whenever you find these people, please share their names liberally.

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For those that have been fighting to change a very broken system in many states – the family court system – I’m not sure yet what this may mean. But the mere fact popular culture seems to now be looking at the disgusting under bowels of what can be one of the most underhanded, crooked, lacking of any continuity, back door, rewarding of mean spirited, unethical, say whatever you want to hurt another party, guilty until you can prove yourself innocent, shut the other parent out, full of extortion, family destroying industries versus trying to help mend what’s broken, perhaps there is some small glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.

Check this out: #divorcecorp

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We just wrapped up having our kids, both our kids pretty much half of their entire winter break from school. We consider ourselves lucky in that.

Helping trim the tree

But the Cowboy said to me the other day, the five full days we just had them, was the first time in three years he’s been allowed time split down the middle with their mom – despite it’s what their court order states they should do together as parents, for their kids.

It’s also the most consecutive days we’ve had with the Cowboy’s kids since summer. I hadn’t really thought about that until this discussion. 

We were talking about this after the Cowboy was contacted by someone who was thrilled he was allowed 3 hours with his kids Christmas Eve night and for the first time in years, New Years Eve. No reason other than it’s just what he was being allowed by the child’s mother. He doesn’t have money to take her to court when she keeps the kids from what is supposed to be by law, his time with them. 50% of his income is already going to child support. Without spending money on legal help to force the custodial parent into sharing, there is no recourse. None.  He sadly, takes what she will allow. Three hours. He was moved to tears of joy, over just three hours. 

I asked the Cowboy to write something for me on all this because he was visibly upset, continuing to not understand why any parent would prevent the other, male or female, from having time with their kids. Rest assured that in most cases – both parents sincerely are fit parents and want time with their kids and their kids with both parents.

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“I am feeling so grateful for our kids, my wife and family and the time we’ve had recently. I am the administrator of several equal parenting pages on Facebook and I am just feeling terrible for some of these parents and their kids who are not able to see one another due to two things 1) a selfish parent and 2) the courts.

One father over Christmas posted about having plane tickets purchased for his children to come stay for a visit. The custodial parent who moved out of state, simply did not put the children on the plane. The dad and step-mother left waiting at the airport were out $1500 in airline tickets, the bigger cost was missed time spent together over the holidays.

I am saddened and frustrated that this can go on.  Stories like this happen everyday in every state, not just ours. Confused about how and why this further tearing apart of families is allowed to go on is what spurs me to keep fighting for these people. My own situation is nothing compared to this. I actually, for the first time in three years am getting to share equal time during my children’s Christmas vacation. I am so thankful for this, but I know what it’s like to be alienated from your children. It was only for a period of five weeks but honestly it was one of the worst times of my life.

Just viewed another parent posting pictures of his family and his daughter, he was so excited that he and his daughter got to spend 3 hours together on Christmas Eve. These people are amazing, to be so thankful for something so small. How can the other parent, the court systems allow this to continue?  But it does everyday.

The fact that one parent can mess with the other parents time (with no consequences) or that our courts often grant one parent maximum placement – even when both parents request equal time and placement and on every level it would work well for the kids – is beyond my comprehension.

I miss my children. But I know this isn’t about me. It’s about what is best for them and they need time with their mom as well as me to have the best chance at growing up the healthiest, happiest and well adjusted they can be. If the roles were reversed, the guilt would be overwhelming if I did not give my kids that time with her. I believe this is a core issue in many divorces where children are stuck in the middle – many of these parents have no idea how to feel guilt or to put their children’s needs before their own.

If you are a parent who has intentionally kept the other parent out of your child’s life for any reason other than they are abusive to that child, answer me this, why? There is long term damage being done to your child that will eventually surface. You may not notice it now, but when that child becomes a young adult, the relationship they are lacking will surface negatively in any number of ways. That’s not my opinion, that’s well documented. And I can put you in touch with adults now who were children of divorce and can tell you in no uncertain terms what you are doing to your own children and how it will impact them down the road.

But why should you care. It’s not about what’s best for your kids really, is it? This is more about what’s best for you, right? About trying to hurt someone you feel wronged you? About getting maximum monthly payments that your attorney told you was best, which comes with a consequence of less time for the other parent? About being the one ‘in control’, being able to say yes or no to letting the child see their mother or father depending more on your mood that what’s been legally agreed upon or decided? About proving a point you are somehow the better parent? Most would argue any parent keeping a child from the other parent is not a good parent at all.

Most everyone anyway, but the attorneys and/or judges (often former attorneys). But hey, what do they stand to lose other than your money should you choose to actually do what’s best for your kids and come to some easy agreements with the other parent of your child without hours upon hours, sometimes months if not years of their help.

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It is amazing to think of how many other, better things that money could go toward that would genuinely benefit our children.

Thanks to those that are honest in their work, that help to minimize conflict between parties, help moms and dads see the benefits to the kids of working together, communicating, sharing time as best as possible and allowing the kids to freely love the other parent. It’s all such a crazy concept, isn’t it? But one, that when adults can act like adults .. share (isn’t that what we teach our kids is best) and be nice, actually works.