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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On life, divorce, custody and Measure 6.

I’ve been trying to figure out what, if anything, I can write that might make a difference in the war being waged right now in North Dakota over the upcoming ballot measure on Shared Parenting. I don’t know that this is it. But it’s the first of several blogs I’ll probably post this week on the topic, because watching and reading some of the material that’s being perpetuated on the issue by opponents of shared parenting reform, is terribly sad and frustrating. And part of our daily conversations right now. And I can’t sit idle and watch anymore.

We’ve been following Measure 6 closely, as there is still a long way to go in shared parenting reform in most, if not all states. It has countless others across the nation watching as well as the discussion unfolds in North Dakota. Why?

Measure 6 really has the chance to do some things right. And do right, by our kids, should it pass.

Opponents (it appears this is most often lawyers, custodial parents themselves and women who just want to support other women who have custody of their kids because, according to so many of their comments, how could a man possibly care for a child nearly as well as a mother) would have you believe it’s the worst thing ever for any child. That Measure 6 will only hurt children who don’t deserve to be stuck in the middle. I hate to break it to you, but they already are. Can we at least agree to start there?

Measure 6 asks judges to consider before knowing anything else, that the best possible scenario for a child caught in the middle of a family separation or divorce, would be 50/50 time and placement when two fit parents are involved. The final ruling doesn’t need to be 50/50, but Measure 6 encourages judges to use it as a starting point. If 50/50  obviously won’t work for reasons of say, perhaps distance between homes, demanding jobs that require a lot of travel or time away from home or for any other logical and proven reason, that the child be offered the chance to maximize time with both parents, however that may look. Along with this, standards need to be met for both parents to be considered ‘fit’.

This law is asking North Dakota voters to agree to a different future for the children of that state and quite honestly for adults, attorneys and judges in the state’s family law system. It asks that everyone try and play better in the proverbial sandbox that more and more families find themselves in. And it also asks that there finally be some accountability for why good parents are otherwise, often completely or nearly completely, shut out of a child’s life.

Why would I care about a shared parenting measure in another state? Well, because important, relevant and universal issues know no boundaries. The conversations on any broad social issues don’t stop at the state line. (If so, you might want to gather those parenting magazines you have lying around the house offering advice and chuck ’em because chances are they weren’t written by anyone in ND.)

I also care because, our family is a prime example of how shared parenting can work, does work and could work even when parents don’t get along or live in different states. At least on the one side. On the other, is an ongoing reminder of why the system needs to change.

Here’s the deal. I’ve tried to limit the number of parenting/shared parenting/etc posts on this blog because, well, because I don’t want the issue to define our lives. But, I could write a post daily. Stories about the beauty of co-parenting. About the challenges along the way. About how we work through them, or not. About how easily 50/50 can work. And if not 50/50, as close to that as possible when it isn’t possible. About how important it is a child feel they’re able to equally love both parents. About, how when that is their norm, having that taken away from them is what tears them up versus starting from that unequal split and trying to reverse it. And what happens when none of the above is present. About the trials and hurt children face when shut out of one good parents life. About the questions they ask when one parent is minimized and how, as a parent, you struggle to find the right answer without putting the other parent down. About the gut wrenching hurt that’s visible in a good dad’s eyes because every attempt to help raise his children is met with a no, you’re not welcome here, but your money certainly is. (Check please!) And about how the only recourse you know you might have when you are consistently shut out or denied time or phone calls or holidays, is to go back to court, to be told once again there aren’t any issues here, mom is doing her best and oh by the way, because she’s such an upstanding parent and seems totally willing to offer you your six days a month and two phone calls per week, you should pay her attorneys fees.

Doesn’t apply to you? You’re lucky if it doesn’t. But chances are you, a family member, a friend, even one of your own children have gone through it on some level. If not, they will. And when that time comes, should you choose to ignore how flawed the current system is, you had better hope you’re on the right side of the current law if you ever want to see your kids or your grandkids. Especially .. especially if there is a vindictive, self-centered, egotistical, self-righteous or narcissistic custodial parent in the mix.

Measure 6 may not be perfect. Nothing ever is. But it follows the logic of what social science experts studying this issue for decades seem to feel is best for our kids. And given what we’ve seen personally, time and again and not just in our home but countless others – shared parenting can work and works well. Far better than the outcomes I’ve seen in families where there is a desire to equally parent but a hefty imbalance of time available for whichever parent it may be (most often, dads). But two parents have to be willing to be okay with it. And the process shouldn’t just get shut down because mom says, ‘I don’t want to’ or ‘this is terrible for our children’ without any proof that’s the case. When a shared parenting agreement is tough to work through initially, that is when parents need help and a voice of reason the most (chances are, you’re already in court for those who say the state should stay out of such decisions – oh, the irony), and that is where a law like this would step in and encourage what’s truly in the best interest of a child. Besides attorneys knowing that co-parenting reform often leads to less litigation (among the reasons the ND State Bar is fighting this measure tooth and nail whether you care to admit that or not), two adults agreeing to act like two adults in this situation appears the biggest hurdle of all.

#VoteYesOn6