She holds her head in her hands as she thinks about the parenting decisions she must make as court looms. “They just can’t go over there anymore! It isn’t safe!” Chewing her nails, she considers the options her lawyer laid out for her: 1. engage a therapist for long term counseling who might testify, make a motion for a custody evaluation with little control over the outcome, or 2. request for her child to be able to testify. “What harm could it be to have the child simply tell the judge what she tells me? It gives her a voice, isn’t that a good thing?”
Many parents find themselves in difficult situations. Maybe an intimate relationship ends due to violence or extreme parenting differences. Maybe drugs or other addictions impacted the family relationships. Determining what to do in these types of situations taxes the court systems, family lawyers, and parents on a daily basis. But this struggle becomes more personal when it is your child, your family, and your decisions. After working for many years as a private counselor for children, countless families struggling with these questions have come through my office. While I don’t offer legal advice, I can share my experiences and thoughts about the mental health consequences for each of these choices. Perhaps this information could help you with parenting decisions that put your child’s emotional health in perspective.
When Concerned About Safety
Remember that anyone in Texas who suspects child abuse must report it. We talk about ‘mandated reporters’ but this misnomer misleads. Everyone must report abuse but some people, instead of simply being jailed or charged, have licenses that may be revoked or effected.. People who do not report abuse can suffer consequences as well as the person who perpetrates the abuse. Consult with a lawyer to determine if your concern reaches the definitions set out by the Texas Family Code. In my younger days, I found these definitions a bit surprising at times, so don’t be shy about asking for legal advice. Report abuse at 1-800-252-5400.
It’s Not Abuse But I Still Don’t Like It!
This is the crux of the matter and the hardest part when determining the best interests of the child or just your child’s general welfare. Your child complains and you want to make their life more comfortable, easier, and you feel a sense of guilt about the situation-either about the partner you chose or the situation in which your child finds themselves. How do you decide how to handle these coparenting decisions? Think about these 3 things.
Big Decisions For Big Kids, Little Decisions For Little Kids
Your child doesn’t choose to go to school [which is uncomfortable at times], or which bedroom to sleep in or what food to eat. Why? They don’t have the information or understanding it takes to make these types of decisions. Too much control too soon creates anxiety and destroys respect for authority and experience. If you go down this path, you can end up destroying your own authority and you’ll need it later to keep your child safe. So don’t ask your child whether they want to go to their other home. And don’t let anyone else ask either. This just isn’t their decision.
Memories Change How You See Yourself
In my teenage years, my mom and I had a difficult relationship like many moms and daughters. At times, I said things that were really hurtful and I feel guilty about them. But they were all said between my mom and I. Thank the Lord, she knew to come to me and mend fences each day. But what if I remembered telling a judge that I hated my parent? Even if it was the truth, that scar would haunt me. Rarely do you see a child in CPS care who doesn’t miss or love their abusive parent. And many children have difficulty even after severe abuse, feeling guilty about ‘ruining everyone’s lives’ and not thinking or saying ‘If I hadn’t said anything, everyone would be happy.’ If what occurs is NOT abuse, this type of grief and guilt becomes an unnecessary hurdle for a child.
After years of providing therapeutic services to families and talking with court professionals [lawyers, therapists, custody evaluators], our first thought when we hear a child has testified is that the person who put the child on the stand placed the child in an extremely difficult situation. With so many other options, we think the system must have failed for the child to be in court. We also tend to think the parents who allowed or requested it do not put the child first.
When Court Looms, Parenting Decisions Matter | Options
You may feel completely out of options, but you aren’t! The options for helping your child exist, you just need to know what they are and how they can help.
If your child complains about their other home or tries to refuse to see their parent, if you have concerns about your coparent’s choices-get a therapist for your child! As coparents, find a treatment provider to help educate, heal, and move forward can change life right now for your child. Court takes a long time and your child needs help now! A therapist who specializes in child counseling and has policies that engage both homes can help your family move out of dysfunction. Engaging both coparents allows the provider to educate and train in alternative parenting strategies and address issues in all areas of the child’s life. If the court needs to hear about the concerns the child has, a treating provider may testify to your child’s thoughts and feelings and provide professional context for a court. A child may never even know this has happened, so this limits the impact on their self image. Regardless of whether they testify or not, your child will experience support and healing, which addresses their true need-to learn how to be healthy in relationship to others.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Many people think of court as the only option for custody disputes. However, mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution assist families in their unique positions with unique options. Court may take away decision-making from the family and gives it to a person who can’t really know the people involved. Alternative Dispute Resolution allows parents to stay in control of their parenting schedule and of their daily schedule. It has also been found to be a longer lasting type of agreement with more flexibility than a court decision. This way parents can speak directly for their own child’s interests.
Child Custody Evaluation
Sometimes the differences between coparents appear so vast, that an outside observer may be appointed to come in to determine facts, explore options, and make recommendations. Child Custody evaluations include children by observing them, finding out about their likes and dislikes, and can include their feelings. It allows the child to talk about their experience without asking them to choose a place to live and giving them big decisions that they can’t handle. These evaluations take time, effort, and can be expensive, but they preserve the child’s interests while determining appropriate recommendations for coparenting decisions.
A Voice For Children
I’ve met this child countless times. It’s their first session and they walk into my play room with stiff shoulders, a determined look on their face, and ignore all the toys and games that surround them. After a deep breath, they begin to tell me why this guardian/parent is the best guardian/parent. I stop them, let them know that this isn’t their decision, that they are free to play in lots of ways they want to, and that I just want to know what they like about their life and what they don’t like about their life. This is when tears come to their eyes. Their shoulders slump, they relax and ask- “but aren’t I supposed to choose?” When I can finally convince them that this isn’t their job, the stress puddle on the floor is almost visible. Don’t put extra pressure on your child that they don’t need. Ask them their favorite things and least favorite things about every environment they are in. Teach them to speak up about their feelings and concerns. Learn reflective listening. But don’t give them decisions that they aren’t ready for. Let professionals or parents be the voice for these children.
If you saw your child in this article, call Acorn. All our clinicians are trained in child first language and solid coparenting decisions and options. We specialize in children and families going through all kinds of transitions and are committed to helping families maintain even difficult family relationships. Let us support you and your child. Schedule online or Call today 940-222-8703.