Child custody arrangements are what a lot of our clients worry about. Sometimes that is for very good reason. It can also be a really good thing if nobody cares. Why do we say this?
In Canadian white person culture, almost
gone is the nuclear and traditional family of two married parents and their
biological children all living under the same roof.
Families now constitute every imaginable reconstruction of the nuclear family and include step-parents, step-siblings, half-siblings, and close friends. So, child custody arrangements can get pretty complicated at times because a lot of the time we are dealing with "blended" families.
Isn’t it time we fully embraced a more fluid definition of family? More and more, blended families are recognized as the new norm. There are often new challenges with such families. There is lots of advice out there for doing well in such family dynamics.
It is easy for people to think that when couples separate or even when they were not even particularly together in the first place, that they are no longer or not a family. The problem is that when such people share a child or children, nothing can be farther from the truth. Do most kids actually care what the child custody arrangements are? I doubt it.
What we mean is, that just because parents are no longer together and that they may even have moved on to have other partners, that it would benefit their kids in a profound way to have the opportunity to continue to define themselves as within a family unit. Sure, the actual structure of their family unit may have changed, but it does not mean it no longer exists.
Here is a text from the Mom of a teenage boy (we will call him Jacob). It is to the now wife of Jacob’s Dad who we will call Violette:
Hi Violette. Just want you and John (Jacob’s Dad) to know that Jacob did not get accepted to the Flex program at Reynolds high school as he had hoped. I think Jacob will probably need a little encouragement and advice right now. Thanks.
Wow. So great! Right?
Here we have Mom talking to “step” mother about what Jacob may need. Although this short communication is brief, it demonstrates a lot. Clearly, this family is aligned when it comes to what may be important for Jacob.
What we also know about this particular family is that things have not always been easy. John and Jacob’s Mom had a very brief sexual relationship that resulted in Jacob. John and Jacob’s Mom have very little in common. They have different backgrounds, different friends, different interests, different educational levels and different values. Pretty much the only thing they have in common is Jacob. Jacob’s Mom has remained a single parent throughout most of Jacob’s upbringing. What is really interesting is that in this particular family nobody has ever been very concerned about legal child custody arrangements.
Jacob was two years old when John and
Violette got together.
Despite their lack of common interests and values, Jacob’s Mom has always wanted Jacob to have a Dad in his life. Since Violette arrived on the scene, Violette has always been involved with Jacob. There is no question to Violette that she is not Jacob’s mother, but at the same time, she feels she can offer Jacob love and guidance that is different and in addition to the love and guidance Jacob receives from his Mom.
Jacob’s mother is aware of and not threatened by Violette’s role in her son’s life.
Jacob’s Mom always says, “it takes a village to raise a child.”
Over time the relationships within this family have grown and evolved.
The three primary adults in Jacob’s life have never been overly concerned about the child custody arrangements, a specified parenting schedule, which parent is going to make the major decisions for Jacob, and who is the most important.
In this particular case, there is no question that Jacob’s Mom has been the primary parent. John has accepted this fact as has Violette. Jacob has never had to deal with the adults in his life struggling for control over him in any way.
There are times when Jacob’s Mom has asked for John’s help in parenting. John backed Jacob’s Mom up when she was having a struggle with Jacob. On one occasion Jacob was furious with his Mom because he, at 15 years old, wanted his Mom to bootleg alcohol for him for a party. Jacob was angry at her for not agreeing to do so. When Jacob’s Mom sought John’s help, John spoke to Jacob and backed up Jacob’s Mom in her decision.
What is interesting about this family is that instead of seeing themselves as two separate and distinct families with competing interests, they view themselves as all part of a larger family unit. They see themselves as all involved and having something, albeit different in each home, to offer to Jacob.
Jacob enjoys three parental figures who care for him and want what is best for him. Although there have been clashing values from time to time, and even some conflict, all of the parties know that everyone is doing their best to put the richness of Jacob’s upbringing first. Jacob has grown knowing this is the case.
In my experience as a family law lawyer, I see parents often get embroiled in disputes about their kids.
The parents are so worried about child custody arrangements, building their cases and wanting to catch out the other parent for doing something wrong, that serving what is in the best interest of their kids can get lost.
When parents are in conflict, it does not mean the parents love their children any less. It is just that because the parents are not aligned with each other, that when a teenager struggles with a broken heart, a drug challenge, or a significant disappointment, that the parents are less likely to work to support that young person, and more likely to blame one another for problems.
Isn’t it time that more families did their best to embrace each other?
Written by Val Hemminger, lawyer at Hemminger Law Group Westshore (and member of a ridiculously blended family)