The cost of parenting conflict is way too high. The problem is that although parents in high conflict divorce cases may end up with significant legal fees, the real cost is to their kids.
Kids don’t do well when their parents are in high conflict. This is what we mean when we talk about parenting and the cost of conflict.
The answer is to not be in high conflict. Period.
Meet Danica and Josh. Danica and Josh's parents, Miranda and David had a highly tumultuous relationship. Finally, Miranda ended the marriage. Miranda thought that if she ended the marriage, Danica and Josh would no longer have to witness their parents continuously fighting. Miranda wanted to shield her kids from the ongoing conflict. Although David did not want the marriage to end, he has to agree that his kids witnessed way too much turmoil and conflict.
The problem is that when the marriage ended, the conflict between Miranda and David did not. Parenting and the cost of conflict for these parties remains high. Miranda and David did not agree on a parenting plan. Miranda wanted to have more of the control in terms of decision making. David wanted to control the decision making. Also, David wanted to share the children's time on an equal basis. Miranda felt the children should live primarily with her and that David should have parenting time on weekends.
Miranda and David went to court. Because of the nature of their relationship, the court determined that Miranda would have the primary parenting role for Danica and Josh. The Judge decided that because these parents could not agree on even the smallest of issues, that Miranda would be the one in charge. The court saw that for these parties, parenting and the cost of conflict was too high. The Judge hoped she made the right decision so that the fighting and tension would be reduced.
The problems for Danica and Josh, however, did not end there. Instead of seeing the responsibility of her sole parental decision-making role as an honour and a privilege, Danica then used her role as a way to get back at David for all the times he hurt her throughout their marriage. David and Miranda continued to be in endless conflict. The conflict was about scheduling time with the kids, about whether or not both parties could show up to Josh's baseball games, about the amount of child support to be paid by David to Miranda, etc. Despite a final supreme court order, Danica and Josh's parents have been back to court on numerous occasions thus parenting and the cost of conflict not only affecting their wallets, but their kids.
Although David and Miranda no longer fight directly in front of their kids, their emails and texts to each other are, despite being years post separation, are still rude and testy.
Danica and Josh know their parents don't get along. Danica and Josh each feel guilty because they love each of their parents. They know they cannot tell Miranda positive stories about their Dad or David positive stories about their Mom. Seriously, the situation is gross. Parenting and the cost of conflict continues to escalate for Danica and Josh.
Now Danica is a teenager, and the ongoing conflict has taken its toll. Danica is recently diagnosed with severe depression. She is being seen by a psychiatrist and is on medication. Still, Miranda and David blame each other for what is wrong with Danica.
The problem is that Miranda and David remain so embroiled in their parenting conflict, that they cannot see where the high cost of conflict actually lies. It is with their children.
Do you ever notice that you can walk into a room and feel the tension despite everyone in the room denying that anything is wrong?
Everyone is polite, seemingly calm, and everything seems okay on the surface? On the surface, everything seems okay, but you know that it is not? This is despite you asking if everything is okay and everyone in the room assuring you that it is?
Well, this experience is because, in your heart, you know that the situation is not okay. You have obviously walked into a room with tension and conflict. You feel it, experience it, and know it is there. This is regardless of anyone in the room admitting it.
This is the kind of experience kids have when their parents are at war despite their parents not having their war “in front” of the children. Kids feel the tension, experience it, and know it.
Any parent who is text-fighting with their ex, sending missile emails or shooting dirty looks, etc. who does not think their kids are experiencing all of it on an emotional and gut-level are kidding themselves.
Parents often think that if they don’t have their “knock ‘em down and drag ‘em out” type arguments in front of the children, that the kids are somehow isolated from the conflict. Think again.
Kids are way more emotionally intuitive than adults, and way more emotionally intelligent. So, to have your war over email, voicemail, or text still, has a tremendous and negative impact. The answer is to deal with the conflict in a different way, and to hopefully, not experience the conflict in the first place.
The point is not to let it rise and to de-escalate the conflict if it is happening.
One final point before we get started. Make no mistake that a lot of the conflict, even if you think it is virtually always caused by your ex, can be controlled and dissipated by your actions. You have more control and power than you think.
Also, a good start to help guide you is the Bill of Rights of Children written by Dr. Lois Nightingale.
Written by Val Hemminger, lawyer.
Hemminger Law Group Westshore - Lawyers with heart! Providing Family law and Personal Injury law services to the Westshore and beyond (Langford, Westshore, Colwood, View Royal, Sooke, and Victoria)!