The First Agreement of Child Custody

  • No matter what, we will get parenting right.

There’s a commonly held myth, stuff of lore actually, made up one part Responsible Parent Motive, one part Sincere Concern for Consequences, and one part Shared Belief of the Parents.

As the myth goes: A husband, over time, became an Ogre, and his wife, not to be out-done, became a witch. Slowly their golden love turned to venomous green. Its stench made the home, that they shared with their kids, unlivable. So on the day they agreed to get a divorce, they patched up their tarnished self-esteem, boasting proudly, “We’ve made the best decision for the kids”. “For the kids!” They agreed. And waving that banner of magicthink above their angry divorce, they told their mediator: “We don’t want lawyers. Too much conflict. We want what’s in the best interest of the kids.” “Of The kids“, they nodded vigorously.

But in the soft vacuum of the Ogre’s roar and the Witch’s cauldron, we can hear the protests and resistance each parent will display once they feel threatened, demeaned, disrespected, genuine fear for the welfare of the children when with the other parent (valid or not). There’s not enough money now and they want more! On and on…..When these hissing, snarling, snapping dragons emerge from canyon’s wall, the myth of little fingerprints on something precious fractures at the hint of doom. 

If you want to establish a terrific child custody agreement that will enable your kids to flourish and grow into healthy adults, then come to the table without a single toxic emotion. Not one. Toxic emotions & perceptions are why custody becomes a brutal battle that ravages a family. This all too common conflict is at distinct odds with the most fundamental goal of a family divided, trying to set up two homes from an income (that may have been already stretched) and maintain a healthy spirit …

Anger, fear, resentment, mistrust, blame. True divorcing emotions. But they belong with the ruined adult relationship and not contaminating cooperative co-parenting.  This is how you serve your children.

Impossible this is not! Through this blog; The Four Agreements of Child Custody, I will use each Agreement as a teaching tool for helping divorcing parents set aside the toxic emotions & perceptions of each other so they can create the best possible child custody agreement.

The First Agreement:

  • No matter what, we will get parenting right.

Divorcing parents often say, “We want what’s in the best interests of the kids”. Well that’s the best possible perspective for building a cooperative co-parenting plan on. However, our ability to abide by that agreement is entirely dependent on these two things:

1) The attitudes of the respective parents regarding what they each think is in the best interests of the kids.

2) The extent to which each parents’ personal emotions and opinions towards the other parent are mixing into their ability to be creative, empathetic, flexible and compromising with the other parent. After all, few people divorce because they get along so well…

And there it is. Because divorcing, especially when we have kids, is such a horrible last resort, we often find it very difficult to come to agreement with someone that we have been in conflict with for quite a while. So the mandate, “We just want what’s in the best interests of the kids” can be a very difficult hill to climb….

That’s why the first agreement of child custody is “No matter what, we will get parenting right”.

It’s an agreement to to do our jobs as parents in spite of everything else. And if we can keep this agreement, we’ll probably forge agreements that really are in the best interests of the kids. Ironically, becoming a single parent helps both parents adjust to the complete parent job description because they are flying solo during their custodial time!

So let’s take some steps to ensure your ability to work together at this vital shared job.

Question: Do you believe that an adults responsibilities outweigh what they feel like doing on any given day? I hope so. Parenting isn’t a choice.

Question: Do you believe that your child has a right to an uncomplicated love bond with you? I hope so. Every parent should long for the spontaneous embrace of their loving child!

If “yes” is your answer to these questions, then set the questions as solid boundaries for how to get parenting right.

The First Boundary: We will abide by a list of Shared Parenting Responsibilities

The Second Boundary: We will respect our kid’s rights to love both of us equally.

Take this shared perspective into your child custody mediation appointments and use session time to create two lists; 1) The Parenting Responsibilities List and 2) A list of what each parent must do to protect the kids’ rights to have an uncomplicated love bond with both parents.

As we create the details that breathe life into these Parenting boundaries, we can move on to what a shared custody agreement can be. To get there, let’s consider what you can agree on. On matters that you cannot agree, it will help you to make lists of your reasons for not agreeing on something in advance of your mediation session/s. Please read through this Custodial Perspectives List and jot down your answers.

  • Can you agree that both parents shall have regular and consistent periods of custody with the children?
  • Can you get close to a 50/50 percentage custodial split? If not, make a list of reasons why this isn’t possible.
  • Can you agree to live within close proximity to each other so that the kids can maintain their sets of friends, remain in their schools, and not have to travel a lot between your two homes?
  • Can you agree to share costs for the kids that are beyond the scope of Child Support? If so, make a list of what expenses you agree to share (such as sports activities, tutoring, dance lessons, etc).
  • Can you agree to help each other and the kids adjust to the changes in your respective lifestyles and responsibilities?
  • Are there parenting choices of the other parent that you find difficult to support?

Now read through these questions again and edit out answers that might have been written more from anger than reason, or more from fear and a resulting desire for control than an ability to trust that your kids will endure the differences between their parents!

Many of the above questions can’t be answered with a firm “YES” but hopefully not with a firm “NO”, either. Most of the time, the answer is MaybeMaybe is good. Maybe is open to negotiation. Kids do best when parents learn to communicate, cooperate and respect the children’s rights to have an uncomplicated love bond with both parents. For more about respecting that love bond, please go to our article: Respecting Children’s Rights & Boundaries.

Now, to help you honor the First Agreement: No Matter what, we will get parenting right, I would like to move onto the Second Agreement and use it to soften some of the discord generated answers to the Custodial Perspectives List.

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