My view: Children come first when parents separate

By Gary Direnfeld

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 3 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Even though separated parents argue as to the best residential schedule, choice of school, faith, holiday time, Christmas and extra-curricular activities, these issues are simply not as predictive for the outcome of children of separated parents as conflict alone.

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Even though separated parents argue as to the best residential schedule, choice of school, faith, holiday time, Christmas and extra-curricular activities, these issues are simply not as predictive for the outcome of children of separated parents as conflict alone.

More to the point, the greater the parental conflict, the greater the risk for the child having a poor developmental trajectory. Children who are subject to ongoing parental hostilities are more apt to have school related problems, social difficulties, early onset sexual behavior, a greater likelihood of drug/alcohol related problems, vocational difficulties and then issues in their adult intimate relationships. The parents of these children are at risk of having problematic relationship with their children not only as youngsters but when their children are adults too.

To the degree one or both parents can remain neutral in the face of provocation and conflict, the children are better served and the risk profile improves. This may mean one parent acquiesces to the demands of the other, assuming not totally lopsided, dangerous or abusive. In so doing, this parent elevates the need of the child to be spared the parental conflict and thus subordinates their needs or wants to facilitate peace. While this parent may fee like they are losing something in the moment, this parent may actually gain the better life-long relationship with their child in return.

That child, come adulthood, eventually develops a realistic appraisal of both parents and comes to appreciate the sacrifice of one in the face of the demands of the other. That adult child, no long bound by parental control can then re-right the balance and chose to prioritize the parent that better facilitated peace.

If you cannot settle the Christmas Day transition, imagine letting go of Christmas Eve and Day each year in the name of peace for your child. Imagine developing your own ritual of celebrating Christmas on a day other than December 25th. Imagine being able to concentrate on the joy of your child opening gifts in the absence of animosity and anger. Imagine your gift to your child, peaceful co-existence with their other parent, and the return on that investment in your child’s ability to concentrate at school, form relationships and then be appreciative of your choices in their adult life.

Conflict will abate if at least one parent facilitates peace through flexibility and advancing this need of the child ahead of their desires. If a parent fights for what is fair, you may win the battle yet lose the war. The collateral damage includes the child directly as well as the potential for a meaningful life-long relationship with your child come adulthood.

For Christmas, at least this year, give your child the gift of peace. After all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker and expert on matters of family life, media personality and a parenting columnist.

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