January 2023: Where to look to “fix things”?

Once upon a time, there was a couple that lived in a beautiful house.  One day they noticed that some of their door frames in the house were shifting and weren’t closing properly. They called in a door frame specialist, who worked all day and fixed the frames so the doors were working again. But a few days later, the frames started shifting again. Then the couple noticed that there were cracks in some places in their inside walls. They called in a wall specialist, who fixed the cracks and painted over them. But a few days later, the cracks started to re-appear.

One day, the couple had a friend over, who was a builder. They told their friend about the problems they were having with their doors and walls.  The friend checked the house out and told them the doors and walls are not the problem; they are symptoms of the REAL problem, which was their house’s foundation was not stable. No matter how many times they fixed the doors or repaired the cracks, the house would shift until its foundation was stable.

In our world we often tend to blame children for problems.  They have no power and, usually, no money, so they are an easy target.   In my profession, we often look at children who are acting out as “broken doors” or “cracked walls” and spend years trying to “fix” them.  But things won’t really change until the foundation is solid, and the foundation for children is their parents.

It’s pretty simple – 1) When children are insecure they tend to manifest it in their behavior (“act out”).   2)  When parents are not communicating, not happy or in conflict, it exacerbates insecurity in children.   We can send our children to years of therapy, punish them or try other behavioral techniques, take them to social skills groups, have them check in with the guidance officer at school, and even drug (oops, “medicate”) them.  Sometimes things might seem better for a short period of time, just like the newly installed door will work for a little while.   But the only way to address the issue is to repair the foundation (or, metaphorically, move to a new house).   And the only ones who have the power to repair the foundation are the parents.

December 2022: Child Protection versus Family Court

I have written extensively, here and elsewhere, about how family court is a destructive process for children. What children need emotionally and developmentally is for their parents to get along, and family court positions parents as enemies and pits them against each other.  It is exactly what children do not need, and they are often traumatized by court and its’ aftermath well into adulthood.

When parents separate their children are going through a major transition, and that’s when they need their parents the most.It is a time for parents to unite, not to be driven apart.  Our adversarial system provides the opposite answer to what children need.  Parents are often devastated by their separation and of course they are vulnerable, scared and often angry.  But it is a time to recognize the other parent as an ally, in being the person on earth who loves your child(ren) as much as you do.

In that context, why couldn’t we conceptualize parental separation as a child protection issue? Children are going through a major transition and could potentially suffer significant trauma. They need protection, love and support; not conflict. What if we saw children of separation as children “at risk”, and if parents needed extra support from a government agency, they would turn to this proposed department of child safety.

I have believed for many years that court is the wrong place for parents who desperately need to come together and instead are being torn apart.  With the increasing popularity of “Parenting Coordinators” and with some psychologists (finally) focusing on post separation co-parenting as part of their practice, there are resources available to support families.  When our relationships end we need support ourselves and certainly can use external resources to help support and protect our children.

Even if people felt the need to preserve family court for certain dire situations (such as domestic violence) why can’t we have a “primary” system focused on collaboration, cooperation and respect, instead of fighting?