31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Is It Really Worth Tearing Each Other Down In Front Of The Kids?

Sometimes it's better to give up fight

Single with Children

Publication Date: 04/25/01

"I am going to fight this! She can't keep them away from me,'' my friend told me the other day. As you might imagine, the "she'' is his ex-wife and the "them'' are his kids. My friend, though already legally divorced, is not happy with the visitation schedule that was legally mandated in his divorce.

The court ordered that he may have his two children, ages 8 and 13, every other weekend and one evening a week. Since his divorce, he has set up a business in his home and feels that his children should be allowed to come over every day after school until their mother returns home from work. His ex-wife, for whatever reason, has denied his request, so now both parties are locked in a legal battle that is creating even more hard feelings in an already volatile situation. It appears that the only people benefiting from this scuffle are the attorneys involved.

Fewer things bring out the worst in us than the type of situation I have just described. All the elements for great drama are involved: a broken relationship, valuable property to be divided between the principals and perhaps, most personal and important of all, the children.

Husbands and wives usually can reach a mutually acceptable settlement on the property accrued during the course of a marriage. It is, after all, nothing more than material possessions that eventually can be replaced. However, when it comes to children, the stakes are high, and the dividing line is much more fuzzy. It's a situation that requires vast quantities of understanding and consideration at a time when emotions are running high and feelings are raw.

Let's face it, divorce is a tough road even under the most amicable of circumstances. It's human to want to lash out at the person we perceive as causing us intense pain and hurt. And right smack in the middle of this tug of war are the unwitting and innocent victims of a game they would never have signed on to play. It is the children at risk of being emotionally injured the most, and it is exactly at this time that we have to use every bit of strength we have and ask ourselves "How is this affecting my children, and is it worth the pain?''

As I listened to my friend detail the battle being fought over extended hours of visitation, I couldn't help but wonder what it was like for his two children. I wondered how they felt. What was it like for them to see their parents spend exorbitant amounts of money to try and decide with whom they should spend a couple of hours every day after school?

In fact, I asked my friend if his children had ever expressed an opinion one way or the other. I was told, "Oh, they have told both me and their mother that they don't want to get involved.'' I asked him to consider what it might be like to be 8 or 13 years old and walking such a tightrope between the two most important people in their life? He thought for a moment and then said, "It must really be hard, I suppose.''

What an understatement!

I truly believe that if we could somehow climb inside our childrens' minds and hearts, and, for just a few minutes, experience what it is like to be in the position in which they find themselves at such times, things would be handled much differently. We owe it to our children, even at the most difficult of times, to spare them as much pain as possible. There is no getting around the fact that there will be some pain involved. The very act of Mom and Dad parting ways can't possibly be experienced without some unpleasant twinges. What happens after the initial assault, however, can be controlled, and we must consider the potential emotional damage in any future course of action we take, even if it means we "give in'' and drop a fight we believe we are entitled to pursue. Growing up is hard enough without having to dodge the bullets of warring parents.

I have no doubt that my friend probably will continue to pour more money into this fight. He feels that talking to his ex-wife is useless and believes that the courts eventually will decide in his favor. In fact, though there are always two sides to a story or, in this case, a battle, he may very well be right that the courts will grant him an extension on the amount of time he is allotted. Yet, I can't help but wonder if the victory he may be awarded will be worth the price of the pain incurred by his children. And more importantly, when they are older and revisit these memories, I wonder how they will feel about having an additional chunk of their childhood tainted because their mother and father couldn't come to an agreement over a couple of hours.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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