Ginger Gentile, Deputy Executive Director, NPO
“It was just easier not to see her.”
“They left it up to me if I wanted a relationship with my dad.”
“My dad hates my mom. My brother hates my mom, and I can’t see either of them.”
For my upcoming documentary, Erasing Family, I interviewed children who had a parent erased from their lives after divorce. These children were suffering from divided loyalties and torn between two parents. In talking with so many children who have lost contact with a loving, fit parent after divorce, a pattern emerged. So profound is their need for stability that they will decide not to talk to a parent for years, even decades, in an attempt to keep the peace and love of the parent they have. These children are desperate to avoid conflict, which caused them to run away from the “other” parent.
Some of these families had 50/50 child custody arrangements, but they were not honored by one parent and the courts didn’t enforce them. Family courts allow children to state who they want to live with but don’t investigate what led to that statement. So a tense family dynamic isn’t stopped by the courts, rather, it feeds on it.
As we fight for default shared parenting, it is important to remember that we need to look at 50/50 custody holistically and make sure that parents have the tools to implement it successfully. Do they have parenting classes on how to stop arguing? Anger management programs? Free mediation to keep them out of court? Support services, like free child care and afterschool programs to allow a stayt-at-home-parent to transition into the workplace? Does our parental leave offer equal (and paid!) time off for both mothers and fathers?
Kids want to have a relationship with both parents after divorce and separation. Default shared parenting is the first step in this direction, but it is not the only step that must be taken by families and society.