None of us are born parents. What we know about parenting is learned, primarily from parents or care givers, garnered by experience on the receiving-end of our own upbringing.
If we are fortunate, we were nurtured and protected by those who love us. With the assistance of our parents and others, we were guided to recognize danger before we were harmed, learned to make good decisions, and became upstanding citizens with a moral compass including a sense of right and wrong. If we are less fortunate, we still escaped childhood without being too badly damaged or irreparably harmed. Far more unfortunate are those of us who have been abused, maltreated, or neglected.
Most of us do not focus our attention overmuch on whether we were fortunate in our childhood or not. We consider ourselves good parents when we have children, whether we planned for parenthood or not. Some may take a class at the hospital for new parents, while others may read a child-rearing book or two. Some of us are young parents, and some, not so young.
The biggest disadvantages of young parents are lack of life experience, limited family resources, and more often than not, lack of funds. We don’t really know if our parenting style is better or worse than others, since for us, our parenting is “normal.”
It is difficult under the best of circumstances to raise children in a nuclear family, with two parents committed to each other, their children, and their family as a whole. Extended family members are in the mix. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, and others can make a firm foundation for a “well-cared for child” to grow into a stable adult. Some children have siblings (born of both parents), half-siblings (born of one of their parents only), and step-siblings (born of a step-parent.)
We can find ourselves in very stressful circumstances, indeed, when parents are not married to each other or do not live in the same home. While the legal prejudice against children born of unmarried or same gender parents has been essentially removed in California, there are still social pressures which come to bear, whether we choose to acknowledge them or not.
Parenting with these extended family dynamics is not for the weak at heart, especially when parents “break up.” Once a separation occurs with our “ex,” it is our children who suffer the consequences of a breakdown in family ties – consequences such as alienation from a parent, estrangement from extended family, and a loss of self-esteem.
Children, even adult children of divorce, often feel guilty for being the “cause” of the break-up of their family. As parents, we may seek to fill our own void with another relationship. In many instances, children are introduced to their parent’s significant other and begin a bonding process with him or her, only to find that person gone from their lives all too soon.
Providing a “safe landing” for our children is our ultimate goal. California Family Law Code Section 3190-3192 provides the means for counseling with licensed mental health professionals or through other community programs and services that provide appropriate counseling for the parents and the children.
Counseling is designed to “facilitate communication between the parties regarding their minor child’s best interest, to reduce conflict regarding custody or visitation, and to improve the quality of parenting skills of each parent.” To reach this goal, protect our children, and reduce the impact of separation for our children requires more than good intentions. We need training to learn skill sets that will help us and our children’s other parent.
Parenting classes are often available at low cost through adult education programs at school districts and early childhood development classes are available through community colleges. Private mental health providers are wonderful resources with well-trained and caring professionals. Separating or estranged parents usually can see the need for the other parent to attend parenting classes, but fail to understand how parenting classes can be a benefit to themselves.
In order to request that the other parent attend parenting classes, it is better practice to have both parents attend these classes. Not only will both parents receive the same information, but each of them may be surprised when they themselves learn important skills to help their children in an age-appropriate manner.
Co-parenting classes are very helpful in helping both parents learn how their separate parenting styles can be confusing and frustrating for their children. Supporting the other parent’s parenting helps stabilize the child, especially if the parents work together to establish some commonality as to chores, rewards, and punishments. Parents can learn to watch for their children’s words and tone of voice as indicators of stress, distress, and loss of hope.
When parents tend to be suspicious of the other parent, reluctant to make agreements, or controlling in regards to sharing time, the children are impacted. When both parents, together, learn skills that help their children strive in joint parenting arrangements, they have attained the ultimate “safe landing.”
Although co-parenting classes are now offered online, they are no substitute for joint sessions (especially in a group) with a trained, dedicated professional that allows both parents to hear the same information, obtain the same answers to the same questions, and understanding (“getting it”) from the experiences of others in the same situation.
Children in joint parenting do as well as nuclear families and better than in sole custody arrangements. Homes with one parent only can create an imbalance and can cause stress that can burn out the single parent. Overnight child sharing creates a more lasting bond between parent and child.
Shared child rearing reduces the conflict between the parents and can cut multiple returns to court. Shared parenting helps our children learn to share their parents as well. Learning co-parenting techniques jointly in co-parenting classes helps us as a parent (as well as the “other parent”) help our children.
We may not be born parents, but we can certainly learn to be the best parents we can be for the best interests of our children.
Delilah Knox Rios, Attorney at Law, has practiced law for 30 years with an emphasis in Family Law including Divorce, Paternity, Child and Spousal Support, Complex Child Custody and Community Property Issues, Small Business Contracts, Wills, Trusts, and Probate.
Attorney Delilah Knox Rios, as an Advocate of Collaborative Family Law and Family Law Mediation, and a Certified Family Law Specialist, State Bar of CA, Board of Legal Specialization, provides not only Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) but litigation services, to clients in all counties of Southern California. She is President of Collaborative Divorce Professionals of the Inland Empire (www.CDPIE.org). Delilah is a Family Law Mediator with Center for Effective Dispute Resolution Services (www.CEDRS .com).
Delilah will be co-presenting on Mediation with Collaborative Professionals (working title) at the Southern California Mediation Association on November 8, 2014 at Pepperdine Law School in Malibu.
Visit her at http://www.dkriosfamilylaw.com/wordpress/