What exactly is a “child-centered divorce?” We hear that term being passed around so much, as related to co-parenting and custody, that sometimes I wonder if I am guilty of not keeping my kids in the center of my divorce universe. That’s when I decided it might be time to break this concept down to make sure the intent of this best practice parenting guideline is understood and can be followed.
When we say the child is at the center of the matter, I picture a child floating around in space with planets rotating in orbit around the little tyke. This might be a useful visual, if we imagine that each planet represents each parent and other family members, finances, schedules, school, and major decisions.
There’s little Timmy at the center of a galaxy, and I suppose that the message is that all inhabitants of each planet look directly into Timmy’s light before acting to ask themselves “is what I’m about to say or do best for Timmy?”
That all sounds great, in a planetary sense, until we consider what is meant by “best” for the child?
If you ask Timmy and his friends what’s “best” for them, a few wise kiddos may chime in with such wise beyond their years answers as:
I will venture to guess that the average minor child will list such items as the following as “best” for them:
Doing whatever I want
It’s every child’s fantasy!
The problem here is that children, even teenagers, don’t always have the greatest sense of what’s best for them. That’s why, like it or not, they were appointed parents to look after them and make sure they have such things as broccoli, curfews, and bath time.
So, apparently, child-centered would not be best left up to kids to dictate because their interpretation of “best” may lead them down a path of cavities, teen pregnancy, and getting into the stranger’s white van following promises of puppies and candy!
Child-centered, then, should be interpreted through adult vision, applying what adults know to be best for a child, within the context of divorce.
Applying that logic, how would the following real life scenarios play out?
Sally’s ballet recital: it would be best for both mom and dad to be able to attend to make her feel loved and supported by the people she loves the most!
Damien needs surgery: both parents should hear what the doctor has to say and discuss the matter, coming to a decision that promotes the best possible outcome for his health.
Bobby’s going to camp: camp is over mom’s week, but drop-off occurs during the afternoon of dad’s last day with him. Mom and dad should discuss a reasonable way to work out the time dad will lose and not interfere with Bobby’s ability to attend the camp he’s been waiting all year to attend. To be fair, mom and dad should have discussed the matter awhile in advance so that dad hasn’t already made plans or isn’t blindsided by the time change.
Situations and decisions often become muddy, forcing agonizing contemplation, and sometimes guilt or hard feelings.
Consider my recent debate:
My ex-husband and I live an hour apart. We conduct all of our visitation exchanges at a public location that is exactly halfway between us. My children attend school in his town because that was his one sticking point in the divorce. Because it was so important to him for them to continue in that school, he agreed to meet halfway every day before and after school so that neither of us has to drive the full distance.
Because my children attend school in another town, most of their friends live in that town, save one of my daughter’s best friends who has almost the exact same post-divorce situation, going back-and-forth between the same two towns!
A few days ago my daughter’s friend called me and asked if they could have a sleepover at her mom’s house in the other town, but over my time. Knowing that the friend would be in my town visiting her dad later in the week, I suggested that she call again in a few days so we could plan a play date then.
I’ll be dead honest. I declined the invitation on my daughter’s behalf because I didn’t want to drive all the way to the other town or give up on time with my daughter. It was more convenient for me to ask them to wait and plan something when it could be close to where I live and not interfere with other plans I made.
Was this incredibly selfish of me and not “kid-centric?”
I decided, after a minor guilt trip, that it was not. I was not denying my daughter a social life or an opportunity to see her friend at all; but, I had a bigger picture to keep my eyes on. My daughter is one member of a large, blended family, which requires a lot of careful scheduling and budgeting. An hour trip to and from her friend’s to take her and pick her up would have eaten a hole into my gas budget for the family road trip planned for mid-week, and the time I would need to invest would take away from other important tasks.
The guilt I experienced was partly because I want my child to have fun, but also because it was not her fault that her dad and I divorced and I chose to move to another town. I don’t want to feel like my divorce-inspired decisions will cost her in any way.
It’s a tough call; but, I think in the big scheme of things we, as parents, have to evaluate what the over-arching impact of our actions will be for our children. Sometimes we have to say “no”, and we have good reasons why. Other times, we may be tempted to say no because we don’t want to do our ex any favors or are angry with them.
I learned the hard way during my previous marriage that it can be dangerous to make a child the center of the universe. Our marriage suffered because we made the kids a priority over our relationship. The child-centric concept is not about spoiling a child or over-inflating their ego. It’s about protecting and nurturing a child who has a more complicated life situation because of divorce.
My advice, is not to let a child become a fiery gas-filled ball that dictates what everyone else does; but, make sure that decisions take into consideration his or her overall health, happiness, development, and ability to have a loving relationship with their other parent.
It’s always best to love the child more than you hate the ex!