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The best gift I ever gave my children

From guest blogger, Thomas F. McDow of the Law Office of Thomas F. McDow in Rock Hill, South Carolina

I knew I had a problem. It was the summer of 1981. My children were ten, eight, and six.  Under our joint custody arrangement, they spent the school year with their mother and most of the summers and holidays with me. Near the end of the summer, my middle child Randolph came to me and asked “Thomas (the children then called their mother and me by our first names), “Why don’t you and Croom like each other?” I replied, “We like each other fine. We are not in love or we would still be married but we like each other fine.” Randolph was not deterred, “Dodie, Mary Croom, and I do not think you like each other very much.” I told him that I was sorry they felt that way.

I called Croom and said, “We have a problem. The kids think we don’t like each other.” She asked what I suggested that we do about it. I told her that I had to take them back to her in Maryland the following week and that I would like to take her, Sandy her new husband, and the children to supper so that they could see us get along; that how we acted would have a greater effect than anything we could say. She said she would have to check with Sandy and call me back.

When she called back, she said that I could take them to supper on one condition, that since I could not make the round trip in one day and would have to spend the night somewhere, that I spend the night with them. I agreed.

On the appointed day I arrived in Maryland with the children and a station wagon full of their belongings. Croom, Sandy and I unpacked and then the six of us piled into the station wagon and went to a local seafood house for a wonderful supper. Everyone was on their best behavior and participated in the conversation. After supper, we returned to their house and continued to talk until bed time. The evening was not my idea of fun and relaxation and it probably was not Croom and Sandy’s ideal evening either but it was well worth the effort. The children were able to see their mother, step-father, and father acting civilly in a social situation.

The children finished college, married, and presented me with four wonderful grandchildren without demonstrating any of the characteristics common to children of divorced parents. I attribute much of this to the fact that Croom and I, despite our differences, demonstrated to our children an ability to work together when it regarded their care.

As a family court lawyer, I know that the children of divorce are more likely to suffer from poor self-esteem, are less likely to achieve academic success, are more likely to drop out of school, are less likely to have permanent relationships with persons of the opposite sex, are likely to marry earlier and divorce earlier, and suffer from a host of other problems. The only known way to avoid these problems is for the divorced parents, including stepparents, to treat each other the way they would want to be treated themselves.

My advice to clients is that if they love their children, they should prove it by treating the other parent with dignity and respect.

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  • AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Charlene Lowery

      Thomas ~ I babysat for yours and Crooms wonderful children many years ago and was so happy to read your post. I hope that you and your family are doing well and please tell the children that I think of them often and remember our time spent together with much fondness.

  • Certainly required reading material for all family court litigants with children! Thanks for sharing.

  • I am so glad to read this post. I have suggested such things countless times to many, many clients and GAL cases, but so few people have what it takes to be able to do this. You are to be commended. I know your children cherish you.

  • California observer

    I just got married this weekend, and a few months ago my then-fiancee and I made just such an offer to my ex, in the hope of just the resolution you described.

    The ex ignored the invitation, and still refuses to utter my wife’s name or even look at her; my kids judiciously avoid mentioning my wife at all around her. Ugh…wish we could have the same happy ending you did.

    It just goes to show: it only takes *one* to fight, but it takes two to compromise.

  • Paul Schwartz

    Thank you for that. I can use this in my practice as a lawyer and Guardian Ad Litem.

  • Chad Smith

    Excellent advice, Thomas F.

  • Pingback: The Best Gift for Kids of Divorce - MJ Goodwin & Pruette Attorneys at Law LLC Anderson SC | Divorce - Child Custody - Family Law - Virtual Law Firm()

  • Cheryl

    I was very happy to read your blog. I am divorced twice and I do believe exactly what you are saying. I do feel that I have made wrong decisions all of my life….I have two sons from my first marriage and a wonderful step-daughter from my second…who is always the little girl I have never had. I do not refer to her as my step-daughter…I always call her my daughter. I love all 3 of my children more than anything and I do see them make decisions that I feel are exactly what I have made. I always tell them “do not make the mistakes I made”. Unfortunately I tried with both ex’s and it is not that easy. They have to be willing to as you did. Someday maybe they will grow up and see it should be that way. We all want peace and we all want our children to be happy. Hopefully mine will get there! Thanks for your story!

  • Randolph McDow

    Despite turning nine that May, I don’t remember this incident at all. But I do remember that my parents generally got along, which I am very thankful for. If they had fought, I probably *would* remember that.

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