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.