I attended a hearing yesterday in which two seemingly caring parents of teenagers were, perhaps unwittingly, doing their best to destroy the other’s relationship with these children. At the conclusion of the hearing the judge addressed the parties with advice that I had never heard before. I paraphrase:
I am the father of adult children. One of my great pleasures is when they spontaneously invite me to join them on activities. Your children are only a few years away from being grown and out of the house. When they are older do you want them visiting only on Christmas and Thanksgiving, and only with a sense of obligation and dread? If you continue on your present pathway, that is likely what your relationship with these children will become.
As the father of a twenty year old daughter, this judge’s wisdom was intuitively obvious but something I’d never heard expressed so clearly. I am lucky to have a relationship with my parents in which I enjoy their company and spontaneously seek them out. I keep waiting and hoping that my daughter reaches a point in which she will reach out and invite me on some of her activities. As parents we invest substantial time, money and energy in raising our children and our expected payoff is adult children who truly enjoy our company. How sad it must be for parents whose adult children dread spending time with them.
In every family, and especially in families in which the parents do not live together, the temptation exists to tear down the other parent to selfishly pursue one’s own agenda. It is the children who suffer when parents act this way and these children rationally develop a sense of dread of one or both parents.
There is nothing wrong with custody litigation motivated by a reasoned difference of opinion about what is best for the children. However custody litigation motivated by sheer hatred and disrespect of the other parent is ultimately damaging to the children. Such children are likely to develop into adults who dread both parents. It’s a legacy no parent would wish for.
In pursuing custody litigation, parents should consider whether their actions towards the other parent are likely to lead to adult children who spontaneously seek out their companionship or to adult children who dread their company.