Monday, November 2, 2009

Ownership- of children?

When did parenting become more about ownership and less about raising children with the hope that they would be great or meaningful people?

When my husband asked for a divorce from his ex, she didn't cry, ask him to change his mind, or even argue with him over it. She screamed, "You won't take my babies!" and dragged the kids out of bed in the middle of the night, on a school night, crying their heads off in fear, and took them to her parents' house. (Turns out, that one action alone could have guaranteed him the house...But he didn't get a lawyer.)  Their only discussions were about dividing stuff. Eight years- and all that mattered was the stuff and who controlled the kids. He has said many times that it was like she was just waiting for him to ask for the divorce first.

The more I read, the more I see, and the more I learn about divorce cases, the more it seems that children are possessions or trophies. There's a difference between a child being a "blessing" and a child being your entire identity, self-esteem, and friendship support circle.  My husband had to specifically ask to be included when his ex was pregnant, because she wouldn't talk to him about their shared offspring. That continued after they were born, in marriage and divorce.

That first year, my husband's ex-wife just didn't let him see the kids before, at, or after Christmas. He didn't go to visit his family on the off-chance that she would let him see them. He cried on Christmas Eve during the church service I took him to in my home town and cried after talking to them on the phone. I'm sure he cried more than that, but he doesn't want you to know that.

California law says that if the parent is fit, willing, and able, then they will be granted time. If both parents are fit, willing, and able, the time will be split equally, or as close to that as possible. But as Alec Baldwin keeps informing us on television interviews, you have to fight for your equal time if you're on the father's side of the battle.

My husband has explained his emotions and beliefs about time with his children in this way- If they were fine, if he knew they were being encouraged to succeed, learn, and grow, if he knew they were watched by stable, God-fearing people, if he knew they were happy and treated well- Then he doesn't think he would have to fight for at least the right to be a parent to his own children, considering he is overly "fit, willing, and able."

People always talk about how dads spent less time with the kids before but took on new tasks or realized how important his time was once there was a divorce. In my husband's case, he was completely aware of how much a joy his children were, and that is why he couldn't keep them in that marriage. He couldn't continue to support what they were learning from his ex and subjected to. He no longer had any effect on change while he was in the same house.

One of the hardest things for him is the simple fact that he doesn't actually know where they are at night. He can't check on them at night, hear them breathing, or give them a kiss. Possibly, his most important element is security and safety.  In other words, he didn't consider years of nights in the same house with them as time separate from them. Work is necessary, but coming home each night, it was his job to make sure everyone was safe and secure. He was, in fact, "with them" every possible chance he had.

When we were granted extra custody for a few months, before a different mediator swapped it around, we saw how different things were when the kids were with me before he got home from work. Just the mere fact that they were out of their mom or her boyfriend's grasp meant that they could call their dad (very hard for them to do normally), that they told us about things at school they never remembered before, that we saw schoolwork we had never seen before, forms, papers, and most of all, a major increase in comfort at our house and with us. When he was home from work or needed to go to an appointment, he picked them up. If I couldn't make it, he would get off of work. The time spent with him in numerous different ways went up, even if I was mostly picking them up. It was great. Most importantly, both children made some significant behavioral changes we'd been telling the courts and their mom about for years. I haven't read it yet, but I'm sure this would support the book "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters" by Meg Meeker.

But in our court case, the mom somehow means stability despite the huge and continual life changes and extra unnecessary fear, stress, and anxiety. My husband has done nothing to show he is unfit, unable, and everything to show he is completely willing. On the other hand, she knows she can barely handle her life, but must "keep" "her" children.

The different value sets offered by mothers, fathers, females, males bring balance to any child. Whether its security, affection, playfulness, discipline, lessons, religious, cultural, athletic- children need it all, regardless of severely outdated stereotypes of roles. If it can't happen in the same house, then it needs to happen in a way that doesn't punish completely capable parents- or the children who need both parents to succeed. A one-sided parenting agreement should happen when parents are not, in fact, willing, fit, or able.

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