Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D
I was moved by a story I recently heard. The story is about a child who was born with a lung defect. As a result, he would often collect fluid in his lungs and develop pneumonia serious enough to require intensive or critical care. He had a remarkable tenacity and fighting spirit which enabled him to go on living as normal a life as was possible for a little boy with a big medical problem. His parents loved him dearly and were totally involved with every aspect of his life. Their love and encouragement strengthened the boy's perseverance and tenacity and his desire to live a life more fully in spite of a serious and disabling condition. For the purpose of this story we will call him, "John."
John's parents divorced when he was seven. The divorce ended their relationship as partners but it did not change their relationship as parents. Both continued to be keenly involved in John's life such as his school and friends and his medical trials and tribulations. John finished high school, which at times seemed almost impossible, and went on to college. However, his lungs kept on self-destructing as each pulmonary crisis would result into a "drowning" of the lungs in their own fluid. John waited desperately for a lung transplant as the struggle between life and death intensified with each passing moment. Finally, both patents decided to give part of their own lungs to John. The right lung has three lobes and the left two. Each parent gave one lobe of their lungs to John so at least part of his lungs could function normally.
Thus, John, who could no longer breathe from the lungs given by his parents at birth, could do so with the lungs given by them at age 25. Parts of both parents now pulsate together close to his heart. What a story! Seventeen years after divorce, the parents needed each other so they could give their son a new lease of life.
Parents who try to deprive the other of their child and deny the child his or her right to the other parent must remember that a child needs both parents and they will always be mom and dad to their child. The story illustrates that parents are literally the lifelines of a child. A child is entitled to have not just one but both lifelines. I have no doubt in my mind that John could not have done as well as he did if both parents were not there for him, always, one hundred percent, whenever he needed them.
Family therapists often say that children need both parents to survive and thrive. Research shows that the standards of living of children whose parents are involved in protracted legal disputes steadily go down. Many are doomed to live in poverty. A full-blown custody lawsuit in Tennessee rarely costs less than thirty to fifty thousand dollars per parent. Battling parents spend their retirement money, real estate, and other life savings in legal costs; money that could have gone for a youngster's college education, down payment on his or her first house, or towards their own future financial security.
Parents rather than courts should determine how their child will be raised. But, if parents don't do it themselves, a judge has to do it for them, which, sometimes, in the case of angry and defiant children, results in the state raising the children. The needs of a child and his or her future ought not to wait for a court's schedule. Speaking about the court wait, it takes, on average, fifteen months before a family case can be heard in court. Then, on the day of hearing you hurry up to the court only to find out that along with your case there are twenty more, and they all are set for 9.00 a.m. You start waiting. Then a few minutes before noon, as the court breaks for lunch, your wait comes to an end. You along with several others are asked to come back the next day.
People inflict an enormous amount of pain on themselves because they truly believe that there is no other alternative but to fight it out in a court of law. There is no difference that two people can't resolve if they make up their minds and just sit down to talk it over. The solution is not possible, however, if one or both parents have a "hidden agenda," underlying a custody or visitation dispute. The hidden agenda may consist of such motives as using the litigation to hurt the other parent, deny him or her the joy of parenting or punish him or her for breakup of the marriage. The avowed intention of merely serving the "best interest of the child" often masks a deep-seated hostility for "losing" to the ex-.
Judge James Stewart in his book, The Child Custody Book believes that children should not be subjected to testifying their preference to stay with one or the other parent in an open court for "that is considered almost an act of child abuse."
The last thing a little child wants to do is to express a preference for one parent over the other. Children don't want to disappoint either parent and many feel emotionally exhausted in trying to appease raging parents. Some learn to exploit the situation by telling each parent privately what he or she wants to hear. Others feel directly or indirectly coerced to take the side of one parent. Such children take it upon themselves to express the anger of their favorite parent and fight his or her battle with the other parent.
An attempt to deliberately alienate a child from his or her parent or manipulating an emotional reaction from a child against his or her parent amounts to the emotional abuse of a child. Abraham Lincoln once said that the best way to defeat an enemy is to make him (or her) a friend. It is best for the sake of the child to be friends rather than enemies.
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