Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: Self-Defeating Behavior, Overprotectiveness, and Rigidity
There are times when a parent is so, so sure that his co-parent is toxic and horrible that he refuses to believe the co-parent can provide anything of value to a child:
- "She is just a playmate."
- "She is too irresponsible to raise a child."
- "She won't supervise my baby well enough."
- "Who is going to take responsibility if I let my baby visit and the baby gets hurt because she can't handle the situation?"
- "She couldn't properly care for a goldfish, let alone a child."
I have heard these sentiments more times than I can count from parents who have been repeatedly disappointed by the behavior of their former partners.
Often what it boils down to is the custodial parent does not approve of the visiting parent's style, safety precautions, and family values; and, as a result, she overanalyzes what children (especially young children) say and do after visitation.
When I suggest to overprotective parents that they are being overprotective, they often get very angry at me and say something like "Does something have to happen to my child before anybody does anything about it?"
Not necessarily, and that's when an impartial court investigator or evaluator can be really helpful—but only if you are willing to listen to what that individual says. More times than not, when I evaluate a visiting parent to determine whether a custodial parent's concerns are valid, my evaluation is rejected by the custodial parent unless it conforms fully to her opinion.
A deficient parent can "put on a show" for the court and appear to be a better-equipped parent then he really is. However, in a court setting, the goal is fairness to both parties. One parent is not allowed to judge the other parent and subsequently determine visitation or the conditions of visitation. It might be true that you know the situation better than anyone else, but if you were permitted to make all of the decisions there would be no need for a judge.
Defaulting to the decision making of judges, law guardians, and mental health professionals is the natural consequence of not being able to work things out parent-to-parent. The court system and the people in it are going to try to be fair. It doesn't always work. Sometimes "the bad guy" gets too much attention, and sometimes the "overprotective parent" gets to have too much say in restricting the other parent's visitation unfairly. Still, I believe that most times, good outcomes are achieved.
It is hard to convince people that they might be too close to a situation to be assessing it accurately. Rigid and overprotective parents do not understand this and defend their overprotectiveness on the grounds that a judge or evaluator cannot possibly know what a maniac the coparent is.
One liability of being overprotective and very vocal or assertive about it is that without solid evidence to justify your concerns, you run the risk of being seen as someone who is merely manipulative and controlling. When this happens, the decision makers around you might be very put off and conclude that as long as you are in control, the other parent is not going to have an adequate place in the child's life. You could then face a situation where the visiting parent might get a lot more visitation and contact than she would have before—or, worse yet, a loss of custody altogether. This does not happen often, but I have seen it happen enough times to warn people that rigid and overprotective parents should be concerned about the consequences of that behavior.
A good approach is to demand a parenting evaluation if there is not an evaluator appointed already, and if there is an evaluator, try to remain open to feedback and suggestions.
- When a child returns home from visitation, let him settle down. Do not ask any questions, no matter how innocent sounding. The last thing a child wants to deal with is questions as soon as he walks through the door.
- Do not encourage your children to keep diaries and written records about how horrible their mother or father is. Parents often do this to assist their litigation. This causes the child to feel as though he is under pressure to chronicle every negative thing that happens. This intensifies anger and alienates the co-parent. Do your best to repair poor parent-child relationships, not make them worse.
- Do not try to teach your children all about the co-parent's faults and problems. Children eventually discover their parents' flaws on their own.
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