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Don't Weaponize the Children

{6 minutes to read} In a recent divorce negotiation, a father raised several concerns about entering into a custody and parenting agreement for their nine-year-old son. His concerns are both legitimate and pertinent to most divorcing couples who are also parents of young children. Below are two of his concerns with my responses.

Father’s Concern:

“If I agree to this schedule now, and things change in the future (he’s only 9!), are we bound by this agreement?"

Mediator’s response:

First, Parenting schedules include many competing factors, including:

  • The rights of parents to enjoy time with their children,

  • The rights of children to be provided for,

  • The parents’ current availability and work demands, and how each parent can accommodate the child’s school schedule, and

  • The developmental needs of the child.

For example, a five-year-old with a 7 PM bedtime has different needs than a 13-year-old, who has increasing academic and social demands, involvement in extracurricular activities, and so forth. A child who can dress herself in the morning and get ready for school might be ready for a more flexible schedule including longer periods with each parent, whereas a toddler who requires constant supervision and is in the early stages of developing secure attachments, may find each transition between households overwhelming.

Second, when it comes to children and parenting schedules, there is no one-and-done. Children are constantly evolving and a parenting schedule should adjust responsively.

Though a parenting schedule works best when it is predictable and regular, periodic modifications are to be expected. As a child develops greater ease in transitioning between households, or, conversely, requires continuous nights in one residence to better handle a more rigorous school day and demanding homework, parents should stay attuned and modify the parenting schedule accordingly.

If parents are unable to revise parenting plans themselves, they are always welcome to return to mediation as needed to revise a parenting plan reflective of the family’s burgeoning capacities and requirements.

Father’s Concern:

“What if she is angry with me and withholds access to the child out of spite?”

Mediator’s response:

To address this, two things must first be distinguished: (a) being angry and (b) affecting the children’s access because of anger.

Being angry:

Inevitably there will be times when one or both parents are unhappy with the other -- this is true whether parents are married or divorced. Parenting styles differ, and risk tolerance differs -- parents will not always like what the other is doing.

And of course, the relationship between the parents can be strained for reasons entirely outside of parental roles.

Every adult worth his salt has plenty to be angry about at any one time, and most people in long-term relationships, much less relationships that have endured divorce, have more than one bone to pick with an ex-spouse. Be angry! It’s your god-given right. But it’s also the right of your children to grow up unburdened and unpunished by your anger.

Stay the course with parenting commitments anyway:

Do not weaponize your children! They are tiny people, not diminutive instruments of war.

How you feel moment to moment must be segregated from the obligation to uphold the custody arrangement.


  • X - Do not keep your child out of an activity she enjoys to spite the parent who encouraged it.

  • X - Do not send your child to a schoolmate’s birthday party without an appropriate gift to get back at your ex who forgot to buy the gift beforehand. Get reimbursed later. Do not subject your child to peer ridicule because you are pissed off. The small injustices between divorced parents are just that, small and meant to be managed by adults who have the benefit of mature minds and resources; when these injustices morph into misplaced aggressions and micro-abuses to children (who have developing minds and are completely dependent), the effects on them are large and long-lasting.

The Golden Standard: Best Interests of the Child

The best interests of the child is the standard used in analyzing choices made on behalf of children.

Whatever is unfolding between the adults, is adult business. An essential ask of parents is to keep the marital relationship private and the parenting relationship shared. It asks for unselfishness and a constant refocusing on the needs of another. It asks parents to be their best selves even when they are emotionally threadbare.

Parents are in service to the best interests of the child. Not the child’s wishes or whims, but his best interests. One of these interests is to be parented by cooperative, mature adults, who are able to distinguish their own needs from the needs of their children. Another interest is to be safe from adult conflict and discord. A good parenting/custody schedule considers both the child’s interests and the creation of a cohesive, two-household family.


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