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Three Parenting Mistakes Good Parents Make: Mistake #2

Rachel Alexander May 15, 2019

{3 minutes to read} Parents are tasked with becoming artful navigators. They must maintain the role of authority, decision-maker, and caretaker — and protect their children from stepping into the position of emotional caregiver. This requires parents to proactively address their own needs outside of the parent-child relationship, through relationships with other adults, professionals, or, usually, a combination of both.

The Second Mistake good parents make in divorce is one of the most common parenting missteps. It occurs when parents allow the child to dictate the terms of custody. The parent might say:

  • “He (the child) can always call when he wants to see me.”

  • “Let’s see what the kids want to do for the holidays.”

  • “She (the child) doesn’t want to go to mom’s/dad’s, so I want to respect her wishes.”

So why is this such a big mistake? After all, honoring the child’s voice and input is empowering, yes? Yes — and no.

Respecting the child’s voice is wonderful, and allowing your child room to communicate whatever she feels is optimal, however, allowing the child to make important decisions, the ramifications of which she can’t comprehend, is another matter. It is good in instances of little long-term consequence such as choosing the paint color — blue or green, or bedroom theme — Star Wars or Marvel. Matters that can affect how the child matures into an adult, and deeply affect others, should not be solely in the child’s hands.

This is where we must distinguish a child’s preferences from the child’s best interests. Just as you wouldn’t consider allowing your five-year-old to determine his meal plan because you know much better than he how to ensure his nutritional needs are met, you are likewise much more equipped to determine an appropriate parenting plan that will meet the child’s fundamental need to securely bond with each parent.

Considering a child’s preference among other factors is different than deferring to it. The child should have a voice, but not the voice of authority. By assigning a child parental authority and parental responsibility, his/her role becomes confused, which blurs boundaries and causes instability.

For those of us who have had the immense pleasure of witnessing a six-year-old assemble her outfit (think early Madonna) or choose her dinner menu (think ice cream with sprinkles) — both a celebration of delight and victory of whim over reason — we would hardly defer to her decision making to map a balanced parenting schedule.  

Finally, assigning adult issues to a child robs the child of the opportunity to feel adequately cared for, valued, and guided by two parents cooperating, and structuring a parenting plan in which the child can relax and thrive.