By Tonya Graser Smith
Who knows best? Mom or Dad?
Last month we celebrated moms with Mother’s Day, and now it’s time to honor dads with Father’s Day. Of course, we hold Mom and Dad in high esteem all year long. We believe each knows what’s best for us, and pop culture supports this. Disney’s “Tangled” features a song called “Mother Knows Best.” Meanwhile, 1950s TV brought us “Fathers Know Best.”
Who really knows best? Mom? Dad?
I say “yes.” As in both. Even in divorce. Really.
Why do I bring this up? As a family law attorney, I’m well versed in the debate over who knows what’s best for children whose parents are divorcing. My position is simple: Why do we have to choose? What’s best for your children doesn’t change just because your relationship status does. You and your ex both still want your children to be safe, happy and healthy above all else, right?
Does a judge really know best?
You can leave it all up to a judge to decide what’s best. But should you really? A judge doesn’t know your children. A judge wasn’t there for the cuts and scrapes, school plays, soccer tryouts and birthdays.
In some states, children 12 and older are allowed to pick the parent with whom they want to live. As a parent, I wonder how that can be in their best interest – when a 14-year-old girl gets mad at Mom, of course, she will go to Dad. Some states presume custody will be 50-50. North Carolina, where I live and practice, has a “best interest” standard, in which a judge ultimately decides – hopefully with the level-headed input of the parents, but that’s not always the case.
In this season of celebrating moms and dads, I urge divorcing parents to embrace that together they really know what’s best for their children.
What does knowing what’s best mean?
Take custody, visitation, holidays. You already know what’s best for your children. Some call it co-parenting – as if that practice begins only when couples separate. But the truth is you started co-parenting the second you became parents.
When you consider splitting up childcare responsibilities, it might make sense to start with what naturally worked when you were married. For example, if one of you is a teacher with summers off, it might work best for you to continue to be the primary parent in those months. Or say you are an accountant who can never take time off for Spring Break, which coincides with tax season. Maybe your co-parent takes the children to the beach. If Mom is in a six-hour board meeting one day, then Dad knows he is on call to pick up a sick child if the school nurse calls.
It doesn’t make you the better parent or your ex the lesser parent if there are times when each of you can spend more or less time with the children. It’s about what’s right for the children, not trying to achieve parity for yourselves.
Your mission as divorced parents it to figure out how the two of you can get it all done and make sure the kids are all right. One thing that might help and that I regularly suggest to parents is a child custody journal or co-parenting log. You can find several options on Amazon. Or, there’s an app for that. Two apps actually. Check out Fayr – as in keeping co-parenting “fair” – and OurFamilyWizard for help tracking childcare schedules, daily logs, paperwork, receipts and more.
The point of these journals is to share information with your ex, to keep the two of you on the same page. Maybe it’s a reminder of year-end tests and that the children will need extra shut-eye the night before. Or maybe one parent documents what happened at a parent-teacher meeting or doctor’s appointment that the other parent wasn’t able to attend.
Remember, you are in it together. And you both know best.