Children deserve the best, safe parenting they can get from both their parents. This is a fundamental guiding principle for my work as a neutral child specialist. It sounds intuitiveand obvious. But in the context of separation and divorce, what do these words really mean?
Let’s start with the word deserve
. Deserve can imply earned by merit. It can also imply entitlement and privilege by virtue of rank. But neither is an accurate definition in this context. The birthright of children with the benefit of having two competent and caring parents is to be nurtured, guided and unconditionally loved by both. Regardless of the status of the relationship between their parents.
What does best
mean? Not “we’re #1,” not competitively better than any other parents in our kid’s play group, not striving for perfection. Best is what describes responsive, mindful, attuned, child-focused parenting. Setting expectations that allow kids to achieve mastery without becoming overwhelmed. Understanding that your child’s needs and perspectives are different than your own, and not suppressing his or her individuality. Staying centered and finding resources to help manage your own emotions to model how to handle hard times without falling apart. Even during a painful separation or divorce.
That leaves the word safe
. What is safe parenting? Safe parenting does not mean that children will never experience pain, disappointment, loss, sadness or anxiety. It means that when hard times come, parents turn toward and never away from their children and provide consistent empathy and support. Safe parenting is clear-headed, not distracted or addicted. Safe parenting requires good boundaries, emotionally as well as physically; children do not exist to meet the needs of their parents. Safe parenting means that kids never belong in the middle of conflicts between parents, even when parents are experiencing the distress of a separation or divorce. Safe parenting means children do not feel abandoned.
Parents’ actions and words create narratives and expectations children will carry throughout their lives. These stories define self-worth and can make or break a sense of hope for the future. Creating child-focused, developmentally appropriate parenting plan is one way to ensure your children’s narrative of divorce includes the best, safe parenting for them as they head into the future.
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