Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Parental Rights? Who cares?

The news hubbub today is that Bristol Palin wants Levi Johnson, the father of their child Tripp, to just give up his parental rights. Just "sign over your rights" to her and be done with it!

I have a lot of empathy for her and many parents who are separated. I have worked as a clinical social worker and family law attorney dealing with divorcing families for over 30 years. It is a big hassle sharing time with an "ex" and a big nuisance having to resolve parenting issues with a co-parent, especially one you are "done with." However, there's another person's interests involved here: Tripp's. We now have a lot of research about children of divorce and children of high-conflict divorce.

Children need and want a relationship with both of their parents. This doesn't mean they have to have equal parenting time, although many separated parents are doing well with that these days. In most cases, children live primarily with one parent and spend some time with the other parent and do just fine. In a minority of separation and divorce cases, there continues to be high conflict between the parents. Yet, even in these cases, many manage with "Parallel Parenting" plans that minimize contact between the parents, while they each have some parenting time with the child.

The temptation when emotions are high is to find "all-or-nothing" solutions, like "just sign him over." However, just look at how important Oprah's new-found sister is to her. Children yearn for a stable family to grow up in and for a positive relationship with both of their parents. While we can't keep all parents happily together, we can still give their children a relationship at some level with both parents. Even if Levi only sees Tripp 3 times a year, it will be an important relationship over his lifetime.
Most separated parents eventually learn to avoid the emotionally satisfying "all-or-nothing" solutions and learn about what children need and want. Otherwise, their children learn that "all-or-nothing thinking" is the way to solve problems. This ruins future love and work relationships, as people learn to throw others away instead of learning to deal with the ups and downs of real life.

Kids aren't toys. Bristol, Levi and Tripp are all still very young. They need parenting education, not quick decisions - and not quick criticism. Let's not throw any of them away.

No comments: