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Custody: On Your Mark, Get Set, Nooooooo!

Tonight's fun read about co-parenting and custody was written by our Atlanta Child Custody Attorney, Cherese Clark.

"Start your engines. On your mark, get set, GOOOOO," is an announcement fitting of a NASCAR race towards the checkered flag, trophy and champaign shower. Unfortunately this is also often the subconscious mind-set of many co-parents who descend into an adversarial relationship and begin the race for their child's attention, love, and affection.  Revving up this engine is a crash and burn and ultimately everyone loses the race, particularly the child. Here's why:

1. Letting Your Child Run The Show FALLS FLAT.

"Just Say No" is not just a catchy slogan for D.A.R.E. It is a way to teach children the importance of compromise and patience. How many times have you seen a child in a store begging for candy? The parent says "no" and an all out tantrum equivalent to WWIII ensues.  

While it is good that children masterfully test their boundaries, saying "no" doesn't make you a bad mom or dad. Teaching your child to accept "no" dispels that wicked feeling of entitlement and replaces it with the ability to accept that things may not always go their way. The skills you teach your children today are tools they use as adults. Being the pushover parent will not make you the favored parent. It makes you the easy parent. You simply fall flat.

2. Failing to Discipline Children KILLS THE ENGINE.

How many times have children said "if you do (disfavored action), then I'm going to (inappropriate conduct)," only for it to be followed by the child asking, "can I go back to (other parent's) house?" That is frustrating.

This a sneaky method that children often use to manipulate the situation to try to get what they want at that time. Children being teed off about their discipline is normal.  That doesn't make you the bad parent. Rather, it is a sure sign that you are doing something right by teaching that the child must accept the consequences of her behavior and choices- a lesson that some full grown adults still fail to realize. It teaches taking responsibility which leads to accountability, a life lesson that gets lost when a child's poor behavior is ignored for fear of her disliking you. The goal should be to reform not condone, excuse and enable.

3. Divide and Conquer LOSES THE RACE.

Children are master manipulators. They are observant and learn how to quickly assess a situation to effortlessly maneuver it to their advantage.  Don't let your child set you up against the other parent. Do not be a victim of the "divide and conquer" strategy. Children will exploit every one of their parents' weaknesses, particularly your understandable dislike for the other parent. The best way to overcome this artful strategy is to build a better co-parenting relationship with that other parent.  Teamwork here is a must.

Learn to talk and brainstorm with your ex (yes, your ex) about ways to raise your child and collaborate on what it is that you want the child to learn, how your want them to behave, and what values you want them to embody. Remember that your children are a reflection of you...both.

Just remember that parenting is not a competition.  Custody is not a zero sum game. Saying "no" is necessary. Discipline is necessary. Sometimes even precision co-parenting is necessary. Although building a strong, close relationship with your child is essential to their development, there is a healthy balance required between being your child's friend and parent.

Don't race against the other parent to the finish line.  That only runs over your child. Parenting is not Nascar. Parenting, when done well, is cooperative not competetive.

If parenting is a race at all, it is only won when you finish it together.

Cherese Clark

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