Honoring Mother’s Day in “the Best Interest of the Children”

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By Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

May is the month we give special recognition to mothers and mother surrogates for their unconditional love and selfless attention to our needs, hopes, and desires.

But I would also like to give a special “shout out” to one of our neighbors, who is a divorced mother in an exemplary co-parenting relationship with the father of her children. This is his week to be with their kids. He’ll have them all week until Saturday at 6 p.m., when he will take them to their mom’s house so they can wake up with her on Mother’s Day. That’s his Mother’s Day gift to her and to his children.

This is an obvious, appropriate choice to most of us. And, of course, she does the same for him when Father’s Day falls on her weekend.

Do they want to cut their parenting time short? Of course not! But they will because they know it is in the best interest of their children to have a strong, loving relationship with both their mom and their dad.

And they are right. In most cases (and there are obvious exceptions) the “best interests of the child” include having a close, loving relationship with both parents.

Ideally, all children would grow up with parents who worked together (whatever the family configuration) to ensure and encourage their child’s physical and mental well-being, happiness, security, intellectual growth, and socio-emotional development.

But, accomplishing this ideal requires a great deal of effort and self-sacrifice in the best of circumstances. And it can be particularly difficult for parents who are contemplating divorce, in the middle of a divorce, or already living separate lives. How do these parents balance their own happiness and well-being with their children’s best interests?

Florida Family Law Statutes 61.13(3) codify the factors that determine “the best interest of the child” in child custody disputes and the courts consider an amalgamation of these factors when making decisions about custody. One key example is the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close relationship with the other parent. And there are 19 other considerations including, the developmental needs of the child, the parents’ capacity to be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities, and the demonstrated capacity of each parent to act on the needs of the child as opposed to the needs of the parent.

Fortunately, parents can also consider these criteria on their own or during mediation to work out a parenting arrangement that is in the best interest of their children based on their own unique circumstances.

This week I learned of a divorced mother who agreed to relocate to where her children’s father was being transferred, so that her children could have a meaningful relationship with their dad. I also learned of a divorced mother who plans to remain living near her children’s dad, rather than move out-of-state with her fiancé. She’ll have a long-distance new marriage so that her children won’t lose regular and frequent contact with either of their parents.

These are exemplary mothers, who — without a court order — agreed to sacrifice their own self-interest to do what they know is in the long-term best interest of their children. And, of course, there are many other divorced mothers whose choices were less dramatic, but the outcome is still the same. These moms cooperatively adjust their own schedules to share parenting with their children’s fathers in various arrangements that serve the best interest of their children.

On this Mother’s Day, let’s applaud all mothers (and mother surrogates) who make sacrifices on behalf of their children every day. Let’s give a special ovation to those divorced moms who sacrifice their own self-interests so that their children can have a relationship with their dads. And let’s give a special shout-out to divorced dads who gave up “their” time with the kids so the kids could share Mother’s Day with their mom.
If you’re struggling to decide what type of parenting plan is in the best interest of your children, you might find mediation as an amicable way to “work it out”. Let me know if I can help.

Jamie C. Williamson, PhD is a FL Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator and Couples Counselor. She is an owner and partner at Amity Mediation Workshop, a mediation practice specializing in “friendly divorce” mediation and psycho-educational marriage revitalization sessions for couples. Dr. Jamie speaks frequently on relationship topics and authors the blog “Work it Out”. You can find her online at amitymediationworkshop.com.

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