I hear the statement “But it’s not fair” daily from clients, often several times an hour. “It’s not fair that I only see the kids 50% of the time.” “It’s not fair that the kids can’t see me on my birthday.” “It’s not fair that he/she gave up on the marriage and I’m the one suffering.” “It’s not fair that I can’t see or speak with my kid’s every day.” “It’s not fair that he/she was an absent parent while we were together and now she/he are super mom/dad.” “It’s not fair that I have to pay child support.”
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines fair as, “agreeing with what is thought to be right or acceptable: treating people in a way that does not favor some over others: not too harsh or critical.” Well that sounds reasonable. The definition of fair essentially means to have a reasonably kind and mutually respectful relationship with your child’s other parent for the sake of your children. Yet so many parents are saying what they are experiencing with their child’s other parent isn’t fair.
Like beauty, fair is in the eyes of the beholder. If you wanted something in your divorce and got it, chances are you would view the outcome as fair. If you wanted something in your divorce and didn’t get it, you’d view the outcome as unfair. What parents often forget is that divorce isn’t fair. Rarely is the decision to end a relationship mutual. Rarely do both parents feel only one parent should have all the decision making authority and time with the children. Rarely (never) do either parents in divorce end up financially ahead.
What the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition left out is that fair is a perception created by parents to meet their own needs and wants. And unless your needs and wants are met during the separation & divorce process, you’ll feel the process/ agreement/outcome is not fair. How do you shift your perception of fair? How do you get to a place with your child’s other parent where you feel the process/agreement/outcome is fair? 1) Look at the perception of fair through your child’s eyes. What does fair look like to him/her? This is where it can get tricky; Oftentimes parents claim their needs and wants are what’s best for their child. Their parental needs and wants ‘agenda’ ends up trumping the child’s needs and wants.
Fair to your child would be having intact parents, not separated ones. Fair to your child would be having parents who got along; Parents who listened to his/her needs rather than positioning themselves to be the better parent; Parents who didn’t create a tug- of-war with the child being the rope; Parents who accepted that divorce and separation isn’t fair, and rather than dwelling on it, made the best of it. Create a perception of fair in your child’s eyes. While his/her parents may not be together, at least they aren’t fighting.
2) Challenge your individual perception of fair. I often hear parents who are in the midst of creating a parenting plan that they just want it to be fair, but when pressed to define what fair looks like, they aren’t able to. “I think it’s fair that I have the kids full time.” “I think it’s fair that I make all the decisions for the children.” “I think it’s fair he/she only sees the kids twice a month.” “I think it’s fair that kids always spend Christmas with me.” “I think it’s fair that I plan all the kids’ birthdays.” “I think it’s fair that I spend the child support on XYZ. I deserve a little pleasure after all the work I put into raising the kids.”
When you find yourself saying these statements, what you’re really saying is, “I didn’t end the relationship. I think it’s fair that I get everything I want. He/she has to pay for the decisions they made.” “He/she was an absent parent when we were together, how dare he/she think they can now get more time with the kids now.” “I hate my child’s other parent more than I love my child” When you chose to fight with your child’s other parent over what you perceive to be fair, you are engaging in a conflict with someone you are choosing to hate more than you love your child. If you were genuinely putting your love for your child first, you would not be getting stuck on your perception of what’s fair with your child’s other parent.
3) Question your child’s other parent’s perception of fair. If you are struggling to figure out why your child’s other parent is so stuck on a certain topic or decision, question them on why they feel their position is so strong. And I don’t mean, “Why on earth do you think the kids should be with you 50% of the time?” – that will just get you an argument.
If you really want to understand where your child’s other parent is coming from on a certain topic or decision, it is imperative that you ask your questions without a tone and with genuine curiosity.
You may not always like the answer, sometimes you’ll have to reframe your questions to dig deeper, but if you ask the right questions, you’ll gain a better understanding of your co-parents perception of fair. For example, “Help me understand why it’s important to you that our children live with each of us 50% of the time.” 99% of the time, the other parent will answer with, “Because it’s fair.”
With genuine curiosity (not shock and disgust) ask a follow up question to dig deeper, “I understand that 50/50 is perceived to be fair for both of us, equal time with the children. That’s not what I’m asking. I want to know why it’s important to you.”