You can tell a lot about a society by looking at its children.
Of course, we want our children to be successful, happy, and healthy. We help them overcome obstacles, teach them right from wrong, offer them encouragement, protection, discipline, and support.
Life is hard sometimes, and, like the rest of us, children must endure difficulty from time to time.
This is particularly true when it comes to divorce.
It is common for children of divorce to experience occasional problems.
More than 1 million children are affected by divorce and family separation each year. Half of those children will be exposed to the harmful effects of parents who remain in high conflict.
Children raised in such an environment are four to five times more likely than others to develop serious emotional and behavioral difficulties later in life.
But it is not the event of divorce itself that has the greatest impact on a child.
It is the actions parents take during and after the divorce that make the difference between a child who is well-adjusted and the one who is scarred for life.
The choices divorcing parents make significantly impacts their child’s adjustment to their family separation. To help their child navigate divorce successfully demands that parents keep a vigilant eye out for obstacles that can harm their child.
They have the power to create a family story that fulfills their vision for both themselves and their child, even amidst divorce.
The key is a commitment to ensure the safe passage of the child through this significant life change.
In addition to offering traditional therapy for individuals, couples, and families, I have the privilege of serving as a parenting coordinator.
Parenting coordination is a non-adversarial dispute resolution process often court-ordered or mutually agreed on by divorced or separated parents who have an ongoing pattern of high conflict and/or litigation regarding issues having to do with their children.
The process is designed to reduce the amount of damaging conflict between care-giving adults to which children are exposed, and to diminish the pattern of unnecessary re-litigation about child-related issues.
In short, I try to shift the focus from conflict to caring for the children involved.
I try to remind parents that they must love their children more than they may dislike or despise one another.
Sadly, some parents never really learn how important that is to their children. They continue to fight, carry grudges, and try to hold sway over their former spouse, frequently punishing their children with unnecessary conflict because of their inability to control their co-parent. This often leads to great conflict between the children, as well as the co-parents.
But more often than not, listening happens, apologies are made, and the call to love and care for the children jointly and equitably comes into focus, and the children benefit greatly.
After all, children only do as well as their parents when it comes to divorce. The burden is on the parents to recognize the critical importance of honoring what is in the best interest of their children.
Turn on any cable news network, or pick up virtually any newspaper from anywhere in the land and you will discover that we, as a country, are in need of a parenting coordinator.
The ongoing feud between political parties — the worsening trend of affective polarization where each side dislikes the other more than they love their child, the nation — is putting great stress and strain on our country. You can see the enduring effects of this acrimony on the psyche of America.
We are divided.
Because, in part, our parents — the Republicans and Democrats — simply refuse to look at one another, to acknowledge wrongdoing, to apologize, to listen, to speak calmly, directly, and passionately, and to work to find solutions that serve what is in the best interest of the nation.
As a result of the conflict, we have adopted our parents’ style of infighting, resistance, name-calling, mud-slinging, negativity, criticism, and contempt. We have turned against one another.
We have allowed lies, half-truths, and misinformation to take the place of honest, truthful dialogue about matters that are important to us all. Sound bytes and memes have replaced thoughtful and intelligent discussion about things that we may agree or disagree about.
Being right has become paramount, such that taking care of one another and trying to learn the art of compromise have been just about forgotten entirely.
We have developed a severe and complicated emotional disorder as a nation. We need help.
Children will only do as well as their parents. The nation will only do as well as its leaders.
Republicans and Democrats are scoring terribly in their ability to co-parent a nation. High conflict, infighting, and crisis are the fruits of their labor. When will it stop?
Let us not allow our parents’ inability to listen and work together to destroy us. We are old enough now to demand better, to do better, to ask for what we need, and to expect more. If they won’t do it, we must.
For starters, let us stop thinking that those who disagree are dumb or wrong, and just listen instead.
Dr. Jonathan Eric Carroll, KLPC, NCPC, NCCE, is a state-licensed mental health professional, is an ACPE Psychotherapist, and is the Founder of The Clinic @ The Montgomery in downtown Owensboro. Dr. Carroll serves as the Grief Therapist for six funeral homes in the region. He also co-created and cohosts “You’ll Die Trying,” a podcast available everywhere. Visit www.themontgomeryclinic.com.