When it Comes to Divorce, Sharing is Caring

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m getting divorced, and the only thing my soon-to-be ex-husband and I agree on is that we want what’s best for our children. He’s been talking about joint custody and co-parenting and I’m leaning in that direction. But a friend of mine who went through a nasty divorce a few years ago says that joint custody never works out and that I should go for full custody. What do you suggest?

A: At the risk of sounding harsh, my first suggestion is that you spend less time with your friend. She may have had a bad experience, but that has nothing to do with you. The fact that you and your nearly ex are putting your children’s need first tells me that you’re going to prove her wrong.

Assuming that there’s no history of violence or abuse (and I’m sure you would have mentioned it if there were), it’s almost always in the best interests of the children to spend as much time as possible with each of their parents. The best way to accomplish that goal is with “shared parenting” (sometimes called co-parenting). Joint custody sounds nice, but it can mean anything from having the kids live half time with each parent to having them live 80% of the time with one parent (usually the mom), with the other relegated to visitor status. With shared parenting, both parents have the right—and, maybe more importantly, the obligation—to be actively involved in their children’s lives and to agree on major decisions that affect the children (the big ones usually involve health and education).

Joint custody benefits everyone, according to Wake Forest University Professor Linda Nielsen. She cites research showing that children in shared parenting situations do better academically, emotionally, psychologically, and socially. As young adults, these children have better relationships with both of their parents than those who lived primarily with one parent (again, usually the mom). Shared parenting benefits the parents as well. Former couples who share parenting are overwhelmingly happier with their custody arrangements than those who don’t. They fight less and are more satisfied with the overall outcome of their break-up.
Shared parenting does not mean that you have to spend huge amounts of time with your ex or that you have to agree on everything. A study that followed 120 shared divorced-and-co-parenting couples for 20 years found that half of the couples were “cooperative but not friends,” meaning that they made decisions together but didn’t have much contact with each other. Twenty percent were “dissolved duos” who cooperated with each other but had no other contact, and 10 percent were “perfect pals” who saw each other frequently. Only 20 percent were what the researchers called “angry foes.”

Judges tend to like shared parenting too, because they have to deal with fewer angry, squabbling parents.

Some critics of shared parenting—such as your friend—have claimed that it’s used as a way for one parent (usually the dad) to decrease child support payments. There is absolutely no reliable data to support that claim. In fact, mothers who share parenting with their ex are “just as satisfied as the sole residence mothers with the money they were receiving from the father,” says Nielsen.

On a different note, many readers know about the Mr. Dad Seal of Approval, which recognizes products and services that support and encourage father-child relationships. We’re gearing up for our 2014 Winter awards, and the deadline is looming. So if you know of a company that has products that fit the bill, direct them to mrdad.com/seal

How Believers and Non-Believers Can Create Strong Marriages

Dale McGowan, author of In Faith and In Doubt.
How religious believers and nonbelievers can create strong marriages and loving families.
Issues: Negotiation tips to set the stage for harmonious relationships; dealing with pressure from extended family; helping kids make their own choices about religious identity; handling holidays, churchgoing, baptism, circumcision, religious literacy.

Successful Co-Parenting + In Faith and In Doubt

Karen Bonnell, author of The Co-Parents’ Handbook.
Raising well-adjusted, resilient, and resourceful kids in a two-home family
Issues: Building a mutually respectful co-parenting relationship; keeping children at the forefront while protecting them from adult conflict and concerns; helping children build resilience and competence in the face of family change; successful strategies and protocols for living in a two-home family.

Dale McGowan, author of In Faith and In Doubt.
How religious believers and nonbelievers can create strong marriages and loving families.
Issues: Negotiation tips to set the stage for harmonious relationships; dealing with pressure from extended family; helping kids make their own choices about religious identity; handling holidays, churchgoing, baptism, circumcision, religious literacy.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Have you noticed lately that a lot of your favorite toys from the 80s are making a comeback? Some, of course, never completely left—they just moved to less-prominent shelves and were overshadowed by the latest and greatest. But others seem to have suddenly resurfaced, like zombies returning from the grave (except they don’t bite and we’re generally glad to see them). Either way, despite those promises you made to your parents that you’d never be like them, you may find yourself giving your own children the very same toys you played with back in the day.

Care BearCare Bears (Just Play)
Bringing toys out of retirement can be a risky business. In many cases, the new ones are similar, but they sometimes look as though they’ve been run through a funhouse mirror: legs too long, eyes too wide, head too small, etc. Not so with Care Bears. New-generation ultra-plush Bears look very much like the old ones. And their mission hasn’t changed at all: teach kids about responsibility, caring, sharing, empathy, and being a good friend. That’s a pretty big job for a little bear, so it’s a good thing they still have those magic “belly badges,” just in case they need a little help from Care-a-lot. Care Bears come in a variety of sizes and retail for $3 to $25 at places like Target and Amazon.com

Doodle BearDoodle Bear (Just Play)
Doodle Bears are sweet, cuddly bears that you can create your own artwork on. When you need a new look, just toss Doodle in the wash (in a pillowcase or “delicates” bag), hang him out to dry, and you’ve got a brand new canvas. The original Doodle Bear comes in three colors, or you can get the Glow Doodle Bear, where kids do their doodling with light. Each one comes with special, Doodle-Bear-Only markers (Glow comes with a magic light pen and stamps). Available for $20 and up at your favorite retailer.

k'nexK’nex (K’nex)
K’nex have been around for ages, and are one of America’s top building sets. They have unique shapes and snapping pieces, bricks, struts, and big, flat swatches to hold the pieces together. The old sets were pretty free-form: dump the pieces out on the living room carpet and build whatever you want. Today there are all sorts of targeted sets that are based on old classics like Nitendo’s Mario and today’s sensations like Plants vs. Zombies (in this case, it’s a zombie-fied football helmet). But just as it was when you were a kid, your imagination is your only limit. Most sets work with each other, so the more you collect, the more you can connect. You may even be able to combine your old ones with your child’s new ones and take the building-bonding experience to a whole new level. Prices vary greatly, depending on the size of the kit. Available at retailers everywhere or at http://www.knex.com/

movie viewerFisher-Price Classics Movie Viewer (The Bridge Direct)
While not exactly an 80′s toy—the first Movie Viewers were introduced in 1973—the new versions look just like the ones we played with as kids. And despite being very low-tech, they’re just as much fun. Movie Viewers work exactly the way they did when you had yours: slide a cartridge into a slot, and turn a hand crank to play the “movie.” You can go forwards, backwards, fast, or slow.  Comes with two cartridges (one for learning letters, the other for numbers). If you still have your old Snoopy cartridges, they should work too. No batteries required. Available for about $30 at https://www.fatbraintoys.com or http://www.fisher-price.com/

Good Manners Might Just Be the Most Important Thing You Can Teach Your Kids

Nobody likes a screaming, disruptive, out-of-control kid, even yours. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but, there it is. ADHD is a serious disability with serious social consequences. But not every unpleasant child is suffering from ADHD. Many of them are suffering from something just as annoying, but a lot more treatable: bad manners.

Experts draw a clear link between spoiling a child and the development of bad manners. Parents spoil their children with the best of intentions. But the results are almost always bad. There are reasons why giving a child everything she wants is a really bad idea, and can lead to poor behavior down the road. Here are some manners every child needs to learn, and why a spoiled child finds it so hard to learn them:
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