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Co-parenting & Divorce: Losing Your Northstar

When some parents are separating they can lose track of their North Star. They forget the guiding principles of child-centric decision making.
(4 min 29 sec read)

Hon. Sherrill Ellsworth (RET)
Judge Ellsworth was one of the court's most respected and admired bench officers. She retired from the bench to focus on having a greater impact on today’s families by making our courts more accessible, effective, and efficient.

The North Star, also known as Polaris, is unlike other stars. She stays (almost) still, barely moving. Polaris gives guidance, stability, and dependability to even the weariest of travelers. It is a constant in an ever-changing, challenging, spinning universe. When lost, look to the North Star to find your bearings and stay on course.

If you ask most parents, they will tell you a singular self-truth; “I love my kids and I want to be a good parent.” For the most part, parents live up to their guiding principles to nurture, protect and love their children. For parents, their North Star is to be that good parent. Those core shared values give clarity and consistency in a world of unknowns, confusion and some scary things. Children of parents who are stable, reliable and cohesive – thrive. The course is charted and their travels secure because of mindful guides using the North Star for a safe passage home.

When some parents are separating they can lose track of their North Star. They forget the guiding principles of child-centric decision making. They lose sight of the importance of working together for their children’s benefit. Without a North Star or a consistent point of immovability, the “way” becomes as cloudy as a wintry night sky void of clarity. Parental decision making is based on the benefit to the individual adult (or in reaction to the other parent) as opposed to benefit to the child.

Children can become the wreckage in the choppy waters of divorce. Simply put, two great parents who love their kids often become two individual parents who have shifted their focus, their balance, their ability to see as good parents see. Now more than ever these children need their parents to be consistent, stable, dependable and reliable. The children of parents who abandon their North Star have had their Universe explode before them.

As a veteran family law judge, I saw this play out all too often in vivid and tragic consequence. Two parents, good people, good parents and members of the community walk in the courtroom door and a mist of change begins to cloud their judgment and within moments they are no longer parents who have a symbiotic conviction regarding their kids well being. Soon this new altered state has them believing their own nonsense mantra that every battle, every fight for good fighting principled sake is  “FOR the KIDS!” “I am doing this for my kids” but, it is not.

Embroiling in a heated custody war unless protecting a child against some REAL abuse is not good for kids. It adds a heaving mess of confusion to the upheaval of kids lives. And the once protected and thriving children begin to show disturbing signs of distress and emotional wear and tear because the secure anchored life they once knew is no longer tethered in consistent good parenting decisions or guidance. It is hard for children to feel secure when there is an ongoing conflict which is directly related to them. All the reassuring affirmations of love do little to take the pressure off kids if the action is to continue the acrimony.

When parents temporarily lose their ability to parent in a conjoined and polestar manner then more often than not children are left to fend for themselves emotionally and often physically as well.

Hold onto that thought, it is quite frightening when viewed a bit more holistically.

Children who are left to their own emotional “upbringing” are more likely to make choices consistent with their age and maturation as opposed to what is best for them. If you ask a three-year-old whether or not she would like to have inoculations chances are she will decline, that is why she needs a parent to weigh the pros and cons to make the decision for her.

This will be true for drugs, alcohol, internet, sex, and other decisions that are better served when a loving team, of supportive adults, is working together to help guide children through potential pitfalls and painful experiences. Children need protection, love, and structure. No matter how far off course, no matter how lost or how far from center the dial has been moved, there is always hope.

Stop, breathe, reset, reboot, rethink, review and rekindle as you recommit to your personal North Star, “I love my kids and I want to be a good parent.” Just like any wayfarer lost there is a simple remedy lookup, get your bearings and remember the basic principles by which you governed your life when conscientiously parenting. You can reset your parental GPS and be a strong and unwavering influence of good to your coParent if you recommit to the unconditional love, support, protection, nurturing and care of your child.

You may feel so lost that you need more than just a personal course correction. You should not hesitate to engage a therapist, call a mediator, and or sign up for the coParenter App that can help you find your true North again. There are professionals and professional tools that can guide you back on track. You do not have to do this on your own. Children do better when their parents are navigating the challenges that children face together in a cohesive and thoughtful manner.

As coParents, you can be sailing in two ships following the same North Star for the sake of your kids.

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