My mother was a single parent with two children to raise in the inner city of Los Angeles. She was also a godly woman who believed in “doing the right thing.” I used to complain about it all the time: “Why do I have to forgive or apologize first?” “Why do I have to let them get away with being mean?” But what I did not understand was that even though the odds were against her, my mother was setting the stage for a family life based on values and integrity.
As a child growing up, I didn’t know exactly when my parents divorced. I knew my dad left us in California to go back to Texas. I also knew that he rarely called us or checked on us. But I can’t remember when I actually stopped believing that he was going to come back home.
Clearly, since my mother had to take care of us by herself with no child support and almost no contact from my father, she had sole custody and sole decision-making. Looking back on it now, as a family law attorney dealing with child custody battles on a daily basis, I realize that my mother truly had the ability to put our best interests over her own. Her own parents were married for over 50 years, and having had every expectation that her marriage would last forever, my mother’s divorce was a bitter disappointment to her. I don’t think she ever completely recovered from my dad leaving her, but she never once tried to alienate us from him or destroy our impression of him in order to make herself feel better.
In custody cases, too often one parent belittles, criticizes, shuts out, or verbally destroys the other parent in the eyes of their children. I had a case once where the mother refused to let her son be coached by his father on his sixth grade football team. She told him the details of his father’s transgressions and that his father had abandoned them both, ultimately resulting in the little boy hating his father. She called me seven years later because her son hated having his father’s last name and wanted to change it for his eighteenth birthday. What she also said was that he was an angry young man who was mean to her, disrespected his stepfather, and had a hard time in his relationships with girls. With a bitter 18-year-old man on her hands, she deeply regretted sending her son’s father out of his life. Sadly, it was too late; the damage was done.
In choosing to follow Jesus’ example on the cross, my mother was able to protect her children from some of the harsh realities of divorce and parental alienation. Destroying a child’s impression of their other parent can sometimes destroy part of the child.
Today, more so than ever, when custody is determined by the Court without regard to gender, Christian women in custody disputes have a spiritual and moral responsibility to do the right thing. Your children will be better off in the long run, and someday when they are grown, they will thank you for it.