The Time You Spend With Your Kids Isn’t Important

Article by Erin Kassebaum, mediator, parenting consultant

“Hurry up, let’s go” is one of the things I say most often to my kids. Sometimes I get to the end of the day and realize the only time I actually spent with them was in the car, running between activities. Like many parents, I worry I don’t spend enough time with my kids.

In divorce, parents’ concerns about spending enough time with their children come out in full force. That’s understandable because divorce, by default, means each parent will have less time with their children. Thankfully the majority of parents are able to negotiate and follow a parenting time schedule that allows both of them to maintain a healthy relationship with their children, despite each having less time with them.

The good news is research proves that children are not negatively impacted when they spend less time with one parent or the other (Trinder, Kellet, & Smith, 2008). However, kids are impacted negatively when they don’t feel emotionally close to a parent (Trinder, et al, 2008). In other words, the quantity of parenting time is not nearly as important as the quality of parenting time when predicting a child’s adjustment and well-being.

Kids do best when parents focus on the quality of the time they spend with their children, as opposed to the quantity of time spent with them.

Despite this, a minority of divorcing parents find it necessary to account for every minute of time their kids spend with them vs. in the care of the other parent. While outwardly arguing over parenting time, these parents may be silently asking themselves: What if the other parent has a better relationship with my kids? Or more influence over them? What if my children have more fun with the other parent, or they like the other parent more? What if everyone thinks the other parent is a better parent than I am?

These questions fill parents with fear and insecurity, and cause them to think of parenting time as their entitlement, rather than their children’s lives. The result is a fierce competition over which parent gets more time with the kids. This competition does nothing to lessen the parents’ fear and insecurity and, even worse, may negatively impact their relationship with their children. Ironically, these parents often end up creating the very thing they fear most:  a weakened relationship with their children. The best thing parents can do to mitigate their fear and insecurity is focus on spending quality time with their children.

Parents who focus on fostering healthy, positive relationships with their children, as opposed to fighting over parenting time, are making the best choice for themselves, and for their kids. The children win because they receive love, attention and affection from their parents.  The parents win because they become more secure in their own relationship with their children and, by default, less fearful about the other parent’s relationship with them. This is a win-win solution to the parenting time competition.

Divorce Mediation – Do’s and Don’ts

Do have an open mind. The single most important thing to bring to divorce mediation is an open mind. The goal of mediation is to settle the case. Mediation is a collaborative effort between you, your spouse, your mediator, and your attorneys. Your mediator, as a third party neutral, will help you look at issues from different perspectives and generate objective solutions to resolve your case. It is important to be open to and seriously consider all possible solutions.

Do come prepared. Documentation is important because it helps your mediator understand the facts and reduces the issue of “he said vs. she said.” If you have concerns or grievances you want to discuss and you have documentation or specific examples which illustrate your concerns (such as emails, text messages, social media posts, school or health records, financial statements, journals, etc.), it is helpful to bring this documentation with you to mediation in case it is needed. It is also important to remember that mediators are not judges or decision makers and as a result, the documentation may or may not actually be necessary to reach an agreement.

Don’t withhold information from the mediator. It is important to be open and honest with the mediator. Mediation is a confidential process and as such, your mediator must keep settlement discussions private, so you can open and honest in mediation without fear that the information you share will be detrimental to your legal case. As needed, it is also possible to “caucus” or meet privately with your mediator and anything you tell the mediator in that one-on-one setting will be kept confidential from your spouse. This is the time to air all of your concerns and be honest about what you want so the mediator can best assist you with reaching a settlement that you can live with in the short and long-term.

Don’t bring family members or friends with you to divorce mediation. The divorce is between you and your spouse. Parents, siblings, and friends although well-intentioned, are biased by their love for you and do not have a stake in the outcomes. In trying to help and support you, their presence may actually have a detrimental effect on the mediation. Regardless of their age, your children should also not be involved in the mediation process unless you and your spouse have made arrangements for a “child-inclusive” mediation process. This is your life and your settlement will be unique to your situation, you need to make these important decisions for yourself.