I NEVER in a million years thought I’d be working with middle school-aged children. Thinking back, middle school was by far the HARDEST time of my life as far as understanding my identity.
It’s an interesting time in life because your ego is steadily building while you are simultaneously trying to mesh in with the collective. Some adults haven’t even mastered this yet. I still work on it myself.
So anyway, considering the tumultuous time that is middle school, I want to take a moment and consider the importance of our legal system’s idea of “The Best Interests of the Child,” and how parents play such an integral role in this.
Going into my third and last year as a middle school teacher while also attending a paralegal program at Arapahoe Community College, I think I finally realized one of the reasons why I needed to be a teacher for a time. Teaching has taught me the innate value of children. Many of us view them as too much work, too ignorant and unknowing, and even useless. However the truth of the matter is that children are seeds of pure potentiality. The only question becomes, what are we watering them with?
So, back to the law. In Colorado we stand firm behind the idea of the “Best Interest of the Child.” But, what does this mean exactly? Let’s explore.
Obviously, the best interest of the child conversation comes up in the midst of a domestic relations case involving parental responsibilities(custody). No matter the specifics of the case, it is apparent that the child is in a lesser position, and thus representation would be doing due diligence to advocate for the child’s needs.
The legalese states:
“The legal representative of the child, appointed pursuant to subsection (1) of this section, shall represent the best interests of the minor or dependent child, as described in section 14-10-124, with respect to the child’s custody, the allocation of parental responsibilities, support for the child, the child’s property, parenting time, or any other issue related to the child that is identified by the legal representative of the child or the appointing court.”
I want to explore in my experience how the bolded categories can plant DIRECT seeds into a child’s life, as well as what parents can do to influence positive growth for the child.
CUSTODY(Parental Responsibilities)- What are you teaching your child to believe about himself?
Since the word custody has many meanings and interpretations, I really like that Parental Responsibilities is the term for this now. Anyway, while from the perspective of the parent, the term “parental responsibilities” may seem rigid and duty-like, from the child’s perspective it is something else entirely. The child is receptive in this relationship. She is simply developing an understanding of responsibility through the parent’s actions.
I’ve noticed throughout the years that once I meet a child’s parent and read the energy between parent and child, I understand the child SO MUCH MORE. For example, kids who seem to not know who they are and tend to follow the herd and act out in school usually have parents who are constantly telling them how to be. (Don’t do this, look your teacher in the eye..) The kid in unable to develop faith in himself.
On the more severe end of the spectrum, parents who abuse their children physically foster the same sort of thing. IE: (school fights and the use of violence to solve problems.) In this instance, the child still doesn’t have faith in himself, he has faith in fighting.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO: Parents can aid in their children’s success stepping up to the plate, leading by example, being present, and showing the child the problem-solving and general life skills. If the parent is underdeveloped here, the parent can reach out and get help.
ALLOCATION OF PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES
This one is tricky. Obviously, since this is a domestic case, we can make the inference that the child most definitely knows that she has two parents. In a perfect world, the parents balance one another out when they are in a relationship. However, what happens to this balance when the couple is deciding to split?
Well, we know this can greatly distort a child’s perception of wholeness. Because our parents represent stability for us in our younger years, the destruction of a sense of balance here throws us off.
Because the child senses the stability and balanced structure of his life is being challenged, the seed planted could be: “My life is out of control. It’s my fault. I’m split in half. I’m no longer a whole person.”
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO: Parents can be honest with themselves and their children about their shortcomings, and remind the child that the circumstances ARE NOT because of her.
We know children cost money. We also know that children deserve to know that they are worth something. As a product of a single-parent mother, I’m well aware that sometimes this means strain on the adult involved. However, we must remember that we are constantly sending MESSAGES sent to the child that will be imbedded into their self-talk and understanding of themselves. Are you showing the child support? There are small and big ways to do this, and honestly, some of the smaller gestures mean more in the long run.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO:
Support can be as simple or as grand as:
- Making Phone calls
- Attending school/extracurricular events
- Trips to the park
- Birthday Gifts
- Listening(This one is highly underrated)
So all in all, I believe that parents have an awesome opportunity. (Notice I didn’t say easy or simple). However, small decisions can make major changes with the way your child views herself in the long run. Plant the seeds!