The long run

The long run

Youngsters eventually develop positive traits learned from each parent

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 03/25/2014

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Dear Patti,
I’ve been divorced seven years and both my ex-husband and I have remarried. We share custody of our only child, Haley, 14, and there’s no doubt that she feels loved by all four parents. I’m deeply grateful for this but sometimes it concerns me that my ex and his wife don’t have the same academic, cultural and religious values as my husband and me. 
  
It’s extremely important to me that I can one day look at Haley and see an educated, enlightened and spiritual woman. My husband and I opted to pay for private school for her because it’s so important to us. My husband is a classically trained musician, sees her musical potential and wants her to join a youth choir which she’s readily agreed to do.

Haley learned the love of sports from her dad and, with his support and involvement, has been playing soccer since she was 6. Her stepmother likes to take her shopping, teaching her style, design and social skills. Haley loves going places with her stepmom as well as having a father who’s focused on her athletics. 

As much as I appreciate their involvement, I truly believe that what’s important to my daughter’s future isn’t always recognized by the two of them. For instance, if Haley has an important paper to finish, it takes second priority to soccer practice. Should I talk to my ex-husband and his wife about my concerns? We’ve always gotten along well and I want to be sure to keep it that way.

— Sarah

Dear Sarah,
As wonderful and loving as they are, it’s not unusual for someone in your situation to feel that your ex-husband and his wife may not be raising your child as you would if you had full custodial control. Shared custody sometimes involves compromise, but it also provides the benefit of added irreplaceable love and support. 

It’s common to have different ideas, opinions, values and priorities, but part of being successful in a collaborative parenting relationship is to be able to communicate with each other so that differences can be expressed, received with respect and worked out together.

If you decide to a have a parent meeting share your concerns and talk about the challenges of four of you all wanting to share different loves and values and to support different aspects of Haley. Share with them how fortunate she is in being mentored academically, artistically, spiritually, socially and in athletics. It’s truly wonderful that Haley is so loved by four distinctly different individuals and has the unique opportunity to learn from all of your respective talents; accordingly, she will probably end up being a very well-balanced person. 
It’s particularly important that the differences aren’t viewed by Haley as dissension or unresolved disagreements between her parents. Otherwise, she’ll want to please all of you and could feel responsible, guilty and worry that she has to take sides. She may even feel caught in the middle. This is especially true if she believes that since the problems are related to her it must be her fault. 

Let Haley know that if she feels overloaded or torn in different directions to let you know so you can help her work through it. Explain to her that you understand she’s growing up and will want more and more to decide for herself what’s important to her. Reinforce that you want her to feel safe to express her passions and her true nature.

There’s nothing wrong with letting your daughter know how deeply important her education and spiritual growth is to you. Sometimes children and teens don’t seem like they’re learning your most valuable lessons, only to see these same values expressed later in life. It’s as if the fruits of your parental labor lay dormant during childhood and the individuating years. This is especially noticed when adult children are parenting their own children. When young toddlers learn to speak two languages at the same time, for instance, it may slow down each language for awhile but in the end the child learns two complete languages. 

While Haley may seem distracted or slowed down in one area or another when focused in so many directions, in the long run it sounds like she will be an evolved young woman you will all be proud of.   

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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