In December, parents often manage the stresses of crowded shopping malls and busy holiday calendars by focusing on the rewards you have come to expect from the holidays--mainly, meaningful time with your children and loved ones.
This blog is devoted to the hundreds of thousands of parents who won't be seeing their precious children during the coming holidays. And it's not because they don't want to. Believe you me - nothing could be further from the truth.
These parents are decent, loving, hard-working and law-abiding members of our communities- from teachers, nurses, doctors, authors and hair stylists to engineers, artists, actors, massage therapists, police officers and attorneys.
So what or who is keeping these parents and children apart?
A corrupt and broken family court system is forbidding millions of decent, loving parents from seeing or sometimes even speaking to their kids at this special time of the year.
The family court is where a couple goes to get a divorce, and increasingly, these courts are actively destroying loving relationships between parents and their children. Those hardest hit are parents trying to protect their children from an ex-spouse who is struggling with domestic violence, child abuse, drug or alcohol addiction. Sadly, this is a much larger number of parents than our courts would like to believe, and the family courts' backlash against parents who are simply trying to protect their children is severe.
More than 58,000 children each year in America are being court-ordered to either visit unsupervised or live with a parent that is harming them, while their safe parent is punished for trying to protect them. Can you even begin to imagine the pain you would feel as a parent in December, surrounded by Christmas carolers and bombarded by toy commercials, knowing that an unjust court decision is keeping you from your children?
Consider this column a holiday plea. It originates from years of listening to unthinkable horror stories emanating from our nation's family courts.
1. If you've got a friend or relative going through a difficult divorce, please show up for them. Call and check in on them. Carve out time to truly listen. Offer to accompany them to their next hearing. They desperately need your support. Remember that the courts are dangerous for protective parents, and your friend or relative is doing all that he/she can to navigate a twisted system that all-too-often rewards bad or criminal behavior with increased custody time.
2. If you meet a parent who tells you that they can't see their kids this Christmas, give them a hug, and tell them you're sorry.
3. If you happen to know a child who is being denied contact with a loving parent, remind that child that their estranged mother or father loves them very much, and let them know that they are fighting to see more of them.
For Vicki, Patrice, Jayraj, Cindy, Merrie and the hundreds of thousands of other protective parents (you know who you are) who won't be hugging your precious child at all during this holiday season: stay strong for your kids' sake. Keep the faith that one day soon, justice will prevail. Keep speaking up, and keep fighting for your kids' safety. You're all that they've got, and they are counting on you. You each inspire me daily with your undaunting courage, tenacity and love for your children.
For Damon, Suraj, Sujay, Nicholas, Patrick, Caitlin, Paul and the hundreds of thousands of kids being denied a loving relationship with your mother or father: know that your parents love you very much, and they would do anything they could to be with you during this holiday season, if the court would only permit it. Some day, you will understand. Right now, I know that it makes no sense at all. Just know that you are deeply loved, and that nothing -not even baseless court orders- will ever dampen your parents' love for you.
For everyone else, as you tackle your holiday "to-do" list and feel the urge to gripe about holiday stresses, please take a moment and think again. Be grateful for the time that you have with your children, and your ability to love and nurture them. For that is a parent's greatest gift of all during this hectic holiday season.
P.S. To learn more about how to fix the broken system, please visit Center for Judicial Excellence.