Choosing the right person to care for your children if you are unable to do so is, of course, an important decision. For some lucky couples, it’s also an easy one. However, it’s not a given that you and your partner will agree on the right person or people to nominate for guardianship. In fact, disagreements between parenting partners are fairly commonplace in my work. Granted, these disagreements don’t often escalate to all-out fights, but they do often lead to heated debate.
Making a Guardianship Decision Doesn’t Have to be a Gut Reaction
When it comes to the care and wellbeing of your children, it makes sense to get a little heated. It’s an incredibly emotional thing to think about a world in which your children are raised by someone else. It makes sense to have a visceral reaction to your options. However, I often encourage parents to think again, after that initial, gut reaction. There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a potential guardian, including some that are intuitive and many that are practical.
If you and your parenting partner are disagreeing on who to choose as your child’s guardian, take a few steps back. Chances are, you are both relying primarily on your intuitive feelings and then are using practical reasons to support your stance. There is another, less combative, way to discuss your choices that will put you are your partner back on the same team.
Start By Making a List of the Attributes that You are Looking for in a Guardian
If you and your partner haven’t started discussing guardianship, this is the best place to start. Begin the conversation by taking some time apart to each make a list of the attributes that you are looking for in a guardian. Of course, this will include things like caring for and loving your child. It may also include logistical attributes like, lives in the same town or has the finances to support another child. Put those on the list, too.
Next, get together with your parenting partner and compare notes. Very likely, the majority of your list items will be the same. At least, the most important ones will be the same. That’s good. It gives you common ground from which you can begin the conversation. Next, each make a list of everyone you can think of who matches your list. Even if you have one or two specific people in mind, try to push yourself a little further. List absolutely everyone you can think of who might be able to care for and raise your child, if need be.
Remember that Potential Guardians Do Not Have to Be Family Members
As you are creating your list of adults you trust, remember that potential guardians do not have to be family members. If you have good friends who you trust and know would be good parents, include them on the list, too. Quite often, conflict between parents on the topic of guardianship comes from trying to “choose sides” of the family. A trusted friend might be a good way to compromise.
Set Aside Visions of the Future that You Cannot Control and Focus on Trust
In guardianship conversations, I often watch parents get sidetracked arguing about very specific visions for the future. Will the child continue to go to the same school? Will he or she be able to travel to see family on a regular basis? Will they receive the right kind of education or experience? In reality, it is impossible to control these things. If something happened to you and your children needed to be taken into the care of a guardian, life would look different than it does now. There might be factors to consider that aren’t present right now. So, more importantly than trying to control the future, I encourage you to consider potential guardians who you can trust to make good decisions. Think about the people in your life who can and have adapted to new circumstances and made sound choices. The most important characteristic in a potential guardian is that you trust their judgment.
Settle on a Group of People, Rather than One or Two
Remember, you don’t need to narrow down your lists and agree on just one potential guardian. Sure, it is helpful to have one listed as the primary guardian, but I recommend designating second, third, and fourth choices. If the moment ever arises when your guardianship designations come into effect, things may have shifted. Your primary guardian of choice may no longer be willing or able to take in your child. So, have back ups.
Now It’s Time to Have the Talk
Once you and your parenting partner have narrowed your choices down to a few, begin having conversations with those people. Ask if they are willing and able to care for your child, if the time should come. Share with them your preferences, parenting style, and philosophies. Engage them in conversation about your decision. And encourage them to form a special relationship with your child. Guardianship should never be a surprise, for the child, for the guardian, or for other family members. Surprise can often lead to denial, distress, and anger. Remember that this decision is all about what’s best for the child, so you want to make the potential transition as smooth and conflict-free as possible.
Help is Available, If You Need It
I know, these conversations are tough. Often, it can feel like it’s easier not to have them at all. But your discomfort now in making this decision will be worth it, if it is ever needed. Your effort now will offer clarity and calm in an otherwise terrible situation. If you need help, it is here for you. At Tyra Law, we take our time with each and every client to make sure that we are building an estate plan that is entirely customized to suit you. That includes spending time working through guardianship decisions and putting any funds, instructions, and preferences in place to provide for your child’s care. Let’s get started today.