My father’s rippling

A professional vitae does not tell everything about a person, and I want to share a little more about my background for general understanding.  I ripple both my mother’s and father’s traumas, as you do for yours.  I want to tell you of ripples from my father, you see many and never know it.

My father was born in 1912.  He was a young man during the Great Depression of the 1930s. That was his formative time.  Later he joined the FBI for a while, that had an impact, he carried an authority in his presence.  He tried to become an artist with Disney, but they turned him down.  He was the first graduating class out of UCLA’s Westwood campus, and he played banjo in a band at night to put himself through Loyola law school.  He entered the federal court system and became a career civil servant in the federal courts, retiring and then working as a magistrate with the state bar.

You can see his ripple of the Great Depression in me.  There’s an energy, an anxiety, that drives my work ethic.  I am always working.  The way I relax, is to be working.  Not hard work, fortunately.  Meeting with a client, love that.  Writing; it’s okay, it’s not digging ditches, and reading, learning.  But I’ve got to be doing something, working.  I don’t like socializing, I should be working.  That’s the Great Depression, the need to find a job.

I was about 45 when I realized it, that want, that need to be “working” came from scars left by my father’s struggles during the Great Depression.  I’ve treated some Eastern European and Armenian families that have rippled starvation from a generation before. Once you see the influence of trans-generational trauma, its themes become clearly evident.  It’s like a color given to a pane of glass, the world is seen through the lens of want and need.

Hunger and starvation is neglect trauma.  I hate treating neglect child abuse. That is the worst, ugliest… Often, almost always, a symptom of neglect trauma is hoarding of food.  The child will take food and hide it in their room.  This is years after rescue, the child is still hoarding food (and stealing, children from neglect steal without thought, no impulse control, they take).  I hate treating neglect, it’s hard.

I have two older brothers born in the 1940s, ’47 and ’48, true baby boomers, both gone now.  I came along seven years later, born in 1955.  I’m Kennedy’s Camelot, the Vietnam war, and rock-n-roll from 1965 on.  I span the cultural revolution of authenticity and voice, one foot on either side   But my roots go back to the Great Depression and World War II, James Cagney and John Wayne, a different world, I ripple a different world, I span two worlds, two cultures.  Benny Goodman, Doris Day.  A different world.

I grew up watching I Love Lucy and Jackie Gleason on a black-and-white TV with rabbit ears that we had to fiddle with to reduce the snow.  It was amazing when we got our first color TV.  Only two shows were in color, both on Sunday night, Bonanza and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.  I owned a Daniel Boone coonskin hat (Fess Parker).  A different era.

Then things began to change, I was 10 in 1965, the Vietnam war began to emerge.  My brothers were 17 and 18.  They both went through the hard-core draft period of the war, Gary was never drafted, my brother Mark was, he served a tour over there.  We knew people, friends, “Did you hear about John?”  It’s quite the social trauma to have your high school friends come home in body bags.  As you can imagine, there was a lot of noise about that.  They shot some students on a college campus for making noise about our friends coming home in body bags.  We were killing our own children.  Neil Young; Ohio.

Just as an aside, lemme tell ya, there is no rush of excitement that can compare to coming home with the latest record by the Beatles or the Rolling Stones and putting it on your record player and hearing it for the first time.  Too unimaginably cool, that excitement.

The world grew authentic.  The alcohol fueled era of Frank Sinatra post-war trauma exploded into the children’s cries of pain, they broke free from false faces and found authentic voices, in race, in gender, in love.

Then the pendulum swung in corrective stability, a back-and-forth weave with change and consolidation, Reagan and the me-era, discos and coke spoons worn as jewelry about the neck.

Values changed.

During the cultural transformation of authenticity, values changed.  A re-stabilization occurred in some values, but not all.  Fueled by the authenticity of voice discovered and empowered in the 1960s and 70s, the 1980s began the era of divorce and the break-up of the family.

In the 1940s and 50s, parents stayed together “for the children” and divorce was a scarlet letter.  Alcoholism and domestic violence were high, but we just looked the other way, if we don’t acknowledge it then it doesn’t exist.  James Dean and Natalie Wood.

In the 1980s and 90s, things changed, it’s “better to get out of a bad marriage” than subject the children to all the fighting and conflict became the theme.  Our values had changed.  We were no longer tolerating an absence of love, we wanted love in the marriage.

Good, bad, or indifferent, that doesn’t matter.  It occurred, families are evolving.  What it means to be family is reorganizing itself.

We remain in a cultural battle surrounding race, and gender, and love, as well as a voice for moral standards on a variety of sides, but we are NEVER going to return to the low divorce rates of the 1930s and 40s.  The world has changed, and cultural values surrounding family have changed, and are changing.

Divorce is part of our family landscape.  Divorce ends the marriage, not the family.  As long as there is a child, there will always be a family, because that child unites two families, two family lineages, two family heritages, into the very fabric of the child’s being.  For a child to reject either side of family is to reject half of themselves.

Divorce ends the marriage, not the family.   When there is a child, there will always be a family.


We must integrate divorce, the family’s successful transition into a healthy separated family structure, into our family courts.  In most normal-range divorcing families, the child custody visitation schedule is agreed upon by the parents prior to the legal proceedings to dissolve the marriage.  That’s normal and healthy.

In normal-conflict families, the parents cannot reach an agreement between themselves on a custody visitation schedule, and they need the judge to decide. This represents a failure in their parental obligations. It doesn’t matter who, if it matters who then it’s you.  In divorcing and divorced families it is the obligation of the parents to keep inter-spousal conflict low for the child’s benefit.  If you’ve got to split as a spousal couple, that’s fine, just do it.  Don’t make a lot of noise and conflict about it, that’s not to the child’s benefit.  If you’re going to litigation rather than finding a cooperative mediated agreement, that’s a failure in parental obligation.

I don’t care by who.  If you care about who, it’s you.  You need to solve this between the two of you or in mediation, figure it out, that is your responsibility as a parent.

Yet normal-range parental conflict surrounding the divorce event is understandable. It remains normal-range because of the context of spousal conflict surrounding divorce.  Both parents love the child, that’s a good thing.

Normal-range conflict surrounding the divorcee event is often because one-or-both parents wants a primary school-week schedule for themselves, with every-other-weekend provided to the other parent.  The most common argument offered is that the child needs “stability” relative to their school-week.

A number of logistical factors affect the initial court order for custody visitation.  It doesn’t matter.  To clinical psychology, either schedule, any schedule, is entirely fine, we can create healthy families and healthy parent-child bonds with any reasonable custody visitation schedule.  As far as clinical psychology is concerned, the court is free to select whatever schedule seems appropriate to the circumstances, that’s typically either a 50-50 variant or an every-other-weekend schedule.

If you want the recommendation from clinical psychology, as clinical psychologists we’re not allowed to hurt people, anyone.  To restrict a parent’s time and involvement with their child would hurt them, and the child.  We’re not allowed to hurt people.  So the recommendation from clinical psychology is that each parent should have as much time and involvement with the child as possible.

That way, no one is hurt.  If there’s arguments, we fix them. If there’s child abuse, we diagnose it and protect the child.  If there’s no child abuse, then each parent should have as much time and involvement with the child as possible.

Normal-range conflict families cannot agree on the initial post-divorce schedule because both parents love their child and want to spend oodles-and-oodles of time with the child.  That’s fine.  The judge makes a decision and everyone lives with it, and everything is okay.  Because family conflict is not caused by child custody schedules.  Whatever it is, week-on/week-off, mixed 50-50, every-other-weekend and a day during the week, even school-period/vacation-period if it has to be that way, all of them work just fine.

We can have wonderful healthy relationships in all of those different custody visitation schedules.  So in normal post-divorce family conflict where the parents can’t agree with each other about who has when with the child, then the court decides and that’s it, and everybody adjusts and it’s fine.

A Pathological Parent is Present

Then there are the so-called “high-conflict” divorce cases.  These are families with high-intensity spousal conflict, often having overtones of child abuse or IPV spousal abuse allegations, and they are extensively litigated post-divorce conflicts.  Divorce requires one round of court involvement, perhaps two for complex financial entanglement, or three.  But beyond that it starts to become excessive except in the more complicated of financial entanglements.

In most cases, dissolving the marriage and the division of property is relatively straightforward.  As for the child custody schedule, pick the one that seems most appropriate, the recommendation from clinical psychology is that each parent should have as much time as possible.

In the normal-range conflict surrounding the divorce event period, the parents cannot agree on a visitation schedule so they come to a judge for a decision.  That’s a problem, but understandable, the court can render a decision and move them forward.

Normal parents don’t litigate disagreements in court. They talk it out, and they work it out.  Because they are normal humans.  Normal humans have the capacity to reach agreements.  We’ll forgive you this time and the judge will help you along becasue we realize the spousal stresses of a divorce.  But don’t make it a habit.  It’s your parental responsibility to reach agreement.

Surrounding the divorce event it’s easy to see where active spousal tensions causing the marital break-up can add stresses, and with both of them loving their child so much, they want to be with the child, it is relatively understandable that sometimes parents can’t reach agreement on the post-divorce visitation schedule. Then talk to the judge about this as part of the divorce and marital dissolution process and the judge will make a decision for you on the custody visitation schedule.

Normal people follow court orders.  Once the judge decides and says what the custody visitation schedule is, normal people accept that and work with that.  Judge says.  That’s the end of it.  Judge says, then that’s what we do, end of story.

But then… there are a group of families who come back to further litigation.  Why?  That’s not normal.

It’s because the child is refusing the visitation schedule ordered by the court.  THAT, is something severe.  I’m a clinical psychologist, and my presenting problem is defiance of a court order and rejection of a parent.  Something very bad is going on in that family with that child.

Normal parents solve child custody and visitation without court involvement.  Children don’t reject parents.  Both of those are highly abnormal.  There is something severe here.

In a normal-conflict family, the parents need the court to make the initial determination of the custody visitation at the divorce event.  Then everyone abides by the court ordered custody visitation schedule.

That’s it.  That is the range of normal. Normal-normal and normal-conflict, they agree or the judge helps.

So what’s this about a child defying a court order?  It’s because the child is rejecting a parent?  That is severely pathological.  Something bad is going on with this child, that is not normal.

If a child is rejecting time with a parent, that’s a potential child abuse situation by the targeted-rejected parent.  We need to get on that immediately for a child abuse risk assessment of the targeted parent.  Are you kidding me, a child is defying a court order – a child – is defying a court order.  THAT is mega-serious.  The child is rejecting a parent. THAT is mega-serious.  That is two mega-serious things.

Now if… if… the targeted parent is NOT an abusive parent, then that makes it simply that the child is defiant of a court order.  No child abuse, the child is simply defiant of a court order.

How does a child become empowered to defy a court order?  Who stands to benefit from the child’s defiance of a court order?

If there is child abuse, protect the child.  If there is no child abuse, then who is teaching the child that it is okay to defy court orders?

It has to do with our values.  Court orders are to be followed.  That is a fact.  We teach our children that.  That is a foundational social value.

If a parent cannot teach their child to follow court orders, that is a pretty serious failure in parenting, and perhaps the court should consider the other parent as a more fit parent simply based on the ability to teach the child to follow court orders.

Normal conflict accepts the judgement of the court. One of these parents is outside of normal-range.  Either a parent is abusive of their child, or the psychopathology of a parent does not recognize the court’s authority, and it is seeking to manipulate its desired outcome by creating pathology in the child.  The parental psychopathology returns to court with additional conflict, attachment bonding conflict, surrounding the established custody visitation schedule.

Look to the allied parent – the one who stands to gain – as the source of the extended litigation conflict, the one who is “protecting” the child, i.e., empowering the child to reject the other parent and defy court orders.

A child rejecting a parent is an immediate differential diagnosis of child abuse by the targeted-rejected parent.  That needs an immediate risk assessment by a clinical psychologist.

If it is not true, if the targeted parent is not abusing the child, then the child is being taught by the allied parent that defiance of court orders is acceptable.   From a clinical psychology perspective, that is extraordinarily bad parenting.

Teaching Children Values

Our traditional family structures changed in the 1970s and 80s, during a period of revolution in self-authenticity (Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In; Eric Clapton and Cream).  The world is not going back – divorce, and the reorganization of family structure is here.

And there are values.  We, as parents, teach our children values.

We respect the law and the authority of the court.  That is a fundamental social value we teach our children.  I understand authenticity challenging unjust laws, that’s not here, in this.  This is about a parent-child relationship and a court’s decision on the visitation schedule.  Court authority is not subject to rejection by the child.  We teach our children to respect parental authority, and most definitely we teach our children to respect court authority.

My father worked for 30 years in the federal courts, and then for the state bar.  I ripple his values of respect for our legal system.  There are three co-equal branches in this government of the people, we respect the courts.  I understand there was Dred Scott. We change.  I respect our courts.

I span the cultural epoch from I Love Lucy to marriage equality.  We have stumbled through many cultural transformations.  We need to take a breath, look, and begin to make reasoned decisions on our path forward with families.

If a family returns to court after the initial divorce event is settled by court judgement, there’s very likely to be pathology.  Normal is solving everything without court involvement.  Normal-conflict is having a judge decide.  The judge decided.  Now what’s the problem?  That’s not normal.  Attachment pathology in the child?  Look to the allied parent, they have the most to gain from creating pathology in the child.  Have an immediate risk assessment of the targeted parent’s parenting practices.

If the targeted parent is not abusive, then the allied parent is attempting to nullify the court’s authority and court’s decision by creating pathology in the child.

Work Ethic; An Invisible Courage

My father commuted from the suburbs of L.A. to downtown for thirty years, couple hours each way in Los Angeles.  Gas was 23 cents a gallon.  He was exhausted from the commute and stress at work, working for and with federal judges can be intense for 30 years with a drive.  I remember him lying bearlike on the living room floor, propped on an elbow eating a large bowl of cereal and reading his Scientific American to relax.

My dad was a quiet hero, working hard, providing for his family, the values of the 1930s and 40s; the steel worker in Ohio, the autoworker in Detroit, the farmer in Kansas, a 1930s and 1940s mentality of work ethic – a lifetime given to one company, raising a family, and getting your pension.

He died in the 1980s, my mom died in 2010.  His federal pension took care of her for thirty years.  I’m impressed by that, he took care of her for thirty years after he died, because that’s the mentality of the 1930s and 40s.  Work hard, do the right thing.

There were also many-many things wrong with the mentality of that time, from racism to fascism, mustard gas and child abuse.  And there are the founding principles of our social compact, our laws and our system of justice, there are values that if not always enacted still remain as our guide for what we do, now.

Divorce ends a marriage, not the family.  When there is a child, there will always be a family.  We must help families transition through the end of the spousal bond and into a healthy separated family structure following divorce – a normal-range divorce.

Key to accomplishing a normal and healthy family is teaching the child appropriate values of right and wrong.  The court’s authority is to be respected, and the court’s orders are to be obeyed.  That is a fundamental value we teach our children.

Who has influence on the child, the targeted parent or the allied parent?  Who has influence and is teaching the child values, the targeted parent or the allied parent?  From whom has the child learned that it is acceptable to defy court orders, the targeted parent or the allied parent?

If a parent is not sufficiently competent as a parent to be able to teach their child fundamental values of social requirement, then perhaps the court should consider this an indication of unfit parenting and reconsider decisions regarding the degree of parental influence on the child.

I don’t know about you, but my father taught me to respect the authority of the court.  If the court has ordered a custody visitation schedule, a child’s empowerment into defying the court’s authority is deeply troubling.  The first concern with a child rejecting a parent is child abuse by the targeted-rejected parent.  Get that assessed immediately, is there active child abuse?

If, however, there is no child abuse.  Then a child’s empowerment to defy court authority is a deeply troubling indictment of the allied parent’s parenting capacity.

Revisiting Divorce – Revisiting Families

It’s time for professional psychology and the legal profession to revisit their collaboration in solving family pathology.  The judge is not the family therapist, the judge decides, and the court’s orders are to be followed.  Each parent should have as much time and involvement with the child as possible.

Altering child visitation schedules is only warranted for child protection considerations, such as parental failure in an area of primary parental responsibility, such as getting the child to school, to medical appointments, and in following requirements set by the court, and in cases of child abuse, which requires an immediate child protection response and should be accompanied by a DSM-5 diagnosis of child abuse.

If there’s conflict, we fix it.  Normal people have the capacity to fix things.

We start with teaching the child basic values.  There’s right and wrong.  We teach our children to respect the authority of the court and to follow court orders. If a parent can’t do that, can’t teach the child that fundamental social value of respecting the authority of the court, then that is an extremely problematic failure in a fundamental parental responsibility.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857

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