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COLUMN: Children are a blessing, not a commodity

  By Kathy Bruflat Schrad

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South Dakota Shared Parenting

A first-hand response to the 44,600 cases where child support is provided:

For both my daughter and son’s lives, I was a single mom, no child support or government assistance. Their fathers were unavailable and unreachable. I always felt, “if I am an excellent mom, why would they need a dad in their life?” I took full responsibility for raising them and continued to put my children first, but in the end, my daughter longed for a father. I would have given anything to have someone who loved both my son and daughter as much as I did. Although we buried my son four years ago and my daughter is now an adult, she is thankful that we have my husband in our lives.

Now I am the step-mom, but I prefer to think of myself as the new mom with new sons. We have been married for a year and a half, and in that time I have observed many things.

My husband’s sons have all been led to believe that dad is a deadbeat because their mom “pays” for everything — clothing, shoes, haircuts.

They also believe their mother suffers when we as parents encourage them to pursue activities outside of school. For an extra three days per month, she receives 45 percent of his take-home pay and 60 percent for all medical/dental.

We love our time with the children, but the only opinion in the end that is considered is their mother’s. As typical stories go, we have all the old clothes, she the new ones at her house. If we need a nice, button-down shirt and a new pair of jeans, she will oblige for a special occasion — but they have to be returned the next day.

In our home, we make it a point to allow them to take their favorite item, their new shoes, to either home because in the end, those things belong to them. The visitation schedule is frequently reinterpreted to suit her needs; necessary orthodontic care, that should have been started over a year ago, is inexplicably delayed. If there is a question that needs an answer, we frequently find out the day of, when the kids are unceremoniously dropped off at 6 a.m. or the question is ignored and dragging out months.

Our oldest, who wants to participate in youth group, is only allowed to on our time. The youth group, when he is with her, meets on a Sunday morning with one other member. In spite of having offered to drive him there and back, it is a flat “no and don’t go there.” Our son’s response, “as long as it has to do with you and dad, it will always be no.” I didn’t realize youth group had anything to do with us.

It’s hard to accept that in South Dakota, 44,600 families are broken where one parent is deemed better than the other, especially when both are equally fit parents. Children are a blessing, not a commodity to trade in. Our laws need to protect the relationship of a child and a caring and loving parent, not alienate them. There is no recourse for a noncustodial parent, save litigation, to work things out with a custodial parent.

The only ones who benefit are the ones who work professionally in the field, the attorney who guarantees the best deal, never mind the children. I’m always amazed to read how their mother’s attorney’s description of my husband is someone I have never met.

Children are a blessing, not a possession. Parenting shouldn’t be a game of chess to see who can put which parent in checkmate. The South Dakota Bar Association is against Shared Parenting for equally fit parents — they don’t benefit from it. The current system is broken, and I’m certain that is not in the best interest of the children.

-Kathy Bruflat Schrad, of Renner, is a member of South Dakota Shared Parenting, a group that advocates for equal-parenting rights.