According to TMZ, Ed Hartwell wants joint custody of his daughter with Keshia Knight-Pulliam. At first glance, it’s easy to say “hell nah!” After all, last year Hartwell questioned the paternity of the child Knight-Pulliam was then carrying, filed for a divorce after her pregnancy was announced and infamously went on “Page Six TV” saying that he felt she wanted a baby too soon.
There are a lot of reasons for hurt feelings—and judgment. Knight-Pulliam is America’s favorite little sister and one of the few child actors who has maintained success throughout her career span. But this isn’t television—it’s the real world. That means we have to look at this issue, and similar cases, with a big picture lens. This is what’s hard to see in the midst of hurt—or offended—feelings: When you create a child with someone the biggest challenge, the first test of your devotion to parenthood and selflessness, is putting that little one first. For those reasons, if Hartwell is not dangerous, the couple will have to share custody—in some form—of their daughter. Here’s why:
Children need their fathers. Yes, strong villages are great and we must appreciate loved ones who are supportive of parents in types of all familial structures. Still, youngsters uniquely identify with their mothers and fathers, and that relationship can only exist through bonding. Just like moms, dads are nurturers, protectors, providers, storytellers, fun-makers and disciplinarians. Both parents provide experiences and lessons that help children piece together their identities, and, perhaps most important, feel loved, honored and chosen.
Hurt feelings will heal. One of the most difficult aspects of parenting is making the sacrifice to put someone’s needs before your own. After a bitter breakup, emotions are raw and anger is often merited. Unfortunately, once you’ve entered into a lifelong bond with someone as a co-parent, you’ve forfeited the right to cut someone out of your life as a coping mechanism to handle the trauma—of course, all bets are off if there is physical or verbal abuse. There is one silver lining: Time does help close some wounds. Think of all the other traumatizing and hurtful things you’ve experienced in life—deaths, break-ups, job loss—and one thing is constant. At some point the sting doesn’t feel as intense. Unfortunately, when children are involved you have to deal with your former partner while you’re healing, and it’s hard/not fair/ f’d up. In fact, he or she can be 100 percent wrong but… you’re stuck with him or her. Eventually—if you do the work of letting go—the bad feelings will lose intensity.
Co-parenting provides a stronger perspective for child-rearing. While you’re in the rough spots of a relationship it’s hard to see the value of having a partner—particularly if you want to rip his or her eyes out. But your little one will innately have a connection with both parties (and their families); working collaboratively gives each parent insight on how to best support a child as he or she grows. It’s also great for balancing approaches to everything from discipline to interests. You are forever a team.
Children are innately truth-seekers. The desire to protect your little one from being hurt by an estranged partner is natural, and again, every effort should be made to avoid interaction with someone who has a history of abuse (Read: That does not mean jerks). However, if your child is out of harms way give him or her a chance to connect with the other parent—and never bad mouth an ex. Children are forgiving and resilient, and also honest and perceptive. They can tell who is on their team. If you believe your ex will disappoint your child—as hard as it is—you must still give them the chance to build a relationship with each other and help your little one build the confidence to share how he/she feels and eventually determine how to handle the other parent.
S. Tia Brown is the lifestyle director at EBONY magazine and a licensed therapist. She also believes in love and the promise that it gives. Follow her @tiabrowntalks.