Can You Determine “Fair”?  One mom’s unconventional look at child support

When times get financially challenging for my family, I can count on my cheering section to prod, “It’s not fair!”  They point at my children’s child support arrangement, judge it lacking against what they deem would be fair, and encourage me to jump on the “take him to court” train.  Twelve years have now passed since child support entered my life, and with my second child and subsequent divorce, the number of players increased.

Aware of my friends’ desire to help, I assure them that I am aware of the court formulas and protocol.  I suspect that my children’s support would look different if formulas were applied, but for me, child support is not a matter for the courts.  It’s a father’s choice.  And I honor that choice, independent of the outcome.  This I know, is best for my children.

I want my children growing up surrounded by love, love that is untainted by guilt or restraint.  I want their fathers to love them freely, not constrained by court orders.  And while I see benefit to my children when that love translates into their fathers’ natural financial giving, I don’t see a lack of love when it doesn’t. 

It’s my job, as my children’s teacher to show them love in action.  Love is recognized when they see the lunch lady smile as she takes a quarter out of her pocket, giving it to a child for milk.  Her love, which formed as generosity, is very real and visible to my child.  If it was this giving woman’s job to hand out quarters, her intention of love could quickly be obscured by the mechanics of her duty.  What a shame it would be if all day long this woman gave quarters to children who never saw past the duty to the love that she transferred with it.  In receiving child support, I never want my children to think that their father contributed because he had to; that it was his job.  I want my children to experience their father’s natural contribution as an outward expression of generosity, of love. 

But what of the lunch lady who doesn’t look for a lacking quarter, how do I teach my children about love when money is not given?  That’s where it takes special eyes, eyes that look beyond an expectation to what is really there.  What does my child see?  As she peers into the woman’s face, she notices a kind smile that shows the child that she understands his disappointment in the lost quarter.  She sees tenderness as the woman places her hand on his arm, in a sign of comfort.  She sees love, expressed through empathy.  And watching the boy smile back at this lady, confirms that all is well.  Instead of focusing on the lack, my child is able to see the bounty of love.  I want my children experiencing the many expressions of their fathers’ love, not focused on one expression where lack could be perceived.

My children are very lucky.  They have fathers who care about them.  And they experience the many facets of love that each father gives naturally.  This expression has been free to take many forms beyond child support, and I know by my children’s smiles that they feel the love that each father offers. 

But what if their fathers chose to not show love in any form?  In that case, I ask, “is it fair for my child to constantly experience un-love?”  To well wishers that assert that money forcibly given is better than none at all, I’ve experienced differently.  In small ways, throughout life, I’ve felt what it is like to receive a forced gift, or participate in something when I know the other person would rather not.  And I’ve learned that no amount of perceived benefit can compensate for that lack.  In honoring me, I know that the experience isn’t worth it. So, I look elsewhere with the belief that life is more than fair, it’s abundant.  When faced with this same experience, I hope my children will un-cover this same realization.

In days when dentist appointments, gymnastic lessons, horseback riding lessons, and toner to print out book reports require additional resources, it gives me another opportunity to teach my girls, and myself, about love. On occasion, I share my observations about child support with their dads, but it is done without threats or expectation.  In that freedom, I create the possibility for their dads to respond as they are inspired.  In that freedom, I welcome the abundance that may just flow from me, for I know that all is well.  And do I think that is fair for my girls?  Very much so.


Ellen Kellner’s unconventional ideas encourage parents to nurture their child’s spirit, even through divorce.  Her book, The Pro-Child Way: Parenting with an Ex gives 46 specific Pro-Child solutions to everyday divorced parenting situations.

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