Balancing Safety and the Best Interests of the Child

Father learning son to ride bike and balancing safety
May 1, 2018
|   updated:
July 11, 2023

Jean had recently asked her husband to leave their home because of his alcohol abuse. When she was making up her son’s bed, she found the phrase, “I miss my dad,” carved into a hidden spot on the bed frame.

Alyssa was an active 10-year-old who loved ballet. After her parents separated, she refused to go to dance class. A family counselor suggested that Alyssa was punishing her mother by giving up ballet, which she saw as something her mother wanted her to do.

When parents separate, regardless of the reasons, children’s lives are impacted. Sometimes children are able to verbalize what they are feeling. Sometimes they hide their distress. Parents often struggle with determining what is in the best interests of their children while dealing with their own complex emotions.

Defining the Best Interests of the Child

The phrase, “best interests of the child” – sometimes seen in the singular form “interest” – is one that is often heard when a child’s welfare is being considered. There is no single legal definition of what constitutes a child’s best interests. Clearly all children have the right to a safe environment, one in which they are given the necessities of life and are protected from danger. But children also need to know that they are loved and valued by the important people in their lives.

When a parent struggles with alcoholism, the impulse on the part of the other parent may be to remove the struggling parent from family life. In that way, the safety of the children can be protected. But that action sometimes ignores the emotional safety of the child. Children are more likely to feel emotionally safe and secure when they know that they are important to both parents.

Effects of Parental Loss at Different Ages

The absence of one parent from a child’s life can have different effects depending upon the age of the child. Very young children sometimes suffer developmental delays when their family situation is disrupted. Older children sometimes feel that they are to blame for a parent’s absence. During the school years, children who have only one parent who is active in their lives may feel different from their classmates.

The adolescent years, when children go through the process of differentiating from their parents, can be especially tough for children with only one actively involved parent. Teens may become overly passive, fearing to put their only viable parental relationship at risk. On the other hand, adolescence may be a time when anger over a missing parent surfaces and results in risky behavior.

Other Results of Parental Absence

Age-related effects aren’t the only results of parental removal. When a parent is prevented from seeing a child, the unique parent-child relationship is lost. Parents often share an enthusiasm for sports, music or science with a child. Perhaps they share something more unusual, like a quirky sense of humor or a particular style of communicating. As hard as the other parent may try, it can be hard to make up for the loss of a unique parent-child relationship.

In addition, when a parent is removed from a child’s life due to the parent’s alcohol abuse, the child often loses extended family members, such as grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. The loss of grandparents can be especially difficult. In today’s society, with the prevalence of two-career families, grandparents are often intimately involved in their grandchildren’s lives. Although some parents make an effort to keep the parents of their ex-partners in the loop, many others let those relationships lapse. Children often feel that instead of just missing a parent, they are missing one whole side of their family.

For all of these reasons, a program which allows a parent to remain in a child’s life can be invaluable to the child and helpful to the other parent. When a parent has been absent from a child’s life due to alcoholism, remote monitoring can allow the parent a way back in.

How Alcohol Monitoring Works

A parent struggling with alcoholism can use a monitoring system to regain parenting time. A clean test can show the other parent that he or she has not been drinking and can be trusted with the care of a child. Also, a monitoring system can help individuals maintain sobriety because they know they will be held accountable.

The Soberlink remote monitoring system uses facial recognition software to verify a user’s identity and tests for the presence of alcohol in the breath. The results of the test can be transmitted in real time and shared with designated parties. This system allows a parent who wants to demonstrate sobriety an easy way to do so. Then the other parent can allow the parent who struggles with alcohol to have parenting time without sacrificing peace of mind.

When a matter of custody or parenting time has entered the court system or social services, a monitoring system may be a way for parents to demonstrate sobriety and regain legal access to children.

Who Benefits from Monitoring?

Of course, estranged parents will benefit from being able to see their children again. But remote monitoring can also be in the best interests of the child, for several reasons.

  • Direct Benefit
  • When a parent is allowed back into a child’s life, the child may have renewed feelings of worthiness. Also, he or she regains access to the positive features that the parent provided without the risks and stress of being around an intoxicated parent.
  • Benefit Stemming from Other Parent
  • When the excluded parent is able to become an active parent again, the other parent may be freed from some parenting tasks and from some of the tension of serving as a single parent. These benefits are likely to spill over to the child.
  • The Benefits of Extended Family
  • Along with parental access, a child is likely to gain more access to that parent’s side of the family, along with its celebrations, traditions and heritage. The child is likely to have a fuller and richer sense of identity.

Determining the best interests of children will always be a balancing act, and never more so than when one parent suffers from alcoholism. But all parents have flaws, and an imperfect parent can contribute to the happiness and well-being of a child, as long as the safety of the child is ensured.

About the Author

Susan Adcox is a former teacher and a writer who specializes in generational issues, including parenting, grandparenting and family relationships.

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