Politics and divorce have a lot in common when you think about it. There are two different sides, an array of commentators, and the parties exhibit entrenched thinking from which they find it nearly impossible to budge. Luckily, there are some moments of cooperation in both politics and divorce—and there’s no reason why there can’t be more.
My colleagues and fellow bloggers, Drs. Lauren Behrman and Jeffrey Zimmerman, recently wrote that one of the biggest obstacles to coming to an agreement in divorce or politics is catastrophizing—responding to something perceived as negative with an “end-of-the-world” mentality. People engaged in politics may see the election of a new president as an ominous sign that their very way of life is in danger. Likewise, parenting plans and support schedules can make someone who is a party to a divorce feel as if their way of life is ending.
Over the course of my career as an attorney and mediator, I have witnessed this many times. More and more often, though, divorcing parents are reaching across the aisle and rising to the occasion to put the needs of their children first.
This could mean agreeing to a nesting arrangement where the home essentially becomes the children’s home, with each parent alternating times being there with them. Nesting provides continuity and consistency for the kids, but it can be very stressful, and often expensive, for the parents. Another example is a parent who agrees to give up the right each year to spend a certain holiday with their children so that the children can continue to enjoy long-standing traditions spent with the other parent’s extended family. This parent may feel sadness thinking that he or she will never be with their children on Thanksgiving, for example, but believes it’s more important for their children to spend time with the cousins they only see once a year.
Rising to the occasion for the sake of your children is difficult to do under the best of circumstances, but it’s even harder when there is a Greek Chorus of family, friends, hairdressers, dog groomers, etc., telling you how to feel and how to act. While friends and family may have the best of intentions, they really are no different than the assembled pundits on cable news channels; all they have are opinions, and many of them turn out to be wrong.
The phrase “Be the change you want to see in the world” is often attributed to Indian pacifist Mahatma Gandhi. In reality, Gandhi said:
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.”
Personally, the actual quote from Gandhi speaks truer to me than the pithy bumper sticker quote we have all seen. It is both political and personal, for the greater good as well as the betterment of one’s self. Gandhi is saying that only through changing ourselves can we set an example for our families, friends, and neighbors.
Divorcing couples who are doing everything they can to stay out of court and put the needs of their children first may not be thinking of themselves as an example for how members of society with different political views could be talking to each other right now, working together and focusing on the future, but they inspire me to think that way. And I thank them for leading by example for how to find common ground and do what’s best for our families and our society.
Vacca Law & Mediation
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New York, NY 10165