Running OnlyDads and my fledgling McKenzie Friend service means having numerous conversations with divorcing men and women. Using a very broad brush, these advice sessions tend to fall into two camps. The first is where (usually men) for one reason or another, have a proverbial mountain to climb if they are to come out of their situation with dignity and meaningful contact with their children. The second (and I’m sure this will be recognised by many family solicitors and mediators) is where mum and/or dad are really “sweating the small stuff”. Such dialogue can be, let’s face it, infuriating!
One of the ways people make divorce even worse than it is already is by getting caught up in petty disputes. I can understand why this happens: arguing about who keeps the egg cups, or whether the kids come at 1pm or 3pm on Boxing Day can make you feel more in control than if you were thinking about the huge things that have to be sorted out and which are much more frightening to deal with.
I think we’re probably agreed that where you are now is not a great place to be. So let’s fast forward a couple of years. Where do you want to be by then? What do you really want – both for yourself and for your children? Jot down some goals and descriptions of your new life. Where are you living, who with? Are you still working in the same place? How much are you earning? What’s new in your life, what opportunities have all the changes opened up for you? How much time are you spending with your children, what is the quality of your relationship with them? What are the advantages for them of your separation (apart from more Christmas presents)?
Now fast forward several more years: your son or daughter is graduating or getting married (or even, heaven forbid, in hospital). Are you going to be able to attend with your ex? Unfortunately our adversarial legal system makes that rather less than more likely so please make your own decision that you will both be there, and keep this bigger picture in mind as you go through your negotiations/litigation. Keep asking yourself: ‘if I say/do this now, how is it going to impact my relationship with my children in the future?’
Fights over petty things are often triggered by feelings of unfairness. But nothing is fair in divorce, least of all for your children who didn’t ask for this. The truth is, nothing in life is fair and if anyone taught you it should be, they did you a great disservice. So get over it, move on, and remember that any conflict between a child’s parents does them far more damage than the separation.
If you do find yourself getting into the petty stuff, ask yourself:
- For what purpose do I want or need this?
- Is this really the issue and what I’m upset about?
- On a scale of one to ten, how important is this to me?
- And how important will it be in one year’s time? And ten years?
- How does it fit with my goals for the future?
- And if your children were asked about this (and I am not suggesting they should be) how would they answer? How would this benefit them?
Now step into your ex’s shoes and ask yourself: for what purpose are they refusing to agree?
Going through a separation or divorce may be the hardest thing you ever have to do. So get some support. People want to help but often don’t know how to and will be only too pleased to be given a specific task. Who can you ask to hold the bigger picture for you? Give them some of these questions to ask you if they see you are bogged down in unhelpful trivia and losing your way.
If all else fails, ask yourself: is this really who I am?
Recommended reading: Don’t sweat the small stuff by Richard Carlson. A great little book, really easy to read, full of wisdom which will make you smile and keep you on track.
Getting clients to ask themselves these questions makes perfect sense to me – they really can help keep things in perspective. What other tactics do professionals use? What has stopped you from wanting every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed?