Fight! Fight! Fight?

Pretty much nobody gets enthusiastic about receiving the monthly electric bill. But pretty much nobody becomes apoplectic, tearing their hair, writing letters, disputing the charges, or refusing to pay either. The monthly bill from the electric company is an annoyance. "Maybe the fridge is too cold" is about as involved as any centered human is likely to get.
Whereas people frequently pay tens of thousands of dollars to family lawyers hoping to save $20 a month in child support payments.
You're not emotionally connected to FPL. Whereas you may still have feelings for your ex-wife. Those feeling may not be love. Passion comes in many flavors. Because as everyone knows, love and hate are as close to each other as they are far from indifference.
I occasionally have the distinct unpleasantness of appearing as an expert witness in a placement hearing for a minor child. In a recent case, Mom felt strongly that School A would be the appropriate venue for her daughter's subsequent education. Dad favored School B. Dad felt that whatever school mom wanted must be wrong. Mom felt that dad was responsible for hiding Jimmy Hoffa's body. Dad felt that mom had killed Arch Duke Ferdinand precipitating Europe's descent into the First World War.
You get the idea.
I was prepared to testify that School C might be the appropriate compromise position, that the young woman's academic, emotional, and social needs might be met there. Oddly enough, neither of the attorneys asked for my opinion about placing the actual child. Instead, my testimony went on for some time about which of the parents should make the decision. There was also some discussion regarding the fitness of mom and dad to be parents. They both seemed nice enough to me. If I had to mention one character flaw, it might have been their pronounced inability to let it go.  They seemed connected to continuing the fight.
Oh, and did I mention how long this couple had been taking each other to court? How long have they been employing attorneys? How long had they been calling in educational consultants to testify? They had been divorced since the baby--now 17 years of age--was three months old.
More experts testified, psychologists, psych-edumetricians, psychiatrists. Lots of words were spoken. There were many words that occurred to me as I watched the proceeding. "Rational" was not one of those words.
A Martian having recently emigrated to our planet, knowing nothing about our educational system, our courtship mores, or our judicial process could have solved this issue. "It doesn't matter so much where this child goes to school," (translated from the Early Martian by the author). "If her parents would stop dragging her into court, she might be OK."
Many of my readers know that my dad worked as an attorney for something over half a century. He always tried to teach his clients that "a bad settlement is better than a good lawsuit."
When you think about fighting, you have to think about how the fight will impact your child. Do you want to fight with your child's teacher about a grade? If so, you may teach your child that a good grade is more important than her figuring out how to talk to a teacher on her own. Do you want to fight with a coach over whether or not a little girl on the other team scored a goal? If so, you may teach your child that winning is more important than having fun. Do you want to fight with your ex over every trivial aspect of the divorce settlement? If so, you may teach your child that your animosity for her other parent is more important than your love for her.
Recently divorced parents argue: "It's not as simple as that." Yes, actually it is. S-I-M-P-L-E. If you fight, the attorneys will get all your money. You are unlikely to get any satisfaction.
There are any number of reasons to fight. 1) I want to model for my children that I'm not a pushover. 2) What's right is right. 3) That crumb bum stole my youth, lied to me, slept around. 4) I have to be true to myself. 5) I need the money.
There is only one reason not to fight. Not fighting is better for your children.
Speaking of my dad, here is one of his favorite Robert Frost poems. I will leave to the interested reader to determine the connection between my musings this week and the following nine lines. If you equate "fire" with passion and "ice" with hiring attorneys to sue your ex, you'll agree with me: as far as our children are concerned, the only way to win is not to fight.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

2 thoughts on “Fight! Fight! Fight?

  1. Michael Warszawski

    Thanks for the terrific article David. By coincidence, I’ve read two great books related to conflict resolution recently, “Nonflict” by Stephen Hecht and Amir Kfir, and “Friend and Foe” by Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweizer. Empathy, communication and, as needed, de-escalation, are important tools for addressing and, hopefully, resolving conflict. To end with another beautiful Frost poem:

    We make ourselves a place apart
    Behind light words that tease and flout
    But, oh the agitated heart
    ‘Til someone find us really out

    ‘Tis pity if the case require,
    Or so we say, that in the end
    We speak the literal to inspire
    The understanding of a friend

    But so for all, from babes that play
    At hide and seek, to G-d afar
    So all who hide too well away
    Must speak and tell us where they are

    Reply
  2. Stacey Cunitz

    I’ve been reading your newsletter for years and just recently found out that one of my good friends from college is your cousin 🙂

    I was glad to make that connection.

    Reply

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