I had a depressing mediation session today. A session like today’s makes me realize that mediation is an opportunity. But everyone is not able to take that opportunity.
The center of this couple’s conflicts revolve around their children.
Most couples I see fight. But when I mention their kids, I get smiles, and proud stories of how well the children are doing – or stories about concerns for the children, and how to shield them from parental conflict – or discussion about what each child needs – but usually agreement about these things. The child is having problems, or doing really well, or needs a writing or math tutor, or could benefit from meeting with a therapist – the tale is the same, from both parents.
The families where that is not what’s going on – stand out.
This dad, Albert wants their son, Billy, to play on the travel softball team. Travel teams require a huge amount of time commitment. They usually have 2-3 games per week – and in the NYC area, with traffic, it can easily take more than an hour to get to each one of those games. In addition, the team has a couple of weekly practice sessions, and Billy is also doing private coaching. All of this, on top of school and homework, is a pretty heavy load for a 9 year old.
The mother, Andrea, has asked Billy if he wants to play on the travel soccer team, instead! Replacing the devil you know with the devil you don’t?
I have to be careful here, because I don’t want to be biased in either parent’s favor. Yes, the travel softball thing is a crazy schedule. But – the kids who play travel sports tend to excel at sports through high school (and it can help with high school admissions (which is high-pressure in NYC, school-choice with applications, like applying to college only 4 years early), and college admissions (a girl I know recently got into Stanford because she was recruited by a sports coach.) In addition, kids on teams make friends more quickly, when entering a new school – because they have this close-knit group of other kids sharing an experience.
(Part of me feels like it’s insane and part of me wishes I had been able to manage the scheduling and put my kids on travel teams. Why I am a mediator – I can see both sides. But I digress.)
Billy is clearly aware of his parents’ conflicts. Billy told mom: “I feel like daddy won’t love me if I stop playing softball.” Andrea thinks Billy should play soccer, and applied to put him on a soccer travel team.
So – is it the travel team that is the problem? The softball playing? Or is it a power-grab – neither parent wants the kids participating in an activity picked by the other parent?
I worked with a very high-conflict couple, several years ago, as a parenting coordinator (a post-divorce process for couples who keep going back to court about their children,) and the parents actually had their 7-year-old going to 2 different dance studios and having classes and recitals at both studios, at the same time. Each of them wanted the chance to take the kid to dance class – so by golly, they each signed her up for dance classes. (They couldn’t alternate taking her? Because the need to avoid feeling like he/she LOST.)
Very dangerous, to frame things in that win/lose dichotomy. For many couples – thinking of it from the kid’s perspective can help guide the way to find the structure for the desired results.