Shifting our focus can help us resolve conflicts.
I met with a couple who used mediation for their divorce, about 14 years ago, and wanted to resolve a new conflict in their restructured family. The mother emailed me to tell me that they were having trouble figuring out the credit that the father should get for the child’s room and board expenses while he is in college.
She implied that they were having a lot of conflict, that the children spent almost no time with their father, and that the parents communicated infrequently (and only via text).
I feel nervous before the meeting. I was worried that the distance of the years that have passed would turn the whole thing into a screaming match. Instead, it turned out that the parents have really pulled it together to support their children in a way that I found very moving.
The mother started out by saying that she also agreed that her receiving child support while her son is away at college, and she’s not feeding him, didn’t feel fair. This lowered the temperature in the room, because father felt understood, and he didn’t have to “fight” as hard.
They told me about how their son is having some challenges, and the mother found a boarding school program for him to attend. The parents weren’t speaking much at that point, so the mother just put together the money to pay for a year in boarding school. The father said, “She did an amazing job. She probably saved his life. I didn’t have the money to pay for my half of that school, but in the future, if I do, I will pay her back.”
Since they both acknowledged each other’s needs, the rest was simple calculation. We finished up, and they left. When I came out of my office, about 15 minutes later, I saw them standing together outside, up the block, talking to each other.