Good Solutions Versus Better Solutions

Good Solutions Versus Better Solutions

Solving problems is not difficult. I can solve a problem just by telling you what you should do. In fact, that’s often what I do at mediation. It’s not that the mediator, in this case, me, is making decisions; it’s just that I’m suggesting a middle ground that neither party likes but that is not as bad as it could be if the judge decided. And so, the clients agree to disagree.

But there is almost always a better solution to be found if the clients (and their teammates) are willing to do the work. What’s critical is finding the root cause of the clients’ issue and fixing that, rather than slapping a band-aid over the problem. That’s what we do in Collaborative Practice; we find the source of the issue and address that.

One of the first hurdles the team must jump is determining whether the clients are speaking the same language. Often, they’re using the same words, but they mean different things. Here’s a perfect example: “Coming home late,” i.e., after curfew, to Dad means that his son is disrespecting him; to Mom, it means that Dad doesn’t trust their son.

See what I mean?

So, here’s how the issue presents in the divorce scenario. The clients have a fifteen-year-old son; the son’s friends are slightly older than he. Some of them already drive. They also have later curfews. On the weekends, Mom is fine with Son coming home by 11pm, but Dad’s curfew is a hard 10pm.

Mom calls Dad “rigid” and “inflexible.” Dad says Mom gives in too easily. And Son is caught in the middle.

Each blames the other for Son’s unexpected difficulties in school.

The mediator in me would discuss with each parent his or her concerns (all valid, of course). Then we’d explore some middle ground, perhaps an agreed-upon 10:30 curfew. Another option might be that they agree to disagree, with their son expected home at one time in one house and at another time in the other.

Either way, their son ends up angry with at least one of them (Dad), and possibly with both.

Let’s dig deeper. During their marriage, Dad was in the military and often travelled. While Dad worked, Mom stayed home with Son. Thus, Dad doesn’t have the close parenting relationship that Mom enjoys. His recent retirement, however, and sudden hands-on involvement at home, has now caused strife, leading both to the clients’ divorce and also to problems with their child.

Their son is resistant to therapy. Dad wants to force him to go, but that will obviously cause even more conflict between the two of them.

What’s the team to do? How can we help Dad “hear” his son? How will Mom “hear” Dad’s concerns? Many times, one of the team professionals, sometimes even the parent’s own lawyer, can “explain” the underlying concern while the entire team listens and “hears.” It’s easier to hear with the entire team’s support.

In tougher cases, a child specialist might bring the son’s voice (his interests) into the process. Or he might inject the child’s developmental needs into the conversation. Either way, this expert can alert the parents to their son’s interests, reminding them that there are other needs at stake outside their own. And both of them will likely listen better to the expert’s neutral voice than they will to their soon-to-be-exes.

Problem solved.

5 Responses

  1. Well written. Shows how the collaborative process can help people hear each other in a way they couldn’t on their own with their respective backgrounds, biases, and different perspectives, and can get to the root of each person’s “position” and what goals each person’s position is intended to achieve. That requires introspection that often is not active in interpersonal relationships.

  2. Great post on how the Collaborative process can offer more than mediation as a long term solution. Thanks, Joryn!

  3. Great synopsis, well said!

  4. Thank you for sharing this article. I’m especially pleased to have the son’s voice considered in the decision process. Often children’s processing of the family’s “undoing” is difficult. In addition, throwing counseling at a child during a difficult time in the family is only as good as each participants willingness to be “engaged” in the counseling process. Great article. Well-written.

  5. Thanks for your insightful article, Joryn! I appreciate you sharing about how the child specialist can help bring the son’s voice into the process. You are correct that since the child specialist is neutral to the parents, she or he can shift the focus to their son’s interests too and help the parents stop their positional tug of war.