I hope that young children were not still up and watching the *Academy Awards broadcast when Will Smith got out of his seat, walked up the concourse, and forcefully slapped Chris Rock for making a poor joke at the expense of his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. But even if children didn’t watch it live, they are likely still being exposed to the ongoing coverage and analysis of this startling event on social media and mainstream media. Disagreement abounds over which man was most in the wrong. Some posters and oped writers try to justify each man’s actions. There have been thoughtful critiques about toxic masculinity in our culture, and how it inevitably leads to violence of one kind or another. Many believe Chris Rock was bullying Jada Pinkett Smith by publicly mocking her bald head, especially given her alopecia. Some respond that comedians insulting celebrities at “star-studded events” and roasts has become something of the norm and is to be expected. Some say Will Smith’s retaliation was also bullying behavior, since Smith was trained to box like a professional for the film Ali and is much bigger and stronger than Rock. But others respond that his response was justified to “protect” his wife. (I confess, I thought Pinkett Smith’s grimace of disgust and exaggerated eye roll at the weak joke was a pretty potent response in and of itself). What does this whole event model for our children, who emulate adult behavior? Is mocking others, especially for things they can’t control, ever justified? Does saying “Just kidding!” after a cruel remark make it okay? Should bystanders go along by joining the mocking laughter, or do they have a responsibility to call out bullying behavior? Is lashing out aggressively after a perceived put-down ever justified? Does being “in the heat of the moment and not thinking clearly” make an impulsive violent response, okay? Should bystanders go along by saying nothing, or do they have a responsibility to call out violent behavior? What does this event say about how women and girls should expect to be treated? In the Me Too era, a time when native women have disappeared in shocking numbers, when human trafficking and domestic violence are still huge social problems, we know that women do need the strong protection of laws and social norms. Is this kind of protection the same or different than what happened at the Oscars? If you haven’t already, I encourage you to watch the documentary “When We Were Bullies.” This film was also featured briefly at the Academy Awards as a nominee for best short documentary. Ellen Bruno, the creator of the masterful film Split about the children of divorce was a creative consultant for this film, which is extremely well done. It focuses on a 5th grade bullying incident and the lingering effects, 50 years later, on those who participated. Like this essay, it raises important questions and examines context and perspective, but does not aim for simplistic resolutions. As parents and adults who care about children, we need to have open conversations with them, and ask curious questions about bullying behavior vs. respectful behavior and the difference between control and power. We need to ask ourselves what it really means to create safety for others, and what responsibility we all share when safety is violated. And we need to always be aware that the most powerful tool in the adult toolkit is modeling the behavior we want our children to emulate and taking responsibility rather than blaming others for any time we (as humans) fall off the high road. *Since this article was written, Will Smith has apologized publicly for his inexcusable behavior at the Academy Awards ceremony. He has been banned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Awards ceremony for 10 years. Author: Deborah Clemmensen, M.Eq., L.P. is a Neutral Child and Family Specialist in Collaborative Practice and Family Law firstname.lastname@example.org
Frustrated with the world of politics today? Unless you are reading this from your hospital bed, having just awakened from a long coma, I am going to guess the answer is yes. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, it’s likely that you have about had it with all of the acrimony and with the arguments being made by “the other side”. Probably the one thing we can all agree on is that everyone on “the other side” is quite disagreeable, both in their opinions and their manner of expressing their views. If you have bravely ventured out into the world of political discourse in an attempt to influence “the other side”, whether at a gathering of friends or family, or on some social media site, there is a pretty good chance you came away even more frustrated after the experience. Any naïve thoughts you may have had about the other person changing their mind likely hit a brick wall that, by the end of the exchange, had become, if anything, even stronger in its resistance. If “the other side” argued back at you there is a pretty good chance that your brick wall got fortified as well. You and “the other side” achieved the very opposite of what you both wanted to achieve, and you both were left in a state of frustration. As a divorce lawyer, I am struck by how similar all of this is to how most couples behave when they are in conflict. I am hoping there is something about watching these political arguments that may create a true learning opportunity for these couples. The reality that I just described; the dynamic that most arguments lead to chaos, frustration, and a deepening of divisions is an important insight. And what better time to learn it than when you are going through a divorce. Trust me, as someone who has “been through” numerous divorces, the maddening events that are playing out on the political stage, bear an amazing resemblance to conversations I have regularly observed in my office during the past three decades. Two people, seized with emotions, bent on getting another person to agree with them, stay awake at night thinking of great arguments to persuade their spouse that they are right, or worse, thinking of “good” attorneys who can do that for them. If you are in the middle of it (either politics or divorce), you are likely so caught up in your frustration with “the other side” that you have little insight about what you are doing that is actually making your life worse. However, if you are able to stand back, if only for a moment, both with the political arena and arguments with divorcing couple, it is fairly easy to see that all we are doing is pouring gas on a raging fire. Once you come to that realization, you may find yourself wondering what the alternative might be. Our inner voice immediately retorts that “we can’t just give in”, thinking, from the standpoint of our ego, that fight or flight are the only true options. Is there a third option? There is. It has different names, but the most common phrase that negotiators use is “interest-based bargaining.” I will skip that jargon and simply call this alternative “dialogue” for the moment. Dialogue, in the sense I am using it, is one of those ideas that is simple but not easy. It starts with the idea of letting go of arguments and changing minds and focusing instead on seeking common ground or at least a basis for common understanding. What I have observed, at least with divorcing couples, is that if we can reframe the discussion away from “arguments to change minds” and on to dialogues aimed at achieving common understanding, it is possible to achieve common goals. This type of dialogue is a central tenet of something called Collaborative Divorce. To learn more about Collaborative Divorce, go to www.collaborativelaw.org. In the meantime, watch what is happening on the political stage and see if there might be some valuable life lessons that will help us become a better nation, and better families. About the Author Ron Ousky, JD, is a Collaborative Attorney and mediator who has dedicated his practice to making sure that families facing conflict understand their options. He believes that families facing divorce are in a unique situation to make a better life for their families and he is dedicated to helping them find the resources to build a better future. For more information about his practice go to www.ousky.com
Children begin their lives constantly observing and emulating our use of language. A baby watches, listens and models her mother’s face saying “Ohhhh,” moving her own lips to form the shape of that sound. A toddler in his car seat repeats the word his parent blurted out when cut off suddenly in traffic, usually to the great chagrin of the parent. My 5-year-old granddaughter cocks her head seriously and says, “Well, actually, the most interesting thing is…..” just the way her mom does. Knowing they are listening, seeking to understand, and emulating how we talk, adults must be mindful of what we say and how we say it in the presence of children. This may be especially important during the life crisis of a divorce, when children are already feeling vulnerable and anxious. Similar to being cut off suddenly in traffic, negative emotions during a divorce can quickly heighten, along with the risk of blurting out words one will later regret. When under stress, the guard rails filtering words can become wobbly or fall off altogether. It’s not just angry, sarcastic, insulting words that children internalize, it is also the meaning of those words in the context of relationships. Children are deeply hurt and frightened when parents fight with each other, and not infrequently, will beg them to stop. What does it mean to them that the two most important adults in their lives are attacking each other this way? We live in an era when disrespect, insulting and belittling words and verbal abuse are regularly tweeted out in all caps. Sadly, this has the effect of normalizing unfiltered language. This is hard enough to manage as an adult but giving vent to verbal rage will never be anything but damaging to a child. So, what can parents do if they feel triggered? They need to slow it down. Two simple techniques to help create more mental and emotional space under stress are:
- Mindful breathing: taking at least four deep, slow belly breaths before responding; and
- Softening your eyes: focusing on relaxing the muscles around your eyes so they fall back into their sockets.
April is Autism Awareness Month, the two month anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and the 19th anniversary of Columbine. Why talk about ASD and school shootings in the same sentence? And why a divorce blog? I will get to that. But as a lawyer-mom, these two issues are at the forefront of my mind, and probably the minds of many parents and educators these days. We should rest assured that our kids would know what to do during a lock-down because they have spontaneous drills throughout the year, right? Ugh…what am I saying? The fact that kids NEED lockdown drills is downright outrageous! Nonetheless, I wondered what the younger kids are told and what happens during these drills. Well, lucky me, when I recently volunteered in my son’s elementary school classroom, the school had a lock down drill. And one word sums up the experience: chilling. Lockdown drills are very different from the fire and tornado drills we had as kids. I’m sure everyone remembers the fire drills – exit the classroom quickly and get away from the building. Or the tornado drills – go out to the hallways, away from the doors and windows, and cover your head with your hands. Up until about 1999, THOSE were the drills Minnesotan kids experienced. In fact, most the time, much to our teacher’s chagrin, we were laughing and joking around. A lock down drill, however, has a very different vibe. The kids must be EXTREMELY quiet. They huddle into a specific area and are instructed to remain eerily still. This had been a bustling class (and school) just moments before, but now it was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. This was a class of 30 second graders, so I was stunned at the deafening silence. Just when I thought it was over (it seemed like forever, but was probably two minutes) someone rattled the door handle. Forcefully. Not a peep from the kids, but I jumped. Luckily, they didn’t see me or they might have erupted into giggles. We had to continue to remain quiet and motionless. Interestingly, I don’t remember what happened next; that is, I don’t recall if there was a bell or another signal indicating the drill was over (I think I was sort of in shock). The kids went about their business, working on their projects, like it was no big deal. Only it was a big deal. At least it was to me and the other adults in the room. I just looked at the staff, wide-eyed, and shook my head. School lock downs are now a reality for school-aged children. It makes my heart ache. I asked my son that evening why they have lockdowns and he nonchalantly said it was in case anyone wants to break into the school. That was it. Simple enough. But as we grown-ups know, there is nothing simple about this. My son is a “mover and a crasher,” so I was relieved he made it through the drill. But I thought about the other high-needs/special-needs kids in his school. For any child who has physical needs or doesn’t cognitively understand the drill, simply can’t be quiet and remain calm, needs to move, or overreacts when accidentally bumped or touched by a classmate, what would that child do in this drill? Or, God forbid, in a REAL situation? With more and more kids being diagnosed with ASD, what protocols are in place for them? Is there a special section in their IEP about drills? There ought to be. This made me think about special-needs kids whose parents are going through a divorce. The teachers are aware of kids’ needs (or should be). So, too, should the divorce team. A child’s symptoms often reemerge or worsen when they are stressed, which could happen during parental conflict and/or separation. Child specialists can work with the parents and the child’s pediatrician and/or therapist to help create a parenting plan that is in the child’s best interests. Like it or not, otherwise fit and loving parents need to work together for there children’s sake. Fortunately, the Collaborative process can help parents really focus on their kids, by putting them in the center, rather than the middle, of the divorce process. Every family situation is unique. Every family and every child deserve a creative plan to help move them forward, restructure, and get to a new “normal.” Drill and lockdown protocols included.
In Part 1, vortex was defined as: 1) a whirling mass of water or air that sucks everything near it towards its center; 2) a place or situation regarded as drawing into its center all that it surrounds, and hence, being inescapable or destructible. The second definition provides a visual for what many think a divorce “looks like.” While the end of a marriage is emotionally tumultuous and devastating, the actual legal process of uncoupling does not have to be. But, it is critical that you choose a process that promotes healing. The Collaborative Process does just that. Collaboration is a holistic approach to divorce. It can be utilized by couples who are ending either a marriage or significant relationship, or who have a child or children together. Although some people question whether it is an appropriate process when domestic abuse or mental health/chemical dependency issues are present, many others think it can (and should) at least be attempted. If you don’t want to be another “divorce horror story,” the Collaborative Process will likely be a great fit. Collaboration focuses on the future (i.e., the relationship of co-parenting in two homes) rather than the past (i.e. the vilification of one spouse); is a win-win for both partners (rather than a court-imposed win-lose); and emphasizes the well-being of the entire family. You don’t air your dirty laundry in court, and you aren’t (literally) judged. In fact, you never set foot in a courtroom. The negotiation model is interest-based/win-win, rather than positional/win-lose. You pay attorneys to help you solve problems, not argue and keep you stuck in the past. Every family is unique, so every family deserves a unique solution. And if you have young children, please keep in mind they need you present and available. You can’t be present when you are fighting the other parent in court. In Part 3, we will discuss the various professionals in the Collaborative Process and how their expertise can help you avoid the divortex.
Remember hearing that as a child? I do. I said it. I believed it. And then I didn’t. Names DO hurt, even if they aren’t “really bad, mean names.” They can burn a memory into your brain that can haunt you. My son, who is six, is one of the younger children in his 1st grade class. Next to his 2nd grade soccer buddies, he’s a bit vertically challenged, although he’s considered “average” in height. Nonetheless, when he came home in tears the other day because an older child called him “shorty,” he undoubtedly felt the sting of name-calling. Welcome to the real world, my sweet, darling son! We have all experienced it, to some extent, and it stinks. Rather than utter that renowned phrase to my son, my collaboratively-trained lawyer brain went into “better-get-more-information” mode. The conversation went like this: Me: How did that make you feel when he said that? Son: Sad. Me: Mmmmm….I can see that… Son: And angry… Me: Definitely! (Pause). So, what happened next? Son: (without missing a beat) I grabbed the ball out of his hands, dribbled it down the court, and made a basket. Me: (Stunned!) Wow! That is AMAZING! (Beaming with pride…that’s my boy!) So, my son “shows up” this kid by making a basket, yet he was still upset (hours?) later and recalls the name-calling rather than his awesome basket?! This certainly illustrates words have a HUGE impact on others, whether we realize it or not. It doesn’t have to be name-calling, either. It can be just the language we use and the way we say it. The tone in our voice can turn an otherwise innocuous comment into a heated argument. So…STOP. Take a DEEP breath (and maybe throw a stick at some THING). THINK before you speak, and CHOOSE your words carefully. Then go shoot some hoops.
This is the second of our two part blog series on unsupportive families during divorce. The first dealt with the challenges of when family is having a difficult time letting an ex go, which can be read here. Here we discuss a second type of unsupportive family, when family may not be supportive to your grief if the ex-spouse was never well liked anyhow or if the marriage was difficult in terms of fighting or abuse. If you are grieving from a divorce after a tumultuous marriage, it may be difficult for family and friends to understand your grief. Comments of “you are better off” or “we never liked them anyway” are frequently heard, and the lack of support can complicate the healing process. Normally we rely on our friends and family as a key support system through divorce, they listen, share stories, and provide support in so many ways, however, when friends and family choose to bash the ex, the pain and grief over the marriage doesn’t feel validated. It’s makes a person feel like they shouldn’t be hurting, it has them questioning their feelings, and quite often like they need to hide their feelings from their loved ones. It can be challenging for people on the outside to understand how highly conflicted relationships can be difficult to move on from. It’s hard for them to get past the “you’re better off” stage, when in fact the divorcee is likely not only grieving the loss of their marriage, but grieving what could have been, wishing things would have been different, or perhaps regretting particular conflicts. It is important not to let unsupportive family or friends invalidate feelings of anguish after divorce. Perhaps they do not fully understand your relationship, or haven’t stopped to consider that you are still heartbroken regardless of the circumstances of the marriage. You may need to confront an unsupportive family member or friend to remind them that their lack of support, however it is intentioned, is not helping you to heal. Be open to them about the type of support that you do need. Recognize that different people may support you in different ways. Your best friend may be an excellent listener and a good shoulder to cry on, while your sister is better suited to help you get your finances or belongings in order. It’s important to remember this about people in order to have realistic expectations. If you are having a particularly down day, call someone who will support your feelings, not someone who thinks this is an opportunity to commence the ex-bashing. Keep an open mind though, the best support may come from someone you’d least expect. Finally, realize that friends and family simply cannot offer all of the support that you may need. Counseling and divorce support groups are excellent resources. In a group setting you will find others experiencing similar feelings and yours may be validated. Together you can cope, heal, and grow from your divorce. There’s a quote from an unnamed father that reads, “One of the hardest things you will ever do, my dear, is grieve the loss of someone who is still alive.” We tend to agree.
My family is going through Olympic withdrawal. Well, O.K., not really. But we watched the events we were interested in and rooted for Team U.S.A. Of course, Michael Phelps stole the show, and Ryan Lochte stole the…well, let’s not go there. At any rate, it was interesting. What continues to stick with me, though, is the catchy phrase in one of the commercials (I don’t remember which commercial) but it’s from Maya Angelou’s “Human Family” poem. As in the commercial, the poem ends with, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” This phrase is repeated twice in both the poem and the commercial. The rhythm is undeniable, and the words unforgettable. The truth is…we are. This made me think back to one of my sociology classes in college, and those human traits that are universal, regardless of the country, village, or tribe in which a person lives: a smile represents happiness; crying signals sadness; and we all need food, water, sunlight, and air to survive. As the poem goes, “In minor ways we differ; in major, we’re the same.” Certainly, in our families we are, to some extent, the same. So, when the “leaders” of a family decide to part ways, their differences should be relatively minor, right? Sadly, depending on the divorce process the couple uses, those minor differences could blow up and out of control. It doesn’t have to be that way. In the Collaborative divorce process, the goal is to find common ground and focus on the items the divorcing couple agrees on (the “alike” part). “Keep the children out of the middle.” Check. “Let the children attend the same school.” Check. “Make sure everyone’s needs are met.” Check. We focus on similarities, needs, and “alikeness”, and therefore interests, rather than differences and positions. We aren’t that different. At least we aren’t that different in major ways. Unique, we are. So, let’s not invent imaginary differences, which can create major conflict. That takes so much negative energy. Using a process that focuses on the positive, the “alikeness” of the two people ending the marriage is certainly more, well, human.
As many know, because Minnesota is a no fault divorce state, one spouse not being ready does not need to stop the process from moving forward. The ready spouse can file for divorce and the process moves on in court with little control of the reluctant spouse. A potential client recently came in for a consult and, as often is the case, her husband was struggling to move forward in the process. They were at very different points on the divorce readiness scale – she was ready, he was not. This is quite typical. The other spouse is sometimes called “reluctant” or “in denial.” When one spouse is looking for a non-adversarial, out-of-court alternative (like mediation or collaborative divorce), there is more of a need to bring that other spouse along. The reluctant spouse really can delay the process and interfere with the non-reluctant spouse’s desire to divorce. This potential client said something very interesting to me. She said, “I know I am committed to collaborative divorce, but I am learning that this does not have to be a collaborative decision.” This realization was profound. She realized that she could control the process (with her husband’s agreement), even if her husband never agrees with the decision to divorce. It is common during the divorce process to have spouses be at different comfort levels with the decision to divorce. These levels of readiness can change throughout the process and even vary greatly from one meeting to another. The challenge often lies with helping the reluctant spouse commit to a collaborative process, while acknowledging his or her disagreement with the process. A good collaborative attorney can strategize ways to bring the reluctant spouse into the process and help move things forward. Ways to teach him or her about the divorce options and lay out the pros and cons of different processes for divorce. To learn more, contact Kimberly Miller.
My husband and I were taking our kids to swimming lessons when we saw a man and woman standing outside the facility arguing. The anger and negative energy were palpable. While still in the parking lot, we met up with another family we know, and we exchanged uncomfortable glances as the conversation between this couple became more heated. “Awkward,” my friend whispered. As we approached, I could hear what they were arguing about, and the expletives were flying (this is a family place, mind you, and my kids were five and two at the time – yikes!) The woman was saying, “I don’t give a $*&^ what you think. You can’t have that #$&* sleep over when it’s your weekend with our son. You are such an ^*&+@! We aren’t even divorced yet.” My five year old glanced up at me with an odd look on his face. Oh boy. I wondered if they had attorneys and what process they were using. Even though I see this sort of conflict on a regular basis, it was very uncomfortable to witness. I’m not sure if my discomfort was because I couldn’t do anything about their conflict (I was there as a mom, not a lawyer) or because my children were in earshot. For a fleeting moment I did, however, consider going up to them. I felt compelled to inform them there is a better way to deal with this “stuff” and that a child specialist and divorce coach could get them to a better place regarding “adult sleepovers.” That was the lawyer in me. Since we were running a bit behind, however, the mom in me picked up my two-year-old and hurried my son through the door. Either way, I felt bad for this couple, and even worse for their child. I wondered how old their son was and if they had made a scene near the pool when they decided to “take it outside.” I will never know how their divorce turned out. I can only hope that things cooled down at some point so they could focus on co-parenting their child. It’s understandable that emotions are highly charged during a divorce, which is the reason a divorce coach and child specialist are incredibly helpful during the process, as well as a therapist or counselor. Stop. Breathe. Think. And talk to a mental health professional.