Smart Divorced Parents Turn Opinion Differences Into Unified Disipline
Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico

Valuing diversity is a skill that is necessary to make a marriage work.

And valuing diversity is essential for divorced parents if they still want to be good parents.

Even though one fundamental American principle is recognition and protection of individual rights, Americans tend to view individual differences in terms of right and wrong.

A common attitude seems to be; If you have a different opinion that I do, one us must be wrong.

Some people even apply the right/wrong analysis to such things as race: If your skin is a different color than mine, one of us must be wrong.

Or culture: If your cultural values are different than mine, one of us must be wrong.

And tens of thousands--even millions--of people have died because of this notion: If your religious beliefs are different than mine, one of us must be wrong.

Of course, in the legal system, the right/wrong analysis is applied to almost everything.

I've seen many husbands and wives divorce because of their different points of view. They call it incompatibility. I've seen even more husbands and wives, already divorced, continue their battle in expensive and acrimonious litigation, each trying to force the other to change, to stop being different.

One case sticks in my mind. A divorced couple's preteen son had slashed the upholstery of the father's car. The parents were in court because they had different ideas as to what the appropriate discipline should be.

The father wanted his boy grounded for an extended period, including the time the youngster was in the mother's care. Mother wanted the boy to be required to personally mend the damage.

Each viewed the other's proposal as wrong. The consequences of their dispute was that there was no discipline. And the parents were spending money to pay lawyers--money that could have been spent more usefully, such as paying for counseling for their son to help him deal with his anger.

I showed the parents a technique they they could use to resolve such disputes. I call it the "Good News/Bad News" technique. The essence of the technique is that almost every idea has an up side and a down side.

When one person makes a proposal, each parent is required to think up two good things about the idea and two bad things.

We do the hard part first.

The parent who has the proposal must determine two negative aspects or consequences of his or her idea. The parent who doesn't like the idea must think of two positive aspects.

Then we do the easy part.

The parent with the idea can tell two good things about it, and the other parent can list his or her objections.

I've found this technique works well for divorced parents.

It requires each to look at things from the other's point of view. It's amazing how often they are able to agree about what's good and what's bad.

They are able to see that their real differences lie in how they prioritize the goods and the bads.

Most of the time it turns out that both proposals have merit. They can see that it doesn't matter so much what decision they reach. What is important is that a decision is reached and implemented.

Differences make life complicated, but differences also make life interesting. Try to imagine life if every person wanted to play the oboe, or even worse, the snare drum.

Valuing diversity should be part of every American school curriculum, and every American business training curriculum. If individualism is truly something we believe in, we need to learn how to live with it.



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