Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Secret to Co-Parenting with an Unreasonable Ex

Disengage.  Here in the Trenches.

No, that's not the entire post, although I wish I could just say "disengage," and everyone would know what I mean and just do it.  My advice does, however, need some explanation.

Every couple has a dance they do together.  My colleagues, Kare Scharff and Lisa Herrick, in their book, Navigating Emotional Currents in Collaborative Divorce, describe it as a lock and key.   I'm introverted; you're extroverted.  I respond from my gut; you think things through intellectually.  You get the picture.  When the marriage is working, so does the lock and key.  My strength matches your need. My personality balances yours.  When the marriage is not working, our pattern of behavior no longer works.  What we saw as working together now doesn't work at all.  What you thought was my strength, you now see as something else.  My personality doesn't balance yours; it smothers it.  If we were dancing, it would no longer be a graceful waltz; you would be stomping on my toes.  In common vernacular, what used to make us fit together now just lets you press my buttons.

The difficulty is that our lock and key or our dance has trained us to have fixed expectations of each other and our roles.  That's a problem moving forward.  We act as an incomplete half, not able to be a complete person or parent.  We're off balance because we always acted as a team.  Or maybe we clash because you push my buttons - every time.  After all, you know them all.

Here's the deal.  We're not a team anymore, not in the way we were.  Now, we're walking parallel paths.  Sometimes, they intersect.  Sometimes, we walk together.  Sometimes, they're just parallel.  You can't control what happens on my path anymore because we're not together.   The only path you can control is yours.

You can't make the other parent feed the children at 6pm or go to bed at 8pm.  You can't make the other parent teach the children right from wrong.  You can't make the other parent help the children with their homework, instill a work ethic in them, or take them to church.  The only parent you can make do all those things is.....you.  You have to learn to march to the beat of your own drummer.  You have to decide what is the right thing to do, the right values to instill in your children and the behavior you want to encourage and discourage.

Then, you have to do it, no matter what the other parent does.  Is it easy?  No. but then most things that are worthwhile are not.  Does it take time and practice?  Yes.  Will the other parent like it?  No.  They will try to get you to reengage with them.  They will push your buttons.  Maybe it will look like your children are not learning what you have to teach them.  Maybe it will look that way for a long time.  Remember, parenting is not a sprint.  It is an ultra marathon.  Only those with great endurance and perseverance finish an ultra marathon, much less win it.  Can you wait until your children are adults to see whether what you did stuck?  If not, go ahead an reengage.  If so, disengage and parent the way you know is right.

Disengage - the short answer with a long explanation.  Here in the Trenches.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

It's Not Just a Job

By Erik Charlton from Menlo Park, USA (Ice climbing on Mt. Rainier) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sorry folks, that post I was going to write two weeks ago is still in draft form.  Serious posts like that one take a lot of time and mental effort to compose, and well, at the end of the work day, I just haven't had the strength.  The Trenches is like that sometimes.  Most people, including many of our clients,  think that being a family law attorney is just a job.  Many lawyers think family law attorneys don't practice "real" law, because we deal so much with emotions and family dynamics.  Those of us in the Trenches know differently.

This week, another attorney and I were on the phone, going back and forth until I had to get my beauty sleep at 10:00pm, and then were back on email and the phone starting at 6:00am.  In between, we had lengthy conversations with our clients.  All of this so we could finalize an agreement that would allow my client to buy the house he wanted on the very next day.  Another client, one of my pro bono by choice ones, came by to pick up a packet.  We all started talking about what was happening in her life, and how hard it was to find a job.  We brainstormed with her and gave her 3 solid leads of jobs we knew about.  I helped another client get unstuck and settle her case so she could finally move forward.  Yet another client  called us multiple times every day because her anxiety causes her to think, rethink, and rethink again every aspect of her case and life.  Yet another refused to answer our calls, so we called them multiple times to find out if they were OK.  I had two meetings with lawyers in two different cases to see if we could narrow the issues and brainstorm a way to meet all of our clients' needs.  Please throw in a few court hearings as well.  By the end of the week, we were all wrung out and coming down with colds.

Here in the Trenches, we spend a lot of time worrying about our clients.  We expend a lot of energy making sure they're OK now and in the future. We help them with their legal problems.  We stay present with them in their pain.  We help them find ways to move forward, whether it's by legal process, finding a job, getting affordable daycare, choosing a school, picking a therapist..... We blow off having lunch and dinner with friends so we can handle a client crisis (some of which the client could have avoided had they only listened to us).    We spend the night before trial on the phone with the other attorney, trying to settle the case so our clients won't have to go to trial.  We think about our clients on holidays and hope the exchange of the children went as expected; we dislike holidays because our clients usually have crises then.  Our families and friends have to understand that's how we are and what we do.

How do we cope?  Some of us don't; more and more people are leaving family law to do something else because it is just too hard.  It is hard emotionally.  It is hard intellectually, because you have to know something about everything.  Some of us (and people you would never expect) cope by watching every cute animal video posted to Facebook.  I'm a sucker for those "feel good" stories with a happy ending about how wonderful people are.  Exercise is a great release:  many of us run, bike, swim and do yoga.  Some of us are fanatical about our gardens.  All of our extra-curricular pursuits, it seems, are about seeing the positive in life and helping things grow and improve.  In short, they are about the positive in life.  Without them, none of us could do the work we do in the Trenches.  Contrary to a belief held by many, this is a tough job and we do care - a lot, maybe too much.  Here in the Trenches.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Goodbye My Friend

I had intended to write a very different post - yesterday.  Then I opened my Facebook and the world fell out beneath me.  25 years ago, I moved to Maryland.  I knew no one here.  One of the first things I did was join the Olney Newcomers Club, and there I met my first friend in Maryland.  She had a son the same age as mine, and so my son made his first friend in Maryland.  She had an older son and a young daughter.  When I had my daughter, her daughter and mine, even though they were 4 years apart, became fast friends.  We were in and out of each other's houses for the next 10 years, as were our children.  Yesterday, my friend's lovely daughter ended her own life.  She had suffered from depression and mental illness for years, and yesterday she lost her battle.  I keep seeing that beautiful young girl who was so full of life.  She had a beautiful smile and eyes so full of life, even when I saw her just a few weeks ago.  How could she be gone?  How much pain must my friend be in?

My friend's daughter was very active in the local chapter of NAMI.  She wanted to raise awareness that mental illness is a real disease, just as real as cancer or diabetes, and every bit as serious.  The only trouble with it is that you can't see it.  It's a disease that can be easy to cover up.  Just like cancer patients can wear a wig to cover up the effects of chemotherapy, so can the severely depressed put on a smile and pretend to be happy.  It doesn't show up with jaundiced skin or a limp.  Most of us don't dig too deep when there's no tears, no sobs and no frowns, and no "crazy" talk.  My grandpa used to say that looks can be deceiving, and nowhere can it be truer than with mental illness.

I know whereof I speak.  Many, many, many moons ago, I had a bout of severe depression.  I have never felt such pain before or since.  Getting out of bed was nearly impossible; the energy I needed just to get up was more than I could muster.  Oh, did I mention I've had mono, and that it was easier to get up and about then, than when I was depressed?  Every thought and every breath was painful.  I thought the pain would never go away.  My depression wasn't chronic.  Others aren't so lucky.  Their pain continues every day, with little relief.  Every day is a battle.  My friend's daughter lost hers.

Here in the Trenches, we see a lot of things that appear one way but are another.  A marriage that looked happy was a sham  The perfect couple was miserable and dysfunctional.  The spouse who seemed to have it all together was a mess; and the one who seemed like a mess maintained the structure.  Our clients battle mental illness.  Our clients are emotional wrecks.  You'd never know it to look at them.  You have to dig deep to understand them and to help them move forward.  Most of the time we're successful; sometimes we're not.  Just like some people win their battle with depression and mental illness and some don't.  Here in the Tenches.

R.I.P. Caitlyn Shuy.  You will be missed more than you know.