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Liminality

March 21, 2011

Bite Sized Therapy (long-time AskMoxie.org reader; first-time WTFGU commenter) said that going through mediation and making decisions is all about “what you can live with.”

I absolutely believed that when we went through mediation to negotiate the terms of our divorce settlement. But my understanding is different now.

Not to get all WJC on you, but it really depends on what your definition of “live” is.

Does that mean that both parents grit their teeth and suffer through it for the sake of the children? Or that one parent suffers through it while the other comes out ostensibly “on top”? Or could there be some way to create value for both parents so that they’re both actually living living? In an “I hope you dance” kind of way, only not cheesy?

I’m hoping that’s what we end up doing in this mediation, instead of the other way. Because the whole purpose of getting a divorce is to try to make things better. So why not really make them better, in a big way?

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35 Comments leave one →
  1. Nancy permalink
    March 21, 2011 11:35 am

    The suspense! I hope you guys are eventually able to share what you were mediating about, and how it went.

    • March 21, 2011 12:23 pm

      Tell me about it. I’m as eager as you are to see how this chapter ends.

  2. Chrissy permalink
    March 21, 2011 3:03 pm

    I wish you two the best of luck. It turns out that our mediation is going something like this: we meet with a mediator, come to an agreement, leave, STBX decides he doesn’t like what he agreed to, goes against the court order. He does, however, agree that we need co-parenting counseling that was provided for in the court order. Now, we are paying a counselor to figure out a different agreement, have to go back to court to change what we originally agreed upon, and I’m out another $2500! Wonder where the groceries will come from next week?

  3. March 21, 2011 5:26 pm

    What is WJC?

    • askmoxie permalink*
      March 21, 2011 5:33 pm

      William Jefferson Clinton.

    • Allison permalink
      March 21, 2011 11:38 pm

      I was wondering the exact same thing! 🙂

  4. Celeste permalink
    March 21, 2011 7:40 pm

    My feeling is, if either of you decides that because you didn’t get what you wanted, that it means the other person “came out on top”…that means it’s going to make it that much harder to agree. Is it possible to look at whatever it is instead from a perspective of NEED? If you don’t wish to accomodate the other’s want, can you reframe it as their need being greater than yours?

    • askmoxie permalink*
      March 21, 2011 11:42 pm

      Celeste, I think it’s way more complicated than that. Need and want are relative, no? And sometimes, yes, one person does come out on top, on one dimension or another. I think it can be hard for people in a good marriage to understand exactly how many danger points there are in negotiations with someone you’re not together with anymore but have to work together with.

  5. Susannah permalink
    March 22, 2011 6:45 am

    In negotiation theory, an “elegant solution” is one where at least one person benefits from the agreement, and the other doesn’t lose in a meaningful way.

    If you can’t get to a win-win, can you at least get to an elegant solution?

  6. March 22, 2011 11:42 am

    Hello to Moxie, LOD and other readers: The idea about “what you can live with” has to do with compromise – knowing that the outcome may not be exactly what you want, but that you are selecting the best option for your children. In reality, that can mean choosing between two excellent options. In no way does “living with it” have to do with suffering, or with one parent besting the other. In fact, if the parents feel that way about the outcome, they probably won’t live with it very well – and that is bad news for everyone.

    I absolutely agree with Moxie that the ideal is to create value for both parents. This increases the likelihood that the parents will abide by the agreement, communicate better, and co-parent their children better. The most important thing is that the co-parenting relationship is as good as it can be. There is that line: “Marriages come and go, but divorce is forever.”

    I send you good wishes for your negotiations.

    • LOD permalink*
      March 22, 2011 12:43 pm

      Thanks, BST. We will need it.

  7. Dixie permalink
    March 22, 2011 12:22 pm

    I think it’s interesting that you wrote “mediation” twice as “meditation.”

    • askmoxie permalink*
      March 22, 2011 12:45 pm

      Damn you, auto-correct! And I didn’t even notice…

  8. March 22, 2011 2:30 pm

    I’ve been thinking a lot about “best interests of the children”. Everyone says you should do what’s best for them, but I came up with a hypothetical where it is really hard to decide what is best for the children. I can imagine that you have many such decisions where it is not totally clear what is best for them. Indulge me.

    Let’s pretend the kids go to a really poorly-performing neighborhood school. The option is the local private school, which is quite good, but it is some number of dollars per year. Parent A thinks this is absolutely in the best interests of the children. Parent B thinks it’s a good idea too, but half of the some number of dollars per year puts it out of reach for Parent B.

    So, the choices might be: attending the crumby local school but living in a safe neighborhood with enough food to eat and still having two caring parents to love you and support you and supplement your education at home.

    Or, going to the local private school but having to move to a less desireable neighborhood, a smaller apartment, foregoing life insurance on Parent B, Parent B picking up additional shifts at work making less time available for the kids.

    Now, is it really so easy to decide what is in the best interests of the children?

    This really has nothing to do with the topic at hand, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

  9. Jennifer Hicks permalink
    March 22, 2011 11:08 pm

    I have no idea what you are mediating (not meditating) abou but … I honestly believe that if you put the interest of the children first, things become clear. Unless you have very different base values. Generally, you shouldn’t have to ‘grit your teeth’ to accept an element of your life, if you truly believe it is in your child’s best interest.

    And sometimes your child’s best interest means letting go of your own ego. Parental needs/wants/desires are second to a child’s best interest. Or should be.

    That does not mean they are incompatible, or can not be combined. It just means that putting the children’s best interest first, is just that: putting the children first.

    as far as “elegant solution” — as long as the winner is the child, OK. And Need and Want are, indeed, relative. but the only perspective that matters is the child’s. In terms of what is best for them.

    I wish you both the best — and can’t wait to hear what this mediation is about.

    I’m very curious what is up here … re: the mediation. I can only imagine a few situations that would

    • askmoxie permalink*
      March 22, 2011 11:13 pm

      Jennifer, in theory, yeah. But kids can be ok in lots of situations. Carrie hit a good one right above you. And different people prioritize different things, so what I think is far better for the kids LOD thinks is good but not imperative, and vice versa.

      I really wish it was less complex, but it’s a brain-hurter.

  10. Jennifer Hicks permalink
    March 22, 2011 11:46 pm

    Let me try to make brains hurt less:

    yes, kids can be “ok” in lots of situations; but, I think as parents our desire is not that our kids will be ‘ok’ but that they will THRIVE. and to thrive, kids need to be secure and happy above all else:

    “quality” schools out of reach of one parent, are out of reach of both parents . .. unless one parent is willing to subsidize the the other’s lack of ability . . . at which point, both parents have to completely honest about “ability”. Which means being honest about what you can pay for and/or what you are willing to pay for.

    True, kids CAN be ok in lots of situations, but parents are responsible for providing the BeST situation they can for the children. Which means coming to an agreement, outside of the kids’ interest/hearing about what parents are willing to do together.

    What I come down to is honesty: about your own values, and what you are willing to put your $$ behind; what you think is right for your kids, and what you both are willing to sacrifice for your kids.

    Good luck!!

    • askmoxie permalink*
      March 23, 2011 11:20 am

      But what if the parents really just can’t agree on what is BEST?

      There are so many options, even when people are being honest.

      • March 25, 2011 2:40 pm

        It comes down to values. And if two people have different values (even a tiny bit different), then they could disagree about what is BEST for the children.

        And I would assume that if two people are divorced, they have some values that are a little different.

        Maybe one person values:
        Education
        Home Life
        Financial Security
        in that order

        And the other parent values
        Home Life
        Financial Security
        Education
        in that order.

        Both of those are valid choices for your personal values, but they can mean different choices for the kids (like whether to sign up for a soccer team that has practice on a school night or whether playing a musical instrument is imperative or even whether organic milk is worth a $5/gallon premium).

  11. Debbie permalink
    March 23, 2011 1:13 pm

    Hang in there, both of you. After almost nine years of a custody arrangement that worked for all of us, our family is having to change it starting in the fall with the new school year. Simply for practical logistical reasons (middle school! aka torture for all kids and parents!) I know that my ex is bummed that his weekday time is going to change and there has to be some resentment on his part that I “won” in this situation. This despite us totally working together and readjusting so that time and frequency are not lost, just rearranged. Maybe I am wrong, but I get the impression that there is some level of disrespect for each other’s parenting choices. If it is there, I don’t know how you can let go of that, but if you can, things might take on a less punitive feel, even if mediation is still required. Somehow I got past the anger at my exes parenting limitations, and he mine, and the twice yearly spats we used to have just disappeared. In fact, we actually help our daughter process each other’s less-than-wonderful moments, reminding her that parents are people too.

  12. March 23, 2011 2:00 pm

    From what you are saying, this is an all-consuming situation that will likely mean a major life change for both parents.

    Guess what? This is the first of many.

    This one may be motivated by the conflicting wants/needs of each parent, however there will be other changes caused by outside forces: family crisis, personal health situation, new partner, etc.

    As much as you think this is a permanent change, you’ll soon learn that change is the only constant in life. As agonizing as your current mediation may seem, it’s best to maintain the perspective that this is the first of many. Be as gracious as you can at the moment; you don’t know what the next six months (or even six weeks) may bring.

    • askmoxie permalink*
      March 23, 2011 3:30 pm

      This will actually be the second time we’ve renegotiated since we originally signed our agreement in 2008. So, yes. The only constant is change.

      • LOD permalink*
        March 24, 2011 12:56 am

        True, but compared to all the tributaries we’ve negotiated, this one is a true fork in the river. And since our younger son won’t be emancipated until I’m in my late 50s, it’s a daunting thing to contemplate.

  13. March 23, 2011 5:21 pm

    I’ve been through mediation several times and you’re right, you can’t always default to the mantra of “what’s best for the kids” because it’s not always that easy. For example, what if one parent wants/needs to move to another state and the other parent can’t follow? There’s no easy solution for compromise. One parent is going to have the kids every day and the other parent is going to basically get visits – weekends, holidays, summer – and there’s no way for the parent who doesn’t have primary custody to feel good about what happens. It can work – people certainly do it all the time – but not an easy task to negotiate without someone “losing”. Hopefully what you both are dealing with isn’t as gut-wrenching as that but given that it seems there’s a bit of a stalemate in the process, it’s obviously a very difficult decision. That being said, there are some creative agreements out there. Perhaps some Google searches or throwing your dilemma out anonymously on several sites for discussion might produce some ideas or compromise solutions that spark some creativity in your talks?

  14. March 23, 2011 7:27 pm

    I think it is great that you can even talk about talking! So many divorced parents are so angry, mad, livid with the other, that the needs of the child(ren) go out the window compared to THEIR need to get back at the ex-significant other. Even if mediation is hard, even if it takes FOREVER, and even if in the end neither of you feel significantly better off… you are doing what so many can’t or don’t. Congratulations, and best of luck.

  15. sye520 permalink
    March 23, 2011 11:35 pm

    I do understand “best interest of the children” arguments and if one were maximizing anything during marriage or after it, it should be the best interest of the children. However, these arguments are too simple because they ignore 2 important things 1) children’s preferences, or interest, given their young age, are defined by the parents’ preferences. I am not talking about basic food/shelter kind of needs. I am talking about private vs. public school, house with a yard or not, proximity to extended family or not, better working hours for the parent to parent more effectively etc. And adults have different preferences depending on their upbringing and experiences and I imagine those differences contributed to the demise of the marriage and hence are not that reconcilable. 2) there are constraints and those constraints change all the time. Let’s take SarcastiCarrie’s example. The options are: send the kids to crummy school, send the kids to private school with other financial sacrifices. What if we choose option 2 , which let’s say is the better situation for the kids, and is viable at the moment. What if one parent loses their job and cannot afford to make contributions to the school bill at all?

    From reading Moxie and LOD’s blogs, I can perhaps wager a guess. Moxie quite often mentions how much she hates NYC, how she would like to go to the Midwest to be closer to her family and live in a house with a yard. LOD, on the other, strikes me as a New Yorker through and through. He does not think a big yard in the burbs is that important if they do not get to see their Dad often enough. Or the whole thing is reversed. LOD needs a job and found one outside of NYC and Moxie does not want to necessarily follow him. Even my head hurts now. I wish you the best of luck because this is a tough situation. But as the posters above me said, talking is better than talking and thinking things through is better than impulsive, knee-jerk reactions.

    • Jules permalink
      March 24, 2011 10:55 am

      One thing I know about LOD from reading his blog for a few years is how much he loves his boys, and how much joy he takes in caring for them day-to-day. If a move were imminent, I believe he would follow those boys to the end of the earth, regardless of his own personal wants/needs or comfort level. That’s just the kind of guy he seems to be. I wish my own ex husband were that committed to his kids.

      • March 24, 2011 1:45 pm

        Thank you, Jules. I needed to read that today.

  16. michelle permalink
    March 24, 2011 2:36 pm

    My ex and I tried to make it work, not once, but twice. He, due to job constraints, cannot share any of the joys (burdens) of raising our son. I feel it is my obligation as my son’s mother to accommodate a good chunk of what he can do. It’s just hard for everyone. It’s easier in a way, for me, because my ex can’t, won’t, doesn’t want to, participate as much. I can be flexible because I get the majority of the say. It seems especially hard in this situation because you BOTH are so committed to the kids.

  17. Kathleen999 permalink
    March 25, 2011 10:38 pm

    I have to say that what I admire about the two of you is that you both love your kids so much that you still have conflict in this way. I’m sure you will find a way to overcome it and I’m sure it’s hard. I had a dad that just disappeared after he and my mom divorced. I haven’t seen him for 30 years. Hanging in there when it’s tough is a sign of your love, and I know your kids can feel that even if they aren’t aware of these negotiations.

    Good luck and I hope everyone wins as much as possible.

  18. Chrissy permalink
    March 28, 2011 9:06 am

    You can remove this comment since it doesn’t really pertain to the topic at hand, but I couldn’t find another way to contact you two.

    Could you collaborate on a post that explains how you came to be ‘amicable’ with each other? From my current experience, STBX and I have been separated for 9 months, and we still can’t talk civilly to each other. No matter how hard I try, one or both of us fly off the handle after about .5 seconds of discussion. I pushed for co-parenting counseling, but so far she has been acting as a court moderator. Today I put my foot down. I need to learn how to communicate with this person who hates me so that my kids are comfortable.

    So, How did you do it?

  19. April 1, 2011 9:52 am

    I have a question about the “process” that you’re going through. Do the kids know you’re mediating something, and if so, do they know what? Is this the kind of thing you would shield them from or is this a teaching moment of an example about how people work through issues in a construction manner?

    • April 2, 2011 10:23 pm

      I haven’t told them anything, because there isn’t much to tell them until the decision is made. I don’t think it makes sense to stew over things you have no control over.

      As for a teachable moment, I think I’d rather see how the book ends before I let them read it.

  20. April 7, 2011 2:51 pm

    mediation or meditation? as a mediator and meditator, I’m a fan of both, but not in the same post. even by you, Moxie, who I’m also a huge fan of 😉

    • askmoxie permalink*
      April 7, 2011 3:16 pm

      Andrea, it autocorrected to meditation. I should actually correct it.

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