Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Another exchange, same old mistakes

For one divorced couple, it's deja vu all over again.  Mom didn't want to drive the children to Dad's home; Dad didn't want to drive to pick them up.  The subsequent exchange, when it finally occurred, was accompanied by such acrimony that the police came, yet again.  This isn't the first time. In fact, the children and the police are on a first name basis.  What's going on?

First, each parent applies a double standard, saying and doing things that they accuse the other of doing. Mom, for example, complains to anyone who will listen that Dad is a fat slob more interested in watching football than being with his children.  But just last week Mom was outraged when Dad accused her of being more interested in dating "whatever guy is around" than spending time with the children.

Second, they expend excessive energy questioning one another's motives and preciously little on the facts.  Dad complains that Mom tries to control him by making him look bad in the eyes of the children. He perceives that she will stop at nothing to make his life miserable: "She's all about making me look like a jerk to the kids."  Mom, for her part, says that Dad's primary motivation is to leave the hard work of raising the children while taking credit for their good adjustment: "He's a free-rider, has been all his life."

Third, neither one accepts responsiblity for their part in the debacle.  Rather than quickly acknowledging mistakes and moving on, both rationalize, obfuscate, and deny.  Time and effort that could be better spent -- and enjoyed -- with the children is spent on tit-for-tat accusations and denials.

What Mom and Dad need to do is simple--but hard to carry out: admit their mistakes.  On this occasion, it was Mom's turn to drive the children to Dad's home but she had forgotten about her  doctor's appointment. She would have done well to say she was anxious about the appointment, irritated with herself for creating the scheduling conflict, and regretted over-reacting when Dad wouldn't help her out.  Dad, who really wasn't doing anything important that evening, could acknowledge that he refused to help out of pique and over-reacted when she over-reacted.  Both could improve matters by simply saying: "We screwed up, we can do better."

Don't let your standard be a double standard. 

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