Have you ever looked at your X and wondered Y?
So What? Two simple words that I seem to use so often these days. I know it may sound rude and perhaps abrupt but I learned today that these two little words can actually create a sense of comfort for many of my clients.
As a family lawyer I hear many complaints during my day as parents try and navigate their way through the post separation parenting maze. Parenting is difficult at the best of times. Add to the mix a divorce and all the emotion that follows- a bit of mistrust, some dislike, hurt, anger and for that extra spice, some conflict and ‘heh presto’… we have a terribly challenging situation for even the most rational and calm person.
In this environment the ‘perfect parent’ spotlights seem to flick on. Next thing you know, normally carefree parents are suddenly holding each other to the highest parenting standard- a standard that neither expected or required only a few months earlier when everyone was still living together.
Then the focus will be on that ‘small stuff’ as I call it and before you know it, the lawyers are caught up in it too. Then, we go in circles, round and round as each parent finds fault with the simplest of things.
I think of it as the ‘post separation parenting haze’. It is a deep grey haze which seems to stop some parents from seeing the world in colour. Instead, they see the world in shades of greyish black, where even the most innocent of mistakes is suddenly interpreted as a deliberate ploy to destabilise their children and of course the other parent.
So, I helpfully think ‘So What?’
“She was late to pick up the kids!” So What?
“He did not pack their lunch!” So What?
“She would not even talk to me when I called!” So What?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying these things don’t matter- of course they do. To most parents, small stuff matters- that is what makes them good parents. However, in the legal process often the small stuff just does not matter when it comes to a legal outcome. It is often this ‘small stuff’ that will form the basis of many a legal letter and create too many large legal bills.
Today I heard from a client that the arrangements for her little girl were going well. This was good news as a year ago they simply weren’t. I heard how her daughter was generally enjoying seeing her Dad and was mostly happy and then I heard “but he is always late, late picking her up and late dropping her back”.
I asked “When you were together, was he someone that was usually on time?” She paused here and said, “No, not really”. As she uttered these words I saw the expression on her face calm, she sat back in her chair and in that short silence I saw her relax.
I myself am terrible at being on time. I am consistently at least 10 minutes late for most things- to me I say “So what?” but I know others consider this terribly rude. My husband always adds 15 minutes when I tell him the time I will be home. One day I might surprise him and manage to arrive early!
My client and I then had a discussion about the stuff that matters. I could see that she was almost relieved that it simply did not matter that he was often late. I could have written him a long letter telling him to stick to Court Orders, to be on time, but at the end of the day, would it have changed her daughter’s experience each weekend? Probably not.
My Dad used to always say, ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’. I think the trick with this is to be able to sort out what is the ‘small stuff’. To a parent stuck in an antagonistic legal process, where they feel their every move is being watched, critiqued and at times documented, it is no surprise that everything becomes ‘big stuff’.
In my job I am constantly trying to find a way to move my clients out of their legal process and into the next phase of their lives as separated parents. I believe that to do this as a lawyer you have to be able to keep focused on the stuff that matters. That is, the stuff that matters both at law but more importantly the stuff that matters to each of my clients. That stuff might to me be small but to someone else, be everything.
Today, for my client, the stuff was small- but the legal process she has found herself in has made her question herself and now she feels like everything that perhaps did not matter so much before is all of a sudden so important. After I reminded her that I had been late today, 15 minutes, not on purpose but because a talked far too long in the appointment before hers, she remembered that being on time was very important to her but perhaps not as important to her former husband. That small realisation coupled with the knowledge that she did not have to do anything about it was enough for her to focus back on the stuff that matters- that is, that over the past year she has seen her daughter move slowly, but happily between her mum and her dad every other weekend.
That little girl might grow up being someone who is early or late but will certainly grow up knowing that both her mum and her dad, in their own different ways love and cherish her.