The Many Shades of Gray

The thoughts below are nowhere near the same lines as the book and movie out there about types and number of gray shades. Instead, I want to present some thoughts about a comparison of parents. For many of us, actually a large majority according to statistics, we will not agree with the other parent of our kids about custody. We will need some help to get to an agreement or a final ordered solution. Whether through mediation, collaborative law, or straight into the legal court system, an outsider will be getting involved and either making a recommendation or actually ordering the plan forward. There should be no surprise, as the subject of our parenting, roles, and future time with our children is vital, and not a subject we be able to change our minds about easily. A major problem we all will face when trying to help the outside, especially the legal system, determine the right solution for our children is that there very likely is not a clear blank and white answer. One parent usually is not the stand out bad one with the other parent clearly exhibiting parent-of-the-year trophies. Instead we are likely blended in a sea of gray.

The challenge then becomes how to make your position stand out as the right one, or at least not allow the world to view you as the bad parent. Somehow you have to craft black and white out of the gray mess. The path through this minefield is not easy. It will require and constant striving for perfection, at least for the duration of the legal process. In my background in military aviation, we are very hard on ourselves. You may have an instructor or adversary debriefing your event who tells you every weakness of your decisions and technique. But none of that criticism will be harsher than the self-critique and analysis we perform on ourselves later. Very much is valid, as many decisions are either safety or combat life-and-death. But some of it becomes habit to just keep improving. What I recommend ahead is for you to adopt the same mentality in your divorce. It will be required for you to separate yourself from the gray.

Try to imagine the point of view of the family court judge in your case. Both parents are expressing their vital role in the children’s daily lives. Both seem like good people. The father seems to take care of one area while the mother attends to the other. With everything blended in various grays, you the judge will look at the history during the divorce as well as the normal roles prior to divorce discussions. Both parents state they are willing to work together and put the children’s needs first. Now is the time to determine which one really has stepped up compared to the other that just talks. Those of us that have gone down the divorce road before can assure you that almost daily you will have more than enough engagements with your soon-to-be-ex about any number of topics, many to do with the children. Every single engagement presents you with the opportunity to pull yourself out of the shades of gray. Each occasion usually has a variety of choices for your action, and one usually stands out as the proverbial high road.

As you start in your attempts, remember to plan to fail. Taking the high road, biting your tongue, and containing your frustration during a divorce creates an incredible strain. You will slip. Nelson Mandela phrased it best when he said “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” The key is to build the habit and keep your thoughts focused on the right path. Plan for failures, learn from them, and work to avoid the triggers that caused the slip. No one likely knows your scabs better than your ex!

Besides the legal benefit that comes from standing out of the gray, there are two longer term benefits your will find as well. The legal benefit is important in the short term, as it directly affects your long term role, but once you are past the legal stage and in a post-divorce life, the long term benefits are tremendous. The first of these benefits is accelerating the time through the friction with your ex to get to a manageable, mostly peaceful co-parenting pattern. In my case, the local judge told us that he divorced couples, not families. He was absolutely correct. Like it or not, she is your children’s mother. Past the divorce, you have many years to deal with her when raising your children and grandchildren. It takes two to make a peaceful truce. Striving for the high road sets the example and will show her how the future should be. If she can’t push your buttons and get the reaction she wants, eventually she will just tire and you will get to that end state you and your children need.

The second and strongest benefit will come from the strengthening of your relationship with your kids. Everyone gravitates towards the positive. By you providing them a safe, positive environment, free from the hostility, bad-mouthing, and anger that can swirl between ex’s, your children will be able to move on and heal. If the other household is still clinging to the anger and creating a negative environment, there is nothing you can do about that. But your children will notice. They notice everything. Not only will the environment you create benefit them with each visit, but years later they will remember the difference.

Nothing triggers hurt, pain, and anger like divorce. For so many of us, both parents in your case likely have good qualities and bad. To an outsider, determining the role of each parent and deciding the best plan after divorce for the children requires distinguishing parents, whose behavior and relationship are just shades of gray, into clear black and white answers. Never will it be more critical to toe the line and strive to keep your actions and behavior in line. The short and long term benefits are great. You won’t always be perfect, but by keeping the goals and benefits in mind, and striving to make the right choices, you will get better. You may not get the short-lived satisfaction from throwing that perfect verbal jab at your ex, but you will get the long lasting satisfaction later when you look in the mirror and smirk at how she couldn’t make you take the bait!

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