Dear Pinky and Spike:
Don’t tell our parents (part two).
“If we ask Rose’s parents to participate in the process, why should your parents be excluded? As I understand it, they — especially your mother — are very involved with the baby, and also with Rose.”
“Yeah, but …”
Paul literally ran out of words. Rose, wisely, didn’t take a shot at him.
Sustained silence is a convenient tool when you aren’t confident about what to say next; when in doubt, my default is “do nothing.” So I did nothing and said nothing.
Eventually Paul admitted, “I’m flummoxed. I do not want my parents to come to a divorce mediation session. It isn’t about them. It’s between me and Rose. But if that’s true, how can I believe that it would be OK — appropriate — for Rose’s parents to come? I feel like I’m sabotaging this session. I’ve been the one who has been so anxious to move forward, but I’m stuck.
"Maybe I could have some individual time, or maybe we should just take a break for a week or two. I think you’ve said that we just pay for the time we actually use, right?”
“That’s what our agreement says. If it’s OK with Rose, she could leave now and you can stay to talk with me. I’ll get in touch with both of you to set up the next meeting.”
“Without parents,” Rose clarified.
“Without parents,” I confirmed.
Rose said, “Then I’m out of here! Have a nice afternoon, Paul.”
• • •
Paul didn’t need time to figure out why he didn’t want his parents to come to a mediation session.
“I can’t have them here. Period. I would feel so infantilized. I’m serious — I’d drop out of mediation. That would be the most humiliating experience I can think of.”
“Paul, haven’t you and I talked about Rose’s experience of humiliation?”
“I don’t know if there is a standard method for healing humiliation — your friend Laura showed how it could be embraced — but at least one method that bears consideration is humiliating the one who humiliated. It’s not something I’d considered until you used the word as the reason your parents couldn’t be here. Surely you don’t think that Rose’s humiliation was an acceptable and necessary loss for you to be able to renavigate your life, but an equivalent humiliation on your part is not an acceptable cost of mitigating her pain and making a decent and dignified divorce possible.”
Paul said, “This is making me sick. There’s another reason my parents shouldn’t have anything to do with the mediation.”
“At some point my mother would say, ‘We want to make sure that Rose never has to go without.’ My dad would agree, and my mom would go on, ‘Rose, you know you’ll always be our daughter and the mother of our grandchild. Whatever Paul can’t provide, we can, and we will. It’s the right thing for us to do and we want to do it.’”
Paul continued, “So where does that leave me? ‘Hey Rose, here’s a hundred, get the rest from my mom.’”
“How do you think Rose would respond if she heard your mom say that?”
“Oh, I think my mom’s already said it to her — not directly, but the message has been sent.”
I asked, “But how would Rose respond if the offer were made in this room with all of us present?”
Again, Paul took his time to answer, “My parents — my mom, really — have always been generous with Rose, and sometimes my mom overdoes it. Sometimes a gift can come with an implicit criticism. Our house had hardwood floors. After we had lived there for a while, my mom gave us a Roomba. Rose thought my mom was critical of the way she kept the house, but instead of having hurt feelings, Rose said, ‘She gave me a robot when what I really need is a maid.’ Then she started calling the Roomba ‘Anne’ — my mom’s name. It was kind of funny.
“But if my parents came right out and said, ‘We’ll take care of you,’ it kind of makes Rose seem like an unmarried teenager instead of a married woman with a baby and a complete jerk for a soon-to-be ex.”
“Paul,” I said, “it’s fair to say that Rose is no more interested in having anyone’s parents participate in the mediation than you are. If it has to be someone’s parents, she’d rather it be yours.”
I explained, “I can’t force you to include any third party in our sessions. But you’ve hired me as a guide. You’ve hired me to look out for things you can’t see and to inform you when you are going down a dead-end road or when you’re missing the turn-off you need to take. So, for the future, you and Rose have given me a tool to use if I believe your process is about to go in a dangerous direction. If appropriate, I’ll return to the idea of parental inclusion. If the situation invites it, I might say something like, ‘Unless you can stop the destructive behavior involving — something — there is no serious alternative to invitation of parental involvement; otherwise, mediation is a waste of time.’ My guess right now is that you and Rose would stop doing almost anything to keep your parents out of this room, and that’s a good thing.”
“It’s a scary thing,” Paul said.
“That makes it even better.”
— Brian H. Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he is also the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.