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Parenting While Angry

An open letter to my clients

Dear Clients,

Both of you have contacted me about parenting. This topic is important. It is really more important than how you divide your assets.

You have only one son. This is your chance for each of you to be the wonderful parent that Daniel needs and deserves. How you treat him and how you treat each other will have an enormous effect on him and the person he grows up to be. Mediation is a good place to discuss your parenting concerns.

There are things you can do to make this divorce worse for everyone involved. Please don’t fight frequently in front of him, and/or to make him feel that he must choose which parent to love. He loves both of you; he deserves love from both of you.

It is natural for people to go through angry phases when they are divorcing. At our next mediation session, we can talk about ways to make this divorce as smooth as possible for Daniel. There will be changes, no matter what happens next. How you handle yourselves now will show Michael how adults behave when they are stressed. So please, if the tension builds up, go for a walk, make a cup of tea, breathe deeply, or something – but don’t put Daniel in the middle of it.

This is a topic that is very personal for me. Anger is a universal experience. Sometimes, anger spurs positive change but at other times is it purely reactive and destructive. There is a lesson I wish I had learned – back in the day when my only child was a teen. She’s thirty-four now, but parts of the memory are still vivid. We are both introverts; perhaps she is more introverted than I am.

At that time, my day job included teaching conflict resolution skills to seventh graders. April was seventeen or eighteen at the time. We were carrying things in from the car, arguing and getting angrier and angrier. I can’t remember why we were angry, but the angst of close quarters and insufficient alone time led to a melt-down for both of us.

I decided to teach her how to de-escalate tension – right when were we in the midst of it. She exploded: “Don’t you try your mediation shit on me!” She stomped into the house, slamming doors as she retreated.

How would I handle it now? I would make a choice. I would choose not to engage with her while angry. I would not let my anger meet her anger on the battlefield of the moment. I would notice my breathing. I would breathe in, hold it a moment, and breathe out. A few of these, maybe three or six or ten, and my stress would start to recede. Later, when we were not angry, we could talk through the situation. Perhaps create boundaries. Note what were triggers for each of us and be respectful in finding ways to deal with them. It is hard, maybe the hardest lesson ever. I can’t make her change; I can change how I react to her and to the situation.

Divorce is a time of change, of uprooting old ways and planting new ways of being. Shall we put parenting concerns at the top of our next mediation agenda?

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