in the eyes of the beholder

I thought this comment in response to my post about children not wanting to spend time with their non-custodial parent warranted an entirely new post. I have edited it for brevity and clarity:

[to the commenter: please accept my apology for the delay. the email notification of your comment must have gotten lost in cyberspace, and I just stumbled upon this in the 'awaiting moderation' file.]

I am the "current squeeze" in this situation. She's right in saying these are two amazing girls. And I couldn't agree more with the father who also posted his comment. Karen, I appreciated your resistence to jumping on the "ain't he awful bandwagon" as I'm sure you know there are always two sides to every story.

Yes ... and more than just two sides to every story! I believe there are as many perspectives as there are perceivers.

The comment ends with:
I'm thankful to have them all in my life and if I have to deal with her for the next 10 years then so-be-it... It's worth it to me to have fun and share time with them when we are all together. I can separate the reality of the situation and how she likes to present it to others.

Quantum physics tells us that it's impossible to observe anything without affecting it, and therefore there is no objective 'reality' out there that some of us have access to and others are deluded about. In a very literal way, we are each living in our own little bubbles, perceiving and interpreting everything through our own filters of beliefs and experiences.

We tend to prefer the company of those with bubbles that are similar to ours. Who doesn't love being agreed with? I sure do! However, most of the time, The Ex lives in a VERY different kind of bubble. (Which is probably at least part of the reason why we chose to get divorced in the first place, right?) And in order to coparent the children we created together, we gotta deal with The Ex and his or her bubble for many more years.

If we can acknowledge that each of us will see things differently, we can let go of the need to convince each other that one is right and the other is wrong. This leaves us with more energy to invest in deciding what to do given that we don't see eye to eye. Productive solutions can indeed be generated from a platform of 'agreeing to disagree'. I see it all the time.

In fact, I could take this even a little farther, and say that productive solutions often cannot be generated until we agree to disagree! It's sort of job one. Which feels better: "We see this differently, but I think we can still find a course of action that will satisfy both of us," or, "I won't budge until you agree that I'm right!"

When people write to me, they are sharing their perspective. I respond to that, realizing that someone else involved in the situation may, of course, have a much different take on it.

In joint custody situations, sometimes the custodial parent is not supportive of a healthy relationship with the other parent. Sometimes they still feel hurt, angry, or guilty. Sometimes, a stressed and frazzled mom worries that her children might love their new stepmom more than her. Some mothers grieve that another woman is spending the time with her children that she wishes she could have. And sometimes not.

But emotional reactions don't stop when the divorce is over, and they can have a powerful influence on perception. Custodial parents may overdramatize the children's reactions, or unconsciously encourage whining and complaining by pouring on the attention and sympathy. Sometimes, they project their own issues with the other parent onto the child, and have a hard time allowing the child's relationship with the other parent to be separate from their own. It happens. Joint custody is a challenging situation, and often brings out the worst in people before it brings out the best.

And that's why it's so important that we keep our attention firmly anchored on being the best parent we can be, and not get caught up in "ain't he awful-izing." No matter which side of the situation you are on, you can listen to your children's perceptions, empathize without egging them on or adding drama, and then get back to having fun together.

For more information about Karen's parenting consultations, click here or visit http://www.karenalonge.com/

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