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A Word or Two About the Fish

July 21, 2011

I recently heard about an essay examination given to a first year law school class in which the students were asked to discuss international law regarding fishing rights in Alaska. As the story goes, a rather clever student submitted the following response: “Since everyone else in the class will probably discuss this topic from the perspective of the two countries involved, Russia and the United States, I would like to discuss it from the perspective of the party that stands to gain or lose the most: The Alaskan King Salmon.”

As the person treating your family for the difficulties that have arisen from the dissolution of your marriage, I would like to present a few ideas that might assist all of us achieve a solution to the problems for which you have sought my help.

First, your fish is caught between two nets but would prefer to swim freely without fear of being captured. Try to allow your child to move back and forth between his mother and father, and try not to let issues of loyalty impede his ability to do this.

Second, you might be fighting with your ex spouse without paying much attention to how your son or daughter feels about being caught in the middle of the battle. Big people are arguing, and he doesn’t quite know what to do: should he remain silent, or should he say how he feels? If she worked up the courage to speak, most likely what you’d hear is an ear-piercing cry for you to please stop fighting with each other.

With few exceptions, divorced parents with joint custody of their children seem to find fault with each other over a wide variety of issues. After their return from a weekend visit, children often speak about what they did, where they went, and if they had a good time. Warring parents listen very carefully, looking for confirmation of as many faults as possible. The most innocent event reported by the child may become the basis for wild accusations. Friendly parents, by contrast, listen much less critically, and the same report may be treated with concern, but never with overreaction.

Certainly a child may exaggerate a story to please an angry parent, and I can even imagine a child telling a story that is not trustworthy at all. However, what I have found is that in the majority of cases, when allowance is made for minor embellishment, children are accurate communicators. Therefore, listen when you hear that your child is upset with something you have done. Her message contains invaluable feedback on how she feels about your effectiveness as a parent. And remember to tell your ex partner when you hear nice things about her from your daughter. Your child’s sense of well being will grow immeasurably from the good will that, even for a moment, is visible between her parents.

Rob Rutman

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