I witnessed recently an epic battle of wills between a pre-teen boy and three attorneys and the father after a court ruling did not go the child’s way. The kid was mad and the dad was mad the kid wouldn’t go. This child sat stoically on a bench and refused to budge staging his own 60s style sit-in protest sans the hippy hair and revival music. He did not want to go to his father’s house and there that kid stayed in that court for hours.
Different people tried different tactics. Reasoning, punishing, coercion, cajoling, pressuring and everything but brute force while this kid sat in a Ghandi-like state of passive refusal. From what I could tell, he was polite, respectful and very clear about his wishes. Unfortunately for him, the ruling was what the ruling was and he was loathing to comply. I heard he had said later, “they can make me go there, but they can’t make me love my dad.”
I thought about what our family courts are attempting to do. Reunite children with parents after trauma, abuse and crisis. It is a herculean task undertaken by judges, lawyers, therapists, social workers and police. It got me thinking…
What is justice and how is it served with respect to relationships, feeling and the heart? I heard a judge say to a family, “Love is the most important thing. Love is what put families back together.” I found that statement fascinating from a person who hands down edicts for families in crisis. Is it really that simple? If so, why is she sitting up there?
Most people in or after a divorce don’t wake up every day thinking how I will emotionally scar my children today because of my own ignorance, personal issues and failings. But that’s often what happens. It has happened to me and it takes a team of friends, therapists, and people much smarter than I to point out my mistakes.
I thought about that little boy’s words – you can’t make me love my dad.
Love was at the core of this little boy’s resistance- or lack of it. He didn’t feel loved. I could tell the dad really wanted this kid to get in the car and go home. It was a painful battle of wills to witness. I asked myself what is really going on here…is it control, is it manipulation, and is it willful disobedience. Why is this child passively resisting?
I think this kid was hurt or had been hurt. Hurt and the fearing of more hurt were at the core of this defiance and this little boy was standing up to protect himself from further hurt. The dad referred to winning and he won, so the child had to go home with him.
One of the things about living my life with education and a certain amount of status and power, is that I need to be really careful with how I use it. Many times I can win. I can win because of economic or educational advantage, but before I run in with horses charging and flags blazing I need to think about the cost. That father won the legal battle that day, but what was the cost for his child. Not great since the ruling had to be enforced by three highly paid and highly educated adults.
The battle should not be for the child to sleep in your house, the battle should be to win that child’s heart and mind and trust…and ultimately his love. Now that may be what the dad had in mind, but it was a strange way to go about it. Forcing most of us doesn’t work. Do you like to be forced? You may say, but he’s a child! He has to do what his parent’s say.
And that is correct, but how you get the child to comply takes on many different forms and a wise parent will realize that force is the absolute last resort because it creates resistance, resentment and powerlessness in anyone!
We are forced to pay a fine for a ticket or appear before a judge. Who says “Whoopee Pie I get to pay $300 and get yelled at by the judge.” No one. And kids don’t like it either.
Parents, just because you can use or afford or understand the law, doesn’t mean you should. The law is not your personal battering ram to smack around those you love. The law is not your personal playground to feed your ego. The law is not so you can go to bed feeling that you were right.
In our effort to use the law, which is another tool in our society, we need to see the real cost – not just the tax-payers dollars being wasted, but the effect it has on those we love. Winning doesn’t always mean winning, and winning by default means there has to be a loser.
I have spent a lot of hours in the court waiting room in the past year. Many of the conversations sitting there are about winning. Winning so we can… Winning so I can…Winning so they can… Winning…winning…winning. What I see from the cheap seats is that the desire for winning seems to be a strange bedfellow with anger in court proceedings. You can feel the anger in the courthouse. It’s everywhere like an unwelcome party guest that drinks too much, says stupid things and just won’t leave. Many times, wanting to win and anger go hand in hand. How many times have you heard a coach say , “get mad! now go win!”
Here are some things I learned in family court about winning.
Winning won’t make your child love you.
Winning won’t mean you didn’t hit me.
Winning won’t solve the problems that exist.
Winning won’t mean you don’t have work to do to repair and heal relationships.
Winning is just winning
Two Mondays after Super bowl Sunday most people can’t remember who played, much less who won. You might remember you won, but your kids don’t care who won. They want to be loved by both of you. They want to see you happy and the other parent happy…but most of all they want to be happy. Happiness is how kids win.
I looked around the public courtroom and thought about the dollars the judge talked about. It sure costs a lot of money to legislate relationships gone wrong.
I thought about that kid, the dad, the attorneys and what the judge said. I think she should have a plaque in her courtroom that reads, “Anger is expensive, but love is free.”