We mediators know that somewhere, there is a middle ground to each conflict. It can be tough to see, but eventually it becomes clear. But clarity comes only after arriving at a fork in the road. For there are actually two middle paths to resolving every conflict, and these paths go in different directions, to two wholly different destinations.
Only one of those is called compromise. For this, I’m reminded of a judge who told me of a parenting time trial with multiple experts. Each side presented interminable amounts of testimony. The excitement level was like watching paint dry, because both parents were basically decent people. Each expert had a similarly impressive resume. All the experts seemed equally expert. At the end of the day the judge had a bunch of numbers of days from each side. He pretty much added them together and divided by two to reach his ruling.
Such an average is the way of compromise. A child can sense that splitting the difference is somehow fair, yet it sends everyone away dissatisfied because no one, and nothing has really changed. All the hurts and antagonisms that lead to the dispute are left untouched. This is so even when the parties can stomach the result and agree upon the compromise as a way to end their dispute. It is never quite satisfying. It can be even less satisfying when judicially imposed. Gnawing dissatisfaction was what had brought this family back to court post-decree.
The other destination is a happier place, but compared to compromise, it is much harder to get there. I’ve seen the parent who tearfully gave the other majority parenting time in order to attend to her own needs. I’ve seen others uproot their lives to relocate where the other parent’s job has sent them. Some times the wish for equal parenting time for each parent can be tempered by a tearful recognition that being with step-siblings or at a particular school really is better for the children. The self-sacrificing parents who give to the children’s interests transcend their attachment to their own interests. This transcendence leaves the conflict behind, and usually engenders so much good feeling among all concerned that the case never comes back to court.
These results are harder to obtain when everyone wants the case solved in two hours or less. Those folks and their attorneys are so often asking to be shoehorned into compromise, because they just want to get the legal process over. I often see them as doomed to do this all over again as in the movie Groundhog Day. My other customers take the time and come in well before the court-imposed deadlines weigh upon them. These are the ones more likely to leave me with their interests more nearly met. This is what helps them all leave the conflict transcended, and leave it behind in the trash.