Ever offer a solution to a problem that you know will help the other person?
A brilliant, selfless, creative, and irrefutable solution?
Like this one I heard during a MA child support mediation:
“I really won’t care if you reduce the child support.”
How many parents paying child support would LOVE to be told that by their co-parent?
If you’re thinking all of them you would be thinking what I was thinking during a recent parenting mediation in Massachusetts.
The father was struggling financially. Well-educated and talented he had been down on his luck.
For a year.
He was used to making six figures and only brought in $35,000 this last year. He was re-directing all his income from his recent contracting gig to her and was leaving enough for himself only to pay bills and eat. He even turned off cable.
He was behind in child support payments by thousands of dollars.
And he was petrified the judge would lock him up the next time they were in court.
It was with this context the wife suggested what seemed like the perfect solution.
He should file for a reduction, she suggested. She cared less about the amount of support. She just wanted reliable support.
Mediating a Dream MA Child Support Proposal
He ignored the suggestion.
Then he gave a circular explanation for why lowering support would not help him if he came in to money in a few months (which was a possibility).
Of course it would help, explained his co-parent. Even if the amount was increased later he would still pay less in the interim.
Still, he danced around the issue.
I finally interjected and said, “you told us that you’re scared you might get arrested, that despite your best efforts you are having trouble finding a better job, and that you can’t pay your arrears. She is encouraging you to file for a reduction. Can you help us understand why you don’t seem interested in her proposal?”
He looked right at me as his eyes welled up.
“Ben, it keeps me up at night that I can’t pay my child support. That I can’t provide for my child. That I can’t contribute to his basic needs like clothing, food and activities. It kills me.”
“I’m not lowering my child support.”
Proud. Dutiful. Responsible. These are the values driving his reaction.
Her suggestion made sense on the surface. But it missed the mark in one important way. It had absolutely nothing to do with what was important to him. It was a solution based exclusively on her desire for predictable payments.
Who would have guessed?
Ninety-nine out of a 100 times the parent would jump on the chance to lower payments. This was that 1 out of a 100.
Steps to Improve Family Problem Solving
It can be infuriating when your spouse, parent or child outright rejects what seems to you a logical and obvious solution to an important problem.
You try to convince the other why they should listen to you. They argue back.
And nothing gets worked out. Except that the conflict has gotten a whole lot worse.
If you find yourself offering a well-intended and logical suggestion that is rejected there are but a few possible explanations:
1. You didn’t explain it well (unlikely if you’ve already tried more than once)
2. Your spouse, child or parent is being stubborn and unreasonable (unlikely if the problem is also burdening them)
3. Drugs or alcohol are involved (hopefully not — but if so this is NOT the time to try having a rational conversation)
4. Something else is going on
When Something Else is Going On…
1. Take pause
3. Check in with the person by letting them know that you understand they don’t like your idea, and that you want to know what about it doesn’t work for them (without sarcasm)
4. If that doesn’t work, drop your suggestion. Wait for a later time when the tensions have lowered. And then go back to step #3 and try to figure out what else is going on.
Curious, Are You?
Curious how it ended with my MA child support mediation clients?
They decided to request a 30 day continuance to buy the father more time to figure out his finances (and avoid jail-time for the moment). He outlined how much she should expect to receive each week based on his current job. They decided to work on the parenting schedule so they could report progress to the court. And they scheduled another mediation session for a few weeks out to explore other alternatives.
A perfect solution? No.
A viable temporary solution? Yes.
Why? Because it was relevant to what was important to both of them.
These folks detest one another. If they can do it, so can you.
What is your experience when your solutions to problems get shot down? Other illustrations like this MA child support mediation? Comment below!