The Good Divorce

I thought for sure when I made the decision several years ago to never, ever again take another divorce case no matter how desperately my law practice needed the business that I was free of the emotional stress of The Bad Divorce. After all, I had by that time been through not one but two failed marriages, the aftermath of  which, in both cases, fell squarely into the category of The Good Divorce. No court battles, no arguments over time with the kids, no disputes over money, open lines of communication, joint attendances at school events and major extracurricular activities, as well as extended families that all continued to get along. As such, the only involvement I had in The Bad Divorce was purely professional. But that was enough to make me crazy (literally). I was giddy at the prospect of forever leaving behind The Bad Divorce and turning my professional attention to an area of litigation where I could use my skills to do what I did best without wanting to seriously harm my opposing counsel, my own clients, or myself. The song says rock and roll is a vicious game, but it can’t possibly be as vicious as family law. I thought with The Good Divorce x2 in my personal life and no more of The Bad Divorce in my professional life that I had set sail to a fantasy land where The Bad Divorce didn’t exist.

So here I am three years later, still part of The Good Divorce, and not involved with family law cases in my practice. Yet, I am still regularly dealing with The Bad Divorce. While I am fortunate to have a very wide and varied circle of friends, unfortunately, it seems at any given time several of them are going through The Bad Divorce. Either because of my 17 years as a family lawyer, or because of all my years as a good friend who offers sound advice, or possibly both, I am typically one of the ‘ears” or “shoulders” that my friends lean upon when going through The Bad Divorce. I don’t begrudge this and consider it my duty as a friend to help them through a tough time even if it’s just by listening. But it does make me think about the question I get quite often, which is: “How do you guys do it?”, referring to my exes and I and The Good Divorces to which we are parties. My friends inevitably end the conversation by imploring me to write a book about The Good Divorce.

I’ve thought about it alot. The Good Divorce. A very marketable title. I could write about the emotional and financial cost of going to court; the ability to recognize which issues are important and which are not; paying your support on time; understanding that the money you pay benefits your kids and is not a penalty;  recognizing that the other person is the parent of your child and no matter how much you may dislike/disagree with/hate that person, your children should not be deprived of regular contact with one of their parents. I could write about the values you pass onto your kids when they see you get along and work out your differences around the dining room table versus the emotional scars you inflict upon them by battling to be the champion in the court room. I could devote an entire chapter to how you shouldn’t badmouth the other parent or undermine their authority when they make a decision that is for your child’s own good. I could write all of this and so much  more. But truth be told, that book would be a long, boring read, and sadly, the very people who need it most wouldn’t buy it.

I have decided instead to write my book here in my blog in the hopes that it attracts enough attention to get the secret out about how not to have The Bad Divorce. Feel free to share, re-post, retweet, copy, or forward this article. I am deliberately waiving any copyright claim over it as the message is too important.

The Good Divorce by Darryl Singer

In dealing with your ex, always put the interests of your kids first.
Don’t be an asshole.

The End

Don't Forget to Enjoy the Moment

We live at the greatest time in terms of technology. Unlike my children, who were essentially born wired, I am middle-aged enough to remember asking for my first date by actually telephoning the girl and having to sit in the kitchen, no more than 3 feet from the wall, talking to her while watching one of the 5 channels on the old black and white. As a lawyer, I have been in the game long enough to remember when being out of the office meant I really was unreachable unless I called in for messages. I recall dreading the return to the office after several days in court because there would no doubt be a stack of pink slips with names and numbers written on them, every one of them expecting to hear from me. I recall when needing to review case law meant a trip to the nearest courthouse or law school law library.

Coming of age at a time when even this generation’s oldest, slowest technology would have seemed positively Jetsonian, I am absolutely in love with the new technology. Using these new tools efficiently and ensuring I maintain control over the technology, as opposed to allowing it to control me, means that I need not spend as many hours in the office tied to my desk as in past years yet can accomplish significantly more without sacrificing quality. It means being able to take a month long vacation in the summer (as I did in 2010 and 2011) or a series of week long vacations throughout the year (as I am doing this year) without returning to reams of correspondence and hours of calls.Being connected briefly first thing in the morning or right before bed while on an extended holiday literally anywhere in the world allows me to stay on top of anything urgent and quickly dispose of the daily minutiae. This guarantees my relaxation for the rest of the day in order to get the most out of my holiday, all the while knowing that no emergencies or mountains of paper will greet me upon my return. Similarly, my smartphone allows me to leave the office early or come in late so I do not have to miss my kids’ 10am school assemblies, their important mid-day doctor appointments or early evening extracurriculars. My less than 3lb laptop has the same files and resources as if I were in the office, thus allowing me to be productive without the pre-tech advancement concerns for either geography or time of day.. The ability to connect even when I’m on the go means, quite simply, more balance in my life rather than less.

That said, the primary downside to our constantly wired-in society is not, as some believe, the increasing blur between our work and personal lives. Rather, it is that many folks constantly miss The Moment. Now, I am not referring to Dad sitting on the sidelines on a Tuesday night in May watching Junior’s soccer game while answering business emails or taking the odd client call. Without the Blackberry he might still be in the office instead of at his little one’s game. No, I am speaking of the non-business, non-urgent obsessive use of one’s smartphone to document, photograph, post, text and tweet their minute by minute POV, their every whim of a hair of a thought, the constant broadcasting of split second updates of what is happening where THEY are. Because of course, if THEY are here and you’re not, then it’s YOU who must be missing out on something really big. This idea that everyone is the star of their own reality show, quite aside from the inevitable prevailing narcissism and potential dumbing down of our society as we focus inward rather than outward, is creating a society of individuals that no longer knows how to enjoy the moment. I am not criticizing the tweens and teens who grew up sucking the teat of the tech goddess, but the actually grown up, with serious careers and good parenting skills. Fine individuals who used to live for The Moment. Now they don’t consider any moment to have occurred unless there is digital proof. These are the very individuals who should most know how to be Present, but who are sadly and quickly losing (or forgetting) the capacity for real experiences which make you FEEL, deep down in your soul.
Recently I took my youngest son to see the live stage version of How to Train Your Dragon at the Air Canada Center. My son thoroughly enjoyed the show. I had the distinct pleasure only a parent knows of watching him watch the show. And I think he really wanted to see me having fun too, for he kept enquiring to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. But the woman in front of me with her two kids (all of them perfectly nice, happy, well adjusted) spent the entire show, and I do mean the entire show, photographing and videoing the show on her iphone, getting her kids to pose in front of the camera with the show as mere backdrop for what she surely thought was an Annie Leibovitz moment. But Mom, while capturing, documenting, texting, and uploading all 2 hours of her time at the arena that night missed out on the most important thing- the sheer immersion in The Moment with her children. Sadly, before long, her kids will be grown and while she will have the 2 dimensional photographs to keep her company, these cannot compare with the 3 dimensional experiences of being in The Moment and the deeply nuanced memories created as a result.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not against taking pictures. I am perpetually nose in Blackberry. I love Facebook and Twitter and I anxiously anticipate the next arc in the digital/technological trajectory. But certain experiences are best enjoyed merely with the senses that Mother Nature bestowed upon us.
We must continue to use the technology to enhance our lives. But we must also be on guard against the same technology preventing an otherwise wonderful experience- that of just being in The Moment.

No More Prizes for Showing Up

My just turned 8 year old daughter is engaged in what is supposed to be competitive dance. This was her choice after 4 years of recreational dance, and she devotes a tremendous amount of her time and effort (not to mention of Daddy’s time and money) to this endeavor. At the last competition in May, which featured hundreds of dancers representing dozens of dance schools, the tag line on the oversize banner behind the stage proclaimed: “Where every dancer is a star”. I was apparently not made aware that we were coddling our children in their competitions, and ran afoul of some unwritten rule when I announced loudly that “if they’re all stars, then none of them are stars”. It brought back memories of when my teenaged son played soccer when he was 5. Although there were rules and referees, there was no score keeping. Boys being boys, the little kids kept score anyway.

Now I am the farthest thing from a sideline or stage parent. I allow my kids to participate in what they wish, or nothing at all. When they play a sport or engage in an activity (and often I will coach or assist), I support the development of skills and good sportsmanship. I have taught them that it doesn’t matter if they lose, as long as they have done their best and had fun. But I do not want them to get ribbons and trophies for mere participation. Participation in these activities, along with the skills, friendships and enjoyment gained, is its own reward. We do our children no favours by bestowing on them false praise and unearned awards. At some point our children will be teenagers and eventually adults. None of us have made it through our teens (especially our teens), 20s, 30s and 40s, without experiencing disappointments, failures, sadness and hurt feelings. To provide our children with only emotional peaks while insulating them from these important emotional valleys only serves to render them ill equipped to handle real life, which will intrude upon them sooner rather than later. Moreover, if one is rewarded for mediocrity, or even failure, where is the incentive to make a greater effort? This sort of emotional protectionism sows the seeds of self-entitlement.

If we want our children to grow up to be self-starters, have a strong work ethic, value real achievement, and most importantly to mature into kind human beings who treat their fellow citizens with dignity and respect and of whom we can be proud, we must stop giving them awards, rewards, and praise just for showing up.