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Helen Wanted To Fire Me Today.


I'm pretty sure that Helen* wanted to fire me today, or she at least seriously considered it.  Okay, maybe I'm being dramatic, because she didn't actually say (or write) the words, but I know she was pissed.

*I talk about "Helen" a lot.  She's not a real person and she's not a real client.  She's more like a composite character.  I will never reveal an actual conversation that I've had with an actual client.  Ever.

She came to me today to show me the messages her ex sent her saying what a "shitty mother" she is.

And she replied to those messages. . .

And then the ex really dug in and sent more messages to Helen. . .

And then she replied again. . .

Helen's pre-frontal cortex was definitely not in charge of Helen's fingers and she was furiously typing the above-referenced messages to her ex.

But then, the pre-frontal cortex kicked in, and Helen started to worry.

Helen is still going through her divorce,  Helen's children with her ex live primarily with her right now, but no final custody decisions have yet been made.

So Helen started thinking about those messages she just sent to her ex (which were not exactly G-rated) and she was afraid that the messages she sent would make her look bad in her case.

So she came to me to show me the messages.  Helen didn't realize it at the time, but she was bringing me the messages hoping that I would "make her feel better" about having sent them.

But the messages really were not helpful, and I really wished Helen had not sent them.

When Helen sent those messages to her ex, she was basically punching herself in the face.  Now she wanted me to tell her that it was okay that she was punching herself in the face.

I was not going to do that.

Instead, I asked Helen how she was feeling when she sent the non-G-rated messages to the ex.

"I was [email protected]#$!king pissed," she said.

"Okay," I replied.  "Why were you pissed?"

"Just look at these messages," she said through gritted teeth.

I'm pretty sure this is the part where Helen wanted to fire me, because she already knew that I would tell her that her ex's messages -- that are literally just characters on a computer screen -- were not causing her anger.

Helen's own thoughts were causing her anger.

Helen could keep those thoughts and continue to feel angry.  She did not need my permission to do that.

But she wanted me to agree with her that the messages themselves were the problem, and I would not.

That's when I really pissed her off, because I said, "Why do think he would say you're a "shitty" mother?  Does he really believe that?"

Before Helen could flip the table, I continued. . . 

"Because, to me, I look at that message, and I know what a great mother you are, so I'm just totally confused."

Helen was not expecting me to say that I was confused, and she momentarily forgot that she was ready to take her head off and throw it at me, so I continued.

"I mean, it would almost be like him walking up to me and telling me that he hates my long blue hair," I explained.  I've worn my hair short for the last thirty years and it's definitely never been blue.  Gray at the roots more recently,  yes, but I've definitely never had blue hair.

"Now that I'm thinking about it, Helen," I continued, "I'm confused about why you're not confused. I mean, we both know what an awesome mother you are, right?  What are you so mad about?"

I already knew the answer to my own question.

I knew that Helen was judging the quality of her ex's parenting, because she was judging the quality of her own parenting.

And I knew she was judging her own parenting because of how angry she became upon reading her ex's messages about her being a "shitty mother."

By the way -- just to clear the record on this -- "shitty mother" is the verbal gut punch that people use when they're feeling really threatened and they think the mom that they're talking to is the source of that threat.  (I'm not just talking about men here, I've heard women say it to other women.)

Helen wasn't angry because she believed that she had been a good mother.  She was angry because she wondered if her ex might have had a point.

And he called her a shitty mother because he was judging his own parenting and wanted someone else to feel as shitty as he did as a father.

Self-judgment is super fun like that.  It's also a colossal waste of your time and money, especially when you're going through a divorce.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I asked you to choose curiosity, because it feels better than frustration.

But, listen, if you can't go to curiosity, try confusion.  I'm very serious about this.

When your ex says something to you that you think "makes" you mad (it doesn't, but I'm putting that aside for now), instead of acting on that anger, just stop for a moment and generate confusion.

Just like I would be confused if you said you hated my long blue hair.

Go to confusion.  Seriously.  Then go to curiosity.

If you can do that, then we can keep moving up this ladder, because you are developing super powers, my friend.

And I'm the luckiest divorce lawyer/coach in the world, because I get to watch that happen.

Talk to you soon.

If You're Struggling To Peacefully Co-Parent After Divorce, Stop Telling Yourself This Lie. . .

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