“How about I live on Mars, and you stay on Earth? Each week we’ll exchange the children on the moon.”
How brainstorming is an effective tool in problem solving.
This was a real exchange between a husband and wife who were mediating their divorce. They were struggling to figure out a parenting plan. Each had differing visions about how far they should be able to live from one another while still being actively involved in their children’s lives. Although they were, in good faith, proposing different schedules, they were at an impasse. They got frustrated. They got stuck. Time for the mediator to step in….
An intervention that I often use, and one that you can use with your spouse, co-worker, etc., is brainstorming. I asked them to propose options for settlement, regardless of how absurd, outlandish or impractical they may be. I asked them to be playful.
What happened next was miraculous. Picking up on the idea of absurdity, one party proposed the interplanetary travel option, with pick-up and drop-off of the children being on the Moon. I stopped the conversation and asked them to define both the benefits and detriments of this model. Both agreed that the benefit of this model was being as far away from the other party as was humanly (?!) possible. The detrimental aspect of this model was the travel that their children would have to endure to see each parent; after all, having to regularly travel great distances while regularly launching and re-enter each planet’s atmosphere could take quite a toll on the kids. Other concerns were whether a parent would have to accompany them? Would travel between the parents be overly time consuming… and what about the costs involved! And how often would either parent be able to attend their son’s soccer matches when with the other parent? Where would the kids go to school? How early would the kids have to get up at one house to get to school on time in the other parent’s school district? Is the school system on Mars comparable to the school districts here on Earth?
In an odd and pleasant way, the exercise became absurdly fun…and a bit silly. But the results were beneficial to both parties.
In the abridged version of this story, I asked whether the reasons why the galactic model wouldn’t work would apply if both parties decided to live here on earth….and they both agreed. Greater distance between their homes wouldn’t be good for their kids. They didn’t want their children to be living in the back seat of a car. They decided that they should reside relatively close to one another….and keep the kids in the same school district. And living close to one another would avoid the extreme consequences of continuous launch and re-entry! Whew!
Once these issues were resolved, the resolution of the remaining aspects of their parenting plan fell together more easily. All it took was creating an informal, playful atmosphere that indirectly caused each party to consider and deeply examine the other’s ideas. Concerns were raised in a hypothetical situation – one that could be examined and reality-tested here on Earth. And, in the end, a resolution was reached with smiles all around.
The next time you have a disagreement, try this brainstorming approach. Being silly can work wonders…