Obligation or Opportunity—A Wall or a Bridge?

Dec 4, 2020

I’ve been thinking a lot about these words lately—obligation and opportunity.

It started in a divorce mediation session about a month ago. The clients were discussing the concept of right of first refusal in their parenting plan. In many parenting time schedules, the parents agree that, if one parent is not available during his/her scheduled parenting time (because of a work commitment in the evening or on a weekend, for example), that parent agrees to offer the other parent the chance to have unscheduled time with the child (or children).

So in this discussion, the mother observed that one could look at this concept as either an obligation—one parent has to contact the other parent and the second parent could rearrange his/her life to be available—or an opportunity—one parent offers the other parent extra time with the children).

In that moment, I sensed that there was a pearl of wisdom in this casual observation.

And so, with further reflection, I focused on what it feels like to be obligated to take an action. Is being obligated like being controlled (often an underlying cause for a spouse to want a marriage to end)? If seen as an extension or continuation of control or coercion, of course there will be resistance and push back. Even the suggestion can create another wall between the spouses. Viewing it this way, past resentment can then impede progress in moving forward with their separate lives.

On the other hand, what about shifting this view to seeing new circumstances as an opportunity?

  • Parents can invite each other to use this transition to reimagine parenting in two households.
  • New opportunities can replace the negative emotions surrounding a marital relationship that has failed with the possibilities of constructive co-parenting.

Through this lens, opportunity can be a gift to and from each other, given with positive intent and received with acknowledgement.

I am reminded that mediation, with its focus on the future and all that it can offer to resolve uncertainty, is a process that can explore new opportunities as a bridge to future possibilities.

As I consider these differing views, I am reminded that mediation, with its focus on the future and all that it can offer to resolve uncertainty, is a process that can explore new opportunities as a bridge to future possibilities.