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Alternative methods of dispute resolution — for kids!

eleanor-chung-generation-jdMany times, in job interviews and elsewhere, I find myself explaining why being a parent has made me a better law student: I’m great at time management; I can multitask; I can adeptly triage assignments, etc., etc.

But being a student of the law has unquestionably made me a better parent. Here’s why:

I know my BATNA and WATNA

Picture this: it’s 11 p.m. Friday night and I am tired. The 4-year-old and 2-year-old are protesting bedtime with great alacrity. The best alternative to a negotiated agreement is I will yell and, through the exertion of my great authority, they will go to bed. The worst alternative to a negotiated agreement is they will eventually pass out watching cartoons and then sleep in, thereby also allowing me to sleep in on a Saturday.

By considering my BATNA and WATNA, I was able to see the WATNA wasn’t all that bad and I let it play out. Our relationship is also improved when the kids get an occasional win.

I make concessions (when appropriate)

Just like in the “real world,” my parenting “bottom line” is determined by time, money and labor. If I can improve my parent-child relationship by making a concession that will not drastically affect my bottom line, but will make the party/child happy, I will do so: an extra bedtime story, “10 more minutes” of playing on the playground/TV, a piece of candy at the grocery store.

I provide for the illusion of choice

“Do you want to take a bath before dinner, or after dinner?”

“Do you want pancakes or French toast?”

The outcomes are virtually identical, but the boys are happier when they feel as if they have some control over the decision or even that their input is valued. (“French toast? Great idea!”) This is also a great example of ceding something of little value to me, but of great value to the other party.

I don’t lose credibility

I don’t say “no” often, but when I do, I mean it. This is akin to dealing with a negotiator you can trust when he or she says, “This is as low/high as I can go.”

Parenting is near impossible when “no” begins to mean “10 more minutes” or “just a little ice cream before dinner.”

My No. 1 goal is to bring the parties together

The overarching goal in many contract disputes is to salvage the working relationship. I sometimes think of my sons as a contractor and subcontractor — which is why I put them together in adjoining conference rooms and subtract from their college funds for each hour they spend in disagreement. (Just kidding.) But my overarching goal is to prevent the accumulation of resentments and to foster a healthy relationship 5, 10 and 20 years into the future. With children (and adults), the fights are so vicious because the stakes are so low; my children must take turns pressing the “Start” button on the microwave so that they still love each other down the line.

Negotiation is such a large part of what it is to be a parent, that rather than “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” (Which is rather fatalistic, anyways. Spoiler alert — weight gain and no sleep), new parents should be gifted the classic “Getting to YES: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In,” which offers real strategies for dealing with parenthood.

I also recommend checking out the ADR Issue of the MSBA Bar Bulletin (September 2016), and “Tips from a Mediator: Effective and Ineffective Mediation Tactics” in the February 2018 Maryland Litigator. Little did these attorneys know that they actually authored excellent parenting manuals.

One comment

  1. Very thoughtful! Love your perspectives!

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