Parents: the same all over.
I just read the New York Times Magazine’s article My Divorce, My Father, My Mistake by Dina Nayeri. It is a sweet story about a woman whose self-centeredness led her to believe that her Iranian father was judging her because of her divorce. However, she had it all wrong. He just wanted her to be happy.
I could have heard this story from a client about her father.
The story reminded me of one of the things that I am most grateful for about my job, getting to know people’s intimate lives and how they relate to those around them. Althoug the article was published in the New York Times Magazine, it is a universal story about how we often project our insecurities on to parent figures, when ultimately all they want is for us to be happy and live fulfilling lives. I could have heard this story from a client of mine.
Cliche’s true: We’re all the same.
When I started working as a divorce lawyer one of the things that surprised me the most was that everyone had the same concerns and the same questions. Regardless of the age, gender, wealth, religion or culture, everyone asks me the same questions. If they have children, their first concern is their welfare. The second concern is maintaining a relationship with the children. The third concern is achieving a fair division of financial assets in an efficient maner.
Honestly, the conversations I have multi-millionaires clients are only marginally different from the ones I have with my pro-bono clients. I mean, the financial numbers change, and sometimes case strategy changes. But the gist of the conversation is the same. And conversations about the children are basically identical for both income brackets.
Parents want to protect their children, regardless of age.
Sometimes I have a male or female potential client who is a victim of domestic violence but refuses to acknowledge it. I know that if I push too hard to get them to acknowledge the obvious (that they need a divorce) they’ll assume I want to push them toward a divorce because I want their money. So I often take a round about approach. I ask them, “have you told your parents about how you’re being treated?” If the answer is “yes”, I’ll say “How do they feel about it?” They’ll always say that their parents are horrified of the situation and want them to do whatever it takes to end the abuse (ie, divorce). If they say “No”. I’ll say, “Why not?” So far everyone’s answer is that the parents would be devastated by the news. Then I’ll ask, “What would they say if they knew what you’re going through?”. So far every abused prospective client has responded, “They would tell me to get a divorce.”
I’ve used this approach on abused Americans, Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis, and Mexicans. I have not noticed any cultural differences on how parents react to knowing that their grown children are being abused. It’s always, “Do whatever it takes to stop the abuse! Please!”
Right now Americans are going through a phase where we’re having trouble seeing the humanity in “others”. I think if we all had a glimpse into other people’s most private family life we would realize how similar we all are. How can we be that different if we all want and value the same things?