The Collaborative Divorce Center

The Gentle Rebuke

The Gentle Rebuke

Improve your reaction and watch the situation change, too.

I am Pam Masters and I am a collaborative family lawyer, which is to say that I am a settlement specialist and I guide couples and families on the difficult journey of divorce without court involvement. I do this is ways that protects children, preserves financial assets and creates healthy co-parenting relationships

Today I am going to share with you an experience that I had that has profoundly changed the way I handle my disappointment or disapproval of something someone may be doing.

I was driving to the courthouse on a summer day.  I was in a bit of hurry because I was running a tiny bit late.  I do not generally speed and especially not in the vicinity of the courthouse because it is congested, near the library and a baseball field and the road is rather narrow. 

Anyway, the speed limit is 25 mph and I was going a bit over that—maybe 30-35.  Well on my right was a parking lot where there are usually not a lot cars but this day there was and I realized that a summer camp for kids was going on at the baseball field.  Right about that time, a coach appeared walking towards the road and he looked at me-not with judgment or anger. He did not yell at me or give me the finger. He simply held up two fingers on one hand and five on other.  25. The speed limit.  He sort of nodded at me and I took my foot off the gas and gave him a wave.

My immediate reaction was an attempt to justify in my own mind that I was not speeding, but that quickly dissolved away as I began to appreciate how he had handled it. I was speeding, he was concerned about the kids in his care and he was kind to me. He saw my humanity and did not shame.  He gave me what I have come to call a gentle rebuke.  Had he yelled and gestured at me, it would have become in my mind all about what a jerk he was and how dare he treat me that way. I would have been defensive and self-righteous. I would have judged myself in some way better than him and in that way been able to hold onto my belief that I am good person!  But guess what? Good people speed!

I have thought of this experience countless numbers of times. Yes, when someone is speeding in my neighborhood—and they always slow down—and they never did when I used to yell and gesture but also in many other situations and the gentle rebuke has worked every time. 

I know that co-parents can do things that make your blood boil. I know that sharing children is hard and heartbreaking.  I know that sometimes co-parents are just jerks but I also know that most of the time, most of us are doing the very best we can and we all deserve to be respected, treated with kindness and given an opportunity to change behavior which is far more likely after a gentle rebuke than it is after a harsh reprimand.  Bonus tip:  You might also try it with your kids!

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