Lawyers are a jaundiced lot. Law school is a three year exercise in anticipating what can go wrong whether in a trial or a transaction. The lawyer’s job is to anticipate, and course correct to protect the client. Napoleon is credited with saying the law sharpens the mind only to narrow it.

So, lawyers can be tough customers even though we aren’t the customer. Trial lawyers can be especially cynical because during trials the facts often play out far differently than what the client said was true. Part of preparing a case is trying to figure out if the client is shading the facts or misapprehending what they perceive to be crystal clear. We also have to tell clients that there are times when what they tell us may be true but is not really going to be accepted as such by the person who will decide the case. There is a duality to this. We want to believe what clients tell us is true, especially when the facts are favorable. But while you are sitting in the office telling us what is true, inside our heads concerns are forming about how to manage things if your truth doesn’t come out that way after you have been cross examined or your spouse has spoken “his truth.”

There are times in this exercise where people reach a Eureka moment. They tell their lawyer a version of facts or a theory of what those facts mean. Anticipating that this story line will be answered with a countervailing version of events, the lawyer rolls this out for the client to respond to and suddenly, there is an awakening. Perhaps the other spouse was not intending evil or there might be an explanation for his/her conduct that is grounded in reason. Insight like this is rare because in family matters we all tend to become wedded to our own version of “right.”

If you don’t subscribe, the Saturday edition of the Wall Street Journal kind of untethers itself from its embrace of business and economic news and wanders into places you never expect. These includes articles on family matters and management of them. A lot of it can be quite superficial but then there are articles like that published by Kathie Roiphe in the June 8/9 edition. Her exposition of her own journey toward self-awareness is even more important because it didn’t occur in a lawyer’s office but in a major American newspaper.

Ms. Roiphe’s awakening is better characterized as a journey. She had two children by two different men. She doesn’t reveal the details of the conflict she experienced. But she reveals that at one point, she was confronted by a colleague who gave her the “two parents forever speech.”

The “two parents forever speech” has two iterations and Roiphe notes both. To this writer, the less persuasive is the “weddings and bar mitzvah” speech. Here the separated parent is told that he or she needs to just “take” the other parent’s substandard or abusive parenting behavior because you will share holy communions, graduations, and weddings together. Sum these together and you might have 30 hours of shared time at these events. Yet, raising a child to adulthood is a 100,000 hour proposition and that child is bonded to you even on the days and hours the child is resident with the other parent.

The signature phrase in Roiphe’s article comes from a psychiatrist: when you attack a parent in the presence of a child, that child feels pain. It is common for there to be two narratives whenever parents disagree. But when you enlist your child to “choose” between your agenda and that of the other parent you put the child in an impossible situation. The other thing lawyers often see is a lack of parent awareness that kids can’t evaluate things like money and travel time. “How can this kid say she wants to go to her grandma’s birthday in Richmond when I just layed out a $1,000 for Taylor Swift tickets?” Ten year olds don’t do well figuring out ten hours in the car any more than they can assess how many hours a parent works to buy two concert tickets.

We have written about this in the context of judicial interviews of children. Kids abhor conflict because they don’t like saying “No” or making a hard choice where one parent will be intensely disappointed. Except in rare instances, they have to live with you both and that includes living with the disappointed parent holding two Swift tickets.

In a custody dispute, your child is not your best friend. Your child is Switzerland; space that any parent invades at immense cost to the child. The damage may not be evident immediately, but the injury, once inflicted, will fester in the heart of your child. Lawyers can try to instill this, but the message is often better delivered by a fellow traveler who has two kids with people she no longer lives with and who undoubtedly sees many of the decisions she would prefer to control as superior. That’s what the Wall Street Journal essay does.

Meanwhile, grin and bear it is not always the best policy. A common refrain is that fathers, in particular, like to share experiences with kids that moms view as too risky. It is one thing to discuss with your child the risk of an activity. But when you direct the child with: “I don’t want you going there or doing that” you put the child squarely in the middle of the conflict in a setting where the child really has no control.

The key point of the well written essay is to Stop, Look and (above all) Listen before weighing in on a dispute related to child rearing and consider the conflict’s impact on your kid. Relenting may cause you some sleepless nights but, unlike a child, you can put that disappointment in context and move on with the real business of parenting.