Oliver and Paul are sitting on the couch. Oliver asks if they have to wait for his mother and father. They decide to play cards while they wait. Oliver suggests blackjack and expertly shuffles the deck. He gives Paul the rules. Oliver says Paul sucks at the game and he wonders why if he sucks at it, why play? Oliver doesn’t really know why he is there. Paul tells him that his parents are getting divorced. Oliver denies the divorce — he says his dad has moved out but it doesn’t mean they are divorcing. He finds it annoying that his dad has moved out. Paul tells him they are meeting to help work out a solution to the problem that Oliver refuses to stay at his father’s apartment.
Oliver doesn’t like the food at his dad’s or his friends or that it takes longer to get to school. Paul says maybe they can help get things to change at his dad’s and make it easier for him to stay there. His mother arrives with Oliver’s snack and complaints about the father and where he lives. She doesn’t want to wait in the waiting room until the father arrives. We can see his mother is reluctant to have Oliver stay with his dad.
The father arrives in a rush. The parents complain about each other to Paul. Paul asks Oliver to wait in the waiting room while he talks with the parents.
Paul tells the parents they need some ground rules and that Oliver doesn’t really know they are getting divorced. Each of them blames this on the other. The dad wants Paul to explain to Oliver but Paul refuses because it is important for them to tell him these uncomfortable things. Luke, the father, believes that by allowing Oliver to choose his own food from take-out menus he is teaching him self-sufficiency. Paul explains that what Oliver may be saying is that he is not getting enough nurturance.
Paul picks up that both parents are using Oliver to get information about the other parent and tells them this is not good for Oliver. Paul proposes separate meetings and both refuse because they want to know what the other says. Oliver creates a distraction and they invite him in. Oliver tells his dad that it’s hard when his friends come on school nights. And dad agrees to change that. They also come up with a solution for after school snacks. Oliver says he doesn’t want to stay with his father and the mother says he doesn’t have to. The father leaves. Then they all leave.
Oliver is around the same age as Paul’s youngest child so we have to wonder if Oliver’s unhappiness makes Paul think about his son and the effect of his divorce on his children.
In this case, Paul has a complex dance to do — helping Oliver and gaining the cooperation of the warring parents. This is never easy. The parents are not interested in being seen as a couple, which is too bad because they could perhaps become better able to work together as parents if they did. So he has to try to get them to make agreements while steering around their long standing conflicts.
Parents are the hardest part of working with children.
I liked the way Paul let Oliver explain the rules of the card game to him. Playing games with a child in therapy is never about the game but what the game allows the child to reveal about himself and the issues he struggles with. So Paul pays attention the way Oliver explains the rules. And we learn something important about him when Oliver asks of Paul what is the point in playing something if you suck at it — we should not be surprised if we learn that Oliver feels he is no good at sports or other games that maybe his father enjoys. And note that Oliver did not seem excited by the football his dad gave him when he arrived. It was when he was playing with the football in the waiting room that he knocked over the plant. It looks like Oliver is struggling with some things in addition to his parents’ divorce.