Case Pits Individualism vs Community
Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico

Cross-cultural disputes are always difficult particularly when parents from different cultures divorce. Still, if these parents can be reminded that because their children are of mixed cultures it is doubly important that the cultural differences be valued and appreciated, these parents can teach their children, and the rest of us about cross-cultural respect.

Not long ago a divorced couple was in my court with a post-divorce custody dispute. She was a Pueblo Indian. He was an African-American. They had two children, a son age 15 and a daughter age 10.

The parents had divorced 7 years earlier when their son was 8, and their daughter was 3. The children had returned to the Pueblo with their mother. Father continued to live in Albuquerque. He spent time with the children frequently and regularly. The parents were relatively cooperative.

The case came back to court when the daughter was 10 and the son was 15, because the daughter was a gifted student and the son was a gifted athlete. Father felt that the daughter was not adequately challenged in the Pueblo School and needed access to an APS gifted program. He also felt that the son would benefit if he played sports in an APS school where he would have more exposure to college scouts and a better chance at being offered scholarships.

The mother wanted the children to stay with her where they had been for seven years, living with friends and family in a close community setting.

The children were torn. They wanted to please both parents.

As the parents, their lawyers and I talked about the issues, I told them it appeared to me they had a dispute about cultural values.

Mother valued community. Father valued individualism.

Mother recognized that she had strong feelings about the importance of community ties. She had given individualism a try, gone to college, lived and married outside the Pueblo. That lifestyle had not brought her contentment. Indeed, she considered it to have been a failure. When she returned to her home, friends and family, she was welcomed, and she found her life there meaningful and satisfying.

Father seemed to have more of a struggle in determining which of the competing values was more important to him, but he quickly recognized that this was not a problem where one side was right and the other wrong.

After much reflection, the father determined that he too valued community. He also found that he valued peace and that he valued not having his children caught in the middle of a conflict. He withdrew his request for a change of custody. In the process he taught his children that individualism is more than the pursuit of individual benefits. It also includes the mature joy of accepting individual responsibility and making individual sacrifice. He resolved the dispute by recognizing the validity of both community ties and individualism and taught that lesson to his children.

For more Anne Kass articles, go here to select from complete list of 97 articles

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