I regularly mediate child arrangements between parents who have very limited communication or none at all. They often ask for help working out a schedule setting out how their child will share time with each of them. As a very new trainee mediator, I co-mediated child arrangements with a very experienced mediator. I used printed calendars to help the parents plan child arrangements for the next year. They both seemed very relieved when it was resolved. The supervising mediator thanked me and took over the remainder of the session. As I watched her interventions, the penny dropped – I had only tackled the surface issues. There was absolutely no longevity in what I had done. The parents did not have the tools to vary the arrangements when they became outdated. The parents needed much more than someone to draw up a timetable for them. I had simply stuck a plaster over a weeping cut. If I didn’t facilitate the healing of the wound, the plaster would come off and they would be back to square one. That’s what court orders often do and that’s why parents can bounce back and forth to court for years. The cause of the issues between them are ignored. Separated parents have suffered a huge trauma and need time to grieve the loss of their relationship, family unit and their planned future. When we separate without children, we can often walk away. We don’t have to communicate if we don’t want to and so it’s easier to heal. However, parents don’t have that option. They don’t have the luxury of licking their wounds completely in private and avoiding one another. Their children need them to co-parent so they can feel safe and secure. However that’s very hard to do when each parent may be feeling exceptionally hurt or angry.
Fake it until you make it
I learnt quickly from that first mediation session that parents will rarely say ‘please help us to improve our parental communication.’ They focus on the problems that the lack of communication has caused and ask for help with those issues. Mediation is an ideal place to have difficult but necessary conversations so parents can move forward. It draws a line in the sand and both parents at the same time commit to change. I once told my young son to ‘fake it until he made it’ when he told me he didn’t get on with a child that everyone else liked. It wasn’t bad advice. He was probably making it clear to the other child that he didn’t like him and that led to the child responding in a similar vain. It didn’t matter who had started it but by being polite to the child, my son began to improve and repair their relationship. A parent once said that they initially treated their co-parenting relationship as a business arrangement – the business of raising their child. They treated one another like colleagues and then in time they began to trust one another again. It’s about transitioning from spouses to exes and then to co-parents.
Will you attend your adult child’s wedding?
A bride to be told me that she was getting married but each parent had a problem with the other attending. What a sad situation for her. Even if both did attend, she said she would worry about them on the day. Her fiancé’s parents were on good terms and were going to sit at the top table together, but she couldn’t imagine how she could ask her parents to do the same. I ask parents to imagine the future and how they can sow seeds now to make it better for their children. The reality is that if they want to share events such as a child’s wedding or a grandchild’s birthday party, then they have to put in the hard work now. To a child their parents will always be their family whether they are together or not. Therefore, it really does make sense to invest in their future by working on your co-parenting relationship now. Then your child never has to choose between parents or worry about how awkward it would feel to have both parents at their wedding.
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