As a parent, a family mediator, observing others with their children and having family members tell me stories about my own child, I have learned how to appreciate my child, their individual character and I have been cognizant about cultivating their strengths and interests all the while acknowledging their needs and concerns. Over time, I have realised that this is one way for a parent to listen to what their child is saying and to respond in a respectful, understanding and supportive way.
When working with clients experiencing separation or divorce in Mediation, there is an exercise that I may do with parents in the first session that allows the child to be “part of the mediation process”, without the child “being part of the mediation process”. This intentional exercise provides the opportunity for the parents to “discuss” their child in front of one another, to share their thoughts and experiences about and with their child, without competing with one another about who is the “better” parent. What they discover together, whether they like it or not, is that they may actually have similar positive and negative experiences with their child and that they experience similar celebrations and frustrations as a parent. They discover that they may actually be closer together about being on the same page with co-parenting than they are farther apart. This assumption of having to be on opposing sides following separation, may have fueled some of the parental conflict so far. Now, how ready are you as a parent to provide an environment in order to nurture the growth and development of your child after separation?
Here are three things to consider:
Both of you want what is best for your children.
This is a mindset that shifts your criticism into curiosity. I have sometimes said that someone may be disappointed if they believe their assumptions are true. This relates to the areas of making unrealistic assumptions about someone and then, when it does not pan out, there is disappointment. Be more realistic about your needs and share them. Do not assume the other knows what your needs are. This is the same about parenting, however, starting from the viewpoint that both parents have the best interest of the child in mind, this is positive thinking. The other thing to consider, is that the other parent may have a different way of getting there. This is where the curiosity part comes in. How can you integrate different ideas of getting to the same outcome, to do what you both want is best for your children? This takes time, energy and patience. My colleague Liz Borger shared that she sometimes sends pictures to the other parent of them and the children that pop up on Facebook. “Most times it elicits a response of laughter. I find it creates connection between us and the kids together as co-parents. I can also send the pics without saying too much. (A picture is worth a thousand words)”. Another idea I have seen from some of my friends who are separated, is to prepare birthday cards or Mother/Father’s Day cards for the other parent when the children are younger for them to give and to be posted on the fridge, or in the child’s bedroom.
Both of you have to laugh and cry together.
It is important to take into considerations the character traits discussed together in mediation, the concerns and the needs you have for your children and find a way to celebrate them and to discuss the good and the disappointments, without blaming one another. It would not be unusual for the children to behave in a different way in either home. There are a lot of reasons why that would be. Scheduling a time to discuss one thing at a time, without approaching it with a negative attitude and blaming could be one option. Another colleague Linsay Nixon reinforced this by sharing with me: “The best security9 blanket a child can have is parents who respect each other”. And quite simply: “You can’t control what your ex does, but you can control how you choose to respond to your ex and what example you set for your children”
Acceptance, Allowance, and Moving Forward.
It is important to accept that “this is who you are working with” and allow that person to be who they are as a co-parent. It is also important to move onto the next thing by not harboring on the past. The important thing to remember is that as parents, we do not want our children to worry about the future, they need a sense of continuity and predictability. Remember, the exercise about the child in mediation, some parents will identify that a regular routine is important for their child, or similar rules and expectations in both homes would be of benefit. Therefore, this is an opportunity to develop a plan that is similar in both homes, that will insure their child is growing up in a secure environment.
The best outcome for your child is to have parents who are taking the time to communicate without conflict and making decisions together. Keeping in mind what your child’s needs and concerns are, and not what you need or what your concerns are, the quality of the co-parents will have a strong influence on the mental and emotional well-being of the child.