Taming Your Ego
Risa Ennis Family Mediation and Counselling Services
Telephone: (416) 636-2946
Copyright 2007 - 2011 All rights reserved.
WHAT CAN I REALLY GET OUT OF FAMILY MEDIATION
(ESPECIALLY IF YOU KNEW HOW DIFFICULT MY EX-SPOUSE IS)
Whatever the unique history which led up to the separation, it can safely be assumed that concerns about re-creating a new life with children will bring up all kinds of fear-based thinking, since co-parenting, until successfully lived for some time, seems at the outset to be extremely challenging, if not downright impossible to master. To complicate matters, the reasons behind the separation cannot be fully put aside while negotiating the practical aspects of sharing responsibilities for joint children, as this would be unrealistic. Betrayals are never fully healed, only managed.
Risa Ennis Family Mediation and Counselling Services
With the understandable emotions surrounding separation such as fear, betrayal, exhaustion, abandonment, depression, frustration, anxiety and shame, to name a few, many clients assume mediation cannot be effective since mediation requires an objective, non-emotive and child-focused perspective.
This is where some clarification may be helpful for those persons contemplating mediation.
I have never had a couple enter mediation without the difficult emotions mentioned above. Mediation should not have the unrealistic expectation that before entering the process, these emotions must be “let go” because rarely do ex-spouses enter mediation with full grief resolution.
I believe full grief resolution takes somewhere between three to five years and sometimes beyond. And even then triggers to the initial wounds will continue to occur and must be managed long-term.
That is why mediation can be extremely effective. Through the process of a skilled mediation, the mediator, through getting to know the clients, can greatly assist in the grieving process, through the creation of a parenting plan since all the fears associated with all the losses must be addressed.
I hear this sentiment often from clients.
Family mediation is typically used to help parents who are about to separate, are separated/divorced or have been struggling in litigation to craft appropriate parenting plans and learn how to create a co-parenting dynamic.
"Crafting a parenting plan requires both parents..."
For example, crafting a parenting plan requires both parents to confront the heart wrenching reality of not seeing their children every day as they did under one roof. This painful reality, when dealt with here, in a non-aggressive and safe forum can help struggling parents come to terms with this reality and move forward. Years later, many co-parents happily tell me that on their times without their children, they have been able to take care of themselves, personally and professionally for the first time in their lives and without guilt. This is part of the grief resolution every parent must master with sharing joint children and most clients master this transition beautifully once they wrestle with their own thought processes surrounding this reality.
My parenting plans have two parts. The first part deals with all the important dates, including the regular schedule, holiday schedule and other special days throughout the year, so parents can solidify both emotionally and practically a new normal routine and recreate order in their new lives. This too is instrumental in assisting the clients to move from grief to renewal. The second part of the parenting plan deals with decision-making and shared parenting philosophies for the best interests of the children. In order to make decisions and create consistencies in two homes, co-parenting communication must be addressed. This is the most essential part of mediation and the most complex.
The complexity with co-parenting communication involves the task for clients of leaving the marital dynamic and replacing it with a more formal co-parenting dynamic for the purpose of fulfilling parenting responsibilities but also, to grieve their lost vision of a union together.
On the surface, this seems logical, necessary and of course in the best interests of the children to acclimatize to a co-parenting dynamic. If you pick up any book on successful post-divorce life, there will be a universal appeal to become amicable at all costs for the best interests of your children and the co-parents.
But working every day with the courageous clients who come here for many years, has shown me that it is not that clients do not embrace the intellectual message to get along. The challenge is that grieving the loss of a marriage and all that was to be theirs in their shared vision of love and commitment is not an intellectual endeavour.
It is an emotional one, which grieving is. Grieving is best achieved, I have found, where the atmosphere is safe, non-aggressive and non-judgmental. Also the clients do not feel overly pushed, but are allowed to do this grieving work on their own time. Here in mediation, clients are treated with calm and given honest feedback. Part of what I want the clients to embrace is the belief that they deserve to have happiness and peace again. This takes time and clients cannot be rushed through the grieving process or made to feel inadequate for not “letting go”. Quite frankly, once the initial shock wears off, most clients who initially were so distressed about a separation they did not want, bravely come to the realization that they not only want to let go, they want to now think very carefully about how best to take care of themselves moving forward. This message is very central to my mediations as well.
The challenge though is that a parenting plan must be designed as soon as is needed so it almost seems like a luxury to grieve at one’s own pace. Here too in mediation, it is perfectly acceptable to draft the plan in steps if that makes more sense to the unique situation or to agree to revisit and amend the plan at the next developmental stage.
"There has to be a sensible balance..."
There has to be a sensible balance to each parent’s individual work in healing and the need to move forward with the children’s practical daily schedules.
What if one parent can embrace this challenging work here in mediation genuinely and the other is not willing or able to do so? Again, mediation is extremely valuable in determining if both parties are willing and able, because both have to be willing and able. I advise clients that if we do not see positive gains in three to six sessions, most probably mediation is not advisable and other remedies must be sought. This is a short and effective way to accept the reality that perhaps informal negotiations must not be held onto unrealistically but must be replaced with other measures.
Mediation is strongly encouraged in family law courts as a starting point but a modicum of maturity, good will and a child-focused perspective must be present at the outset. I will let the clients know clearly whether I believe these critical criteria are present so no one wastes time or money here.
Another great benefit of mediation is the experience it can give to
the children. I am a mediator who feels it is essential to bring the
children into the process in an age-appropriate way. The benefits
of having children participate in mediation are incredible. Some of
these benefits are: learning effective conflict resolution skills at a
young age, learning to grieve the end of the family as they knew it,
learning how to heal previous wounds with parents/siblings, etc.
that were never addressed, gaining the confidence through
assertiveness to state feelings and have those feelings accepted by
parents, practicing the lost art of self-respect, mutual respect,
self-discipline and positive reframing of powerful wording. These
skills encompass the important emotional intelligence skills we are
in such short supply of in our present world. With these skills,
many of the children and teens that pass through my mediation,
not only leave with renewed optimism, maturity and excellent communication skills beyond their years, but some teens have expressed to me their desire to pursue mediation as a career themselves because the experience made them feel heard and understood.
Clients are frequently concerned that mediation may take too much time. Although some mediations do take significant time, astute clients understand that taking the time now will hopefully ensure laying down a solid foundation for them living a more enriched life post-marriage.
I am grateful and energized myself every day that I am part of this process with so many clients who bravely keep coming back to achieve through their best efforts, a new beginning for themselves and their children.
Mediation can be seen as a conduit and mechanism for embracing changes in the lives of family members. What begins with fear and pain can be transformed into courage, self-confidence and new opportunities.
Mediation is not a panacea, especially where there is the inability or unwillingness of one or both clients to model maturity. But by skipping this first level of negotiating parenting plans, the many layers of grief resolution for all members of the family, may never be given a chance.
The co-parenting education piece of mediation is the essence of a child-focused mediation since all of the academic literature agrees that conflict is the number one determinant of poor adjustment for children of divorce. Minimizing and alleviating conflict is the most important work to be done in mediation – much more than what days each child spends with each parent. But co-parenting communication touches on the raw wounds for each parent of grieving the end of the marriage.
Although this work at helping ex-spouses transform their relationship sounds much like therapy, in mediation, the focus is on the parenting plan document and how best to craft it, both for legal purposes and for healing so the format in mediation is much different than talk therapy. Every mediation has a therapeutic component but the emphasis is on the final document which must be worked through in mediation sessions to bring it alive. That is, if both parents leave mediation feeling the process was fair, although perhaps painful at times, and it achieved its’ practical goals of fulfilling the needs of the children, they begin to see they can cope, they begin to regain their lost selves, and as a result, they feel empowered. These outcomes can be similarly found in other therapeutic interventions but in mediation, different from therapy, the goal is a finished parenting plan document which will become legally binding once it is reviewed by legal professionals.
"Another great benefit of mediation is the experience for the children."