Monthly Archives: November 2016

A picture speaks louder than a thousand words. Reflections of a family mediator.

Browsing Facebook I saw a photo of 4 siblings. The children were smiling, but the smile didn’t quite meet the eyes of the eldest child. I didn’t recognise the children, (the author was a friend of a friend), but the photo intrigued me. The author who had posted the photo said he hadn’t seen his children for 6 months and this photo had been sent to him by a friend. He said his ex-wife, (believe me that’s a much friendlier description than he used), hadn’t let him see them. He said he was missing so many milestones and felt like giving up on life! There was a lot of support for him. However, one woman defended his ex-wife and said he had “torn her world apart”, by leaving her for another woman. He said she had been an awful wife and he left ‘her’ and not the children. He said she had no right to stop him seeing his children.

The children were caught in the cross fire. The split was clearly very bitter and they must be suffering. I wondered if the elder children had access to Facebook and had seen their Father’s post. Had their mum confided in them? Did they feel that their childhood had ended in a flash and was the eldest forced to grow up and become the man of the house? How must it feel to live with your father all your life and then not see him for 6 months? Did they feel like their world had crumbled around them? Did they feel abandoned? Did mum reinforce that belief as she was grieving for the relationship and her lost future? Did dad feel a mixture of anger, guilt and loss? Did the children want to see him? Were they worried they would hurt their mother if they did? Did they have someone they could talk to about their feelings?

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Life is usually not black and white; with one good parent and one bad parent. Decent people can make bad decisions. However, children really need their parents to put their needs first when they are separating – and that’s not easy when a parent may feel like their world is falling apart. Initially, children may feel they don’t want to see a parent who has left, especially if it is due to an affair – this arouses highly complex emotions for all sorts of reasons, not just the anger of the left-behind parent, though it can be that. The leaver wants to move forward and may want to return to a sense of normality and introduce the children to their new partner. It’s often hard for the person who has been left to agree to that – and very often the children may also be adamant they don’t want to see the other parent and especially meet their new partner, as they may have feelings of rejection and abandonment. They are quite likely to be grieving for the loss of the family they had – and in that state feel unable to move on and cope with new relationships, it may just too soon for that.

Parents have to find a way to discuss these and other parentings issues and protect their children from acrimony and avoidable hurt and loss. Mediation creates a safe and neutral place for these conversations to take place. Furthermore, the mediator is highly trained and experienced in facilitating their much needed conversations and can help with formulating new  boundaries and ways of communicating and planning that work.  This helps parents to focus on their children’s future and what’s best for them. Children of an appropriate age and understanding (roughly over age 10, sometimes younger with older siblings) can also speak confidentially to a mediator in a child inclusive mediation – something many children really appreciate. They don’t make decisions; but their feelings are taken into account and can be respected. This is empowering for children. Studies show adults whose parents split up when they were children often look back and say that they felt unheard when their parents separated, that no one asked them how they felt or what they wanted and it made them feel they were not  important and didn’t matter.

To return to the Facebook photograph and my so-typical story of a separating family in terrible pain – the father’s frustration and grief was palpable and the mother’s friend described a woman who was also in a great deal of pain. The photograph of their oldest child’s face spoke of his suffering and tension – and it is very unlikely the others were unaffected by the situation, however bright their smiles. Parents will sadly continue to separate – but the ways and means they do this can make things infinitely worse – or easier. I hope they find their way to mediation; it could save them and their children from a great deal of further heart-ache.

A positive message for children during a breakup

Driving to work on my way to mediate with a separating couple, I heard a song playing on the radio by James TW called, ‘When you love someone’. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bf3CJZ4hvg. The song is about a child’s parents splitting up. The video is cinematic and well worth a watch (please follow the link). The parents talk to their son and tell him everything will be ok. James says he wrote the song after a young drummer he was teaching told him his parents were getting divorced. He said in a statement to Huffpost, “The first thing I thought was how are they going to explain it to him in a positive way and one where he would understand. I wanted there to be a song that he could listen to which would make him feel better about everything that was going on.”

The Lyrics;

Come home early after class

Don’t be hanging ’round the back of the schoolyard I’ve been called up by a teacher. She says she can’t even reach you ’cause you’re so far. You’ve been talking with your fist. We didn’t raise you up like this, now did we? There have been changes in this house. Things that you don’t know about in this family. It don’t make sense, but nevertheless. You gotta believe us, it’s all for the best It don’t make sense The way things go Son you should know

Chorus

Sometimes moms and dads fall out of love. Sometimes two homes are better than one. Some things you can’t tell your sister ’cause she’s still too young. Yeah you’ll understand When you love someone

There ain’t no one here to blame

Nothing’s going to change with your old friends. Your room will stay the same ‘Cause you’ll only be away on the weekends. It don’t make sense but nevertheless You gotta believe us, it’s all for the best It don’t make sense It don’t add up. We’ll always love you no matter what

Come home early after class

Don’t be hanging ’round the back of the schoolyard And if we’re crying on the couch Don’t let it freak you out. This has been so hard

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The video depicts a teenage boy’s parents having a number of heated arguments at the end of their marriage whilst he watches the marriage unravel. The boy doesn’t know how to handle his emotions and gets into trouble at school. Eventually he breaks down and cries and his mother comforts him. She then drives him to see his father and watches as his father hugs him and reassures him. The message is a positive one. The reality is that 1 in 2 marriages fail and inevitably many children will experience their parents breaking up. Sometimes it is better for parents to live in separate households, as they can then be happier individuals and better parents.

It’s vital that children aren’t drawn into any arguments, confided in or asked to take sides. They need to be shielded from any hostility. The best way parents can help children to feel safe and secure is to continue co-parenting their children. That’s not easy when parents may be feeling hurt, angry and scared. Mediation can help parents improve their communication, plan their futures and find some peace. Children need their parents to do this as soon as possible so they know that they will be ok and that both their parents will still be there for them.

At Focus Mediation, we have specially trained mediators who can talk directly with children so they can have a voice and this helps them to feel heard and understood. Call us today to take the first step towards a more settled future for your family.

Some useful resources for helping children during separation:

http://voicesinthemiddle.org.uk – a website for children whose parents are separating/ divorcing

http://www.resolution.org.uk/site_content_files/files/separation_and_divorce_helping_parents_to_help_children_2.pdf

http://www.partnershipforchildren.org.uk/resources/my-child-is-worried-about/divorce-separation/how-to-help-children-adapt.html

Miscuing one another – what’s that?

People miscue one another every-day; mediators are no exception. I did it this morning with my 8 years’ old son. He really didn’t want to go to school. I think I displayed super human levels of patience and understanding for about 2 hours! Then my patience ran dry as we were late and I was seriously frustrated. My tone changed and I got angry.

I told him to hurry up and that his behaviour was terrible. It escalated and he was crying and refusing to move and I was now shouting. If I had hoped that this would be more successful than my previous cajoling then I was very much mistaken. He was more adamant than ever that he wasn’t going to school and I couldn’t make him. I was determined he was!  We were in deadlock. As he’s eight I was able to frog march him to the car, but felt awful as he was sobbing.  I couldn’t calm him down and he went into school upset. Strong arm tactics won’t work at all between adults and weren’t very effective for me with my son either.

My cajoling didn’t work with my son, but losing my temper made the situation a million times worse. What did I expect? My son could not see I was upset or angry and stop and rationalise his fears about school, he was far too agitated himself. So sadly I triggered the wrong response and set myself up for failure: this is what miscuing really is.

I have another personal example I sometimes give clients. My husband used to ‘forget’ to take the bins out every week- a job I struggled with as they are really heavy.  For months I’d nag him to do it and he’d invariably forget and I’d be angry. Nothing changed. I decided to take my own advice and improve our communication. Using sentences starting with “I feel” rather than “you… never take the bins out…” I told him how I felt. I told him the bins were too heavy for me to carry, I invariably dropped rubbish out of them and made a mess and I was often running late as our youngest is struggling with school etc.

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He nodded and said ok. The next day he did it. I acknowledged his effort and thanked him when I got home. He then apologised and said he genuinely used to forget to take the bins out as he leaves very early and didn’t realise how much it would help me if he did it. He’s never forgotten them since. I thought he had heard all the reasons I needed his help and just didn’t care. However, the way I had asked him meant he just couldn’t hear me properly; he just heard my criticism and anger.  So, the saying, “it’s not what you ask, but how you ask”, really resonates with me.

I often hear clients miscuing one another in mediation, especially when the topics they are discussing are very emotive and important to them. And it’s proven that when people separate their emotions can be as powerful as those experienced during a bereavement.  It’s so hard to remain calm and logical; especially if you feel your ex is standing in the way of you seeing your children, or is hurting them or preventing you from moving on.  Miscuing can make you feel you can’t win whatever you say your ex will always hear it wrongly.

However, you can control how you communicate with your ex, and you can also control your response. You can also phrase things in such a way that your ex is more likely to find them acceptable. Always be polite and avoid personal attacks. Try smiling. No, I’m not kidding! One couple told me how awful hand over was at contact time. The wife said the husband scowled and tried to intimidate her.

The husband said the wife hated him so much she wouldn’t look at him and treated him with contempt. I broke the encounters down. I asked what was the first thing they each saw? The wife said she didn’t even look – she knew her ex would be staring at her and trying to make her feel bad. The husband said he saw her looking the other way and it made him angry she didn’t even think he was worth looking at. They were both miscuing one another.

I suggested next time they made eye contact and said ‘Hello’. They needed to let their son know they could be civil. That genuinely was the start of them understanding each other better and being able to co-parent their son. They needed to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and they both persevered because they loved their son. He was so much happier and felt more secure when they were getting along. They realised they each loved their son far more than they disliked one another.

Mediation is not an easy option. It can feel uncomfortable. However, mediation helps improve communication and reduces the frequency of ex-partners misunderstanding one another. It gives children what they need and want the most; parents who can and do put them first.