Category Archives: Family

Squirrels Can’t Undo Safety pins – and they get the nuts whatever you do! – 2019

Ok it’s my turn to write the blog and all I can think about is the wretched squirrels! They have now penetrated two squirrel-proof bird-feeders in the garden. They can undo wire bags ties holding the lid down, they can chew through the string tying it down. When they failed to undo the safety pin holding the lid down, (my genius solution) they simply jiggled the whole thing until they broke the bottom and got the nuts that way. Squirrels one, Mary zero.

Squirrels Focus Mediation Blog

So I bought another squirrel proof birdfeeder. This one was really clever and I watched smugly as they attacked it in every way imaginable. The top screwed into the bottom – they could not undo that screw and separate the top and bottom, it had a very long thread, they could not get the nuts. The birds came, the tits (blue, great and coal), gold finches, the robin, sparrows, even a lesser spotted woodpecker. The crows gave up. The squirrels didn’t. I watched them come back again and again until one morning the top of the squirrel proof bird feeder was hanging there and the bottom and all the nuts in it, was on the ground. At least the bottom was, the nuts had gone. Squirrels two, Mary zero.

So how did they do it? The only answer must be they worked out they had to unscrew the top from the bottom and like acrobats in a circus they made that top spin around so unscrewing the top. I have this picture of them, tails behind in the wind, spinning around with the feeder lid until – Success! The feeder top is unscrewed and it splits in two and the prize of nuts is revealed on the ground, along with the bottom of the bird-feeder.

So what conceivable lesson is there for mediators or conflict resolution in this story of my squirrels (who are by the way enormous – fat, like overfed cats). Several actually, and anyway it’s a good story. So here are my conclusions – learned from my squirrels:

  • Never give up. However unlikely something is to work, it just may – and even really intractable disputes can be resolved if you get the right squirrel with enough persistence (did I say squirrel? – I meant mediator)
  • Just because it’s described itself as squirrel-proof it doesn’t mean it is. Just because something is described as impossible for mediation, because the parties are too far apart, or too conflicted or the dispute is intractable – doesn’t mean it is. Indeed the more emotional and irrational the dispute the more mediation has to offer, as it deals with emotions and wades into the non-legal area of feelings and beliefs the law cannot solve
  • Check the assumptions. I thought that I had squirrel-proof bird-feeders – how wrong was that? There are so many possibilities we cannot see. It took the squirrels to find them out. I expect a mediator could have done it – if they were small and light and liked nuts enough. That rules me out, too fat!
  • Someone, somewhere once said that a prisoner thinks more on his release than his jailor does on keeping him captive. That is also the case with people in conflict, which is a type of prison. The answers to our mediations are often there right under everyone’s noses. Mediators as facilitators are well placed to spot these possibilities; it is what we are trained to do – to be open, alert and tuned in – a bit like squirrels. Just as everyone else is ready to give up, there is the mediator, bright eyed and bushy tailed . . . whizzing about resolving the dispute.

By the way, all advice regarding squirrels gratefully received.

Author: Mary Banham-Hall, Family Mediator, Milton Keynes & Bedford

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations; Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk 

The Power of Listening when in Conflict

A friend asked me for advice as she was experiencing difficulties making child arrangements with her child’s father. She felt he was making fairly big decisions without consulting her and they had argued. I couldn’t mediate for them as I knew them both. They had arranged to meet to discuss their issues. She wanted information about the law. She frantically made notes and said she had prepared a rough script covering her main concerns so she didn’t get bamboozled. My advice? I told her to rip the notes up and to tell him she really wanted to listen to him and hear how things felt from his perspective. I told her not to interrupt him and to listen to learn and not to reply. I said it would be hard, but she shouldn’t try and defend herself or reply until he had finished. At that point she should summarise what he had said to let him know she had heard him and to check she had understood him correctly. She thanked me but I knew she was thinking, ‘is that it?’ That really is it though! Listening is key. When we actively listen to someone they feel heard and far more willing to then listen to us.

Speak Less, Listen More

Speak Less, Listen More

My friend called me after their meeting. She said she had very reluctantly kept her notes in her bag and followed my advice. ‘It worked!’ she exclaimed. ‘I listened even though at one point I had to sit on my hands to stop myself interrupting. After I listened and summarised how I felt he felt, he listened to me – I mean he really listened.’ She said she told him what she had told him many times before; but for some reason this time he actually listened and took on board her concerns. They had stopped talking at each other and were now talking to each other.

When we have conversations we often miss much of what is said as we are busy listening only to respond. If we listen to learn then misunderstandings can be cleared up then and there, just by asking some simple questions or seeking clarification. It requires curiosity and is a skill that has to be developed. Next time you feel that a conversation is deteriorating, stop and ask the person to repeat what they have said as you aren’t sure you understand. Very often this can stop a situation escalating. When clients come to me they have invariably stopped listening or they don’t listen well enough. I’m guilty of this too at times. However, I know the key to resolving communication issues is to remind myself that I need to speak less and listen more.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

 

What To Expect In The First Mediation Session

If both of you are willing to move ahead to a first mediation session, and your mediator thinks your case is suitable for mediation, they will fix a first mediation session.

It will depend on the issues you face as to the timing of a first session following the MIAMs.

What to expect in the first mediation Focus Mediation Blog

Our role is to offer you a safe and neutral environment where you feel able to express the issues that have been blocking for example parental arrangements or a financial settlement.

Parental Arrangements

I like to bring parents together as soon as possible to start to talk about the issues they face. The flexibility of mediation means you can bring any issues to the first session you wish to discuss.

When dealing with child arrangements we aren’t just looking at whether arrangements are possible, you can talk about the softer issues.

Why the arrangements aren’t working is often around issues of parental communication – the way parents speak to each other, or the timing of pick ups and drop offs, working up to overnight staying contact can be an issue between parents, so too the introduction of new partners particularly if you are only recently separated.

I describe the process in the first session as building a bridge, and any bridge needs firm foundations. In the first session we aim to put the foundation stones in place. Arrangements both parents are willing to sign up to for a short period of time say 4 – 6 weeks.

I ask parents to come back to another session at that point to talk about what went well and what didn’t go so well. Sometimes after the second session parents feel able to move ahead together without needing to return, and sometimes they need to know they can come back for a third session.

As they start to work well together as parents they start to build their own bridge of trust and understanding to provide that essential framework and support for their children.

Property and Finance

Couples coming to mediation to talk through property and finance are often keen to get to a resolution.

The first mediation session for property and finance follows pretty much the same financial procedures as those laid down by the court.

I usually wait 4 – 6 weeks before fixing a first mediation session. It is important that you have as much financial information as possible for the first meeting and often pension information – cash equivalent values – can take several weeks to obtain. You are paying for the sessions so it is important they are not wasted.

A bit like a jigsaw puzzle you can’t create the picture without looking at all the pieces and in the first mediation session we need you to turn over all the pieces by completing the Form E, so we can see “what’s in the financial pot”, just as you would if each of you was working with a solicitor.

Once we know what your assets and liabilities are we ask you to start to look at your needs set against what can be afforded.

Mediation is not suitable in some cases and it won’t work if one or both of you is not upfront and honest about your finances. You can’t complete a jigsaw with some of the pieces missing.

However, if you both want to get through to the other side of your financial issues and move ahead with your lives, mediation offers a collaborative and expedited way forward.

Some couples have full financial information at the first session and have already considered possible ways of splitting assets and sharing liabilities. Some couples need time to assemble their information and think about options, those couples will need more sessions.

I usually run 1 ½ hour sessions for couples in property and finance matters but if couples would like to spend half a day or a day working through issues I can do this too.

I also offer One Day Lawyer Assisted Mediation – a topic for another time.

Author: Joanna Chawla LLB FMCA , Family Mediator, London & Watford

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

The Fears of a Divorcing Parent

A divorcing parent will often have fears about the future of their relationship with their child. If the family structure was traditional and one parent stayed at home whilst the other worked full time, it’s likely the working parent will have concerns about the level of their future involvement. Will they be judged because they weren’t as involved in the day-to-day care? The stay at home parent may also worry that they may be forced to go back to work full-time and that this might negatively impact the children. Such fears can lead to each becoming positional and this can cause conflict. The full-time working parent may fear the other parent will stop them seeing the children or will limit time to such an extent that it damages the relationship. The stay at home parent may argue that the other wasn’t very involved when they lived together and that they don’t understand why they are now insisting they spend much more time with the children. They may feel that their role is no longer valued. Obviously, there are numerous family models, and each will experience unique concerns.

the fears of a divorcing parent focus mediation blog

Communication When Divorcing

When parents decide to separate, communication may have broken down or become strained. Mediation creates a safe space for parents to work on improving their communication. They can share their concerns with one another and know they will be heard. At a recent mediation session, a father explained that he was ‘terrified’ that his relationship with his children would be irreparably damaged now he was no longer living in the same household as them. He had proposed child arrangements that meant that he would spend considerably more time with the children than he ever had before. His wife was frustrated; she had often asked him to spend more time away from the office when they were a couple. Now they had separated he was suggesting she return to work and he reduce his hours and provide some of the childcare. She felt he was dismissing her role. The wife said they had agreed to a traditional relationship and she had given up a well-paid career to be a full-time mother to their four children for the last 12 years. She worried about the impact on the children if she returned to work when they were also dealing with the breakdown of their parents’ marriage. The husband said that he needed her to return to work so that he could take reduced hours so that he could spend more meaningful time with the children. In mediation I helped them to explore each other’s concerns and fears in greater detail. They both loved their children very much and each feared the divorce would result in child arrangements that could negatively impact their relationship with the children. The husband explained that sharing a home fulltime with the children had meant that he had been able to touch base with them in the mornings and evenings and that he had spent quality time with them at weekends. His biggest fear was that he would only see them every other weekend and their close bond would deteriorate. The wife reassured him that it was very important to her that the children maintained a strong relationship with him. She expressed her concerns about returning to work; she worried about the impact on the children if she no longer did the school runs. She viewed the school runs in the same way that he had viewed touching base with the children in the mornings and evenings. They continued to share their fears and concerns in a way they hadn’t been able to outside the mediation room. The husband made it clear he wasn’t asking her to work full time and stop the school runs. This led to them together making child arrangements that they felt would help the children to cope with the changes that lay ahead. The wife found a role which allowed her to still cover all morning drop offs and a couple of afternoons. This paid less than the husband had hoped, but he was still able to slightly reduce his hours (and work from home one day a week), so he could collect the children from school twice a week. They listened and compromised so the children didn’t suffer.

So Why Does Mediation Resolve Issues That Parents Can’t?

Often at intake a parent tells me that they fear mediation won’t work as they have repeatedly told the other parent how they feel, and it has fallen on deaf ears. A mediator doesn’t have a magic wand. However, their impartiality allows them to create an environment where each parent can be listened to. Outside mediation during a difficult conversation one may have walked away, or an argument may have ensued. The mediator makes sure the discussions are fair and each parent has an opportunity to express themselves clearly. It’s not an easy solution – it’s hard work and painful at times. However, it lays important foundations for respectful parental communication. Parents won’t always agree and that’s normal regardless of whether they are a couple or separated. Each parent needs to grieve for the end of their relationship, and this takes time. Mediation enables couples to have difficult conversations at a time when emotions are running high and it’s too hard to resolve issues without the support of a professional.

When times are difficult it can be helpful to think about the future. What will your child thank you for handling well? How can you ensure that you will both be there for major events such as a graduation, wedding or even a grandchild’s 1st birthday? Nothing worth having comes without effort and that includes a healthy co-parenting relationship after divorce.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

Society Must Make Divorce Less Stressful For Children

It’s Family Mediation Week. The Family Mediation Association ‘FMAaims to raise awareness of mediation and how it can help separating families manage their issues collaboratively and productively. We support Family Mediation Week and thank the FMA for all their hard work. – #FamilyMediationWeek – #ABetterWay -.

family mediation 2019 focus mediation

So why don’t more separating couples mediate?

Clients tell us that they find the mediation process supportive and that it not only resolves their issues, but also improves their communication. However, there are many separating couples still battling in court. Litigation is very expensive and the court route is full of delay and uncertainty. Finances and child arrangements can be agreed quickly and cost efficiently in mediation. Mediation creates a safe space to have difficult but necessary conversations. So why don’t more separating couples mediate? Fear. They worry that mediation won’t result in an agreement that adequately meets their needs. They may believe that their spouse knows more about their finances or is a more persuasive communicator and will convince the mediator to take their side. However, the mediator is trained to ensure the process is fair and each participant is updated and fully informed. Each spouse is listened to and their concerns are taken into consideration. Power imbalances are also identified and addressed. The participants make their own decisions and retain full control. Mediators welcome solicitor’s advice so clients feel safe to make decisions about their future. Sadly, many cases that are suitable for mediation end up in court. The court looks for fairness and not winners and so often the financial and emotional investment is disproportionate to any gain.

Divorce is a huge trauma – let’s all support separating couples

Divorce/separation is a huge trauma for spouses and their children. Very few take the decision to divorce lightly. Family Law needs to respect their difficult decision and the divorce process should facilitate an amicable end to each marriage. To children their separated parents will always be their family. Blaming one person for the demise of the relationship promotes conflict not peace. Reform is coming and not before time. However, society as a whole also needs to support separating couple. Whilst a family member or friend may be hurting and need a shoulder to cry on, we also need to support them in their transition from spouse to co-parent. This means focusing on the future and not a past that cant be changed. Co-parents are parents who are each actively involved in their children’s lives after separation. These parents communicate respectfully and exchange info to keep children emotionally and physically safe. It isn’t always easy but they persevere. Children need both parents and its parental conflict that harms them more than the divorce. Children learn from their parents and divorcing well teaches children that whilst not every marriage lasts forever, there is a dignified way to separate that keeps children safe and protected. Mediation supports and facilitates this. Entering into a court battle over finances and children should always be seen as a last resort. It’s important that all family law professionals regularly ask themselves if all their advice or interventions are child focused and likely to promote the transition from spouse to co-parent. It’s the duty of parents, friends, family, professionals, The Ministry of Justice and the media, to make divorce less stressful for children and promote more amicable divorces that create co-parents and not long term conflicted parents.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

 

What advice would you give to a close friend experiencing divorce?

At Focus Mediation our Lawyer Mediators collectively have many years of experience supporting separating or divorcing couples. We asked them what advice they would give to a close friend experiencing divorce.

Mary Banham-Hall

Mary Banham-Hall FMCA – Family Mediator & Collaborative Family Lawyer

You and your children will hurt enough without fighting, so don’t let conflict take over. Remember what’s important and focus on that. ALSO Working out what to do together helps you both and is definitely the way to go. Yes, it’s hard but worth it – and with a mediator’s help you can do it!


Emma Bugg

Emma Bugg FMCA – Family Mediator & Collaborative Family Lawyer

I would recommend they read the Separated Parents Information Programme ‘SPIP’ and Resolution “Helping parents to help children”  handbook and to read as many other resources as possible to find out how best to navigate a way forward that works for their children and enables them to continue their parenting role as best they can.


Jane Leadbetter

Jane Leadbeater – Family Mediator

Try mediation. It can help you to resolve issues quickly and at much less financial and emotional cost than negotiations between solicitors or court proceedings.


Rachel Lander

Rachel Lander – Family Mediator

Lots of people seek the support of counselling when their marriage breaks down.  A counsellor can really help you in working through the difficult feelings and emotions that you may face.  In turn this can assist you in approaching practical issues, such as where you will all live, how the bills will be paid, emotion – and money – and add to your stress.  There are many alternative ways to civilly reach agreement with your ex: mediation (coupled with advice from a solicitor as the mediation progresses) will provide a forum to explore issues, future pension provision etc., in a more pragmatic and calmer way.

Remember that you don’t have to ‘fight’ or ‘have your day in court’.  Both of those approaches will drain you of much needed energy in a safe environment and to reach proposals that in a lot of cases can be put before the court by post and made into a binding court order.

If there is an insurmountable blockage that can’t be resolved in mediation, then consider arbitration as an alternative to court proceedings.  An independent arbitrator who is picked by you and your ex (usually an arbitration trained Barrister or Solicitor) will act like a Judge, on a private basis, and can deal with matters in a more flexible way than traditional court proceedings including incorporating mediation into the arbitration itself.


Elaine Clarke

Elaine Clarke FMCA – Family Mediator

Don’t rush into agreeing anything. Mediation will help you – it’s a cheaper alternative to court – but also be guided by legal advice. I believe with the help of a mediator, separating couples can make their own arrangements for separating, rather than battling through the courts. This is usually much better for them and their families, as well as being quicker and costing less, both financially and emotionally.


Sara Stoner

Sara Stoner FMCA – Family Mediator

Feeling hurt and angry is normal and to be expected. You can’t change the past and you won’t agree on it. Focusing on your future enables you to move forward and find peace. A court battle won’t make you feel any better and you will regret wasting so much time and money. Don’t dismiss mediation just because you don’t get along. Mediation is a safe space to have difficult but necessary conversations that you haven’t managed to have. Decide your own future and resolve matters quickly and cost efficiently. Your children need you to sort out finances so they aren’t caught up in a toxic situation. It’s not the divorce that harms children; it’s the prolonged parental conflict.


Caroline Friend

Caroline Friend FMCA – Family Mediator & Collaborative Family Lawyer

This is one of the worst times in your life, so don’t be surprised if you are overwhelmed with difficult emotions. The trick is to try to put those emotions on one side when you are looking at your financial settlement, and when you are making arrangements for the children. So far as finances go, maybe jot down how you would like your life to look
in one year’s time; two years time, five years time: generate some thoughts on how you can best develop your independence while supporting the family. As for the children: what do you want to avoid; what do you want to aim for for them? How would you like them to look back on this difficult period in their lives? What can you do to make sure they continue to grow up with good relationships with both their parents and
don’t feel caught up in the conflict?

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

 

The Orange and getting more of what you want – 2018

Does it ever feel that Christmas is one long negotiation in your house? It is in ours – what to eat, what to drink, what to watch on TV, what game to play… Thinking about the next couple of weeks with the family has put me in mind of a negotiation parable. You may have heard it before, but I hope you won’t mind if I retell it.

The OrangePicture the scene. It’s Christmas Eve, and Janet and John are arguing over an orange. They both desperately want this orange and won’t give up the orange at all, for anything else – they scream, they shout, they throw things. So what can we do?

The obvious solution is to come along with a nice sharp knife and cut the orange into two, giving Janet and John half each. If we were feeling more creative, we could even allow one to cut and the other to choose – this makes it fairer, perhaps, and gives Janet and John a hand in the solution. But there’s a problem with this solution: that neither Janet nor John actually comes away with what they want. Instead, they both come away with only 50% of what they want. As a solution, it’s a crude one that leaves them both dissatisfied.

The less obvious solution is to ask questions. Why does Janet want the orange? What plans does John have for the orange? By talking and listening to each other, it is possible that a better solution will present itself than simply cutting the orange in half. For example, in this case it turns out that Janet wants the whole orange’s peel as she is following a recipe that makes her mince pies extra-zingy, while John is planning Christmas morning Bucks Fizz cocktails and needs all the juice of the orange for these. So in fact, they can both get what they want out of the single orange: Janet can take all the peel and John can take all the juice. They just need to work together.

Real life problems are usually more complex of course, but the Christmas lesson here for all of us is that by asking questions and listening to the answers, there may be a chance that we can all have a more peaceful Christmas. Whether you’re arguing about an orange or something else, if you approach the problem with a question, some creativity, and a spirit of co-operation, you’re more likely to come away with more of what you really want.

Wishing you a merry Christmas and a happy and peaceful new year.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

 

What makes a Good Divorce?

Resolution is an organisation for solicitors and other professionals in England and Wales who commit to a constructive, non-confrontational approach to the resolution of family law matters. This week it’s Resolution’s ‘Good Divorce Week’ campaign. They are focusing on how separating or divorcing parents can limit the impact of conflict on their children. They also campaign for divorce reform and the removal of ‘blame’ within the current divorce process.  Parents need to focus on the future and not a past that can’t be changed. However, sometimes the current law requires one to dredge up the past and blame the other. It’s a poor start for parents transitioning from ex-spouses to co-parents. So is there such a thing as a ‘good divorce’? Perhaps the word ‘good’ is too ambitious. When parents separate or divorce they suffer a huge trauma. If they can divorce in a manner that doesn’t inflict further damage on each other or their children, then that is a positive outcome.

What Makes a good divorce Focus Mediation Blog Nov 18

Family Law Professionals

As family law professionals we have a duty to focus on the best interests of children and to enable couples to finalise their divorce, child arrangements and finances, as peacefully as possible. We should constantly review whether our current practices correspond with that ethos. In my experience, most solicitors encourage clients to peacefully reach agreement, (if possible), and avoid litigation. In mediated financial cases, once full disclosure has been completed, clients are more likely to reach a negotiated settlement if they first receive good legal advice from their solicitors. They trust their solicitors and therefore feel safe to enter into negotiations. What’s good advice? Good advice involves a solicitor also considering what they would advise the other party if they were their client. This grounds the advice and makes it more realistic. However, problems arise if each solicitor takes an extreme view. If a wife has been told she should seek a very high level of maintenance for a long term, but her husband has been told there should be no spousal maintenance, it’s so difficult for either to move away from their respective positions and focus on needs. Providing realistic advice is a very powerful way to reduce conflict between separating parents.

Solicitors and Mediators – let’s talk more

Let’s take more time to ask each other about our respective roles. What can we do better and what works well? What do we need from one another? One of the most informative conversations I had was at a pension seminar with three family solicitors. They asked me many insightful questions about mediation and explained their concerns and what they felt the positives and negatives of mediation were. Sharing information can help solicitors and mediators to together support clients and help them achieve a conflict free divorce.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

Christmas

The mediator’s diary is governed by the seasons. You’d think the breakdown of a relationship could occur at any time of the year, and indeed it does; but there are certain markers in the calendar that prompt people to seek our help. Organising the long summer holidays is one of them, especially when both parents are working. Christmas is another.

From about early November, separated couples are facing up to the tricky business of sharing their children over Christmas.

Christmas Focus Mediation Blog November 2018

 

Most people start from the base line of alternating year on year; but the devil is in the detail. What package is being alternated? Is it the whole of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, swapping on Boxing Day? Or does the swap occur half way through The Day Itself, so that both parents get to see them?

In some families, the dilemma is made easier by the traditions of the extended family. Perhaps they always gather on Boxing Day; perhaps, for religious or cultural reasons, they don’t celebrate Christmas at all.

But in some cases, they make things harder. Perhaps they live at the other end of the country so any visit needs to be for several days. Perhaps they don’t exist at all, and the parent who is without the children is completely alone.

Christmas Alone

Being without the children is the hardest consequence of any divorce. Being alone at Christmas is everyone’s worst fear. Put the two together, and you have something that is impossible to contemplate, let alone agree to.

Ask the children what they would like? You can bet your bottom tangerine that they would like their parents to get back together so that these impossible alternatives are no longer debated. Since that is not happening, they will probably respond according to age “Whatever” (truculent teenager), or “I really want to  see Mum AND Dad on Christmas Day (anxious small person).  Privately, they will probably all be thinking “Can we not do it like last year, it was too much to-ing and fro-ing and I felt sick from two lots of turkey”, but they won’t know whether to say it out loud: Christmas seems to make everyone so tense. Whatever way things are arranged, the children will always feel guilty about having to divide their time, leaving one parent alone for some of the holiday.

Here at Focus, we help couples explore the alternatives. Could you write in with suggestions: tell us how you do it, and whether it works? What to avoid? Mediation is all about sharing ideas and strategies – we’d love to hear from you.

Author: Caroline Friend, Family Mediator, Oxford.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

 

Difficult Conversations

I’ve just finished a book called “Difficult Conversations”*. I feel as if I’ve been given the key to a whole set of cupboards that have been locked for a long time. Here’s what is says:

Most of us put off having difficult conversations with our friends or family or colleagues because we are afraid of what might happen. What if the other person takes it badly? Reacts angrily? Ends the friendship? Fires us?

Difficult Conversations focus mediation blog

So the other person’s annoying or disappointing or insensitive behaviour continues to fester, and you continue to hold it against them. You either punish them with silence, or with crotchety attitudes, or you take the bull by the horns and accuse them of what they’re doing wrong in such a way that they feel pushed into a corner which they have to defend; they fight back and the whole thing gets confrontational and goes horribly wrong.

What is the point of having a difficult conversation? It’s not to create a fight. It’s to clear something up that’s getting in the way of a loving or friendly or constructive relationship. This book offers strategies for ensuring that, when you pluck up the courage to do something about the problem, you can engineer a positive outcome by following a three-stage pattern.

What Happened

You start by exchanging views on what happened, so that you can see each other’s version of events. The two accounts are often very different, which can shed light. The other person may tell you things you didn’t know about the background to what they did: something that happened behind the scenes that affected their behaviour with you.

How it made you feel

Then you can each describe the emotional impact of the incident. Here, you have to be careful not to accuse; instead, simply explain the feelings that arose in you as result of the behaviour. You each need to listen to the other and try to empathise with how they felt. If you don’t do this, those feelings of, say, resentment or loneliness will continue to colour everything: get them out, make sure they’ve been heard, and they will recede.

How it affected your opinion of yourself

Lastly, be open about how the incident or behaviour attacks your identity. You’ll need to have worked this out before you start the conversation. Did their behaviour leave you feeling you are a bad mother/husband/colleague? If those identities are important to you, they will be why you have been so shaken. So, let them know how important it is to you that you do a good job in that role and how you want to mend things so you can improve.

The learning conversation

Now you can see how you have contributed to the bad blood between you (because you’ve listened to what they’ve told you about what you did and how it made them feel), and you understand their contribution better. Ask them what they suggest you can both do from now on to improve matters between you. In other words, turn the conversation into an appeal for some shared proposals that will help you both mend matters.

The book is littered with excellent examples of Difficult Conversations; ones that need to be had, ones that go wrong, ones that work out well. There are numerous situations that ring bells, whether it’s in your marriage or with your parents, your children, your house-mate, your sibling or your boss. There’s practical advice and even some coaching. It’s succinctly written, very witty, very clear, and very wise.

If everyone put it into practice, there’d be no need for mediation!

* Difficult Conversations: how to discuss what matters most by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project.

Author: Caroline Friend, Family Mediator, Oxford.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

 

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