The Questions Every Parent Should Ask Themselves Before Mediation

Preparing for family mediation can sometimes be a daunting task. What you are going through is tough and we understand that sometimes there is stress and heightened emotions which can make it difficult to think clearly.

As mediators, we take on the role of facilitating the conversation between you, the parents. You are the best people to decide on the future of your children and our role is to help the conversation take place. Mediators are there to help that process in a way that is neutral and impartial. We don’t take sides and we can’t advocate on your behalf.

What helps the mediation process is if you are putting the children first in parenting decisions. It can be hard to separate your own needs from those of the children, so I’ve prepared some questions to keep the kids in mind.

For the purpose of this exercise, I will use a case study of Sally and Rob who have two girls who are 8 and 10. Sally has been offered a new job and she is has asked for mediation to formalise a parenting plan. Rob has been unable to understand why they can’t continue with the flexible agreement they have. He works shift work and needs flexibility.

1. What outcome do I want from this, and why? 

Sally wants a parenting routine which has set days to accommodate her new job. This is so she can earn some extra income to support herself and the children.

Sally has been finding it stressful that she never knows when Rob will have the children in advance. She will not be able to accept the new job if this can’t be formalised.

Rob doesn’t want things to change. His employer has refused set working hours in the past and he will risk losing his job. This will naturally impact him, and therefore his capacity to pay child support.

Being able to explain or articulate ‘why’ you hold the position you do will help each of you, and the mediator, to understand.

2. Am I being child focused and if so, how? 

Sally is trying to provide a better, more stable financial future for she and the children.

Before the children were born, the couple had decided that Sally would be a stay at home Mum, while Rob worked to provide for the family. They made this decision based on what they felt was best for the kids. Rob still believes this is what is best.

Sally’s desire to work is child-focused when viewed in isolation, however, their previous decisions were also made with the children in mind. Working out what’s best for the children, now there is a new family structure, is the challenge for the couple to work through in mediation. Being child focused can mean many different things.

3. What will the impact on the other parent be?

When Sally thinks about Rob’s employment, she understands that his shift work presents the main conflict. Rob has always been able to work and have the freedom to see the kids whenever he has days off. However, this is no longer going to work as Sally’s work hours will be set.

Sally feels like it’s time for her, and while she understands this will impact Rob, she feels she is entitled to work and wants to take up this opportunity. Sally wants Rob to understand this isn’t just about him.

Rob is concerned that he won’t get to see the children as often, and he feels this isn’t best for the kids. He is distressed at this thought as he misses them living with him full time and it’s already very difficult for him. He can understand Sally wants to work but he doesn’t agree this is best. Rob wants Sally to understand this isn’t just about her.

Considering the other parent can be a challenge because it requires you to take a bigger picture perspective. Your mediator doesn’t expect you to be an expert at this. However, when both parents feel heard, you are more likely to reach an agreement. Your children want both of you to be stable and happy. So with this in mind, being considerate of the other parent is being child-focused.

4. What will the impact on the children be? 

Sally is worried about their financial security and so although she realises there will be some disruptions, she considers this to be most important.

Rob is concerned that he will not have as much time with the children and that ultimately this is not in their best interests. He feels Sally should get a job that can work around his hours until the children are much older.

Both parents agree that the children love spending time with each of them and Sally knows they will be sad at losing precious time with their dad.

The children’s experience of parenting decisions can sometimes get forgotten. Of course, they are children and they have to adapt. However, after parental separation, they have already experienced significant changes and it helps them if they know they are being considered in decision making.

5. What are the possible alternatives? 

When Sally initiated mediation, she had not considered alternatives. For her, the only decision was that Rob would have to make sacrifices and she hoped the mediator would help him to see that.

Rob was also stuck in his position of expecting Sally to stay home or get a job to work around his.

The mediation was at an impasse.

When Rob realised that this was important to Sally he started to think of alternatives to spend more quality time with the children in the holidays. Sally agreed this would be worth discussing. Rob also suggested that his parents would like more time with the children, and perhaps he and the children could all stay there when he is working. This opened up a whole new conversation with options.

When the focus shifts to alternatives it can ease the tension. Parenting disputes can often get stuck in opposing positions. However, when each parent is willing to negotiate and to consider alternatives, the conversation can shift toward one which is solution-focused and resolution is possible.

6. What will happen if we can’t agree?

Try as we might, mediators can’t wave a magic wand. Family mediators are there to facilitate the conversation, but they can’t force the two of you to resolve the dispute. So it’s beneficial to consider what will happen next if you can’t agree.

Sometimes it’s not a single issue as in this example. Equally, alternatives aren’t always easily discussed.

When parents can’t agree they sometimes initiate the court process to have the disputes resolved in court. This requires careful consideration as it is both time consuming and costly and may not result in the outcome you want.

Before entering into mediation it is beneficial to consider what will happen if you can’t agree. In family mediation, if the court is the only other option, the potential emotional impact and financial drain on the family may not necessarily be in the children’s best interest.

This is one example only and you may have very different issues. Try writing down your own answers to these questions before your mediation, or when trying to come to an agreement with your co-parent.

Activities for engaging your children online

Often the non-resident parent (be that for a week, or extended period) will report having difficulty in engaging children online. Phone calls, Skype and Facetime are all wonderful ways to interact. But how do you keep them interested?

Firstly, I think it’s important to acknowledge that online engagement can be both necessary and sometimes the only means of contact for a long period. This not only applies to separated parents but also Defence personnel on deployment, FIFO parents, etc. It’s hard, but it’s survivable.

Many parents of young children report their children are disinterested or seem distracted. They may have 20 minutes allocated but it’s hard to keep the attention of a small child for that long unless you’re doing an activity with them.

Here are some tips and suggestions I give often to parents of young children. Remember that some activities may be trial and error.

Read a storybook

Just as you used to do at bedtime, children still love for you to read stories to them. Pick a few books and have them nearby. You can turn the pages to face the screen and read as you go. They will probably remember some of the sounds, or words and might even join in.

Make them a gift

Get yourself some craft supplies and while on your Skype call, ask your child for input into what you are making for them. For instance, if you’re making a stick figure doll (paddle pop sticks, glue, coloured cotton wool, buttons) – then invite them to choose the colours, fabric or tools you use to create it. These can all be purchased cheaply at a $2 shop or similar.

When it’s done and if possible, send it to them. Or tell them you’ll keep it in a safe place for when you next see them.

Draw a picture

Using an A4 notepad, ask them a topic of something they like. It might be an animal, a farm, a house – whatever comes to their mind. Invite them to give you feedback as you draw. Which colour green? Where should I put the sun? What’s goes on top of the hill? Are there clouds?

PS. You don’t have to be Picasso! Remember, this is not a test – it’s fun for you and your children.

Play a song

Bring out the smiles with a favourite song from one of their favourite characters, kids bands, or movies. Yeah, you’ll be singing along to Frozen in no time!

If you’re musical, play or sing them something yourself. Just aim to choose a song that is a favourite of theirs.

Play a memory game

Okay, so this isn’t like the cards memory game (although if you’re clever you could try that too. Here’s what I mean:

You start by saying, let’s play a memory game! “I remember the time we went to the Gold Coast on holidays”. Then it’s their turn. “Oh yeah, I remember when we went to movie world!” Your next turn “I remember the day you were born and we were at the hospital” Now, they aren’t going to remember that so prompt them with “What is your next favourite memory” and on it goes.

Write yourself some prompters and have them nearby. It’s okay to talk about the past when you were a family. It’s very positive for them to remember happy times.

Remember….

Children learn through repetition – and they enjoy it! So don’t be afraid to repeat the ones that work the best. You don’t need to reinvent yourself coming up with ideas for every time.

You’re doing your best and that’s fantastic. Every step forward is one less you have to take!

The Struggle of Parallel Parenting

The struggle of parallel parenting is real! Parallel parenting is the term given to a style of parenting that is adopted by some parents, most frequently when there is a high level of conflict and a low level of communication. What it means in practical terms is that each of you will parent differently.

VERY differently.

When we talk about this struggle it does not necessarily apply to all. For many families, this is the best approach for the least amount of conflict and it can work extremely well. However, for some, it presents frequent challenges.

There may be one set of rules in your house, and another in the other parents home. While it would be conveniently easy to say what goes on there is none of your business, it’s also quite difficult to accept this when you feel the children aren’t being cared for as you’d wish.

There is a saying that’s appropriate here and it always comes to mind for me when helping parents through these frustrations.

Your level of happiness is determined by the difference between your expectations and reality

Having an expectation that things are going to change can be fraught with disappointment. I’m not suggesting you lower your standards or those you wish for your children, but sometimes it’s beneficial to take stock of what’s within your power and what’s not. Then work out what, or how, you might be able to influence a different outcome, and let go of everything else.

The most common issues arising for those who parallel parent are:

  • Child bedtimes or other routines.
  • Activities, or lack of
  • Attention to homework or after school activities.
  • Decisions affecting the children made without consultation.

Parallel parenting can be a challenge for one, if not both of you. When conflict is high there is a tendency for at least one parent to be quite opposed to any suggestion or routine which is adopted in the other home.

But all is not lost. There are some simple steps you can apply that will help make this path smoother.

Minimise the opportunities for conflict

This may be through minimising time spent in each others company, especially at handovers or when the children are present. It does not have to mean eliminating it altogether unless you feel that is absolutely necessary. It is helpful for the children to see you together at times, and being courteous to each other in the presence – if that is at all possible. If it’s not possible, keep contact minimal and courteous.

Communication Skills

Communication Book

A common tool is for the parents to use a handover book to communicate important things about the children. This may be about changes in pick up, school uniforms, planned holidays or other occasions.

Try a communication app

There are many parent communication apps on the market today. In some cases, you can employ the services for a third-party mediator to monitor your communication or to call upon if you need help.

Our Family Wizard and Parenting Apart two common applications you might wish to try. Otherwise, try google for parenting apps.

Choosing your battles

This is quite a big subject however with every conflict if you consider a few key questions it can help to prioritise where this sits in the hierarchy of matters to focus on.

  1. What will the children lose or benefit from in relation to resolving this conflict?
  2. How important is it to resolve this right now?
  3. Are my assumptions or thoughts about this outcome (the outcome you want) legitimate?
  4. What will be the follow-on impact of pursuing this?
  5. How successful is my approach likely to be?
  6. Is there another way to approach this?
  7. Is this something I can let slide?

Parallel parenting can be hard, however, it is manageable if you both can remain child-focused. Think of it as solving a puzzle. How can I piece this together so it makes more sense and is less frustrating?

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