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.

Co-parenting in a Crisis

During times of crisis, we tend to react from a base of fear. However, we all react or respond to fear in slightly different ways. And that’s okay. The important thing in co-parenting during this time is that you recognise there is more than one way to get through this. It’s also likely that you may have different approaches as to what’s best. The biggest concern of co-parenting through this current coronavirus crisis is if the children can move between homes safely during any future quarantines. And if not, what will happen to existing court orders or parenting agreements. I know some parents are concerned about breaches or being accused of withholding children. In short, you should follow the government advice or specific advice of your health care professional. If you or your children are diagnosed or being tested for coronavirus, then the government health advice is that you will be required to stay in isolation.  This may affect your normal co-parenting routine. It’s better to be prepared and have this conversation in advance. Work out what you will do, how you will both manage and you what you will do if the children are disadvantaged in time with the other parent. It’s best if you can be flexible, considerate and accomodating. Most of all, be child-focused. If being in quarantine is a contravention of existing orders then I recommend the following. If you normally communicate directly, email or phone your co-parent and advise them of the current situation. Talk rationally, calmly and sensitively about the situation at hand. Be considerate that this may disrupt their routine and may require a short adjustment period for them to consider. It can be a good idea to flag a conversation with an initial message that says “we might have some disruptions due to the coronavirus. I was wondering if we could talk this through?. Can I call at (time)?” If you have, or feel you need a lawyer, contact them and ask them to communicate with your co-parents lawyer about the current health status and any anticipated changes in parenting time. If you are the parent who is not with your children and the children can not be safely returned to you for your scheduled time, remain calm. These are exceptional circumstances and eventually, life will be returned to normal. These are my recommendations
  1. Communicate calmly, openly and with a child-focused approach.
  2. If quarantined, facilitate FaceTime calls for the children with their other parent.
  3. Act on specific medical or government advice only.  Do not listen to advice from well-meaning friends or social media.
  4. Keep each other openly and honestly informed in relation to the health status of yourselves and people the children may have come into contact with.
  5. Some people who have compromised immunity disorders may be on specific advice to remain in social isolation at this time. This may be extended family such as grandparents.
  6. If you or the children are NOT diagnosed or being tested for coronavirus, then shared parenting should continue as normal.
Please remember, we are ALL going through something unusual. Keep calm and keep communication open, honest and sensitive to the fact that we are all dealing with something a little unknown. However, there is no reason to panic. Calm communication is your best tool. See our parenting after separation course for more tips on improved communication.

The Leaver and the Left

There is a concept in separation and divorce in which there is often a disparity between where each party are emotionally in relation to the separation.

While some couples come to the decision together, in many cases one party has already made the decision to leave long before they’ve told the other. They are referred to as ‘the leaver’. This can cause a great deal of frustration for the person who is being left.

As you will see from the inserted graphic, the leaver is ahead at every stage. By the time they are making new plans and coming to terms with their life ahead, the left is only just finding out. This in itself can cause a great deal of conflict.

What happens then is the grief cycle for the left, which the leaver has already had time to come to terms with, is only just beginning. For the leaver, there are heightened emotions, often denial and sometimes still trying to save the relationship. This is discussed in full in the parenting after separation course.

The message I encourage separating parents to understand is to have an understanding that you are each on the same path but at different stages. You will ultimately both come to a place of acceptance, however, if you can respect that each of you is at different stages, this will go smoother.

Consider the graphic and where you are now.

Were you the leaver or the left?

Where is your co-parent at on this scale?

What do you think life looks for them now?

What do you think they experienced at various stages?

This is just some food for thought. You may not come up with all the answers you need right away. Processing relationship grief and loss is an individual journey and can take time. You will come through this in the end.

As always, I’m here to help. You can contact me via the contact form on this site or at parentingafterseparation.com.au

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?

Need help? Contact Jasmin directly or via Facebook

5 Good Reasons To Be Quiet In Conflict

Being quiet in conflict is a challenge but if you master this art in communication you may learn a very valuable tool

Getting involved in an argument is rarely beneficial. However, sometimes there are matters which need to be discussed in which emotions become elevated. The natural position for most people is to push back against those they are opposed to. I certainly get the sentiment, however here’s an alternative that you might like to employ.

The following is an adaptation from a blog I wrote several years ago. It still rings true today.

#1  — You can’t listen while you’re talking

Listening is so much more than hearing words. It’s an observation of intent, mannerisms, inflection and emotion that are all being bought into the conversation. Learning through observation is a far better tool that having to prove your point of view.

#2 — You may not be right

Unimaginable, I know but both of you can’t be right. Perhaps you can leave room for the fact that maybe it’s not you this time.  And if you are right, then it will prove itself in time so be patient. A point about avoiding conflict that I would like to make here is that even if you are right, so what? Apart from ego, does it really help you to prove you are right? 

#3 — You can learn a lot from listening

Giving someone space to speak can be really powerful for both of you to avoid conflict.  You can both learn from this experience and I often find that people can resolve their own issues, just by being heard. And there is a gift here for you if you watch for it, but you may get a sense of what it is that is frustrating them if you give them space.  It’s better to understand than need to be understood.

#4 — You will create space for compassion

This one is a favorite of mine.  If you can be silent enough to hear someone else’s story and to view the world through their eyes you will start to see that their path and their experiences were different to yours. You don’t have to agree with their version but compassion opens the door to understanding.

#5 — It gives you time to think instead of react

Really, if you can start to handle this one your communication problems will be a thing of the past, and all because you were quiet for a while.  Often we will retort with a comment that we might later regret or realise not to be based on anything other than our own hurt. So we project our own pain instead of hearing someone else’s.  If we allow time to absorb what the other has said and then come up with a rational response it will make things way smoother for both of you.

The art of being quiet in conflict is communication skills, but it’s rooted in a willingness to resolve the issue in front of you. Always keep the children in focus. Their love for you both is greater than any argument.

Need help? Try our Parenting After Separation courses here 

 

Jewell’s Story

The following story on parental separation was written by a woman who wanted to tell her story of separation from her father.

Over the years I’ve become conditioned to the depth of some of these stories, however I never wish to be so used to them that they become ‘normal’.

 

I was separated fro my father for many years as a child. I endured years of listening to my mother bad mouth my father. Some of this was warranted, but so much of it wasn’t.  She was determined that I would not love my father because of the physical abuse she suffered from him.

My father continually wrote letters to me. I opened each one.  Some I answered but there were more times that I didn’t answer. Not deliberately, but just because I was a kid and didn’t think about it. I guess I was too busy being a kid.

What I do remember and what always stayed with me was Dad writing “I love you” and “I’m sorry” so often that it became embedded in my heart.

Regardless of how many times we saw each other throughout the years, I know without any shadow of a doubt that I was loved by my Dad. I later discovered he kept all the letters I sent him over the years.

Despite not having spoken to him for the 5 years previous, I was blessed to spend the last 3 months of his life with him. He passed away in July 2016 of a brain tumour.

We held hands, laughed and told each other how much we loved each other.

I miss my Dad.

I share this story because I want to encourage other parents to never give up on your children, even if at times it seems they’ve given up on you.

I don’t know how my father did it for all those years. I don’t know how he continually pressed on through the letters and birthday cards and never got a response from me. He loved me regardless of anything else. I know that my Dad loved me.

Thank to all those parents who are fighting the fight to stay in your children’s lives. Keep fighting. I saw the truth through the love of my Dad.

Mum and Dad could never have stayed together. Their relationship was too volatile and Mums negative words about Dad to me only pushed Dad and I closer together throughout the years. So don’t worry about what the other parent tells your children about you. Just be that constant source of love in their lives.

If you’ve been alienated from your children, my advice would be to write them a letter every week. Write to them and give it to them when they are older.

~Jewell Drury.

The Changing Legal Landscape of Co-Parenting

The legal landscape to facilitate co-parenting is changing. The following article regarding the co-parenting arrangements in the Ralton case first appeared on Gown and Gavel

The recent case of Ralton and Ralton heralds a timely warning that the Family Court judiciary is taking notice of the intricacies of co-parenting in Family Law matters, particularly where the psychological impacts on the children are a result of one parent withholding the children against court orders.

In Ralton and Ralton the original parenting orders were that the children live with the mother and spend time with the father. This was agreeable to all parties and continued for a three-year period. However, by August 2014 all contact with the father had ceased and he filed for contravention of the orders.

In 2016 Judge Riethmuller who, after considering all the evidence over a 5-day hearing, determined that the best interests of the children to have a relationship with both parents could only be facilitated if the parenting was reversed. The children were ordered to live with the father and spent time with the mother.

The mother appealed the decision to the Full Court of the Family Court in 2017, however the original decision was upheld and the children remain in the primary care of the father.

The decision in Ralton was so extreme in its nature, that Judge Reithmuller had the children sequestered in a private room within the court building –  supported by psychologists and social workers – as the decision was handed down.

The details of this case were such that even though the mother was seen as capable in meeting the day to day needs of the children, her actions in making the children fearful and anxious of the father created a damaging psychological impact. The grief and loss associated with removing the children from the mother’s primary care was considered far less than the long-term psychological effects of the alienation from their father.

The orders made were so that in order to help the children bond adequately with the father, the mother have no contact for six months and then be re-introduced to her via supervised visitation.

So, what does this tell us about parenting after separation?

Recognising the importance of a healthy relationship between children and their parents, the Family Law Amendment Act, 2006 was enacted by the Howard government to facilitate shared parenting. The legislation is in itself sound, however if one or both parents refuse to put the best interests of the child first, it is frequently tested.

While as a society we have previously believed that a mother is the more natural choice for primary carer, it is no longer guaranteed that sole parental responsibility will be granted to the mother on that basis alone. Fathers have demonstrated that they are, of course, capable of the job and willing to take it on, so much so that the Courts are willing to make that transition.

Co-parenting after separation is essential in maintaining a healthy family dynamic for the children and going forward, parents need to be able to do this well. It all sounds good in theory, of course. But how can you ensure that you are giving it your best shot? Here are my top 4 tips to make the art of co-parenting a success in your life.

Communicate directly with one-another

The less challenging matters that come across my desk have one thing in common and that is – that the parents talk to each other – and on a regular basis. Pick a mode of communication that works for the both of you, and stick to it. And no – that doesn’t mean using the children to relay messages! Schedule a weekly phone call and make it a routine. Even parents that have the most trouble communicating with each other find that they are able to keep it respectful for ten minutes whilst they discuss their children. If the idea of using the telephone gives you the shivers, then I recommend using email or an instant messenger service. Using the children to relay messages almost guarantees a heightened conflict situation, one in which the children will witness. Have you ever received a message through the children and then muttered some unpleasant response under your breath only to realise that your child is still standing there? Not only that, but children will often relay the message incorrectly.

Keep changeovers as short as possible

Try and keep changeovers short and sweet. Give the children a smile so that they won’t feel guilty about going with the other parent.

Be flexible with parenting arrangements

Try not to argue about parenting arrangements in front of the children. If the other parent wants to take the children to a one-off special event that you know they will enjoy, like a show or a footy game which happens to fall on one of your days, let the children go. Sure – try not to stretch the friendship in this regard and always give plenty of notice. The children will thank you for putting their enjoyment ahead of your own.

Encourage the children to communicate with the other parent

Facilitating communication with the other parent whilst the children are in your care is a must. Make sure you share special moments or accomplishments with the other parent, even if it is just via photos or emails and make a point of telling the children that you are doing so. Remind the children of special occasions, like the other parent’s birthday and help them make or choose a special gift. Being present when the children give the gift to the other parent is also a special touch. Having the children feel that they can express their love to the other parent freely and openly without fear of being admonished is essential to a healthy and positive co-parenting arrangement.

*Sign up for our parenting after separation course HERE