Specialist family mediator, Rachel Lemon raises awareness of Family Mediation Week (20 to 24 January 2020) by telling us how mediation can help children and parents in part 3 of her 5 part series.
As parents (whether in a relationship or living separately) our children need us to be able to communicate. Conversations are a necessary feature of effective parenting (both with the child/children and between the parents). As any parent will know, those conversations range from the day to day, who will be collecting from school, has the child got what they need for their school trip to any concerns the child or parent may have, for instance difficulties at school, friendship issues or worries at home. They are all important conversations.
When a relationship breaks down, it can be difficult, or sometimes seemingly impossible, for parents to retain or re-establish the lines of communication. This can cause problems where the needs of the child/children continue (and may increase) regardless of the breakdown in the relationship but their parents are dealing with a life changing event and their own processing of that.
Whilst separating parents often worry about how their separation will impact the children (which is, of course, a natural concern) in fact, what is more likely to cause the harm to children is any parental conflict they may be exposed to. Conflict can be deeply damaging to children and may cause a child to feel torn between its parents and that it is wrong to love one or other of them. Clearly, this can lead to significant issues for the child and the parents’ relationship with the child.
At a time of real need and significant change, communication and avoiding exposing the child to conflict is key in ensuring the child maintains good relationships and is supported.
Often separating parents are keen to avoid “involving” their children. Of course, there are adult issues that need to be discussed and it is not appropriate that children are involved in those – they do not need to be. However, to seek to exclude children entirely, to not speak to them can be interpreted by them that the separation is a forbidden subject, a rule that they may feel they need to keep to. How the children are told that their parents are separating can be an early issue to be explored in mediation. There are helpful resources, such as books to support these discussions with children. There are various websites which are also useful:-
Mediation provides parents with the opportunity to openly discuss their concerns about their children in light of their separation and to explore the arrangements for children. The child/children can also be seen if the parents feel that would be helpful and if the child consents. In child inclusive mediation, the child (who should be 10 years old or above) is seen by the mediator without the parents being present. The mediator is a specialist who is trained to see children. If the parents are seeing a mediator who is not trained then a referral can be made within their mediation process to a child inclusive mediator. Once the mediator has met with the child/children (sibling groups can be seen separately and together), feedback is given to the parents (only if the child/children consent). The child has through this process a voice, an opportunity to be heard and for his or her feelings to be communicated to the parents in a supported process. Decision making is not placed on the shoulders of the child – that is not appropriate and to be avoided. It is simply about giving the child/children a voice.
We all need to feel heard, it is a fundamental part of life. Mediation provides that opportunity for both parents and children.
If you require information about the process of mediation, contact Rachel Lemon on 01932 590 612 or at firstname.lastname@example.org