Learning on the Job (Still)
It happened again. No, I did not spill coffee down my shirt just as I opened the zoom room. That isn't noteworthy.
What did happen? I was enlightened by a client. Let me explain.
It is a regular part of my mediation and collaborative divorce work to support clients in identifying and expressing their most meaningful wishes and needs. These desires are often expressed at the cognitive level, but the magic is in understanding why the goals are significant in their hearts. During ongoing parenting negotiations, one parent steadfastly protected "family time" for their young children. The parent sought regular and holiday time when both parents and children could be together. The other parent initially resisted but only mildly. Over time they came to support the plans fully. In a recent conversation with the first parent, they stated their primary goal was for their children to “feel their family has expanded, not divided.” I now understand why ‘family time’ had been so important all along.
There have been other occasions where a parent’s phrasing has struck a chord. For example, protecting children from a loyalty bind is a common wish but a difficult practice. During an early parenting plan discussion, one parent said they "want our children to implicitly and explicitly know that they are cared for and known. Our children must be free to give and receive love from both of us.” I wrote it down, and it has stuck with me ever since.
Here are some other examples I have tracked.
“I want my children to feel comfortable and safe, not like my parent’s divorce.”
“This is a big, hard loss and transition. I worry about the future but am not hopeless about it.”
“We suck at marriage but are good as friends and parents.”
"I would like to be friends and get along, but I need some space because I have some anger. We need to continue being good parents."
I want the kids to go to him. If he fails, the kids fail. We are all in the same life raft.”
“We have both laid a good foundation for her. We shouldn’t destroy it.”
“I want our lives relatively similar and streamlined for our son.”
“I don't want to end up resentful. I hope to be friends again, and I want us to spend time together in the future.”
Collaborative practice and mediation respect the uniqueness of each family. In my practice, I may help parents craft a statement of their co-parenting principles, which are vital to them. Sometimes the principles are practical actions they commit to, and other times, the principles are aspirational. One recent example is: " We are looking forward to a less stressful, more certain, and peaceful future for our family. We will see opportunities to demonstrate our shared love for our children and create one family in two homes."
If you imagine that I work with “easy” clients, I would respond by saying that I work with real people, experiencing all the hurt, uncertainty, and challenges that going through separation brings. Sometimes, clients share valuable insight despite their worries or the troublesome circumstances of their separation. Helping clients use their wisdom in the face of turbulence is one of the reasons I love this work.