How Mediation Works for Children
With children, it’s all about the story. . . and what is seen . . . and movement.
Even a golf course has a story, I have come to learn. Tobacco Road, Caledonia, True Blue and Tot Hill Farm were designed by Mike Strantz. Mike Strantz was a golf course designer and an artist. I had the chance to play each of these golf courses and will be forever changed by what I saw and learned about Mike Strantz. Each is a sight of joy and beauty (and fun to play)! The movement through 18 holes is magical!
I listened to an interview Mike Strantz gave before his death. He was describing how he went about designing golf courses. Part of the magic in his golf course designs was his life story – he was also an artist – in water colors. I learned from Mike Strantz that when looking at a piece of land and designing a golf hole, he went back to what he knew – who he was. He explained that in art, the concept is “composition,” that is, deciding where the starting point in a painting will be and the eye movement through a painting. Artists pick a spot where they want to start people moving through a painting and that is how they guide the viewer to travel through the painting. He relied on those concepts in his golf course designs.
As I played each of the golf courses, my thoughts turned to my Mediation work. I wondered, if a family were my painting, what “composition” is there with a couple going through a divorce? Where would I want to start a couple to move through their divorce? The answer was clear to me. I start with the children. My view of “composition” in a divorce allows for movement through the divorce, as seen by the parents and as seen by the children.
Mediation works for children because of the simple fact that as the Mediator, I am always curious about the children. That piece is a part of me – it is who I am. I never leave out the children as they are “eye movement” through their parents’ divorce. A favorite quote of mine is:
While parents think they teach children all about life,
Children teach parents what life is all about.
For children, they have a life and it does not stop during a divorce. How can it? Children continue to grow and need to feel that they are safe, that they are loved and that their questions will be answered. The research shows that children can feel very alone during a divorce and report that they have no one to talk with about their parent’s divorce. By guiding parents through a series of questions, centered on the developmental needs of their children, movement is achieved. The questions guide parents to be able to have conversations with their children and to craft unique and child-focused parenting plans. Parents truly can discuss and address the needs of their children in mediation.
I work with parents on the “chunks” of time which compose a child’s life. There is infancy; pre-school; elementary school; middle school; high school and life after high school be it further education or entering the work force in the continuum of a child’s development. By looking at each individual chunk of time, parents can focus on the ever changing needs of their children with an eye towards the social and developmental benchmarks of their children at each incremental school age level. Parents can also come up with a couple, maybe three of four, rules which will be followed in each home. Again, by focusing on the age of the children, appropriate expectations can be realized by the parents for their children. As the Mediator, I am mindful that each parent can run their household as they see fit; yet, I always see parents coming together to say, “this is what we want for our children, so let’s have it at both homes.” If this is the decision the parents make, their children see consistency in both homes as well as the individual lifestyles and personalities of their parents in both homes.
This coming together by parents to make joint decisions lays the groundwork for the method parents can use for all the future joint decisions which will follow as their children mature. It also allows parents to have their children be part of the conversation as their children mature.
In Mediation, I also focus on the literature which suggests that children need individual time with their parents. In a divorce, this is sometimes overlooked as the children are always grouped together. Depending on the age of their children, parents may need to carve out one on one time with each child. Also, as the children age, the movement is naturally for children to become more socialized and intent on spending time with their peers. I find that Mediation allows parents to have an open conversation about how to carve out time for their children to be with their friends and extended family. This flexibility with their children is essential as it is nothing but the natural movement of children becoming teenagers and then maturing into young adults.
As a Mediator, I see extraordinary work done by parents. I am always amazed at the uniqueness of each child I come to know during my Mediations. By having children as the starting point in a Mediation, parents can then switch gears and discuss equitable distribution and support issues, knowing that they have made decisions that are unique and work best for their children.
This is why Mediation works for children. Parents balance what works best for them AND what works best for their children. This is “movement.” In this way, children indeed teach their parent what life is all about – life is filled with joy and love and sorrow – a constant sense of movement.