Month: January 2015

Can we mediate?

Why mediate homepg #406B779It is a common question I have heard over the years. One or both people in the couple shares a concern about their partner’s unwillingness to talk outside of sessions, the guilt they may be feeling about deciding to leave the relationship, their or their spouse’s anger, the advice they’ve been getting from well-meaning family and friends. Is it really possible, they wonder, under these circumstances to mediate?

My answer is probably. Mediation is voluntary, so even if a couple begins mediating and one or both decide to stop, they have at least tried to sit together to resolve the issues that need to be decided. At worst, they will have gained clarity about what they want and their partner’s goals. Yet, in my experience, most couples who begin mediating are able to complete mediation.

Fears or concerns the couple had coming in are often managed as a part of the process. For example, not talking before a mediation session (or even between sessions) is often a result of fear. One of the parties may be concerned that if they discuss things directly, it will get out of control and conflict will erupt. Especially if there are children in the house, this person may just want to avoid potentially exposing the children to parental strife. Inside a session, the mediator can help facilitate conversations and manage emotion, allowing both partners to open up and feel safer talking through the issues that need to be explored.

I have seen so many families work through difficult times and reach agreements that move them forward toward healing. Mediation is not right for everyone. In instances of domestic violence, safety is always the first concern. If someone is concealing funds, you may need the intervention of the courts to freeze accounts or trace monies. Most people are simply trying to figure out what they need to do to become divorced with the least amount of damage possible and, for them, mediation is an excellent option.

Parenting Children in Separate Households

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There are a lot of adjustments for families with children to make after a separation or divorce. If you and your ex-spouse or partner have joint physical custody of your children, the kids will be moving between the two households, and it is in your children’s best interest for both parents to work together to make their transition from one to two homes as seamless as possible.

In many families, one of the parents played a primary role in caring for the children. The parent who spent less time in that function may need information from their ex-spouse or partner in order to ease the children into the split household routine. This may include information such as phone numbers and addresses or health insurance information for their doctor and dentist, medications taken, team schedules or notes on other activities the children are involved in. It may also be about little things, like who likes mustard and who likes mayo on their sandwiches.

This type of information can be shared through email if verbal communication is a source of conflict for you right now. There are also online sites that offer shared calendars where each of you can update events for the children, keeping the scheduling simple. Apps that provide the ability for ex-spouses or partners to communicate in other formats, as well as handle payments of reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses or support are available as well.

For the parent taking on a larger parenting role than they played prior to the separation or divorce, expect a learning curve. You may have to make decisions that used to be made by your spouse about the children’s diets, bedtime hours, TV and video game activities, overnights at friends, parties, disciplinary issues, etc. You and your spouse may find that you have different parenting styles, or that one of your styles has changed. Be as supportive as possible of the rules established in each household, even if they differ. Supporting your spouse in their efforts to parent your children is important in maintaining stability in the children’s lives.

Recognize that this is a period of high anxiety for your children, especially for young children, who may not understand what is going on right now. Getting them settled into a consistent routine of sharing time with each of their parents, and feeling supported by each parent as they spend time with the other, will go a long way towards helping them get grounded. Even if you find yourself resenting your ex because you feel they are responsible for this upheaval in your life and the lives of your children, remember that one of the best ways to help the children adjust is to move forward in a positive way.

Family Matters: COMMUNICATION with your KIDS in 2015

kids pictureKids, both preteens and teens have all kinds of toys they use for communication these days; smart phones, iPods, iPads, tablets, laptops, etc…They are texting, snap chatting, using Instagram, and Tweeting. Communication is so different than when I was growing up in the 70’s.

If you are a parent like I am, you may be worried about how to talk to your kids when they are spending what seems like every minute on a device of some sort. Even when they are with their friends, the devices are out and there is little face to face communication.

Good communication with your child/children is imperative to good parenting and to helping your kids develop the communication skills they need for the future.

Communication is a three step process:      Talking        *         Listening        *        Feedback

We all must master these three steps in order to make communication as productive and meaningful as possible. Being able to talk and articulate your needs, feelings and desires. Being able to listen and really hear another person and lastly providing feedback on what was said in the conversation. These three steps complete the communication process.

The abundance of screens is not limited to our kids; parents have to put down their devices as well to have conversations. Role modeling the behavior we ask from our children is an important part of their learning. Insist that devices be put away when you are speaking face to face with your child. Here are some other suggestions:

Plan family time with no devices – dinners, game nights, a hike. Find activities that interest the kids and require them to put the devices down. In my house I call it “mandatory family fun”.

Limit screen time – set limits on screen time. It’s okay to set limits, you are the parent. Kids thrive on structure and may secretly thank you for allowing them some “unplugged time”.

Keep devices out of bedtime – studies show that preteens and teens need time before bed to unwind and become “unstimulated”. The lights and movements on a screen can cause insomnia and kids who sleep with their phones are less likely to get the sleep they need.

This is no easy task, asking kids to put down the device that has become a third appendage, however, in time we will all benefit from the simple art of face-to-face communication.

Our kids need the art and skill of face to face communication, in 2015 and beyond. Good communication skills are needed for success in school, work and relationships. Teaching communication now is a lifelong skill.