Many potential clients I meet with have read about divorce mediation and focus on the more obvious benefits of the process when compared to a court-based case. The “low hanging fruit” includes the lower cost of divorce mediation and the potential for a quicker resolution. A recent mediation session had me thinking about how some clients understand that mediation can pave the way towards a significantly better divorce, including truly cooperative parenting, while others are less willing or able to see the big picture. It is true that divorce mediation is less expensive than the traditional court-based Massachusetts divorce. For those considering a more cooperative approach, mediation is ripe with less obvious benefits that make the low-hanging fruit seem less important.
Divorce is a lousy thing to go through. For parents, your divorce will forever impact your life and the children, even older children. Divorce can even affect your children's later adult relationships. Although your marriage did not work out as planned, this is not an excuse for you to temporarily act like a selfish five-year-old. As a parent, we have responsibilities to our kids, even when times are challenging.
Recently I received an email from some new mediation clients asking if we could spend time during the first session to talk about how they should tell their children about their divorce, and what they should say and not say. The husband was planning on moving out soon, and the parents were also wondering about what questions they should anticipate from the children. Understandably, both parents were nervous about talking to their kids, and wanted to get it right.
We spent almost two hours on this topic. Both parents had some ideas, and together we came up with talking points that both parents supported. Their marriage had deteriorated and one of the parents eventually had a relationship outside the marriage. We talked about how the children did not need to know this detail as it was a private part of their adult relationship. We discussed how it is best for the kids not to place “blame” on either parent, or themselves. Children are not going to understand– nor do they need to – that an affair is usually not the cause of divorce, but a symptom of other serious relationship problems. During the session, both parents took notes and it was encouraging to see them working together to set the right tone for the transitions that the family would soon face.
Although the last sentence may seem like a minor achievement, in too many divorces a parent does not take the high road, adding more stress upon children. Grades suffer, behaviors worsen, and transitioning is a rocky road. Fueled by anger, resentment, or the need for control, some parents exhibit behaviors that are far from optimal; forgetting that it is not all about them.
At one point during the session, the parents shared a memory of a particular place the family liked to visit. They planned on both going (together) to this place soon with the children and they just naturally reached across the conference table and gave each other a fist-bump. This was a significant moment, and I wanted to acknowledge it. So, I said something incredibly poetic and moving. I believe it was “wow, that was pretty cool.”
This simple act by the parents represented much more to me than a consensus on some future plans. These parents were going to put the needs of their children first. They respected the past while moving towards their new, but overlapping, family structure. I told them that there would be some other bumps. That the conversation they would soon have with their children would not be easy, but that the children were lucky – yes lucky – to have parents that loved them enough to focus on helping through the upcoming changes. Although the moment resonated with my clients, I am not sure they fully appreciated the power of their approach and how it will pay major dividends, including less stress, better relationships, and not spending a small fortune going into court every time the wind shifts.
Although not a happy time, your divorce just may contain a field of opportunities. You can demonstrate how to be an unselfish, supportive parent. Although they may not fully understand it at the time, you have the opportunity to show your children that relationships may change, but they do not have to be destroyed. You can teach your children a little something about conflict resolution and respect, even under trying circumstances. When facing a lot of stress, or when scared or angry, it is easy to lose sight of these things. Before starting down the path to a high-conflict divorce, think carefully about the type of divorce you want for yourself and your children. This is an opportunity, you just have to get out into the field and do some harvesting.
And now, a brief musical number: