As a Mediator with Specialist knowledge of working with children, I have had the privilege of being entrusted by parents to spend time with their children to consider their wishes and feelings in respect of plans and decisions that they are making within mediation. Children and young people have remarkable insight into their changing family circumstances and are greatly reassured that their parents want to give them a ‘voice’ in the process. Managing expectations and providing reassurance that they will not have to take sides or choose between their parents’ sets the scene for open and honest discussions about the changes and adjustments in their lives following their parent’s separation.
Often they focus on the practicalities of moving between two homes and are keen to talk about their experience and provide suggestions about options going forward. Their sensitivity towards their parents is very evident in their desire to provide honest yet respectful feedback about things that their parents could focus on for example avoiding being angry with or rude towards each other. The desired outcome is to enjoy positive relationships with both parents and not be exposed to the adult issues that led to the relationship breakdown.
Key messages from children and young people centre around:
- The importance of their parents working well together and taking account of their school and extra-curricular activities and interests when planning contact.
- Their parents communicating directly and supporting each other to manage the impact of the inevitable changes- e.g. house move, reduced finances, role of new partners.
- Parents keeping them involved and informed, taking account of their views
- Importance of maintaining and promoting significant relationships within their parents respective extended families-grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.
- Desire to continue to mark important occasions and events as a family- parents attending school events, celebrating birthdays
Providing feedback from DCC within parent’s mediation provides a powerful dynamic that reflects the importance of focusing on the future and considering plans and decisions from the perspective of the children’s needs and best interests. Inevitably supportive co-parenting models respectful communication, problem solving and negotiation skills. Children are supported to be resilient and safeguarded from the negative emotional impact of parental acrimony.
–By Patricia O’Kane