How mediation and psychology can work together to help you deliver the best outcomes for your children after a separation

Una Archer MBPsS is a child psychologist helping divorcing parents to soften the impact of their separation on their children. She works to help parents understand what they need to do so that their children feel just as loved, secure and comfortable in their own skin as they did before the separation – and sometimes even more so. Louisa Whitney is a family mediator from LKW Family Mediation. She works with separating couples to help them find a resolution that is tailor made to them and their family, with their children’s well being at the very core of those arrangements. In this article they discuss how their respective services can benefit parents and the timing of using those services.

Mediation is a process where a couple who have separated come together to talk through what arrangements they need to make about their children, their money and their possessions. The mediator is a qualified and independent professional who helps the parties to work through different options so that they can find the one that will work best. The mediator does not take sides or make judgments about what’s right and wrong; they simply facilitate discussion. It works by providing the parties with information and ideas as to how they can move forward. It also helps the parties to listen to each other and to communicate better. Averagely a separating couple will need 3 to 5 sessions of mediation to fully resolve all issues. These can take place within a set time frame, or be spread out over months according to what will work best for both parties.

A sticking point in making arrangements can often be differing views about children. The two parties may have different perceptions about how their child, or children, are coping with the separation. They may feel that different arrangements would work best. They may even have fundamental differences about the way that they parent their children. In some cases these differences have been a contributing factor in the breakdown of the relationship. Whatever the issues it’s important to remember that children experience the same relationship breakdown as their parents. Children are half of each parent, and it hurts them when they hear their parents making rude comments to or about each other – or becoming angry with each other. In recent studies one of the greatest frustration of children and young people was not being heard during their parents’ separation – and not having what was happening explained to them.

Una’s work as a child psychologist enables her to help parents to become more in tune with the needs of their children during this difficult time. Louisa and Una explain the process from separation to resolution and when Una’s services to help parents to support their children can be most useful.

It can take time following a separation for parties to feel able to start thinking about what happens next. It is not unusual for one party to feel they have come to terms with the relationship breakdown more quickly and to want to focus on the next steps, whilst the other party is still struggling to process what has happened. It is important that both parties work at a pace that they can both work within. A mediator will be mindful of this and incorporate this into the process and timetable. You can see a mediator as soon as you feel able to talk about the situation. A mediator will usually start with an individual meeting with each party. In that meeting they will explain how mediation works and the different ways in which you can move forward. Assuming mediation is a suitable process (and there aren’t many circumstances in which it isn’t) the parties can then move to having joint meetings – although they may leave a period of time before the first meeting, to enable them to either gather information together, or to feel more able to deal with the joint sessions. They can set subsequent joint meetings as close together, or with time in between to help them process emotions, or to make sensible and informed financial decisions. Between sessions parties can take legal advice about anything they are unsure of, and see other professionals (such as financial advisers) to help them feel confident in their decision making. These professionals can also attend mediation sessions where the parties feel this would be helpful to them.

Sometimes the parties are not able to make progress in mediation because they are overwhelmed by their emotions. Una explains that the parties may feel scared or threatened. This does not mean that either party is threatening the other, just that they find the situation they are in threatening. It can be frightening to have to contemplate moving out of your home, or other big life changes. When we feel threatened we go into “fight or flight” mode. This can include:

• Experiencing strong immediate reactions where there is no space for dialogue or compromise
• Refusing to deal with or acknowledge the situation such as ignoring phone calls, emails, or not being prepared to discuss issues in any way.
• A person freezes and is unable to take in information or process issues and make decisions.
Where one or both parties experiences this reaction, it can make it difficult for mediation to continue – or for there to be constructive dialogue about the issues. Una’s work can be helpful in assisting clients with resolving this reaction so that the party or parties can re-engage with their ability to regulate their emotions, reflect and examine the issue from different perspectives and be flexible, creative and empathetic. This, in turn, enables them to return to mediation and to make progress with shaping the resolution that they think will serve them, and their children, best going forwards.

Una also works with parents in the later stages when they are looking to implement the plan that they have put together in mediation. This might be once they have physically separated and moved into separate houses and are now sharing care of heir children. It can be a huge transition for all involved to live as two separate households and to implement a plan that was only theory when it was discussed in mediation.

As a newly separated parent you can feel very exposed. There might be situations that your ex partner used to deal with that you now have to tackle yourself. Una has a positive outlook on this as a chance to take stock of what is happening in your relationship with your child at that moment. Having the opportunity to invest your time and energy into creating a really solid relationship with your child, that you are both happy with, can be a life defining journey that can enhance your bond forever.

Una helps parents to develop a clear understanding of what their child needs from them and how they can meet those needs. She assists parents in helping their child (or children) to:

• Trust they can share their thoughts and feelings with their parents
• Feel comfortable in their own skin – understood, accepted, important, safe and loved
• Have lasting friendships
• Enjoy and fully engage in their learning – whatever their interests are

Una’s work gives parents confidence in their role as a parent – in a way that they may not have had during the marriage. How often do parents feel “I’m not good enough” or that “my child is asking for more than I can give”? It also empowers parents to rewire patterns that may have existed in their family for generations. Those patterns influence our unspoken agreements about how much affection, support, acceptance, space, respect one can expect in a relationship. By working with Una you can work out what relationship you, as a parent, will have with your child going forwards and how you can bring it to life and make it your everyday reality.

By working with services like Una’s and Louisa’s parties give themselves the best chance of resolving all issues in an amicable and constructive way. This enables families to move forward to a new chapter where they will be living separately but still working individually and together to make sure their children are happy, healthy and thriving.