Louisa Whitney writes……

Somewhat incredibly we have now hit December 2021, and my thoughts have been turning to closing this year. There’s a practise that I like to undertake whereby I look at what from 2021 I would like to take into 2022, and what I would like to (very firmly in some places) leave in 2021. I do this every year and it helps me to create a focus for the year and to draw a line under the year that has passed. This year has been a challenging time for so many people. I think it’s fair to say that although 2020 was difficult there was a feeling that if we all hunkered down and put one foot in front of the other, things would be different and more positive in 2021. However, this did not pan out in the way that was expected and for many people one of the greatest difficulties of 2021 has been not knowing when the situation with regard to COVID might end.

I described this year and the implications of COVID to my dad as being like trying to do things on your computer but with another programme running in the background that slows everything else down. To me that’s exactly what it has felt like. It has been exhausting at points. There’s the general social anxiety about trying to ensure that you are following rules, and able to do the things you want to, but not creating any risks for people that might otherwise be avoided. For all parents there has been the almost daily thought process of whether your child is able to go to school if they are under the weather, whether they might have to be isolated out of school and whether they might need yet another PCR test.

All days, all weeks and all years draw to a close.
All days, all weeks and all years draw to a close

On top of dealing with all of these COVID related worries we have had all of the usual life worries to deal with.  This might be general stresses and strains of life or it may have been bigger issues such as separation, bereavements, redundancy and other big life events.

The recent information shared by Resolution as part of their good divorce week highlighted some interesting statistics that I include below

  • 1/3 of separated or divorced parents said they found it harder to keep child contact arrangements in place since the pandemic began.
  • 1 in 10 parents said their children had become prone to violent outbursts.
  • 1 in 7 said their children displayed anti-social behaviour since breaking up with their ex-partner
  • ¼ of parents said their children showed a loss of confidence and a similar proportion said their children had suffered from depression due to family breakdown.
  • 2/3 of separated parents said they lacked help or advice about how to put their children first when they split from their partner.

(These were all taken from a survey of separated parents)

As a mediator I have been very aware of how the pandemic has impacted on people’s relationships. This includes those who were in relationships that they might have classed as happy prior to the pandemic, or for those who already felt the strain on their relationships. For those who had separated or were in the process of separating prior to the pandemic it has created a large number of issues both in dealing with the arrangements for children with the ever present threat of a COVID infection or risk of an infection (or the issue of whether children should be vaccinated), and with not being able to take action steps where needed because of being prevented by various restrictions in place.

I have had conversations with many other practitioners in the last few months about how we need to support ourselves in doing the important work supporting those going through a separation. Given the stresses and strains that I have outlined above it’s no wonder that couples coming into mediation are currently a little more pressured, a touch more overwhelmed and more prone to being triggered by their ex-partner (or other things) than they were before a pandemic. This makes things difficult for them and their children. It also means that my work as a family mediator has been perhaps a little more challenging too. I have certainly noticed this year the need to take regular breaks and to ensure that I am recharging my batteries. A series of unforeseen events in December left me wondering whether I was really going to make it to Christmas or whether I might collapse in a heap before then. We are all feeling the pressure of having dealt with this year and things that we might otherwise have taken in our stride (or perhaps with a momentary misstep) feel like a far greater hill to climb.

I see a lot of frustration, judgement and anger in other people at the moment and this is completely understandable after this year of challenging times. I strive to always approach any situation or person in life with compassion and with genuine curiosity about their situation but I have found myself triggered and, dare I say a little bit ranty, during the last couple of weeks.  I am very aware that this is often a sign that I am a little overtired and need a break.

What does this mean for us in 2022? I for one will be taking a big break over Christmas; we are closing our offices at LKW family mediation on the 21st of December and we won’t reopen until the 4th of January. Both Emma and I need a break to recharge our batteries and to be able to spend time with our respective families. Going into 2022 the question remains as to how as mediators we can best support and assist our clients and whether that might change and evolve in 2022 to take into account the challenges that people have faced and will likely continue facing. We already signpost to a large number of different sources of information and support and my gut feel right now is that this will become evermore important.

It will also be essential to look after ourselves as practitioners. This means ensuring we do all the things that fill up our own cups and as well as ensuring that we take regular breaks from our challenging work. It also means we might perhaps spend more time with our PPCs as sources of support for us as mediators. As a PPC I can see that my consultees have faced a number of challenges in this year that have at times affected their confidence as mediators. We are all ultimately humans first and professionals, parents, ex-partners etc second.  We get angry, we get fearful and sometimes we react from that place.  The more we are supported and encouraged to understand ourselves the more control we can seek to have over these button pressing reactions.  I know that those who are overwhelmed and anxious need compassion, not judgement. I know that those that are struggling with a thousand thoughts whirling around need things they need to do broken down into manageable steps with clear explanations.  I know also that parents want to put their children first but sometimes they haven’t a clue what that means on a practical, day to day basis.  Separating couples will need mediators to be a whispering light in the darkness to support them with making tough decisions and managing this more challenging than ever period of transition.