In the second blog of this 4 part series we’re continuing our focus on how your family will change as a result of separation. In the first blog we invited you to notice the little changes that you may perhaps have not appreciated the significance of and to be alert to them.
In this next blog I’m talking about creating a vision of what you want your family life to look like post separation. This is something I feel strongly about so bear with me whilst I explain. Many people approach their post separation life from the standpoint of “well it will be awful and I’ll just have to see how I can make the best of it”. This is completely understandable given divorce and separation are the second most stressful life event anyone can go through. It is normal to feel wiped out by it and to feel you need to grieve – often for a long period of time. Many people tell us it takes 2 years or more to feel back to their old selves again (or anything approaching that). This vision can therefore take time to come together and it is something that it’s helpful not to rush. But having an idea of what you really want your post separation life to look like makes it much easier to carve out arrangements that are in keeping with that.
As a family mediator I often get asked what arrangements people should put in place and this is a question I am wary of because the second you start saying “this is usual” you constrain people into a box of what they should or shouldn’t be doing. It is often more helpful to start with a vision of what you want family life to be like post separation. It can be useful to start with questions like:
- How do you want your children to feel about the situation?
- How do you want to feel about the situation?
- How does the other parent want to feel about the situation?
- What things feel important to you? These might be practical concerns such as not going too many days without seeing your children. Or maybe you just have one idea that you really like – going for a family walk still once a month? Ensuring that your children feel comfortable passing between houses? Maybe you want the house to be as close to each other as possible? Whatever the ideas are that are important to you – write them down and use them as a basis for discussion.
- What concerns you? What do you worry about at 3 a.m (if you’ve woken up then, or what stops you sleeping)? What’s the worst thing that could happen? That can be a scary and unsettling thought but by bringing it out into the open for discussion you can actively look at ensuring it doesn’t happen.
If each parent is able to vocalise their thoughts then it helps you to start shaping your vision of what you want things to look like. Don’t worry at this stage if those two visions are very different. It may be one of you thinks your children should spend one week with them an one week with you, you think that’s too long and that it should be shorter periods of time. That’s OK. The more important thing is to understand why that’s the other parent’s vision. What is it about that that they think will work well? Can you work with their reasons as their vision? If you both want continuity and clarity then how can you achieve that in a way that works for both of you?
In family mediation shaping the vision can be a way of getting parents to come together. There may be considerable disagreement about what the practical realities of the vision should look like but if you can look at the principles shaping the views of what should happen, then there is often a much greater scope for finding common ground.
If you find yourself butting heads about what is best for your children then try to pair this back to a more abstract vision of what your children need. If you want them to spend equal time with both parents what are the possible ways of achieving that? If you want them to be able to move easily between your homes what do you need to make that happen? You may find this video on co-parenting helpful.
If you have a really clear joint vision of what you want co-parenting to look like for you then it can be helpful to go back to this vision when you talk about what practical arrangements you will put in place. Reality checking is something that happens in family mediation and often it means looking at what arrangements you want to put in place and seeing how they will work in practice. It can also mean taking the arrangements you’re discussing and looking at how they fit in with the vision you have of how you will co-parent.
A little word to the wise here too. Don’t limit your vision to what you THINK you will be able to achieve. Go big. Think about the best it could possibly be and aim for that. You may not have the skills YET to make this a reality or you may not YET be sufficiently through the grieving process but at some point you will be and then you will be really glad that you aimed high.
If you’d like more information about mediation then please contact us. You can also sign up to our free mailing list, or access our free community of support via the closed Soulful Separation support Facebook group.