Hearing the Child’s voice
More and more the voice of the child must be heard during the course of divorce/separation.
Research produced by Young Minds, the Uk’s leading charity committed to improving the mental and emotional wellbeing of children and young people, has shown that children who face three or more stressful life events are more likely to suffer from a mental illness during their lifetime.
Surely we can avoid this by ensuring that parents who separate take the right approach to their children and minimise the risk of harm to them? Of course this is what we would all want, but our own highly charged emotions at such a time, can often prevent this.
As a family law mediator, I see on a regular basis, children from 10 years old and upwards, in what is termed “child inclusive mediation”. This is a very informal chat, in relaxed surroundings, just the mediator and the young person, and very often a hot chocolate and cookie to relax everyone!
Whilst it does not put any pressure on the young person to make any decisions at all (this is the parents’ job), it allows them to have a voice in all the mayhem that is surrounding them.
So often they tell me that they feel that they are simply pawns in the whole process, and this is the first opportunity they have had to actually get a chance to tell someone what they would like to happen, and what would make it all seem a lot easier and less stressful for them.
In a recent case, one young girl of 13 had endured months of unnecessary stress simply because one of her parents was ruining contact time for her simply by asking her continually to decide when she would see him next. This resulted in extreme stress, resulting in illness, because she worried every night before the contact about what she would say to keep him happy, when really all she wanted to do was have fun and enjoy her time with her Dad. She was clear to point out at mediation that she loved her Dad very much and wanted to see him regularly, but because of all the upset and stress, she just pulled away and refused to see her Dad, instead internalising all of her feelings. The result was an emotionally distraught child and very worried parents.
During the mediation, she asked that we simply feedback all of the information to her parents, emphasising how much it was all upsetting her. She asked that the feedback would take place when she was not present, although some children do like to come into the feedback meeting.
The outcome was very surprised parents. The Dad was shocked and saddened that his behaviour had caused such heartbreak: although it was unintentional, it was his way of ensuring that he maintained regular contact with his daughter. With total acknowledgment from both parents that they needed to take this pressure off the child by working on their communication, mediation was used successfully as a way of moving forward and sorting out a co-parenting plan taking into account the wishes and feelings of their daughter.
The parents have recently been in contact to say that their daughter seems so much more relaxed and happy when spending time with both of them.
It can be simple measures that get overlooked during times of high emotion, that can make a vast and positive difference to the young people who become embroiled in the breakup of their parents’ relationship.
Marcia Lister 07791560161