As a professional mediator, I have an informal facebook page with tips and information for those who may be in need. I also, from time to time, take part in discussions online on various mum and dad forums offering information.
Interestingly, a few weeks back a lady posted a dilemma on one of these pages. She described how she was trying to agree some arrangements for her daughter (she didn’t say her daughter’s age) with her ex partner who had made a suggestion to her about an arrangement that might work. She didn’t say whether she thought it would work and wanted to hear from other mums and dads with the arrangements which they had for their children to help her.
What struck me about the post is how a parent felt that they were not confident to look at their own circumstances and work together to plan an arrangement which would work best for their child. This lady wanted to know what was the norm. I replied to this mentioning that in my role as a family mediator there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ arrangement and that generally comparing other people’s experiences would not help as every child is unique and what works for one child may not work for another. I suggested that the best way to move forward would just be to consider what they each thought would work best for their child and go from there. Putting the child at the heart of decisions. Thinking about their age, their routine, what is going on for them in their lives, how far apart the parents live from each other in terms of the practicalities and what they thought would work.
Within a few minutes, I noticed that another post went up from a family law solicitor who jumped in with a very clear suggestion of what works for the ‘majority of [her] clients.’ Suggesting alternate weekends, with some time during school holidays and that they should also provide for things such as lateness and changes in arrangements as a result of illness etc. It was a detailed suggestion. There is, of course, nothing wrong with the information provided by that family solicitor and I am in no way suggesting that. Many people contact solicitors wanting this advice and guidance. However, what did occur to me is that our respective responses really signalled quite a difference in the approach of a family solicitor with one of a mediator and in turn the difference when you see a solicitor for advice and appoint a mediator to work with you.
The family solicitor wanted to offer a solution and make a suggestion to this client to give her an answer, based on what she regularly negotiates for her clients. The solicitor wanted to give a solution but of course did so without any knowledge as to this particular child’s circumstances or age.
As a family mediator, I wanted to help this lady find a solution which worked best for her family, without giving my own opinion as to what might have worked for others. In mediation, the parents are helped to work together to find unique solutions which will work for them and their child. The mediator is completely impartial. I encourage parents to work together and giving them the tools to make their own decisions which in my experience leads to longer lasting resolutions as they are completely bespoke to that couple/ child’s needs and circumstances. If it works for you and your family, you are all most likely to commit to it and be in a position to communicate with each other if anything needs tweaking as your child’s needs change or your circumstances change.
One size most certainly does not fit all when it comes to children. Finding the right solution for each child is incredibly important. Siblings themselves vary in what they want and need when their parents separate which means that sometimes the arrangements for one sibling might differ from another. I always encourage parents to ask themselves ‘what will work for your child/ children’ before I ask them to consider what it is they may individually want. Often the answer is different and that can be hard. Sometimes there is a conflict between what an adult may want and what is in the best interests of a child. Working through these discussions, helping with any understandable conflict along the way is key to parents finding their own solutions and finding ways, beyond divorce and separation to put children first.