My morning routine consists of coffee and reading the Washington Post. In this day and age of contentious news, I generally stick to the advice columnists and the funny pages (as my grandfather used to call the comics). Recently, one of my favorite columnists posted a question that hit a little too close to my mediator heart. Here’s the link:
In a nutshell, the adult letter writer has parents who divorced 15+ years ago and she is still experiencing fall-out from their contentious divorce. Specifically, she is asking how to deal with acrimonious divorced parents in light of her child’s (their grandchild’s) upcoming bar mitzvah. Her parents cannot, after more than 15 years of divorce, be in the same room with each other and the letter writer is looking for advice for brokering civility for the sake of this once-in-a-lifetime event. Sad, right?
What I see here are the consequence of actions set into place from the very beginning of the divorce. When I meet with parents in mediation, one of the very first things we talk about is the fact that they can end the business of being married to each other but they can never end the business of being co-parents. At this juncture I usually get push-back from one or both parents who insist that parenting duties end at age 18 (or graduation from high school or other emancipating event). Perhaps in the eyes of the law they do – but what about in life? I invite them to think about all the life events that occur after the age of 18: college graduations, marriages, grandchildren, baptisms, bar/mat mitzvahs? Or what about big, milestone events in the family like anniversaries or birthdays? Or even funerals? (as I’ve written about here no-regrets.html). Are they just going to skip those? Hmmmm. I invite them to envision the interactions and relationships they would like to be able to have with their children, as well as with each other, not only for the years leading up to the magic age of 18, but well beyond for all these life events. What would that look like? What would that feel like?
How can mediation help?
In mediation we can discuss things like intentions and feelings. We get to envision future relationships and structure agreements that honor those intentions and build a plan for success. In mediation you are making your own decisions about what your future relationships will look like rather than having someone else make those decisions for you. Now, doesn’t that sound better than becoming the topic of a future advice column letter?