by Barbara Badolato, CSW
The biggest reason people choose divorce mediation is because they are very concerned about their kids. They are terrified that divorce will destroy their children–or at least put them at a severe disadvantage.
Just mention kids in the first session, and one or both parents often begin to tear up.
I have spent 30 years mediating divorces. People often ask me, ‘Why don’t you do more couples therapy instead? Wouldn’t that do more good?” The reason: I truly believe that mediation is a pro-family process that can shelter children from the most harmful effects of divorce. At the first consultation with a new client, I say: “You have every right to expect that your children will be as happy, healthy and accomplished as any children in this world–they may even turn out better than if you had stayed together and exposed them to years of stress and conflict. You can and should have hope that you’ll have a great family . . . IF–and this is a big if–you keep your wits about you, and go about this the proper way.”
So what is the proper way? In my experience, it comes down to three main things:
1. How quickly is the divorce conducted? Does it take months? Years? The quicker you get through the process, the better. All divorces are draining. And when your is battery only half charged, you don’t have as much emotional energy to give your kids, no matter how much you love them. If the process takes three months instead of three years, the kids will be exposed to much less conflict, fighting and alienation. You want to quickly and appropriately get everyone through the divorce so they can get to the next stage of healing.
2. What relationship are the children going to be allowed the luxury of having with both their parents? The greatest gift you can give your children is two loving parents in their lives. In order to do this, it is necessary is to rise above the feelings you have for your spouse and paint him or her in a positive light. Every divorcing person feels, I’m here because of something my spouse has done or something my spouse has failed to do. While you may have negative feelings about your spouse, your child still needs to feel like he or she has two good parents. Children identify who they are by where they come from. Therefore, if they view their parents as being good, they view themselves as good as well. On the other hand, if all day your child hears, “Mommy is lazy; she’s not a good mom; she’s mean; she’s cheap…” your child will feel, “there’s something wrong with me.” That doesn’t mean you have to lie; it means you should always be thinking, “How do I talk about this so that my child still feels he has two good parents who love and support him.”
3. When you have completed the divorce process, and the dust settles, have you done it in a way so that you and your spouse can still put your hands together and get your kids from where they are to where they need to be? It’s difficult raising kids today. There is so much outside influence from the media and from your children’s friends and parents that may be contrary to your values. The best tool you have is a unified front. If your teenager gets a bad report card, you can’t say, “don’t worry, I won’t tell daddy.” All children–even teenagers–need and want boundaries, but it’s hard to enforce them if you are at war with your spouse, and you have no ally. Learning to communicate with each other during your divorce is going to set the tone for the way you parent together.