181569057-family-gear-discussion-gettyimagesA family with whom I am privileged to work on their Collaborative divorce gave me consent to tell this story. A few weeks after completing the two meetings with me that are a typical part of my child-inclusive parenting plan process, a teenager (I’ll call him Jay) asked if could meet with me again.  Jay confided being miserable about both parents putting him in the middle, though he knew this was not intentional.  He could read his parents’ body language and emotional tone after their phone conversations, and perceived both parents as distressed, sad and angry about as-yet unresolved aspects of their divorce.  He felt himself drawn to ask questions to try to understand the contentious issues, but the answers he received just made him feel worse, because then he felt like he was supposed to choose sides.  I suggested we have a family meeting to share his concerns with parents, which was exactly what Jay wanted.  His parents were also supportive of this idea. At the family meeting, this courageous and empathetic young man began by saying “I love you both, and I want you both in my life.  You’ve told me you want to work things out in the best way for me and my brother, and I believe you.   I just need you to try to get along better with each other.”  Jay acknowledged how hard it was for him to walk away when his mom seemed so sad, or his dad seemed so angry, but that he really wanted to be out of the middle of their conflicts with each other.  Though I had already talked with parents about the negative impact on kids of feeling in the middle, this was different.  This was listening to their child’s own words.  His parents really listened. Before the meeting ended, Jay asked if he could sum up what he hoped for, and shared the most amazing metaphor: “You know I used to be best friends with Sam and Mike, and we’re not really friends any more.  But we’re on the same baseball team, and when we’re playing baseball we’re teammates, we have each others’ backs and we know how to play well together.  I know you guys won’t be married any more but I want you to be on the same team, because you’re my parents.” What a perfect description of co-parenting, and all the more powerful for being in the voice of the child.   We need to keep listening to that voice.
Children Walking on TrailIn my meetings with kids, I ask them to share perspectives on family, including hopes and wishes for how family might work best when parents are living in separate homes. I recently had the privilege to meet with four amazing young women; siblings whose parents are getting unmarried in a Collaborative Team Process. I continually learn from kids with whom I work as a neutral child specialist. Each of these girls made thoughtful observations for me to share with their parents, so I asked them and their parents if I could write a blog post to share these ideas with others. Because they are thoughtful, empathetic and generous people, they agreed, and have my deep gratitude and appreciation.

Below are words of wisdom from Lauren, Kelly, Emily and Grace. Though focusing on one quote per girl, I want to stress that each of them had many wonderful insights about all the areas mentioned.

Lauren on Holiday and Birthday Celebrations

“I want one graduation party, not two. This is about me, not my parents. And I want them both to come and to get along.”

Lauren’s words represent the viewpoint of many kids, and are a powerful reminder that children of all ages have strong feelings about family celebrations. Lauren also talked about preserving family traditions on both sides for holidays, like Christmas. Tuning in to kids’ perspectives can help parents figure out how to preserve important traditions while adding new ones, providing grounding and clarity for all family members.

Kelly on Co-parent Cooperation

“I want my parents to remember they’re both always my parents no matter which house I am at.”

Kelly’s words articulate the heart of the positive and profound shift in family law away from attaching custody labels toward co-parenting and creating parenting plans based on the best interests of kids. Kids dislike the feeling of going from “Mom Island” to “Dad Island,” and feel safer if parents respect and honor their relationships with both parents.  Effective co-parent communication is a centerpiece of parenting and relationship plans in Collaborative Team Practice.

Emily on Transitions between Homes

“I hope my parents will have a one to two hour window for me to go from one house to the other, so it’s do-able if I am in the middle of something or with a friend.”

One of the most challenging aspects of a divorce for kids is transitioning between homes. It is vital that parents work together to make transitions as smooth, cordial and stress-free as possible. Emily’s words are an important reminder to regularly check in and listen to kids about what is working well and not so well in transitions. Parents need patience and empathy: kids have lives too!

Grace on Family Transformation

“I want us to be a together and apart family. We’re still a family, but we’re just split.” 

Grace absolutely nailed why I do the work I do as a neutral child specialist. What she said is both insightful and core to helping kids develop resilience. It is so important that all family members move forward with the deep understanding that getting unmarried does not end a family with children, but transforms it.

Thank you Lauren, Kelly, Emily and Grace. We will keep listening!