Many families we work with don’t have anything resembling “conflicts or disputes” (at least not in the antagonistic way they are generally portrayed) and, so, are not looking for “resolution” to said “conflicts/disputes”. Instead, these families need good information, guidance, and support in making decisions that best fit their families’ needs and protects all of them in the future.
We have been fortunate enough to work with couples where there is still a strong sense of respect, love and concern for each other’s post-separation well-being; and, where the paramount focus remains on their children’s optimal functionality. It almost feels odd and inappropriate to place these families in a process called “dispute/conflict resolution”. I can tell you that the families themselves find it odd! Some even start questioning whether they should be in conflict! And, this, right here, is a clear demonstration of underlying factors fueling (unintentionally, albeit) the misconception that divorce or separation necessarily entails conflict or battle or opposite corners. And, yes, some do! But, many don’t, and I have a tough time being party to it when my role is to work with families and meet them “where they’re at” and certainly not add more difficulties to an already difficult transition.
As a professional in a field where families’ needs come first (should! anyway), I often struggle when I am faced with gaps (especially informational and educational ones) that have the potential to push individuals off from the path they need to be on. And, so, I tweak my agreements and I adapt the process to also be inclusive of those families who are not in conflict, and who are simply seeking the best way to move onto their next chapter, while still maintaining their sense of family.
The manner in which we frame mediation has tremendous impact on the response we get from families experiencing divorce or separation. While it might be a consensus in the field that mediation is much more than a “conflict/dispute resolution” process, this message must be delivered loud and clear and in a unified way to the families we serve. We can start with widening the definition and scope of mediation in a manner that is both consumer (family)-focused and promoting of a cultural shift away from divorce being associated with conflict (or competition/tension) for power and resources. In reality, it is cooperation and working together (not litigation or conflict) that will preserve the highest amount/value of family resources.
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