• What Children Tell Us

    23.08.13

    Some feedback from Child Consultations by Gemma Burden

    Despite the high conflict and hurt feelings between some of the parents we see about child arrangements, they are usually agreed on one thing:  that they want to put their children first and that their children are the most important priority for each of them.  Despite these good intentions though, the emotional fall out of separation and the vulnerability felt by the parents as a result of their changing roles combine to make the task of making child focussed arrangements and keeping the needs of the child at the top of the list a difficult ideal to achieve in practice. 

    But what does it feel like for the child caught in the middle of two parents at war?  At Laceys Mediation we feel privileged to spend time with children listening to their thoughts, fears and wishes for the future through Child Consultation appointments for which all of are mediators are specifically trained.  It is one of the most rewarding and enlightening aspects of our role as mediators and for many cases, a valuable means by which parent’s are able to re-focus their attention away from their conflict and back towards their children, their most important and precious possession.  So, we thought we would share with you the feedback we hear from children during our time with them – information more valuable in our view than any textbook or training course.

    • Children are more aware of the conflict between their Mum and Dad than many parents would want to admit.  Children overhear comments by parents and other family and friends and totally ‘get’ their meaning.  Children hear heated telephone calls taking place in the other room.  They pick up the vibes of bad feeling at handover.  Even when children don’t witness face to face conflict, in many cases they are fully aware that the conflict and bad feeling is there AND THEY DON’T LIKE IT.  Parents need to be very aware of what they say about the other parent and how they act towards them when the children are around.

    • Children care less about precise times for contact, and more about wanting their parents to ‘just be friends’.  Most children we see are very accepting of the fact that their parents are separated.  Many even voice relief that their parents are separated and that conflict in the family home as diminished as a result.  However what they struggle to understand, and what they say makes things most difficult for them, is that their parents can’t just ‘get on’.  Their message to Mum and Dad is usually ‘please just be friendly’.  A simple and small request in the mind of the child.

    • Children need to know that despite all the changes going on in their lives, they are still loved by both parents.  Children easily feel ‘pushed out’ by new step families, or vulnerable that the absent parent ‘no longer cares’ or ‘can’t be bothered’.  Children need both parents to provide reassurance that this is not the case.  The absent parent can address this by spending some quality one to one time with their child and by sticking to regular contact arrangements.  The resident parent can do their bit by adding words of encouragement about the other parent’s love and commitment (even when they may question that parent’s conduct or motivations at times themselves).

    • KIDS WANT TO BE KIDS.  They don’t want to get drawn into adult ‘stuff’.  They don’t like having to be questioned about what they did with Dad, or who Mum’s seeing.  Children seem to see the difference between general chit-chat and more probing questions (however subtly put).  Children feel awkward talking about what the other parent is up to and they don’t want their special time with Mum or Dad to be ruined by this pressure and awkwardness.  Many children who have been subjected to this questioning end up distancing themselves more and more from that parent, sometimes with a breakdown in contact altogether.

    • Strangely perhaps, one of the problems many children have with contact arrangements is that they are ‘bored’ or their parent ‘doesn’t do anything interesting’ with them.   Perhaps amidst the insecurity and conflict of separation the communication between parent and child breaks down and awkwardness is left behind.   Frequently this can be addressed by us sharing with the parents at the feedback session some examples of things that the children said they liked doing and encouraging future discussion and sharing of ideas between the parents themselves and between the parent’s and child.  Of course children need to know that every contact hour can’t be filled with expensive activities and trips to Thorpe Park, especially at a time when the absent parent might be struggling financially to find a new home.  We talk about more day to day activities: trips to the park; painting; cooking; skateboarding….the list can be endless!  Making plans can be fun – picking an activity from a hat for example.  The key here is communicate, share ideas and recognise that your child’s preferences will change over time.

    • Often we see children in their early teens who have been having contact without any problems for many years, but all of a sudden the routine no longer works.  The resident parent speaks of the child no longer wanting to go.  The absent parent blames the other for influencing the child.  The child tells us – this is nothing about what Dad wants or what Mum wants – the routine no longer works for me!  They want to see their friends at weekends.  They want to do to sleepovers.  They feel they are missing out because their parents are separated and this is not fair.  Is this a problem or is this a normal child growing up, for which friendship circles and independence are becoming more and more central to their lives?  In most cases it will be the latter.  Parents of children who are sill together notice a point when they see less of their children at weekends and may feel them slipping away.  Little wonder therefore that parents of separated parents find it even harder to accept.  However normalising this stage in the child’s life enables a less defensive stance to be taken and parents can then get creative about how they keep their relationship with their child going through the teenage years and beyond…….texting, shopping, taxi rides, and dare we say it….facebook!  Overall, it’s a matter of balance.

    Laceys Mediation undertake several Child Consultations every month and have been doing so for many, many years.  With cuts to legal aid for court proceedings, parents who want their children to have a voice will no longer see the traditional court route as a means by which their child can be heard.  However, legal aid for us to see children as part of the mediation process remains in place and we suspect we will see a rise in the number of Child Consultations that we undertake.  We spend enormous amounts of money on our ongoing training and development at Laceys Mediation, but yet we learn so much from our youngest educators of all: your children, and we thank you for that privilege. 

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