Young Jonathon is acting up at school. His grades are sliding.
His parents separated several years earlier. He lives with his mother. She believes
his father spoils him and doesnít hold Jonathon accountable for homework.
Jonathon sees his father every other weekend and for dinner every Wednesday.
Father believes Jonathon misses him and that his behaviour is designed to give
his mother a hard time until she relents to his living with him. He believes
Jonathon should come to live with him with a total reversal of the access schedule.
Their lawyers, wanting to help the parents avoid an expensive trial refer the
parents to mediation.
The mediator offers to meet with each parent separately
and then twice with their son, once brought by each parent. The process helps
the mediator to assess the situation, understand both parentsí theory
of Jonathonís problems and their proposed solutions. By meeting Jonathon
directly, once brought by each parent, the mediator is also able to learn about
his relationship to both parents and assess for differences in his story depending
on which parent brings him.
In these situations parents are commonly defensive. They
worry about how they will be thought of by the mediator. They do not want to
be perceived as a bad parent. They are both apt to project blame on the other
parent while seeking to provide himself or herself and the child as a victim
of the other parentís behaviour. The mother seeks to hold onto her son
and the father seeks to have more meaningful contact.
The challenge in mediation is helping both parents understand
and appreciate they are both right. The difficulty is overcoming resistance
from either parent to except responsibility for their contribution to their
childís problems. This not the same as blaming. Both parents are likely
quite loving and appropriately concerned. The process is one of explaining.
Education on the dynamics between the parents, their unique
management styles and the need for the child to have meaningful contact with
both parents is at the heart of a successful mediation in this case scenario.
Father wants more time with his son, mother is afraid of
losing her son and that the father does not manage him appropriately. The objective
is to propose a plan that both parents can accept. Defensive posturing by either
parent can scuttle success.
In similar situations proposed plans include counselling
for father to help resist spoiling his son whilst also holding his son accountable
for school performance. Many fathers experience guilt as a result of limited
contact and hence use their time to strengthen the relationship through gifts
or special liberties. Unfortunately, this does create behaviour problems for
the child who then develops a sense of self-righteousness and then seeks to
exploit the difference in expectations between the parents.
Counselling is also indicated for the mother. There is often
the fear that if the father cannot set appropriate expectations now, the situation
will only worsen with increased parenting time. Counselling for the mother is
in the nature of explaining the necessity of the father-child relationship and
that only with increased parental time will the father have adequate exposure
to diminish his guilt and have opportunity to practice what is learned in his
Worst-case scenario in these situations is where each parent
expects the other to go first. Best-case scenario is where both parents accept
the feedback of the mediator and develop a new schedule of access and a counselling
plan that both parents agree upon.
Where a new plan is determined and agreed upon, the child
tends to settle down. Where the parents remain in conflict, each still blaming
the other, child related problems tend to worsen. The goal is to maintain a
perspective on the needs of the child and facilitate the parentsí adjustment.
As they adjust, so too does the child.