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The breakdown of your family is a very upsetting and confusing time for your children. They often worry about where they will live, where they will go to school, when they will see their other parent or their friends or family pet. It’s also very common for children to worry about you and money matters. Children often feel excluded from having any say in what happens to them during this time. This can lead to your child feeling angry or resentful and unable to talk with you about how they feel.
When you and your former partner come to mediation to discuss the arrangements for your family, your children are not part of that process. However, there maybe times when it’s right that their views and feelings should be taken into account in the mediation. Your child has a voice in family mediation
If both of you and the mediator think that this is appropriate, the mediator will arrange to have a separate meeting with your child. Mediators who undertake direct consultation with your child are specially trained to do this. It will be a different mediator to the one that is working with you. The age and maturity of your child will be considered and of course, if you’re children don’t want to be involved, they won’t be. Experience shows that often, children do like to have their views and opinions heard and taken into consideration. However, it is you and not your child that makes the final decisions. This helps them to feel heard, without placing any responsibility on them.
Just like your mediation session, the session that the mediator has with your child is confidential. The mediator will only share with you what your child wants you to know. If you have more than one child, your children may be seen separately and or together. This session usually lasts about 45 minutes and your children will be given the chance to say what they would like to happen. If your children give permission, their thoughts and feelings will be fed back to you in your next mediation session.
Direct Child Consultation can be beneficial to both you and your children. Helping them feel part of the decision making process supports their sense of identity within your family, and can also support you to see the bigger picture when you are feeling hurt or emotionally vulnerable. However, Direct Child Consultation is not always in the best interests of your children. Where possible, it is better for parents to make adult decisions and be parents!
Going through a separation when you have teenage children can pose extra challenges for you. As you know, teenagers can already be feeling emotional and uncertain about themselves, and may find it difficult to cope with the breakdown of your relationship.
Tips for parents of teenagers
• Don’t fight in front of your children. It really helps your teenagers to come to terms with the situation if they see your separation as a means by which you resolve differences and move on from a relationship that hasn’t worked.
• Express your sadness at the fact that your relationship didn’t work out. This shows your teenager that you did value the relationship even though it hasn’t worked.
• Your teenagers do want to respect you. They will see your behaviour as a blue print for themselves. Separating with respect will allow your teenager to continue to have the greatest respect for you as parents and themselves.
• Support each other as parents. This, more than anything will promote the emotional health and well-being of your teenager, now and throughout their lives. Remain positive about the other parent and encourage a healthy relationship with them.
• Remember that your teenager has rights, and each of you has responsibilities. Your children will always be your children however old they are. Your emotional well-being is your responsibility, not that of your teenager. Your teenager has the right to be heard and their views taken into account, but it is you, the adults who must make the decisions.
• Remember that your teenagers will want and deserve age appropriate answers. Involve them and be as open and honest as their age requires.
• Check in regularly with your teenager, explaining more than once if necessary, that they are not responsible for the break up of your relationship.
• Express your continued love and support for your teenager, even if they make decisions you are unhappy about. Teenagers need to feel loved just as much as younger children.
• Listen, validate and respect the views of your teenager.
• Maintain current household rules and discipline structures for your teens, this helps them maintain a sense of stability and certainty in a changing environment. Transfer these rules to the home of the non-resident parent. This allows your teenager to see that as parents, you are still working together.
• Remember to make time for fun together.
Contact Chris Myles, Family Mediator, for help and advice on how Family Mediation can work for you and your family.