PROBLEM SOLVING: THE FAMILY PARENTING PLAN
My earlier blog on Designing a Parenting Plan addressed the nuts and bolts of developing a child-focussed, viable, and flexible family plan. Typically there will be a provision in the event a dispute arises and cannot be resolved between the parents. Before reaching the point of turning to a stranger to find a solution, here are some potential solutions to try first and some factors to consider.
Are you listening? Or maybe the better question is “How are you listening?”.
When a problem arises, consider how many other thoughts are running interference through your mind at the same time. Sometimes the children will repeat the same request over and over and a parent’s response may just to tune out or distract the child with a new activity.
When the other parent is trying to discuss a tough parenting issue or engage to sort out an urgent matter, avoidance isn’t an appropriate response.
What distractions are you entertaining when an adult interrupts to engage you in an important dialogue?
- the TV is on in the background reporting a news update,
- your cell phone is vibrating on the countertop,
- the garbage truck is grunting out front with each stop along the street, and
- you’re hungry.
Develop a parental request/response protocol
- Getting the attention of the other custodial parent is the starting point. One client described this step and simply taking their spouse’s hand and walking them to the sofa. This was their code for a serious discussion that is needed right now.
- Express the issue is simple terms, unembellished, and without emotion. It may be a frightening family matter developing which requires an immediate decision. Some slow deep breathing will calm panic or anxiety so the message you are trying to portray can be understood by the other parent or caregiver.
- Take notes and record the issues which may need some follow-up or clarification. Has all the necessary information been covered?
- Offer some alternative solutions that you may have already started working on. Talk about the risks and the advantages of each. Entrenching in one position to gain the upper hand may mean turning a blind eye from another option which may hold a significant benefit for the child. Work out the logistics, who will be involved, and what amount of time will be needed to make the option work well.
- Consider involving specialists familiar with the child. If the soccer coach is respected by your child, then consider having a meeting when you are already going to be at the school for pick up after practice. Try out the different solutions while promoting the parenting values you both rely on to support your children’s best interests.
Awareness of your child’s developmental stages
Parents with busy schedules outside of their family’s routines may miss an important milestone in their child’s development. Take for example the child who now knows how to read on their own. The child will proudly assert this independence by choosing a book from the local library and insist on reading it on their own at night after their teeth are brushed. The parent who promotes the child’s independence to read on their own may be viewed by the primary caregiver as attempting to diminish their parenting role during bedtime routines.
In the Collaborative Family Law Approach
The terms of a domestic contract would include the involvement of a family specialist involved at the first collaborative family law meeting. As the voice of the child, they offer current research of the resilience of children going through a divorce with their parents. The family specialist would also be able to bring the parent’s attention to risks the children may encounter as every member of the family adjusts over time to the new arrangement.
The family specialist is acting independently of the lawyers. In addition to keeping the focus on the children, they will also help the parents develop cooperative and collaborative communication skills. Active listening, seeking clarification, asking for examples, and rephrasing to eliminate any animosity or threats from the conversation help move the parents from positions to possible alternatives.
In Family Law Mediation
The neutrality of the family law mediator and their experience in working with families who face a difficult transition can be a great comfort for parents. While not invested in the outcome, they will guide the parents to take ownership of the dispute resolution process to consider different ideas and to weigh the possible options for their potential as a resolution for the issue at hand.
In Family Law Litigation
The family law courts are becoming specialist courts. In Ontario, the family litigants are directed first to mandatory mediation to see if a neutral facilitator will be able to narrow the issues and encourage a settlement. These mediators often extend a reduced pay scale for impecunious parents. If a partial or total settlement is reached, the terms will become part of a court order subject to the judge’s review. If no resolution or a limited settlement is reached, the matter moves into the family litigation court setting. Know that the litigated result will be reported in a public journal.
For more information on this complicated family law legal concern, please contact my office.