And now for my favourite animal in real life and in the Chinese zodiac, the Dog. I have written previously about what dogs can teach us about conflict. Every day, my dogs teach me more life lessons, many of which involve the importance of access to treats and how to bark at wild boars.
In the Chinese zodiac, Dogs are well known for their loyalty. It is a defining feature. Loyalty may seem to be an unusual quality to look for in conflict, however, it has a role to play. In family mediation, trust and loyalty are gone. However, they still have a place if there are children. If there are children, then the former partners will continue to be co-parents.
This continuing co-parenting relationship demands connection at a time when many people wish the other person would disappear. As a family mediator in Hong Kong, I have an ethical duty to assist parents to focus on their children’s best interests. Research would tell us that ongoing conflict has the most negative impact on children.
As parties are dissolving their adult relationship, it is difficult to remember that the other person remains a co-parent and should remain a team-mate. Whilst your former partner may no longer deserve your loyalty as a partner, they may need to receive your loyalty as a co-parent, for the benefit of your children. I remember listening in a child inclusive mediation as a child consultant brought messages from their children. The children had specifically requested that their parents could be “a team”. Even though the children understood that their parents were separating, they still wanted to be parented by both of their parents. The children wanted to know that they had a team of adults looking after their needs and caring for them. Team-mates have loyalty for one another because they have a higher goal that they are seeking to achieve. Team-mates have loyalty for one another because they are focused on something other than their own feelings. Loyalty can have a place in conflict.
The International Survey of Family Law 2018 is about to launch. I was honoured to contribute the Hong Kong chapter. The Hong Kong chapter looks at challenges for families and practitioners arising from the lack of innovation in our legislation. This has necessitated invention by judges, lawyers and mediators.
The Survey is the annual review of the International Society of Family Law. This year's survey contains chapters covering topical issues ranging from legislation to customary law to reproductive technology.
Copies are available for purchase from Intersentia.
One of the key principles of parallel parenting is that instead of having unspoken rules, the co-parents put in place explicit and clear rules to manage their relationship. For whatever reason, the old patterns of behaviour did not work for the family and helping co-parents create new patterns of behaviour is a critical part of setting up effective parallel parenting.
Rules may include:
The list goes on. Each family needs to consider their circumstances and what rules are needed for them. For some families, the flashpoint for conflict is communication (e.g. texts), for other families the flashpoint will be attendance at school events. A family mediator will work with the parents to tailor rules which work for their family circumstances.
It can seem very strange and awkward to put in place ground rules when people have been in relationship for a long time, however, moving forward requires parents to change to new patterns for interacting which can form the basis for parallel co-parenting. Research would indicate that a third of separated parents can work co-operatively and that a third remain conflicted. For the other third of parents, parallel can provide a space for mutual respect and appropriate behavior.
Respect is a key principle for parallel parenting. Whilst parents may have different approaches or different rules, a key component of parallel parenting is that one parent does not undermine the other parent. For example, if Parent A believes bed-time winding down begins with a story and Parent B believes that it should start with a bath, neither parent should criticize the other.
Each parent is responsible for doing the best they can with the children when they are in their care. It is not unusual for parents to agree some common rules for younger children (e.g. bedtime) and for older children (e.g. electronic usage). This can assist each parent to present to the children as a co-parental team. However, there will also be differences between each parent’s home rules. This is the essence of the work by Isolina Ricci (Mom’s House Dad’s House).
Next post, putting it all together and using parallel parenting as means of moving forward.
Why do many separated parents use parallel parenting? Because at a time when the adult relationship is ending, parallel parenting can provide a foundation for the co-parental team to continue functioning for the benefit of the children. Because parallel parenting provides a space for parents to acknowledge the difficulties and challenges inherent in their transition through separation and yet to be available to co-parent without open warfare.
What are the basic principles that can guide co-parents to set up parallel co-parenting?
How do parents disengage from the battle?
In Hong Kong, family mediators try and help parents to focus on their children when making decisions about their children’s arrangements. By sharing research about how to enhance protective factors for children in separating families, family mediators can help to redirect the parents away from focusing on their adult relationship and towards their co-parental responsibilities.
Another casualty of separation is often whatever ability there was to problem solve or communicate. Separating parents may find it difficult to communicate and to problem solve together. However, constructive separation requires both good problem solving and clear communication.
In addition, whatever trust may have bound a couple together is usually gone. Understanding that a lack of trust and respect is often a part of this process can help parents to refocus on how to make things work for their children as opposed to winning a battle.
The patterns of behaviour which have led to the separation need to be replaced, but consciously deciding to disengage from conflict is the first step. Next post what new patterns can help separating parents to form a new co-parental team?
Parallel? Co-operative? Conflicted? You and your partner may have made a conscious or an unconscious choice about your parenting style when your children arrived. Divorce and separation, however, requires parents to make a conscious choice.
In family mediation, parents have the opportunity to determine the type of co-parenting style they will use to raise their children in their newly separated family. Will it be difficult for the children to move between your houses? Will you make it so that your children can smoothly transition between each house? Will your children look back and remember their childhood as a time when things were tough but they knew that you were both a co-parenting team? or will your children feel that every transition was fraught with tension?
For some parents they have always been co-operative and as they separate they are able to work hard to focus their co-parenting on their children and not on their adult relationship. For other parents the fallout from the hurt and pain of their separation impacts every aspect of their co-parenting. It can seem that these are the only two options - co-operative or conflicted co-parenting.
In family mediation it may be helpful for parents to consider a third option - parallel or disengaged parenting. Dr Isolina Ricci's book, Mom's House Dad's House, has given numerous families a practical pathway to parallel parenting. When parents decide that open co-operation is too difficult to achieve and open warfare is too harmful to their children, there is a third option. Parallel parenting allows for parents to continue to co-parent with structures e.g. communication rules, and a responsibility not to undermine the other parent.
In the coming weeks, I will focus on how parallel parenting can help families transition through separation and divorce.
Whether, people are in family mediation or employment mediation or commercial mediation, they have probably seen trust erode. All the reassuring words in the world cannot rebuild trust. Maybe you don't need to. Maybe the relationship is over and you are able to walk away from that particular burning bridge.
However, if you have an ongoing relationship (co-parenting / employment / commercial arrangements, etc.) then you will need to address the loss or deterioration of trust. If we accept that words are not enough to rebuild that bridge - how do you even start?
Rebuilding trust is a process and it may take months or years. The first steps to rebuilding trust can be taken in the mediation itself. A key way for people to address the loss of trust in mediation is through transparency. Disclosure of information relevant to the mediation can create the conditions in which trust can start to be rebuilt. This can start to challenge the narrative that the untrustworthy other side is hiding something. Transparency is a beginning but it can be a powerful first step.