I attended a training yesterday on “Child-Centered Mediation.” The most helpful tool from the day was a “parent readiness scale” used to measure a parent’s readiness to “hear” their child. The scale includes factors such as parents’ insight into themselves, parents’ sensitivity, parents’ ability to allow their child to have different emotions than their own, parents’ ability to separate their adult conflict from their children. It was an enlightening training on children and their feelings – many of which go completely unnoticed by not only the parents but by the professionals working with the parents. In one moving video referred to as the “boy at the end of the driveway” , a young boy was asked to get out of his dad’s car at the base of his long driveway if his Dad thought the Mom’s new boyfriend was at her house. The young boy in the video broke down uncontrollably describing his lonely walk up the driveway. As the dad likely struggled with his own emotional pain, he failed to see the pain that his actions were causing his son.
We professionals often create “great parenting plans” to avoid contact and thus, conflict but we (me included) sometimes fail to consider the impact of those plans on the children involved and their very real feelings. I will no longer write a parenting plan without contemplating the child’s feelings during each and every transition as well as in each schedule proposed. A parenting plan is as much about the residential schedule as is it about children’s feelings. We professionals need our own “readiness scale” on whether we can “hear” the children’s voices in the families we work with to create these plans. The old adage that “children shall be seen and not heard” has been wiped from almost all professional circles except family law – arguably the arena that impacts fragile children the most. We family law professionals have not only a professional duty to do a better job in this area but an ethical duty, in my opinion, to do no harm to the families we are privileged to help.
What does your readiness scale look like – can you hear the children?