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Mediating Child Behaviour Problems Between Separated Parents
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
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.
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.
challenge in mediation is helping both parents understand and appreciate they
are both right. The difficulty is overcoming resistance from either parent to
accept responsibility for their contribution to their childís problems. This
is not the same as blaming. Both parents are likely quite loving and appropriately
concerned. The process is one of explaining.
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.
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
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.
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 counselling.
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
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.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
20 Suter Crescent, Dundas, ON, Canada L9H 6R5 Tel: (905) 628-4847 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org