The winter holidays can be full of joy, but its common knowledge that they can also generate a great deal of stress. For those facing divorce, mustering up any holiday spirit at all can be a challenge. You may find yourself surrounded by high expectations at the exact same time that you must confront the end of one of your most important relationships and the prospect of restructuring your entire family. Read more
Many parents successfully launch a plan for sharing time with children after divorce, only to find that the plan blows up a few years later. Children grow older, parents may change jobs or careers, some remarry, some move away. Sometimes rifts that have been slowly expanding for months or years threaten to become full blown chasms around the holidays. This can put further stress on families who are already coping with increased pressure. Post-judgment mediation of parenting issues can help these families get back on track.
For many children of divorced parents, the holidays are less than calm and easy under the best of circumstances. Instead of two or three uninterrupted weeks baking cookies and drinking cocoa, they may have to split their time in a complicated schedule, or travel out-of-state to spend time with a parent they rarely see. Children with amicable parents may relish being able to spend some vacation time with each of them. Children with parents who are not able to let go of past hurts, on the other hand, often sense the tension. Such children may feel a responsibility to reassure each parent of their equal love. They might feel the need to perform perfectly, and to conform precisely to whatever schedule is in place, to avoid any chance of upsetting either parent. No child deserves this kind of burden.
A Smooth Start for a Reconstructed Family
Gina’s parents, Brianna and Joe, have always gotten along pretty well. When they divorced five years ago, they decided to continue living within a few miles of each other. At the time, Gina was barely five years old. She has little memory of the holidays before she began spending half her time at mom’s house and half at dad’s. Her normal routine was to celebrate Christmas eve with one parent before returning to the other parent’s house to wake up on Christmas morning. After presents and brunch, it was back to the first parent’s house for dinner. It may have been a little complicated, but it was all she knew, and it was a way for her to celebrate the holiday fully with both her families.
A New Development Threatens the Harmony
Then last Spring, Brianna found a much better job that was nearly two hours away. Reluctantly, she decided to move. Suddenly, Gina found herself spending every other weekend, plus spring break and summer vacation, in a new neighborhood. She doesn’t want to stop visiting her mom, in fact, she wants to see her more, but she also doesn’t want to change schools. At the end of the year, though, she will graduate from her K-5 school. Her mom wants her to start 6th grade in the new neighborhood. Her dad does not.
Gina doesn’t know what she wants. What she does know is that for the first time since their divorce, her parents have begun to argue. They rarely exchange harsh words in her presence, but she can sense a new coldness in her previously warm extended family—and she knows why. Her parents have talked to her about the two options open for next year. They have been careful not to reveal that they are fighting over the options, but Gina knows. She can feel it.
Now winter break has arrived. Last night, Gina was upstairs in bed at her dad’s house when she heard him yelling on the phone. She ran to her door and opened it a crack to listen. It was obvious what he was yelling about. “The usual plan won’t work anymore,” he said. “We need to start alternating holidays. No running back and forth with two hour drives in the freezing cold!”
Gina crept back to bed, but she couldn’t sleep. Why couldn’t they just figure out how to fix this? She didn’t want either of them to be lonely on Christmas, but she was only one person. She couldn’t be in two places at a time.
Brianna and Joe Go to Parenting Mediation
Brianna and Joe are understandably going through a difficult time with their co-parenting arrangement, but they are losing sight of what is most important—their child’s emotional stability and happiness. They realize that they need to stop the arguing, not only for Gina’s sake, but also to minimize their own emotional stress. Brianna, not knowing where else to turn, decides to consult with a family law attorney, who listens to her story and immediately recommends parenting mediation.
Mediation, the attorney explained, isn’t just for setting up parenting plans when parents first separate or divorce. Like many parents, Joe and Brianna didn’t have any trouble with their initial plan. They reached a settlement agreement easily and filed it in court. As they have learned, however, things can change. Mediation can help parents decide how to address such changes with a minimum of conflict.
Joe agreed with Brianna that mediation sounded like a good idea. They chose a mediator together, and scheduled a session right away.
A Few Tips from the Mediator
Before delving into specifics, their mediator, Ms. Schumann, gave Brianna and Joe a few tips for how to change their approach. “I’m not on either parent’s side,” she stressed, “and I don’t give legal advice. These are just a few general suggestions that other people have found helpful.”:
- First and foremost, step back, stay calm, and stop yelling at each other. If you can’t keep your cool, then put things in writing instead of talking face to face. If you need to vent, see a therapist.
- For the short term, focus on the giving spirit of the holidays, instead of on the competition for Gina’s time.
- Think about establishing your own separate traditions, regardless of exactly what day in the calendar they may fall on. The winter holiday season in this country is long. Be creative.
- If you can get back to being friends, consider spending part of the holidays together—nothing too stressful, but maybe a low-key afternoon outing of some kind. This kind of interaction wouldn’t work for many families, but it seems like it might work for yours. If you decide to try it though, make it only about Gina, and agree to table any difficult discussions for the time-being. The purpose is to alleviate her anxiety about the increasing hostility between you.
- For the longer term, remember that whatever school schedule you decide to adopt for Gina, you must keep her best interests at the forefront.
Moving Forward in Peace
After their first mediation session, Joe and Brianna made a pact to table all discussions about next year until after January 1st. They scheduled another mediation session to broach this topic in late January. In the meantime, they would concentrate only on making the holidays as happy and stress-free as possible for Gina.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of parents working together to support their children. This importance can become starkly obvious during holidays and long school breaks. Don’t let your kids feel responsible for keeping the peace in the family. That’s not their job; it’s yours.
Whether your holiday schedule is in tatters or simply needs a tune-up, don’t hesitate to contact a mediator for help. The family law mediators at the Weinberger Mediation Center wish you peace and joy this holiday season and all year long.
If you are going through a divorce, especially now as the holidays are arriving, you may be finding it difficult to cultivate thankfulness. Even under the best of circumstances, divorce is stressful. The holiday season can actually make some people feel worse, because of the high expectations that this should be a happy and festive time of year. Still, if you have agreed with your spouse to use a collaborative method like divorce mediation to restructure your family, you do indeed have at least one thing to be grateful for.
Benefits of Mediation
Taking your divorce out of the courtroom can go a long way toward alleviating stress. Litigation tends to force divorcing spouses to face off as enemies, increasing hostility and conflict. By contrast, couples who choose to approach issues through a collaborative process can preserve the positive aspects of their relationship. If you have children, this can be a big step toward making their holidays happier.
The many advantages of mediation include the following:
- The process is more flexible than adhering to crowded court calendars and formal court procedures.
- It is often much faster than going through the courts.
- It is usually cheaper, and sometimes much cheaper, than litigation.
- The participants maintain control over the results.
- Participants are able to preserve confidentiality.
- The focus on mutually beneficial results tends to reduce conflict.
- Children benefit when parents maintain positive interactions and open lines of communication.
Practicing Thankfulness is Worth the Effort
Mediation is a small consolation prize for the often overwhelming feelings of loss connected to divorce. Science tells us though, that changing focus is likely to be worth the effort. People who intentionally and regularly practice thankfulness not only experience more positive emotions, they also tend to sleep better, and they may even have stronger immune systems.
Harvard Medical School’s Healthbeat newsletter recounts research on the positive effects of practicing gratitude. In one study, psychologists Dr. Robert A. Emmons and Dr. Michael E. McCullough asked three groups of participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on one of three topics. The first group wrote about events that had inspired feeling of gratitude. The second group wrote about daily irritations. The third group also wrote about events that had affected them, but without any direction to focus on either positive or negative effects. After 10 weeks of participation, the “gratitude” group expressed increased positive feelings and greater optimism. The researchers also found that this group was exercising more and had fewer doctor’s visits than the group that had expressed irritations.
Another leading researcher in positive psychology, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, found that people who were directed to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude once a week to someone they had not previously thanked for an act of kindness immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness. Still other studies show that expressing gratitude for another person not only builds positive feelings toward that person, but can also make it easier to speak up to that person about problems in the relationship. This latter point may hold a helpful tip for mediation participants. While it might seem counterintuitive, focusing on what has been good in your marriage could make it easier to stand up for yourself in mediation.
Why Practicing Thankfulness, or “Gratitude,” is Effective
There is a pretty simple explanation for why expressing gratitude might make someone feel better. It’s a matter a focus. When we are so overwhelmed with sadness and worry that such feelings block out the positive aspects of our lives, it’s easy to go into a downward spiral. Practicing gratitude helps us refocus on what we have instead of what we lack—and it seems to work even if the only reason we are doing it is because someone else told us to! So give it a try. You have nothing to lose but a few minutes of time each day, and the benefits could be tremendous.
How to Cultivate Gratitude
Healthbeat suggests a few ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis, including the following:
- Writing a thank-you note. Is there someone who has stood by your side throughout your marital strife? Express your appreciation of that person with a note. You can send it, or you can read it to the person aloud. This method has the side benefit of making the other person happier as well!
- Thanking someone mentally. Even thinking about how grateful you are to have someone to lean on can generate positive emotions.
- Keeping a gratitude journal. Taking a few minutes each day to jot down things you are grateful for is a tried and true method.
- Praying. If you are religious, prayer can be a wonderful way of cultivating gratitude, and the holidays are an ideal time for renewing faith.
- Meditating. If you favor a more secular spiritual practice, mindfulness may be the perfect choice. Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for maintaining sanity during divorce. One variation on mindfulness meditation focuses on gratitude. You don’t need to set aside huge amounts of time for this. Joaquín, a positive psychology writer, points out that you can practice gratitude meditation in the amount of time it takes to brew your morning coffee. And as Healthbeat notes, gratitude can celebrate the smallest of things—the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, or the aroma of that eagerly anticipated first cup.
Even in our most troubled times, it is worth expressing thankfulness. No wonder we have an entire holiday dedicated to it!
The top mediation professionals at Weinberger Law Group’s Mediation Center are deeply thankful for the privilege of helping those going through divorce arrive at a place of peace and joy. Contact us today for a free consultation.
Over the past few months, we have been following the stories of three couples considering divorce mediation. Two of them, Gerry and Beth and Katherine and Julian, decided that they wanted to pursue marriage counseling first. Today we are taking a closer look at marriage counseling. When is it appropriate? How is it different from mediation? Is there such a thing as “divorce counseling?” Many people find themselves confused by a variety of options that all sound somewhat similar. Read more
Today we will follow one more couple as they consider using the divorce mediation process. As we learned in our introductory post to this series, Gerry and Beth have been married for 35 years and have three grown children. Read more
Today we are continuing to follow Eric and Eva as they focus on using divorce mediation to address parenting issues. As we learned in our introductory post, 40-year-old Eric and 43-year-old Eva have been married for 15 years. They have two children, Chris, who is 10, and Laura, who is 12. For the time being, Eva is remaining in the family home, while Eric is moving into a nearby rented townhouse. Read more
In our last few posts we have been following three couples attempting to tailor divorce mediation to their own specific needs. Today we are looking at Eric and Eva, a couple in their early forties who have been married for 15 years and have two young children, ages 10 and 12.
In our introductory post, we learned that Eva blames Eric for the breakdown of the marriage. She describes him as a “workaholic” who has long been disconnected from the family. Eric does not contradict this, but says he now wants things to change. He is seeking not just joint legal custody of the children, but also 50/50 shared physical custody. This makes little sense to Eva, who observes that by his own admission, he has never spent much time with the children. She thinks joint legal custody is fair, but does not see shared physical custody as a realistic option. Eric, however, is adamant about this. Read more
Over the next few months, we will follow three couples attempting to mold divorce mediation to their own specific needs. First, we’ll look at Katherine and Julian, both 33 years old, and married for 6 years with no children. When we met this couple in our last post, their marriage had broken down, at least in part due to an affair Katherine had recently revealed to Julian. She insisted that the affair was over and that she wanted to try to save their marriage. Julian, however, was not receptive. He felt hurt, and angry, and wanted only to move on to divorce.
As we saw in our initial post, if this couple proceeds to divorce, they will have significant economic issues to resolve. In our next post, we’ll examine these issues and discuss ways they might be resolved through mediation. Today, however, we are going to consider a more threshold question: Are Julian and Katherine good candidates for mediation? Read more
Parenting Mediation for Custody and Visitation Disputes
For many parents, making decisions about child custody and parenting can be the toughest part of a separation or divorce. Some divorcing parents also have to deal with multiple financial issues, such as spousal support or division of marital property. Others can resolve such matters fairly simply. Parents who have never been married generally have the easiest time separating financially. Regardless of these differences, however, the emotional aspects of physically dividing a family into two can be devastating. Parenting mediation can be a great forum for parents to air concerns and resolve anxieties while working together to build a successful post-relationship parenting plan. Read more
In our two most recent posts, we addressed certain safeguards that may improve mediation’s effectiveness when there is a higher than average level of conflict between participants, including considering a structured mediation process, and taking advantage of pre-mediation coaching. Today we will look at another common aspect of high-conflict divorce mediation: the existence of “power imbalances.” How do power imbalances tend to show up in divorce mediation, and what can mediation participants expect from a mediator in terms of safeguarding against the possibility that a power imbalance might sabotage a potentially successful mediation? Read more
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