Where does mindfulness fit in?
In my work as a family lawyer I realised early on that although the law could provide remedies, it usually worked best as part of wider changes in how clients felt about their situation. I became involved in various initiatives to explore how to make the transition through separation be more three dimensional and about 30 years ago also trained as a mediator.
For the last 30 years I have been in a Zen Buddhist group which helped me navigate the challenge of running a business and helping clients going through stressful times. I was interested to see the increasing popularity of contemporary mindfulness with a close link to evidence based positive outcomes from the practices.
In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine, founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course at the University of Massachusetts to help people deal with chronic pain and stress. Buddhist practices were among the elements it drew from. Mindfulness ideas and practices are now used in medicine to help treat a variety of conditions and to promote physical and mental wellbeing. MBSR and similar courses are now widely applied in the NHS, schools and business as well as for individuals.
I decided to explore this approach and attended an 8 week mindfulness course in 2012 to find out more. I’ve since completed training as a mindfulness teacher.
Mindfulness fosters being aware of what is going on in the present moment, rather than getting drawn into regret about the past or anxiety about the future. It can help us to respond creatively and compassionately, rather than reacting unconsciously or habitually.
A very helpful approach when dealing with the stress and challenges that separation generates.
I offer mediation online. Online mediation can work very well.
I trained in online mediation during 2018. It was something I felt I should be able to offer. At that point it was really to allow for mediation where people lived far apart, sometimes on different continents, and wanted to mediate.
In March 2020 there was a great migration on to Zoom for work and social connection. All my work moved online. I could see benefits and challenges.
- It made mediation possible during the lockdown and subsequent restrictions
- It can take away some of the anxiety about meeting face to face to talk – face by face can feel less challenging
- It’s easier to arrange
- People are generally now more used to connecting on a screen
- It is different being on screen to being in person when you are rehearsing recalibrating communication
- Possible anxiety about the technology
Some of the things that are the same:
- The individual meetings I have at the start provide a chance for me to check mediation is a good ‘fit’ for you
- The same things need to be talked about
- Online can still provide a sense of real connection, including with young people where that is appropriate
Where online mediation fits in now:
- It’s always possible to do online mediation
- There will be times it is only possible to do online mediation
- Contact me and we can discuss what the options are
Children’s lives can become very complicated when their parents separate. A young person may be an only child in one household and the youngest of stepsiblings in another. There may be many new relationships to navigate.
It’s helpful for children if their parents are able to use mediation as part of making the transition to being separated parents. It can also be helpful for the young person to have the opportunity to meet the mediator.
The views of young people are an important factor when arrangements are being made which affect them. Because I am trained in child inclusive mediation I am able to offer young people the chance to have direct involvement, if they wish.
The objectives of child inclusive mediation are:-
- the opportunity for children to have a voice in practical decision making
- to allow young people to feel they understand better what is going on in their family and that they have been heard in the midst of the changes
- to allow parents a supported process to gain a fuller understanding of how separation feels for their children and what might make things easier
The building blocks of child inclusive mediation are:-
- it is for children aged 10 and over
- both parents need to agree
- the young person has a choice about whether to participate
- the young person has control over what, if anything, is fed back
One of the benefits of child inclusive mediation is that where young people have a voice in making arrangements, the arrangements tend to work better!
I was a divorce lawyer for 42 years. Clients often said they imagined I’d heard their story many times before. Actually, every story was different. Every separation is unique. Every separation is challenging. Some turn out well. Some don’t.
I was keen to help clients come through in good shape and to know what would make that more likely, what made the difference.
Any separation involves a major change in how each of you relate to yourself, your family and your friends. It changes who you think you are. It changes who you think your partner is. It changes how children see you as parents. It’s a seriously major transition.
Sometimes a couple recognise they have grown apart. They can look back and accept they had happy times, agree they are no longer working as a couple and choose to separate and be good separated parents. They can help their children feel supported by both parents in two households.
However, quite often one partner decides the relationship doesn’t have a future at a point when the other is still working at it and expecting it to last. It’s usually helpful to try couple counselling if things are at that stage. Couple counsellors can help a couple check the pulse of the relationship and if it is past the point of no return, help make a separation more sustainable.
The biggest risk is if one or both partners start believing the only way to make sense of what is happening is to establish the other person was at fault. One reason that’s such a risk is it would mean any children involved end up with at least one ‘bad’ parent and possibly in the middle of a big fight to establish which parent that is. Fighting over who is more to blame usually leaves everyone bruised.
Accepting separation is a big challenge and recognising the sadness from the loss of the relationship both hoped for at the outset usually makes a better starting point for sorting things out in a more sustainable way, both emotionally and financially. In turn that brings emotional and financial benefit to the children.
If a separation has to happen, mediation can help you plan for a manageable future rather than getting stuck in the blame game about the past.