Mediation

The “We Space”

The "We Space" by Rachel Alexander{4:12 minutes to read} The “we space” is what is created when two or more people are in a relationship. A couple has a different energy than each person on his own; a family has a whole dynamic greater than the sum of its parts.

Sharing a story about your day might be a different experience depending upon who you are telling. Recounting to your 15 year-old, your best friend or a work colleague will be a whole different thing. Not only might you use different language, emphasize different aspects, frame the story so it’s relatable to your audience, but your experience of being heard and being with your listener will vary.

Even a non-verbal experience, like watching the same movie, would have a whole different feel if shared with your wife as opposed to your ex-girlfriend. You are ostensibly the same, the movie is unchanged, but the experience is affected by the “we.” The difference has to do with whom you share the experience. Not only your sense of who you are while with the other, or your sense of who the other is, but all of what is created in your being together – the something between the two of you – the relatingness itself – which has its own particular quality. In fact, when couples choose to divorce, it often has to do with a deterioration of their “we space.”

“Me Space”

How we pay attention to ourselves and stay tuned-in and online with ourselves is the “me space.”

“Ooh! I’m getting a – I don’t know. I know we just walked into this restaurant, but I’m getting a weird feeling here. You know what, I’m gonna check out the menu next door.”

“You Space”

The “you space” is the other person, who is a whole kind of mystery and universe unto themselves. Often we are attracted to people who have an intricate and unique “me space,” where they are managing their own stuff in a particular way that appeals to us.

A relationship is more than the people inhabiting it. It is the relating that occurs between them. What happens when we sit down together on the sofa and engage? What is created between the two of us that is neither me nor you? We are both the players, contributors, but there’s something else. Almost like a child that is created between the two of you; without both of you it would not be there, and yet it’s neither of you. It is distinct and can, and ought, be treated as such.

The “We” of Divorce Mediation

The “we space” provides an opportunity in mediation. The “we space” is sans blame, sans judgment. Without the focus on what is who’s fault.

When we focus on what is between the two of you – two people in conflict, often in pain – we can begin to work with something much more malleable and faultless then either of you, your shortcomings or past foibles. In shifting our attention from each of you as separate entities, to the relating born of the two of you, we have an entry point for our work, and can begin to engineer something new together.

Like copilots of a ship, a Relation Ship, rather than determining who must walk the plank, we can direct our course towards the brightening horizon.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

Mindfulness and “Self-in-Presence”: A Tool for Divorce Mediation?

{5:18 minutes to read} How do we get present?Mindfulness and “Self-in-Presence”: A Tool for Divorce Mediation? by Rachel Alexander

Last time we looked at the importance of mindfulness and getting present, so how do we do it?

Practice, practice, practice!  And, softly, softly, softly.

One suggestion: set an alarm on your smartphone to sound a gentle tone several times during the day.  When you hear it, simply bring your awareness back to yourself and your body, perhaps offering yourself the gentle prompt: “How am I right now? How am I feeling just now? Where is that located in my body?” It’s very simple, and takes less than a cluster of seconds. It’s merely taking a pause. A simple checking in, noticing, without trying to rectify, manipulate or adjust anything.

Grounding techniques also encourage mindfulness. Simply tap your feet on the floor, left then right, several times until you are able to bring your awareness into the feel of your feet in your shoes, stockings, and on the floor beneath. Simply paying attention to the sensation can bring one back to the present. Physical exercise, meditation, prayer, yoga, and time in nature all help bring us into conscious awareness. Anything that helps our senses return to our surroundings and our attention return to our bodies reorganizes us to the present.

Mindfulness and “Self-in-Presence”: A tool for divorce mediation?

Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin, inventors of Inner Relationship Focusing, developed the term and concept “Self-in-Presence.” They suggest that “self-in-presence” is required not only to experience a “felt sense” (a bodily experience of something not yet articulated, at the edge of one’s awareness) but for meaningful personal change to occur.

What is “self-in-presence?” It is a state of grounded, non-judgmental awareness. It is the ability to turn toward whatever is arising in you: experience, thoughts, emotions, and so on.

This is similar to the “observer” self in Buddhism and mindfulness practice. There is an awareness of the body in space, on a chair, in contact with the world around it. There is a focusing attitude of “interested curiosity,” a turning towards oneself in the way one would turn towards a lost child or young animal upon first meeting. This is an approach of care, a slowing down, an attuning to. It brings a listening intent. It keeps company with.

We are in self-in-presence when we can acknowledge our internal and external environment with a compassionate curiosity, a befriending, a welcoming of everything exactly as it is.

To summarize:.

  • Simply turn toward yourself exactly as you are in this moment — do this by pausing and bringing your awareness to your body and breath now, and in any moment you remember.
  • Notice that you are having an experience and see if you can get a sense of it in your body. See how that might feel different than the sensation of being indistinguishable from the experience you are having.
  • Practice keeping company with yourself — your feeling or your perception — rather than identifying as it. When you notice yourself having a strong reaction, you are already expanding, as you are now both the one experiencing something and the one observing the experiencing.

Try taking this further by changing what you say to yourself from “I am _______ (furious, thrilled, overwhelmed) ” to ”something in me is _________ (furious, thrilled, overwhelmed).” For example,“I am angry” becomes ”something in me is angry.” By experimenting with this linguistic shift (which I learned from Ann Weiser Cornell), you create more space for the vastness and complexity of all of you.

Regardless of how overcome we feel by a particular sensation or feeling at a given moment, we are each — always — much more than any one thing. This is also called “disidentification.” You are not your emotion, or only your emotion. By making this shift, you invite the more of you that can notice the angry (or activated) part without merging with it. The you that can keep company with all of what is occurring for you.

Once we are in (indeed, are) this expansive, observing space, we can be both with ourselves and one another differently. In this way we welcome wholeness, healing and conclusion.

Special thanks to Ann Weiser Cornell for her comments and suggestions on this article.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

Mindfulness and Mediation

Mindfulness and Mediation by Rachel Alexander{3:30 minutes to read} In some spiritual practices, a bell sounds several times a day calling the observant to prayer. Like a mindfulness bell, it brings the devotee back to what is important: her God; her Self; the precious here and now.

When people are not in the here and now, they are in a default-geography of past and future. A space that does not, in fact, exist. The past no longer exists and the future similarly has not yet been born. It is the landscape of fear, unconsciousness, muddled and circular thinking. It is where unhappy, historic narratives are recited, churned and finally stagnate into algae-clogged swamps.

It’s the habitat for loud, punishing declarations. “I’m getting an attorney/walking out/telling the children what you did.”

This is the place of Nothing Good Happening.

When people are in the conflict of divorce, repeating reactive behaviours, the inclusion of mindfulness practice helps slow things down. Slowing down makes one observable to one’s self. Slowing down helps one catch up with oneself.

Like slowing down film footage in order to see the material more precisely – to glean what is otherwise unobservable, or slowing down the car when finding your way through a foreign neighborhood – we slow down when emotions are high and what we are doing matters.

Mindfulness slows us down so we can make better decisions, fewer mistakes, and take the appropriate level of care. Counterintuitively, slowing down helps us ultimately pick up the pace sooner.

Getting divorced without mindfulness is like holding a board meeting with most of the members absent. The decisions made will be less informed. The required quorum might not exist, so no decision reached will hold.

Einstein said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Shifting gears into an aware, thoughtful space immediately shifts people from causing problems to resolving them. When divorcing clients are attuned to themselves, they can better:

  • Simultaneously observe and engage, interact purposefully;
  • Access their innate intelligence;
  • Identify authentic wants and needs;
  • Regard the other party with clarity and spaciousness, experiencing relief; and
  • Cooperate to problem solve and co-parent.

When people are fully present, they have access to their best selves. They are not ruled by what is old and outdated – be it behavioral patterns or “unfinished business” that continually surfaces and runs away with them.

Mediation is about listening purposefully and intently. This can only take place in the present. Almost every mediation client identifies the breakdown of communication as a primary catalyst in the collapse of the marriage. Listening is how conflicts get resolved. It’s the balm for emotional abrasions.

So how do we get present? More on that coming up in our next blog.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

To Mediate or Not to Mediate: The Question of Power Imbalance, Part III

To Mediate or Not to Mediate: The Question of Power Imbalance, Part III by Rachel Alexander{3:42 minutes to read}
Litigation and Power Imbalances

DANGER!

Safety is essential always, and certainly in mediation, where a degree of candor, contact and exchange are generally required.

So, if the mediation environment is unsuitable, what then?

Entering litigation is not necessarily the answer. Troubled relationships present issues in any forum, but litigation can exaggerate and worsen power struggles and psychic issues between parties. A mediator is trained to neutralize power imbalances; a litigator trained to create them.

  • Litigation can exacerbate the stress points in personalities and relationships.
  • Litigation can quickly bring out the most regressed fight or flight (usually fight) responses in litigants.
  • Litigation is an engagement in a power struggle, now with more players, investment, and consequences.

For parties already struggling to assert their power or free themselves from subjugation, the courts are an inhospitable theater for the drama to play out. It’s difficult not to feel attacked when you are either a plaintiff or defendant. (And actually being attacked!) Parties can feel particularly triggered and retraumatized by their involvement in a contested action.

When a client needs an advocate—when a spouse is uncooperative, unpredictable, aggressive, unreasonable and unable to engage constructively—it may be necessary to retain counsel.

So, can I have an attorney without entering litigation?  

A resolution-oriented, mediation-friendly attorney can help facilitate a settlement rather than take you into battle. Here is where selection is paramount. All attorneys are not equally oriented to holistic resolution, but rather trained to soldier into conflict. Through their combat orientation, they approach divorce as a win/lose enterprise. The legal system is organized around this as well.

At the risk of repeating myself:

Where families, intimate relationships, and children are concerned, putting them through litigation is like feeding them into a meat grinder.

I think this well crafted image speaks for itself.

Mediation-trained, resolution-oriented attorneys generally aim to enter into conversation immediately with one another and enter settlement conference before entering motion practice or letter writing campaigns. That is, they work towards a more structured, more peopled version of mediation or negotiation. This negotiation includes the clients, but is led and managed by counsel. This adds a level of distance between parties that can be helpful when direct interaction has been destructive.

Attorneys can still work cooperatively, both promoting civility and comity between parties while supporting a resolution of issues necessary to finalizing a divorce.

Cooperation is faster—it usually expedites the process and frees parties from being dependent or entangled in a relationship that has become toxic or disempowering.

When the power imbalance doesn’t reach the level of feeling threatened, a skilled mediator can often serve the clients. If safety is at issue—by this I include a perceived threat to one’s well being and sense of security—having independent representation may be in order.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

Happy to Announce…

Happy to Announce ... by Rachel Alexander{3:12 minutes to read} I am pleased to announce that on June 22, 2017, I became of counsel to the firm Gruber, Colabella, Liuzza and Thompson. This is the culmination of a long relationship with the first named partners, Mark Gruber, Esq. and Chris Colabella, Esq., who have been my go-to people since I began in the field almost ten years ago. They have practiced matrimonial law for 40 and 29 years, respectively, and are not only experienced but excellent at what they do. This firm has been my first referral when clients need a review attorney or representation in litigation.

Mark Gruber is well know for teaching countless Continuing Legal Education (CLE) courses for lawyers.  Mr. Gruber, with partner Natalie Thompson, Esq., publish and lecture statewide the Family Law Practical Skills Series for ICLE.

The firm is a strong and capable one, with attorneys who are adept, client-centered, and experts in matrimonial as well as other areas of law. Their outstanding support staff is highly trained and effective. Together with the attorneys, they are able to streamline workflow and keep costs reasonable and fair for clients.

As of counsel, my focus will remain on mediation. I will continue my own practice and collaborate with Gruber, Colabella, Liuzza and Thompson if or when a case goes into the contested arena requiring trial and motion practice. Through our affiliation, my clients will be able to continue working closely with me while benefiting from the resources and breadth of experience of the firm.   

This fall 2017, my colleague, Daniel Agatino, Esq., a member of the firm, and I will be rolling out a podcast series with a goal of providing another accessible resource to our clients and the community.

With an office in Hopatcong and another by the courthouse in Newton, Gruber, Colabella, Liuzza and Thompson has been providing excellent service to the residents of Sussex County for over two decades.  As my practice area spans Essex, Union, Morris, Hunterdon, Somerset, and Middlesex Counties, our affiliation will allow us to serve a larger geographic area and increase our ability to help more people. I look forward to serving current and future clients with this expanded resource base.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

To Mediate or Not to Mediate: The Question of Power Imbalance, Part II

To Mediate or Not to Mediate: The Question of Power Imbalance, Part II by Rachel Alexander{3:42 minutes to read} In Part I of this series, we defined a power imbalance and how to spot it. We discussed two of six integral recommendations in working with it in divorce mediation. This article continues where we left off, exploring the other four.

Third: Slow Down and Pay Attention

In mediation, there must be a slowing down, a carefulness and attention. This is always so, but when the intensity is part of the couple’s history, and emotions can escalate into impulsive, harmful actions, a heightened awareness is needed so that things can be seen before they manifest. I aim to track the clients very closely, listening intently to what is both said and unsaid, attuning to what is happening for them from one moment to the next.

Fourth: It Is Here Anyway

Part of the mediator’s job is to address what is there. I find it helpful to know this: it’s there anyway whether you want to talk about it or not. This is freeing. You are not opening a can of worms when the worms are already squirming about, uncanned. In other words, not talking about something actually doesn’t mean it’s any less there.

Fifth: Creating a Team

Including other professionals mitigates the isolation that is part of the dysfunction. Encouraging more connections and resources helps not only support the couple, but also invites witnesses, which can encourage both parties to act in less regressed, primitive ways. The dynamic, their covert culture, becomes permeated by helping professionals who can gently loosen the party’s’ grip on one another and bring into the light what has bred and grown with the help of darkness. For example, when wanted, the clients will release their therapist(s) to speak with me. Their role may be less substantive and more dynamic – their inclusion in the process helps neutralize and open up a closed system. Their presence of itself changes the molecular structure of the relationship.

Sixth: New Rules

In the first mediation session, we determine the rules that must be in place for the mediation process to continue and for the clients to feel safe, both in and out of sessions, while practicing a new way of relating to one another. This is a big ask, so we keep it simple – maybe just one or two new rules that are vital and clear.

For example: only talk about stuff in mediation, leave it all here, no berating the person afterward; leave it alone; and how to be safely in the same house between sessions.

Anything that arises, you jot down and both agree you will leave it for session.

If something starts feeling unsafe, both parties acknowledge the other’s right to leave the house/place immediately and end the interaction, and there can be no repercussions for exercising this right. Agreeing to this in advance can make it feel less threatening/abandoning when one party physically removes him/herself from a situation.

We’ve addressed power imbalances in mediation, but what happens in litigation? We’ll examine this question in Part III, the final portion of the series.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

To Mediate or Not to Mediate: The Question of Power Imbalance, Part I

To Mediate or Not to Mediate: The Question of Power Imbalance, Part I | Rachel Alexander{4:00 minutes to read} Certain relationships are problematic and challenging, whether in mediation or litigation. This article looks at one particular challenge – power imbalances – and how they are managed in mediation vs. litigation.

Many, if not all, relationships experience power imbalances at different times. In fact, power imbalances are one of the main concerns expressed during individual intake calls.

What is a “power imbalance?”

Here are some examples of possible imbalances:

    • She pays all the bills: I have no idea what our household finances are.
    • He has a Wharton MBA and I am a school nurse; how can I competently discuss our assets in a mediation setting? I am totally disadvantaged!
    • She wants the divorce and I don’t – I don’t even want to be here. I’m devastated, and she already has both [emotional] feet out the door.
    • There is a history of emotional and psychological abuse. He manipulates and bullies, and I am afraid of being made uncomfortable during sessions and punished afterwards.

While violent and dangerous situations need a more structured, heavily resourced environment, there are more moderate cases of power imbalance that can be appropriate in a mediation setting.

Spotting power imbalances

Power imbalances often show up in a secondary manner. For example, a new client might ask: May I bring my friend?

While I ultimately discourage this because of a myriad of issues including confidentiality, the more important question we discuss is: What purpose would be served by your friend’s presence? From there we uncover feelings of unsafeness, concern about being intimidated and losing her voice. Once the concerns are expressed, we can determine how to manage them together. We contract for candor and safety.

How does a mediator address a power imbalance? Two of the 6 recommendations follow. (The remaining 4 will come in Part II.)

First: Onboarding the “Victim” to Participate in Protecting Him/Herself and Creating a Workable Environment

Speaking with the “disempowered” party about how to best create a safe environment and making a contract for candor with the client – to express to me any time she feels this dynamic is surfacing – encourages an environment where we are collectively responsible for the hygiene of our working space. The mediator asks the client to stay aware of how she is doing in the sessions and verbalize immediately any time she is feeling uncomfortable and that the dynamic is in play.

Second: Adopting a Helpful Presumption

There is this working presumption: When a relationship feels unsafe for one person, it is certainly also destabilizing and threatening for the other. The power dynamic often can be reframed and understood as both people experiencing intense, threatening feelings but acting them out differently.

The mediator’s recognition that both people are experiencing a loss of power can already begin to shift the power imbalance, affecting how the mediator treats the parties, thus affecting how the parties respond. Instead of regarding one party as “perpetrator” and the other “victim” – an unhelpful, polarizing space to work from – the mediator can approach the parties with the sense that they are both suffering. While the disempowered spouse may feel threatened, bullied, abused, the “powerful” spouse may also feel out-of-control, attacked, maligned.

Power imbalances are worthy of our attention. More to come on this important topic in our next article.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

Look Who is Coming to the Mediation Table

Look Who is Coming to the Mediation Table by Rachel Alexander{4:54 minutes to read} What happens when attorneys join clients in matrimonial mediation? It’s anyone’s guess!

Generally, in my practice, divorce mediations are intimate, including only the parties and the mediator. This often adds to the sense of confidentiality and privacy. It works well for many clients who want to speak candidly about difficult issues in a safe, unbiased environment.

Sometimes, however, for a multitude of reasons, clients wish to include their attorneys in sessions. A client may feel that by having his attorney present, his rights are better protected or that a power imbalance between the parties is being equalized.

Having attorneys in a mediation can be instrumental and necessary. Attorneys offer legal advice, share their experience before various judges, and appreciate how relevant legal issues are currently being decided in our courts. An attorney can help reality test; they have been in the litigation trenches and can speak to the trends, uncertainty, time and expense involved in trial. This information can be helpful in shedding light on what a litigated process and outcome could be, refining the clients’ understanding of their likelihood to prevail on certain issues and not others.

While there are indisputable benefits to including attorneys throughout the process, there are some downsides of which clients should be mindful. When litigation attorneys, unfriendly to and/or untrained in mediation, enter the process, the mediation can morph into a mini litigation.

Attorneys, being people, bring with them their biases, preferences, styles and personalities, in addition to their training as adversaries. Any of this can actually delay, even derail, the process of settlement. An attorney might have a personality where he is compelled to pick over every minor issue, like a kid picking at a scab on her knee while her mother admonishes her that she’s making a scar. A client might be saying, “Yes, I’m fine with this particular issue, let’s move on,” but the attorney replies: “Wait just one minute! Is this really fine with you? That might be fine with you, but it’s not fine with me.” (exaggerated for emphasis)

An attorney is generally trained to fight for a client, not a family, not its future.

Conversely, a mediator is trained to look at the whole family and the fallout of an acrimonious, imbalanced settlement. The attorney, in his zealous advocacy, might focus on micro “wins” rather than the macro, long-term big win: a post-divorce functional family and a settlement agreement that will actually be adhered to by both parties. The mediator works from a fundamental, guiding principle that any sustainable solution must include the interests of both parties affected by its terms. If one member of the family “loses,” no family member can escape the ramifications over time.

It shouldn’t go unmentioned that there are other professionals who may be coming to the mediation table in addition to attorneys.

Financial Advisors/Accountants/Actuaries for Pension Valuations, Etc.

Having the couple’s financial advisors as part of the mediation can be quite helpful. Mediators aren’t necessarily money managers, so including the expert who is actually managing the parties’ funds or can advise how to separate their assets equitably is helpful.

Therapists

When clients are working with therapists, particularly as a family, having the family therapist involved, usually by phone, can be very appropriate. The therapist’s input can help inform such aspects of an agreement as the parenting plan, communication boundaries between parties, involvement of third parties (boyfriends, girlfriends) with the children.

So when we say, “Look who’s coming to the mediation table,” it can be almost anybody that the parties feel is reasonably necessary.

I am open to include anyone in mediation whom the clients determine is helpful, relevant and necessary. When other professionals can further the creation of a fair, stable and comprehensive agreement, they are most welcome at my table!

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

The Mediator Will See You Now…

The Mediator Will See You Now... by Rachel Alexander

{4:18 minutes to read} Often, with the best intentions, clients prepare for mediation by trying to resolve as many things as possible before setting foot in my office. They think they’re doing themselves a great service, getting a running head start. However, in my experience, the opposite is true. The time to see the mediator is immediately.

I encourage people to see me first, and after that the timeline is their own. By seeing a mediator once, you have not committed yourself to a course of treatment nor boarded an express train for divorce. Au contraire! You have gathered information. Learned of options. And relieved the burden of facing complex decisions both ill-equipped and unaccompanied.

When it comes to seeing the mediator, the sooner the better.

Even one initial mediation session saves a couple time, aggravation, and money, but it should occur before they have assembled an agreement.

1. In the Midst of Crisis. When two people are struggling in their relationship, they can be like two fighters doing that thing where it looks like they are hugging each other but really aren’t. The intervention of a third party, even the presence of an unbiased person, can help people relax and become more capable of solving problems together. Getting that intervention sooner rather than later often makes the difference in how quickly things can be resolved.

2. Accurate Information. Without a full picture of the governing law, relevant issues, rights and obligations, launching into an agreement can result in attachment to bad and misinformed decisions. One of the parties typically will be fixedly committed to what was agreed, dug into something based neither in law, fact, or even the reality of their own, or their children’s, needs. It can be difficult and time consuming to loosen this grip enough so they can grasp alternatives and new information.

When you’re drowning, even an octopus may resemble a lifeline of sorts. Couples scrambling to get relief from the current discord and distress are vulnerable to glomming on to even rickety proposals, so desperate are they to glean the potential of peace.

3. Couples making all these decisions themselves and then coming into mediation and saying, “Here’s what we decided,” relegate the mediator to a position of scribe… (See The Difference Between the Mediator, the Draftsman, and Bartleby the Scrivener.) …or messenger of the bad news that what you have arrived at needs revision.

We then may have to spend a lot of time and energy explaining, unwinding, and trying to unfasten them from what they ill-fatedly committed to. This can create unhappiness when parties discover that their plan is actually unviable.

Discord can also result if one party feels misled or exploited because they find out that their agreement is actually quite unfair to them. Trust may have been compromised. It can take time to clear this bad taste from the palette.

In the first mediation session, couples are provided with a folder filled with information. If they choose to depart from mediation, they will at least do so having a framework and some tools with which to work. Clients will have several worksheets, lists of items, and guiding questions to consider.

Like going to a doctor, don’t wait until crippled with rheumatic fever. Go at the first sign of distress.

Going to a mediator sooner can help map an efficient and effective path forward.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

Sundays, Bloody Sundays

Sundays, Bloody Sundays by Rachel Alexander{4:42 minutes to read} Sundays are not known to be the bright spot of the week. Sundays, especially Sunday evenings, can be bleak for everyone, but they can be particularly difficult for the newly divorced. On Sundays, the weekend shuts its eyes, and only Monday gleams on the horizon. For most, this means a return to work or school; a putting away of our freer selves; a tucking in and straightening out in preparation for our weekday responsibilities.

My divorced and divorcing clients often note that weekends are the toughest. This is why I found the following so remarkable and hopeful.

Recently, I was mediating with a divorcing couple whose relationship was amicable and child centered. The parties, already separated, had implemented a fluid parenting plan which included coordinating their schedules so that one of them was home for the children after school. The arrangement included overlapping time and a sharing of responsibilities, such as trading off who made dinner and started with homework. Both parents parented in the children’s primary residence.

Not only did both parents see the children every day, they supported one another’s parenting efforts and considered each other’s work obligations.

While we were mapping out their shared parenting schedule, they expressed, with dread in their throats, “What about Sundays? Who is going to manage those?” Sundays were a day of scrambling to get homework done, confirming carpooling arrangements, preparing for the work week. Sundays were heavy on burden, light on joy.

How, we contemplated collectively, could we transform Sundays, or at least this family’s relationship to it?

Together, we decided that Sunday would be a transition day for custody, and that, to make the transition easier on everyone, it would be one of the nights when both parents would spend time with the kids. Then we set about structuring the day to include some order, goals, and something to look forward to. We also addressed the potential potholes of the parents having extended time together.

Here’s what we came up with:

The children would be included: If all homework is done by 5pm, they can choose the family evening activity.

Choices would include:

  • Seeing a movie of their choosing;
  • Playing board games; or
  • Cooking something together for dinner.

The value is two-fold: It incentivizes and empowers the children to take responsibility for completing their assignments before the Sunday night frenzy that parents and children often endure, and it provides the family with a structured activity which can be grounding and relaxing. Participating in a simple, defined activity together can provide an alternative to the shapeless periods that are vulnerable to dysfunctional interactions; the reopening and re-experiencing of intense, unresolved issues and emotions. A planned evening activity provides a simple format for the family to develop new dynamics. It provides a time and space to build a new normal, which can even be however loopy or normal as the family decides.

Sunday evening could actually become something to look forward to.

Simple family activities can anchor a family feeling somewhat adrift in the new living and parenting arrangements. It can make a safe place for a family feeling its way a bit in their new circumstances.

Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a global recommendation nor would this solution be responsible for every family. Each family has different wants and needs. As with all things mediation, strategies are specific to participants and their locations on their very personal processes.

However, even parents with sole custody on Sunday nights can make use of the above if they find it helpful.

Planned, enjoyable activities can change Sunday evenings from dreaded to anticipated with glee! This is an example of mediation alchemy.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305