I occasionally work with clients who, prior to coming to mediation, spend considerable amounts on attorneys. The situations are usually difficult and acrimonious, disruptive and chaotic. As a mediator, my job is to provide an appropriate amount of intervention. Too much can jeopardize the couple’s sense of empowerment; too little can fail to provide the necessary support. Sometimes, to be more effective in the long-term, my job is to walk closely with the clients for a period of time, providing greater support in order to ultimately provide less.
One couple was entrenched in creating a parenting plan. There were a lot of challenges, including the fact that one of the parents was living with their new significant other. Because of a court order prohibiting the child from encountering the new significant other, contact with that parent was dramatically curtailed. The parents agreed, this was to the child’s detriment.
Instead of taking a global approach, we needed a more detailed focus:
- What is going to happen Monday after daycare?
- Tuesday morning on the first day of school?
- Saturday morning between 9-11?
I spoke with the couple by phone after our first meeting and before our second. In a tumultuous and chaotic situation like this, keeping in contact with a neutral third party can be something for people to hold on to while they are getting their feet under them. This couple had nothing under their feet, so we started to lay a path slowly, one week (and one paver) at a time.
Day-by-day, hour-by-hour we mapped out a schedule, and then met together to discuss what worked and what didn’t. We focused only on the week being discussed, continuing to redirect from the global which included:
- Why things haven’t worked and the underlying reasons
- Fault in either party’s character and past choices
- How things have gotten to this point
We focused on what is working in the here and now. In times of intractable conflict governed by discouragement and distrust, building something block-by-block simplifies and clarifies, so problems can be identified, diagnosed and corrected, as a new reality is established.
Recall the tortoise and the hare. Sometimes it is necessary to stop or slow way down in order to get on the right track, up to speed, and ultimately to the desired destination.