Hearing Voices

No, I don’t mean the words of angels or demons whispered in my ear or even the small voice of your own worries which usually pipes up when you can’t sleep in the middle of the night. I do mean what quite a lot of us mediators do, hearing the voices of children.

It’s actually remarkably hard to get to meet an actual child. Whatever the Family Mediation Council’s view about it being good practice to encourage mediation clients to allow a voice to their children over 10, the vast majority of parents don’t agree to that happening. That’s even in a world where studies have shown that, in the vast majority of cases, parents were remarkably ignorant of what their children really thought and also about the extent to which their children were more than aware of the grown-up conflict issues.

Of course they are. This is stuff which impacts on them and where they too often have to piece together what’s actually going on. Children have an emotional acuity and level of sophistication way beyond what we chose to believe. Too often they are the ones who make everything work in intensely charged situations. They are the negotiators who learn what it’s safe to share and what not. Too often the children of separated parents display skills which would put a UN negotiator to shame.

I can read studies about all this. What I prefer to do is think about what children say to me when I’m involved in child inclusive mediation. For any parent who has a doubt about the benefits, I can only say- and I do- that I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t respect and appreciate the process. They take it very seriously. They really appreciate a neutral person paying heed to what they have to say. I’m humbled in most cases and also painfully aware that I can offer absolutely no guarantee that their parents will accept and work with what is shared with me. All I can do is promise that I will feed back what a child wants. I always warn that I can’t guarantee that their parents will take that feed back on board. I don’t want children to invest hope in a process the outcome of which is out of my and their control. Children, having learnt the hard way to grasp reality, understand that. It doesn’t mean that they don’t relish the chance to express their views.

The absolutely universal thing that matters to all the children whom I have ever seen as a mediator isn’t the detail of arrangements. It’s that their parents demonstrate some ability to communicate with each other in what one child described to me as a “civilized” way. Many children to whom I have spoken sadly realize hat they can’t hope for a lot on that score. Can you begin to imagine how much it must hurt to know that the two people who made you can’t even manage a polite “Hello”? These are the people whose genes are mixed in you.

So, without being in the mediator’s privileged position of hearing real small but powerful voices, why not just give it a go the next time you meet your co-parent and be pleasant, or at least, polite. If your children are there, they will notice and feel just a bit safer.

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