Accessing the parental mind through the heart: A case study in child-inclusive mediation
Children in all families rely on sensitive parental attention and care for the growth of their wellbeing and sense of self-worth. This attention often diminishes when a parent is preoccupied with the consequences of a relationship break-up and is engaged in conflict with the other parent. Mediation inevitably struggles with enabling motivation in feuding parents to better manage hostilities towards each other, and finding a mutual desire for an end to conflict often proves elusive. Yet research continues to show that reducing acrimony between parents is one of the most powerful ways to improve the lives of their children (McIntosh Wells & Long 2007). Consistent with this, practitioners in the field have found that child-inclusive practice (CIP) can, within a mediation context, provide parents with a sustained motivation for positive change by bringing to the fore the emotional and developmental toll of their conflict on their children. Child-inclusive practice enables parents to gain an insight into the impact of their conflict on their child’s happiness and wellbeing, and aims to facilitate a parental alliance between former partners or spouses which, in turn, enables the child to reengage with normal developmental processes. This article describes and comments upon a recent case involving the author as a child consultant within a mediation process. It outlines the step-by-step approach employed to reduce acrimony between the parents and to refocus their attention on their children. It illustrates how the intrinsic concern that parents have for their children can be harnessed to bring about a shared desire for improvement in their children’s lives, motivating them to forego their own perceived needs for ‘justice’ or retribution with respect to each other, in the service of a deeper understanding of the negative consequences of their conflict on their children.