June 19, 2015

Keeping Children out of the Middle

sb10066847c-001A core value of Collaborative Team Practice is keeping children at the center and out of the middle. But what does this mean? Why this is distinction important? It is because divorcing parents are writing the life story their children will tell.

Mindfully keeping children at the center helps focus decision-making during and after a divorce on the best interests of the children. It encourages parents and the professionals assisting them to consider children’s developmental needs and temperaments to create customized parenting time schedules, relationship plans and financial plans. Bringing children’s voices into the process means the perspectives of all family members are honored. Parents who keep children at the center are doing the important work of becoming effective co-parents and communicators. Their children do not experience parents arguing or criticizing each other. They do not have to worry about taking sides or being disloyal to one parent by continuing to love the other. Children at the center are given empathy, support and patience as they grieve the loss of their familiar family structure, but are also reminded that though parents are unmarried, the family is still a family.  Children at the center can have hope for the future, with rewarding relationships with both parents strengthening their resilience.

What is the experience of children in the middle? Unfortunately, these children are regularly exposed to their parents’ active conflict. They may frequently hear parents badmouthing each other or calling each other names. Children in the middle have often been told adult-level details about their parents’ marriage and their divorce. They may be actively encouraged by one or both parents to blame or take sides against the other parent. Parents who are not focusing on their children’s needs may be more likely to become emotionally disconnected from them or even to move away. Children in the middle are children in distress.

Children at the center are given support to feel emotionally safe. They do not have to grow up with the anxiety of worrying about whether both parents can be invited to the same life event without creating undue stress and conflict. In contrast, children in the middle often experience the crisis of a divorce as a trauma, and the negative impact reverberates throughout their lives. Children in the middle have a much more difficult time with trust and fear of abandonment as adults.

Collaborative Team Practice offers potential sources of emotional support to all family members during and after a divorce.  Neutral child specialists offer a child-inclusive process to help parents create and implement developmentally responsive parenting plans. Neutral coaches help parents create a relational plan to support their co-parenting and manage current and future conflicts. Both the parenting plan and the relationship plan are designed to keep children at the center, and have their life stories about the divorce  end peacefully.

Deborah ClemmensenABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deborah Clemmensen
Licensed Psychologist

Deborah Clemmensen, M.Eq., Licensed Psychologist was a child and family clinician for many years before her discovery of Collaborative Team Practice in 2000 motivated the transformation of her professional role from therapist to Neutral Child Specialist. This work---hearing the voices of every family member during a divorce or break up, keeping children at the center and out of the middle, and assisting parents in the creation of developmentally responsive parenting plans---is both a passion and a privilege. Find out more about Deborah's work at www.deborahclemmensen.com

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