August 6, 2015

Mom and Dad on the Same Team

181569057-family-gear-discussion-gettyimagesA family with whom I am privileged to work on their Collaborative divorce gave me consent to tell this story.

A few weeks after completing the two meetings with me that are a typical part of my child-inclusive parenting plan process, a teenager (I’ll call him Jay) asked if could meet with me again.  Jay confided being miserable about both parents putting him in the middle, though he knew this was not intentional.  He could read his parents’ body language and emotional tone after their phone conversations, and perceived both parents as distressed, sad and angry about as-yet unresolved aspects of their divorce.  He felt himself drawn to ask questions to try to understand the contentious issues, but the answers he received just made him feel worse, because then he felt like he was supposed to choose sides.  I suggested we have a family meeting to share his concerns with parents, which was exactly what Jay wanted.  His parents were also supportive of this idea.

At the family meeting, this courageous and empathetic young man began by saying “I love you both, and I want you both in my life.  You’ve told me you want to work things out in the best way for me and my brother, and I believe you.   I just need you to try to get along better with each other.”  Jay acknowledged how hard it was for him to walk away when his mom seemed so sad, or his dad seemed so angry, but that he really wanted to be out of the middle of their conflicts with each other.  Though I had already talked with parents about the negative impact on kids of feeling in the middle, this was different.  This was listening to their child’s own words.  His parents really listened.

Before the meeting ended, Jay asked if he could sum up what he hoped for, and shared the most amazing metaphor: “You know I used to be best friends with Sam and Mike, and we’re not really friends any more.  But we’re on the same baseball team, and when we’re playing baseball we’re teammates, we have each others’ backs and we know how to play well together.  I know you guys won’t be married any more but I want you to be on the same team, because you’re my parents.”

What a perfect description of co-parenting, and all the more powerful for being in the voice of the child.   We need to keep listening to that voice.

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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