July 2, 2014

Parties or Parents? Language Matters!

In my role as neutral child specialist I often act as a translator.  I work to ensure that parents understand the words and ideas of their children about how family can work best for them moving forward. I help parents listen to rather than react to each other while working on creating a parenting plan.  And I frequently deconstruct and revise certain legal divorce terminology into more family-friendly language.

From the start, I ask my adult clients to think of and refer to themselves as parents rather than parties.  The term parties to a dispute in a no fault divorce is more impartial than plaintiff vs. defendant, but it can still sound adversarial to many parents. As I have written before, legal terms like physical custody, legal custody, child support calculator and even settlement sound formal, top down and foreign to how families actually function.  In my office, and in the offices of many Collaborative team professionals, we talk about parenting time and decision making, and the resources parents need to adequately meet their children’s needs in both homes.Since learning this priceless phrase from a child I worked with, I prefer the term getting unmarried to getting divorced.  I prefer talking about reaching resolutions rather than settlements.  I ask my clients to refrain from saying 50/50 parenting, because how often do kids think of their parents in percentages?   I remind parents that children think of their moms as 100% their moms, and their dads as 100% their dads, regardless of whether the kids are at school, with their grandparents, on a play date, or where they sleep at night.  We use the language of co-parenting that is developmentally informed and attuned to their children’s temperaments and personalities.

Language powerfully shapes our human experience, and communicates both explicit and implicit meaning.  The words chosen to describe a process or event are important.   Discussing important concepts in clear, thoughtful, straight-forward language and avoiding the use of jargon whenever possible can promote clarity and understanding during an already anxiety-arousing process.  And that is also priceless.

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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