Nelle note racconto di un mio caso di mediazione durante un divorzio e di uno strumento che ho utilizzato.
I once was asked to act as a mediator by a married couple going through a divorce with two children aged 11 and 14. The children were staying with the mother while the father had moved in with another woman and her children. The father showed a normal emotional attachment to his children, but in fact he was not very supporting from a practical point of view. He did not contribute with money, nor with the daily care, or with his physical presence when it was needed. He was missing the meetings with the teachers at school, at the kids’ social events and religious celebrations and so on. He was unable to keep up with his visits schedule, on the contrary, having some trouble in adjusting in the new family situation, he just wanted to show up at his ex-wife’s home whenever he felt like it. He used to ring the doorbell hoping for a warm welcome and he simply refused to understand his ex-wife’s repeated refusals and anger.
All this “suprises” with daddy at the doorstep made the ex-wife furious and evolved in a nightmare of screams and reciprocal accusations. The parents were stuck at different standpoints such as: You don’t have the right to show up at my door, or you don’t have the right to take my children away from me, and so on.
From an objective point of view the father had to understand the objective and practical reasons way the mother wouldn’t let the father see the children whenever he showed up. And from the mother’s point of view the reasons were simple. She was having such a difficult time in getting everything organized, now that she was alone with the children, she was having so much troubles managing this new situation that she was unable to accept any change in her schedule, let alone the unexpected intrusions of her ex-husband…. Usually, when her ex-husband showed up, she had already organized everything and that organization had costed her a good amount of energy. One of the typical situation presented itself in the mornings when the children had to go to school. They could not go to school on foot by themselves. They needed an adult person to take them by car. When the parents were married and living together, this was one of the father’s duties since he used to go to work later in the morning. Unfortunately, the father had moved far away from the children’s home and the mother worked early in the morning. So she had organized everything for the children to go to school with older school mates or with some neighbors.
From the father’s point of view, he had problems adjusting with his new partner. It was difficult for him to take his children to her house, so he simply showed up whenever he could, whenever he felt like at his old home. From a deeper prospective he had problems adjusting within his new role of divorced father. During the mediation one of the point was about acknowledging the work that his ex-wife was doing for the daily management of the children, and trying to increase his awareness of the fact that just caring is not enough. When your children are involved you also have to act, to stand up. In order to help him in his new situation, during the mediation we decided that he would be seeing his children mostly alone, without his new partner, beginning to spend time with them in her home only when she was out.
The mother on the other side felt continuously attacked by her ex-husband intrusions and he felt a sense of guilt for not letting him have the children when he was passing by. So the point with her was to empower and to reassure her.
To do so I used, among others, this very simple tool that I use to call “The little magic notebook”.
Imagine this woman who was feeling assaulted by his ex-husband. Please, note that he was not directly violent, he was not directly attacking her, nevertheless his attitude was a violent one, meaning that he was acting without taking into account his ex-wife decisions and feelings. For this kind of violence there is not order of restraint that could work properly. The most important thing to do is to make the other part aware of his/her power, to acknowledge his/her situation and to act consequently.
So, how the “little magic notebook” works: Rules of engagement.
Take a notebook, one of those that you can easily carry with you, divide the pages in three vertical strips (you only need to prepare one or two pages at time).
Then, at the top of the pages you name the strip such as this: WHEN – WHAT –MYSELF
I asked the ex-wife to fill in the strips with very simple data, recording every distressful event involving her ex-husband.
WHEN I know, it seem a paradox but it is the most important data of the three. You ask your client to write down the date and the hour of the event that he/she is recording. This point is very important because in a time of confusion, of reorganization of one’s life, when you are in emotional distress, you are likely to lose track of time. So if you want to use the “little magic notebook” first of all you have to stop, to see what time it is as if you were creating a point, a little step back for yourself out of the confusion.
WHAT describe with one or two words what you are recording. You do not need to give a detailed description of the facts. On the contrary, you only need to write down a couple of words that could remind you of the circumstances. So you will write things like: sms, or phone, or ringed my door, or at the supermarket.
If your client feels the need to write more, he or she simply has to turn the page and to start writing to the first blank page of the little notebook.
MYSELF how did you feel? What were your thoughts? You can fill in this part with simple symbols (+ or -). Or with numeric data (2 out of 5). Be careful, you might also have to deal with completely unsophisticated people, in this case a simple smiley will do the job. This simple model is not meant to be filled up with words. Indications must be brief. If someone feels like writing, I repeat it, just turn to the first blank page and write everything down.
In the first session after the introduction of the little magic notebook, of course you as a mediator will work on your client’s notes, but you will also see that this work on the notebook has worked out some sort of positive results by itself. And this is why I call it magic.
The “magic” I recall has nothing to do with strange and esoteric rites and it has everything to do with the magic of language and of our cognitive structure.
The three words (When, What and Myself) are in fact three questions: when did it happen? What did it happen? How did you feel? Questions, we all know that- are the most powerful hypnotic instrument at our disposal. Asking this questions when some kind of situation is likely to put someone in a state of confusion and emotional distress, can help to keep one’s attention focused on the facts and on the feelings (please also note that you are supposed to always start from the facts to the feelings and not vice versa).
Hopefully this simple tool will help you to clarify the situation and to work at ease with your client.