The Messenger

Recently, I worked with a Mom who was concerned about information she was learning from Sam, her four year-old son.  She reported the divorce has been final for three years and was concerned about the lack of communication with her former spouse.

When I asked her to give me an example, she told me she recently learned from San that he is going to Legoland with his Dad in August.  It was clear that she was surprised by the information.  As I asked her to tell me more about their parenting communication, she stated, “We don’t talk much.  Our son tells me quite a bit about what is happening with his Dad.”  I learned something similar from Dad.

I took a breath.  I was imagining what it must be like for Sam.  His job description appears to be that of Mommy and Daddy’s Messenger. I know, for sure, he didn’t apply for that job and probably doesn’t want it.

So often, it seems, when parents aren’t comfortable communicating with one another post-divorce, they give their child the job of messenger.  I always coach them to think about it from the child’s perspective.  A child’s thoughts are probably something like this:  Did what I just say make Mommy mad?  Daddy sad?  Did I say something wrong?  Will I get in trouble?

The good news for Sam – His Mommy and Daddy have decided to terminate his job as their messenger.  They are learning how to share that job on their own, as co-parents.

Say What’s True Right Now

I just returned from Florida’s Third Annual State Collaborative Conference. (Collaborative Family Law Council of Florida)  I was honored to be asked to present, while there, and my topic was “A Closer Look at the “I” in Collaborative Cases.”

I asked participants, in the description, to come with an open mind and a willingness to look at oneself, rather than our clients or forms that may need updating.  I was very pleased that a room full of folks, from various professions, chose to attend. (One never knows based on the title I chose…)

During the presentation, we focused on our impact on clients, colleagues and the case itself.  I asked participants to consider that who they are, at a core level, does clearly have an impact in terms of the biases we carry with us, the expectations we have of our own gender (or the opposite gender) and the triggers that show up for all of us.  Equally important, we focused on how to know we are being triggered and how we find ourselves reacting to those triggers in meetings, team calls, or debriefs.

I found the discussion quite interesting since we had representation from several areas of the state, various experience levels in collaborative practice and all three disciplines.  I was impressed by the willingness of participants to share some of the information above.  (It’s always so much easier to focus on difficult clients or improving the process in some way)  At one point, someone said, “Well, once we are triggered by a team member, what do we do?”  A variety of answers showed up.  Then, a wise lawyer in the back of the room raised his hand and suggested one might simply say something like “I am confused right now.”

That answer took me back to my early years of work as a therapist.  I was always concerned that I was using the right words with clients.  A very skilled therapist, with whom I was discussing this concern, told me when I don’t know what to say….”Just Say What is True for You at the Moment.”

I have used that advice, in some form or another, hundreds of times in my work and especially in my role as a neutral facilitator.  I am often not sure what should be said next or exactly how to say it, but I find it so powerful to say to my colleagues, or clients who are developing a co-parenting relationship, just what is true for me at the time.

Here are some examples:

Wow.  I am feeling very uncomfortable right now.  I don’t know the best thing for me to say.

What you both just said was very powerful and has given me much to think about.  I need to be still for a moment before I respond.

Things are feeling awkward for us as a collaborative team right now.  Is anyone else experiencing that?

Here is what I am experiencing right now.  Is that true for any of you, or, just me?


Many thanks to the participants in my workshop in beautiful Orlando, Florida.  You helped me remember something that has proven useful in my work as a neutral facilitator.  I am so impressed by the “collaborative energy” that has built in your state and happy to be a part of that whenever possible.


Flipping A Coin

Recently, I was standing the living room of a couple who chose the collaborative process for their divorce. My task was to help them divide their furnishings in a respectful way that felt “fair” to both of them. Whenever a few moments passed with discussion and no agreement, I simply said “Heads or Tails.” They both accepted that approach and quickly realized it made the most sense if they were unable to quickly agree upon an item.

Driving home, I reflected on how I spent the prior seven hours…in someone’s home, walking room to room, and being present as they opened cabinets, looked at old photos, and discussed various momentos that carried a history for their family. It created for me a variety of thoughts and feelings that varied from “Did I really go to graduate school to flip a coin when needed?” to “I feel that I am somehow invading private space for this family” and lastly “I am so grateful the collaborative process offers this family a neutral set of eyes and ears to help them work thru these decisions.”

For 12 years, I have worked as a Neutral Mental Health Professional in collaborative divorce matters. I have been able to transfer my skills to help facilitate difficult discussions in other areas of the law as well. I learned much from my “neutral seat” and will be sharing some of those lessons and observations in this blog. The journey continues…