The Helping Hands of a Parenting Coordinator

Sometimes separated or divorced parents embroiled in conflict are unable to recognize their ability to transition to a healthy relationship. They are so overwhelmed with emotions that can derail a positive co-parenting situation. Parents experience relief that a professional’s involvement can support them transitioning forward in a healthy way.

• • •

As a Parenting Coordinator (PC), I often hear a plea from parties for assistance in effectively communicating with their co-parent. Many times co-parents who engage the services of a PC feel at a loss with regard to an ability to effectively communicate with their co-parent. Often times new PC couples provide me with deleterious text and email correspondence they have exchanged with one another around issues in their parenting agreement. Emotions such as frustration, anger, sadness, bitterness and hopelessness are apparent in these documents, and in their words, during our meetings. In orienting new parents to the PC process, it often seems there is a sense of relief that a third party is going to assist them to help move forward in a healthy way.

Part of the role of the PC is to educate parents and to sensitize them about how a child might be internalizing feelings about being a member of a divorced or separated family where there is ongoing conflict. Children are aware of the communication patterns, or lack thereof, between their parents. They are often relieved when their parents communicate effectively and they receive both overt and covert messages that it is OK to freely love and spend time with each parent. It has been said “children are like sponges” and that is certainly the case with the children in the families who seek our services. Children pick up their parents’ covert messages and frustrations. When parents are arguing with each other or disengaging through a “cold war”, the children are vulnerable; this can be burdensome and may hinder healthy development. Children love their parents and they hope for simple things, like to go to the dentist or on a play date, without a stressful or difficult discussion. In some families where the communication is extremely strained, the child might not get to the dentist or play date at all.

Together with parents, a PC can help to uncover the patterns or themes of communication that have not worked historically. In my social work training, we learned that when working with a couple or family, the interaction between the individuals becomes the client. That principle certainly is true with PC. Whether our work involves coming to the table for a joint meeting or a parallel process where parties email each other and copy me, my focus is on the interaction between them. Feedback is given with regard to how only they could know best what their co-parent’s “hot buttons” are and how can this person be approached differently on behalf of their child. Work is also done around trying to be as clear as possible in communicating with the other party so that nebulous or “what did they mean by that?” communication can be kept reduced. At times, I might make suggestions to parties around how to re-phrase something they said or wrote in an email as it might seem inflammatory or not clear.

At FamilyKind, we understand it is not an easy task to unbraid yourself from a significant other and child’s other parent then reconfigure the relationship into at least a “business” one on behalf of your child. Powerful residual feelings that are difficult to put aside can make effectively communicating with your co-parent seem like an impossible task. The other parent might also feel stuck in their own strong feelings and struggle with communicating with you. By working with a trained Parenting Coordinator, hopefully parents can start to recognize the patterns of communication that have not been helpful and consider new strategies with hands-on assistance. Effective communication between divorced and separated parents equals a better chance of adequately meeting children’s needs. It also contributes toward an environment around the child that is more conducive toward their overall emotional well-being.

• • •

Diane Hessemann, is a licensed clinical social worker and parenting coordinator.

Becoming a Grandmother

Early one morning, my older daughter called to find out when I was going to the gym. I was rather surprised by her question and asked her if she needed something. She mumbled “no…that’s ok.”

She showed up at the gym and handed me an envelope containing pictures from a recent trip we took together. Embedded between the colorful images, I discovered a black and white image of a sonogram. My daughter was expecting a baby! I looked at her and she beamed back with joy. I was in between tears and laughter, unable to contain my excitement. “Can I tell people?” “No. Wait a few more weeks,” she replied.

Well, I was so excited I just had to share the news. I couldn’t resist telling some of the familiar faces in my class that I was going to be a grandmother! These people did not know my daughter, nor would she know that I told them and at that moment, I needed a space to express my uncontrollable joy. I couldn’t figure out what was more exciting to me, that my daughter was going to be a mother, or that I was going to be a grandmother. Overnight, I aged by one generation. Wow!

After the long wait, one day my daughter called. She was in labor and asked me to come to the hospital. As I went off to wait for my grandchild to arrive, something suddenly hit me. I was propelled back twenty-six years when I went into labor with this child, the very same who was now ready to give birth to her own baby. I had this strange feeling of being a new mother but at the same time, I was going to be a grandmother.

A few days later, I went to help my daughter with the baby. I realized that I had not forgotten how to take care of a baby. It all came back in the flash of a second. But this was not my baby, this was my daughter’s baby and how was I supposed to act now? How does one act as a grandmother? I was not sure. A period of slight confusion ensued for me: who am I? What happened? I didn’t want to step on her toes, but I wanted to be supportive and helpful as possible.

Transitions require adjustments. Becoming a grandmother was certainly one for me, although probably not as huge as it was for my daughter and for her husband. This adjustment turned out to be an easy one, and a source of growth for the whole family. Within days, my daughter eased into her role and I, into mine, never imagining that my relationship with my daughter would be so enhanced by this little baby. I also discovered a new depth of emotion when I held and gazed at my new granddaughter! Life transitions offer us all sorts of wonderful surprises.

Update: That first baby is now 15 years old. I am now a grandmother to 9 grandchildren! I have embraced this transition and love being a Grandma.

• • •

Jennifer Safian is a family and divorce mediator. She is tri-lingual and provides mediation services in Spanish, French, and English.

Newly Single for the Holidays

Holiday Party 560px

The upcoming holiday season for those recently separated or divorced can be incredibly intimidating. Worrying about what to say when you’re invited to an event or anticipating attending alone this year can make you want to bury your head in the sand. Your inclination might be to decline and justify your response with how busy you are with family engagements when the truth is the only family who will be around you on the holidays is you and maybe your pet.

Your life has certainly changed but it’s not over! The key to moving forward in the future is to get yourself out and mixing with other people. You can’t spend your days and nights binge-watching Netflix (well, you probably could but it’s really not healthy!). So how do you get yourself back out there? Here are a few tips:

  1. Say yes to the next invitation — social or business — that you get.
  2. Put on an outfit you feel great in, add some makeup or a little aftershave.
  3. Look at yourself in the mirror and give yourself words of encouragement:
    • I am beautiful
    • I am interesting
    • I am bold
  4. Think of a few topics you feel comfortable talking about and have them in your back pocket if there’s an awkward moment of silence. Wear something unique, bring something different as a gift that’s a conversation starter.
  5. If you arrive and everyone seems to be in a conversation, get yourself something to drink. Try to make small talk in the line for drinks. Talk to the bartender for a minute or two.
  6. Look for someone familiar. If you spot someone you know, mosey on over and stand where you can catch that person’s eye. If you don’t know anyone, look for a group with an opening in the formation of how they’re standing. Stand close to them and smile. Listen to what they’re saying and try to add something of value. Or simply introduce yourself with “Hi, I’m ______, do you mind if I join in?”
  7. If the first group feels uncomfortable, excuse yourself and move on to the next.
  8. Go back to step #6.

Youd be surprised how friendly people can be. We’ve all been in that situation and most people are sympathetic to a lone stranger. If you put out welcoming, positive energy, people will want to get to know you. Before you know it, there won’t be enough time in the week for all your social engagements!

• • •

Karen Bigman, MBA and CDC™ Certified Divorce Coach, is founder and CEO of The Divorcierge.

The Relocation of a Lifetime

Forest 520 pxAt FamilyKind, we are dedicated to providing support to families experiencing separation and divorce. A divorce or separation serves an important purpose. People have the opportunity to evolve and create a new reality for their families. In my view, how we handle our transitions in life — be they big or small — will profoundly affect the story that unfolds afterwards, and so the process of transitioning deserves special attention. Other life transitions can be as impactful to intact families.

Like many first-generation Americans, my story is very much tied to the countries my parents came from. Although I was born in the States and grew up here, my summers were spent with family in France and Lebanon. When the civil war in Lebanon made travel there too risky, we were sent to France only. When I was eleven, I spent a year in Paris. When I was twelve, we moved to London, England, where I attended middle school, high school and college. I returned back to France for three more years of college. I grew up divided: bilingual, understanding of different cultures and no more loyal to one than the other. I identified as “international” rather than “national”.

Many years later when my son was born in Brooklyn, I was surprised to find all my baby talk, words of comfort and lullabies poured forth in French even after almost fifteen years after my relocation to New York and a relationship with my third-generation, all-American husband. My husband, who had known me as a predominantly English speaker, was bewildered. I grew melancholy at the idea of my son not understanding the divide I had integrated inside of me — of him not being able to relate to his mother. All of my immediate family — brothers, sister and parents — lived in Europe. There I was, living a New York life, yet yearning to reconnect with my roots.

And so began a three-year slow process of discussion, argument, and tension between my husband and me about how best to raise our son in order to accommodate all of our needs and desires. We had barely survived the distance that the first year of our son’s life had created in our union. My husband’s frustration at being excluded from conversation between my son and me was palpable, and my response was to suggest (not always kindly) that he finally learn the language instead of asking me to give it up. We felt trapped in an unsatisfying, stressful dynamic in which neither of us felt understood by the other. The arrival of our son had changed everything for us, and our previous way of relating to each other no longer worked. It was time for us to integrate our new reality and transition into the family we wanted to be.

We made the decision to relocate to France for a trial year so my husband could immerse himself in the language and culture and my son could attend pre-K in a regular French public school. We spent a year preparing for our move: zeroing in on where we would relocate in France, sorting through our furniture and personal effects, finding tenants for our apartment, getting my remote employment lined up, and preparing ourselves for the loss of my husband’s business. Our son was asked to sort his toys into four piles: give to strangers, give to friends, bring to France, and keep for later. He was not quite four years old, yet he participated fully, surprising us with his ability to adapt to the situation.

Our arrival in France, however, was breathtakingly difficult. We could not have prepared for the maelstrom of emotion and displacement we felt. We chose a corner of the country far from everyone and everything familiar. Hardly anyone speaks English. As the only adult French speaker in our family, almost all the administrative and everyday tasks — from registering the car, to doctor’s visits, to opening a bank account, to buying groceries, to speaking with our son’s teachers — fell to me. My husband accompanies me almost everywhere, absorbing the language and interactions, powerless to help in the way he wants to but present to show his support and gratitude to me for “doing it all.” By the end of each day he is often exhausted, his head spinning with all the French he has heard that day. By the end of the second week after our arrival, he had an ear infection, which struck us as a wholly appropriate manifestation of his new predicament!

Our son was completely lost for the first two months. All the points of reference he’d had in Brooklyn from ages 0 – 4 were gone. The language spoken in the neighborhood, the school, the teachers, the house, the environment, new friends and how we relate to them — none of it resembled the life we left behind. We can no longer visit family on the weekends. On the playground, kids speak a kind of French he never heard before. Those first two months, he cried nearly every morning at school drop-off, terrified at the prospect of enduring another day of feeling so overwhelmed.

During those early days, I questioned — and occasionally continue to question — our decision to tackle this massive transition. What were we thinking? How will we get through? Will our family, and each individual in it, survive this seismic shift?

Slowly, the benefits of our move began to overtake the fear and insecurity our transition evokes. These benefits encourage us daily. We found a rhythm in everyday life, one that is a little more easeful than life back in Brooklyn. My husband has French teachers, friends and ways to feel useful that do not require fluency immediately. Our son has made friends at school and figured out how to relate to them and his new environment. I’ve made peace — mostly — with the guilt I carry for instigating this big change in our family’s dynamic. It has not been a seamless process and we still experience many doubts and frustrations with our new life. However, this transition will evolve, and we have have no regrets. Our son is bilingual, often mixing up sentences to utter bemusing Franglish phrases. My husband runs errands, liaises with teachers and parents at school drop off and gets by in French well enough to be mostly autonomous. And I continue to marvel at the human’s capacity to withstand — and even thrive through — profound change. What more could we ask of such a transition?

• • •

Isabelle Wallace is a consultant for and a team member of FamilyKind.

Becoming a Stepmom

Sam's Necklace Cropped 560px

Last month I officially became a stepmother. The moment we formed a new blended family was very special, but the road to that joyful moment was planned carefully to help my stepdaughter cope with the transition into a blended family.

Divorced parents must deal with the usual transitions plus the challenging transitions that divorce creates for their children. Eventually, either one or both parents find new significant others which adds another layer of challenges for children.

For me, it was very important for my stepdaughter, Sam, to feel comfortable through the transition. That is the reason I enrolled in the FamilyKind Recoupling and the Stepfamily Workshop provided by Linda Paul, a Stepfamily Foundation Certified Coach. The workshop provided me with information and insight that was a tremendous help.

From the very beginning of our relationship my husband, Scott, and I discussed and set a plan in motion to mitigate any challenges my stepdaughter might experience from our relationship.

Once Scott and I were serious about our relationship, we decided to introduce me to Sam as a family friend in an environment where she felt safe. Our first introduction was during Christmas of 2014 at a family Christmas party where I bonded with Sam and her cousins. The next few meetings took place in the same manner around Sam’s family, and helped us become familiar with one another.

By the summer of 2015, I joined Scott and Samantha for a family vacation in the Jersey Shore where Scott asked Samantha if they should invite me to visit them in Massachusetts. She was thrilled! However, Scott and I planned the next meeting carefully because we wanted Samantha to invite me into their home on her own. We decided to meet at a coffee shop near the house and see what Samantha suggested for the day. To my delight, Samantha immediately invited me to the house to see her bedroom.

By late October 2015, Scott and Sam visited me in NYC to run a 5k together. The meeting was going to be another normal meeting for the three of us, but to my surprise, Sam asked me if I wanted to be her father’s girlfriend. Scott and I did not expect that question, and I blushed as I happily accepted the offer.

Between our special NYC 5k and May of 2016, most of our visits took place around Sam’s family except a couple of sleepovers at home to get Sam used to the idea of me moving in. By May of 2016, Scott and Sam discussed me moving in, and Scott made it clear to Samantha that she had an active role in the decision. Of course, she was thrilled and said yes.

The next big step for our soon-to-be blended family was for me to meet Sam’s mom. Luckily, she was accepting of our relationship, but I still sought out advice from my friend and colleague, Shari Bornstein. As a parent coordinator helping divorcing families, Shari was able to guide me through the meeting.  When the day finally arrived, Sam and her mother came over to the house for breakfast, and we all had a pleasant conversation over French toast. Sam was very excited to have us all together.

In August 2016, I moved into the house with my new family and Sam was happy with the change. A year later, Sam and I walked down the aisle together on our wedding day. I say, “our wedding day” because, in the end, it was as much Sam’s day as it was for the bride and groom. She stood in the front of the ceremony the entire time right alongside the two of us.

I am thrilled to say we are a happy blended family. I think prioritizing Sam’s emotional wellbeing and taking the introduction process slowly helped us all get to a happy start to an incredible journey.

• • •

Stefany Lyn Schaefer-Riecke is a special projects coordinator for FamilyKind and a new stepmom.

Accepting the New Normal

Table 560px

Many families have the good fortune to gather for the Thanksgiving holiday. Mine is no exception. It is the one time a year that we gather at my sister’s place to eat, laugh, share stories, watch some football and generally goof around. These days my sister’s three sons, all grown now, travel from their far away homes, reuniting the family for a moment in time.

On the way home from dinner last year, my husband predicted that this was probably the last Thanksgiving that we would be celebrating with just our original families. He was right. Since last Thanksgiving, one of my nephews has gotten engaged, another will be his bringing his girlfriend to Thanksgiving dinner and both of my boys will be traveling home from the out of town colleges they attend.

These are all healthy and happy changes.

My husband’s prescient thoughts proved to be true but it should not be surprising. After all, family change is inevitable. Kids are born; they grow and mature; they move away; they partner; they have kids…you get the idea. Families do not stay the same — sometimes there is a divorce, a birth, a death, a marriage, a re-marriage — a reconfiguration of some kind. It is going to happen. Often, even when positive, change is hard to accept, but necessary for growth.

My family configuration changed somewhat this year too, as my youngest son began his out-of-town college adventure. My heart has been aching with happiness and sadness as my sons navigate the next phase of their lives. They both left for college a couple of weeks ago. As the time approached for the big ‘drop offs,’ I felt ill equipped to handle this family shift — we have been a close foursome for a long time now, and this next step seemed like a seismic change. Even though nothing bad was happening, I was faced with a new reality and I knew that it was important that I approach it in a healthy way.

From my work, I understand that acknowledgement and acceptance are good beginnings to coping with change — these tools are useful in many areas of life. By acknowledging the “new normal,” it is easier to put in place needed support to move forward with managing and accepting the transition. This is a good rule of thumb, no matter the reason for the change.

My sons are happily ensconced in their next chapter of life and my husband and I are enjoying our new-found time together. We are finding ways to keep close with our boys. We look forward to phone calls, texts and college visits, and I must admit that we are also enjoying the lighter laundry load and fewer trips to the grocery store. We are gaining distinctions about our new role as supportive parents to young adult sons.

I am eager to celebrate Thanksgiving; not just to have treasured time together, but to also genuinely welcome new additions to our family and be grateful for how far we have come.

• • •

Lesley Ann Friedland is an attorney, mediator, and Founder and Executive Director of FamilyKind.

Why I Work With Divorcing Families

Kitchen Table Divorce 540pxI was divorced more than forty years ago. At that time, my two small children were 4 and 6. While I knew I wanted to end the marriage, I had no models of how to have “a successful divorce” where the kids could be taken care of by both parents. There weren’t many books on healthy divorce, or co-parenting. We had to rely on ourselves. We were both good parents and both very involved in taking care of our children. Neither of us wanted to be non-custodial parents. We were willing to put the effort into figuring out the best possible outcome for us and our kids.

I was involved in the women’s movement and believed both parents should have equality, which meant equal time with the children. Joint custody was not prevalent in those days, but I had heard of it. My husband and I were in agreement about the divorce and both reasonable people who really cared about our kids. We knew of people who had ugly divorces and we knew we were not going to do that.

We created our own divorce and parenting plan. What we did many years ago is called a kitchen table divorce and I now know, as a mediator, that is most unusual. It’s good I didn’t realize that then! We literally sat down at the kitchen table and worked it out. We agreed on a 50/50 parenting time arrangement for our kids and adjusted the schedule through the years as the kids and our needs changed. We co-parented, discussed issues, went to school events together and helped the kids move back and forth between our two homes. Today, our kids are happy and successful with their own families. We have both re-coupled. I have an amiable relationship with my ex-husband and we have lunch together periodically. We talk about our lives, our kids and grandkids. We’ve gone to grandparent’s day together at our grandchild’s school. We were very successful in co-parenting our children.

While joint custody worked for my family, I do not believe it is necessarily the “right” parenting plan. I actually do not believe there is a single “right” parenting plan. Each family must understand their needs and those of their children and figure out what will work best for them. It’s helpful to learn the different options for parenting plans and the pros and cons of each, so a good decision can be made. Co-parenting can be done in many ways. And knowing, whatever plan is decided upon, it probably will change as the kids get older and everyone’s needs change. Flexibility is important. Although divorce is a difficult process, it can be a successful one.

• • •

Barbara Rothberg, DSW, LCSW, is a couple therapist, mediator, child specialist and parenting coordinator working for almost 40 years. She has a practice with offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

That’s Parenting Too

graduation 520px

Tis the season for graduations. It’s a bit early for high schools, but college grads abound. If you are the parent of a grad, this event is a proud moment for you as well. Aside from breathing a sigh of relief with the last tuition payment, you’ve earned the opportunity to watch your child accept his or her diploma on a Jumbo-tron size television screen. No small feat after four years of intense academic rigor.

I, too, recently basked in the glow of watching my child graduate. And then it hit me. This, too, is parenting. Yes, watching your child walk across the stage is absolutely an aspect of parenting. Sure, it’s different from many parents’ perceptions of parenting. Especially parents engaged in conflict, whether from a pending divorce, separation, or the left over remains of their long ago broken down relationship. Some of these folks fight over every piece of “parenting” in the name of acting in their child’s best interest. Parents engage in conflict over exchange times, the number of overnights, medical treatment, extra-curricular activities, child-related expenses and on and on. Unfortunately, these parents lose sight of the bigger picture of what encompasses “parenting”.

Observing and supporting your child’s experiences is still parenting. Sure, you didn’t kick the soccer ball, play the musical instrument or do your child’s homework (hopefully). But you certainly may have sat in the audience and clapped and whooped at your child’s achievements, enrolled them in Little League and provided a quiet, clean environment for them to do their school work.

Parenting is large and encompassing. It’s not limited to one definition or role. The ingredients of parenting evolve over time as they should with a child’s maturity. Children grow up and many reach a graduation milestone. At that moment, there is nothing parents do actively, but beam. One parent I met labelled her inability to be with her child every day as a tragedy. She’s right in a way. It is difficult when hopes and dreams must be re-aligned to fit reality.

Parenting is much more than the number of hours a parent spends with a child, or which clothing didn’t come back after the other parent’s time or the child’s transition time on Independence Day. It is doubtful most children remember whether thirty minutes made a difference in their relationship with a parent. But they will remember how their parents made them feel.

If you’re the parent of a grad this time of year, your goal should be to be there for you child. Perhaps you can have a joint meal with your co-parent and your child in celebration your child’s accomplishment or if that does not feel right, you and your co-parent can celebrate with your child separately and agree not to involve him/her in your parental conflicts. Let your child relish in their achievements. Because that’s parenting, too.

• • •

Shari Bornstein is an attorney and mediator.

Be a Separation and Divorce Mediator

“Hi my name is…and I will be your mediator. I will not make any decision for you. I am not a judge. I will help you to reach your own agreement. I am impartial and neutral. A mediation session is confidential…”

These are typical sample statements of how a mediation session begins, and it is the only “standard” part of a mediation process. From those opening moments, nothing is predictable. Every story is different and mediators use their skills to help the parties resolve their conflicts in each case. What are these skills? Staying impartial, reflecting, using empathy, active listening, asking open ended questions, looping…

How do you learn to mediate on your own? Even after completing basic and advanced mediation training, graduates may not be ready to tackle a mediation case by themselves. Why? Because the best way to learn mediation is to practice. One way to do that is by participating in a practicum or apprenticeship training and volunteering. When I discovered the Mentorship Program at FamilyKind, I realized that program was exactly what I was looking for. I wanted a mentor, a person available to me, ready to answer my questions and able to help me to improve my skills with gentle guidance. The FamilyKind program offered additional benefits that matched the need to launch a divorce mediation career: meeting with the administrators to “check in” about the path of my progress, exposure to all areas of private practice, a visit to the courthouse to familiarize myself with filing a case and access to my mentor’s forms honed over time with the advantage of experience.

In my experience as a mentee at FamilyKind, my mediation skills are seen through the eyes of an experienced mediator. After the mediation session, my mentor and I debrief. We each share our observations and impressions and we state our opinions about what worked in the session and what areas could use improvement. With the mentorship program, I am building a relationship with someone I can trust to provide solid feedback, who sees my skills and enthusiasm, and can bring out my best skills. My mentor is confident, sensitive to diversity, and a good communicator.

A mentee should not be dependent on the mentor, but should find his or her own way with the help of the mentor who can provide observations and options. The mentor should not just lecture, but also listen and ask questions. It is tempting for a mentor to “tell” the mentee exactly how to solve a problem. Like the mediation process, the experienced mediation mentor should ask open-ended questions that can lead the mentee to a solution. Examples of good questions are: have you ever had this problem before? What other options have you tried? What was working in the process?

I was an informal mentor back in Italy to a more junior classmate in law school. From that experience, I learned that a good mentorship relationship is mutually beneficial and helps both professionals grow. I certainly did when I was a mentor. As a mentee, I give back to my mentor by sharing my life experiences, thoughts, and my European and Italian culture. Mentor and mentee share real-life stories with each other. These discussions provide valuable insights. They pave the way for building a rapport. That way, the mentor and the mentee feel comfortable sharing perspectives about the sessions. The mentee will shape and more effectively model his or her mediation skills from someone with whom there is trust. The mentor can also provide career advice and guidance, encourage the mentee’s career and personal development to the fullest, and provide suggestions for networking activities and information that will benefit the mentee’s professional growth. A mentorship program provides a rich learning experience for both parties.

Learn more about the FamilyKind Mediation Mentorship program.

Mediation is Not Like Laundry


Ahh, laundry. Laundry has a set of rules and a distinct sense of structure to complete the task. There’s a beginning (clothes go into washing machine); there’s a middle (clothes go into dryer for a specified number of minutes); and an end (clothes are folded and put away). Mediation is not like laundry.

Mediation is the process by which a neutral professional assists parties in the resolution of their disputes by moving them away from positions and toward their interests. In the realm of divorce mediation, the parties’ personalities and emotional state can cause the process to veer off track, sometimes before it even gets on track. Maybe one of the parties calls to initiate the mediation process, but the other party is just not ready to begin the journey and drags his/her feet for months. Once the parties get into the room, the mediator might be surprised that the process doesn’t move forward in a predictable way. Perhaps one party did not gather necessary documents or tackle other homework assignments designed to move the process forward. A lack of finances may require postponement of a previously scheduled session. Mediators and the parties can become frustrated with the lack of movement. After all, parties spend their hard earned money to participate.

Dealing with a soon to be “ex,” even in the mediation process, evokes all sorts of emotions that make discussions messy and exhausting. Some folks need time to get themselves emotionally prepared for sessions which can be a painful reminder of the demise of the relationship. A party might even cut short a session and leave the room because the discussion turned overwhelming.

Sometimes people start the process and determine that it’s not the right one for them. They may transition to a different process to resolve their disagreements.

There’s something to be said for the amount of control that exists over the task of doing laundry. Clothes don’t exit themselves from the washing machine because they don’t like the temperature of the water. They must be physically removed. Certain clothes go into the dryer and some are line dried.

A mediator whose expectations include the notion that cases will come through the door in a steady stream, clients will pay all fees timely and will attend appointments every other week at the same time, will become disillusioned with their practice. A seasoned mediator realizes that clients are not like towels that are washed, tumble dried, folded and placed back in the linen closet. Parties come to the process with fears and expectations, very often different ones from their partner. A mediator must be able to work with clients where they are, not where the mediator wants them to be. The mediation process does not fit neatly into a particular laundry bin.

Most importantly, clients need to feel that they’ve been heard by the mediator during the process. It may be their only opportunity to vent their sadness and frustration with the situation in which they’ve found themselves, even if the separation or divorce was their idea. An experienced mediator will be attuned to the clients’ needs, aware that handling every case with the same pre-conceived approach will not satisfy every case. Sometimes a resolution requires understanding that some items are not best laundered by only following the laundry instructions sewn into the back of an item of clothing.

• • •

Shari Bornstein is an attorney and mediator. Learn more.