How to negotiate when it hurts.

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

Some might call me a 'helicopter parent'.

I don't think it's quite that bad ... but something happened to me when my first bubba was born. I was completely overtaken by a maternal instinct that I had never even imagined. And although I think I have mellowed a little with my second bub, I have not become the hands-off, let-them-be-kids, a-bit-of-dirt-never-killed-anyone kind of parent that I had envisioned myself being (and that I was raised to be! - sorry mum!).

Parenting, for me, has been a constant exercise in letting go, and a challenge to my perfectionist core.

Would you agree that our generation is more protective of our babies?

Perhaps overly so?

I do wonder whether this is in response to an increasingly unsafe community environment ... but also, maybe due to our deepening collective understanding of child development, and the importance of bonding and attachment. I think that because we are so highly aware of our baby's developmental needs, we respond to his smallest discomfort immediately (often anxiously), we are more closely bonded by this interaction, and the feedback loop is perpetuated -- we respond to the need, and our bonds with our babies are strengthened.

And, oh my goodness, what a beautiful thing! When you are so familiar with each other that you can hear a little squeak in the middle of the night and know instantly that your baby's dummy is stuck under her head.

But does that make the separation of sending your baby to child care a little more painful?

Do we keep them closer to us for longer, and consciously try to soak up more of those tender pre-school years?

And what about when you separate from your partner, and suddenly you are forced to imagine several days a week without your little one ... I can only imagine how devastated you feel, as a Daddy or Mumma ... and how intense the urge is to gather up your little one in your arms and never let go.

Then your mediator says:

  • "you may need to compromise on the time you spend with your baby"

  • "it's important to facilitate their relationship with the other parent", and

  • "you can't control the way that your ex chooses to parent" --

... coupled with your broken heart, mistrust, and grief -- it's no wonder that when you make your list of ideas for mediation, none of it feels the tiniest bit negotiable, and you hold onto every comma and colon for dear life.

So, how are you going to get to a point where your mediation can actually be successful?

Here are just 3 things to start with that can help:

  1. Coaching -- guidance towards acknowledgement and gratitude around the strengths of the other parent, so that you can feel more comfortable and confident about sending your little one there; help to deal with the conflict (ex-partner) stuff separately to the parenting stuff.

  2. Trial agreements -- progressive plans that allow you to make small changes and give yourselves time to adjust (both parent and child), and build resilience (again, both parent and child) around the separation. [Click here to check out The Family Mediation Roadmap, for lots more information about Trial Agreements].

  3. Understanding your own negotiation space -- knowing what is actually non-negotiable for you; having a system for coming up with workable/negotiable ideas, for sorting through your options, and for knowing what else could work, even when it's so difficult to give anything up.

These are all big topics in themselves, so let's just take one for today and give you a couple of pointers.

Let's start with number 3 -- understanding your negotiating space, and knowing what your bottom line really is.

My system works like this:

  1. Write down your Ideal Scenario: What do you really want? Even if that means not changing anything, even if you know there are some flaws in it and it's not 100% perfect. Take each topic for discussion, and write down the best option that you can imagine. For example, Topic = schooling, Ideal Scenario = Timmy moves to the local primary school starting Term 4 this year and onwards.

  2. Then, skip over and, for that same topic, write down your Worst Idea Ever. This is that thing that you feel like you could never agree to. For example, Timmy stays at the current school until the end of next year.

  3. Then, think about what options there are in-between these two extremes (your Next Best Thing). Think of as many of these as you can - the more different ideas you can come up with, the more likely that one of them will suit, or can be adjusted to fit your situation. For example, Timmy stays at the current school until the end of the school year and then starts at the local school in Term 1 next year.

Now, let me give you a little example of how this is going to help you in the middle of your mediation, when the words "negotiate" and "compromise" come up.

Imagine that your Co-Parent says to you:

I think Timmy should move in Term 2 next year, because the class that we really want him to get into will have a vacancy for him then.

Hmm. Well, I guess that's a shorter time than my worst-case scenario, but a longer time than my ideal scenario, and that class is a good one to get into ... so I'm going to put that in the "in-between options" column for now, and have a think about that one.

What about if your Co-Parent says:

Timmy can move schools at the beginning of next year (yay - that's my in-between option) ... but they have told me that he won't be able to play football there until the following year ...

Oh no. Timmy loves his school football. It's his whole world.

Now you have a choice to make together.

Is it more important that Timmy moves schools sooner, or is it more important that he has access to his school football team for the next year, and the school move can wait until the following year?

  • Have you just found an option that's worse than your worst-case scenario?

  • Did that option just give your "worst idea ever" a little shove into the "in-between options" category?

  • Or, did you start to think up some other solutions, like, maybe he can move schools sooner, because that is actually super important, but you can explore the idea of Timmy playing football for a local club, instead of school ... or something else?

This kind of thing comes up in mediation all. the. time.

Don't let it throw you! You can be ready for (just about) anything!!

I hope you can see from this little example how it could help you to really outline the top and bottom options, so that when something else is thrown into the mix during your mediation, you have a better handle on where that might sit on the Idea-Spectrum. You might still need a couple of minutes to think it through, but at least you have a guide in front of you and you're not starting from scratch every time a new option is raised.

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