Asking questions can seem like a really good way to show interest and care . . .until it doesn’t.
Curious open ended questions can open up conversations. For example, ‘What’s going on for you today?’ opens up a conversation more than a closed question such as, ‘How are you?’ Specific follow up questions can be effective as well, such as ‘Why not better than ‘fine’ or why not worse than ‘fine?’ I love exploratory questions, such as ‘What do you like about today so far?’ and deeper questions such as ‘How did you come to believe that?’ When we want details, we ask focused questions, such as ‘When did you learn that?’ or ‘Where did you hear that?’
All of these why, what, how, when, where questions have their place. And all of them when used from a place of kind curiosity can feel good to be on the receiving end of. Being asked questions gives us permission to take up more space in the conversation and to share more. And yet sometimes being on the receiving end of too many questions can feel like being in the hot seat. It can feel intrusive.
Playing with curious statements or ‘non-question questions’ can sometimes create a calmer feeling. For example, ‘Tell me something about your day.’ Or ‘I’d love to hear more about that.’ Or ‘Help me understand your thoughts on that.’ These non-question questions are invitations to open up and share more and can be a welcome change from too many questions.
While I am still reading, listening and learning, I am also moving forward with some action steps. My training team for the Introductory Collaborative Practice Training (15 hours) created 4 diversity scholarships. We funded 2 of them and we partnered with Our Family Wizard for the other 2. We had 15 applicants for these scholarships which has inspired us to continue to offer diversity scholarships for future training. With greater diversity in our Collaborative Practice groups we will be better able to serve diverse communities.
I would like to take this opportunity to recommend I'm Still Here, Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. It is a powerful important read. I found the chapter on Nice White People particularly enlightening. "Most white people believe that they are good and the true racists are easy to spot." "When you believe niceness disproves the presence of racism, it's easy to start believing bigotry is rare, and that the label racist should be applied only to mean-spirited, intentional acts of discrimination." After reading this book, I watched Little Fires Everywhere and saw many of these themes played out, particularly the need/desire/hope that being 'nice' will be good enough.
I will keep reading, watching and learning and I commit to taking more and more pro-active steps.
I have felt a hesitancy to add my voice to this moment. I have doubted the relevance of what a middle class white woman living in Canada has to say in this moment. I also am the mother of a bi-racial son. And so half of whom I call family are white and half are black.
I heard the early calls in the early hours after George Floyd’s death for white folks to talk less and listen more. And so I have been listening. Silently listening.
And then I realized, having just finished teaching a 35 hour course in Collaborative Practice (a consensus building process for families separating and divorcing) that silently listening is not enough.
One of the cornerstones of any consensus building process whether it be mediation or collaborative practice, is active listening. Listening is not good enough if the person speaking doesn’t feel heard. And so, when we teach collaborative practice and mediation, we teach active listening. We teach things like looking someone in the eye, leaning in, and nodding in understanding (not necessarily in agreement). We teach full bodied presence and attention that says, ‘you have the floor,’ and ‘I’m all ears.’ We teach basic stuff like turning off our phones, and removing all distractions. We teach the important of time and space for important and difficult conversations and the value of patience. And we teach stuff like mirroring, where we simply say back to the person speaking, ‘What I’ve heard you say is . . .’ and just as importantly, we teach listeners to then check in, ‘Have I got that right?’ And we teach open ended curious questions like, ‘I’m confused about that, can you try again?’ and the all important question, “Is there anything else you would like to tell me?” and “Do you feel like I get you now?” And we teach encouraging statements like, ‘Tell me more.’
And so what I have to offer at this moment is a commitment to actively listen, to mirror back what I think I am hearing and to check in whether I have it right, to try again if I get it wrong and to keep listening. In time, my commitment will transition from listening to something more. In this moment, I will listen.
Co-parenting during the COVID-19 Pandemic may require more connection and discussion between you and your co-parent and it may require to negotiate some temporary agreements for your respective households. These aren't easy times. With some shared love for your children, some grace under pressure and a 'we're all in this together' attitude, you and your co-parent can have each other's backs during this crisis and safely parent your children.
1. When discussing these issues with your co-parent, consider the following:
4. Compliance with recommendations of authorities is also expected.
5. You may consider a temporary schedule adjustment that has more extended periods in each household such as is typical during the summer holidays to minimize the back and forth.
6. Contact between children and their parents through phone calls, Facetime, Skype, texts, snapchat, etc should be encouraged where possible.
7. Seven guidelines for parenting during COVID-19 released by AFCC - link below
By the end of the second collaborative meeting in two separate files this week, the clients had been given an overview of the legal model with respect to property together, (at the same time) by both of their counsel, all of the financial disclosure had been exchanged and reviewed, a draft net family property statement was about 95% completed with only a few ‘to do’s’ such as speaking with an accountant or actuary about a reasonable range of notional disposition costs for the RRSP’s and investments. The clients had also heard, again together, an overview of the legal model with respect to child support, the sharing of children’s expenses and spousal support. We had reviewed several years of income tax returns and had a handle on the income for the payor, one of which included a base salary, commissions, stock options and RSU’s. We had a handle on the income for the recipient, one of whom was self employed and we were able to calmly discuss and agree on what expenses would be added back to her income for support purposes and the other recipient was a beneficiary of a trust and had received a significant inheritance and we were able to map out a reasonable imputation schedule for her income. We ran and reviewed several support calculations showing the impact of moving around the range of reasonable assumptions we were exploring. The clients left meeting #2 with all of the information (legal and financial) to begin considering financial options that might be acceptable.
In the meantime, we had also explored the things that mattered most to these two couples, everything from keeping the house, to setting aside some monies to help children with a down payment on a house one day, to honouring a financial responsibility to a sibling with mental health issues, to a desire to retire and shift gears to consulting work, to a goal of quitting smoking and the desire to have a portion of their budget for ‘wellness’ to help them quit, to co-parenting goals including safety planning in the event of an addiction relapse, and to cultivating a co-parenting relationship that would allow for shared family meals for special occasions.
Two meetings, held within 4 weeks of each other, each less than three hours, with agendas distributed ahead of time and progress notes distributed within a day or two after. Clients are informed, supported and ready to begin problem solving and developing options in earnest.
Just a little window into what actually happens in collaborative practice.
Collaborative Practice keeps it personal by providing a supportive environment for ‘face to face’ discussions between you and your spouse rather than ‘back and forth’ negotiations and letters between the lawyers. This keeps conflict and misunderstandings to a minimum. Settlements reached in Collaborative Practice are often more creative and tailor-made than those achieved in other dispute resolution processes. The settlements reached help you and your spouse have your most important needs and goals met. Collaborative Practice provides the support and guidance needed to help you resolve the issues arising from your separation and allow you to move on with your life.
Collaborative Practice is a process designed to manage and reduce conflict between parents so that the children are not caught in the middle. Jointly retained Family Professionals are often involved to ensure Parenting Plans are child focused and suited to the needs and personalities of your children. The Family Professionals coach couples on how to talk to their children about the divorce. The Family Professionals or Child Specialists can also meet with children to make sure they are doing 'ok' and can help them have a voice.
In Collaborative Practice you and your spouse will share all relevant financial information. The decisions you make will be based on full information. Jointly retained neutral financial planners often form part of the Collaborative Team. They can gather and present the financial information and they can provide projections to test the long term consequences of various settlement options. Jointly retained accountants and valuators can also from part of the team, when there are business assets, complex income determinations or tax planning opportunities or challenges.
Collaborative Practice Lawyers commit to being part of the solution not part of the problem. In Collaborative Practice, each spouse retains a Collaborative Lawyer who is focused on settlement every step of the way. The Collaborative Lawyer commits to working exclusively toward settlement and to not participate in any court process for this family. We have done away with back and forth letters between lawyers in Collaborative Practice. Instead, we pick up the phone and call each other to talk through issues.
While grieving is a unique and individual process there are many shared elements. There are many helpful descriptions of the grief process however Kubler-Ross’s Grief Cycle is particularly relevant to the process for grieving the end of a marriage.
The stages of grief as set out by Kubler-Ross are as follows:
The process is not always linear and you are just as likely to move back and forth between the stages as to move through them sequentially. Some people do not actually move through all five stages and instead get stuck in one of the stages.
One of the goals of Collaborative Process is to ensure that both you and your spouse can make informed, wise and durable decisions. Often this means, that we need to slow down the process to allow someone to move through a period of intense anger or depression. Be sure to let your lawyer know how you are doing and how you are feeling so that he or she can modify the timing of the process if necessary.
Understanding what the stages of grief look like will help you determine where you are and where your partner is.