As a parent, you want what’s best for your kids. But how does this translate in real terms when you’re getting a divorce? Bari Weinberger recently spoke with certified psychotherapist Diane Lang to discuss the consequences of divorce battles for kids and how divorcing parents can emotionally protect children using mediation, a low conflict method for deciding child custody. Is mediation right for you? In the following Q&A, Diane shares her perspective as a therapist. Please watch the video for the complete interview.
Bari Weinberger: Welcome back to Family Law: Jersey Style. We are now here with our special guest Diane Lang, psychotherapist, and we’re here to ask her some questions about families going through mediation and other types of related matters. So, thank you for being here Diane.
Diane Lang: Thank you for having me.
Bari Weinberger: It’s a pleasure absolutely. I was hoping that you can talk first about what you see as some of the effects on children going through divorce?
Diane Lang: Sure. I worked with a lot of parents who are right now in the process of going through a divorce and you’ll hear a lot about the kids. I actually had a client last year whose child was going into seventh grade, which is a very hard time to begin with, and his grades did such a drastic drop, he was an A student and the minute the father left the house within a week the grades dropped. And then it’s something most parents will fear is you know what’s going to happen academically, but there could be also a lot of emotions, they could become socially isolated. They could become very moody, up and down mood swings. They become fearful. You could see also some physical signs, a lot of kids will have a lot of stomach aches, headaches, they don’t want to do what they normally used to do. Some parents are so self-aware of what their child is feeling or what they’re going through and they notice even the smallest changes which is great because if you’re aware of what your child’s feeling or what’s changing, you can help them or at least go up to them and make a point of asking, you know, “Why are you acting different? I see something’s going on, you’re having more headaches”. But then there are parents who are so self-absorbed in their own anger of what’s going on or their own anxiety about the future that they don’t even realize what’s going on with their own kids and that makes it harder for the child. Because a child copes better with divorce if the parents are coping better with divorce.
Bari Weinberger: Absolutely. The tensions and anxieties of the parents often times trickle right down to the children and have similar type of impact, right?
Diane Lang: Well, I’ve seen a lot of kids who actually start taking on the role of a parent. They think they have to start to taking care of the parent now. You know, my mom won’t get out of bed or dad – it could be either way. I’m bringing her breakfast and making sure my younger sisters and brothers are prepared for school because she’s crying, she’s in bed, they’re fighting on the phone, they’re not around tonight, starts fighting, we hear them screaming so I’m soothing my younger brother and sister. And it shouldn’t be like that. But you see that, unfortunately.
Bari Weinberger: And it doesn’t give the child their own opportunity to heal and transition with the process.
Diane Lang: Or even to feel.
Bari Weinberger: Sure.
Diane Lang: Because if they’re so worried about their parents and the changes their parents are going through or what they’re feeling and what they’re seeing then how do they even worry about themselves? So, they won’t express how they’re feeling because they feel that they’ll be a burden on their parent. You see, so many parents who are divorcing because there’s such a lack of communication. And you see that too, you know, they have this fear of communicating, the fear of rejection, fear that no one’s listening or they’re are not being accepted or approved of so they don’t speak to each other or they don’t know how because their parents didn’t either. You know it’s just the vicious cycle that rolls down but then they don’t talk to their kids either because they don’t have that communication. And if anything some parents can become very either angry and they’re yelling all the time. Or they can actually kind of withdraw, so you could see some negative side effects that really affect the kids and such a really horrible way, it’s very sad.
Bari Weinberger: Yes, very upsetting.
Diane Lang: Yes.
Bari Weinberger: As a psychotherapist, what do you see as the benefits of mediation for families and children?
Diane Lang: I actually see there’s a great benefit, for most families. I try to bring that up as an option because what happens is, when you go into mediation, it’s a neutral safe zone. And the real goal or the theme of going to mediation is to make sure that the kids are happy. It’s what’s best for the kids. And with a mediator with, I think a lot of parents don’t realize is you can actually do like a co-parenting program there with the mediators and a lot of my parents who come to me don’t know that. They don’t really know mediation for child custody is, to be honest, and their actually like scared of it. We all know I need a lawyer and you still have a lawyer when you have a mediator. But the mediator could really help you have a co-parenting program.
Bari Weinberger: As a mediator, one of the things I find most benefits the family is that the relationship is preserved to some degree and there’s a level of civility so that the parents are able to better co-parent after the process in lieu of a litigation environment.
Diane Lang: Right. Because they’re less angry when they come out of mediation, that’s what I’ve noticed. There’s not as much blame because a mediator won’t get involved in that because they stay neutral, they don’t allow each other to blame each other or to argue. It’s “Okay let’s work on what’s best for the kids”.
Bari Weinberger: I have very strong opinions about this particular subject but I’m wondering, how do you feel or have you seen children participate in the mediation sessions with their parents and the professionals?
Diane Lang: I, I have never seen it. I have never suggested it. I think that it is not appropriate for a child, especially young child but even teenagers, I would not suggest it. You know the part about mediation that I love is it means the kids are not disrupted. They go on a regular schedule, there’s consistency, they are not involved. So they don’t feel like they’re stuck in the middle. So, if you bring them into mediation I feel like you’re putting them right in the middle and also kind of making them take sides.
Bari Weinberger: How bout those children who you believe are little bit older and they genuinely want to have their child custody preferences known. Is there an environment that you believe is a psychotherapist is better equipped to allow for that type of expression?
Diane Lang: Yes. Instead of bringing them to mediation, you can have family counseling where everybody could sit down and the kids can express how they feel. And what I’ve noticed works for a lot of kids is the parents go to counseling but the kids also go to counseling as well. Because just going to divorce is fearful: because they are fearful of the transition, fearful of the change. “Am I going to see my parents as much” and if they’re young they might have such a fear of abandonment or attachment issues from the divorce. So, by having them all work together, everybody can go to their own separate (counseling) then have family counseling together, it really keeps the family dynamic.
Bari Weinberger: How do you see a therapists or psychotherapists or otherwise, or psychologist even, directly get involved in the mediation process?
Diane Lang: I actually don’t get involved in the mediation process – I try to stay out of the process. What I do is I’d listen to my client and I’d be as non-judgmental as I normally am, but I will definitely listen to it too it so they have support. As for going to a lawyer, I have gone with a few clients to see lawyer when the divorce process begins. I try again not to, because I’m not judgmental but sometimes they have no support system and I’m sure you’ve seen that maybe once or twice too. But, I’ve never gone to mediation session.
Bari Weinberger: Diane, thank you very much.
Diane Lang: Thank you!
Bari Weinberger: So genuinely appreciate you coming today, it’s been wonderful having you and thank you for all of your guidance and your advice.
Diane Lang: Thank you so much for having me, it’s a pleasure.
Thank you Diane Lang for sharing your expertise! Please watch the full video on our Youtube channel and subscribe to watch more upcoming interviews as part of our Family Law Jersey Style series.
Have questions about child custody and parenting time and how mediation can help you protect your children and secure your future? Please contact us to schedule your initial consultation with one of our highly skilled Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group attorneys.