Family Mediators are working remotely during COVID-19

The challenges presented by COVID-19 have been inspiring for some. For others, it has not been very good at all.

The underlying structure offered by face to face family mediation is to preserve tradition. Similarly, the idea of ever changing the practices embedded in our judicial system was inconceivable. However, we now have mediators using “Whats App” and “Zoom” and trying hard to learn these new and vital skills to feed our longing to be able to communicate with people in trouble and to help by using our traditional skills of listening and remaining calm, confident and silent alongside our own fears of being unable to keep up with technology.

Court proceedings within the Family Justice system were falling behind and sinking under the restrictions imposed by people being unable to travel into work and for many to be furloughed.

The courts have had to catch up by finding ways of screening hearings and for many working from home.  Then there is  the multi-tasking required of all of us alike, to care for loved ones and friends and to offer our children and grandchildren a seamless transition into a world of “No, you can’t do that” and also to earn a living.

We are not allowed to mix either socially or go to work unless we are key workers or it is deemed to be completely safe.  It is even a struggle to visit the doctor or the optician. You are able to stay at home though.

This was the stuff of dreams for me when I was at school. I recall watching our beautiful, luxurious, comfortable, grey cat, Marcus, warming his tummy on top of the boiler in the kitchen in the mornings and watching from the corner of his eye the frantic preparations for his adoring family to leave the warmth. For Marcus, it was just another opportunity for an uninterrupted long, dreamy, cosy sleep. For me, it was rain coat and “wellies” to walk that long mile to school and to arrive often soaking wet and cold to start lessons after eternal assembly.

They were good days actually and we all had to do it.  We were pretty tough.

We now have a generation who appears to be developing depression and anxiety. We experience fears of going out in case we are breaking rules and at the risk of offending someone.  It is not that bad and people are beginning to think for themselves and to rationalise where they stand. After all we are all much in the same place.

This is actually mediation. There are choices available and families are working together sharing incredible and innovative ideas to keep children physically and mentally fit.  This is such a strong focus. I heard of one mother who gave her teenage children specific roles of the day.  Firstly, the fun of doing the “Joe Wicks” workout and then “enjoying” the structure of home schooling, only to be followed by the opportunity of shopping with individual lists and trusted individual purchasing power. This must have served a mutual need to have some space away from home and siblings.

We have had the opportunity to learn about children and how they are affected by the changes and the need for families to access mediation and other resources to help alleviate the loneliness and the giving in or flexibility   that aligns with being able to cope.  I am fascinated by human beings and their wonderful attitudes ranging from young and old to meet these new challenges.  For some, this is not new. For others, it has been revealing just how much can be achieved by remaining at home or even giving some time to a person who is alone or even, just a smile. This is of course difficult behind a mask but all is possible. So, this morning waiting for that blood test and listening to the conversation about the shared problem of glasses steaming up when wearing a mask and possible ways to overcome this. Then there was the poor man who believed he had an appointment today and his efforts to persuade the masked lady behind her desk that he had made an on-line appointment.  No luck there I am afraid. He did concede but it was difficult for him.

Then, the joy of being told that I have fantastic veins, which is the dream of any phlebotomist apparently.  There is so much that we take for granted and it can actually add to our day and apparently for others.  Just try to keep positive and take advantage of those moments when you want to share those feelings even at the risk of sounding daft.

This is the role of a family mediator. We hear some very sad stories but are always willing to listen. We are unable to invoke change but do, in some ways, help people to feel acknowledged and to feel a sense of normality in this difficult and trying time.  In turn, they can then share their own sentiments and wishes to make change which may seem insurmountable when you are left alone to worry.

So, when did you last have a holiday?   That used to be a very ordinary question. Now, it is probably not the best way to start off a positive conversation. Perhaps, instead we should be checking out the best hair dye and how much we have learned from having to do these things ourselves. After all, we are in the same boat.

There are new opportunities for learning and considering the future of others once our clever scientists have discovered how to put Coronavirus back in its box.   The trick is not to become disillusioned. I watch people walking their beloved dogs and the joy and time they are having to spend together.  They are lucky of course and many do not have that opportunity other than to make plans for the future. They may be feeling that their only route is towards disillusionment and depression. Then, there is the gentleman who lives round the corner and who sat outside enjoying the summer months.  He is 93 and I didn’t notice him before but I have learned so much from him over these past few months. For example his joy of simple pleasures past and of his calm acquiescence to the privileges of old age and experience.  The government during crisis has to gauge behaviour shifts in adults. I ask is it working. I hope so but if only we all had the wisdom of that old man but it doesn’t work like that and never did.

In mediation, people who have private law family disputes are told by the judicial system that they will need to go to a mediation assessment before they are able to take their legal case to court. They seem ok about this as it is an opportunity to speak and rationalise about what is happening in their personal life and how it impacts on others. It really is important.

We have discovered just how capable many people are once they realise their own skills which may be enhanced by the help of a mediator who is a facilitator and an impartial third party to other people’s disputes. For many, the “bossiness” from the powers that be, ranging from politicians to the courts still work but I believe that people are beginning to think differently. We used to listen to our mothers and grandparents for advice. We now listen to Google.

I like being part of the mediation world because mediation is empowering people; not bossiness. It has to embrace change which keeps everyone relevant.

It remains difficult for parents to give advice since none of the old reassurances or job hunting tips now apply.  Even meeting new people is different and obtaining new opportunities that previously were available by way of graduate schemes, apprentices. These have largely disappeared I believe. I try to focus on children who are in need of urgent help to plan their lives and who are faced with predictions of high unemployment levels and also the change of family structures. These are the people who need our help in looking at pooling family resources to stay together and help old and young.

Let us hope that we shall soon return to enjoy the things we rather took for granted and to perhaps make some changes in addressing our own individual futures.

Tricia Muzalewski FMC and Law Society Accredited Family Mediator

Wynn Mediation                                                                                                              November 2020