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Beware of the Middle Man

by Keith McCurdy

Just recently, a parent came in with much frustration.  She described in great detail the ongoing conflict between her teenage daughter and husband.  Regularly they had been arguing back and forth about almost everything.  The least little thing would get them going and then this parent would have to intervene and mediate.  “I just can’t take any more of this nonsense.  One of them has to stop all of this,” I was told very adamantly.  “I just don’t understand.  I have helped them come to so many agreements and yet they still go at it.”   “If my attempts at helping aren’t working, what should I do?” she asked.

Does this scenario sound familiar?  How many of us operate as middle men or mediators between a spouse and a child?  It sounds good and mediation is a hot topic today.  Local schools even have peer mediators and the courts are regularly sending people through mediation to resolve everything from business disputes, to who gets the couch in a divorce.   In many of these situations it even works.  So, why not in a family dispute?

The flaw in the mix is related to power and authority.   In the instance of two petitioners in court or individuals going through divorce, the level of power and authority that each have over the other is about equal.  When the school system employs peer mediation, the students involved in the conflict to be mediated typically have equal power and authority in the situation.  When the power and authority are equal, there is a higher probability that any agreements will be honored.

In a family conflict, all of this is different.  First of all, the power and authority of a child is very different than that of a parent.  Not only does a child not have equal power and authority with a parent, they shouldn’t.  By mediating between a parent and a child we elevate the child to parent-equal status.   The result of this is potentially very damaging.  The child often begins to think they have the same status as the parent and therefore is less respectful.  They begin to view conflicts as disagreements between equals instead of learning to be obedient to authority.  Secondly, when we mediate between a parent and a child, we undermine that parent’s authority in parenting.  By mediating we are saying that this parent is not qualified or does not have their own authority in these matters.  The end result is more conflict and a child who does not respect either parent’s authority.

The first step in changing this is “STOP mediating.”  Never undermine the other parent’s authority.  Unless a parent is being abusive, always support their authority in front of the child.  Yes, even if you think they are wrong or if you disagree with them.  The united front that is demonstrated builds respect for the parental authority and honors the power that both parents have.  If you disagree or believe them to be wrong, address it without the child around.  If a correction, change or apology is to be made, that parent then needs to go back and address it with the child.  As spouses, we are to correct one another just as “iron sharpens iron.”   The whole process, however, should result in building each other up, not tearing each other down.  Whenever we attempt to mediate, this process gets distorted.

Take a moment and ask yourself whether or not you play the middle man and mediate.  If so, stop.   Focus on maintaining a united front with your spouse whenever you deal with your children.   They will respect both of you more.

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