Divorce Mediation and the Building of Tree Forts: A Lesson in Collaboration and Compromise
I don’t have it listed prominently on my resume, but I am a climber of trees and a builder of tree forts. I never thought to add that to my credentials or point it out in my initial consultations with potential clients, but there is a lot I have learned from playing in trees that makes me better at what I do. This week I want to share some thoughts I had as I sat in the remnants of an old tree fort in the oak tree on the outer edge of my property.
I am very fortunate to live on a large piece of land that has beautiful pine trees, liquid ambers, walnut, macadamia, a variety of fruit trees, and two incredible, sprawling oaks. I had occasion to sit down in the shade beneath one of the oaks and enjoy the quiet of the place this past Sunday afternoon. Life sometimes moves at a pace where we forget to visit those places that remind us of what is important. So there I was in this quiet place and I looked up into the canopy of the tree above and there stood the remnants of a tree fort I had built way back when my kids were young and we had just moved onto the property. The wood plank steps attached to the trunk of the tree were still holding and after a cursory inspection of the structural soundness of the fort from below, I decided to climb on up. From there I thought about many things, but since this is a divorce blog I will share three simple lessons or reminders that came to me from my perch; opportunity, perspective and ingenuity/creativity.
Opportunity. Looking at the steps going up into the oak I was reminded of the process of visioning and building the tree fort. It was a collaborative effort with my children. Having tree fort building experience, it was a process of mixing my practical input with their imagining of what they wanted the fort to look like. It was an opportunity for the kid in me to hang out with them as kids. We spent hours envisioning, then building, then climbing up and playing in the tree fort. These memories are priceless. The shell of the fort is a reminder of the opportunity I had to play in the treetops with my children. Life divides our time and as parents we have to work to provide, cook dinner, clean house, and do the other many things that demand our attention. The tree fort reminds me of the important things in life. The opportunity to be with, enjoy, teach and grow with our children is one of those important things.
So where does this fit in with my divorce mediation work? There are also more important things in life than being mired in a long fight over our children and our stuff in divorce. Helping support the well being of children is something that drives my work and gives me satisfaction in helping couples tackle their issues out of Court. Reminding parents of the importance of each of them continuing to have the opportunity to grow and build their relationship with their children before they grow up and head out into the world is part of our work. We can help our clients make sure there is opportunity for the building of tree forts, a game of catch, a tea party, or any other activity that lets the children in us enjoy our children and build our lasting relationships with them.
Perspective. When I climbed up into the tree fort I was reminded of why we even climb trees at all. Everything looks different from above. There are rooftops below. We see over our neighbor’s fences. We can look across and down at birds and we join their world. Everything is framed in leaves and branches and we are quietly suspended above and detached from life that continues on below. Things look different from above and this change of perspective gives new and unique insight.
Part of how divorce mediation works is the mediator comes in and lends a unique neutral perspective to help guide the decision making of the couple. Our input comes from that suspended place that gives us a bird’s eye view of where the couple is and the branch and leaves framed perspective of where they want to go. That detached and insightful angle we are able to bring is an invaluable tool and aid in the work we do.
Ingenuity and Creativity. As I sit up in the tree fort I am somewhat amazed that it is still standing. I had built it over 12 years earlier and while some of the flooring had started to rot, and had been somewhat infiltrated by termites, the basic structure still stood. It was a different me that had built it and I marveled at the engineering feat. When you build tree forts part of the strategy is to maximize your living space given the confines of the branches. This particular tree fort was built running 2×4’s in a triangle incorporating three large limbs of the tree. In the center of the triangle was a trap door that you could push up and climb through from the steps set in the trunk below. Once you climbed through the opening the built in hinges would allow for the trap door to close and the door became the floor of the fort. It was a simple but creative design that allowed me to stretch out my legs comfortably.
Divorce mediation gives us a space to be creative and to use our ingenuity. The solutions we can craft are only limited by our imaginations. It is fair for our clients to look to us to help build the best solution for their family. Sometimes the answers are obvious and we don’t need to build anything too elaborate. Other times the circumstances warrant exploring building unique trap doors that turn into functioning floors. The creativity allowed in our work keeps me coming back looking for ways to put the puzzle pieces together for the new couple that sits before me.
So yes, I am a climber of trees and a builder of tree forts. My kids are grown and I have not had occasion to put these skills to the test with the building of new forts. My past work has given me the appreciation of the importance of helping couples maintain their relationships with their children when those opportunities will necessarily shrink with them in two homes. Our children grow up fast until one day we are left with only the memories of them as children and those relationships we now have with them as adults. That time I spent in the treetops has also graced me with ingenuity, creativity and perspective that makes me better at what I do. Perhaps that should be an interview question to be asked by couples seeking to hire the professional they work with. Maybe I should add it to my business card. Divorce mediation is about honoring and keeping our focus and the focus of the couples we work with on those things that are important in life, like the building of tree forts.
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