‘If things don’t change, they’ll stay the same’
From where does a family get its shape? Family dynamics are one among a multitude of factors contributing to and created by the shape of a family: how the family appears to all who view it, from within and from without, historically and contemporaneously. Family dynamics are the continuous, multiple processes of perceived connecting and disconnecting; disconnecting and reconnecting. Some dynamics are noticed by most. Others form in the eye of beholders. Some dynamics sustain; others ephemeral. Family and personal heuristics develop around dynamics, melding into the feedback loop to form a taxonomy of connections.
When together the connections, disconnections and re-connections generally form patterns of affirmation it is likely that a sense of personal and family identity, resilience and optimism will come to the fore. When family interactions are characterised by conscientiousness and gratitude, for example, research indicates that family members are likely to be predisposed to happiness, among other qualities. 
When, for some period of time, there are patterns of depletion the resulting prevalence of disconnections and weak re-connections can predispose the family and its members to processes which have effects ranging from stagnation to fragmentation. Those patterns can become established to the extent that family heuristics become premised mainly on criticism, stonewalling, defensiveness and contempt there is little scope for gratitude and little motivation for conscientiousness, predisposing the family to bypass opportunities for happiness. Sooner or later one or more members of an unravelling family is likely to conclude that ‘if things don’t change, they’ll stay the same’. This is when it is time to find a qualified, accredited and registered practitioner who has the current Mediating with Families ‘under their belt’.
Since the success of the first edition of Mediating with Families in 2000, Mieke Brandon and Linda Fisher have kept their text contemporary. Having been developed over more than 20 years, this fourth edition is influenced by and influencing the Silent Generation through to the Millennials. Family values have changed considerably since the late 1990s when the first edition was planned and drafted and some of the Silent Generation were in their 50s to the late 2010s when the fourth edition was being planned and written and some of the Millennials were in their late 20s. As the hard-working Silent Generation, born between 1925 and 1945 evolved into the high-achieving Boomer Generation, born between 1946 and 1964, the variety of shapes of families increased, family values shifted, and connections, disconnections and re-connections took on changing forms and significance. Further shifts in values occurred with the ‘she’ll be right’ Gen X, born between 1965 and 1981 and then with the Millennials, 1982 to 2004 who are underway reshaping values of family, work, leisure and finance. Shifts in values were exemplified by the universally emancipating shift in rights of December 2017 when the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 (Cth) was passed by the Parliament.
During the period of growth between the first and the fourth editions of mediation theory and practice, the concept of family has undergone significant social change. Perhaps each in their own way, mediation and families have transformed in the way that a child, born in 2002 has developed over the same time. As with the child, a synergistic mixture of nature (evolution) and nurture (largely policies and the legal system) has brought family mediation into the second decade of the century.
A signature attribute of Mediating with Families, fourth edition, is that it has maintained its versatility and relevance through numerous sets of changing values. How has it done so? Primarily, by subtly and consistently adhering to the fundamental notion of mediation as a process by which to guide participants through an interests-oriented exploration of their content in the context of their values to reach pragmatic outcomes. And in other ways besides: by expressing concepts inclusively; by making space for individuality throughout the text and the mediation process and by addressing a range of developmental stages from adolescent to elder years.
I have had the pleasure and privilege of reading and reflecting on each edition. The books sit side-by-side on my shelves, each careworn; each a broader version of their older sibling.
Together with its versatility and contemporary relevance, the signature style that permeates each edition remains as welcoming, insightful, understated and highly accessible as ever. The text is approachable in a way that invites a certain reciprocity. Linda and Mieke offer their insights for the consideration of the reader, rather than as immutable truths. They have written and refined a text that understates its place in the world of family mediation and is all the more accessible and therefore influential for it.
This edition, like those before it, broadcasts the pivotal message of previous editions: at all times think about yourself as a mediator and the effect you and your interventions are likely to be having on participants. As I read Mediating with Families, the sum of the substantive content and the interactive opportunities evolved and still involves into heightened awareness of three particular mediator meta functions which having engaged me and maintained my curiosity throughout:
- mediators facilitate participants’ well-being
- mediators demonstrate respect for ‘help seekers’
- mediators display compassion for vulnerable participants
The excellence that precedes this edition is the excellence of this edition.
In many ways, this edition is brand-new. In other ways, it is a classic. There is new material of every kind together with updated material. The updates and the new material are integrated into the wisdom of previous editions to provide new and refreshed, stimulating, reflective learning experiences. Each chapter has been updated with information and analysis as well as with recent legislation, references and resources and where appropriate, with additional figures, case studies, dilemmas and reflexive exercises. Completing the text are 14 appendices. The first 13 appendices are essential proformas for practitioners. The fourteenth, on page 685, needs to be read rather than described.
Specifically, the inclusion of neuroscience and cultural norms and family violence raise new questions which lead to new hypotheses and new practices. Newly included practices range among interventions for moving participants from negative to positive perspectives to Child Inclusive Practices to mediator practices of supervision and reflection. New breadth and depth in the scope of mediation processes and hybrid mediation processes for diverse situations blend in the authors’ succinct, clear style. Care and protection matters, elder issues and farm debt circumstances as well as FDR-for-one and mediating with participants who may be vulnerable are introduced in this edition. In addition to the new substantive content is an overview of the modalities of online mediation and e-mediation. And necessarily, since mediation takes place in the ‘shade of the law’, there is an analysis of the impact of the recent FLA amendments on mediator impartiality. All of these you can see in plain view in the Contents pages and the Index.
There is, however, more to Mediating with Families 4e than the generous amount that meets the eye. The versatility of Mediating with Families, second edition, was confirmed in the third edition and remains a distinguishing attribute of the fourth.
Such is the comprehensiveness that you can choose a topic and trace it through the book. And such is the accessibility that you can now do this very efficiently. When reviewing the second edition, for example, I investigated mediator meta-functions. In the third, I adjusted my lens from panoramic to ‘wide angle’ to macro on any number of aspects of mediating with families. This versatility of format remains. And … there is more!
For the current review I decided to put my previous experience of the versatility, breadth and depth of Mediating with Families to the test on a subject so recently topical that it is at present largely the focus only of specialist professional groups. What could I learn and confirm from Mediating with Families 4e regarding the nexus of family mediation and infant and child mental health?
Infant and child mental health and family well-being
Children, from infants to adolescents, are in a unique and potentially compromised situation in family separation. Parents separate; children are separated. Separation usually follows and is followed by an unsettled period ranging from difficult tensions to serious conflict. In separation situations, children have little agency within the family and infants have none. Their flourishing, both natural and nurtured, is likely to have been set back during the periods before, during and after the separation. According to the Valuing Children Initiative, when children flourish so does society.
In 1989, The Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history, changed the way children were to be viewed and treated, emphasising their position as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects Rights state entitlements which form a crucible for interests and from interests can be identified ‘best interests’.
Appropriately and perhaps belatedly, infant and child mental health is a movement that has recently developed a public profile. Over the last decade, as the reality of adult and adolescent mental health has progressively been acknowledged and then accepted publicly, the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health (AAIMHI) has been drawing attention to the field of infant mental health. The Association uses the description of infant mental health of Osofsky & Thomas (2012):
The developing capacity of the infant and young child (from pregnancy to 3 years old) to experience, express and regulate emotions; form close and secure relationship; and explore the environment and learn all in the context of the caregiving environment that includes family, community, and cultural expectations as multidisciplinary approaches to enhancing the social and emotional context of infants in their biological, relationship and cultural context. It requires expertise and conceptualisation from variety of different disciplines and perspectives including research, clinical practice and public policy.
The generic family mediation conversation regarding children’s ‘best interests’ and separation has been regularly reworked since the ‘modern era’ of family law commenced in 1975. Only recently and selectively has it been deepened by the topic of infants’ and children’s mental health and their related rights.
The concepts of ‘best interests’ and the right to sound mental health provide different perspectives on children’s propensity to flourish. ‘Best interests’ are aspirational and provide a guide. It is an entry-level, generalist concept, ideal for many circumstances and measured by impression. Sound mental health, conveyed by a description, is practical and provides/requires criteria and is measurable in a standardised way. It is a specific concept, applied to individual circumstances. Thinking in corporate terms it could be said that focusing on ‘best interests’ is the vision for parental decision-making regarding all children in all circumstances and that fostering sound mental health is the mission of decision-making by each parent for each child.
Among many factors affecting infants’ and children’s mental health, which come within the scope of FDR, are parenting style, amount of sleep, child safety, family predictability. Parent mental health is another factor. The dynamics of separation are therefore likely to affect infants’ and children’s mental health.
What does Mediating with Families have to say on the topic of infant and child mental health in the setting of mediated parental separation?
Infant and child mental health and family well-being in Mediating with Families 4e
For this fourth edition, I used ProView, the Thompson Reuters e-book platform to follow my chosen topic. It is an added dimension of the versatility that previous editions of Mediating with Families provided in their detailed Contents pages, Index and section headings. With the high functionality of ProView, I located significant content and references on the nexus of family mediation and infant and child mental health. My search for ‘children’ brought up 2043 results. My search within children/infants for mental health, yielded 265 results. Mental health is referred to throughout the text in at least half of the chapters. More specifically, excerpts from chapters 2, 4, 5, 8, 11 address mental health and children.
In addition to the specific references noted above, suffused throughout the text, is the subtext of compassion toward children in ways that are child focused, child inclusive and child responsive.
This is a book which has been carefully written, that is, written with care for its variety of audiences, individually and collectively. Each reader will find Mediating with Families provides the constellation of readers who are professionally and pragmatically interested in the practicalities, the possibilities and the perceptions of mediating with families with a holistic and detailed contemporary compendium that is consistently welcoming, worldly and wise. I congratulate the authors.
-  Brandt, A. Science proves that Gratitude is Key to Well-being Psychology Today posted July 30, 2018
-  Beaton, C. 7 Things Conscientious people will never do Psychology Today posted May 22, 2017
-  Gottman Relationship Blog April 29 2013
-  Brandt, above n 2
-  Beaton, above n 3
-  I use ‘shade’ advisedly to indicate the care for mediation provided by the law
-  Halsmith, M. above n 7, n 8
-  Savage, L. (2016) Valuing Children Initiative Foundation Paper p.3 valuingchildreninitiative.com.au
-  unicef.org.crc
-  Savage, L. (2016) Valuing Children Initiative Foundation Paper p.3 valuingchildreninitiative.com.au
-  Savage, L. above n 12