Should I help or stay out of the way?


I'm in a relationship with a fabulous man (Joe) who is the father of a wonderful 5-year-old (Jack). Joe and Jack's mom's romantic relationship ended before Jack was born. And while they have no legal agreement as to Jack's care, they have done a great job raising a healthy, smart, kind, fun boy together. Jack lives with his mom and Joe contributes monetarily to the household and sees Jack nearly every day and many weekends. I give them credit for making it work to date. However, things are now getting more difficult. Jack's mom is taking Jack away most weekends and on holidays, and Joe is not happy about this. And while he communicates it to Jack's mom, nothing changes. In fact, it is getting worse. I have been encouraging mediation as a way to a compromise, but Joe resists. I want the best for all four of us, but I have no way to make it happen for them. Should I continue my mediation encouragement or simply step back?

– Mediation Supporter, MA

You can encourage. You can ask questions. Then you have to step back.

I know that you'd love to jump in and fix this for everyone (and for the record, I love the mediation idea), but you're in a tough spot. This isn't your kid. The last thing you want to do is to create more tension between two parents who are trying to get along.

You can be Joe's friend by listening to him and quizzing him about his options. Ask him whether he's ever emailed Jack's mom about his issues. Maybe Jack's mom will pay more attention to the problem if she reads about it, as opposed to just hearing a quick complaint during a drop-off or pickup. Also ask Joe why he's bothered by the idea of mediation. Is he worried about turning an almost-pleasant arrangement into a legal battle? Is he worried about paying for professional help?

If there are questions he can't answer, advise him to go ask an expert. Perhaps he can get some legal help on his own. Maybe that's the step that will lead to a real plan.

There are ways for you to be helpful in this situation. I'd just recommend that you do more asking than advising. It's the best way to keep your relationship safe.

Readers? How can the letter writer make recommendations without getting too involved? How involved should she be? What is her role in this? Help.

– Meredith