What the London poppies can teach us about ending family conflict

11 Nov 2014 @ 11.10 am
| Family

York family mediator Emma Heptonstall reflects on how we can bring an end to family disputes happening right now

In October I was fortunate to be able to go and see the poppies at the Tower of London. This exhibition is to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the start of the First World War.

The installation is nearly complete now and its absolutely amazing. Beauty tinged with sadness.

Now, I’m lucky. None of my family were lost in that war, and yet it was still very moving watching the volunteers carrying the carefully crafted ceramic poppies in boxes down to the installation site. The boxes clearly carried precious cargo.

ceramic-poppies-first-world-war-installation-london-tower-3The atmosphere was sombre and silent. And as I stood and watched in silence, it was as if each volunteer were a pall bearer for each of the 888,246 lives that were lost.

It was truly a sight to behold and an image that will remain with me for sometime.

You may be thinking: but what has it got to do with separating and divorcing couples or family mediation?

Here’s the thing.

We often think about war as a national or international conflict. We think Afghanistan, Iraq, or the Falklands to name but a few in our modern world.

However, war is being waged everyday in courts across the land as couples or organisations in conflict fight with each other.

It doesn’t really matter if your conflict is separation and divorce. It doesn’t matter if its a commercial dispute or an Employment Tribunal.

The process is the same. Its about winners and losers.

We might have ‘won’ the First World War, but 888,246 men didn’t. Their sacrifice was a huge one, and one which we honour and remember each Armistice Day, but how many wars are being waged right now in court rooms that are pointless, futile and just causing damage?

It reminds me of the Edwin Starr song War, popularised for my generation by Frankie Goes To Hollywood:

War – huh
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Say it again…

War – I despise
’Cos it means destruction
Of innocent lives
War means tears
To thousands of mothers

In respect of separation and divorce, I’m wondering how many children are the casualties of parents at war?

As I stood looking at the poppies at the Tower, I wondered how many there would be if each poppy represented one child who doesn’t have a relationship with both their parents because of separation and divorce.

Some figures suggest that it could be as high as one million.

That just isn’t acceptable.

There aren’t enough poppies and the Tower to reflect that.

There is a better way

The week of November 24 is DR Week. DR week is about alternative dispute resolution.

It’s a recognition that there is a better way to manage conflict. Mediation is one such way. You can find out more by following the twitter handles #resolutionweek or #abetterway.

Earlier in the year, I wrote about the lessons we can take from Dr Seuss with his story about The Zax.

Stubbornness, fighting and wanting to ‘win’ doesn’t do anything except harm relationships. Talking through your point of view, expressing your wants and needs and being willing to listen and to compromise preserves relationships.

It rebuilds trust. It allows you to move forward.

Between 1914 and 1918 a generation of children lost their fathers. Sadly, its still happening. But in 2014 we have choice. There is a #betterway

I’ll say it again:

War – huh
what is it good for?
Absolutely nothing.


  Emma is a family mediator and coach with Your Family First, a family mediation service based in York

  The Your Family First website contains lots of free information to support you in your separation or divorce

  Email [email protected] or phone 01904 697760

  Read all Emma’s columns here