Walk softly and carry a big stick is a variation on a phrase popularized by US President Theodore Roosevelt in a 1903 speech when he said to the crowd “speak softly and carry a big stick”. In other words, attempt peaceful negotiations while also being prepared for confrontation by displaying one’s power, especially elements of force.
When I think of the role of a Parenting Coordinator, this phrase comes to mind but more along the lines of speak/walk softly but carry a very small branch. While there are many goals of the PC process, enforcement of Orders and Agreements should not be at the top of the list. PC clients should be engaged in the process for the articulated goals: parent education; parenting coaching; consensus building in areas of conflict and finally decision-making.
Not surprisingly, clients who have entered into an agreement, or have a court Order often start the PC process with the goal of having the PC ensure that provisions in those agreements or Orders are followed by the other parent. Laudable clauses that state the parents will not speak ill of each other; will support certain activities their children are engaged in, and will not involve new partners in the children’s lives before discussing the issue with the other parent are all goals we would like to see realized but when they are not, there is really no enforcement mechanism available to the PC. Clients are often frustrated when they come to the realization that although they spent months negotiating or litigating a file, their agreements are not all enforceable in the PC process. How, as the PC do we “make” someone take a child to hockey? how do we “make” one parent not speak ill of the other?
Ensuring that counsel, clients and the PC are all clear on the role of the parenting coordinator in a closed PC process is essential at the outset of any file. Whether you make this part of your intake, your first joint meeting, your first counsel call, or all of the above, managing client expectations in this area is critical if you do not wish to disappoint and frustrate your clients at a later date. A review of realistically enforceable clauses in the Parenting/Separation Agreement or court Order is a valuable education exercise early on in the PC process.