The Necessity of Boundaries for the Self-employed Mediator and Applying What We Learn to Mediation

Technology is wonderful. We can access email from virtually anywhere. We can speak to clients, friends & family members from the comfort of our living room or from the soccer field. One of my favorite blogs to read is Mediator Tech by Dr. Tammi Lenski because I love learning about new technology that will improve my productivity. Yet there's a downside to being this accessible and I know many others have written about it.

As a self-employed mediator, boundaries have taken on a whole new meaning for me and it's something with which I struggle on a daily basis. When I started my business I made some important decisions. I obtained a separate work phone that is NOT wireless rather than using my existing cell phone or purchasing one for work. I set-up separate email accounts for work and for personal communications, reminding everyone as much as possible which one to use when. I rent an office space outside of my home but also have an office at home whose door I can shut (both with me in it and to keep me out of it). I created a structure to my week so I can insert clients into an existing schedule and so as to remain thoughtful of the number and length of meetings I attend.

Yet call forwarding allows me to direct my office calls to any phone I want, including my personal cell phone. I have High-Speed Internet access at home (a must for me) and can check my work email even when I'm sitting on my couch watching TV. I love my office that's outside of my home, but when I don't have any clients scheduled for the day, it's so nice to sleep a little later, go to the gym, or do some work out on the deck. Then I find myself working late into the night to make up for it. Often times, meetings and clients can't or won't bend to my self-imposed self-employment business structure, so I adjust a little here and a little there to accommodate them.

Don't get me wrong. I love being self-employed. However, it's also more true than not that those of us who are self-employed are always working (or can be, should be, need to be ... yikes!). I think individuals who aren't self-employed have this fantasy that those of us who are self-employed spend all of our time kicking-back at the beach or attempting to write the Great American Novel between client appointments. I could choose to spend my time that way, sure, but the reality is that unless you have lots of money at your disposal, the pressure to be working is a constant, particularly in the early stages of owning a business. Boundaries are an endless struggle.

The reality of this struggle for the self-employed mediator working with divorcing couples is that it provides an excellent opportunity for greater insight into our clients' own struggles with boundaries. Whether physically separated or emotionally separated or both, divorcing couples are still so intimately connected to one another that the first step in mediation often must include assisting them in creating boundaries. Divorcing couples living in the same home can benefit from discussions regarding how to manage their shared physical space, how to create emotional space, and if children are involved, helping them create a "schedule" that ensures their child/ren spend time with both parents. Mediators can help couples who are physically separated consider the consequences of daily phone calls or the emotional impact of dinner "dates" at the other's home. All divorcing individuals could benefit from learning what about the other person's life is still relevant to their own -- and therefore what information they have a "right" to know -- and what is not.

For those of us who worked full-time for someone else prior to starting our own business, it takes a conscious effort to create boundaries between our work and personal life. For individuals used to being part of a couple, the boundaries necessary for creating an independent existence are equally, if not more, challenging to develop and assert. When boundaries blur it can make embracing any one identity that much harder -- self-employed mediator or wife, husband or ex-husband, parents or co-parent.

Probably the most important thing for me to remember is that it just takes time and that I must be gentle on myself through this process. Divorcing couples could stand to be reminded of this as well.

What suggestions, observations or tips do other self-employed individuals have to share?

By Laura L. Noah
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