Amy is an educator who has been working with families, parents, children, and adolescents since 1996. She is a social science researcher, family advocate, parenting and couples’ advisor, Guardian ad Litem, and mediator. Currently, she is completing a graduate research project on a “Self-Determining Cognitive Model” (SDCM) of conflict engagement that utilizes attachment theory, neuroscience, and game theory as educational tools for clients to go into the prefontal cortex and then get into better alignment with the behaviors and needs that drive their conflict. She is also a somatic practitioner in human sexuality, has two 200-hour yoga certifications, and does trauma-informed yoga and somatic practice.
Ms. Baker is passionate about providing support to couples and families in conflict because of her basic belief that the health of couples’ and families’ lives is crucial to public and global health issues. Amy’s background is in communication, human development (with a specialty in child and neural development), motivation theory, dispute dialogue and conflict resolution, and family mediation.
To that end, Ms. Baker believes it is vital to the fields of family law and mental health that parties be educated in ways to practice better communication, better self-love, better partnering, better parenting. “Know thyself” is fundamental to conflict reduction, both within the marriage or partnership and without, and it is especially important during and after dissolution when figuring out the best ways to co-parent.
Coming together at the outset to choose a parenting plan mediator, parenting plan evaluator, or even a guardian ad litem provides a level of self-determination not afforded by having the court choose one for the parties.
Following is a little Q&A with Amy Baker that explains her vision of "wrap-around" services for the Family.
Hi! So you do a little bit of everything.
AB: I get that a lot, but I would say I don’t really do a little bit of everything. I have a multitude of tools in my toolbox to do precisely one thing: help people self-determine in their family constellation and in relationship. It’s always been the biggest thing in my wheelhouse, and I found that it helps to have tools to do just that.
How did you come upon these tools?
AB: (Laughs) Trial and error! No, seriously. I read a Quora question the other day where someone asked why parenting classes aren’t required in school, and there were only two serious answers, and four others that were probably also serious, but more slapdash. The base of all the answers was that parenting is as private a matter as religion and that there are so many ways that a person could parent that it wouldn’t make sense to take a parenting class until one had become a parent. Now, I don’t entirely agree with that premise, as I think anyone can get in front of anything, but I do agree that with the organic nature of parenting, and the organic nature of relationship, and the organic nature of nearly all interpersonal, socio-emotional interactions, one cannot predict every single outcome with that particular day’s trials, the ramp-up to conflict, the weather, what-have-you. You can, however, have an understanding of developmental stages of life and how humans develop, and you can acquire an understanding of personality types and disorders, family of origin learned behaviors, how a person’s socio-economic, demographic, educational background, and all sorts of other ingredients may impact his or her ability to attract a certain type of situation or relationship, and, being creatures of supreme intellectual capacity, we could put all of those into the cauldron and imagine outcomes. But we don’t do that. And I’m here with The D-I-V Design Agency precisely because I myself did not do that until I went back to school to study it in 2014.
So you were flailing about like the rest of us, then?
AB: I still flail around like the rest of anyone, but I notice models of behavior more readily and I notice my breath and whether I am embodied much more so now. And the reason I do is because I had a number of setbacks that just really took a toll on my mental, emotional, and physical life. Honestly, I believe that stress and grief and anger and resistance created a dis-ease in me ~ a lack of ease, a sustained and heightened stress response ~ that mounted until my body actually did become diseased. I spent a year and a half getting treatment for cancerous cells and finally cancer, and I realized that I absolutely had to be done being angry and not accepting accountability for those things which I have control over, which, for me, were accepting my part in conflict, accepting my partner for who he is, accepting that our relationship ran its course, accepting that there is not always an answer, and accepting that that helps create ease in the body, mind, and heart.
Wow. So then how did you make the leap to The D-I-V Design Agency?
AB: My ex and I lawyered up, we hated each other (even though I would say now that we really deeply loved each other and we had zero tools for finding the language to one another and we were both in really deep with our egos so we were stuck), and we were trying to raise our infant together but were tearing each other up, which really just tore up the baby. It was so awful. It was Clash of the Titans and we were battling on plate tectonics.
So we went to a mediator who was just the worst mediator I could have imagined. The ethics of this mediator were not only absent, but in some sort of black hole that just kept sucking us in and exacerbated conflict. My ex and I were both pretty ravaged by the whole thing, but the truth of the matter is that it went the way that was right and good and perfect for me at that time. Without that horrible mediation, I would not have decided to become a mediator. I would not have decided that the 16 years of child development and parenting classes and parenting support groups I ran were in any way related. It would not have become my driving force to understand the brain chemistry from early childhood that drives the adult brain in often debilitating or self-harming ways, ways that are mostly unknown to the driver of the brain. I would not have wondered what it would look like if families needing support could go to one place and have a lot of support that wasn’t therapy and wasn’t lawyering up. It made me begin to look especially at trauma, the developing male brain, how the sexes internalize or externalize trauma, and how it manifests when not treated or looked at. It made me look at the inculturated notion that, for instance, men don’t cry and they don’t need touch. It made me re-think how I have thought of sex work and sex workers, and attitudes I have held against men in particular who have affairs, use prostitutes, get sugar babies, or even use Tinder.
You do mediation, parenting classes, and are becoming a Somatica practitioner. What else?
AB: My Family Advocacy practice also includes being a Guardian ad Litem, which is a person usually appointed by the courts, and, in fact, I am, but in The D-I-V Design Agency, I am interested in couples self-selecting a GAL as a way to lessen conflict and to truly put the best interests of their children first when they are dissolving their marital or relational union. I didn’t think it would be a popular choice, because who wants to spend more money? But in terms of economics, most people benefit by self-determining the route their divorce is going to go. It lends itself to the fields of behavioral economics, industrial psychology, and human cognition and motivation theory. It also is closely tied to your basic fiscal economics. Choosing a GAL and paying $3000 willingly lends itself to the cooperation of the parties to get feedback on the needs of their children, recommendations for residential schedules, and ways the parties can amicably conduct their business of co-parenting for the duration of their children’s lives, especially their lives as minority aged people.
Another area is in Parent Evaluation, but I tend to look at my role as a parent evaluator, again, in a more self-selecting light. Instead of being called in by the court to evaluate parents’ roles in their children’s lives, which is, by then, pretty combative and dis-eased, I ask parents to be bold and brave by allowing me in as a reflection of what is happening in their lives and the lives of their children. If there are areas where I know things would be improved, I am going to write it up, but instead of the stakes being so high, the report goes to the parents, who then can use it to mediate, not to beat each other emotionally to death, or to be vindictive, which is often how people decide to part. It doesn’t have to be that way. After the evaluation, a couple might wish to have parenting education, with me or with some other agency or individual, or they may come to the mediation table with a different sort of truce or peacemaking agenda. One parent may decide that they wish to be more accountable for their negative behaviors and the impact they have had on the family or on the children, or they may write up an incremental parenting plan where one parent has more residential duties while the other parent gets some help. This is obviously going to work better with families who aren’t struggling with serious addictions or with personality disorders. It is a model for people who have not really gotten all riled up in the legal process or stayed in the relationship until they just want to go for scorched earth. Scorched earth isn’t really a great mindset to come to the collaborative table and problem-solve creatively.
The other areas I do Family Advocacy are in Parent Coordination and helping individuals or couples think about and write Age-Appropriate Parenting Plans in an incremental, stepped way. There are so many variables depending on how old the children are, how close the parents live to one another, whether they are in school or do after-school activities, and whether there are new concerns with parents remarrying and living in stepfamily configurations. Sometimes parents are angry and don’t want to deal with one another, and as a Parent Coordinator, I can both mitigate some of the pain and anger and shame of communication, and also bridge their ability to begin communicating directly with one another. Other times, couples might have me as their GAL, then mediate the parenting plan with recommendations from the GAL report, and then use my services to coordinate after entering the parenting plan into court. It just depends on how well everything goes at each stage of the process.
I read somewhere that “parenting coordination is a made-up, make-work field that has been invented by bottom-feeding extraneous “professionals” who have literally reproduced like bacteria in the family court system.” It was pretty funny because it was under the broader context of the ongoing question about delegation of judiciary process to non-judicial designees of the courts, and it was also about a bad call made by a parent coordinator in Florida or somewhere. The point of what I am doing is to continue to bridge, mend, repair, and move away from the conflicted state long enough to have couples and children start to feel ease in their bodies, minds, and spirits.
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