Category Archives: Blog

Fear

Fear is a strong emotion. We can experience it walking down a dark street and we can experience it watching a suspenseful movie. We can also experience extreme physical symptoms with fear. Our heart beat may accelerate causing panic attacks, our palms may sweat, we may feel weak and dizzy and we may become very anxious if the fear escalates. No matter what the symptoms may be, fear is an emotion that most people would like to avoid. And the fear you feel, whether real or not, can turn into anger.

Family members can also experience fear when there is conflict within the family. For example, let’s say your mother’s dementia is progressing and you view your sister’s care for your mother inadequate. Yet, for some reason, you are afraid to discuss the matter with your family. Perhaps, as children, your sister was one tough cookie and you never won an argument with her. Or the sight of your mother’s condition scares you so much that you can’t begin a conversation about her care. So instead of doing something you sit in silence and watch things deteriorate.

Having these much needed family conversations is so important for you, your mother and for your family relationships. Yet, the fear keeps you silent until a crisis happens and then the family is in chaos and unable to arrive at the best decision.

Family Mediation has been effective in helping family members manage their fear in order to resolve family conflict. When family members are at a mediation session, a trained neutral mediator assists in creating a safe platform for everyone to air their concerns without being belittled and dismissed by other family members. In fact, ground rules that specifically address this matter are addressed at the beginning of the session. More importantly, the mediator will make sure that each family member listens to and understands what is being said so that they can respond in an appropriate meaningful way. Once this process begins, the fear and potential anger dissipates and family members begin to relax, feeling confident that they are being heard. Finally, the family is on the road to reaching a mutually agreeable resolution.

At one family session I mediated with my partner, Gail, one daughter was initially afraid to be in the same room with her sister. She experienced physical and emotional fear. Each sister took a turn explaining their concerns about the care of their mother and the role each daughter had in that care. As mediators, we made sure that the details, feelings and reasons for these concerns were expressed. After going back and forth making sure that everyone was on the same page as to what was being said, the way in which the sisters communicated changed. They no longer were angry, fearful, or resistant to the process. At the end, the sisters were able to reach an agreement regarding the care of their mother and they even hugged one another.

Rather than reliving childhood family dynamics in fear, family members can communicate effectively with the help of a family mediator. Therefore, the next time you are afraid to talk to a family member, ask yourself if the fear you are feeling is working for you. When you realize it isn’t, think about family mediation.

Different Conversational Styles: A Recipe for Conflict

A Recipe for Conflict: Different Styles of Communication

Deborah Tannen, a linguist, has written extensively on issues of communication and the difficulty people have talking to one another. She’s written about communication between couples, among families, between mothers and daughters and between sisters. It’s so interesting for me to read these. I relate to them from my own family situations, have seen my friend’s families reflected in her writing, and, as a mediator working with families, I hear the voices of people with whom I have worked.

The points Ms. Tannen make are so relevant to our lives. She writes about the power relationship that plays a role in interaction with mothers and daughters. How often have we bristled at the criticism from our mothers, whose approval we seek, while accepting the same remarks from our friends? While many people have written about sibling rivalry, Tannen writes about how that rivalry and the roles assigned to us as children effect our communication as adults.

Through our mediation practice, we see how the competitiveness of sisters, starting from a young age, impedes their ability to talk to one another without the past getting in the way. This so often boils down to the proverbial, ‘Mom always liked you best’, a conversation stopper for siblings. And then there are the labels that are given to children and stick with them even when they are adults. Giving kids titles like ‘the smart one’ or ‘the talented one’ is likely to cause the resentment which surfaces over the years and obstructs any meaningful communication. Each sibling is an individual and has his/her own conversation style. Some people are reserved when they talk, others aggressive, some emotional and these style differences, when interacting, can lead to ineffective communication. Sometimes the conversations cannot get past the style to the substance. After childhood, siblings can avoid dealing with these life-long antagonisms but later in life they may resurface and interfere with necessary conversations.

As mediators, we have seen siblings who are now confronted with the need to talk about serious issues regarding their parent’s well-being or estate matters. The inability to get past the old rivalries, resentments or ‘he said, she said’ conversations keeps them from being able to talk, have relationships with each other and their nuclear families, and deal productively with issues that require a resolution. For some people, a facilitated conversation is the best options for preserving relationships, resolving conflicts, making joint decisions, and being able to move forward, rather than letting the past get in the way. Tip: Consider reading Ms. Tannen’s book before those difficult conversations and make an outline that can guide the points you want to make and sticks to the issues.

 

DEAL MAKING VS. MEDIATION

We’ve heard a lot about Donald Trump’s deal making skills lately and how he plans, as President, to make huge trade deals that will benefit the United States. However, after all this talk about how Trump will make these successful deals, I am left with the feeling that Trump is only interested in a deal that gives him what he wants with no regard to the needs of the other party. As an alternative to “deal making,” mediation provides an environment where there is an equal balance of power so that parties can reach a mutually agreeable resolution.

Deal making and mediation are similar since they both provide a process in which parties can reach an agreement or resolution. However, there are significant differences in how these procedures achieve this goal. The deal making/negotiation procedure tends to focus on how you can get your opponent to agree with your terms. That would be a successful agreement. On the other hand, mediation, with the help of trained mediators, encourages parties to have an open and honest conversation so that everyone understands the positions and underlying concerns being expressed at the table. Once that is achieved, the parties can then become creative and discuss a resolution that benefits both parties. A mediated resolution does not always mean that there is a compromise where a party has to give up something to reach an agreement. Rather, through mediation, the parties agree to terms that they both believe give them the best resolution, thereby establishing a win-win situation.

Unlike negotiation, mediation provides a process where parties are more likely to feel like they both got a good deal. Walking away from the table with that feeling can only ensure that the parties will comply with the terms of the agreement. More importantly, such good feelings will preserve the parties’ relationship, whether they are family members or business associates.

Ruth Weinreb

Family Therapy vs. Family Mediation

As a mediator who specializes in elder/family mediation, I frequently get asked to compare family mediation and family therapy. Usually a family member tells me that the mediation process sounds like therapy. While the two processes share certain elements, they are completely different.

MedicineNet.com gives the following definition of family therapy , “Family therapy: A type of psychotherapy designed to identify family patterns that contribute to a behavior disorder or mental illness and help family members break those habits. Family therapy involves discussion and problem-solving sessions with the family. Some of these sessions may be as a group, in couples, or one on one. In family therapy, the web of interpersonal relationships is examined and, ideally, communication is strengthened within the family.”

On the other hand, family mediation is about resolving a dispute. It is about family members finding a way in which they can reach a mutually agreeable resolution to a dispute. The dispute can be about the care of an elderly family member or the sale of the family summer home. Family mediation does not dwell on family dynamics, the role each family member plays in the family or family history. Moreover, unlike family therapy, family mediation is a shorter process. Families come together for only a few hours in order to find a resolution.

Family mediation and therapy do share some elements. Both are about communication and they both provide a safe environment where family members can engage in open and honest discussions. Family therapy and mediation also have a common benefit of improving family relationships and the way families handle future conflict.

Although family therapy and family mediation appear to be similar because they both involve families and the way families communicate, the orientation of each process is significantly different. Families need to be cognizant of these differences in order to select the process that can best address and meet their family needs.

Ruth Weinreb

Why Refer To Us

We practice family mediation with a specialty in Elder and Adult Family mediation and Parent and Teen mediation.  Our focus is on communication between family members and preserving family relationships. Most people associate mediation with labor disputes and divorce. It’s a great product we are selling, but most people do not know what it is. Instead they make assumptions, and they are often so far off the mark.

Mediation is a form of conflict resolution. There are a lot of similarities between what we do and what mediators are trying to accomplish in the Middle East. (A mediator in that region told me he would rather work with the parties from countries there than the combative families we see.) In both cases, people can not reach agreement on an issue, are stuck in their positions, and can no longer speak civilly to one another without someone facilitating the conversation and insuring it’s productive.  Continue reading Why Refer To Us

Family Tensions During the Holiday Season

The holidays are fast approaching. For some this is a happy time, getting ready to be reunited with family. For some, it’s a dreaded time, knowing that family get-togethers can inflame tensions that lay dormant, or are long distance, the rest of the year.

Susan used to love the holidays. She took over holiday dinners after her Mom decided it was just too much work. She lives nearest to her Mom and was happy to assume the responsibility. Unfortunately her mother’s health has been declining in the last couple of years. She has been getting more and more forgetful and disoriented. Now, in addition to her job and looking after her own home and family, Susan has been taking on the responsibility for many of her mother’s household chores and her healthcare, the frequent doctor’s visits, and her medications. The stress is too much. It is time to consider other living arrangements or, at the least, an aide. But two of her siblings insist that Mom sounds okay to them. Holidays have become a nightmare. For the last two years, she and her siblings have argued about their mother’s care and the problems never get resolved, things just always seem to get worse. Surely this year will be a rude awakening for them; Mom is noticeably and undeniably worse.

Maybe your family is experiencing a similar situation. Or maybe you know a family who is struggling with a similar problem.

For some families, it’s the tension between the adult children and Mom, who is caring for Dad. The emotions make it hard to accept what is happening to Dad, leaving the children to question the decision-making of the parent in charge.

Or the brothers and sisters who get together and question the decisions made by the one who has assumed the role of primary caregiver.

For some, this is the first time in a year that they are confronted with the condition of a parent whose disease has progressed, and it’s a tough reality to face. They can no longer put off the inevitable decisions that need to be made. It’s now a question of safety.

There are so many difficulties that arise when a family member is diagnosed with dementia. Anticipating the future, there are decisions to be made, and a continuing need to make decisions as the disease progresses. These decisions often strain the relationships among family members. The fights can go on for months or years without any decisions being made. In some instances, it takes a crisis for the family to act. In fits of anger, a brother or sister might resort to the courts, hoping to gain control of the situation. This is costly, time intensive, takes a long time to resolve, frays the relationships even more, and ultimately leads to a decision that is dictated to the family. There is a better option.

In recent years, elder and adult family mediation has been recognized as a successful means of dealing with family conflict. It has become an accepted form of conflict resolution. Articles in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal talk about adult siblings who have solved their family problems through mediation.

It is a voluntary, confidential process for resolving disputes. Families get together with a neutral third party who facilitates a conversation resulting in the parties creating an action plan: what needs to be done, who needs to do it and when it needs to be done. There’s no right or wrong: everyone’s point of view is valid. It’s a chance for family members to discuss the issues in a non-confrontational conversation, explain their concerns and positions, and be empowered to make their own decisions. Aside from the fact that mediation is more cost effective than litigation and takes less time to resolve matters, it preserves relationships that will be, in most cases, irreversibly damaged by the adversarial, aggressive legal option.

Mediation is not therapy. It is a problem-oriented process and does not attempt to address deep, underlying problems in sibling relationships. There is no blame, but there is an acknowledgment of each person’s opinions and concerns.

Parents of all ages often lament that their children don’t get along.. Parents hope that as their children age, the family stays intact. It is a gauge of success for a parent. Mediation has been proven to help elderly parents reach that goal for their children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parent/Teen Mediation: Why Kids Return to the Table by Gail Goodman

I enjoy mediating with teens and parents. The cases are sometimes referred by social services or probation, or sometimes a school counselor or social worker will recommend trying mediation. Initially I made the assumption that any young person coming in who has been referred by an official agency, some under the threat that this was the last chance before being taken out of the home, would come in intending to comply with the terms. This is not always the case.

After greeting the parents and teen, I explain the mediation process and the ground rules and tell them that there is a commitment to attend a one hour session for 4 consecutive weeks. The parents generally agree but the teen will usually, and sullenly, only agree to see how it goes. There are no guarantees except for the first session. Yet at the end of all those first sessions, they all agree to come back; that’s a 100% retention rate. This isn’t to say that every mediation resolved all the conflicts or necessarily ended ‘successfully’, but just having everyone return every week was something of a victory. What made them agree? What changed their attitude? Here’s what I got from some of the feedback and my observations. Continue reading Parent/Teen Mediation: Why Kids Return to the Table by Gail Goodman

Second Guessing the Judge by Gail Goodman

So you want your day in court? You feel someone is taking advantage of you and you’re entitled to see a judge. Understandable but not necessarily smart. I had a case in small claims court that illustrates that all too well. (Not that there aren’t many more cases that I could use as an example. This example extends to other types of cases that could be litigated.) The case was a landlord/tenant case. The parties initially went before the judge. The landlord, quite confidently presented his side to the judge, citing the research he used from the internet to prove his case. He didn’t doubt for a minute that he was right, until the judge corrected him on the law. As with other types of research into technical issues on the web, there is a context and additional information that professionals know, whereas the layperson is apt to misinterpret or make a decision based on partial facts. (This also applies to self-diagnosing from a medical website. Before you make plans for your funeral, check with a specialist to see if your diagnosis is correct.) The landlord was not feeling quite so confident now. The tenants also felt they had the law on their side but when the judge pressed them to at least try mediation first, they reluctantly agreed. Continue reading Second Guessing the Judge by Gail Goodman