Tag Archives: family mediation

RE-EVALUATING RELATIONSHIPS AS WE GET OLDER

Stress in American life has been a popular topic for a long time. We have been dealing with it from an early age; remember studying for tests in school or waiting for the college admissions letter? This was just the beginning. Whether it’s commuting, home repairs, deadlines, or caregiving, we have a lot of stress factors in our daily life. Some we can control, some we can’t. As we get older, we are often not as susceptible to some of the old stress factors, having more distance and maturity to deal with them. Or some of us are retired and have retired some of our work stress. But for many of us, the one stress that seems to survive and, for some people thrive, is family stress.

So many of us dread the holidays, which seem to come around with increasing frequency as we age. Relationships with siblings or parents that were tense growing up, seem to have gotten worse as time has gone by. It doesn’t matter that some of the disagreements are rooted in our teen years or earlier, these disputes that drove us apart have grown and festered with time and we have avoided dealing with them. I know people who have reconciled when a parent has died but shouldn’t we be thinking about our relationships now and not wait for something so drastic? I have worked with adults who have elderly parents where fights over their care and estates has divided the siblings and shattered their shared family lives. Despite what seems like insurmountable obstacles, family tension is one area where we can have some control and often need to find ways to move forward as we get older.

Sometimes family stress involves accepting a new family dynamic. As more people re-marry in later years, adult children find themselves having to accept step-parents and adapt to blended families at an older age. Those transitions can be difficult and hard to talk about. Holidays and family events can become even more complicated and there can be a lot of hurt to get over. Maybe there’s another way of looking at it: How lucky Mom/Dad is to find love at this age! It may take a while to get to this outlook but isn’t it worth trying?

There are costs to not maintaining a relationship with family. For one thing, when we separate ourselves from them we are also denying our children formative relationships with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I have had conversations with young adults whose parents are in business and not speaking. These young adults requested an intervention for their elders so they can, once again, have holiday dinners together.  A person who had been in business with his uncle decided, after an unpleasant split in the business, that they would suspend all animosity for family occasions so as not to jeopardize the greater family relationships. My friend, who had stopped speaking to her sister after her mother died a few years ago, recently invited her sister to an event and was delighted when it went well. They will never be best friends but their families will be spending the next holiday together. Do not underestimate the value of the occasional phone calls from nieces and nephews and extended family as we age and our circles get smaller.

I sometimes hear siblings say, “I wouldn’t speak to my sister/brother if I didn’t have to.” That may well be true but life’s circumstances sometimes force the need for communication. Caring for elderly parents usually falls to adult siblings. For those who have had an ongoing good relationship, these tense circumstances can be easier to deal with. But for those who do not have a good rapport with siblings, sharing responsibility for the care of a parent becomes more complicated and unpleasant for all involved. As I often tell adults whose parents are in their 80’s and 90’s, it’s not a question of if something happens with elderly parents, it’s a question of when. Isn’t it better to think ahead and be prepared to work together, relieving some of the stress and anxiety that comes with the situation?

No, our siblings may not be the easiest people to get along with, but then again, we are no longer living with them. It’s not about going back in time and reliving the hurts and injuries of the past; it’s about finding a way to move forward. Maybe with a little effort and, if necessary, with a little assistance, we can repair these damaged relations, minimize the stress and hurt, and get what we can and give what we can with a different perspective in our later years.

 

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.

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

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