All posts by gailmediator

The Difficult Conversation

As a member of the sandwich generation, I often hear my friends describe a family situation where an elderly parent is showing signs of becoming frail and forgetful and being more challenged by everyday tasks. In all these family situations the parent, or sometimes both parents, live alone. A caregiver may visit for a few hours each day, helping with shopping, meals and doctor visits. However, the geographical distance between the parents and family members is great. Although my friends recognize the vulnerability of their parents, they seem to be afraid to move forward to discuss a plan of action for the future. As a wise person once told me, our parents will never be as young or healthy as they are today.

So why are adult children afraid to talk to one another about the future care of their aging parents? Why are adult children afraid to discuss with their parents the possibility of moving closer to a sibling, the extended hours of a caregiver, the move to an assisted living facility or giving up driving? In some families, open and truthful conversations are rare or nonexistent. They have no practice in having real conversations about real issues. In other families, the relationship between the adult children is brittle, lacking trust. And some family members are just in denial and don’t want to deal with medical and care giving issues of their parents, which can feel so monumental at times.

As mediators, we repeatedly see family members in pain as they struggle to navigate the aging process of their parents. Even with the help of a geriatric care manager, the family members get stuck for whatever reason, and are unable to talk about these important family matters. As a result, the family goes on as if everything is fine and everyone is able to manage until a crisis erupts. While mediation is not therapy and will not address the psychology behind a family member’s behavior, it does bring family members together, perhaps for the first time, to openly address shared family issues that need to be discussed before things get out of hand. Talking about these important issues before a crisis will ensure an opportunity to timely and rationally analyze the situation and arrive at a sound decision.

As our parents, or relatives, age, it is time for the family to unite to create a future plan that works for the entire family. Family members need to have these difficult conversations in a real way to ensure that their aging parents are safe and that the family relationships survive. Mediation is a successful tool used to give families a way to effectively manage the aging process we all experience.

Ruth Weinreb

Why I Should Have Chosen Mediation

My friend, let’s call her Cathy, has had a difficult relationship with her widowed father for a while now. She is part of an informal, blended family. Her father lives in a nearby city and is not married, but has been living with a woman for several years. The father lives in the woman’s house, spends summers at her summer house, is close with her daughter’s family, and overall has slipped comfortably into his significant other’s life. Cathy has been devastated. According to Cathy, her father’s girlfriend, let’s call her Mrs. X, has made no attempt to draw Cathy and her nuclear family into this extended, blended family. Instead of her traditional family holiday celebrations, the whole new family is included in holiday traditions that they would not normally celebrate, since they are not all the same religion. For Cathy, this has created a lot of resentment towards her father. Doesn’t he see what’s happening? Doesn’t he see that she’s left out. Why doesn’t he stick up for her? She and her father had some awful blowout fights and can hardly say a civil word to each other. The tension has gone so far as to effect Cathy’s brother and his family. Last year, I suggested to Cathy that she consider mediation so they can learn to listen and speak to one another  and come out with a plan to go forward. Instead, she convinced her father to try therapy with her, and each committed to two months. Her father didn’t make it past the fourth session.

Last week I sat down to ask her why she didn’t chose mediation. Interestingly enough, her answers were based on a misunderstanding of mediation and the process. Where as a friend did I go wrong?? I think we both made assumptions without ever clarifying the options. She went to therapy because she needed to get some of the old hurts and pain her father had caused dealt with and discussed, even though he has alway opposed doing that. Her therapist thought that this could work for them. It didn’t. Her father didn’t believe in therapy to begin with. Her father has a stereotypical view of therapy and who needs therapy and it doesn’t include him. This was not a realistic method for him to resolve any problems. His biases were already in place. She didn’t go to mediation because she didn’t think she would have the opportunity to communicate her pain and hurt he has caused her.

Now I explained the mediation process. How we interview each of them beforehand to find out their perception of the issues and then schedule one open-ended session where the issues are discussed in a non-confrontational way and hopefully, agreements are reached and the parties are able to talk to one another after they leave. Emotions come out, and there is room for it in the process, but we, as mediators, are going to keep the parties talking and focused on the issues they have identified. Cathy had an immediate problem: she and her father were losing their relationship. We insure the parties speak and listen to one another, and actually hear one another. Mediation is a problem oriented process.  It helps people resolve their conflicts, focusing on the problem at hand, and gives the parties a means to move ahead. Cathy would have been able to communicate her emotions and hurt, but in the end she and her father would have learned how to talk and listen effectively , be considerate of each other, and avoid ‘pushing each other’s buttons’.

Without asking, Cathy said, “we should have gone to mediation.” So, what were the selling points that indicated this was the better route? A la Letterman, let’s start with:

  • Number 4. Her father would have been more open to a process that wasn’t a therapeutic framework. Given his original biases, he was less likely to function well in that context.
  • Number 3: Although it was important for her to have her father hear her hurt and what the issues were for them, it would have taken them far longer than the time allotted, and possible, for them to really get into and resolve the roots of some of their problems.
  • Number 2 is the realization that she would have gotten skills that she could use when future problems arose. Her pain and emotions would be part of the session but the emphasis would have been on how they could go forward, which was the immediate problem for her.
  • And what she consider as the all important Number 1 is the ability to resolve the problems in one session. She left frustrated every time the therapy session ended and nothing was resolved. Whatever momentum they achieved, was lost when the time was up. She feels the opportunity to work through in one long session might have been a key point in helping them work through their issues productively.

Next time, I will try to be as clear with my friends as I am in my formal presentations.

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.







Why Mediation Matters by Ruth Weinreb

I graduated law school 28 years ago and was looking forward to a career in litigation. I had taken classes in evidence, civil procedure and trial advocacy and was excited about litigating my first trial. After a short period of time, I was handling my own trials, loving it. I enjoyed the details of putting together the evidence, preparing the witnesses and sparring with my opponent. I even enjoyed writing the briefs. But after 28 years of litigation experience, 28 years of parties waiting three years for a final Order, and 28 years of parties not receiving a full remedy, I realized that mediation offered more than a viable alternative to litigation. Continue reading Why Mediation Matters by 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

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

Newsletter November 2014

The Fall has gone so fast and here we are gearing up for the holidays. Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year as people start heading away for the holiday. Most people will be with family during this time. For many this is a warm, fuzzy time with family and friends. For some, it is a time of tension and anxiety as family members gather to enjoy the holidays while dealing with long term, underlying tensions. We hope your holidays are happy and enjoyable ones but if you know of people who need to work on their conflicts with family, and preserve relationships, we are happy to help.

Family and the Holidays: A Recipe for Conflict?

As the holidays approach, we are receiving calls from family members anticipating family tensions that will come to a head as they gather together. Some have needed our help in order to get together for the holidays while others are preparing for the aftermath of their reunions. The people contacting us are elderly parents or adult siblings who are struggling with conflicts that are rooted in fragile relationships, but now are tested by a crisis that necessitates siblings and family members working together to make decisions. Our role is to help these families communicate in order to address their issues. Two articles that help explain what we do are provided here. We encourage you to read them and pass them on to those who need our services but didn’t even know this service is available and is a possible solution for them.

An article on

An article on

Time for Thanks and Reflection

As we gather to give thanks, we need to remember that conflict is normal in all relationships, and doesn’t have to be destructive as long as we know how to deal with it and don’t let it get out of hand. For those of you with teens, take this time to think about how your teen is doing. It’s almost the end of the first half of the year. If your teen is having troubles at home or at school, now is the time to think about what the problems are and how to handle them. If it’s a question of communication, as it often is with teens, think about mediation as a way of improving your teen’s communication skills and your ability to talk with your teen. We”re here to help.

We hope your holiday is a happy one.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ruth Weinreb and Gail H. Goodman
Talking Alternatives

Newsletter September 2014

Well, although we’re sorry to see the summer go, we can now look forward to a beautiful autumn. This is an energized time as we return from vacations and the ease of summer into the sobering back-to-school and back-to-work season. For many of us, the summer is a time of families getting together for vacations or visits. For some, these are light-hearted times, while for others it’s a time to catch up with the concerns that families are facing. We talk below about some of the problems families are encountering and how our services can help families meet these challenges.

Enjoy what is left of summer and enjoy the changing of the leaves!

Gail and Ruth

Adjusting to Getting Back to School

The end of summer and the beginning of school can be tense times. Gone is the freedom of summer, and the anticipation of another school year can create tension in a household. This is particularly true when children have moved up the previous year and are entering a new school. And the case is usually the bigger the child, the bigger the problems. Whether parents are concerned about the transition to a new school or a return to the problematic behavior of previous years, we can help you get off on a good foot by helping parents and teens discuss their concerns for the new school year. When we reach out to schools, we explain that we would rather see teens and their parents before the trouble gets out of hand. Teens are known not to be the best communicators, but with a facilitated conversation, parents and teens learn how to communicate effectively and how to discuss issues and problems, such as truancy or failure to do homework. If you know of a family facing these problems, or potential problems, please let them know we can help.

The Baby Boomer Caretaking Challenge

October 1 is a day to Honor an Elder. One way of doing that is acknowledging obstacles to the care of aging parents. Usually the care of aging parents falls upon the shoulders of their adult children. This is the generation that is busy trying to work towards meeting the obligations of their children’s schooling or, if past that, are trying to work and save for their own futures. But a health or other kind of crisis occurs, and they find themselves trying to balance their lives with the added responsibility of taking care of aging parents. Caregiving is a difficult role and it often falls on the shoulders of one sibling who lives near the parent. In addition to the other responsibilities in their lives, adult children are often now, once again, dealing with siblings with whom they have not dealt in years, in order to address the issues of their aging parents.

We spent part of this summer talking to staff in senior facilities. We were asked to talk to them about our services. They can feel the tension, and hear the arguments, among siblings when they first tour the facility and are faced with the realities of a parent’s circumstances and see the reality of the changed living situation. Then there are the children of residents who place the staff in the middle of disagreements about Mom or Dad’s care, an impossible role for the staff as advocates for the welfare of the parent.

This is where we come in. As neutral third parties, not advocating on anyone’s behalf, we can bring the siblings to the table and guide a discussion about the issues facing the family so that the family is able to move past their initial position. We help get them get past their own disagreements so that necessary decisions can be made cooperatively And so they can construct their own agreement for a plan going forward. We help them break the impasse. Again, if you know of a family facing these circumstances, please let them know we can help.

Welcome back from your summer vacations!

Gail and Ruth
Talking Alternatives

Newsletter July 2014

Just when we thought summer would never come, the heat and humidity are back. For those of us who were waiting anxiously for the cold to end, and made a vow not to complain when the heat arrived, we bite our tongue and refresh our memories of ice, snow and freezing temperatures to keep from saying anything. For those who can’t tolerate the heat, or those who just need an excuse, the heat can also cause temperatures to flare. We read in newspapers about fights and shootings at weekend parties and see tempers get out of hand on streets, subways and on our roads. As you will read in ‘Why Can’t We All Get Along?’ below, there are ways of handling conflict through careful and effective communication. If only we would all think before we speak.

Getting People to the Table

People often ask us how we convince both parties to come to mediation. It is a challenge. By the time people are referred to us, or self-refer by contacting us, the problem has escalated and they are at a standstill. If it’s a lawyer, caseworker or financial advisor, the problem is the same: nobody can make a necessary decision and the parties are not communicating. The person who contacts us has already acknowledged that there is a problem and that the parties are at an impasse. But if it is a third party that refers the clients to us, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the parties agree, or if they do, that they are willing to sit down and discuss it. Frequently the parties, whether it’s landlord/tenant, small business. or family disputes, have given up the idea of talking and think the inevitable next step is court. That’s when someone calls us. We speak to the first party and explain the benefits of mediation and ask them what they have to lose. They ask us questions about the process and it usually soon becomes clear that they do not really understand mediation. After the questions and answers are exchanged, emotions generally calm down and the idea of mediation as an option is given more consideration. So what usually convinces people to sit down and participate? One question we always ask after finding out how long the problem is going on is, “So, is this working for you?” Another question we like to ask is, “What are your other options?” The answers to these questions usually push people in the direction of mediation as a preferable alternative. We also find that reassuring people that this is a problem-, issue- focused process, is a positive aspect for them. Whether it’s family members who don’t want therapy or do not want to work on relationships that haven’t worked for 30 years, there is relief that we are only going to work on the issues at hand and get people to communicate in order to resolve the problem at hand. For business people, they realize the savings and the understanding that they can get some immediate relief. For landlords and tenants, they have the benefit of being able to move on with their lives sooner, rather than having to wait out the court process. In other words, understanding that they are out of options or faced with costly ones, that they are at a standstill that needs to be broken, and just plain reason, are usually the persuasive points that ultimately get people across the table from one another in our mediation sessions.

Why Can’t We All Get Along?

We’ve recently been asked to give presentations on dealing with conflict. Our presentations focus on helping people working with seniors where arguments among family members impede their ability to help their client, the elder in the family. Our presentation addresses how to identify the cause of conflict, individual positions and interests effecting the conflict, and how to effectively communicate, by listening and talking to the family members and getting them to do the same. Through examples of words to stay away from, or ways of asking questions, and giving people the tools to think about conflict in advance of the confrontations they deal with in their work, we hope that professionals can guide their clients to focus on the needs of their clients. Some of the participants have requested conflict coaching and we are always happy to do help with that.

Have a great summer and stay cool!

Gail and Ruth
Talking Alternatives

Newsletter April 2014

We are finally beginning to see the signs of Spring! As the weather warms up and plants start to bud, people seem to be in a better mood. There are the inevitable conversations with strangers — waitstaff, store clerks, passersby — about the relief from snow and cold. Even though states of mind are improving, we’re still left with the same realities in our lives. Now that Spring is arriving and there’s a sense of renewal, maybe it’s time to address some of the conflicts that have been bogging us down and effecting our relationships with the people in our lives. Maybe mediation can help. Let us know.

Gail and Ruth

Restoring Relationships

Both of us feel passionate about mediation and resolving conflict. One of the benefits of mediation that we always emphasize is the ability to restore relationships. We do not mean that every mediation is going to result in parties walking out arm-in-arm. What it does do is get people talking again. Unlike in court, the parties get to hear the other person’s perspective, listen to one another and have the chance to safely express and explain emotions. Mediation can provide a forum and an opportunity for siblings who have not talked in years, or even decades, to listen to one another and talk reasonably about how to solve a problem, opening a door for further communication and conversation. In the case of small businesses, parties get the chance to air their grievances and talk directly to one another, in a facilitated format that makes them also listen to one another. Hopefully the end result will include a long time customer continuing to patronize the same business, or for two businesses to continue their working relationship after their differences have been aired in a reasonable discussion. We all want to feel like our homes are comfortable havens for us. If a tenant is having a dispute with a neighbor or their landlord, that home can become a nightmare and parties are a chronic pain to one another. Whatever disagreements they have, it’s better for everyone to air their differences and walk out with an agreement and the ability to talk to one another.We always hope that a successful mediation not only means an agreement is reached, but that the parties are able to talk. If they can walk out talking, there’s always hope that the relationship can be saved.

Living with Teens

Ever notice how your adorable, earnest young child morphed into a stranger, just vaguely resembling the kid you knew? You’re not alone. All parents experience this. That semi-adult is having just as much trouble as the parents adjusting to this transitional stage. When we mediate with parents and teens we find that parents often think their situation is unique: trying to communicate with a sullen teen who is just not listening. Parents often take their kids to therapy when it really is a problem of communication, not a clinical problem. Teens may come in to mediation reluctantly, and when we say we would like to have them commit to four sessions, they balk, but by the end, they usually return. Teens tend to see mediation as nonthreatening. One of the reasons is that we are saying ‘there is nothing wrong with you’, which they think is implied in therapy. Mediation is about communication and helping families restore harmony to the home. This isn’t to say that there aren’t cases that require therapy, not mediation, but after an initial conversation, we can usually tell if the case is appropriate for mediation. Some common issues are: curfew, chores, grades, school attendance, behavior, respect.