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

Elder Care Meditation Service Aims to Defuse Tense Issues (The Examiner)

Published in The Examiner on July 20, 2015.
By Martin Wilbur

The challenge of caring for an aging parent has become increasingly common during the past generation as people generally live longer and grown children can often live long distances apart.

That reality can place a strain on families unable to agree how to best address what mom or dad needs, whether that’s having an aide, needing a change in living arrangements or when myriad issues can arise.

Read full article

Take Care of the Moms Who Take Care of an Elderly Mom (TheExaminerNews.com)

Written by Gail H. Goodman
Published in the May 5, 2015 edition of The Examiner News

Families around the country are making plans for Mother’s Day: making the reservations for the celebratory family dinner, mailing the cards and buying presents.

Hallmark and stores bombard us with reminders of what to get for our moms and the perfect way to
celebrate her, highlighting the joys of motherhood, from new mothers to grandmothers. We accept the
picture perfect world portrayed in advertising and expect to see it reflected in our lives.

What the ads don’t tell you is this: type “elderly mothers” in a search engine and you will get titles such as “My Elderly Mother is Driving Me Crazy” or “Is My Elderly Parent From the Exorcist.” This is the reality for many families as they confront Mother’s Day. These are the websites and articles written by those who bear the burden of caring for their elderly parents.

READ FULL ARTICLE

Dispute over Martin Luther King Jr.’s Bible, Nobel medal heads for mediation (Reuters.com)

A judge in Georgia agreed on Wednesday to appoint a mediator to help settle a dispute between the late Martin Luther King Jr.’s children over whether to sell his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize medal and the Bible he carried during the civil rights movement.

The fight pits the slain civil rights leader’s sons Martin Luther King III and Dexter King, who want to sell the medal and Bible, against King’s surviving daughter, Bernice King, who opposes the sale of items she calls “sacred” to the family.

Read the full article on Reuters.com

Strengthening Troubled Sibling Bonds to Deal With an Aging Parent (NYTimes)

ROSIE, Therese and Linda McMahan were always close, but after their father died unexpectedly in 2011, they found their relationship strained.

They did not know what to do for their 84-year-old mother, Rose, and their brother, Paul, 53, who has cognitive disabilities and is in a wheelchair. The sisters tried to find an assisted-living home nearby, in the Boston area, but couldn’t. And so after many months, they decided that their mother and brother would move in with Rosie’s family in Amherst, Mass.

Read the full article on NYtimes.com