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.
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.
Ruth Weinreb and Gail H. Goodman
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
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
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
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.
We hope this year is off to a good start for all of you and that you are staying warm in this arctic air. This is an important time of year for Talking Alternatives. Although it is the start of the calendar year, it is midway through the academic year and we hope we can intervene in situations where teens and parents have been having problems so they can successfully finish the school year in a more harmonious home atmosphere. Since timing can be crucial when resolving conflicts, we are anxious to get these cases now.
We had a vendor table at the Council of Senior Centers & Services of NYC 25th Annual Conference on Aging. We are always surprised when we attend these conferences and find how many of the other service providers are unaware of mediation for Elders and their Adult Children. However, we were surprised at this conference to find that one of our neighboring vendors had, in fact, not only heard of this type of mediation, but had experienced it. She and her 11 siblings were instructed by a judge in another state to attend mediation regarding the care of her aging parents. She credits mediation with resolving their problems without serious damage to the sibling relationships, or as she put it, it saved them from ‘killing each other’. She offered an enthusiastic endorsement of Elder mediation. These conferences are always a learning experience for us.
Talking Alternatives on Air
On January 31, Gail H. Goodman was interviewed by Paul Feiner, Town Supervisor of the Town of Greenburgh in Westchester County, NY. Talking Alternatives runs the Town of Greenburgh Community Mediation Program which provides early intervention for conflicts. The Town is the first in Westchester County to offer this innovative project to their community, encouraging residents to seek conflict resolution through mediation rather than resorting to courts or official agencies. We offer mediation for family disputes, landlord/tenant problems, small business cases and neighborhood ‘nuisance’ conflicts.
Caring for Aging Parents: Seems Like Everybody is Doing It
The Public Policy Institute reports on an alarming fact: as the numbers of Baby Boomers who require caregiving assistance rises, the ratio of potential family caregivers is falling. Whereas family has accounted for the majority of caregiviers, the pool of potential family caregivers is declining, increasing the reliance on fewer people and making it necessary to find supportive services elsewhere.The Caregiver Support ratio is defined as the number of family members who are potential caregivers (mostly adult children aged 45-64) for each parent over the age of 80. The ratio in 2010 was 7 potential caregivers for every at risk 80 year old. In 2030, that ratio is anticipated to go down to 4-1, and 3-1 shortly thereafter. The pressure on caregiving family members is already daunting.
Many adult children aged 45-64, are in the throes of their careers, taking care of their young children and leading busy lives. They are used to their parents being independent people, perhaps living in a retirement community in a warm weather state or still on their own in the family home. And then in one day, it all changes. It can be the sudden death of a parent, leaving the other parent to try and suddenly adjust to life on his or her own, or it can be the sudden accident that incapacitates a senior, such as a fall that results in a broken hip. Whatever the cause, it immediately puts those adult children into the role of caregiver, usually with different levels of involvement. And that is often where the problems begin. Articles in the AARP bulletin and The New York Times report on the increasing reliance on Elder and Adult Family Mediation to resolve the disagreements among family members on the plans for elders. With family members scattered geographically, the work often falls to the sibling living closest to the parent, or maybe there is a dependency on one child by the parent, but either case is ripe for tension among the siblings. Elder lawyers and geriatric care managers report on the difficulty of getting decisions made because of friction among the parties. Many sources working in the Eldercare area agree that mediation is a useful method of breaking the impasse, getting decisions made and finally getting things done.
In the upcoming months, we’ll be attending other events and reporting on some of our cases that might be of interest to all of you or perhaps, suggest solutions to problems you are grappling with.
Ruth Weinreb and Gail H. Goodman