Unfortunately no family is immune to disputes of one kind or another, whether between spouses, siblings, parents and children or other relatives. Sometimes these disputes are due to an “unspoken” misunderstanding with each party stuck in their place imagining what the other person is thinking about him or her, and not able or willing to have the talk needed to clear the air.
Fortunately, all disputes need not end up in an adversarial and/or legal battle. Mediation provides a more amicable and constructive way to work out disagreements.
Each situation may of course require a different approach depending on how many parties are involved, their relationship, their age and their abilities to speak up for themselves. Mediation tries to give a voice to everyone, allowing for a better understanding and resolution of the problems at stake.
I once worked with a family where the parents were divorced and their son, just shy of his 18th birthday, lived with his mother in accordance with his parent’s divorce agreement, and saw his father every other weekend. Tensions kept growing because the son really wanted to stay with his father most of the time. They both enjoyed sports in addition to feeling a strong connection to each other. The son wanted to live with his father but was afraid that if he made his wishes known, it would upset his mother. Whenever the father broached the subject, the mother became very defensive, feeling that the father was still angry at her for the divorce, and that he wanted to punish her by taking away her son.
The parents came to mediation first without their son so that each could explain their position. The son joined them for the next session. Even though I do find it preferable to see all parties together, each situation is different, and so in accordance with the parents and the son, I did speak with the son separately for a while in order to better understand his wishes. He expressed his fears of offending his mother as well as his concern that his wishes were in fact aggravating the strained relationship between his parents which made him feel very guilty.
Because he felt he could not speak to his parents alone, I encouraged him to try and speak to them in my presence. He felt that he might be able to do that. While exploring different ways in which he could address his parents, he also decided that if he prepared something in writing, it would be easier for him to read to them rather than talk to them, as he was afraid they would interrupt and he would lose his train of thought and not be able to tell them everything he wanted.
The mother was very touched by the care that her son put into his request to her. She realized that this was not her husband’s doing, but that her son really wanted to spend more time with his father which they all knew was limited because he would be going away to college the following year.
The son also told his mother that he loved her and still wanted to see her, spend much of the holidays and other special days with her, in addition to some weekend time “when he did not play sports with Dad.”
As hard as it was for the mother to accept, and for the son to express his feelings, mediation turned out to be the right place for this family to work out what had been a very unhappy and tense situation.
Months later, the mother called me to thank me and tell me how much the mediation sessions had helped all of them. She said that at times, she and her ex-husband even went out to dinner together with their son.
If you have difficulties in communication, mediation may be the answer to your problems!
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jennifer safian. divorce and family mediator divorce and family mediation upper east side of manhattan (nyc) new york, ny (212) 472-8626 firstname.lastname@example.org connect on