Mediation isn’t just for couples seeking a separation or divorce. Mediation can also help families address any number of different scenarios:
- A couple trying to work out some marital difficulties
- Parents and a rebellious teenager not communicating
- Siblings arguing over the care of an elderly relation
- A blended family where the blending is not working at its best.
Imagine these scenarios with multi-generational, multi-cultural and multi-lingual added to the mix.
This is an actual family situation that I was asked to mediate:
A North American grandmother and a Hispanic grandmother were informally sharing the custody of the 2-year-old child of their 17-year-old unmarried son and daughter. The child would alternate between the two grandmothers’ homes. His parents would visit him wherever he was and occasionally take him out to the park.
One grandmother only spoke Spanish and the other only spoke English. The young parents were bilingual; but getting increasingly annoyed at their mothers for using them as messengers to transmit information, complaints, or angry commentaries from one to the other. Tension and competition between the grandmothers was building regarding the time that each of them had with the child. There were also problems resulting from their different child rearing ways, bedtime, choices of foods, and overall education. The young parents had their views but neither mother listened to them, claiming that they were irresponsible for having a child so early in their lives and leaving him to be cared for by their mothers.
The purpose of the mediation, attended by both grandmothers and the teenage parents, was to create a structured schedule for the grandmothers and parents to share time with the child; but as the process moved along, communication, as is often the case, turned out to be the first problem to resolve. The grandmothers did not speak the same language and the children refused to continue being the messengers.
I asked all four of them if they could think of alternatives to help the grandmothers communicate. After much discussion and many suggestions that no two people could agree on, one grandmother said that her sister spoke both languages and that maybe she could ask her to help out. She also said that her sister felt very close to her niece and to the child, so would most likely be happy to help out. They called her from my office and she immediately agreed to fulfill this role.
Why had no one ever thought of this simple idea before coming to mediation? I am not sure, but my guess is that the emotions and competition prevented the parties from looking outside of the box. The structure and peaceful setting of the mediation gave them all the space and calm to think constructively.
Once the communication issue seemed resolved, all four appeared to breathe better. I was able to then help them work out a schedule while speaking English to one and Spanish to the other, and translating what each one had to say. All parties left feeling relieved and understood.
Mediation is an ideal way to resolve a multitude of family crises. If you know of a family in conflict that could benefit from mediation, please forward this blog to them.
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