Mediation can be useful in any conflict where the parties are willing to enter into a good faith discussion to resolve their dispute. A contested guardianship petition is just one area of Elder Law where mediation is valuable. If interested persons believe an already-appointed guardian is not acting in the best interests of the ward the court might utilize mediation to have the parties themselves resolve the allegation before it rises to the level of litigation. Mediation can be beneficial in other areas of Elder Law as well. For example, a client goes to an attorney for preparation of advance directives and/or estate planning in which he or she is going to disinherit or treat some of his or her heirs in a substantially unequal manor, such that it is likely there will be litigation down the road over the documents the attorney is about to draft. The attorney can be proactive and advise the client that investing a relatively small amount of time and money now in mediation may save substantial time and money later by helping prevent litigation and providing a greater degree of certainty that the client’s desires will be implemented as planned without costly challenge. Grandparent Rights, increasingly the subject of intense litigation, is another area of Elder Law in which mediation can certainly play a large role.
A letter written by a 14 year old girl and her experience which illustrates the same emotions millions of children feel when they hear the earth shattering words, “Honey, your mother and I are getting a divorce.”
When I was ten my parents got a divorce. Naturally, my father told me about it, because he was my favorite. [Notice that Vicky did not say, ” I was his favorite.”]
“Honey, I know it’s been kind of bad for you these past few days, and I don’t want to make it worse. But there’s something I have to tell you. Honey, your mother and I got a divorce.”
“I know you don’t want this, but it has to be done. Your mother and I just don’t get along like we used to. I’m already packed and my plane is leaving in half and hour.”
“But Daddy, why do you have to leave.”
“Well, honey, your mother and I can’t live together anymore.”
“I know that, but I mean why do you have to leave out of town?”
“Oh. Well. I got someone waiting for me in New Jersey.”
“But, Daddy, will I ever see you again?”
“Sure you will, honey. We’ll work something out.”
“But what? I mean, you’ll be living in New Jersey, and I’ll be living here in Washington.”
“Maybe your mother will agree to you spending two weeks in the summer and two in the winter with me.”
“Why not more often?”
“I don’t think she’ll agree to two weeks in the summer and two weeks in the winter, much less more.”
“Well it can’t hurt to try.”
“I know, honey, but we’ll have to work it out later. My plane leaves in twenty minutes and I’ve got to get to the airport. Now I’m going to get my luggagew, and I want you to go to your room so you don’t have to watch me. And no long good-byes either.”
“Okay, Daddy. Good-bye. Don’t forget to write.”
“I won’t. Good-bye. Now go to your room.”
“Okay. Daddy, I don’t want you to go!”
“I know, honey. But I have to.”
“You wouldn’t understand, honey.”
“Yes, I would.”
“No, you wouldn’t.”
“Oh well. Good-bye.”
“Good-bye. Now you to your room. Hurry up.”
“Okay. Well, I guess that’s the way life goes sometimes.”
“Yes honey. That’s the way life goes sometimes.”
After my father walked out that door, I never heard from him again.
**Adapted from Dr. James Dobson, Straight Talk With Men
Many children are affected by the loss of a parent post divorce. The situations leading up to the seperation of a family unit are most devastating to children when the relationship between them and a parent disintegrates. There are many reasons why parents would disengage from their children’s lives. Several studies of divorced fathers who have disengaged from their children have linked their disengagement to their feelings of anger, rejection and distress following their divorce.
One thing is certain…A parent can never be replaced. God has given you a child and no matter what may come your way, it is no excuse for abandoning your children. It is important that parents make every effort to work together for the sake of their children. The story above illustrates the trauma associated with abandonment. This has become an epidemic and so many people, children and adults alike, are walking around with so much hurt and rejection. Our children look to us for guidance, nurture and love. The little girl in this example is a stark reminder of the importance of a father. She is a rejected daddy’s girl…How tragic.
It is interesting to note that just 5 hours of mediation provided families with some necessary tools/guidelines with how to interact with one another. The mediation process is valuable in teaching individuals how to work together in a non adversarial way in spite of past hurts and differing needs. This is most important for families with children. Divorce is a traumatic experience for children. It may feel as though it is the death of their family; their foundation has dramatically changed. Divorce is an adult issue and carries with it many complexities, hurts, financial ramifications, ect.. Children should not be expected to understand all of the complexities involved in the spousal relationship.
Problem solving skills can help families work together in a way that best meets the children’s needs. These skills will teach family members how to manage stress and cope with situations that may exist for separating families.
“For many couples, respecting each other in the midst of divorce is difficult, or even impossible. Therefore, rather than seek to achieve reconciliation with your divorcing partner, it is more appropriate to seek justice and fairness in the resolution of the divorce -related issues. But justice and fairness are not, themselves, void of respect and mutual acceptance, for true justice would imply that neither spouse would be unjustly deprived or treated. True fairness would require that the parties making the agreement would need to seek to understand the needs, hopes, and desires of the other.” Read more What Does Mediation Have to do With Christianity?(provided by Accord Mediation Services)
My family comes with a lot of baggage. I think most families do. Sibling relationships have deeply entrenched wedges that carry forward over time without resolution. Well…the “resolution” plays itself out in how the relationship develops. Without real resolution the relationship can become strained, limited and superficial. My brothers and I definitely have had and continue to have some of that going on.
I grew up in a family with three brothers one of whom is autistic/mentally handicapped. Brent lived with us until he was around 20-25 years old. It is hazy, my friends, as all traumatic things are. His extreme behavior started around puberty (toilet training did not happen until he was about twelve) and while my father could “handle” it most of the time, the screaming in the night, the spitting and hitting, the physical out bursts were overwhelming for a long time. We operated in some kind of crisis mode constantly. My other two brothers and I each handled it differently and lots of emotional baggage grew and was housed deep inside of us. Several years before Brent was taken to an acute crisis center, his behavior was at its most extreme. During his flare-ups which could be as often as twice or three times a day, there could be biting, hitting, feces throwing, punching, and destruction around the house. It was scary.
The fact that Brent lived us with us all those years was a result of the disagreement about whether to place him and where to place him between my parents. My father was certain that for the benefit of his other children and the family itself, Brent would be better in a place that could care for him full-time. My mother thought that giving her son “away” was not acceptable and all “those kind of places” were full of sexual abuse and physical abuse.
When Brent finally did leave, it was under crisis. We were expecting it but weren’t at the same time. For several years we watched the escalation and “mini-crises” but due to continual disagreement between my parents, nothing happened. We had little to no outside support from anyone because we did not seek it. We would not talk about it.
This was all around 22 years ago. Many things have happened since, individually and to us as a family. One thing is for sure, while each of us may have found a place for all of that history with differing levels of support, we have never really talked and/or resolved those feelings among us as a group. Sometimes we will reminisce talking about the good and the bad – that helps – but never have we really got down to it and unpacked all those emotions as a family, in a group…together.
Ironically enough, for the last several years we have been facing an aging parent that requires some serious decision-making and planning. We have bumbled and stumbled through without any real resolutions. There are hurt feelings, resentments, and I am sure, lots of unresolved issues regarding our parent among us. Additionally, we have a history of living in crisis that remains within us and has strained our relationships over the years. We just don’t know each other as adults very well. Thank God for Christ in our hearts because He has been the common thread that continues to bind us through these times. I am certain that Christ would want us to seek out some real help for our parent because it is clear that some of our history, a lot of those resentments and unmet needs, questions and issues need attention and we do not know how to do it.
I say all of this because my family sticks out to me as a perfect family who could use a good mediator to help move us along. Counseling would be nice too but we need more immediate attention at this point. We need a skilled facilitator who can come in, give everyone a fair shake to speak, moderate and mediate skillfully, offering options and explaining realistic services out there to everyone. A sped up process that is focused, respectful, dignified with a goal of solving the problem not “fixing” years of emotional mess.
We cannot unroot all these years of issues between us. Quite frankly we do not have the time and I am not sure each of us as individuals are ready. We do know however that some serious stuff is coming down the pike with mom and unless we come together and plan for it, we can have a crisis as we did with Brent all those years ago where the crisis dominated and things got “forced.” And we all do agree that we do not want that and the aftermath that would separate us further. Mediation offers a process that does not take months of self-examination but is instead focused on solving immediate problems through a structured, respectful and fair process that is not centered on solving our family dynamics. Believe me, that takes a lot of pressure off each of us and gives us a reason to do this!
So let me just say that I am forwarding this article to my siblings to find out their thoughts on mediation. It is hard my friends to look inside and diagnose yourself but I know my family represents a good example of a family who needs more than someone who can explain services.
Remember, mediation does not have to be formal, it is just a term for cracking open conflict in an informal process. There are many ways this process can happen that can yield beneficial results. I just pray my family will be open to working on this situation now in an informal, confidential manner for the common goal of caring for our mother whom we all love despite all our other differences.
I pray too that other families will consider elder care mediation because it can help you at a time when there is a lot of confusion and mixed up feelings. I do know mediation will not solve all your problems but it will bring you together at a time when you all need to be working together for the good of someone special.
The Wall Street Journal published an article titled Mediating Elder-Care Disputes, talking at length about how well mediation works in these situations. I credit this article for many of the explanations contained herein.