Couples Mediation

Decision-Making Mediation: Addition to our House for Mom?


Janet Miller Wiseman, CDFM, LICSW, Dec. 18, 2017

Decision-Making Mediation: Addition to our House for Mom?   Adnan and Adriana,  a couple in their mid-forties, without children, came into the office this fall especially for decision making mediation. Adriana’s  seventy-five year old mother, Anna, was still healthy, engaging, and self-sufficient, and she wanted to live near some part of her family. Her other two adult children lived outside of the country in The Netherlands and in Indonesia. She had attempted to get a visa to live near one of the two children, out of the country, but that option turned out to be out of the question. She hadn’t out and out asked Adriana and Adnan about coming to live near or with them, but they both were feeling some pressure to talk about the possibility in case Adriana’s mom does bring up the subject with them. They wanted to be ready for that discussion. They saw decision-making mediation as a good place to reach a decision about an addition.

Adnan, whose culture encouraged and promoted three generations, or even more, living together saw this as a wonderful opportunity to build an in-law apartment, an addition, onto their home, to include Adriana’s mother in the family, and, additionally, to build a professional wood-working shop for himself in the basement below. He was thoroughly excited.

When they came into the office, for decision-making mediation, I queried Adriana about what she wanted with regard to the decision to add a decision to their home. Adriana said she wanted to investigate all living arrangement options in the community for her mother, such as Over-55 Residential Communities, rental apartments,  condominiums and small houses. In the “Seven Visual Steps to Yes: Difficult Decisions, Mediations and Negotiations Made Easier”*, the Step I Goal is for two parties to ask one another what each wants relative to the decision at hand. Before Step I, more importantly, is a stage of defining the decision to made, the dispute or conflict to be resolved. For Adnan and Adriana, the decision to be made was “Shall we add an addition to the house for Adriana’s mom?” We heard what Adriana wanted and made sure that Adnan heard her desire as well. She wanted to investigate living arrangement options outside of their home.

When asked what he wanted, Adnan was jubilant and forthcoming. “I want to include Adriana’s mother in the family by building an addition to our home, and underneath in the basement, I want to build a professional workshop for myself. Adriana furled her brow and said she understood what Adnan wanted. But, Adnan, the question we’re considering here is whether we build an addition for my mom, not a wood-working shop for you, which would be considerably more expensive.

Step II in “The Seven Visual Steps to Yes” in decision-making mediation is to answer the question: “What do you absolutely need with regard to this decision, dispute or conflict?” Adriana said she had two primary needs. The first was not to incur more housing debt at this stage of their lives. Their mortgage was paid off, and she said she absolutely needed not to have a home-equity loan or line of credit in their names. Secondarily, Adriana said she needed to preserve her excellent relationship with her mother. “I’m afraid if we’re all living under the same roof, we will take each other for granted and be in each other’s space, too much”. And, in addition, Adriana quipped “I’m afraid I’ll lose my close connection with you, Adnan”. Adnan was a highly social person, with a gift of gab. Adriana, said in this first decision-making mediation session, that she was afraid Adnan would “chat up” her mother too often and leave her out of the conversation. Adriana had more than one good reason for not wanting to build an addition to their home.

“We need space to express our creativity, Adriana. You can have a quarter of my workshop, when you need it, for a painting studio. We are artistic, with a love of our home as ‘our happy place’. Your mother and professional space for both of us will warm up our home, making it 100% more cozy and useful”. That was what Adnan needed, his Step II.

Moving along, I, as mediator, asked them both “what really, really matters to you? Step III of Seven Visual Steps”.  Adriana piped up and said “What matters to me is the freedom to travel, and to continue to save for our retirements. I foresee going all over the world. And, as I said, I don’t want any more housing debt. We worked so hard to pay our mortgage off, paying extra payments each month. I don’t want to go backwards financially, now.”

Adnan thought a moment and answered “I, on the other hand, live for now, not the future.” I am not in love with my corporate job. I know I am an excellent woodworker and over time could change from the corporate world into an excellent furniture and cabinet designer. I want the freedom to do that.”

Adriana and Adnan were each so earnest about what they wanted, needed and what mattered to them. None of these was anywhere near the same. They were at an impasse in the decision-making mediation. What to do?

“The Seven Visual Steps to Yes”* Step IV, in decision-making mediation is knowing, not necessarily sharing one’s Best Personal Alternative if he or she can’t reach resolution with the other party. Adnan held the alternative to himself, without sharing it. It only just now occurred to him. His Uncle Ted had left him an inheritance, enough money to at least build a top-notch woodworking shop in an extended basement, if not an addition for Adriana’s mother at a later date. That was his own Best Personal Alternative. Adriana’s alternative was immediately to get on the internet and research post-fifty-five retirement communities, apartments and condominiums near their home.

Step V of “The Seven Visual Steps” was to “brainstorm” or generate options for each person to get to what they want, need, and what really mattered to them. In addition, they were to add numbers from 1-5, 5 meaning they liked the option a lot, a 1, only a little.

Adnan’s first option was “to have your mother living with us in an addition”, an option he rated with a 5. Adriana gave the option a 1. Adriana’s first option was the Ledgewood Post-55 Community Residences, which she rated with a 5. Adnan rated the community with a 3. Adriana followed with a second option, the Assembly Row Condominiums nearby,  which she rated with a 5, Adnan with a 3.  Adnan continued with a professional basement woodworking shop, with a rating of 5 ½! Adriana gave this option a 1. They weren’t close in their ratings until Adnan suggested that he use the inheritance his Uncle Ted gave him, which they had been reserving for retirement, for a professional workshop, with the option of building an addition for Anna, later, if Adriana changed her mind and Anna wanted to live in an addition to their home. He wouldn’t have to secure a home-equity loan, only a positive response from Adriana on the use of this money, given to him by his Uncle, which had been earmarked for retirement.

Adriana and Adnan went to see Ledgewood Post-55 Retirement Community and the Assembly Row condominiums which offered apartments for rent and for sale. They fell in love with both. They also saw several beautiful rental apartments, some inside, some outside of gated communities. They knew that if Anna wanted to live near them, she would have lots of options for living in a community or living in her own place.  They agreed that when Anna next came to visit, without her even asking, they would show her the options they had found. The question of whether to add an addition to their home for Anna, Adriana’s mother was answered. It would be too complicated for Adriana to have her mother living right with them, but there were nice options for living nearby. In the process of undergoing this decision-making mediation, Adnan had discovered his unhappiness with corporate life and his option to gradually, over time, move into a more satisfying, a more rewarding profession, with his wife’s blessing. They will still be able to travel and Adriana does not feel in jeopardy of losing her close connection to her mother or to her husband. Decision Making Mediation works for parties who are far apart in what they want, need, and what really matters to them.

Decision-Making Mediation

Janet Miller Wiseman, 781-861-9847