By Janet Miller Wiseman, Certified Family Mediator and Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
It is December, the holidays are coming up, ‘tis the season to be merry and joyous. But, not for these two families.
Annette, and her daughter, Marianne brought Marianne’s brother, Dan, into the office for family mediation to discuss their visits with his son, Ben, 8 years old, the son of his previous marriage, who lives in Rhode Island with his mother, Jasmine. Dan, Annette’s son, wanted to change the arrangement whereby his mother could simply call Jasmine and make plans to pick up Ben for the weekend.
Something, which we never learned, had happened between Dan and Jasmine so that he was harboring extreme hostility towards her, to the degree that he wanted to be the only person to talk with her, making the plans for his mother’s and his sister Marianne’s visits with Ben. He was busy at work and often took several days to get to Jasmine. He was unrelenting. There was no way in the world that he wanted his mother and sister to simply continuing to call to make arrangements.
Using the “Seven Visual Steps to Yes” detailed in my most recent book, I had mother and son state what they really wanted, really needed, and what really mattered to them. Then, we began the process of designing creating options or “brainstorming”. Dan stayed resolute, Annette had various ideas such a writing an email to Jasmine to make the arrangements. That didn’t work for Dan. She then “supposed”, and finally “proposed” that she design a yearly, but somewhat flexible schedule for picking up Ben and send that via email. This also did not work for Dan.
Marianne resolved the dilemma by suggesting that Annette send the yearly plan to Dan, who would send or give it to Jasmine, and then he would, in a timely manner get back to her and Marianne about acceptable days and weekends that they could have Ben for visitations. It was a short-term family mediation intervention of five sessions, but the family did it, reporting back that it is going well.
The second family mediation was with son, Ted, his wife, Laura, and Ted’s parents Margot and Hank. Ever since Margot had given Laura a birthday present of special preserves from Maine, Laura had been infuriated with her mother-in-law. Whatever could have been the reason? The preserves, from a natural health food store had been labeled as “not for ingestion during pregnancy”. And Laura was pregnant with their first child who turned out to be a darling baby girl, Abigail. Laura openly told her mother-in-law, at first through Ted, and then directly herself, that the baby and she could have died. Margot said that she thought that was an exaggeration.
Laura, a mental health specialist, then shared with her mother-in-law that she didn’t want Abigail exposed long term to a character issue, that of narcissistic personality disorder, that she was fairly certain that Margot had. She pointed out that Margot was about “me, me, me” and that it was always “her way or the highway”. Laura was being really tough on Margot. She explained that none of her husband Ted’s three brothers and their wives see or interact with them or their children because of similar worries. So far in the 24 months of Abigail’s life, Laura had set up a three times a year schedule of visiting with Margot and Hank in a restaurant where Abigail would not be exposed to eating any food prepared by Margot. Again a tough call.
Ted came in alone for a family mediation session with his parents. He heard their heart-break over seeing Abigail so little. He heard how all of Hank and Margot’s friends regularly break bread at their table. It was a wearying session. At its end, Ted was in tears. He promised his parents he would speak forcibly and directly with Laura about increasing their time with Abigail to what many grandparents would consider meager time. Hank was outraged and showed it. Ted’s mother, Margot calmed Hank down and said she was willing to have her son request the time, especially if he would speak forcibly. The four of them are due for their third family mediation appointment. Let us hope for a win-win solution.