Families don’t look the same as they did 50 years ago. Whether multi-generational, multi-cultural, blended, single parent, two moms, or two dads, diversity reigns supreme when it comes to describing family in the 21st century. Opening up that bag of diversity can expand our sensibilities, and it also can lead to drama.
Family drama sometimes happens when apologies interfere with grudges. Let’s face it, not all apologies are sincere, and some people actually enjoy holding a grudge. What’s a mediator to do? I’ll never forget the mother-in-law who refused to accept her son Derek’s spouse in spite of the couple’s repeated conciliatory efforts. The mother-in-law was so invested in her grudge that she chose to deny the existence of her grandchildren because they were of mixed race. The conversation in my office was loud and heated, mainly between the two women. After some agonizing moments, I asked Derek to weigh in, and he completely rose to the occasion. While maintaining respect for his mother, Derek definitely had his wife’s back, and pointed out that not only was his mom missing out on being a grandmother, but his children were also being denied the ability to enjoy a very special relationship. That perspective, in Derek’s voice, was all it took for the grudge to be released.
A few years ago, I worked with two sisters who were at odds about their aging Mother. I started the mediation by asking the sisters to share what goals each hoped to achieve. They both told me that they wanted to figure out a way to get on the same page with the other about their mother’s expenses. My first impression was that the sisters were as different from each other as they could be. After listening to them for a few minutes, one thing became crystal clear — they both adored their mother. The older sister seemed dismissive about her sibling’s concerns that their mother was going to run out of money. The younger sister, on the other hand, was infuriated by her sibling’s seemingly cavalier attitude.
Once each had spoken uninterrupted, I decided to shift their focus away from money and back to their obvious love and concern for their mother. I even asked them to show me some family photos on their phones. Literally within seconds after looking at the pictures, both sisters realized that they had far more in common than not. Building upon their good intentions and pointing out that they were co-captains of Team Mom, we were able to make some changes to the way the finances were being handled. The sisters also agreed to re-evaluate the plan in six months, allowing for things to be tweaked if necessary.
At the end of the day, it’s important for family members to try to focus on what they have in common rather than what they don’t. A shift in perspective may be all that’s necessary to limit the drama or avoid it altogether.
Sometimes family drama needs a referee.