Boy, oh boy, have I seen a lot of different types of families! One of the things I love the best about being a Mediator is that no two days are alike. And I’ve come to realize that no two families are alike.
Traditionally, families were classified as either nuclear — father, mother, and children; or extended — adding grandparents, and maybe an aunt or uncle to the mix. Fast forward to the 21st century, and now families can be described by the way they look, as well as by how they’re organized.
Obviously, the way a family looks has changed in the 21st century. We all know families that defy the old stereotypes.
The way a family is organized has also changed. Work schedules aren’t always 9-5, especially in a 24-hour city such as Las Vegas, where a single mom can drop her toddler off at day-care at 10:00 p.m., so that she can be at work by 11. Same goes for a divorced firefighter sharing custody of his kids and having to organize an ever-changing work schedule around time with his children. And then there are the multi-generational households, where families have to organize the schedules of working parents who are responsible for their school-aged kids as well as their aging parents. Interracial families and interfaith families are organizing culture and tradition in order to provide family members with exposure to their own diversity. Same-sex parents have to organize the way their children deal with two moms or two dads. Blended families are tasked with organizing custody, visitation, and divergent parenting styles.
Are these situations complicated? You bet they are! Yet families negotiate their way around the complexities every hour of every day. They deal with conflict, stress, anxiety, and depression in ways as diverse as their membership. Of course, some handle it better than others. Psychologists call this “family dynamics.” Mediators are often called upon to work with family dynamics in order to help the family’s members arrive at meaningful compromises. I have helped numerous families negotiate their own dynamics by giving all members an equal voice, irrespective of where they land in the hierarchy.
If you think the definition of “family” only applies to bloodlines or living situations, think again. How many of us spend Thanksgiving with our “chosen” family? How many of us consider long-term friendships to be closer than family? The vast majority of my family members don’t live in Las Vegas, so I often spend holidays with my friends. I’m thankful for the many wonderful people in my life who represent my chosen family.
Regardless of how you define “family,” regardless of what your family looks like, and regardless of whether our family members are connected to us by birth, blood, or by our own choice, there will always be the potential for conflict. And there is also the potential for unconditional love. Please make it a point to tell your family what you appreciate about each and every member. I promise to do the same.