I recently met with two sisters who were completely at odds about their aging Mother, Anna. The older sister, Kelly, is a stay-at-home mom, with a very successful husband and two pre-teen children. The younger sister, Kim, is single, no kids, struggling to make ends meet while working and attending community college at night.
My first impression was that they were obviously as different from each other as they could be. But after listening to them for a few minutes, two things became crystal clear: first, that they both adored their Mother, and second, that they had completely different ideas about money.
I generally start all mediation proceedings in the same way, by asking the parties in conflict to tell me why they’re in conflict and to share what goals they hope to achieve in mediation. Each sister told me that she was here to figure out a way to get on the same page with the other about their Mother’s expenses. Kelly, the older sister, seemed dismissive about Kim’s concerns that their Mother was going to run out of money. Kim, on the other hand, was infuriated by Kelly’s seemingly cavalier attitude.
We spent some time discussing the numbers, and I sat back and listened to the dynamic of the older sister vs. younger sister in their dialogue. When they started repeating themselves, I brought the focus away from the money and back to the obvious love and concern each had for her Mother. I had them show me photos of Anna which they had on their phones. Within a few minutes, the sisters both 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 Anna, we were able to make some changes to the way Anna’s finances were being handled. The sisters also agreed to re-evaluate the new financial plan in six months, allowing for things to be tweaked if necessary.
The best part was watching them leave my office. Together. Made me wish I had daughters of my own.