Articles by Norman Pickell Mediation: Harmony in the Family


Mediation: Harmony in the Family by Norman Pickell

Do you keep in regular touch with all members of your family? Are you on good speaking terms with your parents, your sisters, your brothers, your children?

Do you wish to have a better relationship with one or more of your family members? If you don’t, you can stop reading now. But if you do, hopefully you will find the answer to your wish in this article.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing General Colin Powell speak at a conference.

When General Powell was asked what his greatest accomplishment was, he said “my family – including my 3 children who like each other.”

The goal of most parents is to raise children who do like each other.

How often have you heard the expression “Blood has made us sisters, but love has made us friends.”

From time to time, I read “Dear Annie.” Two columns caught my attention. One was entitled “Woman finds her sister is intolerable.” The other headline was “Family falls apart after mother’s death.”

What causes some children not to like each other as they grow older? There can be several reasons.

Maybe your brother is very controlling or sarcastic. Perhaps you have a sister who is selfish.

Does your sister or brother constantly criticize you?

Sometimes greed is the problem. Perhaps someone is bitter, jealous or resentful.

Maybe one of the children has some wrong information. A few years ago I was involved with a family where the sisters were under the false impression that their brothers received everything from their father’s estate. After I obtained a copy of the will for the sisters to read, they were very sorry that, because of some wrong information, they had not spoken to their brothers in years.

Perhaps there has been a gradual decline in communication. No one remembers how it started; but no one is ready to step up and reverse the decline.

Other times it is because a parent has favoured one child over another. Maybe the parent’s favouritism is real; maybe it is perceived.

In addition to perceptions among children, a parent may perceive that the reason his or her children don’t get along is the fault of one of the children. The reality may be that it is the fault of a different child.

Sometimes our memory plays tricks on us, especially the further we are from the incident. If the rivalry or conflict between children has gone on long enough, both children may be right, or both may be wrong.

Often parents are the glue that hold children together. When the last of the parents dies, children who didn’t get along that well when their parents were alive often go their separate ways.

We lead such busy lives these days. Most of us try to keep in touch with our parents. But how often do you visit, phone or otherwise contact one of your siblings? It takes effort to maintain family ties.

How do you achieve harmony among all members of your family?

In a future article, I will talk about resolving estate issues after someone dies. But right now I am talking about everyone still being alive.

Some family members just stop speaking to each other. They think the problem will go away. Usually what happens over time is that the conflict or the reasons why the family members don’t get along worsen.

If you want to improve your relationship with one or more of your family members, you should sit down and talk to them. But usually if your relationship is seriously strained, talking to other family members without the assistance of a neutral third party is impossible. That is where mediation is helpful.

We are talking about having family conversations which are often difficult and usually emotional.

The mediator helps the family have these difficult and emotional conversations in a civilized way.

The mediator can bring together some or all of the family members, including the parents. Such a meeting can take place in the mediator’s office, in the family home or in some other place where everyone feels comfortable.

In mediation, we work on communication.

Disagreement itself does not cause conflict. People disagree all the time without coming into conflict. The seeds of conflict are sown if there is not effective communication.

Effective communication requires both speaking and listening. Listening has 3 parts to it: hearing what the speaker says, understanding what is said and communicating that understanding to the speaker.

We call it the communication loop. When the loop is not been completed, communication begins to break down.

Mediation is respectful of everyone involved.

A properly trained mediator will be able to handle parties who are high conflict, uncooperative, unreasonable, or all of the above.

The mediator will set guidelines for the behaviour of everyone during the mediation sessions.

Right from the beginning, the mediator will create an atmosphere that promotes discussion. You will be made to feel safe and comfortable in the presence of your other family members.

The mediator probes into the underlying and often unspoken issues.

Mediation is a flexible process. If all of the participants do not feel comfortable being in the same room together, the mediator can arrange for separate rooms to accommodate everyone.

Even if the participants are able to sit in the same room together, the mediator may hold some sessions where the parties are in separate rooms. We call these “caucus sessions”.

Caucus sessions are useful for many reasons. The information learned in these caucus sessions can sometimes be helpful in breaking a stalemate that is facing the parties. The caucus sessions also provide an opportunity for an angry or upset family member to vent and cool down. They also help the mediator obtain information that one person does not want to share in front of everyone. The mediator may then be able to use that information in a positive way to advance the mediation.

A well-trained mediator is skilled in ways to overcome any impasse that may develop between the parties.

The mediator does not take anyone’s side. But the mediator will facilitate the flow of information.

Some time needs to be spent in mediation examining the past. However, most of the time will be spent looking at the present and the future. The mediator will have the parties focus on what needs to be done to put things back on track.

We know how to break up. But who teaches us to make up?

With the assistance of a mediator, family members are often able to repair their strained relationships.

Mediation strengthens family ties.

Mediation helps the family to improve their communication skills with each other. In so doing, the relationship among all of the family members improves. This is important for the future of that family.

What is stopping you from coming to mediation? Ego? Pride?

Adult children who are parents are role models for their own children. Your children are watching to see how you handle relationships, including relationships with your own brothers, sisters and parents.

When we are talking about your brothers and sisters, we are also talking about your children’s uncles and aunts. If your siblings have children, they are not only your nephews and nieces, they are also your children’s cousins.

There is a song that starts “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

Peace does begin at home. Until we have peace in our own homes, how do we ever expect to have peace in the world.

The goal is to have peace and harmony in the family, instead of war and hostility.

Norman Pickell is a mediator and lawyer based in Goderich, Ontario. For more information about mediation, please visit his web site at


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Norman B. Pickell  Lawyer - Mediator - Arbitrator  58 South Street, Goderich, Ontario N7A 3L5  Telephone (519) 524-8335   Fax (519) 524-1530