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