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A Daughter and Her Father at Their Wit's End

BY JACK HAMILTON AND ELISABETH SEAMAN

Co-Authors of "Conflict - The Unexpected Gift"

Father Refuses to Move Into an Adult Community

A woman in her 60s is mad at her widower father in his late 80s because he adamantly refuses to listen to her. He refuses to act on her advice that he should move into a senior-living community. The father is perfectly happy staying put in the family homestead where he’s been living for the past 60 years.

No Resolution In Sight

The two have been squabbling for some time without coming anywhere near a resolution to their disagreement. In fact, they are barely speaking to each other. On those rare occasions when they do get on the phone, they very quickly start shouting at each other. Neither concedes that the other has anything worthwhile to say. Both of them are resigned to the fact that the situation is hopeless.

A Friend Suggests Mediation

One day a mutual friend suggests that a way to get past their deadlock might be to use mediation. She tells them that mediation is a process in which a neutral mediator gets together with people who are mired in an intractable argument. She says mediation offers a safe space where people can openly share their clashing accounts with a professional they can trust because that person doesn’t take sides. She adds that mediators use a communication process that helps people work together to identify and ultimately let go of incorrect assumptions they’ve made about each other.

He Says, She Says

Although very reluctant to do so, the daughter and the father take their friend’s advice and finally locate a mediator they can agree upon. The daughter tells the mediator that she’s terribly upset because she’s convinced her dad cannot continue to live at home any longer. He doesn’t eat right, gets dizzy, occasionally falls, and no one is there to help him when he does fall. The father discredits everything his daughter says, saying that he’s fit as a fiddle, takes his pills, gets out regularly for walks, eats enough, and has neighbors who help him when he needs it.

Listening for Understanding

At a point when the daughter and the father have explained over and over again their respective positions, the mediator asks the daughter and the father to tell each other what they’ve heard from the other until they both agree that each one has fully understood the other’s concerns. This process eventually enables each of them to understand their disagreements from the other’s perspective and to begin to take responsibility for their own parts in the breakdown that has occurred in their relationship.

The mediator ultimately summarizes what she has heard from the daughter and the father. The two finally agree that talking in the presence of a mediator, who has listened to them from a nonjudgmental stance, has enabled them to finally feel fully heard and to better understand both sides of their disagreement.

The Father Apologizes

The father ultimately apologizes to his daughter for being so stubborn and not being willing to listen to her ideas. He admits it was his fault and promises not to let it happen again. He owns up to not really knowing what it would be like to live in a senior-living facility. He agrees to have his daughter drive him to a number of nearby facilities, so he can check them out firsthand.

The Daughter Offers Assurance

The daughter accepts her father’s apology and says she is sorry about having not tried very hard to listen to his concerns. She also assures him that if he were to move to a senior-living facility, she and her husband, her siblings, and his grandchildren would visit him regularly.

Mutually Acceptable Solutions

Through mediation, the daughter and the father have been able to examine the negative labels each had placed on the other and acknowledge the extent to which they had misjudged each other. The process has allowed them to get past their misconceptions and to deal directly with their underlying needs. It has enabled them to move from only shouting at each other about problems to devising some mutually acceptable solutions and signing a form listing the agreements they promised each other and their mediator to act upon.

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