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Fractured Family

Everyone has his/her side to the story of this fractured family. Bob and Emily are estranged from their son, Adam. They have have not spoken in ten years Bob and Emily  are saddened by this “horrible” turn of events, Adam, not so much.

Adam is 37 years old, married with two young boys and lives in the same city as his parents. How did this come about? If you ask the parents, it happened “all of a sudden”.  One minute they were one big happy family, the next, Adam refused to talk to them and cut off all contact with the family. If you ask Adam, it came on slowly, over the years.

When did it start? Actually Adam is right, years ago, quietly, innocently and insidiously with all the best of intentions.

Bob and Emily had high hopes for their only son. He was smart, clever, personable, nice looking and got good grades. They were pushing him towards reaching his potential of being an attorney like his father. They practically had him signed up for Harvard Law School in the 3rd grade. They were so proud of him; he was a star football player and on the debate team in high school.

Can you begin to see the problem that was developing as Bob and Emily plowed ahead with their dream for his future; arranging college visits to their choices for Adam, telling their friends of the plans ahead for him, all the while ignoring his loud protests that he had his own dreams that did not include law school? Bob and Emily had stopped listening to Adam. Finally, Adam stopped talking. He left home after high school and studied music with the intention of becoming a professional musician.

Bob and Emily could not accept this decision and felt compelled to let him know what poor choices he was making when he came for Sunday dinner. When Adam married, his choice was not up to his parent’s standards. Slowly, any desire to be around his parents diminished. He stopped coming to Sunday dinner, and when his children were born his parents were not asked to be present at their births. Adam’s sister, Caroline, was sent to try to reason with him, to no avail.

We get many requests from desperate parents wanting to reconcile with their estranged children. Could mediation possibly help?

Meditation is a cooperative process where all parties agree to meet together and listen respectively and with an open mind, to the others. The desired result is an agreement crafted by both sides to make behavioral and verbal changes to their interaction. These changes are outlined very specifically on paper, and everyone signs, indicating that he/she is willing to comply with its directives.  Because mediation is facilitated by the mediator but driven by the parties’ desire to reach a mutually satisfying solution, the basic principle is “free will”.  Each party is not coerced in any way to reach an agreement he/she does not fully support. This process, however, will require some compromise and understanding of the other side.

In the case of Adam and his parents,  Adam will want his parents to stop criticizing his choices which which his parents disguise as helpful information. He may also want his parents to support him and realize he is happy and his choices work for him. His parents will want Adam to accept the fact that they love him, only want to the best for him, and, as his parents want to continue to offer him the wisdom of their advanced years and experience.

Some minor changes in how this family interacts with each other will go a long way towards bringing them closer together. Sitting down to do some deep listening to each other, with a third party to guide a productive discussion that is free of defensiveness and blame, is the real key.