Susie’s (age 8) story: “Mom came to school, got my brother, Sam, and took him to the circus. She left me at school.
Susie is telling her story as she remembers the event. Some underlying
emotions might be hurt, jealousy and disappointment. She probably feels Mom’s treatment of her was unfair. Susie lacks accurate information and fills in the blanks with a story that makes sense to her.
Sam’s (age 6) story: “Mom likes me best.”
Sam is happy about the event. He had Mom’s attention and he liked the circus
very much. Does he care about Susie being left at school while he had a good time? Sam probably doesn’t even think about her.
Mom’s version: “I chaperoned Sam’s class on a field trip.”
The actual situation, minus the emotions, is an easily explainable event. The
difference in Sam’s perspective and Susie’s perspective is a source of family conflict. Mom will probably mediate the situation by pointing out that the flyer for the field trip was posted on the refrigerator, apologizing to Susie for neglecting to tell her about it, time together.
Most mediations involve at least three sides of a story. Each participant has a perspective and the third version reports the facts of the matter. Eye witness
versions of incidents have proven to be unreliable. Each person brings his/her
interpretation to the witnessed experience. Memories are also biased by perspective. Although the Susie/Sam example is simplistic, the basis of many conflicts involves different sides to the same story. Emotion colors each version.
How does a mediator help participants come to an agreement when the stories
are different? The mediator acts in much the same way Mom does, without the
personal involvement. During the mediation, each participant has an opportunity to tell his/her side of the story. The mediator listens for areas of agreement and helps the participants recognize how the areas of agreement can be useful in constructing future goals.
Honest and open communication is important during the mediation process.
Participants may not trust each other and each may accuse the other of lying, when, in fact, each is telling the story from his/her point of view. The mediator makes sure that each party can be heard and encourages communication between the parties so the opportunity to provide new information or correct false information is available. The mediator helps the participants create a “new story” by combining some of each version. The areas of agreement provide a starting point. Constructing a parenting plan may begin with “access to both parents is important to both of you”. The “new story” will evolve when the parents discuss and work through a plan that provides that goal.