The following scenario is designed to encourage discussion among mediators. The underlined phrases have footnotes. The footnotes with comments at the end of the scenario identify specific areas of interest. There may be many more areas that mediators can identify. The scenario is simply a catalyst for honing mediator skills. A suggestion is to read through the complete scenario and then go back and discuss each footnote.
Background: A couple has been married for eighteen years and have seventeen year old twins, a boy and a girl. The last few years the couple has not been able to agree on just about anything and plan to separate. Prior to proceeding with the separation, they have agreed to work out the custody arrangements of their twins through mediation. They’ve called the local mediation center which has arranged for a co-mediation.
The mediation center recommended a man and woman for the mediation. Experience showed that co-mediation was usually a better way to go in these situations.
Characters: Dad/Joe; Mom/Mary; Daughter/Sonja 17 years old; Son/Jim 17 years old and mediators Eric and Phyllis. The mediators’ comments are italicized.
After the mediators greet the family and try to put them at ease, they verify that the parents would like the twins to participate in the mediation. All sit down at the mediation table. The mediators note that the son sits next to the Mom and the daughter sits next to the Dad. All seem uptight. Though the mediators are reluctant to have the twins present they bow to the wishes of the parents.
Mediators – During their opening statement the mediators explain the mediators’ role and that mediation is voluntary and confidential. They explain the mediation process and its advantages, the final agreement and any required reporting. Finally they explain that the participants should listen so as not to refute or answer but to understand. They emphasize if the participants listen in this good faith way, the results is usually a successful and acceptable to all. Then they ask who would like to start to explain his/her perception of the situation.
Dad/Joe – “Since this involves possible custody of the kids, I think one of kids should start.”
Jim/Son – “This isn’t our problem. It’s yours and Moms.”
Sonja/Daughter – “I agree with Jim. We like the way things are now, so why should we have to decide what you’re going to do with us.”
Phyllis – “Just to make things clear, we’re not deciding anything right now. We’re just trying to get each person’s perception of the situation.”
Mom/Mary – “We, your Dad and I, thought you should be involved in planning your futures after we separate.”
Jim/Son – “That’s news to us. What are we supposed to do when we don’t have both of you to rely on? Aren’t Sonja and I important?”
Dad/Joe – “We assumed you knew we were going to live apart. It has nothing to do with you two.”
Sonja/Daughter – “The heck it doesn’t. I’ve always looked upon us as being a family.”
Eric – “There’s a lot going on here. Let’s slow down and try to sort a few things out. Who would like to explain to Sonja and Jim what may happen?”
Dad/Joe – “I’m afraid we dropped the ball and assumed too much.”
Mom/Mary – “We! I told you we needed to sit down with the kids prior to coming here and you said it wasn’t necessary.”
Dad/Joe – “There you go again, blaming me.”
Phyllis – “Would you like to explore where the ball was dropped?”
Sonja/Daughter and Jim/Son together – “We sure would. We’re a family.”
Phyllis – “So being a family is important to you both.”
Sonja/Daughter and Jim/Son Together – “It sure is.”
Dad/Joe – “That’s the first time I’ve heard that.”
Jim/Son – “You never asked.”
Mom/Mary – “Maybe we all dropped the ball.” Even though it’s painful I would like to talk about it. We’re missing something and we better figure out what it is.”
Jim/Son – “I agree.”
Sonja/Daughter – “So do I.”
Dad/Joe – “Where do we start?”
Mom/Mary – “How about if I start by giving my perception of the situation?”
Eric – “Where would you like to start?”
Mom/Mary – “I think things started to change some time ago. Joe and I kind of drifted apart. Both of us were busy at work. Then when Jim and Sonja entered middle school, Joe got enthused about Sonja and her sports. He spent a lot of time helping Sonja and was involved with the other adults interested in sports. In the meantime I was involved with Jim and his talents for music, painting and theater. So gradually, we developed separate interests with many of our meals done on the fly.”
Mary goes on explaining how she and Joe gradually drifted apart due to their jobs, getting the kids to their extracurricular activities and working extra hours to pay for everything. Even their attendance at church went by the wayside as other interests took over. In short she ended up saying, “It became a rat race.”
Mom/Mary – “Maybe, Joe sees it differently.”
Dad/Joe – “I sure do. We did it all for the kids. The boat, the RV and trips to our relatives were all for the family. We all wanted to do things.”
Joe went on at length describing all the things they did together and how the kids were doing well at school and getting so much out of their extracurricular activities.
Jim/Son – “But Dad you didn’t seem really interested in my arts.”
Sonja/Daughter – “And Mom you didn’t seem that interested in my sports.”
Mom/Mary – “I’m not into sports.”
Dad/Joe – “And I’m sure not into artsy kind of things.”
Jim/Son – “I always thought my interests took a back seat to sports. If you had only attended some of the plays in which I acted.”
Sonja/Daughter – “Mom you could have been happy for me and my accomplishments. I felt you didn’t care.”
Mom/Mary – “But I did.”
Sonja/Daughter – “You never showed it.”
Mom/Mary – “I guess I was too busy. I’m sorry. Sports have never been my thing and it must have showed.”
Sonja/Daughter – “It sure did. I’m not sure you even know I’m the captain of the soccer team.”
Mom/Mary – “You are! Why didn’t you tell me?”
Sonja/Daughter – “You never asked.”
Mom/Mary – “I’m getting a rude awakening.”
Sonja/Daughter – “So am I. You were right we’ve drifted apart.”
Dad/Joe – “Wow! I think I’m in the same boat.”
Jim/Son – “We always talk about things and never about ourselves. We’re missing something.”
Phyllis – “The last hour has really been filled with a lot to comprehend. Shall we take a break?”
Following the break the mood has changed from irritation to confusion.
Eric – “Phyllis and I visited during the break. You’ve come a long way. It appears that family is important to you all. Yet, in trying to make it happen, things and events seem to have gotten in the way. Maybe in trying too hard the simple needs of feeling wanted and accepted got lost during the drifting apart that you all mentioned. We’re wondering how you would like to proceed from here.”
Mom/Mary – “This has been a real eye opener. Maybe we should stress how to share the little things, our feelings and needs before we start talking about custody arrangements. If we don’t do that what kind of relationships are going to develop even with custody arrangements in place.
Dad/Joe – “I agree. Both of us want what’s best for the kids. So talking about this tougher issue which underlies everything should be primary.”
Sonja/Daughter – “I know were still high schoolers, but next year I’ll be gone to college and Jim/Son is going into the military. Both of us will be gone most of the time since I’ll also be a counselor at church camp during the summer. Being apart is going to make things even more difficult.”
Jim/Son – “I think we need to put our emphasis on relationships for now. But where do we start?”
Phyllis – “I think I hear a consensus that there has been some drifting apart and there’s a felt need of getting closer again. Am I right?”
All – “Yes!”
Phyllis – “Maybe the place to start is with the causes for the drifting.”
Mom/Mary – “I’ll concur with that and throw my ten cents in. I think all of us were doing what we felt was best for the family. In reality we got so involved in doing things we left out the important things of just being and sharing. We didn’t take the time to enjoy just walking together, or preparing and having a meal together. We never really stopped to discuss topics that were important to each of us.”
Eric – “Can you give us some examples?”
Mom/Mary – “Sonja/Daughter and I used to spend time together talking about what life was like when I was a child. We would talk about the differences and how things have changed and how I missed much of the past. These were nostalgic Mom/Maryents that I know both of us enjoyed sharing. Then way back Joe and I would simply sit by the fire and just enjoy the quiet with each other. These were magical moments. Often Jim would toddle into the room and sit on Joe’s lap. There wasn’t much said but there sure was a lot of love. Some of the best times were barbecuing on our back deck and then taking turns hand cranking the ice cream maker.”
Jim/Son – “Boy! I remember Dad’s lap and his stories even though I was a toddler.”
Sonja/Daughter – “From my perspective we haven’t been talking about us since grade school. It’s all been more about what we’re going to do.”
Dad/Joe – “I certainly have to admit those were good times. What got us off track?”
Mom/Mary – “I think it was when things and doing things replaced the sharing we had as a family. What do you think Joe?”
Dad/Joe – “It’s tough to admit, but I think you’re right. We let others decide our values and interests rather than sticking to what really made us truly happy. But how do we get back on track and move on from the past?”
Eric – “It’s clear you’ve drifted apart, but it still isn’t clear to me what you mean by a separation. What is its intent?”
Dad/Joe – “Mary and I realize we’ve drifted apart, and we think we need some time apart to think things over regarding our future.”
Jim/Son & Sonja/Daughter together – “How about our future?”
Mom/Mary – “I may be speaking too soon, but if we address the reasons we’ve all drifted apart, it might make it easier for you dad and I to clarify our thinking.”
Phyllis – “This might be too soon, you’ll have to decide. Maybe all four of you should just let go and do some brainstorming on how to get close again. This could develop the first step. Just throw out some ideas on what could bring you back to feeling close again. Maybe one or two of them might be acceptable, and you could figure out how to implement them. The one word of advice I would like to share is to take small steps not large ones. A step at a time builds a stair case. You may stumble on a step once in a while but you’re still building a staircase. What do you think of this idea? Do you all know what brainstorming is?”
All – “We sure do.”
Jim/Son – “Before we start I have a question. Is it okay to offer an idea that may not be acceptable?”
Phyllis – “Yes. We’re just thinking out loud and want to throw out any idea that comes to mind. Sometimes the funniest and strangest ideas lead to really constructive ideas. We don’t want anyone holding back. Would you like to give brainstorming a try?”
All – “What have we got to lose?”
Eric – “Who would like to start?”
Jim/Son – “I would like mom and dad to put off a separation until Sonja goes to college and I join the military. This will give time to implement the ideas for recreating what we all had.”
Sonja/Daughter – “Start up the barbecues again with homemade ice cream and all the laughs.”
Mom/Mary – “Set aside Sunday as our family day.”
Dad/Joe – “Bring back our family meetings and assignment of chores.”
Sonja/Daughter – “Go out to dinner as a family at least once a month.”
Jim/Son – “Go up to the lake resort for a day and go canoeing and have a picnic on Strawberry Island. We used to love to do that.”
Mom/Mary – “Have Jim and Sonja help get dinner ready. It always gave us a chance to visit.”
Mom/Mary – “Once in a while let’s have your grandparents over on a Sunday evening. Remember how we used to play a card game or Monopoly and have snacks. It was something special.”
Dad/Joe – “I’m starting to get nostalgic. I remember looking forward to those Sunday evenings.”
Sonja/Daughter – “One thing I remember is Jim and I putting on little plays and everyone clapping even though we often messed things up. It felt so comfortable and warm to be with family.”
Dad/Joe – “Start up our vegetable garden again. I can remember us waiting for mom to get the water boiling before we picked the corn.”
Mom/Mary – “I know we can’t bring back the past but we can bring back its spirit.”
Phyllis – “I think we have plenty of ideas. Shall we prioritize them prior to discussing them? My guess is that other ideas will come out as you come to a consensus on which ones you would enjoy. Remember, we’re talking about a first step. You might want to implement it before meeting again to develop further steps.”
Dad/Joe – “Let’s see how it goes. I still think Mary and I need time apart.”
Mom/Mary – “You might be right. I’m just wanting to think positively right now.”
Dad/Joe – “You were always the optimist.”
Sonja/Daughter – “What have we got to lose by trying?”
Eric – “Is it agreed then that we take the next step in the brainstorm?”
Dad/Joe – “I’m not sure we have agreement, but there is a consensus to go ahead.”
Eric – “So, you have some reluctance to proceed.”
Dad/Joe – “Yes.”
Eric – “Do you want to talk about it?”
Dad/Joe – “No. Our kids might be teen agers but we’ve raised them to make their own decisions. They’re pretty mature for their ages, so I’m going with the consensus.”
Jim/Son – “Thanks dad. Sonja and I appreciate that.”
Phyllis – “Where do you want to start?
Sonja/Daughter – “I like the idea of setting aside Sunday for family things. If we could start there it would also set our priorities.”
Jim/Son – “I like this idea we could have a barbecue once in a while.”
Mom/Mary – “But we stopped the Sunday things because you guys had other plans. Now you want to bring it back.
Sonja/Daughter – “Mom things have changed and Jim and I have grown up. We’ll be going away next fall. I can’t speak for Jim. I want to reevaluate what I need as part of my future. I think family is one of the values I need.”
Jim/Son – “Sonja, you hit the nail on the head.”
Phyllis – “Joe and Mary what do you think?”
Joe – “Maybe the kids are a step ahead of us.”
Mary – “If they are I’m proud of them.”
Phyllis – “So do you want to make Sunday a family day?”
All – “Yes.”
Phyllis – “Why don’t you guys figure out how you would like to do it?”
There follows a twenty minute family conversation on making Sunday a family day. They come up with some creative ideas while allowing for occasional changes to fit into individual needs such as one of the kids being asked to volunteer for a good cause. The discussion ended on how long Mom/Mary and Dad/Joe could put off their separation.
Eric – “You certainly have come up with some good ideas but there’s still a lack of consensus on putting off mom and dad’s felt need for time apart. This is a difficult issue and the kids feel strongly about it. You need to address it. Joe and Mary do you want the kids to be part of this discussion?”
Jim/Son – “I’m butting in, but I think this is between mom and dad.”
Sonja/Daughter – “I agree.”
Dad/Joe – “Mary and I have discussed this and we would prefer to discuss this issue privately.”
Eric – “Are you saying that you would prefer to proceed without the mediators?”
Dad/Joe – “Yes. The mediation has brought us a long way and we’re grateful. This last issue is something Mary and I need to resolve in the light of what our kids have shared.”
Eric – “Let’s call it a day. You’ve worked it out among yourselves on making Sunday a family day and with time this should create the first step to a better future. Phyllis and I will be available if you need help in discussing any future steps.”
Phyllis – “Both of us want to congratulate you all on the progress you’ve made today. Again we want to assure you that we’re available if the need arises.”
Two weeks later the parents contacted Eric and Phyllis. They explained that they had agreed to put off a separation until the fall. During that time they were going to continue to try to recreate family again. If things don’t improve, they’ll be back to work out the details for sharing the kids.
 How do mediators put the participants at ease? Is this a good time to be thinking about empathizing?
 Assuring that the parents made the decision and empowering them.
 Was this a good decision? Why?
 What do yo think about using the word perception?
 Mediators note Dad/Joe taking lead. Is this important?
 Kids willing to speak up. Does this change the dynamics?
 Strong language. Is there a move for the mediators?
 How important was this statement? What about the mediators building on it?
 Should Eric ask what Jim meant by family, or should the continuity of the dialogue be not be interrupted?
 Should one of the mediators build on this very positive statement?
 Was it smart for the mediator to let Mary go on for so long? Why/Why not?
 Is this a conciliatory statement that the mediators could pick up on?
 Is this a conciliatory statement on which the mediator can build?
 Note how the mediators stepped away and let the family talk. Was this a good idea?
 A key interest of both of the parents. One possible basis for resolution.
 A softened approach rather than we need to start. It leaves the ball with the participants.
 Maybe Mom/Mary is picking up on softening her approach. Can mediators build on this?
 Should mediators put this in the back of their minds for later use?
 Is this a very humanizing question that needs to be answered fully? Why?
 Does this indicate a change?
 Has Dad/Joe picked up on the change? Can the mediators build on this?
 Can the mediators assume all understand what a consensus is compared to an agreement?
 Some positive things are happening. Is there a way to increase this positivity?
 Mediator is wisely keeping the decision making with the participants.
 A needed clarification and empowerment of Mom/Mary and Dad/Joe.
 Should Eric have verbally supported the decision of Joe and Mary to proceed about the separation on their own?
 Is there another way to end this session? This is positive and assures support if needed.
First published in the High Conflict Institute. Republished with permission.The Problem After 911, our lives changed, and our innocence was tainted. Individual freedoms which we previously took for granted were...By Donald T. Saposnek, Ph.D