I mediated a conflict between Maddie, the mother
of 4 ½ year old Sasha, and Maddie’s mother Rhonda,
who was currently looking after the child. At Maddie’s request the mediation was by telephone, as
the parties live 300 km apart.
Sasha had come to his grandmother to be looked
after five months earlier, when Maddie had to have
surgery. In the session Maddie tried to explore with
Rhonda the return of Sasha to her care, which had
been agreed between them when Rhonda took
Sasha. Maddie thought that it was time for Sasha
to come back to live with her, as she had now a
stable job and place to live. Sasha would be going to
school in a couple of months, and Maddie wanted
to arrange for her to go to the pre-school that fed
into the primary school and make some friends.
Rhonda, however, who was enjoying having
Sasha in her life, was reluctant to negotiate anything. Whatever I tried it did not work. Rhonda had
a long list of complaints about Maddie: she had
moved three times already, she wasn’t a stable
mother for the child, she would be out of work
again shortly, etc. Whatever Maddie tried to say to
convince Rhonda had backfired.
I decided to have a separate session with Rhonda
first. During caucus Rhonda stated that she did not
think Maddie was a suitable mother because when
Sasha was staying with her the last time, Sasha
had come into Maddie’s bed where she had been
naked with her boyfriend. This, Rhonda had said,
was vulgar and inappropriate. Besides, Rhonda
volunteered, the boyfriend was a foreigner.
I asked Rhonda what part of all this information
was the main problem: the child in Mum’s bed, the
nakedness, the boyfriend or the fact that he came
from another country. All of it, responded Rhonda.
She took issue with whatever Maddie was doing
or not doing in her life. I asked if there were reasons for her lack of trust that Maddie was a ‘good
enough’ caring mother. Rhonda explained that her
favourite daughter Vivian, Maddie’s older sister,
had died at 26 as a result of a lengthy mystery illness, while Maddie had been a difficult teenager
during this time. Rhonda explained she felt it was
all so unfair, and she was still grieving over her loss.
In her mind Maddie had always been the “problem
child” and still was to this day. Vivien had
always been the apple of her eye.
I gently explored Rhonda’s fear of losing contact with her only granddaughter
and whether she was open to negotiating about some of the needs and
interests she had heard from Maddie’s
side. Although Rhonda was most reluctant, after more unpacking of her needs she first
wanted to talk with Maddie about how they could
create a more trusting and respectful mother-daughter relationship.
Reflection: As mediators we come to mediation
with an open mind, without bias or value judgments, we remain curious and have knowledge and
skills to facilitate direct communication between
the parties. The issues below the surface of that
iceberg, we learned about and were trained in the
skills to explore these with parties in our role-plays, so we should perhaps always expect the
unexpected as a result of asking our questions.
Letting go of having an investment in a particular
outcome, as certainly this story illustrates, remains
the final open-ended question.
About the Author
has been a
mediator and trainer
since 1989. She
is an Australian
accredited under the
Standards. She is
the co-author of
ed., 2012) and a
Family mediators ask questions, but we may not always
want to hear the answers.
We should always expect the unexpected
when we ask questions.