A few years back, I had the privilege of mediating a
grandparent’s rights matter. The case was ordered to
mediation by the court and involved a grandmother,
Faye, and her former son-in-law, John. The case had
a tragic backstory. Faye’s daughter Sue, the mother
of 3 young children with John, had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Before her death, Sue and
John had divorced and Sue had primary physical custody. John did not play a big role in the children’s lives.
Sue had her own business and relied quite heavily on
Faye to help with the children. Faye lived close by and
saw the kids often. She got them ready for school and
watched them most days after school. By the time
Faye and John ended up in my office, however, things
had changed drastically and Faye had not seen her
grandchildren in close to a year.
A DIFFICULT BEGINNING
Faye arrived early for the mediation. I had not had a
chance to speak with either party beforehand about
what to expect from the process. I found out later that
Faye immediately asked the receptionist if she’d have
to sit in the same room with John. When the receptionist told her that was customary in family mediation,
Faye nervously replied that she really did not want to
do that. John soon arrived and, unaware of Faye’s misgivings, I immediately ushered them both back to my
office. It was evident that neither Faye nor John was
happy to be there. Their discomfort with each other
was palpable and they were unwilling to make eye
contact. I set about doing my best to put them at ease,
assuring them that we were just going to have a conversation and they were free to leave at any time.
I’m frequently amazed at how fast people can open
up in mediation. Sometimes, the most difficult part
is getting parties to come to the table. Once they are
there, the process often takes care of the rest. John
quickly filled me in on the circumstances. He explained
that, before his ex-wife’s death, he had little to do with
the children. When she died, he realized that as the
only parent they had left, he needed to step forward
and become a father. And John had done just that. He
beamed when he spoke of his daily life with the kids.
He was so proud of the home he had created for them.
He said he felt like he was accomplishing something
substantial for the first time in his life.
Faye talked about how before Sue’s death, she had
been a central figure in her grandchildren’s lives. She
cherished her involvement with them. It hurt her
deeply that she not only suddenly lost her daughter,
she lost her grandchildren too. Although she was trying very hard to keep her emotions in check, it was
clear that Faye was devastated.
There is often a point in mediation where you can
see a change in the parties. Words become less harsh,
body language softens - signs that indicate they
may be hearing each other and shifting positions. As
this mediation progressed, the conversation became
deeper and I could see that shift happening. John
expressed that he always believed Faye disapproved
of him as a father and that was why he cut her out of
his life. He didn’t want her looking over his shoulder
and criticizing his decisions as he grew into his new
role. Faye was quick to assure him that was never
the case. She brought up examples of how they had
cooperated in the past when Sue was still alive. She
expressed how wonderful it was that John was now
so involved with the kids. John and Faye were beginning to rekindle their relationship. They even vented
some mutual frustration over how Sue used to do
some things. Both parties were able to let go of some
long-held hurts and misunderstandings.
Talk eventually turned to how Faye could once again
be a part of her grandchildren’s lives. John said he had
completely changed his mind about Faye’s involvement with the kids and agreed to set up a visit that
very week. John and Faye left the mediation together,
going to a coffee shop to plan Faye’s reunifying visit
with the kids.
Mediators celebrate small miracles every day.
Mediation is about so much more than helping parties
resolve a case. It is a chance to accept the past, perhaps do a little healing and find a conflict-free path for
the future. In the space of a few hours, by sitting down
and having a meaningful conversation, John and Faye
changed the course of their family’s lives forever.
Every mediation has a story. This one had a happy
About the Author
is a mediator,
and lecturer, as
well as an attorney
and the owner of
in Reno, Nevada.
She loves to share
her passion for
Every mediation has a story. Due to the confidential nature of the
process, mediators often don’t get the opportunity to tell those stories. Our work
is infinitely rewarding, as is the chance to share our experiences with others.
“We learn best – and change
– from hearing stories that
strike a chord within us.”