What happens when “the most wonderful time of year” doesn’t feel so wonderful? In today’s blog, we’ll address the range of emotions and expectations that many individuals have during the holiday season, how these feelings can affect your relationships, and what you can do to mitigate or resolve family holiday conflicts.

Conflicts Happen When Emotions Run High

First, let’s take a look at the ideas that we’ve come to believe about the holidays. Many of our beliefs are based on scenes from the countless holiday stories told to us by our family, culture, and the entertainment media — that we are surrounded by loving and supportive friends and family, we give and receive the perfect gifts, and every holiday light bulb works on every tree.

With this level of perfection, it’s no wonder many of us get stressed during the season! Our heightened level of expectations can cause great anxiety, sadness, loneliness and even anger. Worse yet, the volatility of our emotions can lead to family conflicts that create everything but the happy holiday experiences we desire.

So this year, well before the holidays begin, we want to educate you about a valuable service that can help resolve and even pre-empt a family conflict: mediation.

Mediation Can Help Families Resolve Conflict

According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, a mediator is “a person or an organization that tries to get agreement between people or groups who disagree with each other.” LIkewise, a family mediator is someone who focuses on creating space between family members in conflict so that each party can use their creativity to come up with a solution to the disagreement.

Family mediation is especially valuable during the holidays because it can help create a positive atmosphere for constructive thinking and decision-making. Unlike working through the legal system which supports a “win-lose” mindset, mediation focuses on a “win-win” framework which helps instill peace and goodwill in the resolution process—all ingredients for a happier holiday for the family.

Better yet, a family mediator doesn’t take sides or make the decisions for you. The mediator acts as a neutral party that sets the guidelines on how each family member in the conflict should interact with each other. The family parties must agree on the resolution themselves and abide by that agreement. The mediator cannot enforce any resolution that the family members make—the power to decide, agree and act on the conflict and resolution resides with each family member equally. And best of all, the process of mediation helps families learn the skills necessary to resolve their issues in a healthy, positive way.

Isn’t a mediator for legal cases?

Yes, mediators can be associated with legal disputes; however, mediators can also support people and families in situations outside of the legal system.

How can a mediator help me if I don’t have a legal case?

A mediator can help resolve a conflict with someone in the family, regardless of the presence of a legal case. If the person you are in conflict with is someone who you value and want to keep in your life, mediation can be a good alternative to family therapy.

With mediation you aren’t looking to uncover the root issues in your relationship, you simply want someone to help guide the conflict resolution process. Bringing on a neutral party can go a long way in preventing damage to the relationship and creating space for healing the relationship.

Please remember that a mediator cannot and will never replace a therapist. The goal with utilizing a mediator for your family conflict is to create space for conflict resolution so that you can move forward with peace and understanding, and without ongoing conflict negatively impacting our daily lives.

In either scenario, if you want to utilize the services of a therapist or other mental health professional to facilitate the conversation, unless you have a personal therapist lined up, you will likely have to wait a prolonged period of time before you can find someone accepting new families/clients with availability in their calendar.

Because mediation isn’t trying to get to the root cause of the conflict but is instead working on getting you through the conflict, a mediator can essentially dive right in and get straight to the conflict resolution.

Example of a family disagreement that could benefit from a mediator:

Happily married spouses: the family usually spends Christmas eve with Wife’s parents and Christmas day with Husband’s parents. This year Wife’s family has a conflict and needs to host Christmas morning. Husband and Wife are disagreeing about whether they adjust their plans and if they do how to adjust them.

How can a mediator help me if I do have a legal case?

When you have a legal case, a mediator can actually help you bypass California’s court system which is still reeling from COVID and budget cuts, and is operating at a rather slow pace. This is because mediation operates on an entirely different schedule than the court system.

In the court system, the fastest response times are reserved for families facing emergencies and extreme cases (allegations of child abuse, or domestic violence, an unsafe home for children or significant other)—yet even then, the speed of the court system can be grossly inadequate.

The situation is even worse for families with comparatively minor conflicts. If there is a last minute disagreement, or even simply a non-urgent disagreement, typically by the time your motion is heard, many weeks, if not months will have passed, and the issue will be moot before you see a judge.

The wonderful thing about mediation is that you don’t need to wait for the clerks to process your motion, or for availability on a judge’s overbooked calendar to discuss your disagreement. Working with a mediator can allow you to address the conflict much quicker.

If this is your first time mediating a conflict, there will likely be some lead time as you build rapport with your mediator and your mediator develops an understanding of your issues.

If you are co-parents, one useful option is to retain a mediator and as conflicts are resolved don’t terminate the relationship with your mediator. Your mediator can be called any time an issue comes up.

Examples of more minor family disagreements that could benefit from a mediator (please keep in mind, ‘minor’ doesn’t mean it isn’t a big deal to you personally, it means that it doesn’t qualify for urgent attention by the court.)

EXAMPLE 1: Under the standard visitation schedule, Parent 1 has the children on Christmas Eve to noon on Christmas Day, Parent 2 has the children beginning Christmas Day at noon until the 31st at noon. Parent 1’s employer provided notice of a change in work schedule necessitating the children have child care on Christmas Eve. Parent 1 doesn’t want the children to be away from family and so is asking Parent 2 to swap visitation time so the children can spend Christmas Eve with family. Parent 2 says they’ll accept both Christmas Eve and their standard timeshare, but are unwilling to agree to a swap of time.

EXAMPLE 2: a child has been invited on a snowboarding trip in December. Both parents agree that this is an important experience for the child, but it will also mean missing out on some family traditions with Parent 2. The parents are in a disagreement about how to resolve the missed family time with Parent 2.

What we have in these scenarios is a disagreement that neither parent feels capable of handling alone. Perhaps both parents feel that they’re being reasonable and the other is being unreasonable. Perhaps one parent is tired of accommodating the other and feels resentful. At the center of both examples is a child or children who are going to pick up on the stress felt by their parents. In neither of these scenarios would it be worth any parties’ time filing a motion. Judges will send parents to mediation and then if there’s no agreement eventually have a hearing; however, what the parties’ can do is utilize their mediator to help them workout a solution, likely one no one has thought about yet, or receive a reminder about what is truly important: their children.

If you have questions about meditation and how it can support you during the holidays, please contact us.


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