With the holiday season almost upon us, it is timely to reflect on the importance of family in our lives. Sadly, while this time of year is often joyous, it can also be a time when fermenting family conflict bubbles to the surface.

I have been particularly moved hearing stories of families unable to reconcile their differences and turning to court action, even restraining orders, to settle family disputes.

Dealing with adult family decisions can be difficult and heart-wrenching. With an aging population and the growth in blended families, addressing internal family problems has become more complex with every generation. More and more family members act as carers for their aging loved ones, a situation that can be both a joyful experience and a fraught one.

Family members may approach important decisions about themselves and their loved-ones from different perspectives and conflicting views about future decisions may seem difficult if not impossible to reconcile. Making matters worse, the more caught up we become in conflict, the harder it becomes to move forward – we get stuck.

Each time we try to talk to our siblings about Mum’s declining health, her future care options or whether she should still be driving (insert issue here) the conversation seems to end up in the same heated exchange, playing over and over again like a broken record. It’s getting more and more difficult to have a constructive conversation in this environment and the impasse is taking its toll on our family relationships.

If you’re stuck in a family conflict mediation may provide the answer. Mediators seek to explore the interests that lie beneath the surface of the positions family-members take on issues. While on the surface, positions may seem impossibly incompatible, we usually find that family members have many shared interests which can lead to a constructive joint problem-solving experience. What’s more, mediation has the potential to restore fractured relationships and provide a roadmap for future communication.

Self-determination is a cornerstone of ethical mediation practice. While an impartial mediator will assist participants to gain clarity about the issues and an understanding of the other’s perspective, mediators don’t provide advice or make decisions on their behalf. This means that you do not surrender control of your problems to a third party to decide on your behalf. This is an important benefit of mediation for many families.

The alternatives to mediation might resolve a dispute, but are unlikely to deliver an outcome that affirms family relationships. Taking family disputes to court is likely to cost you a packet and escalate the rift between you and your family.

As Christmas approaches, I think about the woman I met recently who is caring for her aging father on her own, and the restraining order that prevents her sharing Christmas dinner with her only other living relatives. Surely there is a better way to deal with family conflict than this.

(c) Nicole Kepert. All rights reserved