"Can't Buy Me Love" Or Can You?

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There was a great deal of anger and distrust among the five adult siblings - four sisters and a brother – so much so that they were unable to communicate with each other or their mother about their father’s deteriorating condition. After speaking with everyone, we proposed an initial mediation session with all the children, after which we all would meet with their mother in a second session.  

The sisters were divided – the two older ones shared common concerns and opinions, while the younger sisters felt a need to stick together since the complaints were mostly about them.  The brother remained neutral. It didn’t take long to discover that poor communication and money were at the heart of virtually all the hard feelings they had developed for each other over the years. They shared a sense of anger and frustration over the fact that their parents gave financial support to some, but not all, of the siblings.  Mutual distrust was a by-product of years of unsatisfactory communication. Hurt feelings were the result of their parents’ different treatment, which they felt was unfair and inappropriate.  

Mom clearly loved and would do anything for each of her kids, but she recognized that they were unhappy with how she allocated money to them.  Her mantra was: “It’s my money and I’ll do what I want with it.  It is none of their business how I decide to spend my money.” This did little to suppress their concerns and sense of betrayal.

Although we set aside four hours for the mediation session, there was more resentment than originally anticipated. It took nearly 12 hours over two days to clear the air, reach agreement on how to move forward and reestablish effective communication.   With many tears shed and laughter shared, the siblings were able to correct misconceptions and let go of the mistrust that had built up between them. During the process, however, they came to the realization that their mother’s secretive, unequal treatment of them was the root cause of their problems. 

A few days after the mediation sessions, we held a joint meeting with the siblings and their mother.  Emotions ran very high as the mom repeated that she was entitled to help her children  in any manner she saw fit. The siblings explained that, while they essentially agreed with mom’s philosophy, her lack of transparency had served to create an overwhelming sense of resentment and distrust among them.  Additionally, the kids felt that their parents expressed love through financial assistance.  Consequently, if they weren’t getting money, it meant they weren’t loved.  

As a result of our carefully directed mediation sessions, we helped the siblings heal wounds they felt over the years, wounds that more often than not resulted from secrets and unexpressed, hurt feelings. And mom came to understand how the inequities and secrecy affected her children (and grandchildren).

The mediation ended with all agreeing to be open, honest, and willing to discuss issues as they arose.  We also helped establish a routine that allowed each of them to spend leisure time with their parents. We established a schedule for each of the siblings to assist their father, thus relieving mom of some of the burden of full-time care giving.