“When I tell you things, I need you to not disclose them to Dad, who will tell my brother.”
Things had begun breaking down between Jen and her parents even before 2017, when her brother came up to visit. They’d never spoken about his mental illness in her family – always pretended it wasn’t there – but on that visit, it was so clear to Jen. A couple months later, she learned that he was getting a divorce, and the next year their parents let him move into the family lake house. Jen and her family visited two summers ago, but that was the last time they were all together. Jen knew she needed to put up boundaries, to make sure she and her kids were safe. But her parents wouldn’t hear it, wouldn’t acknowledge anything wrong with her older brother.
Jen needed a break from the calls and emails that went nowhere, from her father’s anger. So last winter, she stopped communication, laying down her own boundaries with her parents. She meant the pause to apply only for herself, but her mom took it to mean something bigger, more jarring: no contact with the grandkids, no calls, no facetime, no e-mails. No visits.
It was Jen’s mom who suggested mediation. So, after almost a year without speaking, Jen saw her mom for the first time on Zoom, along with two VOA mediators, across states and time zones, connecting in a way they never thought they’d need.
“The mediators were both very kind, very clear, and really good communicators. They both followed the process and kept bringing us back to it.” Jen felt heard for the first time: about her brother, about her Mom’s pattern of breaching her confidence. Her Mom felt heard, about the pain Jen had caused, about not seeing her grandson and granddaughter. The mediators didn’t dwell in the past, but focused on the process, helping Jen and her mom craft an agreement about how they would communicate going forward.
“When there are family patterns that aren’t very healthy, having that process to help keep things moving forward was so helpful” says Jen. They didn’t solve everything. But, Jen and her Mom are talking and e-mailing again, and Jen’s kids are talking to Grandma again.
“I’m really grateful,” says Jen.
To learn more about how mediation or conciliation might help you, visit voaww.org/drc. All identifying information in this story has been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.