Amid hard economic times, the skyrocketing burdens of college loans, and an inaccessible housing market, there is a growing trend increasingly reported in the news of adult children moving back in with their parents following graduation from college. No doubt for many parents and many young adult children, this new living dynamic is stressful and even painful.
We have all grown up with an expectation of increasing prosperity from generation to generation and for many moving out on one’s own is an important symbol signifying that that expectation of prosperity is on its way to being fulfilled. The symbolic disappointment of that expectation inspires all kinds of different emotional responses from both parents and young adult children.
In addition to the emotions that attend a graduate’s moving back in with his or her parents are a host of practical issues relating to any household. How do the housing costs get covered? How does the home get cleaned? What impact do visitors have on the other members of the household? How do people communicate about important household needs? How much privacy do household members get? The list of such questions that may come up is a long one.
Often attending the practical aspects of these questions is a diverse range of value judgments, personal experiences, relationship histories, and awkwardness before uncharted territory that together result in very different perceptions on any given issue.
With all of these factors at play at once, it’s understandable if the peace and contentment of home has been shaken.
A small minority of parents involve their children in their estate planning process. The reasons for this fact are understandable, but not sufficiently well founded to make this trend a smart one.
Sources of the Traditional Route to Estate Planning
Often, the estate planning process is initiated while the children are still too young to be able to meaningfully contribute understanding of how the estate plan might best meet their needs. For a time, it is true, the parents know best.
In addition, people often feel reasonably well justified holding the view that the fruit of their life’s labors is theirs to do with as they please. The children should appreciate the gifts they receive, not seek to tell the parents how to make them.
And then, the habit and, indeed, ethics of legal practice have long required avoiding representing multiple interests. An estate planner serves the individual seeking a plan for distributing his or her estate, not the estate’s beneficiaries. The inertia of habit and the simplicity of serving a single interest funnels estate planning out of earshot of the children in a way that reinforces a sense that the estate plan is none of their business.
There is no need to quarrel with the reasons that estate beneficiaries are not allowed or invited to participate in the estate planning process. All of these reasons can be legitimate and still fail to serve the real interests of the individual that needs a plan for distribution of his or her estate among his or her heirs and beneficiaries. And the reason the traditional way of doing estate planning often fails to achieve its desired result is simple: it assumes that the parties receiving the estate gifts will embrace the estate plan without having been involved in its creation. This is an unwise assumption.
Just think of how often much smaller gift giving goes awry. Think of the long return lines in the department stores the day after the Christmas holiday, for example. And this is after Santa has gone out of his way to invite children to write him letters telling him what they want!
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Pathways - Organization dedicated to promoting early health detection tools and practices for parents and healthcare providers.
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Proprietor of Family Tree Mediation
Serving Redwood City, Atherton,
Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View,
Los Altos and the wider Peninsula &
San Francisco Bay Area.
I call my practice Family Tree Mediation because, to me, the metaphor of the Family Tree expresses many values and beliefs that I think make mediation an extremely valuable tool for getting the most out of our lives:
First, the Family Tree image reflects the positive growth of each of our lives through all of life’s changing seasons. As we grow older, the strength, peace and grace we embody are a reflection of our authenticity, integrity, and self-awareness. Mediation is a process that provides the opportunity for navigating deeply painful conflicts with all of these desirable qualities so that you feel yourself growing stronger, more peaceful and more graceful no matter what challenges you face.
Inseparable Aspects of Who We Are
Second, the Family Tree diagram of relationships calls attention to the fact that the people connected to us through close family bonds remain powerful presences in our lives no matter how these relationships may change or where our paths may lead. Therefore, we are wise to treat these relationships thoughtfully if we do not want to experience the unpredictable and stormy nature of untended conflict. Conflicts of interest and perspective are inevitable parts of life, but they do not have to be destructive experiences. When the mediation process is employed well, I believe these inevitable conflicts ultimately make the Family Tree even more fruitful.
Closest to the Heart
Third, the Family Tree expression refers to the relationships that are the closest to our heart: our loves, our children, our parents, our siblings, all those who have more experience than anyone else of the continuity of who we are from childhood to old age. Investing in our ability to hold ourselves positively amid the myriad variations of family relationships, no matter what strains and changes such relationships involve, is to me a doorway to health and happiness. As a mediator, I strive keep this doorway open for families so that they can honor each other’s autonomy, find empowerment to pursue their own deepest interests, and so find peace in their differences and appreciation for the good things shared together.
Cultivating a Strong Family Tree
Family Tree Mediation is available to mediate all kinds of disputes and difficult conversations that families may face. Here are a few of the services Family Tree Mediation Offers:
If you are suffering an ongoing conflict within your family tree and want to promote the pursuit of a positive outcome that meets the needs, concerns and agendas of everyone involved, Family Tree Mediation welcomes your inquiry to evaluate whether our services might be right for you.
I am an attorney with experience as both a litigator and a clerk attorney to San Francisco Superior Court judge Ronald Quidachay. I earned my J.D. at U.C. Hastings where, among other things, I was one of only three students in my class to receive a three-year merit scholarship. During law school I also served as a member of the Hastings Law Journal and externed for Federal Court Judge Charles Breyer. I passed the bar in 2004. In 2009, I received the state bar’s Wiley W. Manuel Award for providing more than 100 hours of pro bono legal services to persons in need.
Prior to becoming an attorney, I taught 4th, 7th and 8th grades at Ross School, a public school in Marin County. During my tenure as a teacher, I also fulfilled several leadership roles including president of our district’s teacher union, member of the negotiations committee and the administration’s leadership committee, and faculty liaison to the PTA. In 1999, the PTA awarded me its “Inspirational Teacher” award the first time it was given for creating on my own initiative a reading mentorship program engaging middle school students as mentors to struggling primary grade readers.
I am a lifelong resident of the Bay Area and a graduate of Stanford University. My wife, Ingrid, grew up in Palo Alto. We had our first child in 2010 and were thrilled to buy our first home in her hometown, and my college town, in the fall of 2011. In the summer of 2012, I opened the doors of Family Tree Mediation, excited to be shifting my legal practice to focus solely on the mediation process, which I regard as both a far more economically sound service to provide and a far more constructive process in which to engage than litigation.
My Approach to Mediation
I employ a facilitative approach to mediation focused on achieving and building upon the mutual benefits parties in dispute experience when they realize they have been truly heard. I believe a mediation revolution is quietly at work in our society significantly improving our communication methods in ways that have a long lasting positive influence on the quality of our lives. Understanding and appreciating the value of utilizing a neutral third party who is present, sensitive, articulate, intelligent and creative to mediate difficult relationships, issues, disputes and conversations I believe will soon enter the mainstream in our culture in the same way that therapy, yoga, and alternative medicine have become widely experienced and practiced throughout our society.
I believe as a mediator I have the important personal strengths described above of being present, sensitive, articulate, intelligent and creative. The complementary experience I bring to mediation as an attorney and educator informs my outlook. My legal background gives me experience with and appreciation of the value of procedural integrity and thoughtfully developed, independent standards for evaluating available settlement agreement options. My education background gives me experience with and appreciation of the emotional, psychological, and practical dynamics we face when coping with conflict, change, opportunity and loss.
There has been a fair amount of coverage in the news of the growing numbers of college graduates who find it necessary to move back in with their parents. Many factors contribute to this new pattern. There is the skyrocketing cost of tuition and the unprecedented debt with which recent graduates are now often burdened. There is the unhealthy economic climate that has gripped our country for several years now. Jobs are hard to get. Salaries are falling. Economic disparities are increasing. Home ownership is more of a challenge than ever, putting increased pressure on the rental market. Questions about the adequacy of college preparation for the changing demands of the American workplace also loom. One may even step back and regard the environmental threats, wars, and cultural trends shaping the society into which enter our newly minted college graduates as factors contributing to their need or decision to move back home.
No doubt for many parents and many young adult children, this new living dynamic is stressful and even painful. There are two thoughts, however, that can be of help to families trying to find a way to adjust to these new circumstances.
What happens in mediation can be hard to describe. A word of acknowledgment, an admission of pain, an uncovered fact can cause an internal shift within one or all of the participants that completely reorients the dynamics between individuals in a positive way. The internal aspects of our experience of dispute are indeed wondrous when an opening occurs that helps the parties to find agreement and even healing. But the opposite is also true: the internal aspects of our experience of dispute are also cause for frustration and dysfunction when we are unable to navigate our disputes effectively because we don’t have a good enough handle on what’s going on inside ourselves.
Yes, our conflicts are not just about the material goods, the outward aspects of the dispute at issue. Our conflicts inevitably are also very much about (1) the inward perceptions of the participants, (2) the way the inward emotional landscape of each participant effects his or her perceptions, and (3) the deeper inward needs that are emotionally linked to the outward material goods at issue.
A principal value of mediation is that the mediator offers the opportunity to isolate and focus upon different aspects of each party’s perceptions and experience so that it can be dealt with effectively on its own terms. Each mediation is different and the elements of the dispute that need to be isolated and dealt with separately are different in each case. However, Sharon Strand Ellison provides an illuminating insight into how useful this process of separating out different aspects of our inward perceptions and experience can be in her book, Taking the War Out of Words.
Perhaps one of the aspects of mediation that makes it so effective is its diversity of forms. Mediation is not pursued just by lawyers or just by therapists, for example, but by both, and also by a wide variety of others with different professional backgrounds. The mediation field is fertile with experimentation and new sources of inspiration. Over the past four decades, there has been a tremendous amount of energy devoted to advancing new mediation techniques. As a result of all this energy, a growing number of people have found more empowering, more economical, and more durable resolutions to their disputes than they would have otherwise found in an adversarial process such as litigation.
However, the diversity in the mediation field is also cause for caution and an indication that there may be significant disagreements about what mediation should and should not be. These disagreements can lead to confusion by people wondering whether mediation is right for them. For people in such circumstances, it is useful to take time to consider a number of people’s perspectives on mediation in order to gain awareness of the variety of opinions about mediation and the various experiences informing those opinions.
A terrific book about mediation and negotiation that is aimed at the general public is Bargaining with the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight, by Robert Mnooken, Chair of Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation. The book explores disputes in a variety of contexts where the relationship between the parties in conflict has grown so hostile that at least one side views the other as immoral, even evil. Thus, the title, Bargaining with the Devil. I will say a word about Mnooken's advice in such situations at the end of this post, but my real interest in mentioning Bargaining with the Devil is that, at the end of this book's last case study, Mnooken offers an important gem of advice relative to proactive, preventative communication in the estate planning context.
The case at hand involved three siblings’ inheritance of a large and valuable vacation property. The conflict had escalated to the point that two of the siblings were no longer talking to each other. If nothing was done to change the situation, the parents' gift to them threatened to permanently injure all the siblings’ relationships with each other, which certainly was not their parents' intention in making the gift.
A core belief here at Family Tree Mediation is that one of the keys that makes mediation successful is each party feeling that the other has really heard what he or she had to say. If you think back on your own experience, whenever you are in an argument or even just a conversation where you do not feel like you are being heard, you will probably recognize that internally all your mental energies become focused on the fact that you are not being heard and on your continuing need to make yourself heard.
It makes sense that when your mental energies are held hostage in this way that you are not able to think further about how it feels to speak your own words or what thoughts reveal themselves as your own words sink in. All your energy is just focused on the fact that the other didn’t listen.
It’s like that old saying in Monopoly: “Do not collect $200; do not pass go.” Our thoughts are a process like a board game. They have a course to run that must be run one move at a time. Each move has its own unique challenge or reward that cannot be predicted until the dice, our words, tell us which square we have landed on.