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.
Holiday traditions are great, but only when they serve their purpose, which is to celebrate and nurture a healthy family culture. The hitch is that, traditions aside, the holidays can be very stressful times, particularly if the family is already dealing with significant challenges. And there seems to be no end to the different kinds of challenges families face.
For example, you may be a newly single parent trying to meet the emotional needs of your children at the same time you are dealing with the financial challenges of re-entering the job market. You may be a recent graduate who does not want to spend the holiday season being judged by the family because your professional or romantic life is struggling. Or you may be in the political or cultural minority within your family and you are just tired of having to either hold your tongue at family gatherings or land in a big fight with Uncle Bob.
Whatever the flavor of the challenges your family faces, a creative way to cope is to challenge the status quo. The holidays seem to beg for rituals and traditions that can be either heart-warming or uncomfortably stifling. The longer they have been going on, the more mandatory they feel. All the good memories they have created make suggestions of change feel wrong, even hurtful. But if the tradition is actually aggravating pain you are already experiencing, change is not wrong; it is good medicine, like fresh air and rest. In some situations, such change can be an essential part of taking responsible care of yourself.
So if you are approaching this holiday season with anxiety about the pain you are going to suffer, why not give the old routines a rest? Why not breathe some fresh air into the spirit of the season?
Let me give you an example from my family. My parents were divorced when I was four. From that time on and for nearly 40 years, Christmas Eve was spent with my mother and eventually my step father and his kids, and Christmas Day was spent with my father and eventually my step-mother’s family.
Are you looking for a way to better handle conflict with your spouse, a close friend or a colleague at work? Do you have an issue with your spouse that you would like to mediate, but your spouse refuses to participate? Would you simply like to strengthen your ability to stand up for yourself while still respecting and caring for others?
If so, Family Tree Mediation’s conflict coaching service may be right for you. While it is always a great opportunity when two parties in conflict are willing to work on improving the way they communicate, especially with the assistance of a mediator, a relationship can be greatly improved on the initiative of just one person.
In the past four decades, a great deal has been learned about the nature of conflict, the communication patterns that help individuals navigate such conflict, and those that don’t. We have greatly increased our awareness of the way that culture, emotion, information, past experience, worldviews, and communication models complicate our participation in conflict. In the heat of the moment, however, we rarely have the capacity to make effective use of this understanding, if we are fortunate enough to have obtained it. We find ourselves reacting according to the models for dealing with conflict we learned long ago and now apply unconsciously.
That’s why conflict coaching can be so helpful. Breaking old patterns and learning to consciously and effortlessly apply new ones takes practice. When one person in a relationship begins practicing using more productive communication tools in conflict, the old pattern of exchange is no longer the same, space is created, the temperature cools, and connections are made. Each small adjustment in the exchange is assisted by other small adjustments. As with the tumblers in a lock mechanism, it can be a wonder to witness how these little pins can open a door that kept two people from really hearing and appreciating each other’s experience, needs, and intentions.
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!