Relationships and their Critical Conflict Moments

By Mila Pilz, Executive Director, Program Operations

A woman in her early 30’s called our office recently. She and her husband have two children living with them plus both of her parents, one of whom has Alzheimer’s. It was becoming too much to handle,  and she was unwilling to sacrifice one set of relationships for another. Could she and her adult brothers find a new way forward amid the tension and growing resentment?

At the core of Advoz’s values is a belief that conflict and harm are a natural part of our lives. Sometimes, they are even beneficial for our personal and relational growth. It is how we handle that conflict and harm—the process—that makes the difference. Will our hero’s family grow from the challenge or become increasingly divided and retreat to their own comfort corners? This next critical process defines the relationships and future of this family.

Her story is not unique. According to a May 2018 AARP article, “Millennials: The Emerging Generation of Family Caregivers,” there are 40 million family caregivers in the United States, a quarter of which are millennials. Millennials are loosely defined, but typically considered to be those born between the years 1980-1996. This means that 1 in 4 of the family caregivers are between the ages of 22-38; the same population that according to the Pew Research Center, made up 82% of US births in 2016. The “sandwich generations,” younger than previously thought, are maintaining a fine balance of taking care of their parents, their children and themselves. And it’s increasingly clear that many caught in these generational transitions need support to navigate the news kinds of conflicts that emerge.

Working with Advoz staff, our hero and key family members agreed to be part of an intentional conversation, convened by Advoz mediators, to address their many challenges directly. Taking place at their home to accommodate the elders’ needs, the intense session revealed new insights and options, even among family members familiar with the situation. Over three hours the family learned how afraid their father was about going to a retirement community, how the mother needed additional care, and how each of the siblings felt differently about working together. An agreement was forged that included research on retirement homes, medical and financial assistance. Even though the outcome had specific points of agreement, it was the shift in their relationships that was most salient.

For this family, and many others, “conflict” turned into “opportunity” because a mediated conversation enabled them to talk openly about difficult issues in a safe space. Their relationships could weather the storm of this life milestone and create the next big step…together.


Sociology Intern’s Observations

Becca spent a lot of her internship on the phone with clients.

  As a self-proclaimed Sociology nerd, I have come to understand that I look at the world through a certain lens. I recognize that I am constantly watching people’s behavior, looking for patterns or looking to see how their behavior fits into patterns already being studied in the world of Sociology. Because of this, for the past ten weeks, I have been looking for various patterns in the world of mediation at Advoz, and I have found one that really sticks out for me.

Early in my internship, I remember going to the courthouse with Mila to greet parties for a mediation. Prior to this, she had given me directions to not bring my cell phone, as it was a new rule in the Lancaster County Courthouse that no cell phones are allowed. I listened, but still forgot to leave it in the office. I remember feeling frantic and nervous when we got to the courthouse and I realized it was still in my back pocket. I had totally forgotten it was there because it is habitual to have it with me at all times. This got me thinking about why phones were banned for the general public, and the best I can come up with is that they are a distraction and pull individuals out of the present and into a world on the screen.

            As I have gone to the courthouse more and more times, I consistently see someone at the head of the line to go through security with a phone in their hands arguing with the guard about this rule. This made me think further about how engrained it is in society to have a phone with us everywhere, and how disruptive it can be when told we are not permitted to have them.

Finally though, upon observing some mediation sessions, I realized how powerful not being allowed to have cell phones in the courthouse really is, especially for the work that Advoz does. The mission of Advoz is “[t]o transform conflict and build community through face-to-face dialogue programs”, and face- to- face dialogue is only really possible when there are no distractions, like a cell phone present. So, the rule that cell phones are not allowed in the courthouse from my point of view has led to a very positive unintended consequence for mediation. By not having a phone available as a clutch to alleviate stress during mediation, clients are put in a position where they must speak with one another in order to reach an agreement. With this, I have become even more conscious in my everyday life to put my phone away when I am having a conversation with others; I have continued to learn how powerful it is to give someone your full attention and have seen how beneficial it is in terms of communication. It is something that I will continue to practice in both my personal and professional life, and something that I hope to inspire those around me to practice. It is in many ways a trivial change to make, but I believe that it is change that can aid in fulfilling Advoz’s mission to “build community through face-to-face dialogue.”