Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New Blog

Hi -
I've moved my blog to
come visit!

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Sandwich Generation - How Not To Get Smushed

Last time I wrote about my Smith College reunion.  Well, another classmate and I led a workshop together about caregiving for our elderly parents.   We talked about the challenges that face many of our generation - we love our parents and feel responsible, but have other demands on our lives (work, children, relationships).

There were a couple of themes that emerged:  How do we set boundaries?  Should we move our parents near us, or should we move near them?  How do we care for them when they are far away?  How can we use technology to aid us in a way that is not intimidating for them? How do we work things out with our siblings?  Who else can we call upon to help us?  How do we keep from feeling isolated?  How do we keep from feeling overwhelmed?

And there were a few solutions - make at least time for yourself every day - for a cup of coffee, for exercise, for journaling ... It was a very powerful and intimate session with virtual strangers.  The act of connecting was, I think, the most powerful part of it. And it became clear that it is important not to be isolated in the process.

The most important and structured suggestion was offered by my classmate, Helene Powers: to form a caregiving group.  Helene's husband, Adam, was being treated for cancer several years ago when a friend offered to make dinner for them.  This simple act blossomed into a caregiver group - which provided powerful but simple and crucial support to Helene and Adam as they went through the cancer journey, and to Helene through her grief after Adam's death 7 years ago.  Helene has written about the process, and has written about how you can create your own caregiving group in a booklet called Friends Indeed: How to Help During a Serious Illness.  Check it out!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Next 10 - or 20 - or 30 Years

I went to my {gulp} 30th Smith College reunion last weekend (OK, I'll upload a photo separately).  Jill Ker Conway spoke to our class -- she'd been president of the college when we were there.  She said that we should not look forward to retiring at the age of 62, or 65 -- those numbers were established as retirement age when the life expectancy was about 68.  But now the life expectancy is much longer - and we should expect to be productive and active citizens until well into our 80s. 

My 85 year old Dad is trying to figure out which book he'll write next.  My Mom, just a bit younger, is at her Pilates class right about now.  I can't keep up with them because they go out so often.  (That's one of the advantages of living in New York City, I suppose.)  Not that they don't have their aches and pains.  They are both experts at taking naps.  But I admire them so. 

What will I be doing in 10 years?  20?  30?  What will you be doing then?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Estate Planning as a Family Conversation

The NY Times ran a terrific article last week about the value of talking about your estate plan with your family.  Although it may cause some friction at the time, it gives family members a chance to vent, to speak their piece, and it gives parents (or whomever is doing the planning) an opportunity to explain their thinking. 

Many parents leave their estate to be divided equally among their children.  While this is logical, and appears fair on the surface, it may not always be so.  What if Susie has a disability and will never be able to work?  Or what if she needs skilled nursing, while the other kids are fine?  Or what if the parents have been paying for Johnny's rent for the last 20 years?  Maybe they want to leave more to one child than the other in their will. 

Of course, it is natural that conflict will arise.  This brings up old "stuff."  (Remember the Smothers Brothers?  "Mom always liked you best!") 

This is a perfect opportunity for family estate mediation - a chance to sit down together and really understand things from the others' perspectives.  After all, what parents almost always want, more than anything, is to know that their children will keep lines of communication open, and will get along.  Mediation does not gloss over the surface, nor is it family therapy.  It is a facilitated, structured conversation - a chance to do problem solving together.  And it is future-oriented. 

Family members will continue their relationships long after the senior member is no longer here. By facilitating creative problem solving, estate mediation can help ensure that the elders' intentions are understood and carried out.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Compassion and Mediation

I am taking a course this weekend from Zoketsu Norman Fisher - one of the authors of the book, Getting to Yes, who is now a Zen Buddhist priest, and a teacher of meditation.  In preparation, I read an article he wrote entitled, "Developing Compassion."  He writes, "to be narrowly self-interested and self-identified is simply a very dangerous and unhappy way to live - the wider your interest and larger your sense of identity, the happier and the stronger you will be."

And this reminds me of words of my mediation teachers, Jack Himmelstein and Gary Friedman, who say that when we mediate, we must be able to hold in our minds the full reality of what each person is saying.  That neutrality is not staying squarely in the middle, but in fully understanding each person, really understanding their perspective.  And being able to hold both realities in your mind at the same time. 

I don't try to find the truth when I mediate.  In a certain way, I don't care about it.  I am not trying to come to my own conclusion about what really happened.  I do, however, care deeply about each person's perspective and perception about what happened.  For that is what is real to them. 

When I practice this, I believe - I hope - I am practicing the development of compassion. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gay and Lesbian Couples - Splitting Up

What options are available to gay and lesbian couples who are splitting up?  If they've been legally married but live in a state that doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, getting divorced may not be an option.  If they are not legally married but have kids, they may have to go to civil court to divide up their property, and to family court to get an order about their children.

It is much easier to do collaborative process or mediation, where the couple themselves can make decisions.  I've done both for same-sex couples, and they both work well, because you can be very creative in making agreements, and come up with decisions that fit your real needs.

The New York Times ran two good articles about this topic last week:

'Traditional' Divorce isn't always an Option for Gay Couples

7 Tips for Dissolving gay unions 

Saturday, November 21, 2009

How to Pick a Divorce Lawyer

The New York Times has been running a fantastic series about Divorce and Money.
 Tonight they asked people to comment on the best way to pick a divorce lawyer.  Here is my answer:
The best way to pick a divorce lawyer is to find someone who will try to optimize the situation for everyone involved (particularly the kids), not just for you. Think about the emotional and psychic costs as well as the financial costs.
I am an attorney who only does divorce mediation and collaborative law for this very reason. Lawyers are taught that they have to provide their clients with "zealous advocacy." That may work fine in business deals, but it doesn't work when it comes to families.
Mediation and collaborative process work for most families, even if you're furious at each other. They allow you and your spouse to make decisions specifically tailored to the needs of your family, they're usually cheaper and faster than litigation. Whose kids do you want to send to college - yours or your lawyer's?