In the family
"One night, my mother and her boyfriend got into a silly argument about where they were going to go out," recounts eighteen-year-old Marquise Johnson, who had been trained as a peer mediator at school in one of Cleveland's toughest neighborhoods. "I had to sit them down. That was the hardest thing because they just stared at me when I told them to sit down. But I said, 'I'm going to help you solve this problem - could you sit down, please?' Afterward, we were all sitting there laughing. I was proud. When I finish college, I want to be a social worker or psychologist."
Our customs for dealing with domestic problems are beginning to shift away from passivity toward the active intervention of the surrounding community. Abused children and battered spouses are no longer treated, as they traditionally were, just as a "family matter." Neighbors sound the alarm and social workers, police, and court officers step in. Shelters for battered women offer refuge and counseling.
At the same time, a "yes" to dialogue is beginning voiced. Support groups, marital counseling, and family mediation are becoming much more common and not just among the wealthier classes. Twelve-year-old Jane's parents were so busy arguing that they forgot about how she felt. "After they had been to mediation," she recalls, "they listened to each other more, and to me."
"Without family mediation," her father adds, "I feel we would still be battling it out and spreading the damage over a much wider field."
More and more divorces begin with an intense effort to settle the economic and child custody issues in a collaborative fashion through mediation - in order to preserve a working relationship between the parties. This can happen even if the children are already grown; as one divorcing wife explained, "We're going to have to be grandparents together."