The Mediator

On the drive to school, the girls and I listen to a kids’ talk radio show. The format is for the host to announce a topic of the day, and then children across the country call in to share stories and offer their opinions. The topic today was good and bad things about being the first, middle or baby of the family.

A third grade boy named Mason called in to the show as we stopped at a red light. He shared that he was a middle child and often had to resolve arguments between his older and younger siblings. The radio host said, “Mason, you’re the mediator.” 

Emma spoke up from the back seat, “That’s what I am in our family.” She shook her head side to side, looking forlorn.

“Really?” I said, glancing back at her as the light turned green. That seemed like an awfully big role for someone so small. “That would be hard to feel like you have that job,” I offered.

“It is hard,” she continued. “What I don’t like is that I’m the only one in our whole family who does it.” 

A lump formed in my throat. I tried to think of disagreements she might have felt like she needed to get in the middle of and resolve. Nothing was coming to mind. I’ve built an entire career on effective communication and always felt my husband and I were modeling good communication for our children. What had I missed? I was racking my brain. 

I turned down the radio and looked back at her, thinking of the uncomfortable role she felt she had in our family. 

“Yes,” she sighed. “It really is hard to be the meateater. We go to restaurants and I’m the one ordering hamburgers and chicken tacos all the time and everyone else is ordering vegetarian meals. I’m the only meateater in our whole family.”

Communication is wrought with challenges. It is a complex process of hearing and speaking and interpreting meaning. There are so many places it can go wrong. Sometimes “mediator” sounds like “meat eater.” Sometimes the confusion persists, and you’re still talking about two different things even when there are repeated efforts to understand someone’s perspective. And sometimes you learn it can feel awfully lonely to be the only one at the table eating hamburgers.

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.