Bridging Cultural and Generational Conflicts in Mediation

One morning, a Chinese single mother called the APADRC. The first thing she asked us was if we could kick her daughter out of the house. I heard this and I felt that what she had asked for was very strange. Why did she want to kick her own daughter out of her house? So, I asked her to speak slowly and tell me the whole story.

This mother told me that she has a daughter, her only child, and this daughter was born and raised in Los Angeles. She raised her daughter with a lot of passion and energy.  Eventually, her daughter was able to attend one of the best universities in Los Angeles. Last year, the daughter graduated and was then able to find a good job. Not long after this, she started dating someone younger than her who was still attending college.

Ever since her daughter started dating this boy, she would often come home very late.  One day, her mother discovered birth control pills in her daughter’s car. The mother had always paid a lot of attention to her daughter’s education and upbringing. She is also very proud that her daughter was able to attend a very good university. However, having grown up in a very conservative and traditional environment in China, the mother couldn’t accept that her daughter was coming home late every night and presumably, having sex with her boyfriend. She felt very ashamed of her daughter’s behavior. As the mother spoke to me, she used some very extreme language denoting her anger and disappointment at her daughter.

I called the daughter after taking the mother’s intake. The daughter and I spoke in English, which allowed her to better express her feelings and speak the truth of her thoughts. The daughter became very emotional during our conversation. She agreed that what her mother told me was the truth, but she felt even more pain than her mother. She could not stand the very harsh and cold language her mother used anymore. She felt like she has had to remain silent ever since she was young because her mother never gave her the chance to speak up. Although she felt that she was unfairly treated by her mother, she also understood how important her mother was to her. She knew of the sacrifices her mother made for her – such as never going out with her own friends so she could be at home with her. But, she also didn’t want to compromise the relationship she had with her boyfriend.

This case presented us with a few challenges.

There was a cultural conflict.  The values of the mother and daughter were very different

There was a generational gap. The mother and daughter grew up in different times and circumstances.  They had different attitudes towards what proper sexual conduct between couples should be.

There was a gap of understanding.  The mother believed that her daughter didn’t appreciate how much effort she put into raising her.  The daughter believed that she had to endure a lot of her mother’s disapproval for many years.  She still believed that her mother didn’t fully understand or accept her.

We saw that the way to best approach this case was to guide the mother and the daughter to better understand and accept the differences between the two of them.

We realized that both parties were upset with the other on various issues, but that they still very much loved each other. The mother had always prioritized her daughter’s well-being, and the daughter also greatly appreciated her mother. Their common interest was maintaining a healthy mother-daughter relationship.

These factors allowed us to know before beginning mediation that there was hope of improving the relationship. We hoped to help the mother better understand her daughter’s lifestyle, and hoped to help the two mutually support each other in the future.  In order to help both parties better express their feelings during mediation, we spoke to the mother in Chinese and spoke to the daughter in English. Our bilingual mediators allowed for smoother communication between the parties.

In this case, the mediation had some success.  The mother was ultimately unable to overcome her conservative values and fully accept her daughter’s lifestyle choices.  However, both parties did make some concessions. Although the daughter moved out of the mother’s home, the mother continued to provide the daughter with some financial support.  Most importantly, according to our follow-up inquiries, their relationship has remained stable. The daughter still regularly comes home for dinner, and both parties continue to try and remain close and supportive.  All in all, we felt this was a pretty good outcome.

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