I recently attended a conference for The Academy of Professional Family Mediators in Memphis, Tennessee. One of the workshops I participated in was on elder care mediation, which gave some fascinating insights. A 2001 study, done by Debra B. Gentry, showed nearly 40% of adult children providing care for their parents reported serious conflict with siblings, usually related to a lack of sufficient help from those siblings. This study was part of an article entitled Resolving Middle Age Sibling Conflict Regarding Parent Care.
The workshop presenter gave a typical scenario between an elder parent and her children:
Child 1: “Mom should live in a retirement home where she can get help if she needs it.”
Child 2: “No way! Mom wants to stay in her house, and if you would help, she’d be able to.”
Mom: “Why can’t you two get along? I didn’t raise you to argue with family!”
So how can family members make the process of caring for their elderly easier?
- Treat parents as you would like to be treated—return their caring love.
- Find a strategy that works for everybody by engaging in healthy conversations—don’t argue.
- Reach a fair agreement when talking about responsibilities.
- Work with elderly parents to come up with the best solutions, while keeping relationships intact.
How can mediation be used to find better solutions to important quality of life questions?
All family members, including parents, should come to an agreement as to the inclusion of other participants in making decisions. These other participants could include the spouses of the children, grandchildren, friends or caregivers of the parents, medical providers, and lawyers.
The kinds of decisions that could be agreed upon could include living arrangements, personal care, driving ability, provisions in case of terminal illness, home upkeep and repairs, financial concerns, nursing home care, estate issues, guardianships, power of attorneys, and so on.
How would a family mediator be of assistance?
- The mediator is a neutral third party who helps the family with the appropriate processes and can help them reach true consensus on decisions.
- They can help clear up misunderstandings, by providing for expressions of true feelings, keeping the family on track, and helping family members heal hurt feelings.
- They can encourage family members to focus on the best interests of their parents, and help them evaluate different options, if need be.
- A mediator will not make any decisions for the family, provide family therapy, or practice law while serving as mediator.
Why is this important?
Often, adult children get frustrated with their elderly parents. When I had both my parents in assisted living, I made a point every day to visit them. As time went along, this started becoming a burden, so it dropped to every other day, then once a week, ultimately visiting once every 2 weeks. This was because they were looking for interaction, and I wasn’t. I soon realized that if I put myself in their position, that’s not how I would want to be treated.