Eldercare Mediation: A New Way to Make Decisions Relating to Caring for Aging Parents

Content taken from Mediate.com and edited by Papa & Roberts, PLLC

Adult Child: "Mom should live in a retirement home where she can get help if she needs it."

2nd Adult Child: "No way! Mother wants to stay in her house, and if you'd just help her more, she could."

Aging Parent: "Why can't you kids get along? I didn't raise you to argue with family like that."

Caring for aging parents is a hot topic among adult children. Brothers and sisters (adult children) often disagree on the provision of care for their parents (eldercare). Unfortunately, few families consider advanced planning with regard to eldercare. When hasty decisions are made at the time of an emergency, lifelong sibling animosity often results due to deeply hurt feelings. Since children value personal affection from their parents and detest family favoritism, the perception of favoritism to the caregiver can lead to hostility among siblings. Such negativity can adversely affect the caregiver's health and sense of well-being, resulting in suffering by the parent. If the parent deeds the family home or changes his/her will in gratitude to the caretaker, additional animosity arises.

A recent study found that "nearly 40 percent of adult children providing parent care reported serious conflict with a sibling, usually related to lack of sufficient help from that sibling." The study is cited by Deborah B. Gentry in her article Resolving Middle-Age Sibling Conflict Regarding Parent Care, Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Vol. 19:1, Fall 2001, p. 35. Also, families are changing; they are smaller, more urban, and are more widespread geographically. Additionally, gender roles have changed and there have been numerous technological improvements, with better health care resulting in longer lives. Gentry, p. 31.

Caring for Aging Parents-What Can We Do to Preserve Our Family Relationships?

Treat your parents as you wish to be treated, return their caring love, and find a strategy that works for all family members. Good solutions begin with healthy conversations, rather than arguing. Family members need to reach a fair agreement sharing responsibility. Family mediation is a new, more effective way to make decisions within the family. Middle-aged brothers and sisters can work with their parents to determine the best solutions while preserving their dignity and relationships. With aging parents, there will still be difficult changes in family relationships. An adult child may view a parent as a wise protector and someone to turn to in times of great strife. Yet, when the same child becomes the caretaker for the parent, family dynamics instantly change.

Family Mediation Defined-What Is Family Mediation?

Mediation is a new way to find the best possible answers to important quality-of-life questions. In mediation, all family members including the parents agree to the process, and agree to the inclusion of other participants. They might choose to include the children's spouses, grandchildren, relatives, parents' friends, caregivers, medical providers, pastors and/or lawyers. Mediation is both time-limited and goal-focused. The mediation process itself tends to provide a safe place for respectful, civilized conversation. In this atmosphere, differences can be discussed, information gathered, and agreements can be reached.

Caring for Aging Parents-What Kinds of Decisions Can Be Discussed in Mediating Conflict?

Topics are selected by the family and may include parental living arrangements, health and personal care (such as driving ability), provisions in the case of terminal illness, home upkeep, financial concerns, nursing home care, trust and estate issues, guardianship, power of attorney, as well as relationships between parents, grandparents and grandchildren. Families can use mediation to avoid guardianship proceedings in which a parent's incompetency must be proven in court. Children and parents may work to develop agreements as to which child should hold the parent's power of attorney and which should serve as the parent's health care representative.

The Family Mediator's Basic Role-What Does A Family Mediator Do?

A family mediator:

  • is a neutral third party who helps the family with processes in order to reach true consensus on decisions regarding eldercare.
  • helps clarify misunderstandings, provides for the expression of true feelings, and keeps the family on track.
  • helps family members heal hurt feelings, as well as work to avoid blame and self-pity.
  • provides for future modifications of written agreements as the need arises.
  • involves the parents in the process focusing on their capabilities rather than their perceived disabilities. Attorneys often deal exclusively with a guardian or attorney-in-fact; in mediation, parents can be included fully or to the extent possible.
  • encourages family members to focus on the best interest of their parent.
  • helps the family members consider as many options as possible, and
  • helps them evaluate options while leaving the decision-making to the family.
What Does A Family Mediator Not Do?

The family mediator does not:

  • make any decisions for the family. Rather, the mediator keeps the family focused on priorities and opportunities for clarification.
  • provide family therapy, although mediation may prove therapeutic.
  • practice law while serving as a mediator, although many mediators are also attorneys. However, family members are entitled to receive legal advice from their attorneys at every step of the process before signing any agreements.
What Role Do Family Members Play in Mediation?
  • The family members make decisions with and for their relatives even though they may hold differences in philosophy, in their time, space, and financial resources.
  • Their parents maintain their dignity and autonomy by being involved as much as possible in the process.
  • Mediation brings family members together to improve their communication skills and work collaboratively.
  • Finances and tasks are divided up rather than falling on one child's shoulders, and
  • Children unable to attend due to distance can still participate by telephone or other electronic means.
What are the Advantages of Family Mediation for the Aging Parent and Adult Child?
  • Parents can maintain their dignity by being involved as much as possible in decision making.
  • Finances and tasks can be divided, rather than falling on one child's shoulders.
  • Participants can build a 'custom' plan that works well for them.
  • In a private, informal setting, the mediator will help them overcome obstacles that block problem-solving.
  • Families that turn to family mediation can improve their relationships and show love/care for their parents.

Adult Child: "I am so pleased that you agreed to take care of Mom three weeks a year so I can go on vacation. It helps me just to know you'll be there for me, and I appreciate your financial contributions as well."

2nd Adult Child: "Well, it only seems fair to share the responsibility. Just because you live near Mom doesn't mean you should be the only child caring for her."

Aging Parent: "I'm so glad you kids worked this out with me. Now I know you can still count on each other after I'm gone."

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