Family mediation isn't a service that is used enough. Too many times, caring for an older parent brings up unresolved issues and disputes between siblings about how care should be given. Seeking help during these difficult times can help resolve old issues and new ones. It can also preserve the relationships that should be the most important in our lives.
Siblings often have different ideas on how their parents should be cared for. These issues can become painful and bring up old wounds and rivalries. Mediation can help with all of these issues. I recently interviewed two mediators and learned a great deal about what their services can offer families with disputes.
I learned that mediation is completely confidential. "We make a safe place for adult children to talk about the problems that sometimes surface when their parents need help," said Nancy Milton, attorney and elder mediator. "Nothing that is discussed may be brought up in a court of law. That makes it easier for siblings to talk about their grievances." The only exception is when they have proof of abuse. Clients must sign a disclosure on this issue before mediation can begin.
Milton said that the most common issues are care, money, housing, control, losing independence and cultural issues. "We try to involve the elder when at all possible," said Milton. "If they suffer from dementia, we ask their attorney to be present so they are represented."
Milton partners with another mediator to give a better perspective to their understanding of the issues. Deborah Brusco said it allows one of them to ask the questions and the other to observe everyone's reactions. "We can see then how the others react to each problem while their sibling is talking," she said. "Usually, some of the clients feel a stronger connection to one of us. It makes them feel like there's someone on their side."
Both mediators said that the initial issues brought up are only the tip of the iceberg. "They usually start out with one issue, but before long, we realize there's a lot more going on," said Milton. "We do our best to address the smaller issues first. Once there's even a small agreement between parties, the other issues become easier to resolve."
Both Milton and Brusco agreed that it's much easier to work things out if the elderly parents have planned well for their older years and have legal documents in place. "If they have their wishes down in writing, the children are more likely to accommodate them. The trouble comes when the parents are suffering from health or mental issues and haven't planned well. Then the problems really begin."
"Our job is to get all the parties really listening to each other," said Brusco. "We get them to finally hear what the others are saying. This usually brings about an understanding. Once we get them to agree on something, we encourage them to put it in writing. Because the agreement is something they've been a part of, they are more likely to abide by it than a court order. Studies have shown this, time and again."
Mediation is much cheaper than taking someone to court. It often brings peace to all involved. According to Milton and Brusco, the best thing is that the relationships can be saved. "Some of these issues are so sensitive that family members cut all ties with one another," she said. "Mediation can bring healing and preserve valuable relationships."
Have you had issues with your siblings or other family members over your parents' care? We'd love to hear how you were able to overcome these tough disagreements!
If you or a family member is going through a crisis, I want you to know that you are not alone. The support and education you need is available at your fingertips from expert care professionals at Lutheran Homes of Michigan. You may talk to a real person who does have the answers, without any obligation by calling 989.652.3470 or by emailing
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