As Carolyn and I consider our next steps with Tough Conversations we’d like to share some of the lessons learned mediating adult family issues. Among the most salient is that mediation is ‘issue focused.’
How many times have we been asked to mediate toxic relationships among family members who over the years have become increasingly embittered? That, we reply, is for therapists or family counselors who can help families traverse the divides that have overtaken their relationships. Often toxicity deepens when families confront an older adult member who may need care or medical help.
In these cases it’s our charge to tease out of our discussions with family members the issues or disputes that impelled them to reach out to us. In some cases no dispute exists, only decades-old enmity that needs professional counseling.
In others we learn that, yes, there is a concern dividing family members. Unless resolved, conditions will only worsen for the older adult family member and the adult children as well. These may include:
- Is the family caregiver (often a daughter and her immediate family members) doing all she can to care for their parent?
- Is the family caregiver using the parent’s funds wisely and not siphoning off money for their own needs?
- Is the adult child charged with power of attorney exercising prudent use of their parent’s property?
- What was the now demented parent’s intention regarding her bequests, especially if an original will is lost?
- Should a parent with memory issues move into a memory care residence, or is it safe for him to remain at home with round-the-clock care?
- Has an adult child (often the caregiver) done something that raises suspicion of fraud or elder abuse?
Mediation can support siblings and (when appropriate) their parents in their efforts to settle these issues and forge a path forward. To help siblings and other family members understand the potential and limits of mediation, we explain that while we can’t re-do the past, we can help them create a collaborative path to the future.
Sometimes resolving these disputes results in improved relations; sometimes not. But if the focus is shifted from the children’s resentments to the well-being of their parent, we can usually get traction and find a mutually agreeable way forward.