The holidays are fast approaching. For some this is a happy time, getting ready to be reunited with family. For some, it’s a dreaded time, knowing that family get-togethers can inflame tensions that lay dormant, or are long distance, the rest of the year.
Susan used to love the holidays. She took over holiday dinners after her Mom decided it was just too much work. She lives nearest to her Mom and was happy to assume the responsibility. Unfortunately her mother’s health has been declining in the last couple of years. She has been getting more and more forgetful and disoriented. Now, in addition to her job and looking after her own home and family, Susan has been taking on the responsibility for many of her mother’s household chores and her healthcare, the frequent doctor’s visits, and her medications. The stress is too much. It is time to consider other living arrangements or, at the least, an aide. But two of her siblings insist that Mom sounds okay to them. Holidays have become a nightmare. For the last two years, she and her siblings have argued about their mother’s care and the problems never get resolved, things just always seem to get worse. Surely this year will be a rude awakening for them; Mom is noticeably and undeniably worse.
Maybe your family is experiencing a similar situation. Or maybe you know a family who is struggling with a similar problem.
For some families, it’s the tension between the adult children and Mom, who is caring for Dad. The emotions make it hard to accept what is happening to Dad, leaving the children to question the decision-making of the parent in charge.
Or the brothers and sisters who get together and question the decisions made by the one who has assumed the role of primary caregiver.
For some, this is the first time in a year that they are confronted with the condition of a parent whose disease has progressed, and it’s a tough reality to face. They can no longer put off the inevitable decisions that need to be made. It’s now a question of safety.
There are so many difficulties that arise when a family member is diagnosed with dementia. Anticipating the future, there are decisions to be made, and a continuing need to make decisions as the disease progresses. These decisions often strain the relationships among family members. The fights can go on for months or years without any decisions being made. In some instances, it takes a crisis for the family to act. In fits of anger, a brother or sister might resort to the courts, hoping to gain control of the situation. This is costly, time intensive, takes a long time to resolve, frays the relationships even more, and ultimately leads to a decision that is dictated to the family. There is a better option.
In recent years, elder and adult family mediation has been recognized as a successful means of dealing with family conflict. It has become an accepted form of conflict resolution. Articles in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal talk about adult siblings who have solved their family problems through mediation.
It is a voluntary, confidential process for resolving disputes. Families get together with a neutral third party who facilitates a conversation resulting in the parties creating an action plan: what needs to be done, who needs to do it and when it needs to be done. There’s no right or wrong: everyone’s point of view is valid. It’s a chance for family members to discuss the issues in a non-confrontational conversation, explain their concerns and positions, and be empowered to make their own decisions. Aside from the fact that mediation is more cost effective than litigation and takes less time to resolve matters, it preserves relationships that will be, in most cases, irreversibly damaged by the adversarial, aggressive legal option.
Mediation is not therapy. It is a problem-oriented process and does not attempt to address deep, underlying problems in sibling relationships. There is no blame, but there is an acknowledgment of each person’s opinions and concerns.
Parents of all ages often lament that their children don’t get along.. Parents hope that as their children age, the family stays intact. It is a gauge of success for a parent. Mediation has been proven to help elderly parents reach that goal for their children.