As a member of the sandwich generation, I often hear my friends describe a family situation where an elderly parent is showing signs of becoming frail and forgetful and being more challenged by everyday tasks. In all these family situations the parent, or sometimes both parents, live alone. A caregiver may visit for a few hours each day, helping with shopping, meals and doctor visits. However, the geographical distance between the parents and family members is great. Although my friends recognize the vulnerability of their parents, they seem to be afraid to move forward to discuss a plan of action for the future. As a wise person once told me, our parents will never be as young or healthy as they are today.
So why are adult children afraid to talk to one another about the future care of their aging parents? Why are adult children afraid to discuss with their parents the possibility of moving closer to a sibling, the extended hours of a caregiver, the move to an assisted living facility or giving up driving? In some families, open and truthful conversations are rare or nonexistent. They have no practice in having real conversations about real issues. In other families, the relationship between the adult children is brittle, lacking trust. And some family members are just in denial and don’t want to deal with medical and care giving issues of their parents, which can feel so monumental at times.
As mediators, we repeatedly see family members in pain as they struggle to navigate the aging process of their parents. Even with the help of a geriatric care manager, the family members get stuck for whatever reason, and are unable to talk about these important family matters. As a result, the family goes on as if everything is fine and everyone is able to manage until a crisis erupts. While mediation is not therapy and will not address the psychology behind a family member’s behavior, it does bring family members together, perhaps for the first time, to openly address shared family issues that need to be discussed before things get out of hand. Talking about these important issues before a crisis will ensure an opportunity to timely and rationally analyze the situation and arrive at a sound decision.
As our parents, or relatives, age, it is time for the family to unite to create a future plan that works for the entire family. Family members need to have these difficult conversations in a real way to ensure that their aging parents are safe and that the family relationships survive. Mediation is a successful tool used to give families a way to effectively manage the aging process we all experience.