How a family mediator can help you over the rocky road of caregiving

  • Even siblings who grew up together with fondness for each other often have different ideas about what the right care for aging parents incorporates. When siblings have clashing personalities, or family issues have driven them apart, finding middle ground on anything can be extra challenging.


    However, the reality is that for many families the time eventually comes when adult children must make decisions for their parents’ living arrangement, medical care and even end of life treatment. We have more options for care than we did a couple of decades ago, but with options comes the need to make decisions. We now have in-home care, assisted living, adult day care, nursing homes, hospice care and hybrids of these approaches. The abundance of choices can easily confuse people at this vulnerable time.

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    Add to that the fact that some approaches can be much more costly than others, and aging adults’ feelings can be put aside by some children who are looking after their financial inheritance.


    There are times when being an only child can seem easier

    Only children often feel weighed down as their parents age because they don’t have siblings to help make decisions for the parents or to contribute to parental caregiving. Only children have a point. However, often it’s the people who do have siblings who complain the most bitterly.


    Since elder care does offer many choices, and money does enter in to most decisions, siblings often clash over priorities. Sometimes, each of these siblings mean well. They simply have differing viewpoints. At other times, one or more is in denial.


    Denial is obvious when one of the adult children carry’s the full load of caregiving responsibilities, while one or more siblings sit at a distance and go on with their lives as usual. If Mom and Dad aren’t complaining, everything must be “just fine.” They prefer not to know about the stress of the caregiver. Even when the caregiver-sibling asks for help, many out-of-sight/out- of-mind siblings prefer to stay in denial. They give little help or simply imply that the caregiver is whining.


    In these instances, if the caregiver suggests that the parents need outside help in the forum of day care, in-home care or even a move to a facility, these siblings refuse to go along, saying that the parents are happier at home and it would be unkind for anyone but a family member to care for them. Sometimes their motives are, at least to them, loving. However, sometimes they are just greedy. Paid care takes away from the inheritance pot, and some people simply have their eye on the money rather than the real needs of the parents or caregiver.


    Time for a third party to step in

    Whatever the motivation, if siblings can’t agree on parent care, a third party can be useful. Calling a family meeting is ideal, if everyone will attend. Input from a trusted friend, or an aunt or uncle, may be all the siblings need to shine light on the situation. If that approach isn’t possible, asking a social worker from a local social services agency to moderate the meeting can be an option.


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    If this approach fails, and siblings are really at each other’s throats, there is another option short of an attorney. That is family mediation. A family mediator is trained to provide unbiased leadership during conflict. This person often can defuse, or at least limit, the conflict brought on by old hurts that siblings have harbored since childhood and the “mom always loved you best” syndrome. When a third party is present – especially a professional – people are often better behaved and therefore more reasonable.


    A family mediator should be available by calling a local social service agency or looking in your local yellow pages. You may want to ask for references. You will certainly want to ask about credentials. You’ll have to put out some money for this help, but it will be a small price to pay for family peace.


    Let’s hope your family can work out differences in care preferences for your ailing parents with love and compromise. However, if you can’t, don’t feel alone. Many families clash over their elders’ care. Most find a way forward without tearing the family apart. A family mediator may be your ticket to some sort of agreement. You don’t want your parents to feel that they are the cause of a family feud.


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Published On: August 03, 2011