The Many Faces of Mediation: Elder Parents & Adult Siblings

The Many Faces of Mediation: Elder Parents & Adult Siblings By Susan Ingram

While most people have heard of divorce mediation, far fewer are aware that mediation can also be extremely helpful in discussing difficult issues that arise with respect to elder parents and their adult children.

There are many concerns that need to be addressed as a parent ages. These concerns may focus on:

  • Housing and living arrangements
  • Need for additional caregiving
  • Need for financial help
  • Quality of life
  • Healthcare decisions
  • Estate planning

Mediation provides an excellent forum to bring the family members together to discuss these issues and reach pragmatic solutions. It’s important to have all of the stakeholders be part of this conversation. Stakeholders would include the elder parent, if at all possible, as well as all siblings and other family members who want to be involved.

Convening the family group is one of the biggest challenges for the eldercare mediator. Because of the size of the group (frequently anywhere from three to ten people), it is especially important that the mediator create a clear structure and process.

I’ve found the best way to do this is to speak separately with the elder parent and each of the siblings/participants before the mediation in pre-conference sessions either by phone or in person. This enables me to identify the issues and concerns of the various participants and to better structure our group sessions. While ideally all participants can be physically present during the mediation sessions, that is not always possible; phone conferencing or Skype can be used for those who are not able to attend in person.

Another major challenge is dealing with the existing family dynamics within the group. Family members come to these discussions with a long history of interactions that date back to when the siblings were young children. There may be animosities or deeply ingrained patterns of behavior that can get in the way of productive discussions.

In the midst of these family dynamics, it’s my job as the mediator to create a structure that continues to move the discussions forward by helping the participants identify options and then concrete solutions that work for their family group. Clearly no small task – but one that my training, skills, experience – plus a little bit of luck – help me accomplish!


Comments from Social Media

Susan, This is such a wonderful reminder that mediation is the best way to make plans for new stages in family life where all parties can have creative input. It is especially helpful when elders highly value their independence and there is a distance between them and family members. People commonly believe they would be involved with lawyers and mental health professionals only in adversarial or crisis situations, but this is a great example of how their professional involvement brings positive planning, peaceful and low cost family agreements.

Ronna White LMFT

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2 responses on “The Many Faces of Mediation: Elder Parents & Adult Siblings

  1. Stuart Baker

    Excellent post, Susan. I think any family who hires you for this purpose has a gift! Right now the only thing I can add is that it seems to me this service should be given more exposure and public attention, as it can be enormously helpful in many ways.

  2. Stephen Linker

    Sometimes, financial matters pose quite a challenge to the family in elder situations either before wills are drawn and sometimes even when there is a will. As a mediation accountant, I have been involved in Family Succession Planning when a family business is an asset of one or both parents. Sometimes one or more children work in the business but not all of the children work there. How does the family equitably allocate assets among the children? Let’s discuss.

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