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The Author Speaks

Caring for Our Aging Parents

An elder mediator and author helps siblings negotiate care for Mom and Dad

Q. Should parents always be present for at least part of the mediation discussions with their adult kids?

A. Whenever possible, they should be there or at least have a representative standing in for them. Certainly there are times when it's inappropriate for them to attend because it will upset them too much or they're very cognitively impaired, or they can't physically make it, or they just don't want to be there, but having them in the room can change the tone of the meeting.

Q. How so?

A. I had a family with eight siblings, and although I'm certain their mother couldn't follow the conversation, they wanted her there. I think they behaved much better than they might have otherwise.

Q. What's the ideal attitude for going into such a process?

A. It's a willingness to hear others and the ability to be clear about what you want and why, without needing to get everything you want. You have to be curious about what's important to others, respect each person's viewpoint, have an open mind and a sense of optimism that as a group you can come up with a solution.

Q. Why is it so important for families to know what they're doing?

A. A mismanaged process can lead to a permanent rift.

Q. What are the most common reasons for family dissension?

A. There are a lot of issues! It's usually when siblings think things are unfair, such as one sibling shouldering the bulk of a parent's care needs versus the others who second-guess or criticize that care. Or one member using the vacation home a lot more than the rest and not considering another's interest to sell it when others live far away and/or need the money.

Q. Isn't it natural to have resentment when one sibling does more than the others?

A. Be careful not to confuse being equitable with being fair. There's no way to measure a contribution of love or effort if one sibling does more because she lives nearby. It's just the way it is. What she might need is acknowledgment and thanks from the others. It doesn't mean she gets to make all the decisions, though.

Q. How about the fallout when family members are spread around the country?

A. You have to work around it. You can still stay informed and help however you can, whether it's speaking with the doctors, handling the bills, offering financial support, researching resources or providing a break so your sibling can get away.

Next: Is elder mediation expensive? >>

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