When we were younger, cocktail party conversation used to quickly turn to talk about the kids or work. But today, at least for boomers and the older crowd, casual chatter is quickly being replaced with heart-to-hearts about the challenges of caring for aging parents or in-laws. You might have only just met this person or barely know them, but there you are, exchanging confidences, or hinting, about thorny family dynamics!
See also: Excerpt from Mom Always Liked You Best.
You probably leave for your therapist or closest confidante the super-juicy stuff: frustration with your bossy sister or doesn't-lift-a-finger brother, or the mudslinging and recriminations over your parents' safety, capabilities and wishes, or topics involving inheritance or the division of cherished family possessions.
But these days, you also might turn to an elder mediator. In elder mediation, a trained professional, who might also be a therapist or an attorney, helps adult siblings and, if they're alive and up to it, their parents resolve contentious issues relating to Mom or Dad. Everyone gets to express an opinion (no extra charge for tissues). The mediator's job is to redirect the accusations and keep the family focused on coming up with solutions.
Rikk Larsen, along with partners Arline Kardasis, Crystal Thorpe and John Dugan, founded Elder Decisions, a Boston-based company that provides mediation and trains professionals in this burgeoning, and quite new, field of conflict-resolution coaching. Mediator Larsen and his colleagues have poured their collected knowledge of how to navigate the tricky world of taking care of aging parents into a self-published book, Mom Always Liked You Best: A Guide for Resolving Family Feuds, Inheritance Battles & Eldercare Crises.
Larsen spoke to the AARP Bulletin about sibling disputes, elder mediation and this complicated time of life.
Q. Why is elder mediation taking off?
A. Interest is exploding now because baby boomers tend to be sophisticated consumers and are comfortable with the concept of therapy and other forms of professional help. Elder mediation is not therapy, although it is therapeutic.
Q. What's it like for parents to know their children are sparring over their care, property or decisions they've made?
A. It's very painful because they think they're making good choices and they may resent their children trying to take over. They're particularly troubled that their kids are unable to get along and "be there" for one another. They can't bear to hear their kids bickering about anything. So Mom, who has been the rock of the family, now tells each child what they want to hear and agrees with everyone.