Adult siblings often find themselves at odds when a parent needs long-term care or nears the end of life. They may argue about a range of emotionally charged caregiving issues: Should the parent move in with one of the children or to assisted living? Is driving becoming too dangerous for Mom or Dad? Which child should become the parent’s medical or financial proxy?
Sometimes these disputes are bitter enough to break families apart. In such cases it can be a tremendous help to have an objective professional in the room — someone to lower the temperature, ask appropriate questions and find common ground. Such people are called eldercare mediators, family mediators or adult family mediators.
When successful, the mediator’s work can help avoid a costly legal battle and keep the family united — or at least on speaking terms. You may need this assistance only briefly, to help your family come to consensus on a care plan, for example, or long term if problems are complex and deep-seated. (For serious money disputes, you may end up needing an attorney.)
“As a mediator, your job is to help people think in new ways about how they can solve the problem themselves, so when they leave everybody is on board,” says Arline Kardasis, a mediator with Elder Decisions, an adult family mediation and mediation training firm in Norwood, Mass.
Steve Erickson, a family mediator in Bloomington, Minn., characterizes successful mediation as “getting the people attacking the problem rather than each other.”
To find a good mediator, it’s always best to get a referral. Kardasis says many clients are referred to her by health professionals, hospital social workers, clergy or other people in the community. You can also search the Academy of Professional Family Mediators directory.
Next step: determining if the mediator is right for your family.