Today, more and more people are finding themselves in the position of having to care or make decisions for elderly relatives. This becomes increasingly more difficult when there are two or more family members involved and they disagree. Often this occurs when a mother or father dies and the other parent is left alone. Should that parent live alone? If not, should they live with another relative, one of the children, or go into a nursing home? Should one of the children and their family move in with the surviving parent? If so, on what conditions? In any event, who should make the medical and, or, financial decisions for that parent, and what if the others disagree? In this situation where the elderly parent is being treated somewhat like a child, there is the issue of the parent’s independence and their strong sense of self in their ability to make their own decisions, as they have been for their adult lives. While the parent is struggling to preserve the remnants of their own independence and dignity, they are often placed in the middle of family squabbles and become frightened, sad, hurt, and dismayed at the developing controversy and their role as the subject of that controversy. I have heard on more than one occasion from those placed in this position that they just want everyone to get along and stop fighting. If the controversy escalates and the elderly person’s care and well-being is put in jeopardy due to the family’s inability to make appropriate decisions concerning that relative, a guardian might be appointed through the court system to represent the elderly person, make sure that person’s voice is (preferences are) heard, and make decisions that are in the elderly person’s best interest. When this occurs, the family has lost control and there is outside intervention (by the guardian).
Mediation gives families the opportunity to retain control before or after an outsider is introduced into the process. The mediator is trained to help the family members discuss the issues in a non-threatening manner and explore options that have the potential of leading to a successful resolution. Where there are control issues due to family dynamics (one or more members of the family having more control than the others), the mediator can help to “level the playing field” so that everyone is heard and given an equal voice in the decision making, as appropriate, especially the elderly relative. Often people find that when everyone is heard, invalid or incorrect assumptions fall by the wayside and they are able to come up with mutually agreed upon options and resolution. When people are able to work things out for themselves, they are more likely to commit to the outcome, and it is not uncommon that the parties to the dispute come to understand things about themselves and others that help to preserve relationships or foster better relationships going forward.