as in in Courier Life Newspaper, 2/01/16
Elder Mediation Helps Families Resolve Conflicts. Most families agree that caring for aging parents is stressful. This is especially true when more than one family member is involved in decision-making. In fact, many families have been torn apart through conflicts between siblings, between parents and siblings, and between parent and parent. One child might feel too much of the care burden is being placed on her; or a family member might disagree on the type of care a parent should receive; or the family does not agree on how property should be divided.
These conflicts often cause irreconcilable differences among family members, create lawsuits or both. However there is another option. That option is mediation. Elder mediation is a growing solution to conflict resolution among families. It is less adversarial and costly than litigation and it allows families to come together to discuss and resolve their differences in a non-combative environment.
In elder mediation an impartial party called the mediator arranges the meeting, finds a meeting location and oversees the discussion.The mediator guides the participants through difficult conversations and gives them a safe place to air their concerns. As an independent third party s/he is able to assist all parties in reaching a mutually satisfactory agreement. Many families agree that it is a much better solution than going to court.
Gail Goodman and Ruth Weinreb are co-founders and co-mediators of Talking Alternatives, an elder mediation service based in New York City. Ms. Goodman explains the advantage of mediation. “In many cases mediation brings together families that have not spoken to each other in years. People who have been unable to resolve issues find common ground and begin to work together.”
Families who decide to use litigation take the decision-making process out of their own hands and put it in the hands of a judge. Once a family goes to court, they are entering into an aggressive, adversarial situation. The decision becomes exclusively law based rather than people based. In many cases it causes permanent rifts in a family’s relationship. It can also be extremely expensive and time consuming and can take months or even years to complete, a luxury many families do not have.
Some families consider therapy as an option to working through their differences. The disadvantage of therapy is it is often a long-term process. Family members can spend years probing into the past rather than dealing with the present. The sessions are time limited per meeting and some people lose their momentum between sessions.
Mediation, on the other hand can be done quickly and all participants are active in determining the resolution. The process usually starts with one family member approaching an elder mediation service to ask for help. The mediator then contacts all family members through a letter explaining the situation and asking if they are willing to participate. If they agree, the mediator schedules time to talk with each member, discusses their concerns and asks for their thoughts on the solution. Once each person is interviewed, the mediator arranges a time when all participants can meet and discuss their concerns.
Before the family can proceed all members must agree to certain ground rules—everyone will have a chance to talk; no one will interrupt another while s/he is speaking; and all suggestions should be treated with seriousness. During the whole session the mediator keeps the participants on track and summarizes the points in a neutral, non-confrontational matter.
In spite of the newness of this field, many families find that mediation is a life changing experience. Ms. Goodman summarized their feelings. “Many families faced with aging parents are acutely aware that life is short and family is important. I am often thanked by family members who feel we have helped them resolve their differences and brought families back together.”
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