We have all heard the phrase, “Don’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk.” But what happens when talking the talk is so hard that you would rather walk the walk…right out the door? This is when you may need professional help; and when the conversation is between you and a venerable member of your family (or between you and other family members about a venerable relative), those professionals are known as elder-care mediators.
The Many Kinds of Hard Talk
The most common “difficult” conversation is the one regarding which family member an ailing relative is going to move in with. These are not the only difficult conversations, however. Discussions can become heated over just about any subject that involves a significant enablement or disablement of your honored elder.
For example, you might feel strongly that it is time to take away their car keys, while your aging loved one is deeply worried about their vanishing independence. Or you might feel that it is your place to move in with your loved one to become a full-time caretaker because you live close by, while they would prefer to live with one of your siblings.
When it comes to challenging conversations with siblings, naturally, the topic is very often about money. No one wants to feel like money is the driving factor in their senior care decisions, but all too often it is the limiting factor, which can seem like a driving factor to the other parties involved.
Who will pay to renovate the office that is going to become Mom’s new bedroom? Should the person doing the caregiving pay less to compensate for the time they spend? Can we afford to hire outside help to assist the family caregiver? These and similar questions can become serious family challenges if left unspoken or if spoken about carelessly.
Enter the Mediator
The job of a mediator, put simply, is to identify the ‘root cause’ of the emotions and ideas that come to light (from all parties) during a challenging conversation. Next, they work to find a solution that balances the needs and desires of each party. Whenever a topic involves a private or sensitive issue, they keep as much as necessary to themselves; but with non-sensitive topics, they generally prefer to get as much out on the table as possible.
There are no winners or losers in mediation; it is a collaborative process that seeks a solution that satisfies all parties involved. To get the most out of mediation, those involved should be honest with themselves and the mediator about what their goals are. In addition, they should go in with realistic expectations and understand that they are not going to get 100% of what they want out of the process.
Elder-Care Mediation in Action
An elder-care mediator, naturally, is a mediator who specializes in issues involving the well-being of venerable family members. By and large, this means that they specialize in helping everyone involved find their own authentic voice.
They know what it looks like when the long-suffering eldest sibling tries to take the problems of everyone else onto their own shoulders (at the detriment of their own health). They also know what it looks like when a beloved senior struggles to make his/her voice heard in a room full of strident children and grandchildren. They know that everyone involved has an opinion, and that any solution that does not take every opinion into account will likely leave someone feeling bitter or helpless.
Mediation after the End
While it is never a comfortable topic, it is important to note that elder-care mediators can (and often do) function as mediators for families struggling to adapt to the passing of an honored elder. While it may seem strange to people who are not actually in the circumstance, the question of who should sit at the metaphorical ‘head of the table’ once the family matriarch or patriarch is gone can be a very serious one. And of course, there is often the need for mediation related to the distribution of the estate, particularly when a loved one dies without a will.
Getting to the Bottom of Things
Elder-care mediation is a uniquely challenging field, precisely because family matters are deeply personal and private, and because the problems that come up are so often limited by factors such as time, money, and distance, rather than by desire, love, and devotion. If an elder-care mediator can get all parties to share their deepest ‘root’ concerns, they can most often develop a solution that everyone can live with.