Family mediation involving older adults is not uncommon. Long-standing family conflicts are often provoked by the plethora of sensitive issues that surround aging parents. Common issues include: finances both in terms of providing for ailing parents as well as the equity of inheritance; care giving responsibilities between siblings; and the tension that can arise as older adults lose their autonomy to their adult children. Strife can be present both between generations (parents and their adult children; adult children and their own children), as well as among generations (husbands and wives arguing over their responsibilities for the other’s parents; siblings disagreeing over each other’s roles and contributions; etc.).
Dr. Spira emphasized that successful family mediation is generally not achieved through a one-time meeting but rather through a series of meetings. Meetings can include the entire family or various subsystems within the family. In response to several questions, Dr. Spira also pointed out that families who enter mediation have chosen to be there, which indicates that there is mutual agreement on the need for resolution even if there is not yet agreement on what that resolution will look like.
Six Steps for Family Mediation
Dr. Spira outlined six mediation steps in her presentation:
1. Mediator should discuss his/her background, explain the expectations of mediation and review the ground rules of the mediation process;
2. Each party presents their side of the conflict;
3. Mediator then asks for clarification from each person and asks for potential alternatives and suggestions to resolve the conflict;
4. Mediator asks for each individual to consider the presented options and suggestions;
5. Each party participates in the negotiation phase. With the help of the mediator alternative options are weighed;
6. Ideally, all party members agree on a resolution and walk away feeling they reached a win-win conclusion.
Awareness of Elder Abuse Signs Important in Family Mediation
In closing, Dr. Spira emphasized how important it is for therapists participating in family mediation to be aware of and watch for warning signs of elder abuse. In family therapy and mediation, these warning signs include avoiding conversations about certain topics, adult children not allowing their parents to speak for themselves, and families making vague references to family secrets but not being willing to elaborate.
Dowload Dr. Spira’s Family Mediation Presentation