When older parents and their adult children are in conflict

Contributed by Rabbi Peter H. Grumbacher

Rabbi Peter Grumbacher
Rabbi Peter Grumbacher

Until the beginning of this year my mother-in-law was in pretty good shape for an 89 year-old woman. She bowled, played bridge and, yes, she drove. But less than six months later, things changed radically. She underwent successful cancer surgery, moved to an independent living facility, and her driving privileges were taken away from her by the State. She was furious. She fought her family, creating a terrible schism. She thought it was a plot by her son and daughter, but it was the State that told her incidents on the road in the recent past made it clear to them that she could no longer drive safely. For a couple of months the tensions were virtually unbearable, and while they have improved on one level it is evident that decisions have to be made which might once again create a level of conflict no one wants.

We usually remember our parents in the prime of their lives. They are energetic, vibrant, in charge. To us, they know all the answers. Oh sure, when we’re in Junior High School it is we who know all the answers (but deep down we still believe our parents know the questions as well), yet life experiences give our parents a unique status in our eyes.

Then things change. Of necessity we become the parents; our parents become the children. As difficult as it is for us to accept this change, how much the more so is it difficult for our parents. And yet when medical or mental issues come to the fore there is no choice. We have to make decisions for them, often simple decisions which just a few months before – as in the case of my mother-in-law – they were able to make with no problem.

But they often fight you tooth-and-nail. Their independence is at stake; they often cannot differentiate between your concern and what they perceive as malevolent intentions. It is then that you might look for outside help, someone who can listen objectively, who take into consideration everyone’s feelings as well as the realities confronting the family.

Mediation has been around for a long time (just think of labor disputes and teacher/Board of Education issues), but elder mediation is relatively new. Elder mediators help the family decide on issues concerning nursing homes, financial and estate planning, health care and end-of-life matters…and much more. It can be a heart-wrenching situation when parents and their children confront each other with hurt and anger. Sometimes the answer – the only answer – is elder mediation.

What is “elder mediation”?

It refers to “all cases in which an older person (age 60 or above) may be involved and/or where age or aging issues are a factor in the conflict. Where the discussion will directly impact the body, property, well-being and relationships of an older person, elder mediation supports the inclusion of the older person’s voice and long-standing values in the mediation process.” (Barbara Foxman and Karen Mariani)

If you would like more information, please be in touch with me at peterabbi@aol.com.

Elder Mediation..A New Approach…Learn More  (caregiving star)

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