“My children decided it’s time for me to move out of my house and join a retirement community. I don’t agree. I feel like I have no say anymore. I can still think, but they are not interested in hearing me out.”
Sound familiar? This scenario is not uncommon. Aging can put strain on families. Many factors come into play. Perhaps kids have moved away. For parents, this creates tension between living close to kids and grandkids, versus staying close to church family and longtime friends.
Finances can create stress. Caregiver burnout can come into play. Unevenness in which children provide care can be contentious. Long wait lists for care facilities, succession planning, dementia, forced separation of couples with different care needs and sudden health downturns can all add to the strain.
Intergenerational mediation can provide a safe entry point for families to discuss these matters and develop a plan, well before it is needed. The process protects the dignity of elderly people, creating space for them to express their desires and concerns clearly and openly. This can reduce the guesswork in families and help bring adult children together. At times, it even mends relationships.
Aging can be an uncomfortable topic. It is tempting to push the conversation down the road, but avoiding conversations around aging can lead to missed opportunities to bring families together. Plus, advance planning can reduce the strain if difficulties arise.
“Mom fell today; can you look after her?” At that point, the time for creative solutions has run out. If a family in this scenario has an understanding of the next steps and an awareness of each person’s responsibility, stress can be reduced.
Intergenerational mediation can also address situations in which aging parents care for a child with particular needs. They may be asking who will look after their adult child. Will there be compassionate care?
Over 60 percent of Canadians have no written plan when it comes to their caregiving, and 40 percent have had no conversation at all with their family about these matters. Studies have shown the benefits of mediation for individuals and family groups. Mediation can foster hope, ensure safety and reduce the risk of elder abuse, isolation and neglect. It can enhance an elderly or disabled person’s autonomy and dignity.
While mediation is often seen as a means to resolve conflict, intergenerational mediation is about preventing conflict, developing plans and creating understanding and therefore reducing the likelihood of conflict in the future.
A mediator does not decide for the family or individuals but provides a process in which they explore possibilities and find agreement. Adult children are encouraged to make decisions and participate in decision-making for the benefit of the whole family.
Due to its very nature, intergenerational mediation can involve larger numbers of participants, including older adults, family members, friends and others who offer assistance. Paid caregivers, hospital staff, nursing home and/or community care representatives, physicians and other professionals are all common participants. Together they work on a plan for the future.
Cathrin van Sintern-Dick is a former pastor and chaplain, who now serves as regional ministry associate for Mennonite Church Eastern Canada. She is also a trained and experienced mediator.