The stresses and strains of caring for an aging parent, and especially determine what form that care should take, can push apart even the closest of siblings.
A recent story in The New York Times describes how two sisters nearly had a falling out after the death of their father in 2011 when it came to what was best for their 84-year-old mother.
“We were all confused and upset about the situation,” Rosie McMahan, 51, of Amherst, Mass., an educator and a counselor for teenagers, told the newspaper. “We had so many questions. How much respite should my sisters offer me? Should Mom’s name stay on the deed of the house? Where will either of them go if I can’t keep taking care of them?”
“It was hard to figure it out,” said her 50-year-old sister Therese, a midwife in Somerville, Mass. “How do we make decisions? What do we all feel comfortable with? What are the guidelines we’re going to adhere to? Every conversation ended with someone crying or hanging up, or both.”
“To help them navigate those difficult waters, they went to mediation to learn how to ‘stay in each other’s life and not have it be destructive,” as Rosie put it.”
“We wanted to stay connected as siblings, but if you don’t get someone else to help you out, you kind of fall prey to your childhood antics,” she said. “A mediator makes a hard job a little easier.”
“Elder mediation, an emerging area within family mediation, has gained so much traction that in 2009 the Association for Conflict Resolution, a professional organization, started an elder decision section,” the article states.
The story cites a 2001 report in the journal Conflict Resolution Quarterly that showed nearly 40 percent of adult children who cared for a parent said they experienced major conflict with a sibling. That conflict could be “over the amount of care, or money, or who should be making decisions, or just deep-rooted sibling rivalry over who does Mom or Dad love best,” said the report’s author, Deborah B. Gentry, a professor emeritus at Illinois State University.
“Most of the time siblings want what’s best for the parents,” Susanne Terry, a mediator in Danville, Vt., told the author. “They just look at it in a different way.
“Our goal is to help them figure out what their common interests are, so they can work together to find solutions.”