Conflict is a normal, natural part of everyone’s life. Factors that can exacerbate conflict include the well-known things to avoid in polite conversation: religion, politics and money. For families, these big three topics quickly trigger emotions that can be difficult to defuse and when things go awry the aftermath can be felt for decades.
According to a May 2018 AARP article “Millennials: The Emerging Generation of Family Caregivers,” there are 40 million family caregivers in the United States, a quarter of which are millennials. Millennials are loosely defined, but typically considered to be those born between the years 1980-1996. This means that 1 in 4 of the family caregivers are between the ages of 18-38; the same population that according to the Pew Research Center , made up 82% of US births in 2016. This “sandwich generation” is in charge of a maintaining a fine balance of taking care of their parents, their children and themselves.
One woman in her early 30’s called our office a few months ago sharing with us that her and her husband have their two children living with them along with both of her parents and it was becoming just too much to handle. She wanted to set-up a mediation with her brothers and parents (one of which has Alzheimer’s) to work out a better arrangement. Two of our trained mediators took on the case and starting their job of being neutral, confidential facilitators. The mediators did individual prep phone calls or meetings with all the of the parties. When the day arrived, the mediation took place at the house where the elders lived to accommodate their needs and comfort. The mediators began the session by reviewing the agreement to mediate that includes ground rules and confidentiality of both the mediators and those at the mediation. Each party gets uninterrupted time to share their thoughts and feelings and then the conversation begins. The mediators are in the charge of the process—making sure people are getting heard and understood, get to the underlying interests and issues at hand and finally, writing up a practical agreement that works for everyone involved. At the end of three hours the family learned just how afraid the dad was about going to a retirement community, how the mother needed additional care along with how all of the siblings felt about working together. The agreement included next steps on research for retirement home possibilities, along with medical and financial assistance. For this family, and many others, mediation provided an opportunity to open up and talk about difficult issues in a safe space. Their relationships were able to weather the storm of this life milestone because they chose to listen to each other and together create their own solution.
Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Mila Pilz, Executive Director, Program Operations of Lancaster-based Advoz Mediation and Restorative Practices.