Q.  My parents are aging and I find that they are in greater need of assistance for care, paying bills, shopping, and the like. The problem is that there are four of us children and we do not always agree on what is best for mom and dad. I am concerned that, as my parents’ needs increase, the potential for family conflict will likewise increase. Do you have any suggestions as to how we might head off family conflict and do what is best for our parents?

A. Yours sounds like the ideal situation for family mediation.  Mediation is a voluntary process whereby an experienced mediator helps the parties identify issues, communicate with one another in a respectful manner, develop creative solutions to their concerns and negotiate a lasting agreement that works for everyone.  The mediator does not decide who is right or wrong, but is there to help the parties communicate meaningfully with one another.

The mediator may be a person trained in social work, psychology, or law.  The mediator’s role is to make sure that everyone’s views are put forward and considered, including the views of your parents, and to facilitate respectful discussion to resolve a common problem.

Traditionally, mediation has seen its greatest use in the context of divorce settlements and business disputes, but its application in the elder care context is growing and it has achieved notable success in helping families resolve difficult issues amicably.

Sometimes the issues that are mediated concern suitable living arrangements for parents, allocating responsibility for care, financial and healthcare decisions, the need to make sure that the parents’ bills are paid, a parent’s unwillingness to surrender the keys to the car, and other practical problems of aging. Without a facilitator, anger and resentment may prevent resolution, and old sibling rivalries might surface in a way that is counterproductive to the parents’ best interests. Mediation can help resolve these issues in a manner that preserves the parents’ dignity and family harmony.

The process might take place in one session or, perhaps, over a number of sessions. The hoped-for result is that the parties, with the aid of the mediator, can arrive at an agreement which everyone feels is fair and appropriate. Compliance is voluntary, but a mutually agreed upon solution enjoys a high rate of success. Indeed, the process is often a “win win” for everyone, and can be a great tool in forging family consensus. As we approach the holiday season and a time when families will be together, it might be a great time to begin the process.

To learn more or to search for a trained private mediator visit: www.mediate.com or www.eldercaremediators.com.  Alternatively, to search for a free or low cost community-based mediation program contact the Seeds Community Resolution Center in Berkeley at (510) 548-2377 or visit its website at www.SeedsCRC.org.