August’s newsletter focuses on family communication and family conflict. Discover how to communicate and cooperate better and reduce conflicts.

 The art of Listening – Helping parents and adult children cooperate

What did we do before emails and texting and Skype and Facetime?   Oh, that’s right, we actually sat in the same room and talked with each other.

It may be difficult to remember that email has only been widely used since the mid-1990s, texting since the late 1990s, Skype in the early 2000s and Facetime in 2010.  Before these 20th and 21st century inventions, and aside from telephones, most family communications were done face to face. This form of communication allows humans to be better attuned to people’s body language, tone and volume of voice, and use of words. Not as much, today, in our electronic environment.

“Listening so your parents will talk, talking so your parents will listen.”

My goals as a facilitator are to help family members be better listeners, communicators and problem-solvers. Good listening helps family members get more information, cooperate better, and reduces anger and friction. If someone knows you’re listening to them, even if you don’t agree, better results follow.

If someone isn’t listening to you, then you need to be the initiator in using these skills. Easier said than done; but try it, the results will amaze you.

Listening is a decision to take action, it’s not passive. You need to decide that you want to listen. We need to let go of our own needs. We need to make a conscious effort to set aside whatever’s on our minds long enough to concentrate on what the other person is saying. We help our clients do this. That’s the role of the facilitators.

After deciding you want to listen, appreciate the other person’s point of view. That doesn’t mean you agree with them, just that you hear and understand that this is what matters most to them. People won’t really listen, or pay attention to your point of view, until they become convinced that you’ve heard and understood their points.

After listening, become actively involved by asking some specific questions to help the speaker express their feelings, or elaborate on what they are saying. Your goal is to make sure you’ve understood what they have said. By paraphrasing and summarizing you can affirm your understanding of what’s been said. Paraphrasing occurs on three levels:

  1. The words
  2. The feelings
  3. The implied words and feelings.

Wait for feedback, and if your view is incorrect, ask the other person to correct your understanding of what they said. Listening also includes learning to ask good questions.

You aren’t responsible for someone’s feelings, or do you need to agree with what they say, to be aware of them; to acknowledge them. When it’s clear that someone has been understood, the way they want to be understood, it’s your turn.

You’ve just modeled deep listening – listening to understand. Now it’s the other person’s chance to listen to you. You may have to coach them. It may take more than one attempt, but once you both get the hang of it, communication will improve and the opportunity to resolve issues will be enhanced and easier.






Q.  “Our family argues all the time about how to take care of mom and dad. How can we work better, together?”


  1. Often, when families need to care for aging parents or other relatives, the burden falls disproportionately on people who live closest. It may be easier to see different solutions if you’re the one who sees the situations most often. It’s also easy for others to think they know what’s best, even if they haven’t been around too much. Sometimes people may not even agree on which issues are most important to be concerned about. Most issues are rarely black or white.

People truly want to do what helps. Trying to figure that all out may cause even more stress for family members, including the relatives you’re trying to care for.

Questions to ask yourself: 
  • What needs to be done – what help do the relatives need?
  • What help do they want, and how have I determined this?
  • Do other siblings agree on the problems? Why, or why not?
  • What are the arguments about – money, time commitments, appreciation?
  • How can the family work together to help their parents?

Helpful Tips: Talk with siblings or other relatives and discuss your concerns. Think about having a neutral person work with you to give you feedback about what might be helpful for your situation. Get commitments to work together to, 1) take care of mom and dad (or another relative), and 2) work out family squabbles separately. Find ways for all family members to contribute to this family issue.


How Mediation Can Resolve a Family Conflict

When relationships are at stake, a neutral party can make a difference

By Julyne Derrick July 10, 2018

(This story was originally published on A Place for Mom .)

For some families struggling with the many issues that come with aging, getting a neutral third party to help them navigate these issues could mean the difference between peace and war.

Learn more about some common family conflicts and read about the effects that elder mediation has on families.

A Family Conflict Over an Elderly Parent

It’s the sort of thing that can ruin a family. An elderly widowed father is no longer able to live at home alone. His daughter is willing to move him into her own home, but she wants help from time to time from her brother and his family who live nearby. Her brother believes the best place for dad is in a nursing home. Fights break out over the phone. A lifelong, tight-knit bond is broken between the siblings and their respective families.

“I wish I knew then about mediation,” the daughter, Nora, said more than two decades after the breakdown. “Maybe something could have been done.”

Nora, who is now in her 80s and asked that I not use her full name to protect her family, ended up getting what she wanted, but at the expense of her relationship with her once-beloved younger brother. Her father was able to live with her family for about a year before he died. Nora’s brother died suddenly a couple years after their father.

Nora never made amends with her brother or his family. “I have some regrets. I do,” she said. “I have lingering resentments as well.”

Elder Mediation

“When people are struggling to do what’s best for Dad or Mom, they may have the shared goal of doing what’s best, but may very much disagree on what that is,” said Crystal Thorpe, co-founder of Elder Decisions, an elder mediation firm based just outside of Boston.

Thorpe is one of the hundreds of elder mediators throughout the country available for families to hire. Just as divorce mediators specialize in divorce issues, elder mediators specialize in aging and eldercare issues. And just like divorce and other mediators, their job is to remain neutral.

“I like to think of it not that I’m not on anyone’s side, but that I’m on everyone’s side,” said Thorpe. “We’re looking out for everyone.” Everyone includes Dad and Mom as well, as long as they are able to participate in the process.

“If it’s about their life, we want to make sure we include their voice,” Thorpe said.

Reasons for Mediation

It’s been said there are almost as many reasons for mediation as there are families who could use it. Common reasons to seek out mediation include:

  • Estate and trust issues
  • Figuring out living arrangements
  • Medical care for a parent
  • Naming a power of attorney (POA)
  • Problems with driving
  • Roles the children should play
  • Upkeep of the parent’s home

The goal of a mediator is to help all parties through a family conflict, including the elderly parent. Sometimes the goal of mediation is to express hopes and needs. Sometimes it is to put a solid plan into place. Sometimes, it’s just to open up lines of communication. But it can go deeper than this. If done correctly, relationships can be deepened and salvaged through mediation.

“People come to mediation with their truths. They believe so wholeheartedly that they are right. But it’s through the process of mediation that they can begin to hear other perspectives,” Thorpe said.

Things to Know Before You Hire a Mediator

There are a few things to consider when hiring a mediator. All participating parties must be voluntary participants and it’s most helpful if everyone can get together at the same table for discussion.

“We do find it’s helpful if families can meet face-to-face,” said Thorpe, who has flown to other states to do mediations and who has also conducted mediations through video conferencing (like Zoom) for cases where there were multiple parties scattered geographically.

Mediations typically take place in two to three-hour sessions. Some families need more than one session, while others can figure things out in one sitting.

As for fees, they can vary, said Thorpe. Private mediation can range in cost from $100-$400 per hour, or more, depending in part on location. Thorpe’s company charges $325-$350 an hour. Community non-profit programs set up by states may offer free or reduced services by volunteer mediators, but keep in mind these mediators may not be trained in elder issues.

Finding a mediator that everyone is happy with can be difficult. Some experts suggest asking around for recommendations. You can search for mediators on The Academy of Professional Family Mediators website or Both sites have searchable directories. Thorpe also recommends searching online for your state’s association of mediators.

Another option is to search online to see if your state or community offers community dispute resolution centers staffed by volunteers. Some of these volunteers may be lawyers or social workers trained in mediation.

Questions to Ask a Potential Mediator

Many mediators will offer a free consultation either in person or by phone to learn about their services. Questions to ask potential mediators include:

  1. Asking how many mediations they’ve done and if they do it on a regular basis.
  2. Asking what the mediation process is like and how they might handle a certain situation.
  3. Finding out what sort of training they’ve received. Some mediators are lawyers, others are social workers, and still others bring different backgrounds. You do want someone trained in elder mediation.
  4. Giving a brief overview of your family’s issue and hear their thoughts on how mediation might help you in that situation.

What to Expect from Mediation

It’s up to each family to decide what they want to get out of mediation. Thorpe said some families request a “formal memorandum of understanding,” which outlines what everyone has agreed to, while other families prefer a less formal agreement or a meeting summary. Still others are simply happy with the improved communication that frequently results from mediation sessions. If the family prefers a written contract, these can also be produced as part of the process and often are formalized by an attorney.

For many mediators, the beauty in a successful mediation is watching family members at odds turn the corner, so to speak, and begin to listen to each other rather than just try to be heard.

“People start to see things through another’s eyes and gain a recognition and understanding … ” said Thorpe. “Often it completely opens up relationships and heals past hurts so people can move forward.”

Steve Gillard, a lawyer and mediator based in Washington state, agrees.

“I’ve been at numerous mediations where you reach this point where there’s a breakthrough,” Gillard said. “It’s almost a transformative, spiritual experience. Suddenly they see the other as a human being and there’s some empathy that comes into play. Then it’s just a matter of working out the details.”

By Julyne Derrick

Julyne Derrick is a writer and editor who lives between Brooklyn, NY and upstate NY. She has more than 20 years experience writing and editing for online Websites including and and spent her first working years as a health reporter at various New Mexico newspapers.


SHADOW-WORK: “Meeting and Romancing Your Shadow” (E-course,
Sept. 3- Sept. 28, 2018). With Connie Zweig, Ph.D., sponsored by Spirituality
and Practice. The Shadow is that part of the mind that contains our denied,
unacceptable, forbidden feelings, fantasies, and impulses. With shadow-work,
we learn how to uncover the gold in our shadow — the deeper needs hidden
within those rejected parts of ourselves. Connie Zweig is the author of Meeting
the Shadow and Meeting the Shadow of Spirituality. Now retired from clinical
practice, she is extending her work into later life with the forthcoming book
The Reinvention of Age. She is blogging excerpts here:
For details and registration for the E-course, visit:

DIVERSITY: Nominations due Sept. 6, 2018. Grantmakers in Aging is now
accepting nominations of national, regional, and local individuals, programs,
and organizations that embrace diversity as a fundamental element in all levels
of their work in aging. Deadline is Sept. 6, 2018.  For details visit:

ALCHEMY OF AGING: “Turning Old to Gold” Conference (Sept. 6-7, 2018,
Portland, OR). Conference featuring Victoria Howard, Ph.D.; Kim Mooney,
Founder of Practically Dying; and Megan Carnarius, Founder of Memory Care
Consulting. Rose Villa Senior Living Community, 13505 SE River Road, in
Portland.  For more about this event, visit:

CONSCIOUS ELDERING Workshop (Sept. 7-9, 2018, Louisville, KY).
Ron Pevny, author of Conscious Living, Conscious Aging, offers this
workshop at the Meinrad Retreat Center near Louisville. The workshop
aims to deepen the experience of purpose, passion, growth and service in the
elder third of life.  For information visit:

THE EMPOWERED ELDER: (Tuesdays, Sept. 11 – Oct. 23, 10 am
to 12:15 pm, PDT). Foundation Workshop for the Conscious Elders Network.
This online program invites a shift from individual self to global self, and from
“senior” to empowered Elder, as shown by Sacred Activism and Sage-ing.
For details and registration, visit:

ENVIRONMENT: “Elders Awakened, Standing for Our Grandchidren and
All Life” (Sept. 15, 2018, San Francisco, CA). Two-part workshop following
the Global Climate Action Summit. Unitarian Universalist Church, 1187 Franklin
Street in San Francisco.  For details visit:

RETIREMENT: From Anxiety to Zen (Sept. 25, 2018, Webinar, at 12:00 noon EDT).
4th Tuesday Revolutionize your Retirement Interview with Experts Series features
Louise Naylor, author and speaker, discussing her own retirement transition journey
and her book, Poised for Retirement: Moving from Anxiety to Zen. Sign up begins
Sept. 18 at  www.revolutionizeretir   Series is open to professionals and
the public. Accessible via phone and Internet, but questions can only be asked via
the Internet. Direct questions to Dori Mintzer at:

COURAGEOUS AGING. (Sept. 28, 29, 2018, Boulder, CO).  Dr. Ken Druck,
author of Courageous Aging—Your Best Years Ever Reimagined, hosts two
programs: Friday evening 6:30-8:30 pm, features an “Intergenerational Conversation
on Courageous Living and Aging in Any Season of Life.” Saturday features a day-long
Courageous Aging Workshop from 9:30 am-4:00 pm, covering age-related fears and
navigating transitions.   The Saturday workshop is limited to the 18 people and
cost is $120. For more information and registration, contact Jack Williamson at  For more on Ken Druck’s work visit

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