My family comes with a lot of baggage. I think most families do. Sibling relationships have deeply entrenched wedges that carry forward over time without resolution. Well…the “resolution” plays itself out in how the relationship develops. Without real resolution the relationship can become strained, limited and superficial. My brothers and I definitely have had and continue to have some of that going on.
I grew up in a family with three brothers one of whom is autistic/mentally handicapped. Brent lived with us until he was around 20-25 years old. It is hazy, my friends, as all traumatic things are. His extreme behavior started around puberty (toilet training did not happen until he was about twelve) and while my father could “handle” it most of the time, the screaming in the night, the spitting and hitting, the physical out bursts were overwhelming for a long time. We operated in some kind of crisis mode constantly. My other two brothers and I each handled it differently and lots of emotional baggage grew and was housed deep inside of us. Several years before Brent was taken to an acute crisis center, his behavior was at its most extreme. During his flare-ups which could be as often as twice or three times a day, there could be biting, hitting, feces throwing, punching, and destruction around the house. It was scary.
The fact that Brent lived us with us all those years was a result of the disagreement about whether to place him and where to place him between my parents. My father was certain that for the benefit of his other children and the family itself, Brent would be better in a place that could care for him full-time. My mother thought that giving her son “away” was not acceptable and all “those kind of places” were full of sexual abuse and physical abuse.
When Brent finally did leave, it was under crisis. We were expecting it but weren’t at the same time. For several years we watched the escalation and “mini-crises” but due to continual disagreement between my parents, nothing happened. We had little to no outside support from anyone because we did not seek it. We would not talk about it.
This was all around 22 years ago. Many things have happened since, individually and to us as a family. One thing is for sure, while each of us may have found a place for all of that history with differing levels of support, we have never really talked and/or resolved those feelings among us as a group. Sometimes we will reminisce talking about the good and the bad – that helps – but never have we really got down to it and unpacked all those emotions as a family, in a group…together.
Ironically enough, for the last several years we have been facing an aging parent that requires some serious decision-making and planning. We have bumbled and stumbled through without any real resolutions. There are hurt feelings, resentments, and I am sure, lots of unresolved issues regarding our parent among us. Additionally, we have a history of living in crisis that remains within us and has strained our relationships over the years. We just don’t know each other as adults very well. Thank God for Christ in our hearts because He has been the common thread that continues to bind us through these times. I am certain that Christ would want us to seek out some real help for our parent because it is clear that some of our history, a lot of those resentments and unmet needs, questions and issues need attention and we do not know how to do it.
I say all of this because my family sticks out to me as a perfect family who could use a good mediator to help move us along. Counseling would be nice too but we need more immediate attention at this point. We need a skilled facilitator who can come in, give everyone a fair shake to speak, moderate and mediate skillfully, offering options and explaining realistic services out there to everyone. A sped up process that is focused, respectful, dignified with a goal of solving the problem not “fixing” years of emotional mess.
We cannot unroot all these years of issues between us. Quite frankly we do not have the time and I am not sure each of us as individuals are ready. We do know however that some serious stuff is coming down the pike with mom and unless we come together and plan for it, we can have a crisis as we did with Brent all those years ago where the crisis dominated and things got “forced.” And we all do agree that we do not want that and the aftermath that would separate us further. Mediation offers a process that does not take months of self-examination but is instead focused on solving immediate problems through a structured, respectful and fair process that is not centered on solving our family dynamics. Believe me, that takes a lot of pressure off each of us and gives us a reason to do this!
So let me just say that I am forwarding this article to my siblings to find out their thoughts on mediation. It is hard my friends to look inside and diagnose yourself but I know my family represents a good example of a family who needs more than someone who can explain services.
Remember, mediation does not have to be formal, it is just a term for cracking open conflict in an informal process. There are many ways this process can happen that can yield beneficial results. I just pray my family will be open to working on this situation now in an informal, confidential manner for the common goal of caring for our mother whom we all love despite all our other differences.
I pray too that other families will consider elder care mediation because it can help you at a time when there is a lot of confusion and mixed up feelings. I do know mediation will not solve all your problems but it will bring you together at a time when you all need to be working together for the good of someone special.
The Wall Street Journal published an article titled Mediating Elder-Care Disputes, talking at length about how well mediation works in these situations. I credit this article for many of the explanations contained herein.
~Brenda Baietto, Esq.