Help for Tough Conversations with Kupuna

Taking care of an elderly family member is an act of love. Talking about the needs of a loved one and how those needs can be supported by adult children can be one of the more difficult conversations to have. If family members disagree about the course of action, it can lead to arguments or silence, ignoring current and future needs of the elder person, as well as the primary caregiver. 

The Kupuna Pono (KP) program, offered through The Mediation Center of the Pacific, helps families engage in these difficult conversations. KP provides family conferencing and mediation services that help families maintain strong relationships by engaging in respectful conversations that enable them to craft plans that support the elder family member’s wishes and values. In family conferencing, facilitators guide a discussion among the family members, including the elder member (kupuna), about the strengths of the family, the desires and needs of the kupuna, the family’s concerns, and available resources to support the kupuna’s needs.

KP mediators are trained to provide a safe environment that encourages conversation and helps each family create the plan that best meets the needs of the kupuna’s unique family situation. When family members are in conflict, a mediator can help those members talk through their issues, listen to each other’s concerns, and brainstorm solutions. Having these conversations with a neutral third party allows all parties to truly listen to each other and feel comfortable enough to open up. Whether in conflict or not, families can use the Kupuna Pono program to discover the elder’s vision for the future. 

One participant told us “The mediators asked questions we did not think of to get a solution in a way that let us open up and express feelings and concerns.”

The KP program is founded on the belief that family members know best how to support their kupuna and each other. The conversation is informal, confidential, and designed to craft a plan that allows the kupuna to be as safe and independent as possible. One participant added, “It doesn’t have to be a family in strife or who doesn’t know how to communicate . . . It is still valuable for families in harmony.”

Advanced planning is recommended for everyone as they get older, but these types of conversations can be very difficult. The KP program can help alleviate the struggle.

For more information on the KP program, visit the Mediation Center of the Pacific, or call 521-6767 to schedule a family conference or mediation session now.

Katie Ranney is the Special Programs Coordinator for the Mediation Center of the Pacific. She organizes trainings and outreach for the Kupuna Pono and Early Access Landlord-Tenant Mediation programs. She does her part to fulfill MCP’s mission of accessible, affordable, high-quality dispute resolution. She is also an independent facilitator and communication consultant. On her time off, she keeps healthy by learning to play taiko drums and swing dancing.

Note: All quotes come from a post-participation phone survey conducted in 2017.

The Mediation Center of the Pacific is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit Aloha United Way agency that has provided Oahu’s communities with high quality mediation and dispute resolution services since 1979.

For more information, visit http://www.mediatehawaii.org/.