I recently read an article entitled “What Becoming a Parent Really Does to Your Happiness.” It discusses research done on the impact of having children on happiness and the results may surprise you. Having kids is bad for quality of life. Parents report a decrease in happiness and marital satisfaction that lasts until their children leave the house. Of course, this is an over-simplification. Parents also say that their lives have more meaning than those of non-parents. However, one thing is clear from these studies. The perfect happy family is a myth.

My practice is devoted to helping families. Whether it is a divorce or elder law matter, I have seen family members that feel love, hate and everything in between towards each other. The reality is that we all experience mixed feelings about our loved ones at least some of the time.

Parents complain their kids are trying to take over or neglecting them or they are irresponsible and can’t be trusted with money. Children say their parents can’t make good decisions or complain about their siblings being treated more favorably, taking advantage of their parents or not helping with caregiving. Often, events that occurred long ago still resonate decades later and affect how family members deal with each other in the present.

These emotions make it difficult to do estate and long-term care planning. When I meet people who haven’t done any planning, often, I see that they are reluctant to make decisions that might be misconstrued by their loved ones. Who will be the guardian of their children, power of attorney, healthcare proxy agent or executor of their estate? Should they treat their children the same even though they have different life situations or have different relationships with them? How much information should they share about their financial circumstances and with whom? Do they owe their kids an inheritance?

It would be nice to have a perfect family where everyone gets along and all problems can be solved in a half-hour time slot. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way and even in well-adjusted loving families, difficult times can lead to heartbreaking conflict. A sick parent or child, sudden death, divorce, changing financial circumstances and other factors can result in arguments. While there may be no simple resolution to a conflict, it is important for individuals to take responsibility for making decisions about their life and legacy.

We should not leave it to family members to figure out how we want to be cared for if we are incapacitated or who should get our assets after we die. It is for us to make those decisions and ideally, discuss them with our families in advance, perhaps with the aid of a family counselor or elder law mediator. Doing nothing will do a lot more damage to your family than making decisions that maybe some people won’t like.

If you need assistance, contact me for a consultation. I am an experienced elder law attorney who can help you with your long-term care and estate planning as well as provide guidance on mediating disputes.

For more information on dealing with family conflict, read these related posts:

How to Deal with Slacker Siblings When Caring for Aging Parents

Caregiving When Parents and Adult Children Don’t Get Along

How Elder Mediation Can Help Resolve Family Disputes

Don’t Let Your Family Fight Over Your Care