Common Family Conflicts That Can Occur When Siblings Care for Parents

What to expect when working together to care for your parent
Posted by The Arbors on Oct 26, 2018 8:00:00 AM

Older siblings discussing the conflicts that can occur when caring for their parents

A parent’s declining health can either draw a family together or break it apart. Siblings may fail to take equal responsibility for caregiving and financial needs, often falling into the roles they held as children. Or it’s possible that your loved one might feel frightened and vulnerable, angry they need help, or guilty about the idea of becoming a burden to family and friends.

Conflict and turmoil can be common when families need to work together to care for a loved one. Whether the disagreement stems from discussing who should manage a parent’s finances or deciding who and how care should be provided, one of the most common caregiving challenges stems from making decisions with and about aging parents.

Here’s a look at four common family conflicts that arise when caring for parents.

Your Siblings Refuse to Admit Your Parent Needs Help

There can be real disagreements about what level of care a parent needs, especially in cases where one sibling lives close to the parent and the other lives far away.

For example, if you live nearby, you see your parent up close more often — the dirty house and shabby lawn and their increasing social withdrawal. Your sibling, on the other hand, sees a smiling face on Skype or hears the same voice over the phone they have for years. Pressing the issue will only strain the relationship, but simply waiting for the other sibling to come around could put your parent in danger.

There Is a Power Struggle Among Siblings

When adult siblings have to come together with their parents to make decisions as a family unit about long-term care, it can often resurface long-buried family conflicts and pull people back into ill-fitting family roles.

For example, if you have already taken on a majority of the caregiving or decision-making responsibilities, it might cause your sibling to feel excluded or like they’re losing control and can make consensus-building difficult.

One Sibling Refuses to Pitch in Time and/or Money

In families where one sibling is the primary caregiver, it’s common that the other siblings shirk responsibility by claiming they don’t have time. It’s likely that they don’t understand how quickly caregiving responsibilities can grow from running a few errands each week into a full-time job. If you’re the sibling who is shouldering a disproportionate burden of your parent’s care, that sense of unfairness can foster resentment.

This isn’t an uncommon scenario. Francine Russo, author of They're Your Parents, Too, says that in 90 percent of families, one sibling shoulders most of the caregiving burden.

Siblings also might feel like they don’t have the money to contribute to the cost of caregiving. But the financial burden of caring for an elderly parent is a large one. If your siblings aren’t sharing the load, you’re probably bearing some resentment.

Your Parent Doesn’t Want Help

One of the toughest caregiving challenges is when the person you love needs help but doesn’t want it. For example, maybe your aging parent simply says “no” anytime you try and talk with them about creating a health care directive and power of attorney, and maybe you’ve tried to approach the subject in every possible situation. From answering every one of their objections to having other family members talk with them, they still won’t even consider the idea. This can leave you feeling frustrated or disappointed.

Families with several involved siblings often have problems with disagreements and power struggles, and no caregiving decision is just your decision to make. Getting brothers and sisters all on the same page can take patience, coordination, and several in-depth conversations. Your parents have feelings, too. Just try to remember there isn’t a right or wrong way of caregiving.

Providing care for an elderly parent is easier said than done when challenging family dynamics throw wrenches in the decision-making process. For more information about the true costs of being a family caregiver, including insight into some of the hidden costs of family caregiving, and some of the unexpected challenges of caregiving, download our 11 Most Common Caregiving Challenges eBook.

Siblings Won't Help?

Topics: Caregiver & Family Resources