Old habits die hard — and so do sibling dynamics. If you can’t get through the sibling meeting without you or your siblings criticizing the way you think another person is being - selfish, bossy, uncaring, irresponsible - or without getting into a heated argument about which of you should go to the doctor with Dad next week, then it might be time to call in an expert.
Family therapists, social workers, geriatric care managers, elder mediators, and faith leaders can help families through tough situations. Sometimes it takes an unbiased third party to resolve conflicts, focus conversations on the present, and find solutions that everyone can accept.
Here’s a look at four resources for when your family could benefit from the help of a professional:
1. Health Care Professional
If you and your siblings are having disagreements about how much assistance your parent really needs, it often stems from an underlying difference in perception about a parent’s ability to live independently.
What’s needed in this case is information and equal access to it. In cases where a medical diagnosis has been made and a doctor has said that a loved one should no longer live alone, you should make sure that every family member is informed about that recommendation, the basis for it, and what that will look like in the future in terms of medical treatment needs and care needs.
2. Aging Life Care Professional
In cases where there is no acute diagnosis but a gradual decline in ability, it might be helpful to have a third-party expert observe your loved one and offer an assessment of his or her care needs.
“Aging Life Care Professionals, who used to be known as Geriatric Care Managers, can come in and do an assessment of what the needs are and can provide professional help,” says Crystal Thorpe, a Professional Family Mediator and Co-Founder of Elder Decisions, in Norwood, Massachusetts, and a Co-Author of Mom Always Liked You Best: A Guide for Resolving Family Feuds, Inheritance Battles & Eldercare Crises.
3. Senior Living Professional
Even with an expert assessment of care needs, there might still be intense disagreements about what to do based on different opinions of what level of care siblings are willing — and capable — to provide on their own. The choice to stay at home or move into an assisted living community can be difficult emotionally for both the parent and their children.
“I’ve had conference calls where I act as the facilitator,” says Jonathan Athanas, Executive Director of The Arbors at Dracut. “I’ll ask questions: What does one sibling have a concern that the other isn’t hearing? I can be that third party when there’s a disconnect and they need a fresh perspective.”
Adds Ashley Harris, Marketing Coordinator at The Arbors at Winthrop:
“We do FaceTime calls with out-of-town siblings. I’ll do a tour with the phone in front of my face to bring siblings together and get everyone on board.”
It’s important for siblings to keep in mind that family caregiving may be a short-term solution, and other options should still be considered to ensure there is a long-term plan in place.
4. Elder Mediator
Elder mediators such as Thorpe are trained in issues related to estates, elder care, and social gerontology and can help facilitate family discussions about matters relating to safety, finances, and capabilities while remaining mindful of the parent’s desire for individual control and respect.
“Many families can do this on their own,” Thorpe says. “If they’re able to have productive conversations and communicate respectfully, they may not need outside help. But most families can also benefit from having an outside person help structure the conversation, help family members better understand one another, and help them be creative in their solutions — brainstorming options together that take into account each person’s wants and needs.”
5. Financial Advisor
If your parent doesn’t already have a financial advisor, find a certified financial planner who is willing to meet with you, your parents, and your siblings at least once a year to review and tweak their finances.
Stress that you don’t want to take over your parent’s finances, but you want to ensure that the adviser fully understands your parents’ situation and family dynamics. Ongoing planning and maintenance are important to ensure a comfortable retirement.
Building relationships with financial and legal professionals and ensuring a will and living will are in place and up-to-date are excellent ways to help protect your parent’s financial interests.
Navigating adult sibling relationships can be a challenge and can prevent families from making important long-term care decisions with aging parents. For more tips about navigating adult sibling relationships, download Brothers and Sisters, a guide to resolving sibling conflict when making assisted living decisions.