Can’t he see how different Mom is? Why doesn’t she offer to help out more? Do they even care about Dad? Why is he doing it that way? Should I really even have to ask?
If you find yourself fighting with your siblings about your aging parents, you’re not alone. A parent’s declining health can either draw a family together or break it apart. Siblings who refuse to admit a parent needs help, power struggles, disproportionate caregiving burdens, and resistant parents are all common areas of disagreement in families.
You can’t prevent conflict from happening. There is potential for conflict at every stage of the process — from what to do to how to do it to how to pay for it.
Instead of spending time and energy fighting with one another, focus on putting aside your differences and working as a team to advocate for your parents.
The Family Meeting
Family meetings are structured discussions that can help resolve specific conflicts that might have just been argued about in the past. Families might use these meetings to hear what the parent wants and needs, for the hands-on siblings to explain all they do, or to give other siblings a chance to learn about the situation, participate in care decisions, and brainstorm how they can pitch in.
The purpose of a family meeting is to foster open communication among family members. It should be a safe place where everyone is free to say what they think and feel as they cooperate to make decisions and solve problems.
If a formal family meeting does not seem workable in your family at the present time, seek the guidance of a family therapist, social worker, geriatric care manager, elder mediator, or faith leader.
Setting the Stage
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to how to work together as sibling caregivers or a roadmap for who should do what. Watching a parent decline in mental or physical abilities is emotionally challenging enough. Throw in taking on tasks for which you have no training for and making decisions about finances and care, and it can be downright overwhelming. It’s no wonder that things can sometimes get explosive.
This is a hard time, so have compassion for yourself, and try to have compassion for your siblings. You don’t have to excuse negative behavior, but try to imagine the fear, pain, or need that is causing your siblings to react as they do. That kind of understanding can defuse a lot of sibling conflict.
It’s also a good idea to set some ground rules to keep things civil. A formal process for bringing all parties together helps create a shared purpose for negotiating an effective plan. Here’s a look at some rules to follow that will help everyone communicate while struggling with the emotions of caregiving.
When you focus on building better relationships, caregiving can make families stronger than ever.
For more tips, download our eBook Brothers and Sisters: A Guide to Resolving Sibling Conflict When Making Assisted Living Decisions.