Is caring for your elderly parents causing tensions between you and your siblings? Have your sibling relationships deteriorated due to disagreements about care for your parents? Arguments often flare up over issues like sharing responsibility for private care, methods of care, money, inheritance, and emotional problems. Even siblings whose bonds remain strong say caring for an aging parent often takes a toll on their relationship.
These conflicts often come as a surprise. No one anticipates that they will be thrust in to emotionally charged interactions with their siblings. It is a shock to go from seeing your siblings at family dinners to navigating parents’ needs together daily. Often, long buried grievances resurface. Siblings can fall into the resentment trap, asking, “Why is this on me?” “Where is the help?”
One of the biggest reasons for sibling resentment is perceived “favoritism.” When one sibling seems to be a parent’s favorite, it can cause other siblings to become angry with the favorite child or with their parents. Adult children often internalize a perception of favoritism. Regardless of when or how this perception of favoritism comes about, it can often cause tensions and rifts between siblings in their adult years – especially when discussing care for aging parents.
Duties and roles of care for parents can also cause sibling conflicts. Some adult children might think everyone should take care of their parents, while others think that it is not their job as adult children. Some may think that putting parents in a nursing home or paying for in-home care is sufficient. Other family members might believe that adult children should provide hands-on care for their parents.
Geographical distance can add to the conflict for siblings. If one sibling lives closer to their parents, those farther away may feel less responsibility. The closer child might feel guilty if they don’t or can’t care for their aging parents. They might also experience caregiver burnout and resentment of the siblings who seem to bear less responsibility for care.
Regardless of the causes, what are some strategies that adult siblings in this situation can use?
Listen Well An excellent way to begin working together is to listen to each other. Take time to ask questions and make a point to try to understand your sibling’s point of view. Listening well can be challenging, but it is a powerful way to move forward positively. It often helps to ask, “Can you tell me more about that?” Listening can help deepen understanding and trust for all parties involved.
Find Common Ground It is also beneficial when dealing with family disputes over elderly parents to find a common ground. For example, you might all agree that none of you will personally take care of Mom and Dad. It could also be as simple as starting with a general plan of care.
Learn to Compromise Making compromises does not mean that you lose the argument, though it might mean that you will not get exactly what you want, exactly how you want it. Remember that you are seeking to do what is best for your parents, but what you think might be best may not be what your sibling thinks is best. Compromising provides a way for all parties involved to do their part.
Involve a Third Party If you can’t have productive conversations, consider bringing in a third party. The third party could be a professional mediator, medical provider, therapist, religious leader, or professional care manager. A third party could help facilitate and guide discussions while seeking to provide what’s best for your parents. Since they do not have any emotional or relational issues with you, your siblings, or your parents, a neutral third party can offer outside advice that is helpful and constructive.
In an ideal world, we’d all work together harmoniously to give our parents the best end of life in return for the love and support they gave us. It rarely – if ever – works out exactly as we would like it. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our best.
West County Psychological Associates has trained professional counselors who specialize in senior care issues. You can reach us at 314-275-8599 or see information about our therapists at www.wcpastl.com.
Lori Goldberg, MSW, LCSW