November 18, 2020

Solving Family Conflict

Three daughters sit at kitchen table and talk about care for aging parents
Perhaps you’re a member of the perfect family, in which all the adult siblings agree completely on how to best care for Mom and Dad as they age, and all of whom contribute equally to the caregiving.

But, more likely, you’re a member of the normal family, in which siblings disagree over how to best take care of Mom and Dad in older age and who should perform the actual caregiving tasks. In many families, a disproportionate share of the caregiving falls on just one or two siblings, which can breed resentment toward other adult children seen as not contributing as much as the rest.

One key to solving these issues and maintaining good sibling relations lies in building family teamwork. Try these tips to engage your siblings (and parents) to craft a caregiving plan for Mom and Dad that gets everyone involved on some level.

1. Hold family meetings – starting early

Don’t wait until there’s a crisis or until one sibling is already performing a lot of caregiving tasks. Well before your parents need help, convene a family meeting to hear what your parents envision for their life in older age and what roles they want their children to play in helping meet their needs. Make a plan to meet regularly as a family – maybe once a year, at first, and more frequently as the situation evolves.

2. Hear everyone’s concerns

In addition to hearing what your parents want as they age, each sibling should freely share their own concerns and be heard by the rest of the family. Some siblings may not feel comfortable performing hands-on care with a parent, for example. Others may feel squeamish “prying into” their parents’ finances. Everyone is entitled to their feelings. Use these conversations to help shape a role for each sibling that allows them to contribute while feeling comfortable playing their part.

3. Be flexible

Start with an understanding that your parents’ care needs will evolve over time. Use a checklist to help siblings manage the care of their senior loved ones. Each sibling should be prepared to contribute more time, effort, and possibly financial support as the years go by. Discussing these types of sensitive issues early – and continuing the conversation at regular intervals – helps all siblings stay engaged and productive throughout their parents’ aging process. Don’t forget to include the possibility of engaging a professional caregiver to meet your parents’ needs. This option removes the burden of caregiving from the adult children and allows them to enjoy a regular relationship with their parents again.

4. Be sensitive to family dynamics

Family dynamics can be tricky to navigate, even as adults. Parents may have trouble viewing their adult children as their peers, instead of as their children. Some children may resent one or both of their parents for perceived slights in childhood that still fester in adulthood. Siblings also may be estranged from each other or from their parents.

If you feel that one of your siblings is less involved than another, try to understand how the family dynamics may be influencing the situation. Instead of trying to force each sibling to contribute equally to your parents’ care, aim for a more realistic plan that involves everyone to his or her comfort level. If you discover the situation between your siblings and your parents is more emotionally charged than you realized, consider bringing in a third party, like a geriatric care manager, who has experience dealing with these types of family dynamics.

5. Encourage everyone to voice their appreciation

Everyone likes to feel appreciated. Be vocal in thanking your siblings for helping with your parents’ care. Give recognition where it is due. Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool, and when you genuinely thank your siblings for contributing, then you set the stage for even more involvement.

Bringing the family together to care for aging parents can be a big undertaking. If you come together as siblings, you can develop a plan that not only provides for Mom and Dad but also keeps family relationships intact.