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A Family Affair: How to Avoid Sibling Conflict While Supporting Aging Parents

Siblings are often involved in the care and decision-making processes for their aging parents. For many families, this can bring a sense of comfort, while others experience built-up resentments and conflicts. However, most families fall somewhere in the middle as they work together to find solutions and make decisions on long-term care for their aging parents. 

No matter how much siblings like each other, conflicts can arise as they navigate these difficult and emotional decisions. Oftentimes, issues may surface when it comes to how much effort each sibling is making, how much each person is contributing both with their time and through financial commitments, and differing opinions on medical decisions. If your family is experiencing conflict while caring for elderly parents or relatives, don’t worry too much. Conflict is common and can even be healthy when managed properly. 

Common Issues that Cause Family Disputes 

While each family is different, there are a few common issues that many face while discussing senior care for their aging parents:

How much care your loved one needs 

Accepting your loved one’s physical or mental decline can be an emotional journey that each person in the family deals with differently. Adult siblings may not always view caregiving needs the same way. If you notice tension during discussions about how much care your aging parent needs, you may consider getting an outside opinion either from your parent’s primary care physician or by working through a geriatric evaluation center. They can also provide you with tips on how to talk with your siblings about assisted living or in-home care.

Resentment between the primary caregiver and siblings 

Often the adult child who lives nearby or has the closest relationship with the parent will shoulder the responsibility of primary caregiver. If other members of the family don’t offer help or communicate consistently, it can build feelings of isolation and loneliness for the primary caregiver. It can be unclear to other siblings that the primary caregiver is struggling, especially if they live far away.. However, family members can still help by providing encouragement when caring for elderly parents becomes stressful, financial support, or coordination with appointments and caregivers. 

Unequal decision-making 

Decision-making about senior care can be difficult especially when there are many people involved in the process. Oftentimes, one sibling will take on the role of making decisions, which can leave others feeling excluded from the process.  

Siblings who can’t or won’t help aging parents

Sometimes siblings who have difficult relationships with their aging parents may choose to be uninvolved in their aging and caregiving needs. Other times, siblings simply don’t know what to do or how to be helpful. This can cause conflict within the family unit, especially when siblings have differing views on their parent’s caregiving needs. Scheduling video calls that include the whole family and consistently hosting family meetings may make it easier for siblings to become involved in caring for elderly parents. Siblings who choose not to be involved may be willing to offer their support in other ways, through financial contributions or even words of encouragement.

Tips for Preventing and Solving Conflict 

Every family will encounter conflicts and disagreements while working together to search for long-term care solutions for their parents. Navigating the aging process and working within the healthcare industry is difficult and emotional. However, there are a few things that may make working through conflict feel a little easier. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you and your siblings work to support your aging parents: 

Hold family meetings each week. As soon as siblings become involved in their parents’ care, they should hold family meetings to promote communication and consistency. Don’t wait until there is an emergency or tension building up to begin these meetings about senior care. In addition, it’s important for parents to have conversations with their adult children about how they envision their future and what roles they see each child playing in their care. 

Give everyone a chance to speak. Each sibling should feel comfortable voicing their concerns to their family members. One sibling may feel uncomfortable performing hands-on caregiving tasks, but is willing to manage finances or other logistics. Hearing how siblings prefer to be involved can make dividing tasks and responsibilities easier for everyone. 

Understand inter-family relationships. Each sibling may have a different relationship with their parents. It’s important for other siblings to respect this and help find ways to keep them involved in the process. Oftentimes, the caregiving responsibilities aren’t equally divided between each sibling. Instead of forcing each person to contribute equally, each sibling has the right to do what they’re comfortable doing, even if it means providing in-home care from a professional caregiver.

Considering Bringing in Outside Care 

For many families, the likelihood of working together and dividing caregiving tasks is nearly impossible. For others, living far apart and the inability of a sibling to act as a primary caregiver are clear reasons to bring in a third party to help manage and coordinate home care for aging parents. This is also a great option for families who work well together but just need some additional guidance. 

According to AgingCare, geriatric care managers (GCM) are usually social workers or nurses who specialize in senior care and work to identify a senior’s needs. GCMs can coordinate care, offer information, and provide guidance in situations of conflict or tension. In addition, some families may find it beneficial to work with an elder care mediator, especially if there is a lot of tension between family members. These mediators work to resolve conflict, facilitate conversations between siblings, and find solutions for aging adults. 

Providing Support at Maplewood Senior Living 

Caring for your aging parents can feel like a full-time job — that’s where we come in. At Maplewood Senior Living, we provide individual assessments to ensure your loved one is receiving the appropriate level of care. In addition to caring for your loved one, we can also offer support for the entire family. To learn more about these offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us

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