Even if you usually have an excellent sibling relationship, the stress and strain of caring for aging parents can bring up all kinds of issues and conflict. And if your sibling relationships are already less than perfect, you’ll be in for an even bumpier ride.
The complex and often heart wrenching challenges of managing and coordinating care for an aging parent can create all kinds of problematic scenarios that result in disagreements. In a recent post, we outlined several of the common ones, including:
● Who will take on which responsibilities
● How much and what kind of care is needed
● The cost of care and how to cover it
● Whether one sibling should move in with the parent
● Who should make decisions related to care and finances
It’s no surprise that emotions run high in these situations. Often, adult siblings resort to unhelpful childhood roles and patterns that trigger equally unhelpful responses in others. People get caught up in their perceptions of what’s fair. And everyone involved starts to feel either put upon or left out.
Worst of all, these kinds of relationship issues and power struggles keep siblings from doing the most important thing—what’s best for their parents.
There’s no solution that will magically resolve all sibling disagreements, but there are a few strategies that can help in almost every case.
Set Your Expectations
Even when siblings aren’t super close as adults, they still have a lot of history. This can be an asset, but it can also be a liability if the hardship and trauma of caring for aging parents stir up old rivalries and behaviors.
To avoid highly volatile situations, it’s best to be realistic about who you’re dealing with. Go in with your eyes wide open, and don’t expect any miracles. On the other hand, don’t automatically assume the worst. After all, people do change as they mature.
As in any situation that involves relationships with other human beings, clear communication is critical.
- Avoiding hard conversations or making assumptions without talking to the other party is always a recipe for disaster down the road. Put your right foot forward by opening up a dialog early in the process.
- Be clear about what you need, what you can do, and what you can’t do.
- Listen to others. Really listen. Don’t put words in their mouths or assume you know what they’re going to say.
- And involve your parents. Their wellbeing should be at the center of every conversation, so they deserve to be heard.
Have A Family Meeting
The idea of having a family meeting can cause heavy sighs and eye rolling, but it can be a valuable tool in addressing and resolving disagreements. There are a lot of facets to coordinating and managing a successful family meeting, but here are a few top tips to get you started:
● Pick a day and time that works for everyone, and set a time limit so everyone can plan accordingly.
● Create an agenda in a collaborative way, and share it with everyone ahead of time.
● As part of the agenda, identify any information that needs to be collected to ensure a productive meeting and assign collection of that information.
● Establish at the beginning of the meeting that everyone will have the opportunity to speak; and then follow through to make sure everyone is heard.
● Be open, direct, and kind. If necessary, set some guidelines around how to take turns speaking, how to respond, and so forth.
● Take notes so that everyone has a written record they can refer to later.
● Keep an open mind — be willing to accept others’ faults and forgive them, be willing to apologize when you say something you didn’t mean, and be open to compromise.
Get Outside Help
If you find yourself at an impasse, don’t think you have to get past it on your own. Sometimes, you may need outside help to resolve a conflict. That’s not a failure on anyone’s part; it’s just human nature. Luckily, there are a number of options for engaging an impartial third party.
● Geriatric Care Manager (GCM): These professionals often have a background in social work or nursing (or both). Their area of expertise is in assessing the needs of the elderly and then coordinating appropriate resources and care. A GCM does not provide care directly, but they can help you define a detailed care plan based on their expert insights about your particular situation.
● Family Counselor: If your attempts at family meetings devolve into chaos, you might benefit from the guidance of a family counselor. In addition to helping keep order and civility, a counselor can apply their therapy training to help identify and work through specific issues, fears, and other emotional roadblocks.
● Elder Care Mediator: In more intense and volatile situations, mediation might be the best course of action. Mediators specialize in conflict resolution and negotiation. They have the training and skills to expertly manage even the most challenging relationship issues and are often brought into the conversation to avoid additional legal actions such as lawsuits and guardianship petitions.
Know When to Give Up
Sometimes, despite best efforts and the introduction of outside help, siblings still can’t agree. Situations that reach this level of stalemate often revolve around one sibling trying to get another sibling to “do their fair share,” whatever they perceive that to be. Unfortunately, one person’s idea of fair does not always align with everyone else’s.
In such cases, it’s wise to recognize when enough is enough. Usually, continuing to fight isn’t worth the stress or the energy you will expend. The healthier option is to do what you can to let go of certain expectations. Maybe give yourself a time out, take a deep breath, and talk with a sympathetic friend. Then, move on.
Remember, in the end, this is about your parents.
Keeping their best interests and well-being front and center can go a long way toward providing you with valuable perspective and strength.
Remember – Family Is Family
Love them or hate them, they’re yours for life. You and your siblings may not always get along or agree, but—when it comes to taking care of your parents—you need to find a way to work together. After all, your parents took care of you. Now it’s your turn.
Contact us if you just can’t seem to work it out with your siblings – we can offer some guidance.