As elderly parents begin to rely on family for more support, the amount of conflict between adult children can increase. Dealing with a parent’s care can rekindle rivalries that have laid dormant for years and the discord can tear families apart.
Causes of Family Conflicts
Family dynamics are infinitely complex, but two underlying themes run through most sibling disputes about their parents: injustice and inheritance.
When on sibling shoulders a disproportionate burden of dad or mom’s care, that sense of unfairness can foster resentment. Often, by virtue of distance, the siblings who live further away are “off the hook” when it comes to caring for an aging parent, while the nearest siblings are obliged to take on a caregiving role. When the caregiving sibling asks for help from other siblings, the other siblings often don’t fully appreciate, or choose to ignore, how much help their parent needs, and how much work one sibling is doing.
Many siblings clash over a parent’s finances. With the average American household’s net worth declining since 2007, siblings may have to divide a decided decrease in inheritance, naturally increasing the likelihood of conflict. In a perfect world, each of us is selfless and not motivated by money, but we live in a far from perfect world where money is indispensable, so it remains a problem for families.
Caregiving is stressful on its own, but when injustice and inheritance are added to a situation, they can create animosity between siblings. When family dynamics are already tense because one sibling feels unjustly overburdened with a parent’s care, money can compound the conflict.
A sibling who provides most of a parent’s care may feel entitled to a greater share of an inheritance. Or, siblings who are more distant or not involved, may believe that the caregiving sibling is spending too much money on a parent’s care. Sometimes, the children of aging parents will even resist plans for professional care in order to “protect” an inheritance.
Tips for Improving Communication with Your Siblings During a Family Disagreement
There are no easy answers to settle disputes between siblings who are butting heads over a parent’s care, but maintaining communication is crucial. Consider using the following tips for improving communication with your siblings during a family disagreement:
A Family Meeting
Ideally, siblings can correct issues before they become irreconcilable. The key is good communication, and true strategy to facilitate the exchange of ideas is the family meeting. At a family meeting, there should be frank and open discussion about a parent’s care needs. Each sibling’s role and obligations should be established, and future plans should be made. But if the question of where to hold the family meeting leads to a bitter argument in and of itself, the friction may have gotten past the point when a family meeting can help.
Advisors, Counsels, and Mediators
Sometimes a neutral third-party can calm feuding siblings. Family counselors can also help to bridge the difference between siblings, assuming they still talk to one another. If things have become really heated, a family mediator specializing in senior care issues may be able to break through the ill will and help build consensus and find a middle-ground.
The High Road
Ultimately, the only person we can change is ourselves. No matter how much we try to reason with a disagreeable sibling, we may not succeed. While advocating for what’s best for our parent, its’ wise to let go of anger or resentment towards a sibling who has been unhelpful or hurtful, and to strive for the undeniable peace that comes from acceptance and forgiveness; neither stifling our impulse to call out an uncooperative brother or sister, nor allowing ourselves to be consumed with anger.