Sibling Rivalry: When Brothers and Sisters Fight About Senior Care

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Mark and Sally both have their mom’s blue eyes and their dad’s sarcastic sense of humor, but that’s where the siblings’ similarities end.

After college at the state university, Sally moved back to the neighborhood where she grew up and took a job teaching at the local middle school. Mark, on the other hand, attended college out of state and dropped out halfway through his senior year to launch what’s become a successful tech company.

The siblings have always enjoyed each other’s company around the holidays, but things have been tense since Dad passed away. Sally sees the dirty house and shabby lawn and their mom’s increasing social withdrawal. Mark, on the other hand, sees a smiling face on Skype and hears the same voice over the phone he has for years.

One of the most common causes of stress among sibling caregivers is when they see their parent’s care needs differently, and this is especially common in cases where one sibling lives close to the parent and the other lives further away.

“There is tension that exists between the frontline caregivers and the distant caregivers,” says Barry J. Jacobs, a Clinical Psychologist and Health Care Consultant and Author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers. “The folks who live far away often make up for in assertiveness what they lack in proximity. They question decisions the people on the front lines are making. Usually, there is disagreement about what the aging parent is going through, what their condition is, and what they need now and in the future.”

Whether you identify with Mark or Sally, here’s a look at three possible solutions if you and your siblings view your parent’s needs differently:

 

Call a Family Meeting

Getting brothers and sisters all on the same page can take patience, coordination, and several in-depth conversations. Family meetings offer opportunities for:

  • The parents to share their wants and needs
  • The hands-on siblings to clarify the parents’ needs and explain all they do
  • The other siblings to learn about the situation, participate in care decisions, and brainstorm how they can pitch in

“At one meeting, it might be looking at how to support Mom or Dad’s independence when they are no longer able to drive or how to help support their continued social life,” says Crystal Thorpe, a Professional Family Mediator and Co-Founder of Elder Decisions, in Norwood, Massachusetts, and a Co-Author of Mom Always Liked You Best: A Guide for Resolving Family Feuds, Inheritance Battles & Eldercare Crises.

“Later on, it may be how to help them be physically comfortable. The decisions are different. What’s common is that you’re taking the time to slow down and to hear from each person — your parent, your siblings, and any others involved — what’s important to them before you make decisions together and put an action plan in place.”

 

Try Respite Care First

Another common reason siblings disagree on senior care options is when one sibling feels they should do everything in their power to keep Mom or Dad in their home. Maybe you’ve heard, “Dad made us promise we would never move Mom to assisted living!” or “Mom and Dad have lived here our entire lives!”

But if the house isn’t safe anymore and you don’t have the time or money to take care of another house on top of your own, consider a short-term respite stay.

Respite care provides you with a temporary rest from caregiving while your loved one — and your siblings — get to test the waters of assisted living. They can interact with others having similar experiences, spend time in a safe and supportive environment, and participate in social activities. Plus, your family gets a chance to learn more about what it’s actually like to live in assisted living.

 

Seek Expert Guidance

If you and your siblings are still having disagreements about how much assistance your parent really needs, it often stems from an underlying difference in perception about a parent’s ability to live independently.

What’s needed in this case is information and equal access to it. In cases where a medical diagnosis has been made and a doctor has said that a loved one should no longer live alone, you should make sure that every family member is informed about that recommendation, the basis for it, and what that will look like in the future in terms of medical treatment needs and care needs.

In cases where there is no acute diagnosis but a gradual decline in ability, it might be helpful to have a third-party expert observe your loved one and offer an assessment of his or her care needs.

“Aging Life Care Professionals, who used to be known as geriatric care managers, can come in and do an assessment of what the needs are and can provide professional help,” Thorpe says.

Ultimately, the most important thing that siblings can do is to remember they are on the same team. With patience and open communication, keeping in mind what is best for your parent while ensuring everyone has the opportunity to be heard, you and your brothers and sisters can help your parents remain as independent as possible while receiving the care and support they need as they age.

For more tips about navigating adult sibling relationships, download Brothers and Sisters, a guide to resolving sibling conflict when making assisted living decisions.

 

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    NOTE: Your privacy is important to us. We’ll never share your details nor spam your inbox.

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    NOTE: Your privacy is important to us. We’ll never share your details nor spam your inbox.

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    NOTE: Your privacy is important to us. We’ll never share your details nor spam your inbox.

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    NOTE: Your privacy is important to us. We’ll never share your details nor spam your inbox.

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    NOTE: Your privacy is important to us. We’ll never share your details nor spam your inbox.

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    NOTE: Your privacy is important to us. We’ll never share your details nor spam your inbox.

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    This guide provides tips and ideas on downsizing, what to pack and how to make the transition smooth for your senior parent.


    NOTE: Your privacy is important to us. We’ll never share your details nor spam your inbox.

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    NOTE: Your privacy is important to us. We’ll never share your details nor spam your inbox.

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    Have you stopped getting together with friends, either because you don’t have the time or you’re too exhausted? Are you becoming the invisible second patient?


    NOTE: Your privacy is important to us. We’ll never share your details nor spam your inbox.

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    NOTE: Your privacy is important to us. We’ll never share your details nor spam your inbox.

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    NOTE: Your privacy is important to us. We’ll never share your details nor spam your inbox.

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    NOTE: Your privacy is important to us. We’ll never share your details nor spam your inbox.

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