“My siblings don’t understand! My sister flies in only a few times a year to check on Mom and wants to change everything we have in place even though I care for her every day. And my brother rarely helps but thinks he knows what to do! What should I do?”
Does this sound familiar to you?
If so, you’re not alone. You may be part of the 43% of American families who have at least one sibling with whom they are caring for aging parents.
When Mom’s and Dad’s health starts failing, it’s comforting to think of the family rallying together to help each other out; siblings can pool their time and resources to handle the situation together. However, this is not a reality for many families. Disagreements and age-old feuds get in the way and hamper the ability to come together. Siblings who may have drifted apart over the years until their parents became sick are now tossed together to make important caregiving and financial decisions.
All this emotional weight can be stressful. Research from Home Instead Senior Care shows that, despite nearly half of the country’s families caring for aging parents, only 2% of these families split the time caregiving equally among siblings. This can cause plenty of stress and friction between siblings and cause disputes over Mom’s and Dad’s care.
However, there are some practical steps that can help mitigate sibling conflicts and alleviate stress on families.
Common Issues that Lead to Conflict
While there are many factors that can lead to family disputes over an elderly parent’s care, some are more common than others. Below are some of the more frequent reasons:
Getting Caught Off Guard
Perhaps no one assumed that Mom would fall and need full-time care until they received that phone call and now everyone feels unprepared to make hard decisions. Because of this, siblings must prepare for the worst in case situations like this happen. No one wants to talk about their parents getting older or about hypothetical situations when parents need full-time care, but it’s necessary to talk about the future so you can be prepared.
Long simmering feuds or emotions often raise their ugly heads during times of stress. Family fights can inhibit progress at a time when you need to work together as a team more than ever. Any bitter feelings or resentments withheld over the years can be especially damaging. Maybe one younger brother is resentful of a parent’s favoritism toward an older sibling, or a sister who has been more heavily involved in your parents’ lives is scared of fronting the entire responsibility of providing care.
Issues Over Finances
Money is often a major dispute, especially when families are involved. And it’s no surprise: the estimated costs for in-home caregiving in 2019 were over $4,000 per month. That means caregiving for parents could easily amount to $50,000 or more every year. The financial burden could be even greater if Mom or Dad need to move to a facility to receive care or if the primary caregiver must either quit their job or work part-time.
Questions regarding paying for Mom’s or Dad’s care can quickly divide a family. If one sibling has a six-figure salary, but another struggles with rent and bills, how can finances be split up fairly? How will the estate be split up? Should the siblings who aren’t as involved in the care of their parents shoulder more of the financial costs? The answers to these questions aren’t always easy and can cause plenty of problems for siblings.
If you have an extended family who is more than willing to lend a hand, then that can be a valuable asset. However, when the extended family disagrees over the care of elderly parents, things can get messy, leading to both frustration and resentment. Further conflict can develop if siblings believe the extended family is overly controlling or has other intentions, such as laying claim to an inheritance.
Sibling conflicts may result from the oldest sibling assuming responsibilities without consulting others. Younger siblings might assume the older children will take responsibility for caregiving based on their role, although they may not want to. Without good communication, intentions are easily misunderstood and can lead to resentment. Parents may also slightly favor a particular child as a caregiver, which can stir up long-standing emotions over favoritism or rivalries, contributing to more conflict between siblings.
No One Can Agree
Sometimes, the only thing a family can agree on is that no one agrees.
Maybe there is not enough communication between siblings, or everyone is just plain confused. Or, perhaps you tried to create a plan but your sister and brother just can't agree on it. Your Dad may have approved of everything for his care, but how do you continue if the siblings don’t agree?
Tips for Improving Communication with Your Family
If any of these cases resembles your own conflicts with your siblings over caregiving for parents, then rest assured that it is fairly common. You can put your sibling conflicts aside and improve communication to settle any family disputes over caring for your aging parents in many ways.
Here are some ways to better communicate with your family:
- Talk to your parents and siblings about a hypothetical situation so, if that particular situation arises, your family is not taken off guard. Parents can voice their concerns and whether they want a child to care for them or if they would prefer other care options, like home support, assisted living, or a community home. This should be an ongoing conversation to prepare for the future.
- If you’re dealing with long-simmering family feuds, hold a family meeting and discuss those issues with your siblings. Depending on the severity, a family counselor may be needed. Emphasize that caring for Mom or Dad is the priority and, despite the difficulties, try to stay optimistic in bringing everyone together for the best interests of your loved ones. For overly-involved extended family, focus on keeping them informed in a way that gives them a comfortable level of involvement without allowing them to dictate the entire situation. With everyone together, you can discuss how they can contribute and identify what matters should be left to the senior’s children.
- A good first step to avoid conflicts over finances is to create a budget agreed upon by the family; having a budget will allow each family member to better understand exactly what the family needs to properly care for senior parents and assign what is realistic for each family member’s financial responsibility. If a sibling cannot afford to pitch in financially, figure out what other ways they can contribute such as agreeing to clean the house or preparing meals.
Defining Sibling Roles and Responsibilities
If a major cause of family disputes over the future of your senior parents is derived from undefined sibling roles, it is important to sit down with your family and make a plan. Communication and honesty is key for settling any issues between siblings about caring for aging parents.
If the oldest sibling decides to be the caretaker, make sure they are being honest about their desires. They may feel obligated to assume the role, but it is important to divy up the responsibilities so one person does not become overwhelmed .
Even if one sibling plans on providing the majority of the caregiving, clearly define how other siblings will contribute so everyone has a stake in providing care. Maybe one sibling can provide for most of the budget while another takes on caregiving responsibilities for certain days of the week. Spreading out roles will help reduce any resentment among siblings and help minimize exhaustion for the primary caregiver.
It’s important to remember that the larger your support system of extended family, friends, neighbors, and other sources, the less likely that your family will be overwhelmed!
Who to Involve When You Need Outside Help
If family disputes still can’t be settled even after meetings and multiple attempts at improving communication, then it may be time for an outside, objective opinion. A family counselor or a geriatric care manager can provide that objectivity and help get all your siblings to agree on a plan that will prioritize your parent’s needs.
A geriatric care manager has plenty of experience with elderly patients. They’re well equipped to apply their knowledge of your loved one’s condition and needs and can act as a helpful guide towards the best resources for your family. While these professionals do not provide hands-on care, they specialize in assessing a senior’s needs based on their condition and can help a family coordinate caring for aging parents.
Additionally, a social worker can help your family find common ground and come together during this time. They can help guide the conversation objectively and advise siblings on how to work through the challenges your family is up against. For example, Homethrive’s Care Guides, who are all social workers, have years of experience helping families manage the emotional and logistical needs of an aging loved one at home. Whether it’s navigating hard conversations with family members, or setting up home care for your loved one, Care Guides are here to help resolve any sibling conflicts and family disputes so you can provide the best care for your aging parent.