The fight over the last piece of pumpkin pie may not be the only struggle this Thanksgiving. As families gather around the table, many will have the difficult conversations of how to care for mom or dad. These conversations can be emotionally charged and test sibling bonds.
How to Overcome & Manage Sibling Conflict with Aging Parents
by Debra D. Feldman, MSW, LCSW, CMC, Aging Life Care Association Member
It is hard enough to get past your emotions when caring for your parents while trying to make the “right” decisions on their behalf. It becomes more difficult when there is conflict among the adult siblings. How does a family overcome sibling conflict when caring for aging parents?
Communication is Key
When a crisis hits, siblings should come together and hold a meeting in a neutral location, a place everyone feels welcome. This meeting is most productive when siblings can find common ground in the love they feel for their parent(s) and in their collective desire to provide the best care. The siblings should prepare an agenda for the meeting and each sibling should be encouraged to share his/her opinions.
It is important to realize that some family members might not participate, and that all family members may not be able to take on an equal role in caregiving responsibilities. Each sibling needs to identify what he/she can do to help and then a plan of care can be developed incorporating each family member’s availability. Avoid bringing up past sibling conflicts. Instead, focus the conversation on the situation at hand. It will likely take more than one meeting to come to a complete resolution.
Bring in a Facilitator
When there is tension, an outside, third-party facilitator may be needed to facilitate a family meeting. This provides for a neutral, objective and less emotional opinion. The facilitator can help make sure all siblings are heard during the meeting and can help develop an appropriate care plan that includes input of all parties.
This objective participant can be a member of the clergy, a social worker, or another professional who specializes in the field of aging such as an Aging Life Care Professional™. An Aging Life Care Professional – also known as a care manager – has specific expertise in the care of older adults. This expert is able to provide education and resources, as well as outline the various care options available to the family. In the end, the Aging Life Care Professional can help the family develop and implement an appropriate and affordable plan of care.
Having a conversation between parents and adult children well in advance of a crisis can help avoid or reduce sibling conflict. When parents are healthy, they should talk to their children about their wishes regarding their future health care. The conversation should include areas of concern such as organ donation, kidney dialysis, artificial nutrition and hydration, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and use of artificial ventilators. The talk should also include discussion regarding their living environment as well as their wishes concerning their funerals. All of this information should be put in writing at the time of that talk.
Parents should also discuss with their children how they plan to finance their long-term care. Additionally, legal documents such as a Power of Attorney for Health Care and for Property should be executed with an elder law attorney and the identified representatives should be notified of their roles. This information should be shared with all children to avoid conflict.
When parents share their wishes ahead of time, adult children don’t have to make these health care choices blindly. Instead, the children have a written guide, provided by their parents, that takes the guesswork out of caregiving and end-of-life decision-making.
To find an Aging Life Care Professional to work with in your area, use this Find an Aging Life Care Expert tool.
About the author: Debra Feldman has 27 years of experience in Aging Life Care Management and is the owner of Debra D. Feldman & Associates, Ltd. in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. Email Debra at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her website at ddfcaremanagement.com.