Sibling fights, arguments, and disagreements can be minor and temporary or they can escalate into legal battles over care, guardianship, estates, and wills. This doesn't have to be the way it is. Siblings can get along and agree. This article gives seven clues for making that happen.
Understand the different needs of your siblings
You may be surprised to learn that the majority of adult children of aging parents are the primary caregivers, that siblings are taking on more of the day to day responsibilities of their aging parents. The range of care is wide, including being the primary caregiver and taking care of their parents and themselves, even dividing up the time equally. This doesn't mean that everyone is expected to jump in and do everything, but it does mean that everyone needs to learn to work together. Consider that many siblings have some legitimate concerns. They want to be sure that they have a voice in decisions that affect the care of their parents, even if the care is strictly financial. They need to feel a sense of ownership in their aging parents' care.
Avoid fighting over big decisions
When is the right time to draw up powers of attorney? Should you share your parents' assets? Do you have a preference about who should help take care of your parents? Siblings should discuss these issues ahead of time. If a sibling wants to take over caring for your parent, the two siblings must agree. If your sibling says they are happy where they are in life and not to care for your parent, then the parents are better off if they are cared for in a professional facility. Be willing to compromise on minor disagreements Even if you and your sibling are at odds over the biggest issues, don't let minor ones become a source of ongoing conflicts. For example, both of you may think that your mom needs round-the-clock care.
Take care of yourself so you can take care of them
Take care of yourself first, to take care of them. If that means slowing down or focusing on you, then slow down or change your focus. Make your boundaries clear. Allow them to make their own decisions but offer your sage counsel and support when it is needed. Tell them, gently, when you need them to step out of the way and let you take care of your parents. Sibling fighting, fights, and disagreements over aging parents can be minor and temporary or they can escalate into legal battles over care, guardianship, estates, and wills. This doesn't have to be the way it is. Siblings can get along and agree. This article gives seven clues for making that happen.
Give your siblings a voice in decision-making
A case in point: One of my brothers and I fought over who would have custody of our parents. My brother was in charge of our parents when we were teenagers, and I had no idea that she was drinking and had her own complicated finances. I couldn't keep up. It was irresponsible to leave our parents to her care. I won custody. My brother grew up in the same house and shared many things as kids, but our parents did not share nearly as much. This was the reason for the tension. But this happened many times over the years, and we'd continue fighting even after we got along. It took my brother and me some convincing, and many months, to create a new plan for our parents' care. And the deal we made? Neither of us would try to make the decisions without the other.
Create a neutral space for conversations
Sibling fights usually escalate when both of them are under emotional or stressors that they are unable to resolve on their own. (The Office on Aging at the University of Michigan has a helpful guide for older siblings navigating a complicated family situation.) If both siblings are in conflict over care for their aging parent, for example, when neither one has the mental or emotional capacity to resolve it, it may be necessary to seek professional help. If one sibling has legal representation and both do not, this may be possible to mediate between them by having a neutral third party involved. Find a better place to resolve disagreements Both of you may be at different stages of a stressful or complex situation.
Communicate about difficult topics
In the home, families may worry that mentioning difficult subjects will spoil the Christmas or Thanksgiving meal. After all, the children may have decided that they hate their elderly parent, and the grandparents and children may have not come to any agreement. But the key is not to hold it in. Try to bring up difficult issues every once in a while. Imagine you have decided to end all medical interventions and you ask your family, "What should we do for my father?" You can then talk about the pros and cons of one plan. Cultivate trust Just as it's important to bring up difficult subjects, it's important to recognize that family members have concerns too. When family members get emotional about a certain issue, many of them mask it.
Make compromises to avoid conflict
As a direct heir, it's hard to understand that other siblings might not necessarily want the inheritance or to continue living in the same home as their aging parents. The same is true when parents start to need more of their time, care, and finances. If you feel that you have to choose one of your parents for any of these reasons, you might have more than just a tough conversation to have. You may want to talk to your siblings about a more business-like arrangement and agree to the specific terms that are important to each of you. Divide and conquer Sometimes siblings have to choose sides or roles in a family conflict.
Steve Schafer is the founder of TheEulogyWriters and is probably the most prolific eulogy writer (and, no doubt, the best) anywhere. He lives in Michigan and has been writing eulogies for well over thirty years. The articles in this blog are designed to help people through the process of losing loved ones.