Remember when you were growing up and had constant squabbles with a sibling, sometimes escalating into wrestling matches? Even though we become adults, difficult sibling dynamics sometimes remain. If you and your close relatives have different opinions and ways of doing things and are not shy about vocalizing your differences, caring for your aging parents might be a challenge. Here are some suggestions about how to stop the in-fighting over caring for aging parents.
Why Siblings Disagree Over Caregiving of Parents
There are many reasons why siblings argue over the care of their aging parents. Some of these include:
- Decades-old family dynamics. As silly as it sounds, an older sibling might give a younger sibling’s input no respect because, at an emotional level, the older sibling still sees the younger sibling as the “baby of the family.” It can be hard to change a mindset and see our relatives as who they are now, instead of who they were in our childhood.
- Habit of conflict. Some siblings have always clashed. Their knee-jerk response to any interaction is to fight with each other. The best way to get one sibling to oppose an idea, is to tell him it was his sister’s idea. These adults will not be able to work together until they learn different ways to interact with each other.
- Control issues. Some people (okay, many people) have control issues. They like to boss people around and tell others what to do. It must be “their way or the highway.” If they are not in charge and issuing orders, they are unhappy. It is difficult, if not impossible, to work with people like this on a collaborative level.
In these situations, there are three possible outcomes:
- The siblings will have constant arguments and bickering.
- One sibling will give up and let the other do whatever she wants.
- The siblings will change the way they interact and learn how to work together productively without squabbles.
In families with a lot of different opinions and disagreements, #1 and #2 are likely the standard ways they have interacted with each other all of their lives. Here are some ways people can put those unhealthy options behind them and achieve the third outcome. It can be useful to work with a counselor or psychologist, particularly early on in the process.
- Common vision. All of the siblings need to realize this situation is not about them. The common goal is taking care of their parents. The aging parents will suffer if the siblings spend their time and energy fighting instead of making rational, collaborative decisions for the benefit of the parents. Every sibling needs immediate access to all the available information, like evaluations from medical professionals and information on things like assisted living facilities. No sibling should keep information from the others because all the siblings are working to take care of the parents. Keeping information to oneself is a control issue.
- Rethink disagreements. Some people bristle when a sibling expresses an opinion, as if doing so is being critical or negative. Avoid the temptation to see conflict where there is none. Realize that brainstorming a variety of different alternatives can help your family come up with the best ideas for your parents. Set ground rules for the conversations, forbidding snarky comments and personal attacks.
- Split up the work. Some people do work better independently. Some relatives will never be able to sit in a circle and sing kumbaya together. In these situations, it’s best to divide up the work and agree not to interfere with another sibling’s area. For example, one sibling might handle the finances, another the doctor appointments and another the assisted living center issues for the aging parents.
Reference: AARP. “Stop Competing for Caregiving Control.” (accessed May 30, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/life-balance/info-2018/siblings-competing-for-control.html