The Best Ways to Handle Sibling Conflict Over Care of Elderly Parents

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Elderly man and girl walking together

Caring for aging parents can be a challenging task. Adding siblings into the mix can be a recipe for conflict and frustration as everyone’s opinions, thoughts, and attitudes about being sibling carers might differ. 

As you and your siblings talk and try to work together, tensions can arise when questions like this come up:

  • Who’s the primary carer for elderly parents?
  • What do we do with uncooperative elderly parents?
  • What’s the best care option for our parents?

If you and your siblings are experiencing sibling conflict over the care of elderly parents, there’s no need to worry. It’s not uncommon for siblings taking care of elderly parents to feel tensions and encounter conflict. 

If you’re in the middle of caring for aging parents with siblings and you’re wondering how to handle tensions or conflict, we’re here to help.

Keep reading as we discuss the top reasons for family disputes over elderly parents and how to overcome them.

4 Reasons for Sibling Conflict Over Care of Elderly Parents

1. Perceived Favoritism

One of the biggest reasons for sibling conflict is perceived “favoritism.” When one sibling seems to be a parent’s favorite, it can cause other siblings to become angry with the “favorite child” or with their parents. Even if parents never outwardly say they have a favorite child, adult children can internalize a perception of favoritism.

Regardless of when or how the perception of favoritism comes about, it can cause tensions and rifts between siblings into adult years—especially when discussing care for your parents.

2. Role of Family Members in Care of Elderly Parents

Duty of care for parents can also cause sibling conflict.

Some adult children might think everyone should take care of mom and dad, while others might think it’s not their job as adult children. Some might think that putting your parents in a nursing home or paying for in-home care is sufficient, while others believe that adult children should provide hands-on care to their parents.

Geographical location can also add to the conflict for sibling carers. If one sibling lives closer to their parents than another, those farther away may feel less responsibility. The closer adult child might feel guilty if they don’t or can’t care for their parents. If they do provide care, they may experience caregiver burnout.

3. Siblings Won’t Help With Elderly Parents

Family disputes over elderly parents often occur when one or more siblings refuse to help with care. Refusal of care could be a lack of hands-on care, emotional care, financial care, input on decisions, or a combination of these. 

A common reason siblings won’t help with aging parents could be a lack of understanding. They may not know the degree to which their parents need help. In this case, sharing educational resources like blogs or your parent’s medical information with siblings can help show the necessity for care. 

Alternatively, siblings might have past hurt or relational tensions with your parents. This is a more difficult situation to overcome and can cause the most tension between siblings trying to care for parents.

4. Protecting Elderly Parents From Siblings 

In 60% of elder abuse cases, the perpetrator is a family member, with two-thirds of the perpetrators being adult children or spouses. We hope this isn’t the case in your family, but it’s a reality that needed to make the list.

Here are some signs of elder abuse to look out for in the event that you need to start protecting your elderly parents from siblings:

  • Bruises, abrasions, pressure marks
  • Depression, frequent arguments with the potentially abusive siblings
  • Sudden changes in their financial situation
  • Bedsores, poor hygiene, unattended medical needs

If you suspect your parents are the recipients of abuse from your siblings, the sibling responsible for the misuse may become defensive. It’s still best to address the abuse and seek professional help if necessary.

How to Overcome Elder Care Sibling Tensions

1. Listen Well

An excellent way to begin working together is to listen to each other. Take time to ask questions and make an effort to understand your siblings’ point of view. Listening can be challenging and even humbling, but it’s a powerful way to move forward positively.

A simple way to talk less and get your siblings to share more is to ask, “Can you tell me more about that?”

Listening can help deepen understanding and trust for all parties involved.

2. Find Common Ground

It’s also beneficial when dealing with family disputes over elderly parents to find common ground. It could be simple, like agreeing that none of you have the time to take care of mom and dad personally. Or, it could be as specific as coming up with an entire care plan.

You may still disagree on many things, but finding some similarities can help move discussions forward when seeking good care for your loved ones.

3. Learn to Compromise

Making compromises doesn’t mean that you lose the argument. It might mean that you won’t get what you want and how you want it exactly, but it will hopefully mean that mom and dad will receive care. Compromise will allow you and your siblings to agree on something and move in that direction together. 

Remember, you’re seeking to do what’s best for your parents, but what you think is best might not be what your sibling thinks is best. Compromising provides a way for all parties to be involved and feel like they’re doing their part.

4. Involve a Third Party

If you can’t have productive conversations, consider bringing in a third party. The third party could be an official mediator, your parent’s medical provider, or a professional care manager.

A third party will help facilitate and guide family discussions while seeking what’s best for your parents. Since they don’t have any emotional or relational issues with you, your siblings, or your parents, a third party can offer outside advice that’s helpful and constructive.

Where to Get the Best Advice on Senior Care Issues

When it comes to caring for your aging parents as adult children, elder care sibling tensions can hinder productivity. Sibling conflict over care of elderly parents can arise from perceived favoritism, personal attitudes toward family caregiving, assumptions about in-home care, or protecting elderly parents from a sibling’s abuse. 

However, you can overcome these tensions by practicing listening techniques, seeking compromise, or bringing in a third party to help with the discussion. 

At Stowell Associates, we believe senior care issues are a top priority. That’s why we dedicate ourselves to providing expert in-home care to elderly adults and supporting their adult children. Our Care Managers are trained in family conflict and some have a background in social work, making them an excellent resource if you’re experiencing elder care sibling conflict. They understand senior care needs and can assist you in making the right choices for your parents.

Reach out to our Care Advisors to learn how we can help you and your siblings make the best, most informed decision regarding your aging loved ones’ care.

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