How to Resolve Sibling Conflict Over Parent Care


As parents’ age and the time arrives when the children need to take on the responsibility of caregiving, it is sometimes quite difficult to accept, even as adults. Although aging is a natural part of life, it doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to acknowledge your parents are no longer as healthy and independent as they once were. 

Sibling Conflict can Emerge

This phase can cause an array of emotions and things can become extremely stressful when it involves siblings that don’t get along. Siblings can begin fighting over their parents’ care more than they even did as children.

Sibling rivalry will frequently reemerge during this stage, especially if conflict issues were never resolved while living under the same roof. Adult siblings may choose to avoid one another and go their separate ways, once out of the house; and while that may have prevented arguments, it wasn’t a real solution.

When aging parents need assistance, unless you’ve discussed their care options in advance, most likely each of you has varying perspectives of financial and caregiving issues, which can cause disagreements as well. Finding a way to move past the struggles and placing the focus on the care and quality of life for your elderly parents should be the priority.  

Ways to Resolve Conflict

Mediators can help solve sibling conflict
Conflict Resolution

Have a Family Meeting

It’s hard enough watching the health of your parents deteriorate, and if major decisions about their future care and overall well-being are not addressed early on, it will only become more difficult over time. 

As loved ones begin to age, pay attention to small signs or red flags and act on those signals while they still have the mental capacity to be involved in their own future. Things like unpaid bills, unkempt living areas, poor personal hygiene, or reduced activity are all indicative of faltering health. Be proactive and coordinate a meeting with everyone.

Regardless if there are several miles between siblings and/or other involved relatives, schedule a teleconference or meeting via Zoom or Facetime so all necessary parties can help make the decisions and stay abreast of the updates. Scheduling these meetings on a weekly or monthly basis will help keep everyone on the same page and work together in the best interest of your loved ones.

Involve a Mediator‍

One solution is to involve a mediator, an individual who can offer suggestions and advice on the issue. According to research, mediation helps resolve disputes 75% of the time. 

The conflicts that arise while deciding on the best care options for Mom and Dad generally involve aspects concerning finances, trustee designations, and how the responsibilities of caregiving will be handled. Choosing not to discuss the details pertaining to the care of elderly loved ones is not in their best interest and a mediator can help in the resolution process. 

The mediator will be an unbiased individual who can objectively remind all parties that the goal is to focus on the care and future of the parents; and while a unanimous vote may not take place, finding a mutual agreement, respecting each other and putting the details in a written contract is advised.

Be Open-Minded‍

It is a natural instinct for the oldest sibling to have more responsibility growing up, yet as everyone enters adulthood, those childhood labels should become non-existent. Instead, consider the current situation and assign responsibilities accordingly. 

For instance, if you live several miles away from your parents and only see them once a month, but your baby sister still lives close by and visits them several times a week, it is probably in the best interest of your aging parents to put the pre-existing sibling order dynamics to rest and allow your younger sister to do most of the decision making. 

If at any point, conversations become angered, refrain from allowing your emotions to take over and revisit the issue after everyone has had a few days to ponder the situation.

Remain Flexible

During the process of caring for your parents and making arrangements for future care, past childhood resentments and conflict should be set aside. Looking backward doesn’t get anything resolved. 

Instead each of you should view one another as the adults that you are, with a fresh perspective, as everyone strives to find peace with the changes that are transpiring. Think of your parents and the happiness that you can offer them if you and your siblings are working together, accepting one another as adults rather than fueling past rivalries.

Even if you don’t live close to your parents, you can still play a role in your parent’s care. Learn how to succeed at long-distance caregiving.

Jason Gottschalk is the chief editor for Vibrant Aging Insider. He has a passion for working with older adults. He currently runs a nonprofit senior services company in metropolitan Washington, D.C. Prior to this, he was the Executive Director of a large retirement community and cofounded a technology company which developed senior support artificial intelligence, both in metro D.C.

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