My siblings and I fight about our parents' caregiving


Improving communication to avoid caregiving conflict

sophistivated senior woman with short grey hair, glasses, talking on cell phone
Often, adult children and other family members fail to consider how caring for an aging parent or loved one can impact the dynamics of their family relationships until they are face to face with the situation. Siblings and close family members can live next door to one another, in the same city or across the country, but the challenge of providing care and what it will mean to them as family caregivers can be stressful. Even the strongest of relationships can become strained when roles change and people become more than sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters and take on the role of caregiver.

When adult siblings and other close family members gather to discuss and plan their loved one’s care, conflict can take them by surprise. Patience can run thin or disappear completely, sibling rivalries can surface, even the competition to be mom and dad’s favorite might be exacerbated. While this is a time when a family needs to join together to support their loved one, it’s not always an easy task.

It is estimated that 40 percent of family caregivers have family clashes, and 65 percent think that care for their parents is not equitable among siblings. Disagreements can arise when one sibling perceives another is not adequately contributing to the caregiving of aging parents, possibly reviving earlier issues they had previously thought were resolved. It’s easy to understand how tempers can flare, as being a family caregiver on top of managing a job, a family and a household can be extremely stressful. Improving communication to avoid caregiving conflict

"When the aging family member makes his or her wishes known, all parties have a clear understanding of what is expected. This type of meeting can diffuse future emotional stress when the loved one actually enters into care."

How to negate family conflict
How can baby boomers and their families circumvent the potential stress of providing care for parents or other family members? Family dynamics are almost always complex, but communication and planning as a team are two key strategies for providing compassionate care in any situation.

Major changes in one’s life, such as moving, having a baby or buying a home, all require significant planning and communication with all involved in the process to manage expectations for best results. It’s no different when considering care for an aging parent or other family member. It’s inevitable that your aging loved one will need some aspect of care, and the most efficient way to address their needs is to have a meeting with the person in need of care, adult children and close family members to discuss the loved one’s wishes as to how they’d like to receive care. When the aging family member makes his or her wishes known, all parties have a clear understanding of what is expected. This type of meeting can diffuse future emotional stress when the loved one actually enters into care.

This is also a time to assess adult children and other family members’ ability to contribute to caring for the parents. This assessment could be moot by the time care is needed, as situations change, but the key is that there had been previous positive communication and all involved have a sense of the process and what it takes to work together as a team.

Your aging loved one’s journey
Aging parents and other family members may begin their care journey with in-home caregivers to help with day-to-day tasks, such as laundry, light housekeeping, and meal preparation. They can begin with a few hours per week and, as needs change, adjust the number of hours or type of care services as needed. There are potential situations to consider, such as hospital stays, surgery or even a broken bone where the loved one may need additional care. The journey of aging is the reverse of youth, eventually progressing to a state of health that may require around-the-clock care. These are the considerations that must be discussed with all family members involved.

While every family is different and has its own unique dynamics, like any change we face, communication and planning are at the forefront of managing new challenges.


Helen Bach
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