As the aging population continues to grow in the U.S., more and more families are in the position of having to work together in the care of their aging loved ones. At first glance, this would seem to reduce stress as care responsibilities are shared among siblings and/or extended family members. The reality, however, is that old rivalries and personality differences, combined with the natural emotions and anxiety over a parent’s well-being, often set the stage for conflict. Common disagreements among family caregivers include:
Burden of care. Often one sibling ends up with an unequal share of responsibility for the parent’s care. This may be because they live closer to the parent, are perceived to have fewer responsibilities than their siblings, or have the closest relationship with the parent. If this inequity goes undiscussed and unresolved, it may cause the primary caregiver to feel resentful toward the others.
Financial conflicts. This can be a “hot spot” of conflict as siblings weigh their parent’s housing options against available funds. In home care? Assisted living? Moving in with an adult child? What happens if they run out of money? Who is in a position, and willing, to contribute financially to their parent’s care? Even some of the smaller, day-to-day expenses can ignite clashes if there isn’t an overall plan, or siblings have different approaches to money management.
Decision making. When the parent has given authority to one of their adult children over legal and health matters, conflicts may arise when other siblings disagree with those decisions or feel resentful that they were not the chosen one.
If you are experiencing these or any other conflicts as you share caregiving responsibilities with siblings, here are some tips:
Remember that it’s about your parent’s safety and well-being. Involve them in decisions as much as possible, and be sure all family caregivers understand what their parent’s wishes are.
Identify areas where you agree. Mostly likely you and your siblings will all agree that you want your aging parent to be safe, happy, secure and well-cared for. You probably also want to make sure that their money lasts as long as they do. Start from there to establish some common goals.
Leverage strengths. Determine what needs to be done to reach agreed-upon goals, and then divide up responsibilities based on strengths. Maybe one sibling is a doctor and can be the primary interface for medical concerns. Another one lives locally and can run errands and do check-ins. A remote sibling can give the locals a periodic break, or contribute financially. When responsibilities are shared equally and based on strengths, there’s less likelihood of conflict.
Practice effective communication. Regular, open and honest communication is a must. Not only so that everyone is in the loop about the parent’s needs and care, but also so any issues among caregivers can be dealt with swiftly. And remember, communication is as much (or more!) about listening as it is about speaking. Conflicts do not just disappear, nor do they improve with age. You need to resolve them.
Let go of old wounds. You may have thought that Mom favored your brother as you were growing up, and still harbor that kernel of jealousy. Or maybe you and your sister are still competing with one another, just as you did when you were younger. Let it go. Remember this is about the care and well-being of your parent.
Get help. Outsourcing some of the caregiving responsibilities can go a long way toward reducing the burden and avoiding conflicts. A third party financial professional, such as myself, can provide objective insight into senior housing options vis a vis your parent’s financial situation.
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