Squashing Adult Sibling Beef

Mar 22, 2016

Squashing Adult Sibling Beef

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As we grow older, most of us eventually stop fighting with our brothers or sisters. Unfortunately, when siblings are reunited to share in the care of their aging parent(s), it can appear to be like deja vu all over again. Except instead of fighting with your brother about him throwing your Barbie’s head out of the family station wagon, you’re arguing with him about who is taking mom to her doctor’s appointment on Wednesday.

Managing Adult Sibling Arguments

There are between 19-22 million children who play the role of caregiver for an older family member. With the 65 and older demographic being larger than ever, there is no question that with modern medicine people are living longer today than in the past. This means that there are no historical guidelines to follow and for families with multiple children looking after their senior-aged parents, it can turn pretty volatile.

Why Adult Siblings Fight

When taking care of parents, a lot of things can trigger sibling strife such as:

  • Where the parent should live
  • Who gets what family heirlooms or money
  • Who and how money should be spent
  • Equality in duty-splitting/time
  • Worrying about health and safety

Get it Out

Many times, siblings will argue with one another over what would make their parents happier or do what is best for them. Opening up the floor for candid and thoughtful dialogue helps the best possible solutions be met.

Tell siblings individual needs and which needs can be accommodated for others. Perhaps your brothers or sisters don’t know that there is already a deadline that needs to be met, for example. Vocalize your thoughts and opinions it with them instead of assuming they understand or know as much about the situation as you do.

Care roles should be divided based on the abilities and strengths of the family members. Ask what everyone is comfortable with. For example, a sibling may be an accountant, so they might volunteer to help with the finances.

For caregivers of parents that are able to communicate their wishes, have the senior help siblings come to an agreement based on what they want. Getting the parents involved with decision-making helps resolve a tricky dilemma.

As crucial as it is to keep communication open and frank, there are also times to keep that tongue-tied.

Keep it In

Sometimes in the midst of a heated argument, saying less is more, so choose arguments wisely. And, unless a viewpoint is a matter of safety, be sure to set aside what you want. And, although venting can be therapeutic, be sure to do it in a mature manner. Consider hiring a professional therapist or calling a friend to talk about family issues.

Include Everyone

Keeping your family members in the loop can do a lot to prevent communication errors, which can lead to disagreements, confusion, and resentment. If family members can’t physically meet for regular family meetings, then try using group chats like Skype periodically to discuss matters as a unit so that everyone understands and doesn’t feel excluded.

Sometimes it helps to use online sources to keep information all in one place for families that share in parent caregiving duties. From there, it’s easy to collect all the documents, checklists, reminders and agendas in one account so that all the siblings can easily refer to it.

Adding a Neutral Negotiator

Sometimes the only way to end a disagreement from opposing sibling viewpoints is by adding an outsider to the situation to mediate.

No matter how mature siblings are, or how good their interpersonal skills are in normal situations, it’s easy to get lost in the crossfire when involved in the banter. It’s easy to lose perspective doing what (in your opinion) is believed to be. It isn’t until someone outside of the family is able to carefully evaluate both sides with no pre-disposed judgments that it can help conclude the debate. A mediator can be found in trusted family friends or through online family mediator referral sites such as:

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do I create boundaries with my parent without seeming overbearing?

It’s important to preserve your family unit while not treating your parent like a guest in your home. If you don’t eat dinner every night at the dinner table, tell them. If you don’t allow smoking in the house, tell them. Explain some of the boundaries and house rules and they’ll most likely understand that it’s a group effort and should hopefully work with you to reach agreeable terms. On the same note, it's important that everyone be able to live together in harmony and have their opinions respected. Holding weekly house meetings can be a great chance to bond and respond to any plans or issues experienced. 

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It's time for my parents to move into assisted living but my sister disagrees. She's in denial and thinks they are fine. What is the best way to explain her that it's time?

Create a list of all of the reasons that you think it’s time for your parents to move into an assisted living community and explain them to your sister. Then, find out why she doesn’t want to them move into an assisted living community. Is she worried about money? Does she want them to live with her? Once you have a better understanding of her reservations, you can work together to find the best solution for your parents.

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