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How to defuse sibling conflict over an elderly parent’s care

Taking on the responsibility of caring for an aging parent is often a family undertaking. If you have any siblings, you may need to come together to do what’s best for mom or dad. Sometimes that’s much easier said than done.

There are a number of smart legal options that can help families prepare for the future, defining siblings’ roles and responsibilities in order to avoid conflict later. But no matter how prepared a family is, disputes can bubble up between siblings as they try to simultaneously answer the question: What’s best for our loved one?

Why emotions can run high

When arguing with a sibling, even something small can evoke strong emotions. The reason likely goes back to childhood, the Family Caregiver Alliance explains. While growing up, siblings developed – or were assigned – roles and labels. While one child became the “responsible” one, another somehow became the “baby” of the group.

Those roles can persist into adulthood, even if everyone has dramatically changed. This can result in one sibling expecting something from a brother or sister they aren’t equipped to provide. Or, it can lead to frustration when one person is put into a role that goes against what they’re comfortable with.

Understanding these labels, and the expectations that come with them, can often be helpful in handling sibling conflict.

How to avoid and defuse conflicts

What are some concrete steps you can take to actually avoid and defuse these disagreements? Keeping everyone informed is a good initial action. That might include calling a family meeting to openly discuss options and roles, based on what people are comfortable with and capable of taking on.

From there, it’s often about communication and managing expectations – including your own:

  • Try to see things from your sibling’s point of view, even if you disagree
  • Remember you don’t always have to win. As long as something doesn’t put your parent in danger, there may be times it is smart to let your own preference go
  • Be mindful of those family roles. If you’re assuming a sibling can or can’t do something because of an outdated label, try clearing your mind of those assumptions
  • Be clear about what you need – your siblings are not mind-readers
  • If you feel yourself getting worked up, consider stepping away in order to avoid saying anything hurtful

Caring for an aging parent is inherently an emotional process, one that can be quite hard on everyone involved. While there will likely be disagreements and difficult conversations no matter what, making an effort to reduce potential conflict can save the entire family from experiencing extra, unneeded stress.

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