Getting on the same page with your siblings as your parents age

How’s your relationship with your brothers and sisters?  Google ‘sibling rivalry’ and there are over 20 million results. Therefore, if there is some rivalry with your sibs, you are clearly not alone!

I can pretty much guarantee you that the health and strength of these relationships will be tested when it comes to issues around the care of aging parents.

What may rear its ugly head: “I always knew that mom loved you best”

Are there any underlying resentments between you and your siblings? Do any of you compete for mom and dad’s love and approval? How about perceptions of favouritism? (I always knew dad loved you more) Have a sibling who is bossy?  Or who never seems to be around except when they need something?  As you can imagine, I could go on and on. The point is that all of these issues will shape already difficult conversations and decisions about your parents’ future care.

Difficult conversations and decisions

Caring for aging parents often involves difficult and emotional conversations and decisions. Siblings can have different and strong opinions about the care for mom and dad. Here are the key topics to consider:

  • Perceptions: how much help and assistance in the home is needed
  • Transitions: e.g. moving out of home into retirement homes/assisted living or long-term care (a.k.a nursing home)
  • Money: everything from homecare costs to medical prescriptions and devices, to transportation, to food and meals to costs of retirement homes and long- term care and yes, inheritances
  • Power struggles: decision-making and access to medical information and updates
  • Division of labour: who is doing what and how much is each sibling helping out
  • Access to information and updates: such as medical information, outcome of appointments, finances

As you can read from the above list, there is quite a lot to navigate when it comes to caring for aging parents!  Siblings can be an incredible source of support and comfort for one another through this emotional journey.  Don’t let sh*t get in the way and derail your relationships. It is possible to come together and work as a team. Here are 5 tips will help put you and your siblings be in a good place as you plan and care for your aging parents.

Sibling rivalry to sibling camaraderie: 5 tips

  1. Plan ahead.
    • Encourage your mom and dad to put down on paper what they want for themselves in the future in terms of their personal care and their finances. This eliminates guess work and helps to reduce conflict between siblings down the road.
    • Meet together with your siblings early on, before there is a crisis. Meet in a neutral location to reduce power imbalances. This is also helpful if it is dear mom or dad that is fueling conflict in a ‘divide and conquer’ . If it can’t be a physical meeting, technology makes it easy to have a video call.
  2. What is in the best interests of mom and dad? Begin each conversation regarding your parents’ future with this question. This sets out a common ground for all siblings.
    • Give everyone space to express themselves and be open to different perspectives. Put on your ‘listening ears’, as they say.
  3. Be transparent with everything you are doing and planning to do and why. This helps to remove suspicions and feeling  left out of the loop.
  4. Be mindful and aware of your role in the family dynamic. If you are reacting from an old hurt or resentment,  be careful not to let it poison conversations about your parents’ care. You may need to learn to let go of negative feelings, either on your own or through the support and guidance of a counsellor. It will be worth the time, money and effort!
  5. Approach care from the perspective of respective strengths and skills. Don’t assume care responsibilities will be equally shared. In fact, care is rarely equally shared between siblings. Rigidly holding on to the concept of ‘fairness’ can lead to considerable suffering. Everyone can contribute in their own ways, and it all counts!

We would love to hear from you about how it worked out when you applied all or some of these these tips. Please share in the comments below.

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