Caring for Older Parents: 5 Tips for Balancing Decision-Making and Keeping Sibling Relationships Intact

Caring for Older Parents


Elder care is growing concern around the world, with many older people needing assistance to live their lives with dignity. With more and more people living well into their eighties and nineties, those well past middle age will have to endure the emotionally wrenching experience of making tough decisions about elderly parent care. It’s at this time that siblings who usually come together to balance decision-making about their parents resuscitate old childhood rivalries and conflicts. Here are a few tips for doing the right thing by your parents while keeping potential conflict under control.

1. Stay in touch with siblings often, even when parents aren’t a concern.

The more communicative with your siblings you are on a regular basis, the easier it will be to come together to talk about tough things. Do your best to stay updated about what’s going on in their lives to establish a healthy rapport. Even if one or more of your siblings makes no effort, reach out to them often. If you try hard enough, you’ll find that it’s usually reciprocated.

2. If you are the primary caregiver, keep other siblings updated about a parent’s condition on equal terms.

“Local” siblings usually have the most direct contact with parents, and it can be difficult to keep all other distant siblings updated on equal terms. You may feel closer to one sibling, and you tell them how mom and dad are doing, while one or more siblings get left out. This can lead to feelings of jealousy and cause conflict later down the line. A Wall Street Journal article on the topic suggests that a local sibling should update distant siblings simultaneously via email, so as to avoid any accusations of telling on sibling one thing and leaving out information when updating another.

3. If you are a sibling who lives far away, make time to visit often.

Living far from elderly parents can be just as tough to deal with as living with them. Other, closer siblings may cast you in a negative light, perhaps even accusing you of being aloof and or unconcerned, meaning there will be a tendency, perhaps even a valid justification, for leaving you out of decision-making later. To avoid these types of conflict, make concerted efforts to visit your parents in person. Be as involved as your economic situation allows you to be.

4. Major financial and medical decisions should be discussed at length with everyone present.

Siblings who are primary caregivers often take the reins when it comes to making big decisions about health care and finances for parents who are approaching their end. While a definite leader among siblings will emerge, be sure to distribute decision-making as evenly as possible to avoid conflict later on. If parents are lucid, discussions about future plans should be done as a family.

5. Be aware of the fact that sibling roles may be replicated at tense times. Acknowledge this and fix it.

Another thing noted in the Wall Street Journal article is that sibling roles established during childhood can and often do carry over into adulthood. The article notes, “The oldest sibling may still try to boss around his younger brother or sister. And the youngest child may still be seen as the baby whose ideas and contributions are too immature to matter even though she may be a banker in her forties at the time.” Understanding that these age-old conflicts and roles may resurface is the first step in overcoming them through frank, adult communication.

These are just a few ways to prevent sibling conflicts about elderly parent care before it starts. Siblings can be a powerful source of support especially during these trying times, so it’s especially important to keep these relationships strong.

This guest contribution was submitted by Tara Miller who specializes in writing about psychology issues.

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