Sibling Conflict

~Anna Walters, RN

In times of stress, even the best of families have difficulty agreeing on what to do with Mom and Dad. But not many of us come from the best of families. Most of us come from normal families with lots of history, past disagreements, and maybe even feelings of resentment or bitterness. These issues make reaching an agreement on a very difficult situation almost impossible. Here are a few suggestions which may help make this easier.

The most important suggestion is also the most difficult. Good communication sounds easy enough; you and your siblings can talk this over. But are you really communicating? Truly helpful communication will not take place without an accepting environment. That means that everyone participating in this conversation must be willing to accept without judgment the statements made by others. This is the hard part. When your brother says he is too busy to help take care of Mom, it seems like a normal reaction to be upset. It seems perfectly reasonable to question his loyalty and commitment to your mother. The accusations begin to fly, your brother feels guilty and gets defensive. Communication ends and arguments begin.

This situation is repeated all over the nation in many families. What is your brother really saying to you? Do you really think he doesn’t love your mother? Is he so obsessed with making money that he is not willing to cut back at work? Does he want to put Mom in a nursing home? Hasn’t he heard all of the things that could happen there? She took care of us, why is he abandoning his family? What has happened to your brother?

Your brother on the other hand is thinking, Is my sister crazy? I don’t have time for anything now and she wants me to take care of Mom? There are so many things going on in my life, there is no way I can do this. We just started a new project at work and my boss is expecting me to put in overtime to get it done. I can’t drop the ball; I have been waiting for this chance for a long time. There are perfectly good professionals who would be better taking care of Mom. They are trained and know what to do in these situations. I have no idea what to do or where to even start.

There are two people here who both love their mother. They both want to take good care of her. These two people have been raised by the same parents, in the same house, but can’t agree on what to do. These two people have each had very different life experiences, and have two different opinions about what is the right thing to do in this situation. Your brother feels it would be wrong to try to take care of Mom if you don’t know what you’re doing. He has not been to a bad nursing home; he has not heard some of these horror stories. He does not feel he is abandoning his mother; he feels like this really is taking care of her in the best way.

You feel like nursing homes are horrible places where people go to wait to die. They have been abandoned by their families, who are too busy to take care of them. Because they feel so guilty about this decision, and the nursing home is such a horrible place to be, their families hate to visit. They come by less and less, make excuses, and before you know it, Mom dies in a nursing home alone, surrounded by mean strangers, full of bed sores, thin as a rail and you will never forgive yourself.

How do these two extreme opposites come to an agreement? The willingness to accept each other’s opinions without judgment will open the environment to true and helpful communication. Hold the family meeting, including all siblings, spouses and children. If you are absolutely certain you want to bring Mom into your home, try it for thirty days. Create a list of what needs to be done. Maybe your brother cannot imagine helping his mother get dressed, but he can pick up her medications. He will not take time off work to take her to the doctor during the week, but he is willing to pay the neighbor’s kid to mow her lawn.

By accepting each other’s opinion, you can move onto what is possible. Focus on what each of you is willing to do to make this happen. All of the family should be involved in these decisions, and all concerns should be addressed in some fashion. Compromise on those issues you cannot agree on. Do things on a trial basis and determine how the family will evaluate if it is working. Hold another family meeting in 25 days and this time try to include Mom. Is she happy? Is anyone unhappy with the arrangements? What adjustments need to be made? Will this work long term?

Good communication is just the beginning of what your family is capable of. Good Luck.

Raleigh Geriatric Care Management


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Filed under adult children of aging parents, Alzheimer's Disease, care giving, dementia, elder care raleigh nc, Geriatric Care Management, long term care planning, NC, Raleigh

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