When Siblings Disagree on Elder Care: A Solutions-Oriented Approach to Communication

“It seems like a long time since we’ve had something to argue about,” said Genevieve about her and her brother and sister. “Of course, we used to argue when we were kids. But now it’s like that all over again because we can’t seem to agree on much when it comes to decisions about Dad’s care. I can tell that we’re all caught up in emotions—a lot of different emotions.”

When Siblings Disagree on Elder Care: A Solutions-Oriented Approach to Communication“It seems like a long time since we’ve had something to argue about,” said Genevieve about her and her brother and sister. “Of course, we used to argue when we were kids. But now it’s like that all over again because we can’t seem to agree on much when it comes to decisions about Dad’s care. I can tell that we’re all caught up in emotions—a lot of different emotions.”
Genevieve and her family were already experiencing stress and uncertainty with the progression of their father’s dementia and the necessary changes to his care. This stress certainly may have triggered existing challenges among the siblings, and in return, that tension added to the stress overall. It felt like a perfect storm. But the best quality of care for Dad had to be the priority.
It can be common among family caregivers for siblings to disagree on elder care. When this happens, it’s important to focus on forward-moving solutions that support the very best care for your loved one.

Redirecting Efforts When Siblings Disagree on Elder Care

No one would suggest that interpersonal family dynamics are unimportant. They are very important because they underlie the health and success of everything that happens in that context. But we never want an aging loved one’s care to take a backseat, so we must focus on the strengths within a caregiver family system. Empowering those combined strengths to take the driver’s seat ensures that the aging loved one continues to thrive in a way that fits their needs, and the family system’s weaknesses and hang-ups don’t get out of control.

With Elder Care, Sibling Tensions Call for Open Communication

Caregiver tensions and resentments among family members can be about money, opinions of treatment, someone doing too much or too little to help, or even underlying life stress and complicated emotional wounds from the past. Conflicts can exist among siblings and between the adult children and their parent(s)—or the tensions may be a tough combination of these conflicts. But regardless of the nature and origin of the tension, constructive communication is the path to significant resolution.
Are you willing to put forth the effort for cooperative conversation but doubting whether your siblings are? The best thing you can do is to set a proactive example of that willingness and bring some ready tools to the table—so the way into this productive path is as clear and accessible as possible.
Here is a unique, interactive resource that takes a short time to get started but yields remarkably insightful guidance and actionable steps: The Communication Style Quiz. In fact, it takes into account each individual’s perspective, strengths, and challenges, so your family diversity can become an active advantage rather than simply a disadvantage.

How to Navigate the Caregiver Communication Quiz in Your Family

When we get caught up in our strong opinions and emotions, it’s easy to expect that others are also seeing the situation through our lens. This tunnel vision can become one of our biggest blocks because the direction of progress involves everyone working together. When each person takes the time for this self-examination, they will discover their own style of communication and how that style interacts with others’. This self-awareness is an important first step, and it reminds us that others in the family have their own unique perspectives, strengths, and challenges.
Although this quiz is designed to directly compare the communication styles of a caregiver and their aging loved one, it can easily be used to shed light on everyone in the family. Follow these steps:

  1. Ask your parent or parents to answer the questions in their corresponding version of the quiz. Help them to answer or do your best to answer the questions on their behalf if they’re unable. Then write down or remember those answers for easy access.
  2. As siblings, take turns completing the other section of the quiz—alongside the answers of a parent.
  3. Print or save the descriptions you find for each individual in the family.
  4. Read each communication style aloud to promote self and group awareness at the same time.

Be sure to remind everyone that this exercise is intended to promote openness and understanding, not blame or justification for conflicts. The success of this compassionate approach to communication is in everyone’s best interest—and especially for the shared goal of creating ideal solutions for cooperative family caregiving.

Uncovering Caregiver Family Solutions Through Your Individual Strengths

This kind of enlightened conversation will not bypass strong emotions or disagreements among siblings, but it can serve to highlight the advantages in your diverse perspectives, especially when you take the time to explore individuals’ true strengths.
Genevieve’s brother lived nearby but he’d been resisting stepping in to help out with caregiving. This caused Genevieve to become resentful because she never got a break to take care of herself and her family’s needs.
By going through this process of thoughtful conversation and active listening, they determined that while her brother might not be the best one to step in as a caregiver, he would be great at taking over the responsibility of paying Dad’s bills every month and managing the rest of his finances and paperwork. This took a lot of pressure off of Genevieve, and they decided they’d turn to an outside service to set up some regular respite care. Critical pieces of the puzzle started falling into place in just one cooperative conversation.

When Siblings Disagree About Aging Parents, There Is Help Waiting

Some families will discover that they do need additional help and resources. When the caregiver family system dynamics still pose significant obstacles, even with this greater understanding of communication styles, caregiver family therapy can be another powerful source of support. Having an impartial third party to mediate conversations can help you all to balance out the imposing conflicts and keep the focus on what’s most important: your loved one’s quality of life and care. A counselor can also offer you guidance and resources you weren’t already aware of.
Just like in Genevieve’s case, many caregiver families can benefit enormously from flexible care solutions: in-home assistance and respite care, meal and transportation services, creative social opportunities for older adults, and comprehensive guidance on the challenges of caregiving. No one person can do it all on their own.
That’s why it’s so important for capable families to join together around their shared intentions. And that’s why community organizations are making valuable resources accessible—reminding us that it’s possible and paramount for aging adults to thrive and live their best days even later in life.
Institute on Aging is one such organization serving the San Francisco Bay area. We look forward to meeting your family and helping to connect you with the unique programs and resources that could transform your caregiver family dynamics. Give us a call today at (415) 750-4111.

Institute on Aging

Institute on Aging

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