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How To Talk To Siblings About Aging Parents – A Step By Step Guide

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How To Talk To Siblings About Aging Parents

You can still remember the days when you and your siblings were young kids. Didn’t it seem like those times would last forever? Now, though, you’re both adults with older parents.

Your brother or sister may be in denial about your parent’s state, which is unfortunate since you need them to step in with caretaking or help to pay for it.


How do you begin to talk to your siblings about your aging parents? For this conversation about aging parent care, you will want to:

  • Plan the conversation at a convenient time for everyone.
  • Set a calm, respectful tone for the conversation.
  • Substantiate Care Need with Medical Reports
  • Highlight Your Concerns: Share Notable Shifts in Parents’ Health or Behavior
  • Encourage your siblings to express their thoughts and feelings.
  • Discuss potential care options for your aging parents.
  • Talk about the division of responsibilities among siblings.
  • Consider involving a professional for guidance if necessary.

In this article, we will explore the sensitive but often necessary topic of asking your adult siblings for help with caregiving responsibilities for a senior parent.

We’ll go into more detail on the steps above and discuss your options for dealing with a stubborn sibling. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have all the info you need to have productive conversations with your brother or sister.

How To Handle Sibling Conflict Over Care Of Elderly Parent

As everyone gets older, family members don’t often stay together in the same city or even state.

Your sibling may have moved away to go to college, for a job or for a romantic partner, or maybe “just because”. But you stayed in the area, so you see your parents a lot more than your brother or sister.

You’ve fallen into the role of primary caregiver, by default. Now, you realize that you need a hand with your parent’s care and it’s only fair that you would want your siblings to help out.

Getting your parent the care they need requires the entire family system, including other siblings if you have them, to gather all their resources. An essential part of organizing all the necessities is communication. Without that communication, getting everything together can be really difficult.

For a productive discussion with them, read through these steps carefully and implement them as closely as possible.

Plan The Conversation At A Mutually Convenient Day And Time

Your parents’ care needs are an emotional matter for you. However, blindsiding your siblings about their need for care, and then pleading for additional help likely won’t go over as well as you could hope.

Instead, it’s best to pick a time and place where you and your siblings can meet – in person – to have the conversation.

Make sure all your siblings are involved in the conference. If some live out of state, then plan for this meeting well in advance so your brother or sister has time to make travel plans.

You should also schedule the meeting in the state where your parents live so that your siblings can visit them and see why they now need care (maybe your parents are too frail or are experiencing some cognitive decline or health issues).

As the saying goes, seeing is believing. Phone calls don’t always convey the true picture.

Sometimes seniors can change drastically in a short period of time without an adult child being aware of it.

It may be a shock if your sibling has been talking to your parents all along and Mom has been saying, “Sure, everything is fine, dear.” Seeing the changes will help your sibling understand why you are saying your parents need help.

Encourage A Calm And Mindful Approach To The Conversation

When addressing the topic of caring for an aging parent with adult siblings, it is essential to encourage a calm and mindful approach to the conversation.

Here are some points to expand on this subtopic:

  1. Acknowledge emotions: Start by recognizing that discussions about caring for an aging parent can evoke various emotions among siblings. Encourage everyone to express their feelings openly and respectfully. Remind them that emotions are valid and that a calm and mindful approach allows for better understanding and problem-solving.
  2. Active listening: Emphasize the importance of active listening during the conversation. Encourage siblings to truly hear and understand each other’s perspectives without interrupting or jumping to conclusions. Active listening fosters empathy, reduces misunderstandings, and promotes a more collaborative and respectful atmosphere.
  3. Practice empathy: Encourage siblings to put themselves in each other’s shoes and try to understand the unique challenges and concerns faced by each sibling. Remind them that empathy allows for greater compassion, patience, and the ability to find common ground when making decisions related to the care of their aging parent.
  4. Maintain open-mindedness: Suggest that siblings approach the discussion with an open mind, willing to consider different viewpoints and ideas. Encourage them to be open to alternative solutions and compromises, understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to caregiving. A calm and mindful approach involves being receptive to new information and willing to adjust plans accordingly.
  5. Avoid blame and judgment: Remind siblings to refrain from blaming or judging one another during the conversation. Instead, encourage them to focus on finding constructive solutions and working together as a team. Discourage any tendencies toward defensiveness or hostility and promote a culture of understanding and support.
  6. Take breaks if needed: Recognize that discussions about caring for an aging parent can be emotionally charged and overwhelming. Encourage siblings to take breaks if the conversation becomes too intense or if individuals need time to process their thoughts and emotions. This can help prevent escalation and allow for more productive discussions in the long run.
  7. Use “I” statements: Encourage siblings to express their concerns, needs, and suggestions using “I” statements instead of blaming or accusing language. “I” statements promote personal responsibility and help prevent defensiveness in others. For example, saying “I feel overwhelmed and need support” is more constructive than saying “You never help with Mom’s care.”
  8. Seek professional guidance: If tensions and disagreements persist, suggest seeking the assistance of a professional mediator or counselor. A neutral third party can help facilitate the conversation, ensure everyone’s voice is heard, and guide the siblings towards finding mutually beneficial solutions.
  9. Aim to make decisions as a united family: Discuss and come to agreements together, rather than having one sibling make all the decisions. This is a challenging but important part of caring for aging parents, so it’s crucial that siblings collaborate and communicate effectively.

By encouraging a calm and mindful approach to the conversation, siblings can foster a respectful and collaborative environment, enhancing the chances of making informed decisions and providing the best care possible for their aging parent.

Treating yourself and your siblings with loving kindness and respect while going through the emotional process of caregiving can prevent resentment and burnout when caring for aging parents. And, can actually strengthen the bond between you!

Validate The Need For Care With Medical Documentations

If you are the only one currently caring for your older parent, then you will likely do most of the talking during the family meeting. If it’s you and another sibling who are dividing their care between yourselves, you can split the speaking duties.

Although it may be the hardest thing to do, you will want to stay calm while you are stating your case.

Prepare to get some pushback as you begin talking about your parents’ need for care. Younger siblings might refuse to accept that their parents have gotten older. Other siblings who don’t see your parents as often might not believe that their situation has gotten so severe.

This is where it helps to have paperwork to back up your request: if you can share hospitalization records, medical care reports, and stories from neighbors, a close friend, or another family, you’ll want to do so now.

It will be hard for a sibling to dispute that a parent needs help if medical reports show that they’ve had three injuries in the past six months.

Express Your Worries: Talk About Your Concerns

  • Use “I” statements: Frame your concerns using “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory or confrontational. For example, say, “I have been feeling concerned about…” or “I am worried about…”. This approach takes ownership of your feelings and promotes a more open and non-threatening dialogue.
  • Be specific and provide examples: Clearly articulate the reasons for your worries and provide specific examples or incidents that have contributed to your concerns. This helps others understand the context and allows for a more focused discussion.
  • Express empathy and understanding: Acknowledge that expressing worries can be difficult and that you understand the challenges and emotions involved. Demonstrate empathy towards your loved ones’ feelings and perspectives. This can create a safer and more supportive environment for open communication.

Let Your Siblings Share Their Thoughts And Ideas

Allow the emotions to die down a bit because tensions will be high if your siblings have been caught off guard.

Remember that when you realized your parents needed help, you probably went through a bit of shock yourself. Let your brothers and sisters take some time to adjust to this news.

When everyone is calm, ask your siblings for their thoughts and ideas.

  • Could you all genuinely band together and split caretaking duties?
  • Is it more realistic for the local siblings to take over the physical care and let the out-of-staters visit and provide a little respite care from time to time?
  • Or maybe the best support could be accomplished by hiring a professional caregiver to take care of mom and dad – and splitting the costs?

Read our article, Does Social Security Pay For Caregivers?

Listen To Their Response Without Interrupting Or Squabbling

No matter what your siblings say, let them talk until they have finished their thoughts. If they have been respectful of you, you will want to give them the same courtesy.

Know that you might not agree with their ideas, and that’s okay, but try to keep the conversation civil. If it devolves into arguing, nothing will get solved.

Explore Different Approaches To Caring For Your Aging Parents

When it comes to exploring different approaches to caring for your aging parents, it’s important to consider various options that can meet their specific needs and preferences.

Here are some points to expand on this topic:

  1. Assess individual needs: Begin by evaluating your parents’ unique needs, considering aspects such as physical health, cognitive abilities, emotional well-being, and any specific medical conditions. Understanding their requirements will help in exploring suitable approaches to care.
  2. Research care options: Conduct thorough research to familiarize yourself with the different care options available. This may include in-home care, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, adult day care centers, or even live-in caregivers. Each option has its own advantages, costs, and level of support, so explore them in detail.
  3. Discuss with family: Engage in open discussions with your family members, including siblings and other concerned individuals, to gather their perspectives and insights. Consider their opinions, as they may have valuable input or suggestions regarding potential care approaches.
  4. Seek professional advice: Consult healthcare professionals, such as doctors, geriatric care managers, or social workers, who can provide expert guidance on the various care options. They can assess your parents’ needs and provide recommendations tailored to their specific circumstances.
  5. Consider financial implications: Evaluate the financial aspect of different care approaches. Some options may be more cost-effective than others, but it’s crucial to strike a balance between affordability and the level of care required. Look into insurance coverage, government assistance programs, or other financial resources that may be available.
  6. Factor in personal preferences: Take your parents’ personal preferences and desires into account when exploring care approaches. Consider their wishes regarding independence, staying at home, or being part of a community. Respecting their autonomy and involving them in the decision-making process can help ensure their well-being and satisfaction with the chosen care approach.
  7. Evaluate pros and cons: Assess the advantages and disadvantages of each care option in relation to your parents’ needs, family dynamics, and practical considerations. Consider factors such as the level of care provided, social engagement opportunities, safety measures, and proximity to family and friends.
  8. Plan for evolving needs: Anticipate future changes in your parents’ health or care requirements. Look for care approaches that can accommodate potential shifts in their condition, such as progressive illnesses or changing mobility levels. Flexibility and adaptability are essential when considering long-term care solutions.
  9. Visit and gather information: Visit different care facilities or providers, if applicable, to gather firsthand information. Speak with staff, residents, or their families to gain insights into the quality of care provided, the overall environment, and the general satisfaction level of those involved.
  10. Revisit and revise: Understand that the exploration process may require revisiting and revising your approach as circumstances change. Be open to reassessing care options periodically to ensure that your parents’ evolving needs continue to be met effectively.

By exploring different approaches to caring for your aging parents and considering a variety of factors, you can make informed decisions that align with their needs, preferences, and overall well-being.

Explore The Division Of Duties Among Siblings

Even if your parents are being cared for by professional caregivers, there will still be specific duties that siblings can and should perform.

Dividing the duties among siblings is essential to ensure that everyone involved in the care process is contributing their fair share of effort, time, and energy.

When dividing up duties, start by considering any work or school commitments of each sibling. From there, determine what tasks need to be done around the house and within the home care arrangement.

Siblings should discuss and decide who will take on each duty on a rotating basis, such that everyone is contributing fairly. This way, no one sibling will be overburdened or left feeling resentful or taken advantage of.

Common duties might include grocery shopping, preparing meals, administering medications, assisting with personal care tasks (such as bathing and dressing), and providing transportation.

If your parents are being taken care of either by an aide or in a facility, duties can include bringing them personal care items, visiting them, tending to their finances and dealing with medical professionals.

It’s also important to consider the emotional support siblings can provide, such as making sure that their parents have social contact, engaging in meaningful activities, and spending quality time together.

If siblings are able to come together and divide duties fairly, they will be able to provide more comprehensive care for their parents while still balancing other commitments.

Seek Outside Help If Necessary

Family dynamics can mean that you might not be able to get much help from some stubborn siblings. We’ll talk more about your options later in this article, but we would at least like you to know you have them if all else fails.

What Is The Responsibility Of The Family For The Care Of The Elderly?

You may be wondering if your siblings are legally obligated to take care of older adults. What about you?

It is normal for feelings of resentment between the responsible caregivers to surface. One might feel that they are doing twice the work and effort as the other. Another sibling might feel as though their professional life isn’t being respected by the other sibling when trying to figure out caregiver responsibilities.

The short answer is, “it depends”. Certain states have what’s known as filial responsibility laws. With these laws in place, adult children are responsible for paying for the care of their older parents.

Once known as the Elizabethan Poor Law in the 1600s, filial responsibility laws do not apply to every state. However, most of them – 30 states – do have such laws on their books. It follows that not every state with filial responsibility laws enforces them – in fact, 11 do not.

How does the filial responsibility law work? In short, if an aging parent finds themselves unable to pay for assisted living, medical bills, shelter, clothing, food, and other expenses, the adult children must step in and cover their costs.

There are caveats to these laws, as you might expect:

  • In Nevada, the adult child must have made a written promise to take care of their parent. Otherwise, they’re off the hook.
  • Once parents turn a certain age, you don’t have to pay for their care if you’re in Connecticut.
  • In Arkansas, adult children have the responsibility to pay for mental healthcare only, but not for any other elements of care.

We recommend that you read up on the filial responsibility laws in the state in which your parents live. It could be that your siblings are obligated to contribute financially to your parents’ care.

Even if they’re not legally obligated, one would hope they’re morally obligated. After all, these are the people who raised you and your brother and sister. Your parents gave you a lot, which is why you don’t mind helping them in return – and why you would hope your siblings will feel the same.

What To Do When Siblings Won’t Help With Elderly Parents

What if some of your siblings don’t feel the same way about caring for an elderly parent?

They may have different ideas and think it’s better (and easier) to stick your parents in a nursing home or let you bear the brunt of their responsibility. That’s not really fair, so it’s worth trying to get your sibling to do their part.

Here’s how to handle these family disputes:

Mention The Filial Responsibility Law (As Applicable)

If you do happen to have a filial responsibility law in your state that mandates that adult children should pay for an elderly parents’ care, then that is the first thing to present to your brothers and sisters.

It is pretty cut and dried from there – your siblings should step in and financially contribute or they risk breaking the law.

Implore Them to Help

If you don’t live in a state with familial responsibility laws or if you reside in a state where these laws aren’t enforced, then you will need to appeal to your siblings. Remind them of everything your parents have done for them, for you, and for the rest of your family. Tell them the least they can do is to help out now.

Sometimes, however, a sibling might have a valid reason for not helping. For example, the distance could be an issue. If they live hours away, it will not be realistic to expect them to come by every day and do caretaking.

In a case like this, the best approach is to meet them halfway. For instance, instead of them physically helping with care, perhaps they can contribute financially.

Hire An Eldercare Mediator

If even this softer, gentler approach doesn’t work, then you may need to seek a family mediator – in this case, eldercare.

This professional can step in and draw up a resolution between you and your siblings. They can meet with you wherever you decide is necessary, such as at a senior living facility, in an adult child’s home, or in their own office if that works for everyone.

The eldercare mediator will listen to all sides of the conflict. They will keep siblings from falling back into old childhood roles and power struggles. This petty infighting can detract from the real goal of getting your aging parents’ help.

Mediators never side with one person over another. Instead, they want to come up with a solution that benefits the parents but also works for all adult children.

You do have to keep in mind that an eldercare mediator might not draft a caregiving plan that you necessarily like. For the sake of your parents, though, it’s best to work with them. Your siblings should do the same.

The eldercare mediator might have come up with a plan or solution that your stubborn sibling agreed to at the time. Now that it’s time to start doing what they said, however, your brother or sister is not living up to their end of the bargain.

What can you do at this point?

Well, you could try going back to the original mediator for conflict resolution support. You could also try working with another eldercare mediator, but keep in mind that the results may be the same.

If you don’t think your sibling will change, you might decide to get professional help and take legal action.

We do recommend this as an absolute last resort. Once you go through the legal system to get money from your siblings for your elderly parents’ care, there’s no turning back. You could possibly ruin the relationship with your brother and sister for good. 

For this reason, you should exhaust all other options before you go this route.

Final Thoughts

One of the most difficult conversations and biggest problems siblings face is deciding on the best way to care for an aging parent. It can prove incredibly frustrating and difficult. They might not want to help, either with their time or financially.

You have a few options at that point, such as appealing to them yourself, using an eldercare mediator, or even going after your sibling legally. The latter can destroy your relationship forever, though.

Having to care for your adult parents is already difficult enough. Dealing with a tough sibling on top of it all makes it worse. Hopefully, if you have siblings, they’ll want to do what they can to help your parents get the best care they can.

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