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Sibling Rivalry When Aging Parents Need Care (Tips To Help The Family)

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Let’s face it, in most families, sibling rivalry is a normal part of growing up. Unfortunately it doesn’t just always stay in childhood, it can carry over into adulthood – depending on the family dynamics.

Issues amongst adult children who are siblings are usually old rivalries and a lot of family baggage such as jealousy, competition, denial, etc. all come to the surface when the family is faced with a situation such as having to care for an aging parent. This is often when family relationships are put to the test.

Philadelphia psychologist and consultant Barry Jacobs answered a question about siblings and caregiving in the Psychotherapy Networker this way: “Nothing reveals the fault lines in sibling relationships like the seismic shift caused by an aging parent’s sudden decline.”

The caregiving role should not fall on any one sibling so cooperation amongst brothers and sisters is very important when it comes to making caregiving decisions. Of course, if you are an only child – there would be other issues to contend with when it comes to caring for aging parents.

The best way to start resolving adult sibling relationships is to set up a family meeting. Oftentimes, it takes more than just one get together.

Inexperienced family caregivers provide 90% of the support and care received by older persons, and a survey from the National Family Caregivers Association found that 76% of those caregivers perceive that they don’t receive help from other family members.

Sibling rivalries can be a problem when your parents are getting older and need help with things like driving, caring for themselves, managing their household, etc.

In these situations, when adult siblings need each other more than ever, their sibling rivalry can become more than just an annoyance that makes you fight in front of your parents – it could be the cause of serious family drama that’s hard to resolve.

This article will give you some information about this issue and some tips on how siblings can work together so they don’t drive each other crazy while taking care of aging parents.

These years of our parents’ decline are the final phase of the family in which we grew up. They are the transition to … a new epoch in which we and our siblings will be the oldest generation of our family.

Francine Russo in

If you are a primary caregiver taking on the lion’s share of caregiving and find that your siblings are not helping you with the care of your elderly parent(s) – read our article When Siblings Don’t Help With Elderly Parents: What To Do.

What Are The Main Causes Of Adult Sibling Rivalry?

In some families, sibling rivalry never goes away. In others it only intensifies with time and can result in estrangement between brothers and sisters who once loved each other deeply but have since fallen out over differences large or small.

Maybe one was more successful than the other and his sister is jealous of that. Meanwhile, the brother is unaware of that jealousy. Perhaps their mother favored one over the other greatly which gave them both biased opinions toward how she sees things.

It could be that one sibling perceives that they didn’t get to spend as much time with their parents as their sibling did.

In some cases, parental favoritism can lead to adult sibling rivalries. When parents treat one child more favorably than another and it goes unacknowledged by the rest of their family members for years on end this could cause friction between brothers and sisters in future relationships

Gregory French, president-elect of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, reveals that, “What a family member considers ‘fair’ is very much dictated from that family member’s perspective…there’s a lot of family baggage that comes out, like: ‘Mom paid for your MBA, and she didn’t do that for me.’”

Parents may strive to remain impartial, but in reality they can’t help themselves from having favorites. It’s a common issue in many families. After all, parents are human too.

Whatever the reason(s), these kinds of arguments are only destined to get worse unless there is some type of therapeutic intervention like counseling.

How Do You Know When You Have A Toxic Sibling?

Sometimes, no matter what you do – there’s nothing that works to mend your relationship with your sibling. It may not be your fault. It may be that you simply have a sibling who is considered “toxic”.

What Are The Signs Of A Toxic Person?

According to Dr. Abigail Brenner in Psychology Today, the 8 traits that many toxic people have are…

  1. Toxic people are manipulative
  2. They are judgmental
  3. They take no responsibility for their own feelings
  4. They don’t apologize
  5. They are inconsistent
  6. They make you prove yourself to them
  7. They make you defend yourself
  8. They are not caring, supportive, or interested in what’s important to you

If you recognize any of these 8 traits in your siblings or any other person in your life, please consider seeking out therapeutic counseling to help you learn how to better manage them.

What To Do When Siblings Don’t Agree On What To Do With An Elderly Parent

There are some things that you and your siblings can do to lessen the arguments and stressful situations concerning the important decisions on what would be the best care for your elderly parent(s). Especially when it comes to making the decision of who will take care of mom or dad (or both)?

The first step is to understand that there may be some underlying issues that need to be addressed. Often, competition between siblings happens because they are vying for the attention of their parents.

This can stem from a history of favoritism or just a feeling that one sibling is getting more attention than the other. If this is the case, it’s important to address the issue head on.

I would strongly recommend counseling either for one or more of the siblings in question. These days, there are many sources for in person and online counseling available. They can help you to put together a care plan that can benefit not only your elderly parents but your family as well.

Siblings also need to be honest with each other about their abilities and willingness to help in their parent’s care. It’s important that everyone is on the same page when it comes to taking care of an aging parent.

If one sibling is doing all the work, it can lead to resentment and frustration. Likewise, if one sibling is not doing their share, it can create tension.

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

So many different types of decisions have to be discussed and made, such as…

  • Should your elderly parents remain in the family home?
  • Should the family hire respite care?
  • If home care services are needed, can they be paid for?
  • Are advance directives and other legal documents executed?
  • And many more others such as financial issues, etc.

So, let’s go over some steps you can take if you’re arguing with your siblings about the care of your elderly parent(s).

  • Communication is key when it comes to taking care of an aging parent. By working together, siblings can make the process a lot smoother for everyone involved.
  • You can begin communicating by putting together a written list of issues and go through each one and negotiate on what the most practical solution would be to resolve each issue. You want to seek common ground.
  • Be prepared to put aside your issues. Forgive, accept the situation for what it is and focus on the fact that you are working together for the benefit of your parent(s).
  • Create a list of “duties” assigned to each sibling. This can help to avoid some future problems or misunderstandings. For example, one care provider can be assigned to take a parent to doctor’s appointments. Tailor the list to each person’s strengths.
  • If your parent is not suffering from later stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, include them in the conversation. You want to know what they want, what are their needs.
  • On the flip side, if they are suffering from a cognitive issue – the burden of making decisions for them will fall on the family caregivers.
  • If the family can consider themselves a “care team” and work as such, it will help to bring about the highest quality of care for your parent’s needs.
  • Seek out professional help from a counselor, geriatric care manager, social worker or a mediator. Consider consulting with an elder law attorney as well.

Collaborative caregiving and maintenance of balanced sibling roles were most important to caregivers in the experience of sibling connection.

Caring For The Caregiver: Exploration of Sibling Connection and Social Support in Relationships of Adult Siblings Caring For Aging Parents with Dementia

When you work together as a team, your family will be able to overcome any challenges that come its way. Your mom and dad want what is best for everyone in their lives–so don’t let bickering or conflict get between everyone!

How Do I Protect My Elderly Parents From Siblings?

What if you realize that one or more of your siblings are taking advantage of your elderly parent(s)? What can you do?

Here’s what to do when a sibling takes advantage of your parent:

  • Document everything you can
  • Try a family meeting or intervention first
  • If that doesn’t work, investigate your legal options
  • Institute your legal power of attorney
  • Get guardianship transferred to you

The best thing to do is to first hold a meeting with everyone and confront the issue. A mediator or third party (that is not family) may be useful. This could be a social worker, geriatric care manager or elder law attorney.

But if that does not resolve the issue, then the next thing to do is to discuss the situation with an elderly law attorney.

A related article you may find interesting is What To Do If Sibling Is Taking Advantage Of Elderly Parents

Can You Take Legal Action Against Siblings?

Sometimes, the family problems are so intense that siblings feel they must take legal actions against others in their family. Including their brothers and/or sisters.

The reasons for this could include:

  • Dispute over their parents’ will.
  • Problems with one sibling taking advantage of the parent(s).
  • Dispute or problems with the Power of Attorney.
  • Downright greed and deceitful behavior.
  • Siblings denied inheritance.

Truthfully, there are many more reasons why one sibling would take another to court over their parents’ estate or issues related to their care.

I strongly recommend that you seek the help of an elder law attorney to help you if you find yourself in this situation.

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