Updated December 14, 2022 – 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.”seniorsmatter.com
The caregiving role should not fall on any one sibling so cooperation among 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.Carewell.com
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 theglobeandmail.com
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.’”Advanced-Homehealthcare.com
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 To Deal With Feelings Of Jealousy And Envy Towards Siblings
Feelings of envy and jealousy towards siblings can be especially difficult to process; family relationships are complex, so it is important to remember that these negative emotions are normal.
To cope with such feelings, a good first step is to work on cultivating self-compassion.
Allowing yourself to understand why you might feel envious or jealous is an important part of learning how to move past these emotions.
Additionally, take the time to identify your own unique strengths, values, and dreams – when you take the focus away from your sibling’s life, it can help build up your individual confidence.
Lastly, it can be useful to talk through the emotions with someone – whether a family member or therapist – in order to gain a better understanding of the feelings and constructively work through them.
What Is Older Sibling Syndrome?
Older Sibling Syndrome, or OSS for short, is a situation in which an older sibling is given preferential treatment over their younger siblings.
Older sibling syndrome can cause adult children to feel a sense of resentment or jealousy towards their older siblings, particularly if they feel that their siblings are being favored by their parents or are given more responsibility in caring for their elderly parents.
This can lead to strained relationships and conflict within the family. It can also cause feelings of inadequacy or guilt for the adult child who may feel like they are not doing enough to help their parents.
If you feel you are in this situation, I strongly recommend that you speak with a counselor about this issue and how to deal with it.
Here is a list of some books that may be helpful for you if you find yourself in a situation where you are having to negotiate and deal with your siblings while caring for your senior parents.
- Adult Sibling Rivalry: Understanding The Legacy Of Childhood
- Why Can’t We Get Along? Healing Adult Sibling Relationships
- But It’s Your Family: Cutting Ties With Toxic Family Members and Loving Yourself In The Aftermath
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…
- Toxic people are manipulative
- They are judgmental
- They take no responsibility for their own feelings
- They don’t apologize
- They are inconsistent
- They make you prove yourself to them
- They make you defend yourself
- 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.
The Importance Of Setting Boundaries With Siblings In Order To Avoid Conflict
Establishing and maintaining boundaries between siblings is key for a conflict-free household. Boundaries allow us to better respect each other’s rights, feelings, and values.
It is important to remember that conflicts don’t always come from deliberately disrespecting our siblings; we may both simply disagree with different points of view on how something should be done.
Setting boundaries can help to establish rules of communication to ensure that points of view are heard, respected, and acknowledged while still allowing compromise when needed.
Furthermore, it helps set expectations by identifying the type of behavior that will not be tolerated in the family dynamic so that everyone is held accountable.
Clear and consistent boundaries offer families an opportunity to act as unified units and prevent disagreements from escalating into full-blown arguments.
How Do I Stop Family Disputes Over Elderly Parents?
It can be difficult to navigate family disputes over elderly parents. These disputes are often rooted in deeper issues, like unmet expectations, unresolved childhood grievances, or a need for power and control.
It is important to talk openly with the parties involved in order to understand everyone’s viewpoint and work towards a resolution.
Here are some tips on how to best address and manage family disputes over elderly parents:
- Acknowledge feelings. Understand that everyone’s feelings are valid, even if they differ from your own.
- Communicate clearly and respectfully. Make sure everyone understands the facts of the situation and has a chance to express their perspective without interruption or judgement.
- Set boundaries. Establish clear expectations for how the parties involved will interact with each other and enforce those boundaries if necessary.
- Be honest and open. Talk openly about the issues that have caused the dispute and strive to find a solution that works for everyone involved.
- Find outside help, if needed. If you feel like the dispute can’t be resolved without outside help, consider reaching out to a mediator or other professional who can provide impartial advice and guidance.
- Practice self-care. It’s important to remind yourself that it’s not your responsibility alone to stop family disputes. You can only do your part and attempt to bring everyone closer. If the situation persists, it’s important not to take on too much of the burden. Consider reaching out for help from a mental health professional or talking with a trusted friend who has gone through similar struggles. Practicing self-care is key in helping you stay clear headed and understanding of the whole situation.
- Remain neutral and open-minded. Keep in mind that everyone is coming from a place of love for their elderly parents and wants what’s best for them. Respect each person’s opinion, even if you don’t agree with it. By remaining neutral and open to suggestions, you’re more likely to come up with a solution that everyone can agree on and benefit from.
- Stay positive. No matter how difficult the situation might become, try to remain calm and stay focused on the end goal: ensuring your elderly parents receive the best care possible. Keep in mind that disagreements are common among families and it is possible to reach a resolution.
- Ask for outside help. If your family is finding it difficult to resolve the situation, you may want to consider seeking professional assistance from a mediator or counselor. They can offer an unbiased perspective and help guide discussions in a positive direction so that everyone’s voice is heard and respected.
- Make sure your elderly parents are part of the decision-making process. When it comes to taking care of elderly parents, they should always have a say in their own care. Make sure you listen to what they have to say and value their wishes and opinions during family discussions. Involving them in the conversation will help ensure that everyone’s wishes are taken into consideration.
Of course, involving your parents in the decision-making process only works if they are not suffering from either dementia or Alzheimer’s disease or some other illness that is causing them to be confused.
If this is the case, it’s best to get professional help or advice from a geriatric care manager who can help you make decisions that are in your parents’ best interests.
What To Do When Siblings Disagree On Elder Care
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.
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 going through each one and negotiating 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, and 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 professional help from a counselor, geriatric care manager, social worker, or 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 their way. Your mom and dad want what is best for everyone in their lives–so don’t let bickering or conflict get between everyone!
When To Seek Professional Help For Dealing With Difficult Family Dynamics
Deciding when to seek professional help for dealing with difficult family dynamics can be a difficult decision. There are many situations when therapy may be beneficial and there is no right or wrong answer as every family’s situation is unique and complex.
However, it could be helpful to assess your relationship with your family members regularly and consider seeking out professional help if communication becomes strained or ineffective, if you experience distrust of one another, or if unhealthy patterns exist such as manipulative behavior or violence.
Seeking out therapy can be a very positive step and can result in improved relationships and increased understanding among family members.
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 action 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).
- Disputes 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.